"Whose car is this?" Vic ran a hand along the stitched leather seat. "Nice set of wheels."
"It's a GMC Yukon XL Denali." Betty piped up from the back seat. Vic huffed, patience thin. He hadn't asked what it was, he'd asked whose it was. He could see and read very well, thank you very much. "6.2 liter, V8 engine, four-wheel drive, with a 10-speed automatic transmission." Vic rolled his eyes. Yeah, like she knew that. She was simply parroting what her husband had told her. "460 pounds of torque with a 24-gallon gas tank.
"The red is such a lovely color." She continued. And now she was doing what all women did. She prattled on about what mattered to her; cup holders and heated seats, remote start and leg room, keyless easy entry and storage. Ugh, women. What did the color matter? "Do you like it? It rides well, don't you think?"
"Uh, very well." Vic managed. "Yes, uh, not cheap, I suppose. Blackburn can afford this?"
"Lopez." Clay hissed a warning. "Jesus, enough."
"Well, Christ Spenser, it's gotta be an $80,000.00 car!"
"Oh no, he didn't buy it!" She chirped. "It's his company car and he got it for me to drive. He's rarely home, you know."
Uh, duh lady. Yeah, I know that. When he's away from home, I'm with him. "What'd you do to get me mixed up in this?" Vic complained. "This your penance? Shouldn't be mine. Can't you do your shit on your own time?" Good Grief, was Lt. Commander Blackburn really married to this scattered-brained twit nattering on in the backseat about how many wide-bottomed, big store shopping bags she could put in the cargo area?
"Language." Tsked-tsked Mrs. Bonsky from the back seat. "Really Betty, this is the best your husband could do?" She dapped a rose-water scented lace handkerchief to her upper lip. "Told you that Eric would never amount to anything…but would you listen? Nooo."
"You also said our marriage wouldn't last." Betty said mildly, smiling at Vic's stiff-necked posture. She was getting on his last nerve. Well, good. His ego and attitude annoyed her.
"Psssh….you were too young to get married."
Betty looked out the window. She'd been raised barefoot and carefree in the rolling Blue Ridge Mountains where everyone got married young, raised a family. It was what she'd wanted and what she'd got. A military man hadn't been on her list, but when she'd met Eric, military it had been.
They'd dated while he'd been away at college….the Naval Academy in Annapolis…and oh, it had been so far away. Then marriage and three kids, and while he'd settled into his 'career', she'd been a stay-at-home-mom. Content to move every few years, she uprooted the kids, settled them into a new school and somehow, managed NOT to raise military brats.
But then, Eric had had the opportunity to put down roots and while she hadn't openly pushed him to accept the position, she'd been soooo very grateful when he had. She liked Virginia Beach, if not the humid summers, but the mountains were not far away and if she wanted to, she could visit family during the hottest weeks for a bit of relief. And of course, there was central a/c…woot!
"Perhaps we were." She replied calmly. "But we managed to make it work."
Having had the kids so young, they were all grown and moved out now. Either in college, married or starting a career. Grandkids would soon come, she hoped, though Eric was not at all convinced he was old enough to be 'Pop-Pop'.
She smiled at the thought…..people in their 30's became grandparents! It wasn't the normal by any means, but it wasn't unheard of either. And Eric was no longer in his 30's, so...come on grandbabies!
"Are we almost there?" Mrs. Bonsky tapped on the back of Vic's headrest. "There had to be a shorter way, don't you think?"
"Sure thing, Mrs. B."
She didn't know how long it took to get where they were going? Clay tucked that bit of information away, let it go for now.
"Mrs. Bonsky," she corrected with a sniff. "You young 'uns today, always too lazy to pronounce the entire name. Why, I'll have you know, I was raised in a Polish town. No abbreviations in my day. Our teachers, were always Mr. Wasielewski and Mrs. Dominikowski. Why, we'd get our knuckles rapped with a metal edged ruler, we tried calling either Mr. W or Mrs. D!"
Betty chewed her lip to avoid smirking. Her mother had no way of knowing she was berating one of the best trained, elite killers the U.S. military had.
She didn't know much about Victor Lopez, but she knew what his job was even if he was new to the team and Eric was still 'getting a feel' for him. Eric had worked with SEAL teams for over twenty years now, and while she didn't know details of missions and jobs, she knew how they were trained, what they did.
