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Title: Chasing Rainbows  

Author/pseudonym: Tinnean  

Fandom: JAG  

Pairing: Bryan Sebring/Anthony Sebring II (OMCs)  

Rating: FRM

Disclaimer: JAG doesn't belong to me, but these two characters are mine, as are all the Sebring family except for Porter Webb. The character of Yaskov is from Hopscotch and was written by Brian Garfield. Modesty Blaise and Willie Garvin were created by Peter O'Donnell. Page Martinez belongs to Gail.  

Status: new/complete  

Date: 3/8/06  

Series/Sequel: This is number fifteen in the Soundbyte series, and follows Blue Champagne .

Summary: The Sebring brothers don't take kindly to the fact that CIA Director Watts has been making life difficult for their nephew.  

Warnings: m/m incest, implied m/f, AR in that this universe presupposes that the DSD was never disbanded.  

Notes: Soundbytes are an offshoot of the Mind Fuck Universe, and tend to be stories about the secondary characters. While they are not necessarily in chronological order, this story does deal with events in Blue Champagne , as well as those in Blue Velvet, which first introduced the Sebring brothers. To my knowledge, John Wayne and Louis L'Amour never gave interviews about Hondo. Well, not these particular interviews. Thank you, as always, to Gail for the marvelous beta. This is for her birthday, 2/25/06 , which happens to be Palmer's birthday also.


Chasing Rainbows



I'd never cared much for James Watts. He'd often gotten by on the skill and knowledge of better men, and he knew whose ass to kiss. Now he was Director of the CIA.  

We Sebrings on the other hand – Anthony, Jefferson, me, our sister Porter – came from a long line of men and women who put our country's welfare ahead of everything, often even family.  

Perhaps that was why Watts thought we brothers would fold our hands and do nothing, accept it as part of our destiny, when we learned of his campaign of petty annoyances against Porter's son, our nephew, Clayton Webb.  

Perhaps he thought that because we were all of us in our so-called golden years, the blood in our veins had become diluted, that age had dimmed our mental acuity as well as our eyesight.  

Watts had always been an arrogant, overbearing son of a bitch. He'd never struck me as being a stupid one.


Part 1



The sound of the doorbell sliced through my head like an ice pick. I rolled out of bed, instantly alert. I wasn't a field officer, but I had been trained to protect myself. A gun was in my left fist as I peered cautiously through the spy hole in my apartment door.  

It was my oldest brother, Anthony.  

I slid the gun into the back of my waistband, then rubbed a hand over my face and hair, unlocked the door, and let him in. "Jesus, Tony." I scowled at him, the adrenaline leaching out of my system. "Is there a national crisis?"  


"You've been drinking." I could smell alcohol on his breath.  

"It's not like you to state the obvious."  

"It's not like you to pay me a visit at… " I glanced at my wristwatch. "… at 4:35 in the morning." I needed something to take my mind off the fact that he was standing in front of me, his overcoat not doing a very good job of disguising the fact that he hadn't changed out of his pajamas.  

Tony didn't question the fact that in spite of the hour and that I had on pajamas, I was wearing a watch. The only time I didn't wear one was when I was in the bath.  

He gazed around my tiny apartment. It had been a long time since he'd been here, and even then he'd made sure he hadn't come alone. Jeff had accompanied him, along with the young Naval lieutenant he was seeing at the time.  

"You weren't going anywhere, where you?"  

"Not for another couple of hours. At least one of which I could have spent sleeping."  

"Sorry." He ran restless fingers through his hair. "I've done it, Bry."  


"I've introduced Porter to Neville Webb."  

It had been Father's plan to involve our baby sister in the family business. Porter, lovely, delicate Porter, was aware of that and seemed to have no objection.  

She was unaware, however, that our father planned to match her with an intelligence officer. Although she'd come home from her come-out in London with a reputation as an ice princess, people were beginning to question the fact that she was almost twenty-three and still unmarried.  

Father wanted her married, but to someone who wouldn't distract her from her job of breaking Russian codes for Project Venona. He chose Neville Webb, a man who worked for the CIA.  

I was at the family home in Maryland that weekend, and the four of us, Father, Tony, Porter, and I planned to go riding. Porter's horse, however, threw a shoe, and she led the gelding back to the stable.  

While we were waiting for her to return, I mentioned Webb to Father.  

I'd read the reports of his missions while he'd been serving in Korea . I'd also overheard a couple of the secretaries in my department who'd shown some interest in his austere good looks complaining about him – not that he crossed the line with them, but rather that he showed no inclination to do so.  

"Cold, you say?" A thin smile curved Father's lips.  

"The man has ice water in his veins, Father."  

"Does he appear to prefer men?" There was no distaste in his voice as might have been expected considering the current administration. Jefferson had shown a predilection toward his own sex since he'd reached puberty, had never made any effort to hide it around the family, although in public he was the epitome of discretion, and Mother and Father had long accepted the fact that they would get no grandchildren from their second son.  

"I'd say he has no preference."  

"Asexual, then?" Father sounded even more pleased.  

"If the man uses his prick for anything other than to piss, I'd be very surprised."  

"Then he should be perfect for Porter. Neither of them will be sidetracked by sex." Something startled his horse, causing him to break into a bone-jarring trot, and Father casually brought the brute under control. "I want him vetted to the NSA. Anthony, you'll see to it that they come into contact

"Father, do you really think this is a good idea?" Tony's eyes were hooded.  

I was startled to hear my older brother object. He was the one who usually backed Father to the hilt.  

But then, Porter was his favorite sibling. Not that I minded, even though before her birth, that position had been mine. As the only girl in seven generations of Sebrings, Porter was adored by all of us.  

For the first time, I wondered about my little sister's love life. The very thought of her sharing a bed with a man felt wrong, and I pushed it out of my mind and turned my attention back to what my father and brother were saying.  

"Are you questioning my judgment, Anthony?"  

"No, of course not, sir. I just don't want to see Porter hurt."  

"You don't give your sister credit. Beneath her fair exterior beats the heart of a true Sebring. She'll put the welfare of her country above everything."  

Tony opened his mouth to say something, then paused and worried his lip. I couldn't tear my eyes from the small indentations.  

My horse snorted and tossed her head, objecting to the unintentional tightening of the reins. I eased my grip and patted her neck apologetically. "Sorry, Baby."  

"Very well, sir," Tony conceded, and before Porter rejoined us with another mount, we came up with the idea of using Project Venona to get Webb into the NSA and into our sister's vicinity.  

A problem cropped up, however. The two involved parties didn't cooperate. Webb had been with the NSA for at least three weeks, and he seemed as completely unaware of Porter as she seemed of him. Although they worked in the same building, and even on the same floor, they were like ships that passed in the night. Father was growing impatient.  

But now Tony had finally effected the meeting. "Yaskov was at it again, digging through Tolstoy for his damned codes, and Porter found something that helped crack it."  

"It's what she does best."  

"Yes. Webb was impressed. He couldn't take his eyes off her."  

"And Porter? What did she think of Mr. Freeze?"  

"She seemed… interested. I urged her to go to dinner with him."  

"That's what Father wanted, isn't it?"  

"But Father is at the embassy in Vienna and I'm here to deal with it."  

"With what? The fact that our sister had dinner with Neville Webb? It sounds harmless enough."  

"Do you think so?" He scowled at me. "They left Arlington Hall about 9:30 ."  

"A *late* dinner." I shrugged.  

His scowl deepened. "It was after 3 AM when she got home. I was ready to start calling hospitals."  

