Considering Kate Page 22

Bob O'Connell was under the sink to his waist. His ancient work boots had had their soles glued back in place countless times. He'd staple them back on, Brody thought, before he'd spring for another pair. Don't need what I don't need, the old man would say. About every damn thing. His business, his way, Brody reminded himself and wished he could stop digging up reasons to be resentful.

They rubbed each other raw. Always had.

Bob clanged pipes. Brody measured drywall.

"Turn that damn noise off," Bob ordered. "How's a man supposed to work with that crap ringing in his ears?"

Saying nothing, Brody stepped over and snapped off the portable stereo. Whatever music he'd listened to was considered noise to his father's ear.

Bob swore and muttered while he worked. Which was, Brody thought, exactly why he'd had the music on.

"Damn stupid idea, cutting this kitchen up this-a-way. Waste of time and money. Office space, my ass. What's anybody need office space for to teach a buncha twinkle-toes?" Brody had put off working on the kitchen side of the partition as long as possible. Now he hefted the drywall section he'd measured and cut, set it into place. "I've got the time," he said and plucked a drywall nail out of his pouch. "The client's got the money."

"Yeah, the Kimballs got plenty of money. No point in tossing it away, though, is there? You shoulda oughta told her she's making a mistake sectioning this kitchen off." Brody hammered wall to stud. Told himself to keep his mouth shut. But the words just wouldn't stay down. "I don't think she's making a mistake. She doesn't need a kitchen this size down here. It was designed to cook up bar food. What's a dance school going to do with a small restaurant kitchen?''

"Dance school." Bob made a sound of disgust. "Open and close inside a month. Then how's she going to sell this place all cut up like this? Kid-height sinks in the bathrooms. Just have to pull them out again. Surprised the plumbing inspector didn't bust his gut laughing at the rough-in."

"When you teach kids, you have to have accommodations for kids."

"We got the elementary school for that, don't we?"

"Last I heard they weren't teaching ballet at the elementary school."

"Ought to tell you something," Bob muttered, rankled by his son's tone. Bob told himself to keep his mouth shut, to mind his own business. But, like Brody, the words just wouldn't stay down. "You're supposed to do more than take a customer's money, boy. You're supposed to know enough to point them in the right direction."

"As long as it's your direction."

Bob wormed out from under the sink. His faded blue gimme cap sat askew on a head topped with short, grizzled gray hair. His face was square and lined deep. It had once been sternly handsome. His eyes were as green as his son's.

At times they seemed to be the only thing father and son shared.

"You want to watch that mouth of yours, boy.''

"Ever think about watching yours?" Brody felt the band tightening around his head. A temper headache. A Bob O'Connell headache.

Bob tossed down his wrench, got to his feet. He was a big man, but had never run to fat. Even at sixty he was mostly muscle and grit. "When you got the years I got of living and working in the trade, you can say your piece as you please."

"Really." Brody muscled another sheet of drywall onto the sawhorses, marked his measuring cuts.

"You've been saying the same damn thing to me since I was eight. I'd say I've got enough years behind me by now. This is my job—sited, designed, bid and contracted. It goes the way I say it goes." He picked up his scoring knife, lifted his gaze to meet his father's. "The client gets what the client wants. And as long as she's satisfied there's nothing to discuss."

"From what I hear you're doing a lot more than satisfying your client on the job." He hadn't meant to say that. Holy God, he hadn't meant to say that. But the words were out. Damn it, the boy always riled him so.

Brody's hand clenched on the knife. For a moment, too long a moment, he wanted to punch his fist into that hard, unyielding face. "What's between me and Kate Kimball is my business."

"I live in this town, too, and so does your ma. People talk about my blood, it washes over on me. You got a kid to raise, and no business running around with some fancy woman stirring gossip."

"Don't you bring Jack into this. Don't bring my son into this."

"Jack's my kin, too. Nothing's going to change that. You kept him down in the city all that time so you could do your running around and God knows, but you're here now. My home. I'm not having you shame me and that boy in my own front yard."

Running around, Jack thought. To doctors, hospitals, specialists. Then running around, trying to out-race your own grief and do what was right for a motherless two-year-old.

"You don't know anything about me. What I've done, what I do. What I am." Determined to hold his temper, he began to score the drywall along his mark. "But you've sure always managed to find the worst of it and rub it in my face."

"If I'd've rubbed it harder, maybe you wouldn't be raising a kid without his ma." Brody's hand jerked on the knife, bore down and sliced it over his own hand. Bob let out an oath over the bright gush of blood and grabbed for his bandanna. His shocked concern came out in hot disapproval. "Don't you know better'n to watch what you're doing with tools?"

"Get the hell away from me." Clamping a hand over the gash, Brody stepped back. He couldn't trust himself now. Wasn't sure what he might do. "Get your tools and get off my job."

"You get on out in my truck. You're gonna need stitches."

"I said get off my job. You're fired." The rapid beat of his own heart pumped blood through his fingers.

"Pack up your tools and get out."

Shame warred with fury as Bob slammed his wrenches into his kit. "We got nothing to say to each other, from here on." He hauled up his tools and stalked out.

"We never did," Brody murmured.

Brody O'Connell was going to get an earful. If he ever showed up. He was going to learn, very shortly, that seven o'clock meant seven o'clock. Not seven-thirty.

She was sorry she'd convinced her parents to have an evening out. Now she had no one to complain to. She prowled the living room, glared at the phone.

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