Why, Jason Hayes had the ability to snap the neck of someone on a crowded New York subway car and no one would even know he'd done it. She knew this, because Eric had told her he'd done it. Well, not in New York, no…..still, did where really matter?
Now, Clay Spenser? Pfft, she knew more about him then the Navy doctors, therapists, psychologists and specialists all put together. She knew his skills, his abilities, his talents. His 'stupid' habit of taking dangerous risks, his 'reckless' habit of jumping into danger without thought, his 'unique knack' for find trouble. His propensity for getting lost, taken, kidnapped, abducted, snatched, captured, jumped, go missing, disappear.
He was damn good at math and able to do calculations in his head, making him one of the best trained snipers the Navy had. He was loyal, dedicated, dependable, had his brothers backs, no matter what. He ran from nothing, knew no bounds, tested all limits. Who wouldn't want that?
But, Eric stressed, he was young and impulsive and while he would someday be a great team leader, he still had a lot to learn. Jason was fond of saying, he had never been as stupid at making decisions as Spenser was.
Eric begged to differ.
Her husband had spent many a night while she combed hair dye through his beard, telling her what had turned him grey: a job, a mission, an escapade – Jason Hayes, Clay Spenser. He'd shared stories about what the team had done to get their kid back. Where they had gone, who they had ignored, how they disobeyed orders, what it had cost, how it had been done. Not that she could ever admit to such a thing.
He told her how the kid had accepted Bravo because, according to the experts – and no, he'd never said who those experts were – they had already been a unit when Clay joined the team. The problem came when someone new joined or ran with them and you gave him an aspirin and he ended up singing to an ex-girlfriend before pulling a gun on a teammate. Well, okay, he'd admitted that was a bit of an understatement….the medication had been more than an aspirin, but still….holding a loaded gun on anyone was a big no-no.
He'd told her how the kid would disappear right in front of their eyes. Be there one second, gone the next. They blinked, and it was like he'd hadn't been standing right the fuck there. How they turned around and they were alone. How the kid found trouble in the bathroom, in bed, in the hospital.
Now, she loved her husband. Her love, trust and faith in him had no bounds. He protected her freedom, her every day way of life, her country and everyone who lived within its borders, but still, and she'd never admit it, she found his description of life with Clay, rather hard to believe. Then again, she'd never known anyone who threw such reactions to medication or illicit drugs either, so...eh.
Whatever, she knew he and Jason had their hands full with the boy, who trouble just found.
Eric had been hesitant about letting Clay go with her….no, take her? No, she was basically accompanying him, even if he hadn't yet realized it. Anyway, Eric had warned her, keeping track of Clay right under her nose would be harder than she thought it would be.
She doubted that. Really, how hard could it be? She shook her head with a smile…men.
"We're just dropping them off, right?" Vic said to Clay. "Spenser? We aren't staying, we'll go back, pick them up next week. Tell me we're not staying. Say something."
Clay didn't answer, choosing to concentrate on the traffic.
He hadn't wanted to escort the ladies anywhere, but he hadn't had a choice. The orders had come from Blackburn and when he'd objected, McCall had just so happened to choose that exact moment to enter the room, pick up a file, give a nod and walk right back out.
Coincidence? Clay thought not.
Show of support? Solidarity? Clay thought so.
"You were told to pack a bag." He said finally.
"How again, did this become our job?" Vic continued to grouse. "I didn't do anything. You did. You're the one that ran away from home. Still don't know why I'm here."
Clay rolled his eyes, turned left. "Seven days." He smirked, eased into the left lane gained speed before risking a sly glance sideways. He didn't know why he was stuck with Lopez either. He'd argued with Jason over Vic coming with him until a mug had been thrown at his head.
"But…why?" Hell, all he'd been told was; Bravo's stay at home had been extended another seven days, he was accompanying Clay and 'that was an order'.
The team had scattered:
Sonny had headed home to Texas.
Metal had returned to his wife's family mountain retreat.
Trent and the tribe had loaded up the RV and hit the road.
Brock was off-grid with the family.
Ray was holed up in the new house with a contractor.
Jason had hit the road to visit Emma, taking Mikey along for the ride.