"Oh, big brother." I shook my head, biting back a smile. "How did Porter react to that?"  

"She let me know she could take care of herself."  

"Well, she can. We've all seen to that."  

"You're right." He sighed. "Anyway, she's settled in for what's left of the night."  

"And you're here. Why?"  

"I had to talk to someone."  

"And you chose me. I'm flattered, big brother." Would he still have come if Jefferson had been in town? Somehow, I doubted it. I wasn't the one he sought out, hadn't been the one he sought out, in more years than I cared to think of. Oh, he didn't make a big thing of it, and none of the family seemed to have noticed, but *I* was the one who knew. "I still don't understand why you're here."  

" Bryan , you know what a stickler our sister is when it comes to her appearance. She was completely disheveled. Her blouse was tucked in any which way, it was buttoned wrong, what buttons were buttoned, her hair was down, most of the pins holding it gone… She looked as if she'd been mauled!"  

I felt my expression go flat and forgot my own troubles. "I'll pull him out of the Project."  

"You can't. Father would be unhappy."  

"Do you think I care about Father's feelings?"  

"Yes. As much as Jeff and I do."  

"But not to the point where I'll put anything above Porter's happiness."  

A look of surprise flashed across his face. "When did you become your own man, little brother?"  

"I've always been my own man, Anthony."  

The look was gone. "It doesn't matter. *She* would be unhappy."  


"We planned this too well. Apparently, *she* doesn't think he's a cold fish." His laugh was filled with misery, and he wouldn't meet my eyes, another sign he'd been drinking. "I've never seen her so taken with anyone."  

"Tony?" With gentle fingers I raised his chin. It had been a very long time since I'd touched him. "Don't you think it's too early for her to have fallen in love with him?"  

"She's as much a Sebring as any of us."  

I understood what he meant. Sebrings found their one true love, married, and were happy for the rest of their lives, so the story went. Or, there were those like me, who would never have their love returned and so would have the choice of living alone or marrying for convenience. I hoped Porter would be one of the former.  

I wondered which Tony was. I dreaded the day when he would announce his engagement. He had the year before, and I had felt as if my heart was being ripped from my chest. But I offered the couple my best wishes.  

She called it off within a matter of months, and I'd written my brother a brief, stilted note expressing my sympathy, while inside I had breathed a sigh of relief. That made me ashamed. He was my brother, and I should want his happiness above everything else.  

Tony's eyes looked tired. "No matter how this turns out, Porter will never forgive me."  

"Oh, big brother." I put my arms around him and rocked him. I struggled to keep from turning my head and running my lips across his cheek. I would allow myself a moment to offer him this comfort, then release him. "She will forgive you."  

His hands gripped my waist, and for a second I thought he would pull me into a deeper embrace, but then I realized it was just to keep me at a distance, not that I would have attempted closer contact.  

I kept my lower body away from his, drew in a silent breath, inhaling the remnants of the aftershave he always wore, and let him go.  

"Don't you know how much she loves you? It will all work out."  

"If it doesn't… "  

"It will. Worry wart."  

"Bry… "  

"Take your coat off."  

He obeyed my order without question, a sure sign of his emotional distress, and draped it over a chair. "I shouldn't have disturbed you..."  

"I don't mind."  

"… but I wanted to talk to you."  

"All right. Come into the kitchen, Tony. I'll make us some tea."  

"Porter made me a cup of tea too. Mother's cure-all." He followed me into my tiny galley kitchen.  

"Well, both sides of the family have their roots in England ."  

"That's true." He touched the small of my back. I stared at him over my shoulder, barely able to control my shiver of surprise. "Were you expecting trouble?" he asked.  

"Excuse me?"  

He nodded toward my back. "You're armed."  

I made myself smile at him. "When I'm awakened out of a sound sleep at this time of night, I always like to be prepared."  

"I'm sorry I woke you."  

"No matter."  

He leaned against the counter and watched as I set the kettle to boil. "Did you know that Mother was supposed to marry one of her English cousins?"  

"Really?" I wasn't surprised at the abrupt change of topic – my older brother could be like that – but that couldn't be what he wanted to talk to me about.  

He nodded. "He was killed on November 11, 1918 ."  

"The day of the Armistice? What a waste."  

"I wonder which is worse – being killed on the day peace is declared, or having the bombing of Pearl Harbor fall on your birthday?"  

"No one has an excuse to forget my birthday." I shrugged, remembering my eleventh birthday. Shortly afterwards, Tony had come home from Harvard and informed Father that he had enlisted in the Navy. Father hadn't been pleased, but reconciled himself when Tony's qualifications – he was in his senior year at Harvard, even though he was two years younger than everyone else in his class – got him into officers' training school. "I wonder how we would have turned out if she and her cousin had married."  

"More daughters for her? Perhaps. Most of the cousins on that side are female."  

"So a year and a half later she married father?"  

"Grandfather Sebring arranged the marriage."  

"Ah." That explained some things, Mother's restrained demeanor around our father, for one. "That was very 18th century, wasn't it?"  

"The Blackburns were an influential family before the Crash."  

"I knew that."  

"There was something else." His expression became brooding. "Apparently Father had been on the verge of marrying someone else. She was a Ziegfeld Girl."  

"*What*?" My mind boggled and my eyes crossed. Our *father*, one of the most reserved men we knew?  

"Grandfather bought her off."  

"How did you hear about this?" Was that why our father had always been so cool to his own father? "Does Father know you know?"  

"I was with Grandfather as he lay dying, and he rambled about a good many things. And no, Father has no idea. This wasn't something I was about to bring up to him."  

"What about Jeff?"  

"He doesn't know."  

"Then why are you telling me this?"  

"You said it yourself." His grin was crooked. "I've been drinking, little brother."  

This was the second time he'd called me 'little brother.' It had been a long time – almost ten years – since he'd called me that.  

I forced myself to continue the mundane tasks of getting the tea ready – spooned tea into the tea pot, took down cups and saucers, filled the creamer with cream. No sugar, though. Like me, he sweetened it with honey.  

He glanced around the kitchen. "You need a bigger place, Bryan ."  

"Just for me? No, it doesn't pay."  

"When you settle down… "  

When I settle down. So this was what he'd been leading up to.  

"Ah, when I settle down, Tony," I said, humoring him, "I'll buy a big house in the country and raise the next generation of Sebrings… " For a second I thought there was a trace of defeat in his eyes, but I must have been wrong.  

"… and Irish Wolfhounds and Tennessee Walking Horses?"  

"Yes." Before I'd realized what the family business was, that had been my sole ambition, and my brothers had often teased me about it.  

"And the girl you'll marry will be your one true love."  

No, she wouldn't, but he didn't want to hear this now, no more than he'd wanted to hear it when he'd come back from the Pacific a few years after the War, looking so dashing and handsome in his dress whites, and I'd told him…   

I cut off that train of thought and forced a smile. "And you, big brother? When will you be getting married?"  

"I am married, little brother. To my job." His smile was as tight as Father's. "Didn't you realize that?"  

The kettle began to whistle, saving me from having to answer.  


Porter baffled Tony as well as Father. She married Neville Webb, not once, but twice, and they produced a strong, healthy little boy.  

Jefferson , much like a sailor with a sweetheart in every port, had a lover in every major city of the world, and he seemed quite happy with that state of … affairs.  

Tony was seen with any number of women on his arm, each one more beautiful than the last, but none lasted long.  

Eventually, I did marry, but for the wrong reasons – to take the pressure off my older brothers, neither of whom seemed likely to marry and give my father the grandson who would carry on the Sebring name, to prove to myself that just because I was a Sebring, that didn't mean I'd only have one chance at love.


