Home > Kill and Tell (CIA Spies #1)(13)

Kill and Tell (CIA Spies #1)(13)
Author: Linda Howard

Stephen had grown up wanting nothing more than to please his father, to be the kind of man of whom he could be proud. He wanted to be his father, a man people both feared and respected, whose smallest frown brought instant obedience but whose word could be trusted implicitly. William, however, had always been the crown prince, the heir, and so William had garnered most of their father's coveted attention. Stephen couldn't say their father's trust was misplaced, because William had been… wonderful. That was the only word for him. There hadn't been a mean, nasty bone in his body, and he worked doggedly to overcome his perceived failings. Even with all the responsibility on his shoulders, he had always been cheerful, smiling, ready to enjoy a joke or to play one. William's death at the age of twenty-seven had devastated the family. Stephen's mother had never recovered from the shock, and her health began to deteriorate steadily; she died four years later. As for his father, he was shattered. Pushing aside his own grief, Stephen had tried even harder to make his father proud of him. He drove himself all through law school, studying longer and harder than his classmates, and graduated first in his class. He married a sweet, lovely young woman from an extremely wealthy New Hampshire family and devoted himself to being a faithful, considerate, loving husband. They had two children, a boy and a girl, and Stephen watched his stern father totally melt over his grandchildren.

Stephen began his political career by running for local office, as his father advised; that was how to build a base of loyal constituents. After serving a term as district attorney, he ran for the state legislature as a representative, then for the state senate. With twelve years of state and local politics under his belt, he seized the opportunity when a U.S. representative from the state retired, and he ran for his office. He discharged his duties as conscientiously as possible, and bided his time, watching the senators from his state for signs of weakness. When one became involved in a sex scandal, Stephen made his move and ran against him in the next election. He became a United States Senator at the age of forty-one and steadily built his power base and his reputation.

Shaking himself from his reverie, Senator Lake climbed the remaining stairs and walked down the wide upper hall to the suite of rooms at the back of the house. He knocked lightly, then opened the door.

"How is he today?"

"He ate well," said the nurse with a soft smile. Cinda Blockett was a sweet creature, as tender with his

father as she would be with a newborn. Her husband, James, also a registered nurse, worked the first shift with her and provided the muscle necessary for caring for a total invalid. James had carried Walter William Lake to the huge, overstuffed recliner positioned in front of the windows, with a perfect view of the sweeping grounds and the glittering blue lake beyond, patrolled by majestic peacocks. Stephen pulled up a chair beside his father and took a gnarled, wasted hand in his.

"Good morning, Father," he said gently, waited a second to see if there would be any signal of recognition such as a blink of the eye, then began to talk about the latest news, both on television and in the newspaper. He didn't restrict himself to politics but talked business, too, and science. Every time a space shuttle went up, Stephen kept his father informed. He didn't know if any of what he was saying was actually received and processed in the working portions of his father's brain, but he never gave up. He sat with his father for more than an hour, spelling Cinda and James so they could have a leisurely meal. His father was never left alone. Three shifts of nurses cared for him, kept him fed, exercised his wasted muscles, turned and moved him so his fragile skin didn't rot with bedsores. They made his existence as comfortable as possible, playing his favorite music, turning on the television to the programs he had liked, reading aloud to him or playing books on tape. If there were any cognitive parts of his father's brain still functioning after the massive stroke that had felled him eleven years before, Stephen hoped he was doing enough to keep those parts stimulated, to make his father as happy as possible under the circumstances.

He was now one of the most powerful, most respected people in Washington, and he would never know if his father was proud of him.

When Cinda and James returned, and Stephen left his father's suite, Raymond was waiting for him just as the senator had known he would be. Raymond Hilley, sixty-nine years old, had worked for the Lake family for fifty years. Stephen couldn't remember a time when Raymond hadn't been there, his father's right-hand man, almost an uncle to him and William when they were growing up. When William died, Raymond had sat down on the floor and cried, huge tears running down his battered face. Eleven years ago, when the stroke incapacitated Walter William Lake and Stephen became the head of the family, Raymond's skills and unswerving loyalty had transferred to him.

"Let's go down to my office," the senator said, clapping his hand on Raymond's shoulder as his father had always done, a sign of friendship and acceptance.

Coffee was waiting for them, brought in when Cinda and James finished their lunch and returned to the suite. With Hayes, the senator had sat behind his desk while Hayes took one of the chairs opposite, but with Raymond, he went over to the sitting area, and they took chairs as friends, as family. He poured Raymond's coffee first, putting in three teaspoons of sugar and diluting it with milk until the coffee barely had a tan color. He took his own coffee with a little cream, just a drop really; his father had drank it black, but even after all this time, Stephen couldn't give up that tiny drop of rich cream to mellow the bite of the coffee. Sometimes he was embarrassed by his weakness for cream in his coffee; it seemed to say he was a watered-down version of his father, a milquetoast—yes, that was a better comparison, both in sound and in image. He knew better, of course. He had made some hard decisions in his life, not the least of which concerned Dexter Whitlaw and Rick Medina. He didn't feel good about what he had done, but neither did he doubt the necessity.

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