Authors: Mariah Stewart
Tags: #Retail Industry, #Smitten, #Racing, #Sports Industry, #TV Industry
He did have his investments—a graduate degree in economics had served him well when it came to investing his mother’s inheritance, which his grandfather had passed on to him when he had turned twenty-one— along with his London flat, so it wasn’t as though he was desperate. But he sure as hell was bored. For years, most of his spare time was spent with other drivers and the members of the pit crews. These days, when it took him forever to get as far as the first floor of his apartment building, going down those narrow winding steps was an adventure all its
own. “Don’t get around much any
more” had taken on a whole new meaning.
And now his grandfather was on his way for a visit, something Delaney almost never did. Over the years, Ben had logged many a frequent flyer mile returning to the States to see his grandfather, but only rarely had Delaney made the trip to visit Ben. No one knew better than Ben just how much his grandfather hated to fly. Whatever it was that was bri
nging him across the ocean, it m
ust be pretty damned important.
Ben settled back with his book,
I guess by this time tomorrow night, I’ll know.
* * *
elaney O’Connor paced the floor of his hotel room without any purpose whatsoever than to keep himself moving. Every fourth time past the mantel, he glanced up at the clock with its ornately painted face, annoyed to find that not even a mere
had passed since the
last time he had looked. The flight had left him anxious and weary, and he wished that he had put off this
meeting with his grandson until the next morning. But the truth was he couldn’t wait to see Ben. The only child of Delaney’s own only child, Ben was also Delaney’s
only living relative, and the only person on the face of
the earth whom Delaney truly loved.
Delaney had loved his grandson the minute he had a first laid eyes on the boy. Understanding immediately
that the boy’s anger was a poor mask for the sheer terror he felt at knowing that his mother was dying, the sense of betrayal he must have, felt when she had chosen to share her last months with her father as well as her son, Delaney’s heart had gone out to the boy. The bonds of their relationship had been forged as they had, together, watched helplessly as Maureen had died, bit by sad bit every day, and had grown stronger still when she had passed away and the pain of it had wrapped around both
of them so tightly. It had all but broken Delaney’s heart when Ben had fled his home after Maureen’s funeral, running back to the Enr
ight home in Pennsylvania.
Wisely understanding that it had been the reality of his mother’s death that Ben had attempted to flee from, Delaney had vowed to do whatever it would take to help his grandson cope with his grief. When it became clear to Delaney that Ben was uncomfortable living in the house where his mother had
died, Delaney had immediately
closed up his Connecticut home and moved them both to a town house in Manhattan. And there they had lived until Ben had left for college in Arizona, then graduate school in London.
Though Delaney had always hoped—prayed—that someday Ben would express an interest in taking over Connor International, it had been difficult to ignore that Ben’s real love was racing. Delaney had sighed with resignation when Ben became a test driver for a manufacturer of race cars, and then later, more recently, had taken the first steps toward establishing a career as a professional driver. Yet even as Delaney had secretly
purchased a British tire manufacturing company and signed on as Ben’s first sponsor, he had never given up his most cherished hope that one day, Ben would want to work for the business his grandfather had spent a lifetime building,
Delaney hated the feeling that he was manipulating the boy, even if it was, he felt certain, for his own good. For years, he had known that for Ben to block out the past was not a good thing. Delaney and Delia had spent many an hour on the telephone discussing Ben’s refusal to return to Westboro, or even to see Delia. A deeply disturbed Delaney had consulted a renowned child psychiatrist, who had cautioned him not to force Ben to deal with memories he wasn’t ready to cope with, to be supportive but to permit the boy to heal on his own. He would, Dr. Smith had assured Delaney, come to terms in his own time, reminding him that Ben had suffered a deep loss at a very vulnerable time in his life, and that he should be permitted to deal with it in whatever way was best for him. For Ben, the best way had apparently been to blot out as much as possible of those years before he had come to live with his grandfather. Delaney and Delia had stayed in contact throughout that time, both hoping that the time would come when Ben could make the trip back to Westboro and renew his old ties. It never had.