Part 2



February in Manhattan . It was colder than DC.  

Hazelton, Director of – well, that really wasn't important. Steve asked if I'd do him a favor. He needed an officer whose face was unknown in the field. Intelligence from a contact at the UN needed to be picked up and delivered to another officer.  

Coming from him, the request was more like an order to volunteer. Not that I minded. As I'd told Hazelton, "Anything for our Country."  

The truth of the matter was that for the past month or so I'd been feeling restless and somewhat envious of my middle brother, who got to travel the world and *do* things.  

So I flew into Kennedy, and my ride drove me into Manhattan . I checked into the Bonheur, a small hotel in the Murray Hill District, then caught a cab to the UN.  

The retrieval went smoothly, and I passed on the information, also without a hitch, at a drop in Central Park .  

Now, my time was my own. Hazelton had told me that as a bonus, once the job was completed, I could stay in Manhattan or vacation where I chose. Still restless, I decided to return to my hotel and see about catching a flight to… somewhere.  

I jogged across 5th Avenue to the Plaza Hotel, where there was a cab stand, and raised my hand to hail a cab. One pulled up to the curb and let out a young woman. She looked familiar to me.  

"Johanna?" Johanna Harrington was the young widow of a West Point grad who had been an acquaintance of mine. He gave her two children in quick succession and then went off to Viet Nam where he was killed. "How are you?" I could see she didn't remember me. "I'm Bryan Sebring. I was in your wedding party."  

"Oh, yes, Bill's friend. I'm doing all right."  

"And your children?"  

"They're… all right too. They're too young to remember Bill."  

"I'm sure they miss having a father."  

"Yes." She looked away from me.  

Was she going to cry? It had been a couple of years since Bill's death but…  I cleared my throat. "I'm surprised to see you in Manhattan . I believe I heard you were living with your parents?"  

"In Baltimore . Yes. It was so difficult, and then when Daddy died… " Her absurdly long lashes dipped to shield her eyes, and her lips quivered into what I took to be an attempt at a brave smile in the face of adversity. "Mother is watching the children for me. She insisted I needed some time away. I'm staying here at the Plaza, and shopping." She held up the shopping bags in her hands, all from exclusive department stores.  

"You've done a good job of it." I took in her china blue eyes and hair like black silk, which feathered around her piquant face, and I smiled at her.  

"Ya in or ya out, Mac?"  

"Johanna, if you're not in any rush, if you don't have to be anywhere, would you care to have a drink with me?"  

"Why… Yes, thank you. I'd like that." Her lashes fanned down over her cheeks, and then lifted. "I'll just need to bring these up to my room and freshen up." She finally smiled, and the dimple in the corner of her mouth took my breath away.  

I paid the cab driver and sent him on his way.  

"Let me help you."  

"Thank you."  

I took the bags from her and followed her into the hotel. As the elevator carried us up to her floor, she kept sending little looks my way, and I found my interest stirring.  

We exited on 10, and she took her key from her purse and handed it to me. I shifted the bags to my right hand, unlocked the door and opened it, and allowed her to enter before me. Then I followed her in.  

Her hotel room was simply furnished with a double bed, a chest of drawers, a chair by the window, and a night table. A copy of Van Gogh's Garden of Daubigny hung opposite the bed.  

I placed the shopping bags on the bed.  

Johanna was fiddling with the collar of her mink coat, and I wondered at how nervous she suddenly seemed. "I'll only be a moment."  

"There's no rush, Johanna." My restlessness seemed to have vanished. I nodded toward the bags. "The clothes will get wrinkled. I'll call housekeeping and have someone come up to take care of them for you."  

"Oh! That's so kind of you, Bryan!"  

"Not at all."  

She hesitated for a second, then removed her mink and went into the bathroom.  


Drinks led to dinner, to another date, to the theatre, to dancing.  

The contrast between her dark beauty and my blond looks was striking, bringing envious glances our way, but what drew me most was that dimple. It was a provocative temptation, a promise of steamy kisses that would lead to passion-filled nights. I was pleased that my body reacted to her.  

The fact that my body reacted to her gave me hope that perhaps I was more a Blackburn than a Sebring.  

I didn't bring her to my room at the Bonheur, however. I refrained from doing more than kiss her, and even those kisses were restrained. I kept my tongue behind my teeth. I'd been raised a gentleman.  

Before I knew it, my time in the City was drawing to a close.  

"I'd like to continue seeing you once you go home." I held her hand, rubbing my thumb over the soft skin, and gazed into her eyes.  

Her cheeks pinked. "I'd like that, Bryan ," she said in a breathy whisper. She was leaving the next day also.  

I squeezed her hand, called the airline and changed my flight to Washington to one that would land in Baltimore instead, and flew back with her.  

So began a whirlwind courtship that had me proposing after six weeks, and when she said yes, I called my parents to let them know.  

Father was pleased, and I could almost see him rubbing his hands together.  

"Splendid work, Bryan . She's already had two children. There should be no problem with her giving you sons."  

"No, sir."  

"You'll bring her to the manor, of course."  

"Of course. May I speak to Mother?"  

He put her on the phone. "I understand congratulations are in order."  


"Are you very sure, Bryan ?"  

"Of course I'm sure, Mother. Why would you think I wouldn't be?"  

"I just want you to be happy. Being a Sebring… " She didn't finish her sentence. "Will this weekend be too short a notice for her to come here?"  

"It shouldn't be. I know she's looking forward to meeting you and Father."  

"As are we her. Will she bring her children?"  

"I'll have to ask her. She doesn't like to take them out of Baltimore . She's mentioned that they get carsick… " Which was why I hadn't been able to take them on any day trips. "Since this is so important, I'm sure we'll be able to work something out. I'll get back to you as soon as I talk to her."  

We spoke a bit longer – which room Mother would give Johanna, what menu she'd plan – and when I hung up, I immediately called my fiancée.  

"Oh, how sweet!" she exclaimed when I told her of my parents' reaction to the news that we were going to be married, leaving out Father's anticipation of her adding to the Sebring line.  

"Libby and Billy will love the manor – it's a wonderful place for children."  

"But … "  

"My brothers and sister and I loved growing up there."  

" Bryan , listen, please. I'm afraid Libby and Billy won't be able to come. They'll be staying with Bill's parents this weekend."  

"You didn't tell me." The Harringtons also lived in Baltimore .  

"Didn't I? I was sure I did."  

There was a tight note in her voice, and I decided not to push it. "Well, perhaps another time."  

"Yes. Perhaps, although you know how poorly they travel. Now tell me more about your home."  

I described the house and the surrounding lands with apple orchards and a pond. "Once we're married, Jo, I'll buy a house just like that for us. I have my eye on a beauty that's in Virginia ."  

"Oh, I don't think I'd like to live in Virginia . It's so far from Mother."  

"Then wherever you like, Jo." I didn't like the desperation I heard in my voice.  

"But the children… "  

"They'll love a big house in the country, you'll see."  

"If you think so." She didn't sound too enthusiastic, but I put it down to pre-wedding jitters.  

We didn't leave Baltimore until midmorning on Saturday, in spite of my intention to make an early start.  

Libby and Billy hadn't left for their other grandparents' home when I arrived to pick up Johanna. They fussed and whined as she tried to get them dressed.  

"Jo, I did tell you I'd pick you up at 9, didn't I?" The drive to the manor was almost three hours if I pushed it, and I hadn't wanted to push it. I wanted us to have a leisurely drive.  

"Yes. It's just… " She was distracted. "I won't be long, I promise."  

