THE BRIDE'S FATHER
By Amy Eastlake
Copyright 2001 by Robert Preece
All Rights Reserved
Published by BooksForABuck.com
This is the first chapter only. To buy the entire eNovel, click the Buy Now button below (payments processed by PayPal for your security):
THE BRIDE'S FATHER by Amy Eastlake
Something was wrong. Brad Mittermann woke in a cold sweat and sprang out of bed. A glance at the bedside clock told him it was far too early for his internal alarm clock to have gone off. A thin wisp of a breeze slicked the hairs on his chest. Something was seriously wrong.
He pulled on a pair of jeans and stepped out of his bedroom. His stomach knotted at the sight of the wide-open front door to his ranch house. Even the strong west-Texas winds couldn't have blown it open--not after he'd bolted it shut.
He turned and ran down the hall. He could ask Chrissie's forgiveness later for barging into her room. His immediate priority was making sure his teenage daughter was all right.
Brad wasn't sure where Chrissie had picked up the habit of burrowing under her covers like a hibernating bear. Still, the lump under the cover would have reassured him if he hadn't seen the open front door. As it was, he looked more closely.
Whoever, or whatever, was under the bedcovers wasn't breathing.
He pulled back the blankets in a single jerk, then stared at the mound of pillows strategically arranged to look like a sleeping sixteen year old.
"What the--" his mind ran over the possible explanations. Kidnapping, extortion, sleepwalking. With no sign of a struggle, only one explanation made sense. Chrissie had deliberately disobeyed his rules and snuck out in the middle of the night.
He took two seconds to put on a T-shirt and boots and headed for his Cadillac.
Mineral Wells, Texas, wasn't a big city, but it did have a twenty-four-hour police department. He felt no guilt at all in calling the 9-1-1 dispatcher, waking her from what sounded like a sleep far more comfortable than the one he'd been having, and instructing her to have the police scramble to find his missing daughter.
That task handled, he consulted his car computer for directions to Chrissie's boyfriend's house then headed for the middle class section of town where Kyle lived. Brad cursed himself as idiot for keeping Kyle on as part-time ranch help after his daughter started to show interest. He'd always been too soft hearted, he decided. He'd seen how much Kyle loved horses, and just gotten irrational. Brad still remembered his pain when the foster parents with a California horse ranch had sent him back to the foster system. So he'd let Kyle keep his job. He hoped it wasn't too late to remedy the situation.
He left the engine running, strode up the flower-lined pathway, and hammered on the door to Kyle's house.
Thunder crashed down on Mitzi Jordan's pleasant dream and she gasped to a drowsy wakefulness. Moments later, a second volley of thunder transformed itself into some idiot pounding on her door.
Kyle hadn't locked himself out for years, but nobody else was likely to be knocking at the ridiculous hour of two-thirty in the morning. Mitzi got up, pulled a silk bathrobe over her nightshirt and opened the door.
It took her a good three seconds to realize that whoever was standing there was certainly male, but even more definitely not her son.
"It's a little early for social calls," she said, quickly trying to close her door.
"This isn't a social call." The stranger shoved a foot between the door and door jam, refusing to let her shut him out.
The intruder had the makings of a handsome man, with a body her subconscious would definitely remember well enough to populate her next set of dreams with. Amber eyes glowered from his sun darkened face and his shoulders were so broad they filled her doorway. Concern warred with anger for control of his face.
"If that dog is out again, it belongs to my neighbors," she said. "I know it tears things up and makes a racket, but I'm the wrong one to talk to about it."
"There is a dog out all right. But you're wrong about one thing. He's definitely yours. I expect you to start taking some responsibility."
"I beg your pardon."
"I want Chrissie."
For an irrational second, she thought he was a jealous rival to her son. Then she noticed the resemblance. He must be the evil old ogre of a father Chrissie had told her about. In person he didn't look particularly old, and she wasn't sure about the evil part. On the other hand, he certainly looked dangerous.
Still, at least he wasn't a thief or mugger. She relaxed a fraction, though she didn't let him in. "You must be Mr. Mittermann. As far as I know, Chrissie doesn't have a dog."
"Call me Brad. And I'm referring to your Kyle."
Mitzi considered herself a peaceful person. She didn't make waves, tried to enjoy life, and had raised her son with the live-and-let-live philosophy she'd adopted as her personal way of surviving. So she was surprised at the red surge of protective anger that came over her when Brad verbally attacked her son.
Without conscious thought, she pulled back the door and slammed it toward Brad's foot. "Get lost, Mittermann."
