Night Walker's Woman Ch. 03byTara_Neale©
It was almost lunch time when Rex arrived back at the ASPCA offices. He read through the half a dozen messages that waited in his inbox and cursed under his breath when he recognized his boss's signature on the last one. Tim Masters wanted to see him in his office the moment he got back. He sighed and headed to the large office at the end of the hallway. No use delaying the inevitable; it was just another of his grandfather's sage advice.
He inhaled deeply as he brought his fist up to the hard wood door. He could still smell her, lingering in his nostrils as much as she did in his mind. It was that which propelled him forward when the voice bid him, "Come in."
Tim Masters had never been his favorite person. With his freshly pressed suits that seemed out of place in a building with hundreds of animals, he was too much the polished politician for his liking. The man had never spent a day in the field, knew nothing of the neglect and abuse that the animals faced. Hell, Rex could not remember the last time he had seen the man in the holding pens, where the animals were kept awaiting adoption. No, this man got and kept his job because of one thing, his ability to raise money. And this time Rex was standing in his way. He did not relish this meeting.
"You wanted to see me, Mister Masters?"
"Yes, Mister Ranger," the formal introduction set Rex even more on edge. "I received a call from Marigold this morning. She told me about what happened in court yesterday." The man finally lifted his cold eyes from the computer screen, "Would you mind telling me since when does the ASPCA work with the defense on cases we are prosecuting?"
Rex met the man's stare directly, "Miss Riley is not the defense. She represents a third party in the case. The man's son, who claims rightful ownership of those horses. His father is contesting his wife's will that left the bulk of her estate to their son. It is likely that Mister Marshall's intent was to starve the animals so that his son could never take possession of his property."
"Yes, I knew all of that going into this court case. We all did. It has no baring on the case. If the younger Mister Marshall wanted to claim his property, he had the responsibility to insure that it was being properly cared for. What I want to know is what the hell came over you in that courtroom that you would deviate from our case and take up with the opposition?" Rex could see the red tint forming around the man's ears and hear the rise in voice.
"This was an unusual case from the beginning, Mister Masters, you know that. It is not every day that the ASPCA is called to one of the largest ranches in the state. The Marshalls trace their ancestry back to the Alamo, founding fathers of this state. And the value of those horses? We have never dealt with those kinds of assets."
Rex skirted the subject, knowing that was the true motivation for this man's concern, the loss of potential revenue from the auctioning of the horses. This man had never cared for the animals themselves, just his career, his ability to impress the board and move on to another higher paying and more prestigious job in a couple of years. It disgusted him, but he did all that he could to hide his feelings, to keep the conversation professional.
"Exactly, Mister Ranger, all the more reason that the ASPCA must do all that it can to protect the welfare of those animals. We cannot appear to favor the Marshalls because of their station in this community. And you saw for yourself the state of those animals, the intentional starvation imposed by Mister Marshall on the animals when every other animal on that ranch was well maintained with plenty of food and water," the man's hands rested on the top of his desk, his knuckles were turning white where they were laced together.
"Yes, but once more that had nothing to do with his son," Rex tried to keep his own anger under control. This man got under his skin on the best of days. The past two years working with him had been an exercise in control. But today, when he was already on edge, when the beast him in roared to claims its mate, when things were happening so fast that his brain could no longer process it, his patience with the self-centered bastard was hanging by the proverbial thread.
"And we are back to the point that we agreed with Marigold and the Prosecutor's Office before taking this case to court. That Thad Marshall had a legal obligation to monitor the care of the contested property while in the possession of his father. How has that changed, Mister Ranger?" Masters furrowed his brows as he stared at Rex.
Rex searched for an answer that would make sense, would appeal to this man and his agenda. He fell back onto the only one that he had been able to come up with during the long, sleepless night filled with images of her in his arms and bed.
"The ASPCA cannot insert itself into a civil matter of this magnitude. While those horses are animals and deserve all of the protection that we can offer them, they are also financial assets worth one point two million dollars, Mister Masters," which he knew was the heart of his boss's objection. Tim Masters wanted those horses for the center piece of the annual auction next month. Rex would bet that the man had even listed them in the brochure already.