"Can I help?" I started to reach for the pair of tiny trousers that were Billy's, and he howled and ducked behind his mother.  

"NO!" She snatched them out of my hand. "That is, no. Thank you. I can handle them. Would you mind waiting in the parlor? Please?"  

"Yes, do come, Bryan ." Mrs. Collier, Johanna's mother, took my arm and urged me out of the room. "Libby and Billy are just a trifle high strung. Let me get you a cup of coffee, and then I'll go pack for Johanna myself."  

"She's not even packed?"  

"It will only take me a moment. I'll just get your coffee… "  

"No, thank you! Please don't go to the trouble." I really didn't want a cup of coffee.  

"Oh. Well, if you're sure… ?"  

"I'm sure."  

"I'll just see about … " She was out of the room before she finished the sentence.  

I walked to the window that opened to a view of the house next door, but it wasn't a very edifying view.  

Looking at my watch wouldn't make the time pass faster. I turned on the television, but all that was on were cartoons. A local station was playing vintage Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, and I stood there watching as Daffy shrieked at Elmer Fudd, "Shoot 'im now! Shoot 'im now!" I shut it off.  

Finally they all came downstairs. Mrs. Collier was carrying three suitcases, and Johanna had a child on each side of her. The children seemed to have calmed down, and I blew out a breath of relief.  

"Shall we go, Jo?"  

"Mommy, you're not going away, are you?"  

"Yes, Mommy is. And you're going to see Grandma and Granddad, and you're going to have such a lovely time!" Her joviality seemed forced. "All your favorite things are packed in your little suitcases."  

And the calm was shattered. "No, Mommy! Don't go! Don't go!" They cried and clung to her.  

"Oh, my babies!" She knelt down and opened her arms to gather them into her embrace.  

"Jo, if you want, we can take them with us." I could see this becoming the Drive from Hell, stopping every few miles so they wouldn't get carsick. "I'm sure Bill's parents would understand… "  

"Don't want to go! Want Mommy to stay!" Libby kicked me in the shins, and her brother beat on my calf with his chubby toddler fists.  

They were children, and I was ashamed of myself for the irritation I felt. But my brothers and sister and I would never have behaved in that manner. Mother would have deemed it in poor taste if she had ever let us become so out of hand.  

"Precious, no, mustn't kick Uncle Bryan." Johanna glanced at me. "I don't understand why Bill's parents haven't arrived yet. I can't bear to leave them… Maybe I'd better not go, Bryan . We can do this next week, can't we? Surely one week wouldn't matter too terribly much!"  

"Johanna, my mother has gone to a great deal of trouble for this weekend."  

"I can't leave them like this." Her eyes were swimming with tears but her mouth had a stubborn turn, and she started to remove her coat. She was hampered by the fact that her children held on like leeches. "I'm sorry. I just can't. You'll have to tell your mother… "  

"Just go, Johanna," her mother ordered, a trace of impatience in her voice. She took each of her grandchildren by the wrist and yanked them away, and they began to wail even louder. I could feel a headache starting. "They'll be fine once you're out of here."  

"I'll see their tearful little faces the whole way to Garrett County , Mother!"  

"Johanna! Bryan is going to wonder who is more the child! Now please go!"  

"But… "  

"Come on, Jo." I raised her to her feet and settled her coat on her shoulders. Then I picked up her suitcase, took her arm, and urged her out the door, the sounds of her children's screams following us to the curb.  

"My babies!" she murmured in a broken whisper.  

"Will you react this way when it's time to go on our honeymoon?"  

She flinched as if I'd struck her. "No, of course not. But I can't bear to see them so upset. It's been just the three of us for so long, and they haven't had to share me."  

"Listen! Please, Jo, listen. They've already stopped crying."  

"Oh! They have."  

"I want you to meet my parents, and I know Father and Mother are anxious to meet you. He's rearranged his schedule, and she's planned a special dinner for you."  

"You're right." She took a handkerchief from her purse and dabbed at her eyes. "I'm sorry. We can go now."  

But she kept looking back at the house until I turned a corner and it was no longer in view, and I wondered what she would do when we had children of our own. Would she neglect them for her older children?  

When I ushered Johanna into the house, Mother was just coming down the hallway.  

"I'm sorry we've kept you waiting, Mother. Traffic," I offered as an excuse.  

She studied me intently for a moment but said nothing. She turned to Johanna and smiled.  

"Welcome to the family, my dear. Anthony had to take a phone call, but he'll be with us shortly. I'm so sorry you were unable to bring the children."  

"I told Bryan their father's parents wanted to take them this weekend." Was there a bite in her tone?  

"Of course. They'd want to see their son's children. They'd have every right to expect to see them," Mother said smoothly. "It's been a long while since there were children here, but that will change shortly. Bryan 's sister is expecting, as I'm sure he's told you."  

"Yes. How nice for you. I mean a new baby is such a wonderful thing."  

Mother's mouth tightened, and she glanced at me.  

Father joined us just then, and while he greeted my fiancée warmly, I could see something was on his mind. I raised an eyebrow, and he nodded.  

Mother saw. "Johanna, let's leave the men to their business, shall we?"  

"Oh, but… "  

"I'm sure you'd like to unpack and freshen up, my dear. I'll take you up to your room."  

"Thank you. I would like that. It was a long drive. Don't be too long, Bryan . You promised to take me riding." She hadn't seemed too enthused about that when I'd mentioned picking out a horse for her.  

"We'll have to do that tomorrow, Jo." I was already following my father down the hall to his study.  

I heard Mother say, "Afterwards I'll show you the house and my rose garden. The weather is lovely today." She knew we would probably be a while.  


Johanna and I returned from our honeymoon in Hawaii to take up residence in the house in Baltimore that had been in her mother's family since before the Civil War. Mrs. Collier had graciously offered it to us, and Johanna had thought it would be a good idea that we accept.  

"My mother is here, Bryan, and Bill's family also, and the children's friends. It will make the transition so much easier for them."  

"Very well, Jo." I didn't tell her I would have an hour's commute, and most likely longer during rush hour. We'd had a good time on Oahu , reminiscent of the week we'd spent in Manhattan , and I wanted to keep that feeling.  

While having breakfast in what she'd designated the breakfast room, a small area that had originally been part of the servants' quarters, she chatted on about the shopping she needed to do before the dinner party she was having that evening.  

"Don't forget, Bryan . Be home on time? I'll put the children to bed early."  

"Of course, Jo."  

And I fully intended to, but then one of my officers managed to radio some intel to his contact, and we needed to get him out of harm's way…  

We were too late. I had to visit his family to tell them.  

It was past midnight by the time I got home. Our guests were long gone, but the children were still up.  

I raised an eyebrow. "I thought you said you were going to put them to bed early. They're too young to be up this late."  

"Mommy!" Libby whined. Billy stuck his thumb in his mouth and glared at me over it.  

Johanna's lips tightened. She turned on her heel and led them away.  

I crossed to the liquor cabinet, poured myself a generous glass of Glenlivet, and went into the kitchen to see if my wife had set aside a plate for me.  

She hadn't, but I found enough leftovers in the refrigerator to make myself a sandwich. As I ate I finished the Glenlivet, then poured myself another one and waited for Johanna to join me downstairs, but after an hour I grew tired of waiting. I made sure the house was locked and climbed the stairs to our bedroom.  

Johanna was already in bed, reading Arthur Hailey's 'Hotel St. Gregory'.  

"You could have told me you weren't coming back down." I hung up my suit jacket, stepped out of my shoes, and stripped off my shirt and trousers.  