Unfortunately for her, the man had reacted as quickly as she acted, catching the door with his arms and pulling it to a stop. "It's practically three in the morning and your son has absconded with my daughter. I want her back."
"Well, I don't have her."
His eyes widened as he stared at her, as if he were somehow absorbing her essence and reading her soul. He nodded. "All right. So, where is she?"
"How would I know?"
"You're Kyle's mother, aren't you? I would assume that a parent would know where her child is at this hour."
At that moment, his attitude called to mind her own parents, and her heart went out to poor Chrissie. Not that she wouldn't have Kyle's hide if he really was out at this hour.
She knew she was making a mistake the moment she opened her mouth. Still, she couldn't resist. "I don't know, Mr. Mittermann. Maybe I am a bad parent. Since you're so perfect, why don't you tell me where your daughter is?"
His face went white for a moment. "I intend to find that out." He turned on his heel.
Alarmed, Mitzi quickly sorted through her options. If Mittermann found Kyle in this mood, he could kill the kid. Kyle might have his brown belt in karate, but she didn't think he'd have a chance against Brad in a fair fight. And the way Brad looked, a fair fight was the last thing on his mind.
"Give me a minute. I'll come with you."
He stopped and turned back toward her. "Why?"
"Because I don't want you to hurt my child," she answered truthfully.
For the first time, his scowl lightened. He didn't smile but for a moment concern seemed to be winning its battle with pure anger. "Maybe Kyle's father should go with me, then."
"Good idea. Last I heard he was in Baltimore. When you find him, ask him about eighteen years of child support payments. They would help pay for Kyle's college."
Brad frowned, then nodded. "You've got two minutes to get ready." He pushed himself into her house without being invited and crossed his arms.
Mitzi forced herself not to run into her bedroom. She threw the robe and nightshirt at her bed, then pulled on a pair of leggings, a T-shirt and some sneakers. It took a bit more than two minutes, but not much.
Brad was pacing her living room when she rejoined him. "That was pretty fast. For a woman."
"Thank you. And you're pretty rude, even for a man."
Her shot didn't seem to hit anything strategic. He nodded curtly. "Let's go."
Mitzi sank into the soft leather upholstery of his Cadillac and watched Brad peel out of the cul-de-sac where she and Kyle lived. It figured a man like him would have a car like this--big, powerful, and rich. "So where did you plan to search first?"
Brad shot her a look. "There's got to be a lover's lane somewhere in this town. The kids are too young to check into a motel."
Mitzi hadn't been out on lover's lane since she'd been younger than Chrissie and dating Kyle's dad. Still, Mineral Wells hadn't changed that much over the years. "Turn left here," she told him.
He followed her directions, driving with a complete sense of confidence and control. She couldn't help noticing the muscles in his forearms. She understood Mittermann had been some sort of computer jock before moving to Mineral Wells and taking over an old horse ranch. While his accent might be California, with his deep tan and his muscular build, he looked the classic cowboy.
Her little old Volkswagen stood out from the half dozen cars parked along the mile-long stretch of road. She was both relieved and apprehensive to see it here. "That's my car."
She watched Brad closely. She didn't know what she could do, but she had no intention of allowing him to hurt her son. She'd lay into Kyle about this later, but she was his mother. Nobody but her messed with her kid.
Brad angled his Cadillac in front of the Volkswagen and picked up his cellular phone, pushing a couple of buttons. "It's Mittermann. I found them out on lover's lane," he snarled. "So where the hell are you? I'd think your patrolman would know where to look better than me."
"Are you calling the police on your own daughter?" Mitzi thought she'd seen everything, but she couldn't imagine that.
He put the phone on the seat. "Of course not. Chrissie is an impressionable kid. I called the cops on Kyle."
He opened his door and stepped out while Mitzi tried to pick up her jaw from where she'd dropped it.
She wrestled with the car door, which had somehow locked itself, then ran after Brad.
Brad threw open the Volkswagen's passenger side door.
Just for a moment, Mitzi saw something totally unexpected cross Brad's face. Rather than the wrathful father she'd expected, he looked relieved that his daughter was alive. For just an instant he looked, well, human. She could almost forgive a man who had feelings like that. Almost. She toughened her heart. The man had called the police on her son.
"Young lady." Brad's voice was icy cold. "Go sit in the car while Kyle and I have a little chat." Brad switched off his concern so quickly, Mitzi doubted Chrissie would have seen it.
"I want to stay."
Brad shook his head. "I'm not going to hurt him. Even if I wanted to, his mother wouldn't let me."
Chrissie looked up. She was disheveled, but fully dressed. "Oh. Mrs. Jordan. I didn't know you were here."