Well, maybe I should have followed my own instincts, Delaney thought as he paced, and said the hell with the damned shrink. Maybe I should have packed Ben in the car every damned weekend, sulking and moody or not, and driven him to Westboro myself. Maybe if I had, he wouldn’t have chosen a career that kept him on the opposite side of the ocean from April through November every year.
And lately, Delaney had begun to fear that Ben’s choice of a career was someday going to lead to something far more serious than a broken leg. The very thought terrified him.
Still, maybe it wasn’t too late
Delaney wasn’t a superstitious man, but he knew that there were times when Fate reached out a hand and made you an offer you couldn’t refuse. He couldn’t help but believe that this was one of those times. All the signs were there, and taken as a whole, they added up, in Delaney’s mind, to one such offer. Ben’s accident that took him out of racing for at least a year. That young pup from the finance department proposing that he buy that shopping thing that just happened to be located in eastern Pennsylvania. And there, as if a lucky charm, had been Delia’s girl flashing that smile along with that gold bracelet. It just all fell into place too neatly to be ignored, and Delaney had learned a long time ago that an opportunity missed was an opportunity mourned. He had no intentions of mourning this one.
All he had to do, Delaney had reasoned, was to find a way to get Ben to come back to the States and run the Home Marketplace.
Which Ben could, conceivably, offer to do, if, perhaps, he understood that his grandfather needed him.
Delaney would have felt a great deal more confident, would have been pacing a great deal less, if he had been able to figure out just
to do that. Playing up his illness a bit was the only thing that came to mind.
It might work. After all, he
an old man. And he did have a legitimate heart problem, though with medication and proper diet it was well under control and posed no immediate threat.
He was still trying to figure out how much of
hand he could play—after all, he didn’t want to out-and-out
when innuendo alone might do the trick—when simultaneously the clock struck a subdued eight bells and a knock was heard on the door.
“Come in, come in, Ben. Son. I’m so very happy to see you.” Delaney stretched forth his hand, wondering for just a moment if Ben considered himself to be too old to be hugged by his grandfather.
“Delaney.” Ben leaned heavily on the left crutch and took his grandfather’s hand. “It’s good to see you, too.”
Delaney put his arm around Ben’s shoulder under the guise of helping him into the room. The boy felt solid under his hand. Muscular. Strong. It was the closest Delaney had been to him in six months, since the racing season had begun, and he was in no hurry to end the contact, however brief.
“Sit, son. Let me get something for you to rest that foot on. How does it feel? Are you uncomfortable?”
“It’s all right, Grampa. It only bothers me if I’ve been on it too much. I took it easy today, knowing I’d be coming out tonight.”
Oddly touched by that admission, that Ben had planned his day aro
und seeing him that evening, De
laney patted the boy’s shoulder as he passed by.
“Let me bring this footstool over for you.” Delaney dragged a heavy round cushioned stool over to the sofa. “Now, what can I get you to drink?”
“Club soda would be fine,” Ben told him. “Alcohol doesn’t mix well under the circumstances.”
“Ah. Right you are. It wouldn’t do to take another tumble now, would it?” Delaney went to the bar and spooned ice into a tumbler. He poured in some club soda, slid in a peel of lime, and walked back to the sofa, handing it to Ben and saying, “I’ve been unable to drink alcohol for so long now, I forget why I used to like it.”
“Lost your taste for it?”
“Not really. I still love a good tumbler of fine Scotch as much as I always have. But, unfortunately, it’s a poor mix with my medication,” Delaney said, trying to look suitably concerned and yet
at the same time.
“What medication is that?” Ben frowned. Was his grandfather ill?
Delaney tapped lightly on his chest with his right fist and said, “Well, the heart’s been giving me some problems, son.” No lie there, Delaney gave himself a mental nod.
“What kind of problems?”
“Nothing I want you to worry about, son. Now, tell me, are you planning on going back into racing?”
“When I can. If I can. Delaney”—Ben turned around in his seat to face his grandfather—“is there something I should know? I thought that you had made a good recovery from your heart attack.”
“Ah, Ben, I’m an old man.” I
an old man, Delaney assured himself. Still on honest ground here. “Old men have old hearts. Old hearts are neither predictable nor reliable.” All true.
