GOING HOME ISN'T EASY Part 4
If Harry McCaig expected Logan to explode, he was in for a huge disappointment. The man could just add it to all the others he'd experienced when dealing with his second son.
Instead, Logan stood and quietly stared down at his father before finally saying just a single word. "No."
Harry never did like having to look up at an adversary. It was no surprise when he also rose to his feet before speaking. "No what exactly?"
When Logan didn't elaborate, Harry went on. "No, you have no questions? No, you don't have more appropriate clothes to wear? Explain yourself."
Logan kept his mouth shut, refusing to engage in a senseless war of words. It wouldn't accomplish anything but to drag this encounter out even longer. Instead, he simply turned his back on his father and walked away.
Harry's voice cracked across the room like a whip. "Don't you dare turn your back on me. I did not dismiss you."
Logan waited until he reached the door before responding. "Sure you did. Ten years ago when you said you only had one son worthy of the McCaig name. As I recall, you made it pretty damn clear that it wasn't me."
"You owe me this."
"I don't owe you a damn thing."
He let himself out of the office. It took every bit of control he could muster to not slam the door. That would only reinforce his father's outdated view of Logan being impetuous and immature. He'd had to do a lot of growing up in the weeks and months after he'd left home with a few clothes and next to no money. It was a source of great pride that he'd never once considered crawling back home to beg for his father's forgiveness. On some level he might have wanted it, but he'd never actually needed it.
He made it all the way back down the steps to the foyer before it all hit him hard. Damn, he'd forgotten what it cost him in energy and pain to deal with that man. He'd never known why his father hated him so much, but it had always been that way. Things might have been different if his mother hadn't died when Logan had been barely ten years old. She'd always been the buffer between Logan and her husband.
He shoved those memories back where they belonged—in the past. For now, he leaned against the wall to catch his breath. At the sound of approaching footsteps, he straightened up and struggled to hide the last vestiges of his frustration and fury behind the stone-faced mask that he'd perfected years ago. It was mostly in place by the time Cormac came around the corner carrying a tray heaped high with food and drinks.
The other vampire skittered to a halt just shy of where Logan stood waiting. "Well, damn, that didn't take long."
He set the tray on a nearby table and pointed toward the food. "I'm guessing I should take this back to the kitchen and have it packed up to go."
The lightness in his tone didn't match the very real worry in his eyes. Logan picked up two of the sandwiches and wrapped them in one of the linen napkins. That done, he guzzled down one glass of the iced tea and half of another one.
"This will do me. Thanks. Now, I'll be going."
He almost made it to the door before Cormac did an end run to block his way. "You're not seriously leaving, are you?"
"No, I'm going to stop by to see my grandmother. After that, I have every intention of leaving."
"But nothing, Cormac. We both knew this was a mistake from the beginning. The only reason it got this far is that Grandmother Colleen asked me to hear Harry out. I listened, but I'm not some asset for him to bargain away for the sake of the family. I said no. Job done. Now move."
When Cormac didn't immediately obey, Logan growled and flashed his fangs. "This was never a fight between the two of us, Cormac. But if you don't get out of my way, it will be."
They both knew that things would get bloody and brutal if the two of them ever faced off. They were too evenly matched for it to be anything else. After a brief hesitation, Cormac held up his hands and took a step back. "One question. Did he tell you who or why?"
"We didn't get that far. He made it pretty damn clear that he thinks he's still the puppet master yanking on my strings." He leaned in closer to the other man. "But I cut myself free of his control ten years ago. Damned if I'll ever give anyone that kind of power over me again."
Then he pointed up toward the second floor. "Especially that bastard."
Cormac's shoulders slumped, accepting that he was fighting a losing battle. "I get it, Logan. I really do. But keep in mind this isn't all about you." He glanced up at the ceiling and added, "Or him, for that matter."
He opened the door and led the way out to where Logan had left his car. "Go see you grandmother. Get some rest. I'm sure she'll be willing to put you up for a day or two until you get your bearings and figure out what comes next."
Logan already knew what came next. He would spend a little time with his grandmother and then head back to the bar. "All things considered, I doubt my father will bother to thank you for making the effort to bring me back. But I am grateful for the chance to see my grandmother at her home. That means a lot to me."