"When kids sneak out in the middle of the night, their parents can get worried," Mitzi admitted. She wasn't taking Brad's side against own son. But Brad's look of concern forced her to be fair. If she hadn't been so mad at Brad, she might be just as angry at her son.
"It was my idea." Kyle had stepped from the car. He pulled himself to his full height and strode toward Brad. At six feet tall and with the muscles he'd developed working on Brad's ranch, he managed to impress most people. Brad didn't look impressed. Mitzi recognized Kyle's noble look. He was always ready to take the blame for everything.
"I figured as much," Brad said.
"Dad, that's not--"
"Don't worry, Chrissie," Brad interrupted. "I'll give you a chance to tell your side of the story. After all, we're going to have lots of time to spend together, just the two of us."
A squeal of brakes and a white searchlight shining on the group indicated that the police had arrived. A second later, a policeman puffed up to Brad and Mitzi, his shirt half tucked and white powdered sugar staining his trousers.
"Is there a problem here?" the officer asked.
"This young man has admitted to abducting my daughter from my home. I want him charged with breaking and entering."
The cop looked apprehensively at the car and the two teenagers, trying to size up the situation. "Maybe there's been a misunderstanding," he suggested.
"There was a misunderstanding, all right," Brad shot back. "He misunderstood who he was dealing with. I'll have my lawyers call the department tomorrow morning and help draw up charges."
Mitzi was appalled all over again. First Brad had offended her. Now he was working on ticking off the cops. It wasn't a strategy Mitzi would have selected. Maybe his money let him get away with that kind of behavior.
"If there are going to be any charges, rest assured that the DA's office can handle it," the cop blustered.
Mitzi knew better than to let this macho-fest continue. Somebody could get hurt. While she didn't have any use for Brad, other than as fantasy bait, she didn't want trouble between him and the police. "Come on, Kyle," she announced. "Let's go to the police station." She climbed into the back of the patrol car and gestured for Kyle to join her.
"I fully intend to take you back home, Mrs. Jordan," Brad announced.
"The only reason I'd consider it would be to give Chrissie a human companion," Mitzi answered. "It'll be a cold day in hell before I go anywhere near you again, Mr. Mittermann."
"We'll send someone out for your Volkswagen," the cop indicated.
Kyle looked at Mitzi, then at Chrissie. Obviously he was torn by conflicting duties.
"He isn't going to hurt her," Mitzi assured him. "Come on, son. It's late."
"Do you have any idea how I felt when I woke up and thought you'd been abducted?" Brad managed to keep his voice under control. Barely.
"Do you have any idea how I feel having my father call the police on my boyfriend?" Chrissie didn't back off at all. What had happened to the sweet, young lady he thought he was raising?
"Your ex-boyfriend," Brad filled in. "As of now."
"You're not being fair."
"I'm not being fair?" Brad wasn't a perfect father. How could he be? He hadn't been given the best role models growing up. Still, since his wife, Angela, had died, he'd done his best. Obviously his best wasn't good enough. "I remember being a teenager, sweetheart. I understand how it feels when your hormones surge. They can take complete control over your brain. But it isn't forever. There are lots of boys in the world. Trust me, not all of them will come up with wild ideas like sneaking out in the middle of the night."
"It was my idea."
Brad swerved his car half-way across the road and stared at her. "I don't believe you. Why?"
Chrissie shrugged her shoulders. "Like it's hard to understand. You only let me go out with Kyle once a week, and then for a lousy three hours. We can't do anything."
He fought to stay calm. Not being able to do anything was the whole idea. She was a sixteen year-old child, for goodness sake. "We agreed on our rules. Your sneaking out in the middle of the night hardly makes me want to change them."
"I'm so sure you'd change them if I did anything else. Come on, Dad. Get real. I agreed to your rules when I was thirteen and Mother had just died. They haven't changed since then no matter how good I've been. If I'd known I'd be stuck with them for the rest of my life I--oh, never mind."
Brad had never had any problems dealing with foreign languages, different cultures or even dumb animals. But he had no idea how to talk to his own daughter. Hell, he'd communicated better with Mitzi Jordan. And she hated his guts.
"I'll tell you what," he offered. "Let's agree to a three-week cooling-off period. Then we'll rethink the whole thing. Including the rules."
"Very funny, Dad. You've probably put Kyle on ice for the next six months. He won't even be able to graduate."
He remembered Mitzi's face when he'd told the cop to arrest Kyle. No wonder Chrissie and Mitzi got along so well. Both were fighters and both cared as much about others as themselves. So unlike Chrissie's mother Angela.
"I got carried away," Brad conceded. "Still, Kyle said it was his idea."
