Operation: Road Not Taken3
Part 2
Nancy Eddy

Disclaimers in Part 1


"Does your roommate have the duty tonight?" Clay asked Jen.

"No. She's back on days."

"Why don't we stop by my place for a nightcap or a cup of coffee then?" he suggested. "We still have to talk, remember? And I think that might be easier without - Marcie or whatever being there."

Jen grinned at him. "Mary," she corrected. "And you know that."

"She looks like a 'Marcie'," he told her.

"She's not the brightest person, but she's been a good roommate."

"So. We're going to my place?" he asked again.

"I guess so," she responded in a quiet voice.

"Jennifer, don't go all shy on me now, okay?" he said, reaching across the seat to take her hand. "You're not the shy type."

She grinned. "No. It used to drive my dad crazy the way I made friends so easily."

It was seldom that she mentioned her father without anger coloring her tones, and Clay was surprised by her doing so now. "Life of the party, huh?"

"Not at first. I was Reverend Conrad Coates' daughter. Everyone figured that since my dad was a preacher I never did anything wrong. But it was really boring after awhile. Meant that I didn't get invited to parties because they were afraid I would preach at them."

"So you rebelled."

"*Big* time," she told him, rolling her eyes. "I started smoking, drinking, and sneaking out."

"Is that where the biker gang and the petty theft came into play?" he questioned.

"Yeah. You know the rest of the story." She looked out of the window before speaking again. "I bet you never rebelled against *anything*, did you?"

"What makes you say that?"

"I've seen where you grew up, Clay. Silver spoon, old money. Followed your father into the 'family business'," she clarified, using her fingers to emphasis that last two words. "You're a good son to your mother, and always do what's expected of you."

Clay turned into the gated drive into his apartment complex and pressed the keypad to raise the gate before he answered. "You're right. With a couple of exceptions, I have always done what's expected of me." He pulled into his assigned parking space before getting out of the car and then coming around to open the door for Jen.

She shook her head when he set the alarm before they started into the building. "It's a gated parking lot with security patrols and you *still* set the alarm on the car."

Clay shrugged, opening the door into the apartment. "What can I say? I'm a security freak."

"No, you're paranoid," Jen countered, smiling at him as she entered his apartment and waited patiently for him to disable the alarm system using the keypad near the door.

He turned around to find her shaking her head once again. "You're hopeless, Clay," she sighed regretfully as she removed her overcoat.

He took it from her and hung it on the coat rack before removing his and placing it beside hers. "I'm not paranoid," he denied. "What did you want to drink?" he asked.

"Coffee is fine," she told him.

"You're sure?" he asked. "I think there's some wine -"

"No thank you. The two glasses I had with dinner were enough. Wine's *very* fattening," she told him.

Clay surveyed her long, lean legs, his eyes moving upward until he reached her face. "That's not anything you have to worry about, Jennifer. If you don't want to drink because of me, don't let that stop you. I know my limits now."

"If you're sure, then I'll have some wine."

"Good. I'll be right back. Make yourself at home."

Jen removed the lightweight jacket that matched her skirt, draping it over the back of a chair before going to the stereo system and turning it on. She wasn't surprised to find that he'd been listening to classical music - Clay had told her that he played the cello and piano, but that he hadn't touched either instrument in some time. Not since moving out of the townhouse he still owned in Alexandria, anyway. When she'd asked him why, he had given her the excuse that he'd been too busy, but Jen knew that wasn't the reason.

Over lunch one day while Commander Rabb was at a meeting, Col. Mackenzie had told her about the time they had believed Clay to have been killed, and that she and the Commander had been the ones to figure out what was going on to save him. Clay, feeling less secure in the townhouse, had moved from Alexandria into this lifeless, faceless apartment shortly after that incident.

Over the last few months, the apartment was slowly beginning to take on a personality, however, as Clay made his way out of the shadows that he'd been forced to live in while with the CIA. Some of the photographs of places had been replaced with photos of Clay's mother, as well as one of she and Clay's father together with a *very* young and adorable Clay.