Vic didn't even know why Clay was escorting the ladies to the spa or staying until it was time to return them home. No one ever told him anything and he felt he should have been given leave along with the rest of Bravo.
But no, he was heading to the hills of North Carolina somewhere with two old ladies for a week stay at an old fogey resort…where there would be absolutely nothing to do…ugh.
And he didn't even know why…and there was nothing he could do about it.
"Hey!" Vic rapped on the door, tried the knob, discovered the door was locked. "Ready for breakfast? Early bird special, then I can get the hell outta here for a couple hours. Let's go!" He rat-a-tatted an obnoxious staccato on the door. "You in there?" He rattled the knob, thumped with this knee, rapped with his knuckles. "YO! Dude!"
Clay rolled over, shoved at his unruly hair that curled in the humidity, sat up but didn't get out of bed. He wasn't hungry, he had a headache and the thought of getting up and going anywhere soured his stomach. The room was cool, the a/c was working, but he was sticky, had to peel the sheet off his legs.
But Vic wasn't going away. "I'm hungry! Come on!"
"Yeah." He called out so Vic would stop knocking. "Coming."
He rolled off the bed, in addition to his aching hip and touchy side – both courtesy of Vic yesterday, his chest was sore…..eh, too much swimming a stroke he didn't usually swim, he guessed. Ow. Would he never learn? So much for trying to use muscles in a different way since the gym lacked certain equipment – and he couldn't even blame that one on Vic!
"You eating?" Vic rattled the knob again, as if this time, it would magically open. "Dude, door's locked."
"Yeah, take the hint, asshole." Clay muttered. He'd wear a ball hat to tame his hair, but it was rude to wear a hat at the breakfast table, so he ran a comb under the cold-water spigot, wetted it down.
Vic pounded again as Clay buttoned the fly on his cargo shorts. "Knock it off!" He yelled, adding his phone and wallet to his pockets. "Jesus, you ass." He yanked the door opened, stepped out, locked the door behind him. "No hurry, you know."
"What the hell were you doing?" Vic scowled, led the way. "Good God, I get you outta bed or something? You're always up before dawn."
"Sure." Clay stepped aside to allow a woman with a walker room to pass. "Ma'am."
"Stop dawdling." Vic huffed. Two people could have passed in the hallway without having to stop and he was annoyed that Clay had done so, even though the delay had been brief. Very brief, but still... "I'm hungry, and I don't wanna be late."
"Late to breakfast that lasts three hours?" Clay scoffed. "Didn't need me to eat, you're so worried about it."
Vic didn't feel comfortable eating with the 'mere' staff in the kitchen where Clay usually enjoyed his meals, so this time, Clay caved and they ate in the main dining room. He was just too tired and too sore to argue and they were guests, so were allowed, but still, Clay felt awkward. He didn't like buffet dining. Oh, he liked the all-you-can-eat, unlimited feature, but too many people reached across or leaned over the dishes and pans of food.
Clay preferred to take his meals in the kitchen because there, he was served pancakes, eggs, bacon for breakfast, steak and potatoes for dinner. No fruit cups, no smoothies, no heart-heathy, salt-less rabbit food unless it was wanted.
This was their third morning at the resort and though Vic had whined and complained hourly about being bored with nothing to do, Clay had been content with his 'forced' escorting job to the 'mountain retreat'.
His single room – thank God he didn't have to share with Vic – was quiet, comfortable, had Wi-Fi, cable, a Smart TV, a DVD player and a view of the mountains. The library was more than adequate – spy novels and mysteries, mindless drivel, but entertaining and enjoyable all the same – as well as a good selection of movies.
He rarely saw the guests, and the staff gym, though not by any means what he was accustomed to, was equipped well enough to keep him in shape for seven days. There was an outdoor pool which he visited twice daily – he avoided the one indoors for obvious reasons – and mountain trails for walking, running or biking. Both part of the reason he ached and felt like shit.
Weeelllll…he reached for his glass of juice, paused with a wince, shifted his weight, reached again….ow…..exercise and fucking Vic.
He'd gone head-over-heels off the mountain bike he'd taken out yesterday when the asshole had jumped into his path in a lame attempt to either scare or prank him. Unable to swerve to avoid him because Vic had also scared a pair of old men half out of their wits and they'd remained frozen on the narrow path, he'd ploughed right into him.