She marked her page with a bookmark and said, "It was very rude of you not to be here, Bryan . I invited these people for you."  

"I'm sorry, Jo." I took my pajamas into the bathroom to finish changing.  

"I hope you're not going to make a habit of it," she called. She didn't ask why I was late.  

"This is my job, Johanna."  

"But Bryan , how will you advance your career if you're not present at the dinner parties I hostess for you?"  

"Johanna… " I came back into the bedroom. Didn't she realize it was essential for me to keep a low profile? I opened my mouth to tell her, but she continued.  

"Bill always made it a point of being home. He knew how important it was to have the right people to dinner. If he hadn't been killed, he would have been a colonel by now, and on his way to becoming a general!"  

"I don't want to quarrel with you, Johanna."  

"You're always doing this, Bryan ."  

"Excuse me?"  

"You left me with your mother to go talk to your father. You left me to entertain your guests… "  

*My* guests? "Johanna... " I blew out a breath. "Look. It's been a bad day. I just want to go to sleep."  

She gave a huff and picked up her book. "All right."  

Mother or Porter would have wanted to know what had gone wrong.  

I turned out the lamp on my side of the bed, but she left hers on.  

"I'll just continue to read for a bit, if you don't mind." She removed the bookmark from her book.  

"Of course not, my dear." I turned on my side and closed my eyes, but it took me a while to fall asleep. I wondered if I'd moved too fast in getting married.  

Things were cool between us for more than a week, until the next dinner party. I made an effort to be there, and as a reward, that dimple came out once more. It took a short while longer before my body reacted to it once again.  



The dream of that big house in the country and raising dogs and horses… and children… became nothing more than a lost dream.  

Johanna had no trouble getting pregnant. It was staying pregnant that was the problem. One pregnancy after another ended in miscarriage.  

After almost ten years and four successive miscarriages and a premature birth, Johanna had had enough. She gazed at me across the breakfast table.  

"Dr. Lumley has advised against trying for any more children, Bryan," she informed me as she stirred skim milk into her coffee.  

I touched my napkin to my lips. "If he thinks that would be best." It didn't matter. The last pregnancy had been almost to term, and the thought of going through  the initial anticipation, only to be met with another loss was too painful. "Do you want to deal with birth control, or would you rather I did?"  

"Actually, I'd… I'd rather you moved into the small bedroom off the master suite."  

"You don't want me in our bed?"  

"For what purpose, Bryan ? We haven't made love in ages."  

I stared at her blankly. It hadn't even occurred to me that in the months since I'd held our tiny son as he breathed his last – Porter had been with me; Johanna was still recovering from the emergency C-section. 'You say there's nothing that can be done. Then let this child know the comfort of his father's arms,' and my sister had stared down the obstetrician until he'd shrugged as if it was immaterial to him and permitted it – I had never once reached for my wife, not even for simple comfort.  

"Do you want a divorce?"  

"No. No one in my family has ever divorced, and besides, it will be too hard on the children."  

"Would they even notice?"  

She frowned at me.  

Her children… I'd never had the opportunity to make them mine. They were either with her mother or with her deceased husband's family, and when they were home, those few times they weren't in bed when I returned home myself, their response to any conversational gambits was sullen and monosyllabic, and they wouldn't meet my eye. Johanna had insisted on home-schooling for them. I'd tried to persuade her that sending them to local schools might be a better idea, but her mouth had become pinched. 'Do not *ever* interfere with my children!'  

"Tell me something, Johanna," I said now. "Why do you do everything in your power to prevent me from growing close to Libby and Billy?" They were thirteen and twelve now.  

"I don't… "  

"You do. You have from the very beginning."  

"I'm simply protecting my children! They were devastated when their real father died!"  

"You told me they didn't remember Bill."  

"When? I never… "  

"The very first day we met. 'They're too young to remember,' you said."  

She turned pale. "How can you remember that?"

"I have a very good memory. That's part of my job."  

"Your job… " She gave a little gasp, but I didn't pay any attention to it.  

"You didn't even give me the chance to become a father to them."  

"That's what this is all about, isn't it? You didn't want a wife, you wanted a brood mare with a ready-made family." Her voice grew shrill. "Did you think I wouldn't hear? You have one brother who's a fa… a homosexual, and another who's a eunuch."  

I slammed my hand down on the table, the explosion of sound shocking her. "You will not refer to my brothers like that."  

Pale and shaking, she drew a breath. I had only lost my temper with her once before, when she'd said some denigrating things about my sister because Porter had worked after she'd married, and even after she'd had Clay.  

'You know nothing about my sister or the work she's done,' I'd snapped at Johanna, 'so keep your mouth shut.'  

She'd hastily retracted her words then, and she did so again now. "I'm… I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that." Her lips folded into a tight line. "I think that it would be better for the both of us if you did sleep in another bedroom."  

"Very well. I'll stay out of your way as much as possible, then." I shoved my chair away from the table. "Tell Martha I won't be home for dinner, please."  

"Aren't you at least going to object?"  

"Why? Would it make any difference?"  

"No, I suppose not." She appeared defeated. "Will you find someone else, Bryan ?"  

"I never cheated on you, Johanna."  

"Perhaps not, but I do have a rival, you know. The CIA, Bryan. You love it above everything." She was wrong, but I wasn't going to tell her that. "I knew you didn't love me, but… "  

"If you knew, then why did you agree to marry me, Johanna?"  

She flushed. "You were quite attractive, Bryan . You still are. And I wanted to be married again. I missed being married. And my children needed a father. It wasn't as if… " Her voice hitched. "… as if there was anyone I loved. Maybe if one of our little boys had survived… "  

She had been far enough along in each pregnancy that Dr. Lumley had been able to tell us the sex of each child.  

"That first day, when I brought you up to my hotel room… " She toyed with her napkin, avoiding my eyes. "I wanted to see how you would react. You were the perfect gentleman. You didn't lunge or paw at me. So many men thought widows were fair game." Her flush deepened. "How was I to know you didn't touch me because you just didn't care?"  

I was about to protest that I had cared, when I realized what she'd said. "That was a test? You were testing me?"  

Her eyes rose to mine, and then she looked away. "All I ask is that if you do choose to take a mistress, please be discreet. If not for my sake, then for my… the children's."  

"I wouldn't do that to you, Jo."  

"Thank you for that at least, Bryan ."   

"My dear… "

"Please don't call me that. It's so cold, so impersonal… "  

"It's how my father addresses my mother."  


Was that how those outside the family saw it – as my parents being cold? Neither of them believed in overt displays of affection. Even Porter and her husband were the epitome of discretion when others were present, although I'd happened to walk in on them one time when they thought they were alone. I'd quickly backed out, and they never knew I'd observed them, but the way he held her, and the way she molded herself against him gave me a startling insight into their relationship. They loved each other.  

I looked into my wife's china blue eyes. "I'm sorry, Johanna."  

"I'm sorry too. I didn't want it to come to this." She didn't realize I was apologizing for being unable to love her. She rose and came to stand before me. "If only… " 

"I'd better leave. I'll be late for work."  

"Of course. Are you sure you don't want to come home for dinner?"  

"Hazelton has called a meeting of all the department heads." He'd become DCI, and it was a pleasure to work with him.  

"Of course. The Director of the CIA snaps his fingers, and you go running." She walked to the door with me and handed me my briefcase. "I'll make up the bed in the other room and move your clothes there."  

"Thank you. I… It was never my intention to make you unhappy, Jo."  

