by Larion Wills
eBook ISBN: 978-1-927085-47-9
Despite the threat of prison or death, Chase had to know, did he have a child or had Tiffany lied again.
Loving Chase, Sydney stole the son he didn’t dare claim, but was it for him or to trap him?
Standing by the fence ten feet from the end of the grandstand, Chase leaned his forearms on the top rail, his guard up for any sign of recognition from the parents filling the bleachers. He shouldn’t be there. He knew what could—and most probably would—happen if the wrong person spotted him. Even at a game away from the Gibson home field he tempted fate. Sliding his gaze toward the grandstand, he tensed at an unusual color of hair, dark with the red of fire glinting in the sun. Eleven years later, he still recognized that hair and face. The muscles in his jaw flexed, and the grip of his hand tightened over the other as she made her way up the center steps, not glancing in his direction. He should leave; get out of there while he could still walk on his own two feet. Hoping, since she paid him no notice, he had more time, his attention went back to the pint-sized turf warriors preparing for battle. Identifying one ten-year-old boy wasn’t easy with their faces lost in shoulder pads and helmets.
Some of the uniforms had names on the back. None he could see or make out was the one he wanted, and he let himself get careless trying too hard to see one face that in some way might resemble his own. He didn’t see her come down the stands by the outside rail until she stepped down off the last bench. Hoping she’d walk by, he tensed again. She swung the straps of an oversized tote bag over her shoulder and, no more than two feet away from him, leaned her arms against the fence rail, mocking his position he was sure.
Without turning his head and barely moving his lips, he told her, “I’m not here to cause any trouble.”
Still mocking, or at least mimicking him, she answered the same way. “If I thought you were, I’d have called the sheriff.” With barely a breath between the last word and the next, she told him, “He’s number ten.”
Chase’s eyes immediately sought out and pinned number ten. “Thank you,” he murmured and watched the boy she’d singled out, his son, a child he’d never seen before.
Until six weeks ago he hadn’t even been positive there was a child. He hadn’t known if there was, if it was a boy or a girl. Tiffany had sworn to him she was on the pill as fervently as she had sworn she was pregnant when he tried to break up with her the last time.
His thank you to Sydney was for more than telling him which boy was his. Sydney Gibson hadn’t called the sheriff to have him beaten and/or thrown in jail. That didn’t mean she wouldn’t. At least he was able to see the child he’d sired, though he couldn’t see much for the protective gear swallowing him.
Chase wasn’t going to question Sydney’s motives. Tiffany’s younger sister had always been a little apart from the rest of the family. When it happened all those years ago, he felt she would have had some sympathy for him, even if she hadn’t spoken up for him. They had been friends in a distant kind of way, even though she’d only been a kid.
“Those are new,” she said, dragging him away from his thoughts. “When did you go western?”
For a moment Chase didn’t understand a question so far away from where his head had been. “Western?” He looked down at his feet. “Oh, the boots. A couple of years ago.”
“You’re a cowboy now?”
“Sort of,” he murmured, not caring to go into the details.
Sydney jumped subjects and stated, “She was a little bit crazy, you know.”
Having no difficulty following her, the corner of his thin lips curled slightly. “Yeah, I wasn’t too stupid to figure that out.”
“You weren’t stupid.”
Chase’s gaze shifted to look at her without turning his head, reaffirming what he saw in his first glimpse. Sydney had grown from a skinny fifteen-year-old into an attractive young woman at what he’d guess was five feet-five, or maybe six, inches. Simple and uncomplicated described her best. Tailored shirt, long sleeves rolled to just below her elbows, slim form-fitting jeans, hair still an amazing color of burned copper pulled back in a pony tail that hung past her shoulders. She still didn’t use any of the dazzle in clothes or makeup her sister always had, and to Chase’s eyes, she was all the more attractive for it then, as she had been years before.
“You haven’t asked about Tiffany,” she commented.
“Because I don’t care.” His gaze shifted back to the field where the boys lined up for the first play. “What’s he like?”
“Bright and intelligent, ornery as hell at times. He can be the sweetest, most affectionate child in the world. Other times you want to lock him in his bedroom. Normal. He has your looks, especially his eyes.”
“That must have really pleased the Gibsons,” he said bitterly.
“Yeah, well, I’ll give Tiffany some credit. She wouldn’t let them make her abort him or put him up for adoption, even if her reasons were all wrong. I still can’t believe she was such a stupid bitch.”
With a slight duck of his head, Chase’s lips quirked as he fought off a smile, remembering another incident from the past. “Still go for the jugular?”
Sydney shifted weight slightly. “You deserved it,” she said defensively.
“I did,” he agreed, seeing the scene in his mind’s eye. The last time he’d said those words to her they’d been in high school when she tore into him in front of a group of boys. Sydney had always seemed to float around the edge of things back then, never joining in. Once she contributed her opinion, though, it was no holds barred. “Doesn’t mean I enjoyed having my skin frayed off me in public.”