"He was trying to be a gentleman, Dad. Not that you'd understand the concept."
"I'll have the police drop the charges," he admitted.
"Yeah? Thanks for nothing."
Chrissie had been a sweet baby. After Angela had died, they'd supported each other through the emotional depths. So what had happened? Tonight might be the worst disaster they'd been through so far, but it certainly hadn't been their first fight.
Brad tried to understand her point of view, but he really did know what was best. At sixteen, Chrissie didn't have the experience she'd need to make decisions that would affect her for the rest of her life. He'd barely managed to survive his own teen years and he'd been a tough kid. He needed to protect her. Period.
He forced his hands to relax on the steering wheel. He knew he had to get through to Chrissie.
In a perverse way he envied the casual affection he'd seen between parent and child in the few seconds he'd been with Mitzi and Kyle. If anything, Mitzi had more reason to be angry with Kyle than Brad had with Chrissie. After all, Kyle was the one who was going to jail. Still, Mitzi had supported her son, even went off to the police station with him.
He frowned. He'd suffered from exactly that irresponsible attitude from most of the string of foster parents who'd raised him. He'd seen where that led. Too many of his foster siblings had ended up drugged, dead, or on the wrong side of the law.
He shook his head. Thinking about Mitzi wasn't helping. It would have been a lot better if Mitzi were a couple of decades older, and a whole lot less attractive. When she'd opened the door, he'd assumed she was Kyle's sister, not his mother. Even looking closely, she couldn't have been much older than thirty-four. And she'd been too damned sexy for his own good. For the first time in three years, he'd actually felt his body responding to a woman. Damn.
"Ah, so where do you want to go?" the cop asked. Jimmy had been in Mitzi's high school class, and she wasn't surprised he was willing to stretch the rules for a friend. She couldn't take advantage of him, but his support felt good.
"You'd better take us down and book us," Mitzi suggested. "That way Br--Mr. Mittermann won't make trouble for you."
"Nobody makes trouble for me," Jimmy rumbled.
Wrong tactic. With an eighteen-year-old son, Mitzi should have learned better than to use logic when dealing with a male.
"Be reasonable, Jimmy."
Jimmy sighed. "All right, I will be. Do you have any idea how many kids have made out on that road over the past century?"
"I sure don't, but I'm absolutely certain that exactly half of the dads wanted some boy arrested over it."
"But in this case--"
"And you know how many arrests the police department has made for kids making out? I'll tell you, Mitzi. It's not that hard to remember. None. A big fat zero. Well, guess what? I'm not going to be the first cop to break that record. Why don't I just drop the two of you back home? I'll have your car brought back there later this morning. If the DA needs to talk to you, I'll know where to find you."
"Jimmy, you're just the sweetest thing."
"Just trying to do my job, ma'am."
Kyle had been wiggling impatiently while the adults had talked. "You don't suppose Mr. Mittermann will hurt Chrissie, do you, Mom?"
"No." No matter how frustrated he might be, no matter how dangerous he was to anyone who threatened his loved ones, Mitzi knew that Brad would never intentionally hurt his child. His anger had been protective, not vindictive. He would simply suffocate Chrissie in his protectiveness.
"Appears to me you'll be lookin' for a new girlfriend," Jimmy remarked. "With your mom working at the Community College, you might see if she can bring something home."
"And you were doing so well, Jimmy." Mitzi gave him a warning frown.
"Oops. Well, shoot. I'm sorry, Kyle. I know this seems like a disaster to you now. Wait a couple of years and we'll laugh about it together over a beer."
"Fat chance," Kyle said.
Mitzi hated the bitter tone in her son's voice. Despite her warnings, he had invested so much of himself in this relationship. Not that she could blame him. She'd done the same thing when she was right around Chrissie's age. That's how she'd ended up with Kyle.
"Kyle," she reprimanded.
"That's all right, Ms. Jordan, Kyle," Jimmy said, cutting off Kyle's apology. "I stepped way over the line there."
"Mom, maybe you could talk to Chrissie's dad," Kyle suggested. "I think he likes you."
"He definitely does not like me. And even if he did, talking to him is a not good idea." If only she hadn't caught Brad's tender look at his daughter, she could go on thinking of him as simply an evil man instead of a parent who worried about his child. As it was, a part of her heart went out to him. She was too sympathetic for her own good and knew it. That had to be the problem. Surely she wasn't attracted to the man.
Jimmy pulled his patrol car in front of her house and let the two of them out of the back seat. "Just in case," he mentioned to Kyle, "I don't suppose you're going out of town for the next couple of weeks."
"In my dreams," Kyle replied.