"I know. I guess I … " She sighed. "We are who we are. If you ever meet someone… "  

I already had, but I'd known for years that it was useless. "The same goes for you, Johanna."  

She raised her hand, and I wouldn't allow myself to flinch, but she simply rested her palm against my cheek, her smile lopsided. "Have a good day, Bryan ."  

I opened the door and left.  



Johanna and I kept a united front in public – even the family was unaware of our living arrangements – but whatever affection we'd had for each other was gone; we were strangers to each other, if we had ever been anything else.  


Jefferson , home on leave for Neville Webb's funeral, was accompanied by an Englishman, Ludovic Rivenhall. They wore matching rings on the middle fingers of their left hands.  


Tony remained a staunch bachelor.


Part 3



During summer vacations, Porter would allow her son to stay with each of us uncles for a week or so. Tony would take him to points of interest in DC, including NSA headquarters. Jeff would take him on jaunts around the world – Clay had had his passport since he was five years old and his parents had taken him to West Africa to meet Porter's godmother, Lady Greystoke, and her husband. And when it was my turn, I would take him to Langley , showing him where his father had worked.  

I loved my nephew Clay. He was courteous, affectionate, smart and brave – everything my stepchildren would never be.  

Johanna's children, on the other hand – it shouldn't have been their fault that they were whiny and obnoxious. I'd tried to make myself like them, but I couldn't, and so I made more allowances for them than I ever would have for a child of my own.  

My relationship with them didn't warm as they grew older. Any overtures I made were rebuffed until I finally stopped beating my head against a stone wall.  

Shortly after he turned sixteen, Billy grew dissatisfied with home-schooling and rebelled.  

"He's so much like his father," Johanna wept. He did have Bill Harrington's aquiline nose and the cleft in his chin, but if that wasn't what she meant, I had a feeling she was wrong.  

I volunteered to use what pull I had to get him into Philips Exeter, the prep school all Sebring males attended. As I should have expected, both he and his mother rejected my offer.  

"I'm not a Sebring, Uncle Bryan." The way he called me 'Uncle Bryan' was so different from the way Clay said it. "I'll go to the school I choose."  

After all these years, it still hurt to be shut out like that. I turned on my heel and left them to hash it out between them.  

He finally chose the military prep school his father had gone to, but after a very short time, Billy decided that wasn't for him, and he came home. His grades weren't bad, although not as good as Johanna thought, and he wound up going to a local private school where the parents' ability to pay the tuition was the most important criteria.  

Libby grew into a very pretty girl who had her mother's looks, although beyond that, I knew very little about her, not even what movie star's poster she had up on her wall. With Billy no longer being home-schooled, she refused to stay at home any longer herself.  

All the schools that Libby was willing to consider had long waiting lists. However, *she* didn't mind accepting Sebring help.  

Porter happened to be visiting us, a very rare occurrence. "I can pull some strings to get Libby into Tidewater, if you like."  


In spite of herself, Libby seemed impressed. "Oh, Mom, it's a really prestigious school in Massachusetts !"  

" Massachusetts ?"  

"It's an all-girl preparatory school. I attended Tidewater when I was Libby's age," Porter said.  

"No. It's out of the question."  

"But Mom, you let Billy go out of state… "  

"Only for a few weeks. Besides, he's a boy, and Ulysses S. Grant Military Academy was in Delaware . Massachusetts is so far… "  

But Libby wheedled and pleaded and finally got her way.  

That lasted a few months longer than Billy's foray into military school. Libby was sent home for sneaking out to dally with a boy from a nearby town.  

"I love him, Mom!" Her cheeks were flushed and her blue eyes flashed.  

"Nonsense! You're too young to know what love is! Now tell me what he did to you!"  

Libby threw a horrified look my way. What child wanted their sex life discussed in front of a stranger. "Nothing! Mom, *nothing*, I swear! He respects me!"  

"A likely story. Get your coat. I'm taking you to see Dr. Lumley."  

I felt sorry for Libby. She looked totally confused. "Why?"  

"To make sure you're still a virgin!"  

"Johanna, do you know the time?" I tried to be the voice of reason. "Lumley isn't in his office."  

"It doesn't matter, Bryan ! He delivered her, and he'll see her if I ask him!"  

"You don't believe me?" Libby's face crumpled.  

"Enough, Johanna."  For once I stepped in. "Libby has said nothing went on between her and the boy."  

"Stay out of this, Bryan !"  

"I'm afraid I can't. Not this time. Don't you see that if you do this, Libby will lose all respect for you?"  

"This is none of your affair!"  

Before I lost my temper and snapped at her, the phone rang, and I picked it up. "Sebring."  

"It's Market, sir. Sorry to call you at home. Your brother's in trouble."  

"Jeff?" Of course it would be Jeff. Tony didn't go into the field. "How bad?"  

"We need you here to coordinate the effort to get him back to neutral territory."  

"Have you spoken to Edwards?"  

"He's on his way here also."  

"Good. I'm leaving now, but he should get there before I do. Have him get started on the… " I lowered my voice and gave him specifics.  

"Yes, sir."  

"I have to go, Johanna. Listen to me: trust Libby." I left, putting every thought but how to rescue my brother out of my head.  

I broke all speed limits getting there. I wished I could ask Tony to come to Langley , just to be nearby, but I couldn't.  

However, I'd no sooner sat at my desk than he called.  

"I just heard. I'm on my way."  

"But… "  

"If there's anything you need from NSA, I can get it from your office."  

"Tony… " I couldn't tell him it wasn't necessary. If Jeff's cover was blown, I'd need all the help I could get. And Jeff was his brother too, after all. "Thanks, big brother."  

" Bryan , I know you'll get him out of this mess."  

"Thanks." I hung up and got back to work.  

I didn't realize how much time had passed until I felt a pair of strong hands kneading the knots out of my shoulders and a warm breath tickling my ear.  

"You're a mass of tension, little brother."  

"Tony," I breathed. "Thanks." I forced myself not to lean back into his touch.  

"Any news?"  

"Not yet. I've got you set up at the desk in my outer office."  

With a final squeeze he stepped away from me. "I'll get started then."  

For three days straight I was at my desk. When there was nothing Tony could do, he made sure there was plenty of hot coffee and sandwiches available.  

And then Ludovic called from their place in Adams Morgan. Jeff was home. "He looks like something the cat dragged in, but he's alive."  

"His cover?"  

"It wasn't blown. He was just in the wrong place at the wrong time." Ludo didn't have much more to tell than that.  

"We'll be there as soon as we can, Ludo." I hung up and turned to the others in my office who waited tensely to hear the outcome. "Jeff is back." Collective breaths of relief blew out, and they left my office, leaving only me and Tony.  

"I'll call my people and tell them to stand down."  

"Good idea." He left my office, and I put in a call to Ben Monroe, who was heading up the black ops team that would gear up to go in and take out the ones responsible. "We've got Jeff back. I'm scrubbing the mission."  

"Got it, boss. I'm glad to hear he's home." He hung up.

"You're going to Adams Morgan?" Tony was standing in the doorway.  


"I'll go with you."  

"I'm driving."  

He just nodded and followed me down to my car. I did the seventeen minute drive in ten minutes.  

Jeff was battered but alive, and Ludo was fussing over him. "How badly are you hurt? Do you need to see a doctor?"  

"That hot bath helped a lot." Jeff was wearing a pair of silk pajamas that clung damply to his shoulder and hip. There were hearts and cupids all over them, and I shook my head. Jeff saw and gave a tired grin. "A Valentine gift from Ludo."  

"You realize this means Jeff really loves you, don't you, Ludo?" Johanna had never gotten me anything like that.  