She was looking at that photo when he returned with her wine - and a glass of tonic water for himself. "I'm surprised you didn't change the music," he noted, handing her the glass. "You usually do."

"This is nice," she told him, listening to the piano music. Clay held out his hand, and she took it, letting him lead her over to the sofa.

"I agree," he said once they were seated. He had removed his coat and unbuttoned the vest while in the kitchen, and looked more relaxed. He didn't often wear the three-piece suits anymore - unless it was a special occasion.

"We were going to - talk," Jen reminded him, sipping her wine.

"Before we do -" he paused, turning slightly to look at her. "There's a faculty dinner tomorrow night - I hope you'll go with me."


"I know its late notice, but I wasn't even sure I was going to go. Thought I could avoid it. But turns out - it's mandatory for new professors. I had planned for us to spend the evening here."

"You want *me* to go with you to something work-related?"

"I asked, didn't I?"

"But - you won't feel -" she hesitated over the word, "- uncomfortable?"

"I could never feel uncomfortable with you, Jennifer," he assured her. "Mother asked when you were going to join us riding again."

Jennifer had deliberately found excuses over the last couple of weeks not to go riding with Clay and Porter Webb. "Really?"

"Mother likes you. Says you're good for me." He looked down at the glass of tonic water in his hands. "You said earlier that I'd always done what was expected of me -"

"And you said that you had with a couple of exceptions," she recalled.

"You know that Mother didn't want to me to go into the family business. She was pretty angry with me when I first told her that I was going to do it anyway. But she also understood why I did it."

"Duty. Responsibility. Not wanting to let your father's memory down," Jen guessed.

"I think one of the reasons Mother likes you is because you helped me figure out that I needed to get out of that life - to make a new life. One that *I* want." He put the glass onto the coffee table before doing the same thing to hers. Taking both of her hands in his, Jen found herself looking into his hazel eyes as he said, "Jennifer, I'm very glad you're a part of my life. A very important part. For the first time, I'm doing things that I *want* to do instead of what I *have* to do. Thanks to you giving me the kick in the ass I needed to make some changes." He released her hands, lifting his to frame her face, sliding his fingers through her long hair. "And before you say anything, what I'm feeling for you isn't gratitude."

"Then what is it?" she asked, realizing that she was having trouble breathing because of the way he was looking at her.

"Honestly? I don't know. But I *do* know that I want to find out. I find myself thinking about you in the middle of a lecture, seeing your smile, hearing your laugh. I spend almost as much time trying to think of reasons to call you or see you as I do making lesson plans or grading papers. I know I'm too old for you, and that I'm probably a fool to even hope that you might feel the same way -"

As he spoke, Jen slid her hands up his chest and over his shoulders, linking them behind his neck. "Clay," she said, interrupting him. "You're not too old. And you're definitely *not* a fool. And would you *please* shut up and kiss me?"

He didn't have to be told twice as he pulled Jen close for a gentle kiss that was only slightly deeper than the goodnight kisses they had shared over the last few months. But this time, it wasn't enough for either of them.

When the kiss ended, hazel eyes met brown, silently asking a question. Seeing the answer he was searching for, Clay buried his hands in Jen's dark hair, pulling her closer still.

This time, the kiss wasn't gentle. Clay's lips covered hers, demanding, eager with a need to taste every inch of this woman. Jen returned the kiss with rising intensity, bringing Clay along with her on the crest of the wave of passion that was sweeping over them.

When a shaking hand closed over Jen's breast, Clay swallowed the low moan that escaped from her throat, pressing her back onto the cushions of the sofa. His lips finally left hers to blaze a trail down her long neck, ending at the valley between her breasts. Lifting his head, he looked at her. "I need you, Jennifer."

Jen's answer was to sit up just enough to pull her sweater over her head, dropping it onto the floor. Her fingers went to the buttons on Clays' shirt, working each one through the holes while Clay pulled it from the waistband of his trousers and unfastened the cuffs so that when she pushed it and the vest over his shoulders, he was able to remove it easily. When Jen's fingers touched his skin, Clay closed his eyes, reveling for a moment in the feelings that coursed through his body. Lust, want, need, all did battle, and Clay took a deep breath, trying to control his response to the feel of Jen's hands on him, of her lithe young, willing body beneath him. He hadn't expected the intensity, and it frightened him for a moment, how much he needed Jennifer Coates. She was his salvation, his last chance for happiness that had always seemed just out of his reach.