He'd been coming downhill at a speed probably not considered safe when yeah, unable to brake in time and unable to go around Vic, he'd allowed himself to feel the pleasure from flattening the asshole with a fat, aggressive-tread tire – there'd been no other choice than to smack right into him.
He'd pitched head first off the bike, landed on his back and the momentum had caused him to tumble down a hill, only stopping when his right hip slammed against a rock large enough to halt his rapid descent...owowowowowow...and, yeah, he was still feeling it. He was bruised, scraped, cut, swollen, and had road rash. OW, indeed.
It had been either choose one of the old men to take out or…..he grinned….Vic, who griped Clay should have laid the bike down, but he'd been going too fast and the men had appeared out of nowhere, hadn't moved and there really hadn't been time to do anything but brace for impact when the front tire hit Vic square in his chest. Heeheehee! Oh Yeah!
He waved off a refill of juice, smiled his thanks…. eh, he'd had worse falls over the years.
Thankfully, he hadn't landed on his head because he hadn't been wearing a helmet. Something he was sure Doc would hear about and he'd be lectured about safety and precautions and protection….yaddayaddayadda…blahblah-blah.
He eyed Vic who sat across from him, rubbing his chest where he'd taken the brunt of the hit…..served him right for being an asshole…..sighed, sat back, stretched.
There was a retired doctor on-site for the usual aches and pains. He puttered about, distributing band-aids, aspirin and tut-tutting as he doled out icepacks and menthol rub.
Clay had already seen him three times, even though he was convinced, should he need Trent-mandated medical care….he wouldn't receive it here. But it made Betty happy and he'd been able to see what medications he had in his office - he had more in his first aid kit - so…yeah…there was that….for whatever it was worth.
He'd dutifully checked in with him once he arrived as ordered – Betty had escorted him like a mother ordering about a recalcitrant teen-ager – sat patiently while the doctor read the file from Doc and poked and prodded along Clay's side. He'd declared Clay fine and fit and sent him on his way.
He'd seen him after the fall off the bike because Betty had all but dragged him by his ear. She'd made Vic go as well and other than the obvious bruises, cuts and scrapes, both had been deemed fit and fine.
He'd had no intention of informing her of the accident, but the men on the path had told the story time and again to everyone they saw and by the 10th or so retelling, Clay had become the 'Greatest American Hero' – complete with tousled blonde curls and blue eyes – with the ability to soar like an eagle but absolutely no skill at landing.
Yeah, he was sure he'd ended up 'landing' in an undignified heap after that spill off the bike. He'd landed so hard, he'd accepted Vic's help getting back to the path.
"Dunno why you're sitting there, wincing." Vic commented. "I'm the one in pain over here. You should see the bruise on my chest from the bike tire."
"Dunno Vic, maybe 'cause you threw me into a railing?"
Vic scowled, drank some coffee so he didn't snap back.
Last night, after dinner, he and Clay had gotten into it on the outdoor patio over the way Vic was treating the staff. Yes, he did feel it was their job to cater to his needs, whatever he wanted, to clean up after him and he didn't see why he should say thank you, please or tip the waiters, maids, housekeeping, laundry or room service, or the porters. Since this was an 'all inclusive' resort, and his stay was being paid for, he felt gratuities should be included.
Though he and Clay hadn't discussed it, someone was paying for the four of them to stay here and it wasn't cheap. To their trained eye, and Mrs. Bonsky's comment about the directions, it was obvious that neither Betty nor her mother had ever been here before. The ladies didn't know what to do or how to interact with many of the guests who obviously had been here before.
So yeah, he'd been sent on a forced 'vacation' to babysit Clay, he didn't know why and he wasn't any too happy about it. He just hadn't figured out the role the ladies played in this trip, but he damn well bet Spenser had.
He didn't see why he had to spend his own money on tips or why Clay made such a big deal about it. He didn't even know why he was here. He didn't want to be. When he'd asked why he had to go, he'd been told it was his fault Clay – he begged to differ – was hurt and his responsibility to make sure Clay rested and healed without further issue. Whatever. He was wasting his time, his talent. He was trained for combat, not…not…well, not this. Not rusticating in the hills with old people.
He didn't see how anything was his fault, but there was no arguing with Blackburn.