"I… I… know." His lower lip trembled, and he turned to take his lover in a careful embrace. "I… Jesus, Jefferson, I almost lost you!"  

"Hey, hey! You'll never lose me. I'm all right, pet." Jeff wrapped his arms around him, but then sagged in his arms. "I'm just so tired… "  

"Bed! You need to go to bed! Do you want me to call a doctor?"  

"No. I've already seen one. Nothing's broken. Thanks, Willie. You're a real mate."  

I hadn't noticed the craggy-faced, blue-eyed blond who stood in the shadows.  

" Bryan , will you take care of… " Ludo gestured toward him and began to lead Jeff to their bedroom.  

I recognized 'Willie' from a picture I'd had taken by an officer in London years before. He was older, but there was no mistaking him.  

Willie Garvin, Modesty Blaise's second-in-command.  

"'ve got to go now," he mumbled, looking uncomfortable.  

Before he could take a step toward the door, I grabbed his hand and gripped it tightly. "Thank you, Willie."  

"Yes," Tony said. "Thank you, Mr. Garvin. If our sister and parents were here, they would thank you too."  

"You know who I am?" He seemed surprised and embarrassed.  

"We know," I assured him. "We may be desk jockeys, but we know. If you ever need anything… "  

"Oi, mate, that's good of ya, but nah, your government don't owe me nothin'."  

"My government might not owe you anything, but my family does."  

"Ta, I'm sure, but Modesty'd skin me if I screwed up badly enough to need anyone's help but hers."  

"All right, but remember, the offer stands." I let his hand go, and he ducked his head and gave me a lopsided grin. I could see why Jeff had once been attracted to him.  

Tony shook his hand as well, and then Willie Garvin was gone.  

"God, this has been a long seventy-two hours."  

"Yes." I scrubbed my hand over my face. "We'd better be going ourselves."  

"You're dead on your feet."  

"I'm fine. Come on. I'll drop you off at home."  

"No, that won't be necessary. Thanks all the same. One of my men can do that. Little brother… "  

I gave a tight smile. I couldn't bear to hear him call me that, not when I knew he wasn't going to waste any time putting distance between us.  

"Take care of yourself, Tony. I'll see you." Although unless a national crisis occurred, it probably wouldn't be until the following Christmas, when we'd accompany Porter to her husband's grave at Arlington .  

"Yes." He rested his hand on the back of my neck for a second, and I couldn't prevent a shiver. He dropped his hand and stepped away from me. "I'll see you, Bryan."  

It was mid-afternoon when I arrived at home. The house was quiet when I entered it. I climbed the stairs and walked down the hall toward my bedroom. All I wanted to do was sleep.  

The door to the bedroom I'd shared once with Johanna opened.  

"You're finally home. Things are a shambles here!"  

"Jeff is fine, thanks for asking."  

She flushed. "I'm glad to hear that." She chewed on her lip. "Libby's locked herself in her room. She's been there since… She won't come out."  

"You took her to Lumley."  

"I had no choice."  

"Johanna, she had to be humiliated and mortified."  

"You think you know my daughter?"  

I glanced at Libby's door. "We can't talk out here." I walked into the bedroom.  

She followed me in, closing the door firmly behind her.  

"Where's Billy?"  

"I sent him to stay with Bill's parents for the weekend. He doesn't need to be exposed to this sordid… How could you persuade me to allow my child to attend such a place?"  

"I had nothing to do with this, Johanna. Libby did all the persuading, and you went along with it." As she usually did.  

"It was your sister's abominable idea. This was a family matter, and if she'd simply stayed out of it… "  

"You're blaming Porter?" I raised an eyebrow. "All she did was attempt to use her influence to help her niece."  

My wife's mouth tightened. Since Porter wasn't available, it seemed I was the most likely target for her ire.  

"As for Tidewater, it's an exceptional school."  

"Exceptional? Is that what they're calling it these days?"  

"It has an excellent reputation and a very high standing in the academic world."  

She huffed. "Look what happened to my daughter!"  

"Nothing happened to her, Johanna," I said wearily.  

"We know that now! But when she came home… "  

"I'm not going to get into a shouting match with you over this. Libby chose to go to Tidewater, and you chose to let her." I turned on my heel and left the room. I thought I saw Libby's door was opened a crack, but I wasn't in any mood to give it any consideration. I jogged down the stairs. Johanna was close behind. I picked up my car keys from the table by the front door. "I'll be back in a few hours."  

"You just got home!"  

"Well, I'm going out again."  

" Bryan , if you walk out that door… "  

"You'll do what? Make me sleep on the couch? Face it, Johanna. There really isn't much you can threaten me with."  

"I can… "  

"Take away the children? At this point, they wouldn't care, and do you really think that I would either?"  

Her face became pale. I shook my head and let myself out.  

I drove to Harry's Hat, a small place I knew of in McLean , where I'd go sometimes for lunch. No one knew how it got its name, or even why. It was the replication of a plantation house. In the rear of the ground floor was a small restaurant that offered excellent food. A classic mahogany bar with a brass foot rail and full length mirror behind the bar was in the front of the building. On the upper floors were discreet bedrooms for anyone wanting to stay for a few hours or a few days.  

I'd never taken advantage of those rooms, although I had come very close once. It had been after I'd had to select a tiny white coffin.  

His name was Frank Holloway. He had been a blond, blue-eyed officer from the Houston office, who had been temporarily assigned to Langley .  

I didn't do anything. I couldn't claim to be noble, couldn't say that the vows I'd exchanged with my wife had kept me faithful in that instance.  

The truth of the matter was that it would have felt as if I were betraying the one I loved.  

The bartender looked up as I entered. "Mr. Sebring! Good afternoon, sir. We don't usually see you here on a Sunday."  

"Hello, Joe. I'm surprised to see you here myself."  

"Just filling in for a friend."  

"I thought I'd stop by for a drink."  

"Yes, sir. Your usual?"  

"Make it a double." I took a seat at the bar and waited while he poured me a glass of Glenlivet on the rocks. I'd consider this a celebration of Jeff's safe return to the fold, his head bloody but unbowed.  

A young man came from the direction of the restrooms. He nodded at me and crossed to the corner where an upright piano stood, sat before it, and began to play. After a few bars, I recognized it. 'I'm Always Chasing Rainbows.'  

How apropos.  

"Another double, Mr. Sebring?"  

"Sure, why not, Joe?"  

But the Glenlivet wasn't helping. I needed to talk to someone. Jeff was no doubt being fussed over by Ludo, and Tony didn't need to hear about this. That left Porter.  

There was a pay phone by the restrooms. I went back there, put in a coin, and called my sister.  

"Webb residence."  

"Clay. Hi. It's… "  

"Hi, Uncle Bryan! How are you?"  

"Fine," I lied. 

"We just got back from our ride, and Ludo called to give us the good news. I'm glad Uncle Jeff is okay!"  

"So am I. Clay, is your mother in?"  

"Yes. She's upstairs changing."  

"Does she have anything planned for this afternoon? I'd like to come over."  

"No. I'm going to the movies with Parisa Weintraub, but Mother doesn't have any plans."  

"All right. Would you tell her I'll be there in about twenty minutes?"  

"Sure. Uncle Bryan? Is everything okay?"  

My stepchildren would never have asked. They wouldn't have cared.  

"Everything is fine, Clay," I lied again. "Tell me, why does the name Parisa Weintraub sound familiar?"  

"We've competed in a few shows together. Listen, I can cancel the movies… "  

"No. That isn't necessary. You go ahead and have fun. What are you going to see?"  