Feeling Jen's fingers lowering the zipper of his trousers, Clay opened his eyes and discovered that his hand was on her nylon-covered thigh, moving almost of its own volition up under her skirt to hook a thumb into the top of her pantyhose and pull them down. She shifted to help him, and Clay dropped them onto the growing pile of clothes beside the sofa and turned his attention back to the tiny scrap of fabric still covering her.

Jen's hands pushed his trousers down as she wrapped her long legs around him, her eyes continuing the silent communication that seemed to come so easily. Reaching between them, Clay easily shoved the thong aside and positioned himself at her entrance, sliding into her body with one stroke, burying himself deep inside. Her trimmed fingernails raked across his back as she met each thrust measure for measure, giving and asking no quarter. "Almost. There," she told him. "Almost -"

Clay reached between them, finding the swollen bud hidden within the neatly trimmed dark hair, rubbing it, and was rewarded by feeling Jen's body tighten around him. Dipping his head, he captured her lips, mingling her cries of passion with his own as he gained a similar release that left them both laying on the sofa, a tangle of arms and legs, their labored breathing loud in the room.

Moving around so that he was laying beside Jen, Clay held her for several minutes. "Stay here tonight."

"I was hoping you'd ask," she admitted, placing a kiss on his jaw.

"This didn't go exactly as I'd planned," he sighed. "I never intended for our first time together to be on my sofa with us half-dressed."

"Sometimes it's best not to plan things, Clay," she pointed out.

"Plan -" he repeated, groaning. "Damn. I *knew* there was something - I didn't make sure you were protected -"

"Clay," she said, touching his cheek, forcing him to look at her. "It's okay. I've got it covered."

He exhaled in relief. "I'm glad one of us was able to think. See? That's what you do to me. Make me forget everything else when we're together."

"Who was thinking?" she asked, taking his hand and guiding it to a small patch on her abdomen.

"Oh." His hand moved to cover her hip. "So, will you go with me tomorrow night?"

"I'd go anywhere with you, Clayton Webb," she told him, her fingers moving to rest against his chest.

"Good." With a groan, he levered himself from the sofa and held out his hand. "In that case, why don't you follow me into the bedroom? I can guarantee it's more comfortable than the sofa."


Saturday morning was washday in the Rabb household, and Mac was still enjoying the afterglow of spending the night loving and being loved by Harm when she went down into the cellar, where the laundry room was located. Finding a basket of Mattie's clean clothes, all neatly folded on the table between the machines, Mac shook her head and sighed.

Mac sorted the clothes and put the first load into the washing machine, then picked up the basket, taking it up to Mattie's room, where she placed it on the bed and started putting the items, mostly underwear, away. As she placed a stack of socks into the dresser drawer, her fingers hit something hard, causing Mac to frown. Digging deeper into the drawer, her fingers closed around something cool and smooth and pulled it out.

It was a half-empty bottle of vodka. Removing the lid, Mac took a sniff, confirming the contents as she quickly recapped the bottle.

Harm was concentrating on a stack of case disposition reports that he needed to get finished and ready for filing before Krennick took over when something was placed on his desk. Looking up, he saw the bottle of vodka and lifted an eyebrow as his eyes met Mac's worried ones. "What's this?"

"I found it in Mattie's sock drawer," she told him.

"What?!" he questioned in disbelief. "Mattie doesn't drink. Number one, she's underage. Number two, she *knows* what happens -"

"So did I, Harm, and it didn't stop me at her age," Mac pointed out.