Cormac nodded and watched as Logan got into his SUV and started the engine. Before he could pull away, Cormac knocked on the driver's door window. Logan had a gut feeling he really didn't want to roll it down to hear what Cormac had to say. But he was no coward, and he knew his old friend was trapped in the battle of wills between Harry and Logan.
"I'm only going to say this one more time. Before you leave, you need answers to two questions. Who is the woman? And why you?"
Then Cormac patted the roof of the SUV and stepped back out of the way. Instead of going back into the house, Logan was surprised he remained in the middle of the driveway and watched until Logan turned in the direction of his grandmother's house. No doubt Cormac's next stop would be to inform Harry that his second son hadn't yet left the estate. It would be interesting to know whether or not his father would see that as good news.
Not that it mattered. Much.
The drive to the dowager house took less than fifteen minutes by the most direct route, but it took Logan an hour. He needed the extra time to dull the effects of fighting with his father. As their battles went, this one had been shorter than most, but it had him flashing back to so many more in the past. So he took a more circuitous route and ate the sandwiches Cormac had given him. Coupled with a bottle of blood from his stash in the SUV, his energy level was much improved by the time he finally parked in front Colleen's home. His mood was still a bit shaky, but hugging his grandmother would help with that.
More sure of his welcome, he retrieved his luggage from the back before approaching the front door. He'd never lived in the dowager house, so he knocked instead of simply walking in. The door opened within seconds to reveal Sinead Brewster. She served Grandmother Colleen as a combination of housekeeper, cook, and companion. Sinead was younger than his grandmother by several decades, but that number of years meant nothing in the long life of a vampire. The pair was thicker than thieves, and the two of them had always done whatever they could to blunt the sharp edges of Logan's life in the clan.
"Young man, it's about time you came to visit me and your grandmother."
The crabby comment was accompanied by a huge hug and sniffles as she blinked away a few tears. He gave her a kiss on the cheek and another quick squeeze. "I'm sorry to be so long in coming, Sinead. My issues with Harry and Rory shouldn't have kept me away from the two of you."
She stepped back and held him at arm's length as she studied him from head to toe. "The life you've built for yourself outside of the clan looks good on you, Logan. I'd hoped your father would be smart enough to see that, but I'm guessing he's as big a fool as he always been when it comes to you."
Logan smiled at her accurate assessment of the situation. "No comment."
"So are you hungry? Can I fix you anything?"
"I'm good. Cormac made me a couple of sandwiches."
"How about some dessert? I heard rumors you might be showing up soon. Knowing your sweet tooth tendencies, I've been stocking up on sugary goodness."
"There's a reason I've always adored you! I'll have whatever is easiest. And a glass of iced tea wouldn't go amiss."
"I'll bring everything out to the patio. Your grandmother is out there reading."
She gave him a soft shove to get him started moving in the right direction. He cut through the living room to the French doors that opened out onto the patio. It ran the length of the house and looked out over the extensive night blooming gardens that his grandmother loved so much. As Sinead had said, Colleen had her nose buried in a book, the lamps mounted along the roof line providing a halo of light centered on her favorite chair.
As soon as he stepped through the door, she tossed the book on the table next to her chair and stood up. She was the one member of the family who always looked happy to see him and this time was no exception. He swept his grandmother up in his arms and twirled around, startling a laugh out of her.
She patted him on the cheek. "Put me down, silly boy. I have to preserve some semblance of dignity at my age."
He did as she requested and kissed her on the cheek. "You've never worried all that much about dignity. In fact, you were the one who helped me make mud pies back in the day."
It was one of his favorite memories. They'd had a messy good time. The best part was horrified expression his father's face when he'd come to drag Logan back home only to find both him and Colleen covered in mud from head to toe. As punishment, Logan had been banned from visiting his grandmother for a month, but it had been worth it.
"Have a seat and tell me how things went with your father."
He waited until they were both settled into their chairs before speaking. "He informed me that he arranged a suitable marriage for me and that the date is set. Evidently he invited her to dinner tonight, so I'm to dress appropriately. Oh, and I'm to get my affairs in order, no doubt meaning that I'm to move back home and live under his thumb again."
His grandmother looked stricken. "I warned him to tread softly. What did you say?"