He took a deep breath before he continued to plead his case under the intense stare of his superior, "Due to the nature of this case, it is likely to receive a lot of media attention, not just locally or even statewide, but nationally and perhaps internationally as well. We cannot have Mister Marshall or his attorney claiming that the ASPCA interfered and prematurely seized his property. It would do serious damage to our reputation and perhaps scare off some of our high profile donors."
There it was, his ultimate argument. He watched as the man's brows knit together in thought, his mouth scrunched up, his nose twitched. He waited. And waited. And waited as he allowed the man to play through the various scenarios in his mind.
"Yes, well, I will concede your point, Mister Ranger, but that did not give you the right to intercede on the woman's behalf without consulting me or Miss Clement."
Rex nodded, "I apologize." He kept it simple. The sooner he was finished with the man, the sooner he could focus upon more important things. Like her. His Mitawa Naya.
Tim Masters sighed and shook his head, "I'm assuming that you have a plan. That you and the woman are working out this compromise that you promised Judge Ortega? And I trust that you are looking out for the best interest of the animals."
Rex nodded, "Yes, sir, I am. Miss Riley, the younger Mister Marshall's attorney, has a small ranch just outside of Houston, in Waller County," he stumbled over the half truth. The few acres that the woman owned could hardly qualify for the term, but he did not want his supervisor knowing that.
"She runs a pony farm for special needs children in her spare time. And in her youth, she competed in barrel racing at the Livestock Show and Rodeo and won several Four H prizes. She has volunteered to care for the animals, under our close supervision, of course, until the civil matter comes to court. If the younger Mister Marshall wins the case then she has assured me that he will reimburse the ASPCA for any care they received while in our possession."
He played his ultimate card, "She assures me that we have Thad Marshall's deepest gratitude. Perhaps he would even be moved to make a generous donation." Rex waited as he dangled the worm before this greedy fish. He saw the man's face soften just a bit before he continued, "Of course, if Mister Marshall senior were to win then nothing stops us from proceeding with our case against the man and seizing the horses as we planned."
Rex smelled the man's discomfort. He knew that Masters was not completely satisfied with the plan. He was certain that the lure of immediate revenue from the auction weighed more heavily than any possible donation. He did not blame the man. From a purely business point of view, it was not the wisest decision, but Rex had never been much of a business man. And this decision had nothing to do with business. Honestly, it had far less to do with the welfare of the animals than he wanted to admit. It had everything to do with her.
The man finally shook his head, "I'm still not convinced that this is going to work, Mister Ranger. You said that the ASPCA will supervise the care of the horses? How do we even know that Miss Riley has the facilities or ability to fulfill her duties? As you say these are highly valuable animals, the ASPCA needs assurances that they will be cared for properly."
Rex smiled, "That is where I was this morning, checking out Miss Riley's facilities. While her ranch is not large, it has a sufficient barn for housing the animals and land for their exercise. As I said, Miss Riley herself is quite the horsewoman and she has the assistance of Hector Ramirez. He was a former jockey and groomsman until he retired some years ago. And you have my word that I will inspect the horses often to insure that they are receiving the care they need to recover fully."
The man frowned, "Yes, well, as I said I am not happy with the situation, Rex." Masters' use of his first name did nothing to assuage him. "But after your little performance in front of Judge Ortega yesterday, you have not left me much choice in the matter." The man stared him in the eyes before continuing, "Hear me now. Do not pull another stunt like that again without consulting me and Miss Clement. We do not like having the rug pulled out from under us without warning."
Rex inhaled deeply, knowing that this battle was won. His mind raced ahead to the next, his grandfather. And as it always would, it returned quickly to her. His Mitawa Naya. He nodded slightly, "Thank you, Mister Masters. And you have my word," he said as he slipped from the office, closing the door behind him.