"She's been going to Alateen - she -" He rose from his chair to pace the room, clearly agitated. "Damn it!" he said, and lifted his eyes toward the ceiling when the dog came bounding into the room, her tail wagging. "Not you, girl," he said, patting her on the head. "Go lay down." She moved only as far away as a corner, where she plopped down, her dark eyes still focused on Harm as he started to pace again. "I can't believe that I could have been so blind, Mac! I mean - there was no sign that -"

"People can hide anything if they want to, Harm. When I was her age, unless I was falling down drunk, no one who didn't personally know me knew that I was an alcoholic. I managed to keep my grades up, do everything I should do - but I had to have -" she pointed to the bottle that still sat on his desk, "that, just to get through the day."

Harm pulled her into his arms, holding her tightly. "What should we do?" he asked, bowing to her personal experience with this particular demon.

"Talk to her. No accusations, no yelling. She needs to know that we're here for her no matter what."

Harm nodded against her head, sighing. "I just want the answer to one question."

"What's that?" she asked, looking up at him.

"Mattie's underage. *Where* did she get the vodka?"


They were both sitting in the living room when they heard the car pull into the driveway. Mac went to the front window and peeked through the curtains. "It's her," she told Harm. "Are you ready to do this?"

He took her hand in his as the front door opened. "I don't see that I have much choice in the matter."

Mattie entered the house. "I'm home," she called out, moving toward the stairs. "I'll take my stuff upstairs and be right back down."

Harm and Mac followed her up the stairs, getting to the partially open doorway in time to see the girl open the dresser drawer where Mac had found the bottle. Reaching inside, she started pulling socks out and putting them on the dresser.

"Looking for this?" Harm asked, holding the bottle up as she turned quickly, her blue eyes wide.

"Where did you -?" she started to ask, and then apparently thought better of the question. "Why would I be looking for that?" she asked. "I needed to change my socks. The pair I'm wearing has a hole -"

"And you had to take all of the socks out of the drawer to find just the right pair?" Harm questioned.

"You and Mac had no right to go through my stuff!" she declared, going on the offensive.

"Mattie," Mac said, her voice quiet. "Where did you get the vodka?"

"A friend got it for me," she said, sitting down on the bed, arms crossed defensively across her chest.

"Why, Mattie?" Harm asked. "You know what this stuff can do. You watched it kill your father -"

"*I* killed my father!" Mattie burst out. "I was driving the car. *I* killed him," she said again, running past them and out of the room.

"That went well," Mac told Harm as they followed her down the stairs. At the bottom, they paused until they heard the back door slam and a moment later Dammit barking. In the kitchen, they stood there at the door, watching as Mattie sat on the patio, her face buried in the dog's neck. Mac turned to Harm. "Let me talk to her. Maybe I can get through to her."

He almost refused, but Harm knew that Mac was probably the best one to handle the situation and nodded instead. "Okay."

"Why don't you make some fresh coffee?"

"Trying to keep me occupied?" he questioned.

"Something like that. She's not going to relax and talk if she knows you're standing here watching." She gave him a quick hug before opening the door and going outside. Harm stood there for a moment, watching her approach Mattie before turning back toward the coffeemaker.

"Go away," Mattie said, her voice muffled by Dammit's fur.

'I'm not going to 'go away', Mattie," Mac said, sitting down in one of the chairs nearby. "You're right, you know," Mac said after a few moments.

"About what?"

"About your father's death." When Mattie lifted her head to look at Mac, confused, Mac nodded. "You *were* the one actually driving the truck. If you hadn't decided to use it to get away - then he couldn't have jumped in with you and jerked the steering wheel away like he did." Mattie's memory about that day had returned slowly, in bits and pieces, but she still hadn't fully discussed it - and neither Harm nor Mac had pressed the issue, not wanting to further upset her. Mac thought now that decision might have been a mistake.

"What else was I supposed to do?" Mattie asked. "He was trying to keep me away from Harm," she said. "He was angry. He would have -"

"You could have gone to Mrs. Tompkins and called Harm to come and get you."

"He might have hurt her, trying to get me back. You don't know what he was like when he was drunk, Mac."

"Yes, I do, Mattie. I had a father like that, too, remember?"

"But you didn't kill him."