“You wouldn’t have enjoyed it in private, either.”
“Can’t say I would have,” he admitted. “As I recall stupid was the mildest thing you called me.”
After a slight pause, she said, “You weren’t stupid. That was a bad choice of words. Tif told me later she’d lied to you. You weren’t around for me to apologize.”
The muscle in Chase’s jaw jerked. No, he hadn’t been around. He’d been hauled into jail, beaten, and ran out of town. “I wasn’t sure she hadn’t lied about being pregnant. Once I knew there was a ten-year-old Kevin Gibson, I had to come see for myself.”
“One thing she said that wasn’t a lie—or who the father is. Did they do that?” she asked without warning, flipping her hand toward his.
Chase forced himself to relax his clasped hands and stop pressing at the scars on the back of his left. Yeah, they’d marked him, though he didn’t say so. He didn’t mind the scars as far as having scars went. The hate it represented was what he’d never gotten over.
“I knew they’d done something,” she said quietly. “Never what exactly. It wouldn’t do any good to say I’m sorry, I suppose.”
“None of it was your fault, but nice to hear someone is. Is that why you haven’t called the sheriff?” He straightened with a new thought. She could have lied to him and be stalling him. “Or should I leave while I still have the chance?”
Sydney twisted to look straight at him for the first time. He was caught by those eyes, still the greenest he had ever seen, and braced himself. Knowing her capacity to let someone who displeased her have it with both barrels, what he expected didn’t come. Her head jerked back around, and she jumped, leaned over the fence, and shouted. Number ten had the ball, running for a touchdown. The “go, go,” she yelled in encouragement changed to a “yahoo” and fists raised in the air in triumph. Clapping wildly, she dropped her bag and took off running down the fence line toward the end zone. While she waved both fists in the air, Chase watched both his son and Sydney, while he took deep breaths to fight the swelling in his chest.
Tiffany was self-centered, selfish, and a lying bitch. Her father was a self-righteous, sanctimonious tyrant. Sydney was blunt and candid to the point she was often abrasive, but when the boy turned, saw Sydney, and grinned, Chase had no doubts those two loved each other.
Chase had to smile, watching the ten-year-old swagger to the sideline as the conversion team ran out. That was his son though he’d never be able to tell him, never be able to be any closer to him than he was, standing at the fence. Feeling like a band tightened around his chest, he watched Kevin taking congratulations from his team members. He couldn’t take his eyes off the child even as Sydney walked back to him.
“He’s like you in a lot of ways,” Sydney said softly and bent down to pick up her bag.
“I’m…” He had to clear the lump out of his throat and start again. “I’m not sure if that was a compliment. I’m sorry I asked—”
He broke off when Sydney spun to face him squarely, one hand on her hip, the other holding the bag straps to her shoulder. Chase didn’t miss that even then she watched the game out of the corner of her eye. “You got plenty of reason to hate my family after the way they framed you. Just don’t you ever paint me with the same brush again.”
“At least you admit it was a frame.”
No one else had. If he hadn’t been put on a bus out of town, he’d have ended up in prison. Taking the bus had been his choice: take the beating, keep his mouth shut about who did it, and get out of town. Having lived through it, knowing what they were capable of, there was something he had to ask, dreading the answer.
“How do they treat him?”
“Your father and Tiffany. Do they treat him decent or like dirt the way they treated me?”
“You don’t keep up on our current—No! Get him!”
Chase was hard put not to yell, clap, and wave his hands in the air the way Sydney did. Number ten, his son, chased after the ball carrier, made the tackle, and jumped right back to his feet, ready for more. “He’s tough.”
“Like his daddy.”
The last word did something funny to his insides. Chase blew out a breath and shook his head as he straightened. “I’ll never be able to be his daddy. Your father will see to it.” He backed a step away from the fence. “If they can’t railroad me on the old charges, he’ll think of something new. I won’t put him through that.”
The way she looked at him brought back memories of her way of looking straight into his eyes and maybe straight into his head. From the first time he met her as a thirteen-year-old, he always wondered what she saw and thought. Sydney could be one intense person, and to throw him off balance, she could switch it on and off.
With a slight shrug, she turned back to the fence, telling him, “We’re going to have lunch at McDonald’s out on the highway if you want a closer look at him.”
God yes, he wanted a closer look. He wanted to talk to him, tell him he was his father, and hold him in his arms. He shook his head. “That would be pushing my luck, I think.”
Sydney twisted her head to look up at him before she shrugged again and said, “Your choice, just like leaving now instead of watching him play.”
Chase thought he knew the meaning of the look then. She thought he was a coward. “If I stay, someone else might recognize me. It could cause him problems,” he told her.
Walking away, Chase lingered in spots on his way down the fence, stopping to watch another tackle, another run with the ball. He was taking a reckless chance, but it was probably the only time he’d ever get to see his son play football, to see his son at all.