Logan would have thought that would have been obvious. "I said no and walked out."
He shook his head as memory of that moment played out in his mind. "He couldn't believe I would actually leave without being granted permission. When he said he hadn't dismissed me, I told him he'd done that ten years ago when he told me he only had one son worthy of the McCaig name. We both know that wasn't me."
"So what are you going to do now?"
"I'm going to spend the next twenty-four hours with you and Sinead. Then I'm going home."
There was a hitch in his grandmother's breath before she whispered, "That would not be wise, Logan. Not without learning more about the situation."
Logan shifted his chair to face his grandmother directly. "Cormac also said I needed to know more. You and he both want me to remember there are a lot more people in the clan besides Harry Rory, and they were the ones I should be thinking about."
"It's true, Logan. This marriage must take place."
That she wouldn't look at him hurt so damn bad. Instead, she kept her gaze trained on the gardens. That his father considered him nothing but a pawn on his personal chessboard was to be expected. But having his grandmother side with Harry felt just like the betrayal it was. Still, he couldn't simply walk away from her. Not yet, anyway.
He surrendered to the inevitable. "Who is she? And if it has to be a McCaig she marries, why not Rory? He's the elder son and in line to inherit control of the clan. God help everyone when that day rolls around."
He'd heard someone step out onto the patio and assumed it was Sinead. When the intruder didn't come any closer, he glanced toward the door to see who it was. He found himself on his feet staring at the one person he'd never wanted to see again and yet had never been able to forget.
Back in the day, Rylee Byrne had been everything he wanted in a woman—brains, beauty, and a sweet nature. That she was also drop dead gorgeous was just the icing on the cake. He'd loved her with everything he had and thought she'd loved him, too. Whatever feelings she'd had for him hadn't been enough to convince her to leave her family when Logan had asked her to marry him and build a life together somewhere far from both of their families. She'd probably made the right decision, but it had almost killed him at the time.
Right now she was staring at him as if trying to see the boy she'd known in the man he'd become. When they'd been together, every emotion and thought she had showed on her lovely face. Somewhere along the line she'd learned how to hide them. What had happened in the intermim that she needed to protect herself?
"Why are you here?"
Because unless things had changed, her father had little or no use for the McCaig clan. From the way she flinched, he could have phrased that a little more tactfully. But then he realized the answer was obvious.
She knew the instant he figured it out, but she answered him anyway. "Your father and mine have decided that the only way to stabilize the finances of both clans is if they are joined together. My father has no sons, only daughters. Your father has sons."
All of that was true. So why not Rory instead of him?
When she winced, he realized he'd actually asked that question out loud.
"Because while I might have to do what's best for my clan, but I would rather not chain myself for life to a cold, egotistical bastard like your brother. I told both my father and yours that it was either you or no one. These aren't the old days when daughters were chattel to be bartered like prize cows. The Coalition laws prevent such forced marriages, and I have the head of the chancellors on speed dial if they tried to force me to accept Rory."
But then a tear trickled down her peaches-and-cream cheek. "I'm sorry to put you in this position, Logan. I have no right to ask it of you, but I have no choice."
Then she straightened to her full height and met his gaze head-on. "So, Logan McCaig, will you marry me and help me save our clans?"
He wanted to run. But he stared into her blue eyes, so bright with a sheen of tears, and knew he was well and truly trapped. He took a single step toward her. "I don't want you to hate me, Rylee."
Her shoulders slumped and looked utterly defeated. "That's okay, Logan. I know you've built a life for yourself away from all of this. Go back there and forget I even asked."
"You didn't let me finish, Rylee." He closed the remaining distance between them. "I don't want you to hate me, so I'll do my best to make you happy."
He cupped her pretty face in his work-roughened hands. "We'll marry, but we'll do it on our terms. If Harry and your father don't like it, too damn bad. Agreed?"
Once again, she stared into his eyes as if looking for something. He had no idea what it was, but he found himself really hoping she'd find it.
He thought she was about to nod when once again someone stepped out onto the patio. And once again, it wasn't Sinead with the desserts she'd promised. From the way Rylee stiffened, he knew just who it was.
And as usual, Rory knew just what to say to get a rise out of Logan. "Little brother, please step away from my fiancée."