"Not physically. But I may as well have. I left him, and by the time I found the courage to face him again, it was too late." Mac sat forward in the chair. "Mattie, right now, you're in pain. And you think that the only thing that can make that pain hurt less is to drown it with alcohol. But it doesn't help. The pain's still there."

Mattie took a deep breath, but didn't respond.

"And the worse the pain gets, the more alcohol it takes. Until one day, you end up lying out in the rain, with your best friend dying in your arms because you were both in a car and drunk," Mac said, recalling Eddie's death.

"I've already been there," Mattie sighed. "Only I was stone cold sober when I got into that truck. Harm told me not to drive," she said, her voice wavering. "But all I could think about was - was getting out of there. Getting away from *him*."

"How long have you been drinking?"

"Not long. About - three months, I guess. I only take a small drink every now and then, when things get to be too much."

"What happened to Alateen?" Mac asked, and Mattie moved away again, going to look into the pool area from outside the fence.

"I decided that I didn't need it anymore. So I'd have you or Harm or someone drop me off and then catch a ride home."

"Where were you all those times that you were supposed to be there?"

"With my friends."

"Were you and your 'friends' drinking last night, Mattie?" Mac asked, and Mattie nodded her head. "What about Liz' mother? I thought she was going to be there -"

"I never said she was. Just that she was cool with it. She works nights. She's a waitress. And before you ask - yes, she knew we were staying at her place last night."

"You didn't answer me about drinking."

"I had a few."

"A few. How many is that?"

"Six. Beers. Okay?"

"Where there boys there?"

Mattie wrinkled her nose in distaste. "No way. I may drink, Mac, but I'm not stupid."

Mac said a quick prayer of gratitude for small favors. "Is Liz' mother aware that you girls were drinking?"

"Who do you think bought the beer?" Mattie wondered.

"That's where you got the vodka, wasn't it?"

Mattie didn't answer.

"Mattie, if this woman is buying alcohol for minors, letting them drink, she's breaking the law."

"Great. So I rat out my best friend's mother and she gets put in prison. Good way for me to make friends, huh?"

"Liz isn't your best friend, Mattie. She's a drinking buddy. She'd cut you lose in a heartbeat for a drink."

"Look, I can control it, okay? It's not like I'm falling down drunk or anything. A few drinks here and there aren't going to hurt."

"It's a few drinks now. But before long, it'll be more and more until you find that you can't go for more than a few minutes without it. Today, for instance. The first thing you did - after drinking last night - was to come in and head straight for that bottle. You *needed* that drink, didn't you? In fact, you couldn't function, couldn't face the two of us, without it. Isn't that the truth?"

"Okay!" Mattie said. "Okay. Yeah. Maybe I did need it. But that doesn't mean I'm an -"

"The word is 'alcoholic', Mattie," Mac said. "You know the word. You *lived* with one for years. You watched it contribute to the death of your mother, and eventually lead to the death of your father. You know what damage it can do. To you - and to those who care about you."

"You and Harm don't care about me. You just feel responsible for me. You feel sorry because I don't have anywhere else to go -"

"What are you talking about?" Mac asked, standing up as well.

"Harm was making another life after I left. A life that didn't include me full-time. Then suddenly he didn't have any choice but to take me back in - whether he wanted to or not. You're still newlyweds," she said. "You deserve to have some privacy. Not to have a teenager running around always interrupting."

"Hey, we've managed so far, haven't we? We're a family, Mattie," Mac said. "And families take care of each other and trust each other. You lied to Harm and to me, Mattie. If you had come to us, told us how you felt -"

"It was my problem," Mattie told her. "I thought I could - handle it on my own."

Mac opened her arms. "Oh, honey. Come here." She waited until the girl turned into her arms. "Harm loves you, Mattie. So do I. And we don't want anything to happen to you."

"I miss my mother," Mattie said, drawing a ragged breath, and the pain in that voice caused tears to form in Mac's eyes.

"So do I, Mattie. I know I'm not her, but I don't think I could love you any more if you were my own daughter. I hope you know that. And if you ever need to talk or just - cry on someone's shoulder, I'm available. Anytime." She sniffed, wiping a tear away. "You ready to go back inside and talk to Harm now?"