"Thought so. If you have to, give me a call. Wouldn't want ol' Mittermann worried. Man might have a stroke." Jimmy chuckled to himself.
He drove off, leaving the two of them standing in Mitzi's driveway.
Kyle flinched from her glare, then looked back.
"Why, yes, Kyle?"
"It's not like we were really doing anything. We were just making out. I mean, a little." He sounded shaky.
"Young man, do you know the meaning of a curfew?"
"Sure. On school nights. It's Saturday, remember?"
"Oh. I get it. You didn't know Chrissie was sneaking out of her house. You thought her father knew she was out and had extended her curfew just this once?" She hated using sarcasm on her son, but it seemed to work. Sometimes nothing else did. "And, of course, you thought I'd just forgotten to mention that we'd changed the rules about you telling me where you are."
"No, Mom." He kicked his booted foot against a tuft of grass and stared at it as if it might have the answer to his problem.
"No, Mom, what?" Mitzi demanded.
"I knew she was sneaking out. I knew her dad wouldn't approve."
"Kyle, I've tried to raise you with just one basic rule. Can you remember what that is?"
"Be responsible for yourself and for who you're with." His falsetto imitation of her voice didn't make her rule sound especially impressive and it certainly didn't show the respect she thought she deserved. She decided to ignore that for now.
"Well, tonight you blew it. Think about that. Now let's get back to bed."
Mitzi caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror as she walked past. Big mistake. Her black hair looked like something had nested in it. And her T-shirt advertised a local fertilizer factory. No wonder Brad hadn't taken her seriously. Of course, her disreputable appearance was partly his fault. He could have at least given her a couple of minutes to put on makeup.
Men. Times like this, she was overjoyed that she didn't have one in her life. Except her son, of course.
"Night, darling." She gave him a quick hug.
Her bed didn't look nearly as inviting as it had when Brad had dragged her out of it. Outside, false dawn was already brightening the sky. In no time, she'd have to get up. Her garden was crawling with weeds. If they were going to have fresh vegetables this year, she'd have to spend some serious weeding time. Still, even an hour of sleep would help.
She pulled off her clothes and looked around but couldn't find her nightshirt. For the first time in sixteen years, since Billy had announced he was leaving her and their baby son so he could 'find himself," she climbed naked between the sheets.
She shut her eyes and willed herself to sleep. Images of Brad floated in her head.
It was stupid. He'd ruined her sleep in person and now he was doing it again without even being there. Even if he was drop-dead good looking, the man was a jerk. If she ever got interested in dating again, she'd find someone like Jimmy, the cop. So what if Brad's hands looked like they could touch a woman and drive her to the point of madness? They would never touch her.
In her dreams they did.
The hard jangle of the phone woke her after what felt like two seconds of sleep.
She fumbled for it, knocked it off her nightstand, then finally grasped the receiver. "Hello."
She recognized the voice. How could she not? She'd spent the night dreaming about it.
"Good morning, Mr. Mittermann."
"It's Bra--oh. Good morning, Ms. Jordan. I'm glad you're home."
"Fine. Is there anything else, or are you just calling to disturb my sleep? Again."
"Did I wake you? I'm sorry. I have to get up early for my animals and I sometimes forget other people live with different schedules."
"Don't condescend to me. I normally wake up at dawn. When my night gets disturbed, my sleep patterns change. Now, are you calling for a reason or just to annoy me?"
"I called the police about the arrest."
She forced herself to stay calm. Was he angry that Kyle wasn't in prison? "You said you were going to. I think the whole idea is rather foolish, but, of course, foolishness is your prerogative."
"I'm trying to say I made a mistake last night. I got emotional and said things I didn't mean. I told the police I didn't want to file charges."
Mitzi paused and took a deep breath. "The great Brad Mittermann made a mistake? Perhaps you should explain this to my son. He's the one you attacked."
From the silence at the other end, Mitzi figured she'd landed that shot close to home. "You have a valid point. All right then, I'll do it."
The sharp click told her Brad had vanished from her life.
It was for the best, she assured herself. She had no business fantasizing about him or anyone else. She was over thirty, for goodness sake. That should be old enough to control her libido rather than letting it control her. Something about Brad Mittermann upset all of the rules.
She pounded her fist into the pillow a couple of times and felt much better. Looking at the alarm clock was a mistake. It was late.
She drifted back into a delicious sleep in which a man who looked a lot like Brad, but who actually had an agreeable personality, held her in his arms and whispered soft nothings into her ear.
A loud hammering on her front door brought her sputtering back to consciousness. Talk about deja vu.
"This had better be important," she threatened as she pulled a sheet off the bed and wrapped it
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