"'The Black Stallion.'"  

A horse movie. I should have known. "I'll let you go then. Enjoy the movie, Clay."  

"Thanks, Uncle Bry. Bye."  

I hung up and went back to the bar. "So long, Joe." I settled my tab, leaving him a good tip.  

He studied me for a moment. "Drive carefully, Mr. Sebring."  

"I will." I went out to my car and drove to Great Falls .  

A stocky, older woman opened the door when I got there. Alyona Markov had been part of my sister's household since shortly after Clay's birth. "Mr. Bryan. Young Clayton tell us you were coming. Is good to see you."  

"It's good to see you too, Alyona. How have you been?"  

"Arthritis pinches at my joints, but otherwise, I am good." She took my coat.  

"I heard that Gregor has been given a promotion."  Her brother had been in the FBI for the past eight years.  

"Yes. We are very proud of him. He do good for boy from Russian family. Come, Mrs. is in back parlor."  

"I know the way, Alyona. You needn't trouble yourself."  

She looked me over carefully. "I make you something to eat."  

"I really don't… "  

"Is no trouble. You too skinny." She left before I could object.  

For the first time in days, I laughed, and I went to find my sister.  

Porter met me in the doorway. " Bryan . You're right on time. As usual." She hugged me and kissed my cheek. I realized she could smell the alcohol on my breath, but she didn't say anything about it. "It's good to see you."  

"Same here, little sister." I kissed her cheek. 

"Ludovic called to let me know that Jefferson is all right."  

"Clay told me. I'm sorry, Porter. I didn't even think to call you."  

"This has been a bad week for you. Don't worry about it. You've had enough else to worry about."  

"Did Johanna call you?"  

"No. Should she have?" She stroked my cheek and gave me a concerned look. "You've been drinking."  

"Yes." I should have realized that she wouldn't let it ride.  

"That's unusual for you, and especially for a Sunday afternoon, Bryan . Tell me what's bothering you." She crossed to the loveseat and gestured beside her.  

I sat down next to her and poured out the events of the past week, concluding with the condition I'd found my household in.  

"She did that to her own daughter? Oh, Bryan , I hate to criticize your wife, but that really wasn't a smart thing to do!"  

"I know. If I'd been home, I would have stopped her."  

"I thought my offer to get Libby into Tidewater would help, but it seems I've made things more difficult for you, Bryan." She sighed. "I'm sorry."  

"No more than usual, and it's not your fault, Porter. Johanna blames everyone for Libby's behavior except Libby."  

"I can understand her going out after hours, Bryan . We all did it."  

That didn't surprise me. I'd dated one of her sorority sisters who had also been at Tidewater with her, and she'd told me as much. 'Breezy gets away with murder,' she'd continued, not realizing I could detect the resentment in her tone. I didn't like the fact that she'd gossiped about my sister, and so I'd cut short our date.  

"Well, at least you had the sense not to get caught."  

"Yes. It was… "  

Alyona Markov tapped on the door. "I am not interrupting, I hope?"

"Not at all, Alyona."  

"I make sandwich for Mr. Bryan. I make with black Russian bread. Will put meat on your bones."  

"Thank you, Alyona." I accepted the plate, balanced it on my knees, and took a bite. Only then did I realize how hungry I was.  

She smiled in approval as I went to work on the roast beef sandwich. "I make some tea now." And she left the room.  

"You were saying?" I asked after I finished a mouthful.  

"I was going to say that it was very sloppy of Libby. I wonder if she wanted to get caught."  

"I wondered that myself. But why?"  

"To hurt you?"  

I gave a short laugh. "I don't matter enough in her life."  

"Oh, Bryan ." She squeezed my knee. "Maybe you mean more to her than she even realizes."  

"I doubt it." I was revealing more than I'd ever intended, but somehow, since I'd started, I couldn't stop. "Johanna's never let me get close enough to her children to mean more than someone who has dinner with them on occasion. For the longest time I couldn't figure why they seemed to keep me at an arm's length. Then I overheard her mother tell them, 'Behave, or he'll leave your mommy. You'll be without a father again, and it will all be your fault!'"  

Porter spit out a word I'd never heard her use. She was furious. I wanted to kick myself for talking too much.  

"I shouldn't have dumped this on you, Porter. Please don't mention this to anyone."  

"Not even Tony?"  

"Especially not Tony."  

" Bryan !"  

"Porter, Tony wanted me to be married in the worst way. If he knew how miserably I've failed in my marriage… " My hands clenched on what little was left of the sandwich, leaving it a doughy mass, and I put it down on the plate and waited to hear how she would respond to that.  

"Oh, Bryan , she isn't the one, is she?"  

I met her eyes, unable to pretend I didn't know what she was talking about. "No."  

She reached across the seat and hugged me. "I promise this will just be between the two of us."  

"Thanks, little sister." I swallowed and scrambled for another topic of conversation. "So how is Clay doing? Has he started packing yet?" He had been selected to be a member of the US equestrian team for the Summer Olympics in Moscow .  

She permitted the change of subject. "He's so proud and so excited."  

"I can imagine." We were all proud of him. "How do you feel about letting him go over there on his own?"  

"I think he deserves to have that experience. And I'll be there when he takes his position at the start of the cross country event."  

We were all going to be there, Tony and Jeff and I.  

"I will be there also, with Gregor. We not miss our boy bringing home a medal!" Alyona's younger brother had joined her as part of Porter and Neville's household after Clay was born; he was virtually another uncle to Clay. She glowered at the condition of my sandwich. "You not eat enough, Mr. Bryan." She placed the tray that held the tea things, including a little pot of honey, on a coffee table and picked up the plate.  

"Thank you, Alyona."  

She looked at the mangled remains on the plate and left the room, muttering under her breath.  

Porter handed me a cup and saucer. 

I cleared my throat. "I have no doubt they'll bring home the gold. Jack Be Nimble is a good mount."  

"I'm not sure Clayton will be able to take him. He's been favoring his off hind leg lately according to the team's vet."  

"Who will Clay ride then?"  

"He's been working with Quasimodo."  

"That palomino you bought him after … er… in '78?" I was reluctant to bring up Neville's death.  

"Yes. He's a good dressage horse, and Coach thinks he'll do fine on the jumps of the steeplechase."  

"I'm glad Clay has a backup plan." I concentrated on fixing my tea the way I liked it.  

"He usually does."  

I raised my eyes to hers. There was a proud smile on her lips. "Will he run into Yaskov, do you think?"  

"Perhaps, if they have him handling security at the Olympic Village."  

"Did you ever meet him, Porter?"  

"No, although for a time we traded coded barbs." She laughed softly. "I've seen photos, though."  

"I met him once." I wasn't going to tell her it had been just before the Berlin Wall was erected. She'd had a miscarriage and lost her first baby, and the family had wanted to make sure she was all right. Jeff was already in Europe , and Tony would have gone as well, but he'd been unable to leave the country at the time, so I'd flown over in his place. "The photos didn't do him justice. He was a handsome man."  


"What does that mean?"  

"Nothing. Just… oh. Did you enjoy meeting him?" 

"We played chess."  

"And who won?"  

"It was a draw."  

"Was he the one, Bryan?"  

"'One' what?" This time it took a minute or so for me to catch up with her thoughts. "Oh, *that* one." She wouldn't be upset if the person I'd fallen in love with was male, but I wondered how she would react if she knew who that male was. I couldn't see her taking it well. After all, Tony hadn't. "No, little sister. Yaskov wasn't the one."



To Part B