"He's disappointed in me, isn't he?"

"He's scared to death. And maybe a little angry that you lied to him."

"I owe him so much, Mac, I never wanted to let him down. And I have -"

"You haven't let anyone down but yourself, Mattie," Harm said, drawing their attention. Seeing Mac's look, he shrugged. "It's cold out here and I thought someone needed to remind you two to come back inside before you get sick."

"Harm -" Mattie said, taking a step toward him, and then stopping, suddenly hesitant about her reception. But when Harm smiled and held out his arm, she flew across the small space, wrapping her arms around him. "I'm sorry, Harm. I'm so sorry. I didn't want you to know how weak I was -"

"Shh," he said, smoothing her hair. "Its okay, Princess. It's okay. We'll handle it. We'll handle it," he promised, meeting Mac's eyes over Mattie's head before extending a hand toward her to pull her into his embrace as well. "Looks like you could use a hug, too."

"Sometimes even Marines need a hug," she whispered.

Mattie shivered in the cool, crisp air, and Harm, rubbed her shoulders. "Let's go inside. There's hot cocoa waiting."

"I thought I mentioned coffee?" Mac said.

"Cocoa kept me occupied longer," he told her with a smile as he placed an arm around each of their shoulders. "Come on, Dammit," he called.

Inside, he told them to sit down at the table and went to get the cocoa. Once they were all sitting down and Mattie had stopped shivering, she asked, "So. What happens now?"

Harm looked at Mac before answering. "Well, you're grounded. No spending the night with your friends or going anywhere other than school or volleyball practice unless one of us is with you."

"I guess that's fair," Mattie sighed. "I know I shouldn't have lied to you. I - wouldn't blame you for deciding I'm too much trouble -"

"That's not going to happen, okay?" he said. "We're in this for the long term, Princess. No backing out or changing our minds. I feel as if this is partially my fault," he told her. "I've been so busy lately between work and everything that I've let the things that are really important slide. Like the two of you."

"Honestly, Harm, even if you hadn't been busy, I don't think it would have changed anything," Mattie told him, both hands around her cup. "Do I have to go to AA?" she asked.

"We'll see how things go," Mac told her.

"What about -" Mattie glanced at Harm before continuing. "Liz' mom?" she asked.

"I'm sorry, Mattie, but I'm not sure we can let that can slide," Mac said, giving Harm a warning look as she saw him realize what Mattie meant. "But we'll talk to her privately first. If she agrees to stop providing minors with alcohol, we'll see." She ran a finger around her cup. "Was that the only bottle you have hidden?" Mac asked.

"Yeah." She looked up, seeing both of them looking at her. "There aren't any others." Raising her right hand, she said, "I swear."

"We believe you," Harm told her. "But it's going to be awhile before you rebuild that trust. You have to know that."

"I do. How much brig time am I looking at here?" she wanted to know.

"At least a month," Harm said. "We'll look at the situation after that and see where we go from there."

"So what are the plans for today?" she wondered.

"Well," Mac said, giving Harm a wink, "we *were* going to look at cars today -"

Mattie's eyes widened. "You're *really* going to trade the Vette in on something sensible?" she asked.

"I was thinking about it," Mac admitted. "But we decided just to get another car to drive until you get your license."

Mattie saw Harm open his mouth and lifted her hand. "I know. That's something *else* that's on hold because of this. You don't have to say it." She sighed. "Why did you change your mind about the Vette?" she asked Harm, and frowned when the tips of his ears turned pink as Mac laughed.

"Let's just say memories, Mattie, and leave it at that."

"Ewww," Mattie groaned. "I'm *never* going to be able to ride in that thing again."

"Anyway," Harm said, clearing his throat and sending Mac a look that clearly said "Behave" before looking at Mattie again. "Since we have time to look for cars, why don't we drive out to Leesburg and fly for awhile?"

"You mean it?" Mattie asked.

"It's been awhile. It'll be a little cold, but if we bundle up -"

"Cool!" Mattie declared, jumping up to throw her arms around his neck before running from the room. "I'll go change and get ready."