Jaycee paced back and forth down the hallway. She opened the door and checked on her sleeping daughter several times. She would pause there until she heard the raspy wheeze of her snores or could see the soft rise and fall or her chest. If she did not, then she tiptoed into the room and softly laid a hand on her tummy until she felt the gentle rise and fall of her chest that confirmed the child was still breathing.
SUDEP, it was a horrible acronym. Sudden Unexplained Death in Epilepsy. It was also her worst nightmare. The possibility that her daughter would go to sleep and never wake up. It occurred in just one to two percent of those diagnosed with epilepsy, but they were almost all either children, teens or young adults.
She shivered at the thought. It was not the first time. From Angel's first seizure, Jaycee has scoured the Internet seeking information and support. On place that she received that support was an online forum run by the Epilepsy Foundation. Her eyes filled with tears as she thought of that first night that they were home from the hospital. She had come across a posting on the forum that would stay with her forever. A mother wrote about putting her daughter to bed for her nap. The child had begged and pleaded for another story, but the mother refused and closed the door. When she went to wake her daughter, she was dead. The woman was filled with guilt, not only over the death but the story as well.
Jaycee swiped her eyes with the back of her hand. She had to stop thinking about the worst, she told herself. But on days like this, it was virtually impossible to manage. Bad days always brought out the worst of her fears. Of course, there was no telling when Angel would have a bad day. Or why. She frowned, it did seem odd that her daughter's seizure began the moment she had touched Mister Ranger, Rex. Then again anything outside of her normal routine tended to upset Angel and she was more likely to have the worst seizures when she got upset, or tired, or sick.
She once again debated the advisability of returning to work, but the only other choice was a long legal battle with her ex-husband to increase the child support. And as Lupe reminded her, taking a few cases also gave her a small break from the almost constant care she provided for Angel. She smiled, she had to admit that it felt damned good to be back in the courtroom. It gave her a sense of control that was missing. But this case might be more than she could handle. Already there had been days of depositions, two court appearances and now this unexpected turn of events.
She played over in her mind the rest of her meeting with Rex Ranger. There was no denying that the man got under her skin. And into her mind it seemed. How the man did that still bothered her. It was disturbing, having another person know what you were thinking all the time. All the time? Just how far did his gift go? Did he know what she was thinking now?
The soft vibration of her phone in the back pocket of her jeans made her jump. When she looked at the screen, her eyes widened. Rex. She frowned as she pressed the button to accept the call, "Yes, Mister Ranger. I was just thinking about you, but I suppose you knew that."
The deep chuckle on the other end of the phone did funny things to the butterflies that seemed to have taken up residence in her stomach since she met the man yesterday. Yesterday? She shook her head again.
"It does not work like that. When we are not together, it is not that clear. I only feel vague glimpses, the strongest of your emotions. A protective mechanism to know when our mates are in danger or need us," he explained.
Her frown deepened. That information should have been reassuring to Jaycee. She had only to put distance between them to know that her thoughts were her own once again. But what confounded her more was the idea of being protected, of anyone caring when she was upset or in danger. She had been battling alone for so long that the very thought of it brought fresh tears to her eyes. She brushed them away and cleared her throat. "Yes, well, to what do I owe the privilege of your call, Mister Ranger?"
"Many things, Mitawa Naya. Just to hear your voice, know that you are safe. To check on Angel. Is she feeling any better?" his soft Texas drawl washed over her like warm water in a bubble bath. Refreshing and relaxing at the same time. She shook her head, reminding herself that she needed no one, lest of all a stranger that she had met just twenty-four hours ago.
"My daughter is still sleeping. After those types of events, she often does for hours," she tried to keep her voice business-like. Tried to keep the fence around her heart in place. Why did he have to ask about Angel? She could talk to Sean, Angel's own father, and he would barely mention their child. But this man thought to inquire as if he genuinely cared. "I really should go and check on her again, Mister Ranger" Jaycee tried to cut him short before he got any more under her skin, breeched that fence.
"Just one more thing, Jaycee. I spoke with my supervisor about the horses. He has okayed the deal. When would you like me to deliver them?"