Delaney had practiced this part all afternoon. He was going for
brave but philosophical,
hoping to come off a bit like an Apache chief he had seen in a movie once, who, knowing that death was impending, had announced stoically, “It is a good day to die.” He stole a sideways glance at his grandson, wondering how he was doing.
Another knock at the door announced that their dinner had arrived. He excused himself to Ben and went to the door, slowing himself down from his usual pace, favoring his own arthritic knee just a little more than usual, going so far as to hunch his shoulders just slightly. Wishing he had eyes in the back of his head, he hobbled slightly on his cane to the door, and opened it.
“Would you mind setting up near the sofa?” Delaney asked, taking just a moment to lean against the door frame, as if weary.
“Not at all, sir.” The tuxedoed waiter went about his business of moving the table closer to the sofa, where Ben sat watching his grandfather with anxious eyes.
“I hope you don’t mind,” Delaney said as he lowered himself into the chair with careful deliberation, “but I took the liberty of ordering for both of us.”
“I don’t mind at all,” Ben replied, leaning back slightly from the table to permit the waiter to place a covered dish before him.
“Let’s see now.” Delaney peered across the table. “Yours does have the cream and herb sauce, does it not?”
“Yes. It smells wonderful.”
“Ah, yes, so it does,” Delaney’s nostrils sniffed at the air wistfully. “Delightful.”
“Did you order yours plain?” Ben frowned, noticing that his grandfather’s plate contained a portion of broiled fish, naked without the fragrant herbed cream sauce, some sliced carrots, rice, and a few slices of lemon.
Delaney sighed deeply.
m afraid everything in that sauce except for the tarragon is off limits for me.”
All through the superb dinner, which Ben barely tasted, he watched the old man and wondered if his grandfather’s health was worse than he had been led to believe over the past few years.
“Are you in London on business, Delaney?” Ben asked, hoping to draw him into conversation.
“No, son,” Delaney replied softly. “I just wanted to see you again.”
“I’m sorry I couldn’t make it home for Christmas this year.” Ben pointed toward his leg.
“Tough to board a plane when you’re strapped to an operating table.” Delaney tried to smile, but the fact that Ben had had to undergo surgery two days before Christmas had made for a very lonely holiday.
“Knowing how you avoid flying under any circumstances, I’m surprised you didn’t take the QE II.” Ben had the uneasy feeling that he was only getting half the story. Delaney hated to fly, and yet for no apparent reason at all, he had flown to London, with no plans except to have dinner with Ben. Chilling thoughts began to form in Ben’s mind. How much was Delaney not telling him?
“Well, you’re right. I still do hate to fly, Ben, and I had thought about taking a ship. But, well, I just thought it might
” He paused, staring at his plate with what he hoped to be just the
right degree of implication. “…
too much time.”
The fish lay in Ben’s stomach like a lump of sandstone.
“Grampa, are you sure you’re all right?”
“Ben, I am closing in on eighty years of age. Need I say more?”
They ate in silence. The clock on the mantel chimed nine.
“So, tell me, son. What are your plans?”
“I don’t really know, Delaney. I won’t be able to drive for months. It may be a long time before I regain full mobility and control of my foot. The ankle fracture was pretty bad.”
“That so?” Delaney knew just how bad the fracture was, having had Ben’s X rays sent to his office immediately after Ben’s accident. “What do you see as the earliest you might be back behind the wheel again?”
“Competitively?” Ben frowned. “Not for at least a year. If ever.”
“I’m sorry, son. I know how much you love the sport.”
“Thank you, Grampa. I appreciate that.”
“What will you do in the meantime? Between now and when you can start racing again?”
“I wish I knew. There aren’t many options.”
“Hmmm. I wonder
” Delaney began, then stopped.
“Ah, nothing. Just an old man’s fancy.”
“What are you thinking, Delaney?’
“Nothing, my boy.” Delaney dismissed the thought. “Besides, I’m sure that it wouldn’t work. You have established your life here. And besides, I really couldn’t impose on you.”