"I still need to make the call," he called after her. Once they were alone, he looked at Mac. "You think she's going to be okay?"

"All we can do is to keep an eye on her, Harm. She has to make the decision. We can't do it for her."

"What was this about Liz' mother?"

"Apparently Mrs. Logan is the one who supplied Mattie with the vodka."


"Tell you what, why don't you take Mattie out to Leesburg? I think you and she need some quality time. I think that's part of the problem. She feels left out with me around."

"Mac -"

"I expected it. She had you all to herself before she left to go back to Tom. When she came back, she had to share you."

"You're sure you won't mind?"

"No. I think I'm going to pay a little visit to Mrs. Logan."

"If it were me, I'd call the police."

"And involve Mattie in a police investigation?" Mac said. "That will look good on her application to Annapolis."

"You have a point."

"Go make your call, Sailor."

He stood up, leaning over to capture her lips with his. Pulling back, he grinned. "Think she'd be willing to go in the Vette?"

Mac laughed. "I doubt it. Not until she knows it's been thoroughly cleaned, anyway."

"Oh, well." Another kiss.

"You'd better call the airport," she said as he left the room. "And wear something warm."

"Yes Mom," he replied.

Mac finished her cocoa before picking up the cups and taking them to the sink to rinse them out. Mattie came downstairs a few minutes later, wearing a heavy ski-suit. "Think this will be warm enough?" she asked.

"Should be perfect," Mac nodded.

"Where's Harm?"

"Calling the airport and changing."

"Aren't you going to change?"

"I'm not going. I think you and Harm need some time together."

"Mac -"

"Besides, you're going to tell me exactly where Liz Logan's house is so I can have a talk with her mother."

"She's probably asleep. She worked all night."

"Then I'll wake her up. What's the address?"


Mac parked the Vette on the street in front of the small house. The neighborhood was badly neglected, she mused, walking up the cracked sidewalk toward the house. Knocking on the door, she waited several minutes and knocked again just as a car pulled into the driveway.

The dark haired girl who got out of the car was frowning. "If you're selling something, we don't want it."

"I'm not here to sell anything," Mac told her. "You're Liz, aren't you?"

The girl looked concerned. "Yeah. Do I know you?"

"I didn't know you had your license already."

"Look, lady, who are you?" Liz asked, taking out a key to unlock the front door.

"Sarah Mackenzie Rabb. I'm Mattie's guardian."

"Oh. Is Mattie okay? We took her home earlier -"

"She's fine. But I need to talk to your mother."

"Mom's asleep," Liz said, blocking Mac's access to the now open doorway. "She worked last night."

"While you and your friends were having a party?" Mac questioned, giving the girl her best witness interrogation look. "Listen, your mother can either talk to me - or she can talk to the police. If that happens, you'll probably be placed in foster care because she'll be in jail."

"You can't talk to me that way. My dad is in the Marines and he's in Iraq -"

"I'm in the Marines, too, as I'm sure Mattie has mentioned. Believe me, Monday morning, I intend to contact him and let him know what's going on while he's gone."

"No. He won't care," she said, but her eyes fell as Mac looked at her. "It'll upset him."

"Your mother should have thought about that before she bought liquor for minors and left them alone to drink it," Mac said. "Now. Are you going to let me in, or do I go to the police and file a complaint?"

Liz pushed the door open. "Fine. Whatever. I'll go try to wake her up - but she's not going to be in a good mood."

"Then that will make two of us," Mac replied.

Liz glared at her for a moment before turning around with a flounce and moving down the hallway. Mac grimaced at the sight of empty beer cans scattered around the room, along with an empty bottle of vodka.

She was shaking her head, the empty bottle in hand, when she heard a door open and turned to see Liz returning, followed by a woman who was around Mac's age. She was wearing a terrycloth robe and her blood-shot eyes could have been attributed to lack of sleep - if Mac hadn't smelled the alcohol on her breath from across the room. "Mrs. Logan?"

"Yeah. Who are you?"

"Sarah Rabb. My husband and I are Mattie Grace's guardians."