Jaycee should have been happy, she had managed to protect her client's interests. But at that moment, it felt like just another heavy burden on her shoulders, one that she feared might break her. But she could not admit that to this man. "I guess tomorrow morning would be fine. If that works for your schedule, Mister Ranger. Or Hector has a truck and trailer, we could come there?" She would much prefer to pick the animals up. He was unlikely to be so bold at his place of employment. If she were lucky, he might even be out on another case and she could avoid him completely.
"No, tomorrow morning will be fine. I want to make certain that they are settling," he explained. "And there is someone I want you and Angel to meet, Mitawa Naya."
"Fine, then I will see you then," she really needed to get off the phone. But some other part of her begged and pleaded for just another minute with the deep baritone that calmed and soothed her soul. And that petrified her.
"And Jaycee, try to get some rest. The exhaustion and worry beats at me," he whispered.
Anger rose in her gut. How dare he? What did he know of her existence? Did he think it was that easy? Did he think that she wanted to wake a dozen times or more each night just to check that her daughter was still breathing? Did he think as Sean and some of the doctors seemed to that she was over-reacting? "I'll just schedule a week at the spa, Mister Ranger," she replied sarcastically.
He chuckled, "I'd settle for a good night's sleep. Preferably in my arms."
"Not happening so fuck off," she spat as she heard Angel call for her. "I have to go. Angel is awake."
"Of course, but Mitawa Naya make no mistake, it will happen. And soon," his cool confidence shook her, but the tiny butterfly that took flight from her tummy and seemed to settle somewhere in her chest, causing a tightness that felt oddly like want and need, shook her even more.
"Good-bye, Mister Ranger," she replied as coldly as she could manage.
"See you tomorrow morning," he reminded her.
Rex felt the tension rising inside himself. His beast roared and not even the presence of his grandfather in the truck beside him could quiet the monster. The horses must have sensed the danger too because they had been uneasy in the trailer that he towed. His driving required all his concentration; if the horses shifted to one side he needed to be ready to compensate or the truck and trailer could turn over. He did not relish facing Tim Masters if anything happened to that one point two million dollars worth of horse flesh.
"Do you want to tell me what is going on?" asked his grandfather as he calmly brought the cardboard cup of coffee to his lips.
Rex shook his head. "It won't be long now. The turn off is just ahead, grandfather."
The old man nodded his grey head, but his piercing black eyes continued to bore into his soul. Rex sighed heavily. "Tell me all that you know about night walkers, grandfather."
A rich chuckle came from the other side of the truck. "If our turn off is just ahead, son, then we do not have time for such things. Tell me what you wish to know."
Rex pondered his response. He had not told his grandfather the true purpose of his visit. Despite everything that his senses had told him yesterday when he met the child, his mind still rebelled, doubted what he already knew. He did not want to prejudice his grandfather; he needed the man's first reaction to Angel to be completely his own.
"Has there ever been a female night walker?" he almost whispered the question that had been the center of his thoughts for the past twenty-four hours.
The old man studied him closer as if deciding how to answer the question, "Yes and no, my son. Yes, there have been some girl children born with the gift." He paused, looking out the truck's window at the field passing them by. "But these gifts are not easy to master. You of all people should know that. Being born with the gift is only a small portion of it. You must also embrace your gift and learn to use it properly. That is a lifetime process."
Rex nodded, given all that had happened to him in the past couple of weeks, he had a new appreciation for how far he still had to go to embrace and master his own gift. "What happens if you don't?"
His grandfather continued to stare out the window for several long moments. As it often did, his silence told Rex far more than words. When he turned back, his face was heavy and the lines of age and wisdom seemed to run deeper than it ever had. "That is not an option. my son. The consequences are too grave."
Rex knew that his grandfather thought he was asking about himself, but before he could explain he saw the turn-off. Driving required all his attention to make the left hand turn off the highway and then to travel the almost half a mile across the dirt road with three restless horses in the trailer. Besides perhaps it was best if his grandfather's first reaction to Angel was unclouded with his own suspicions.