"She's a good kid. Lonely. Most military brats are, though."

"They don't have to be. And they don't need someone turning them on to alcohol as a fake means to end that loneliness."

Mrs. Logan's eyes narrowed into slits. "What are you implying, Mrs. Rabb?"

"I'm not implying anything, Mrs. Logan. I found a bottle of vodka in Mattie's room this morning."

"So? That's got nothing to do with me."

"It's the same brand as this bottle," Mac told her, holding up the empty. "And she told me that you bought it for her."

"She's lying. You know how kids are. Probably lifted it while some clerk's back was turned and is afraid to tell the truth."

"Are you aware that your daughter had friends over here last night and that they were drinking?"

"Hey, it's my house, you know? As long as they're not on the streets, there's no harm done."

"That's another thing - Liz is a few months younger than Mattie, isn't she?" Liz swallowed heavily. "When's your birthday again?"

"You don't have to answer, Liz," her mother said. "Why don't you go on to your room and clean it up like I told you to do?"

"How long have you been driving without a license, Liz?" Mac asked before the girl could turn away.

"Look, lady, I'm not hurting anyone. Liz drives to the store for me sometimes when I'm trying to sleep. I work nights. You got no right -"

Curling her fingers into her palms in an effort to keep from wiping that smug smile from the woman's face, Mac declared, "I have every right, Mrs. Logan." Getting into the woman's face, she continued. "Mattie means as much to me as if she were my own daughter. And I'm not about to let *anyone* hurt her."

"Who's hurting her? So the kid needs a little pick me up occasionally. Nothing wrong with that."

"She's a *minor*, Mrs. Logan. I can't control how you raise *your* daughter, but I damn well intend to control how mine is raised."

"You got something against people enjoying themselves?" Mrs. Logan asked, picking up a pack of cigarettes from an end table and lighting one before taking a long drag from it.

"I'm an alcoholic, Mrs. Logan," Mac admitted. "I'm clean and sober, and I don't want Mattie to fall into the same trap that *I* fell into at her age. I was nearly killed in an auto accident before I realized what was happening to me. Is that what you want for your daughter, Mrs. Logan?"

"You got no right, Mrs. Rabb. My husband -"

"I know. He's a Marine. In Iraq."

"She's in the Marines too, Mom," Liz said. "She's a Colonel and a lawyer. Mattie mentioned it, remember?"

"I knew that kid was trouble the minute I laid eyes on her," Mrs. Logan muttered. "Get me a beer, Liz."

"We're out," Liz told her, and Mac saw her flinch when her mother turned to look at her. "You were going to get more on the way home -"

"I can see that I'm not getting anywhere," Mac announced. "So I'll just let the police handle it. I'm sure your husband will be delighted to know that you're in jail and his daughter is in a foster home -" she said, moving toward the door.

"Wait," Mrs. Logan said, and Mac turned around. "You wouldn't - tell Gene about this, would you? I mean, he's got a lot on his mind, and, well, it would only distract him from -"

"I don't see that you've left me any choice in the matter, Mrs. Logan."

"Okay. I won't buy Mattie anymore liquor," the woman said.

"That's not enough, Mrs. Logan. You have a problem. A serious one. And your daughter is following in your footsteps." Mac pulled a card and pen from her purse, writing a number down on the back of it. "Call this number and talk to someone. If you're not at the regular meeting on Monday evening, I'll call the police and tell them that your daughter is driving without a license, that you probably are abusive to her, and that you're supplying alcohol to minors, leaving them to drink it without adult supervision." She held out the card, waiting for the woman to take it from her hand. When Mrs. Logan made no move to do so, Mac laid the card on the table and turned toward the door. "Get some help, Mrs. Logan. If not for your sake, for that of your daughter."

She marched out of the house, taking a deep breath of clean air upon reaching the sidewalk. Without looking back, Mac got into the Vette and drove away, her decision made: Even if she didn't call the police, she was going to contact Gene Logan's unit and get a message to him about his wife and daughter. Perhaps, if he was willing, she could help arrange an emergency leave so that he could take care of things.


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