The Ideal Man (Buchanan-Renard 9)

Page 13

He followed her upstairs. She was muttering something, but Max couldn’t make out what she was saying. From her tone, he knew she wasn’t happy. Too bad, he thought. He had come all this way to protect her, and by God, that was exactly what he was going to do.
Concentrating solely on the job was going to take discipline. The first thought he’d had when he’d arrived at her house and saw her coming down the stairs toward him was that she was safe, and he’d felt a tremendous jolt of relief. The second thought was less professional. He’d wondered if her legs had gotten longer since he’d last seen her. By the time she’d reached him, he’d conjured up all sorts of fantasies about her.
Ellie led the way into Annie’s bedroom. Max took a step back when he saw the color on the walls.
She waited until he had shut the door behind him and then said, “It’s bad, isn’t it? Of course, it’s bad. You wouldn’t have come here if it was good news. You would have called, right? So it’s bad. Just tell me, Max. How bad?”
Max heard her father coming up the stairs. Now wasn’t the time to explain. Ellie was bound to get upset, and from her father’s response to seeing his gun, Max knew he wouldn’t take the news well at all.
“Roller or brush?” Max said.
She blinked. “I’m sorry?”
He repeated the question just as her father opened the door and stepped inside, saying, “I’ll use the roller. Why don’t you two paint the trim. How much do you have left to do, Ellie?”
“Two windows,” she answered.
The trim was white, the walls an iridescent shade of lavender. Max took one window, Ellie the other. She kept glancing over at him while she tried to think of a way to get her father to leave, but he wasn’t going anywhere. He was in a cheerful and chatty mood, no doubt because her friend was armed.
Once again she felt a pang of guilt. Having her home was a burden for him. She shouldn’t have given in to her mother’s pleas. It would have been so much better for her father if she had stayed away.
“You’ll have to see the falls while you’re here. It’s a short hike but worth it, isn’t it, Ellie?” he asked as he poured paint into the roller pan.
“Yes, it is,” she replied. “I don’t know that Max will have time—”
“Sure he will,” her father argued. “You did say you were going to be here until Ellie leaves, didn’t you, Max?”
“I did,” Max answered.
Ellie glared at him. He winked at her.
“How long have you two been seeing each other?” her father asked.
Determined to nip the personal questions in the bud, she said, “Awhile now, Dad. Max, did I tell you that my father has a Ph.D. in mathematics? He’s a dean now at the university. Did I mention that to you?”
“Ellie, Max doesn’t want to hear about my achievements. I’ll bet he’s curious about yours.”
“I am,” Max said. “What was she like as a child?”
“Difficult,” he said, grinning.
“I’m not surprised,” Max said.
“Hey . . . ,” she began in protest.
“And challenging,” her father added. “She kept . . . amazing us.”
Pausing in his task, William held the roller over the pan while he considered which story to tell.
“She was about seven or eight, and there was a visiting professor . . .”
“Oh, Daddy, don’t tell the auditorium story.”
“Ellie, it’s one of my favorites,” he protested.
She knew it was pointless to argue. When her father was set on something, no one could change his mind.
“I was much older,” she muttered.
He ignored her correction. “There was this professor in mathematics from England. Dr. Nigel Goodrick was his name, and he was a real interesting fellow. He never would have lectured at such a small university, but he was visiting a relative who happened to live here, and so he agreed. Goodrick was a bit persnickety and quite arrogant. Wasn’t he, Ellie?”
“I thought he was mean,” she said. “And he smelled funny, like mothballs.”
“Ellie was spending a couple of hours with me at the university that afternoon, and it just happened to be the time Dr. Goodrick had picked to give a lecture to our math students on the great nineteenth-century German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. We anticipated a large gathering, so the lecture was moved to the main auditorium. He was down on the stage, and Ellie and I were sitting on the aisle about fifteen or twenty rows back. The kids, the students . . . were bored. I’ll admit Professor Goodrick was a little dull.”
“He was a snooze,” Ellie interjected. She was working on the windowsill and stepped back to check her work.
“No one left the auditorium, though. The students were getting extra credit by attending, but instead of signing in, they had to sign out after the lecture was over. Otherwise, they would have left. Most of them zoned out the minute he began his dissertation on Gauss’s life and his contributions to mathematics.”
“Can’t say that I would have been any different,” Max admitted. “Afraid I’ve never heard of Gauss.”
“If you’re not in the field, it’s unlikely that you would know much about him,” William said. “You could have heard a pin drop in that auditorium, but it was because most of the audience was asleep—which made what Ellie did all the more conspicuous.”
“What was that?” Max asked.
“Dr. Goodrick had just told one of the legends about Gauss. It’s said that he was quite precocious as a youngster and was always getting in trouble in school. One day a teacher, for punishment, told him to add all the numbers between one and one hundred. Of course, the teacher assumed that this would keep young Friedrich busy for quite some time, but when Gauss completed it in just seconds, the teacher was astonished.
“Dr. Goodrick told this story, and then he asked if any of the students in his audience could tell him the answer that Gauss came up with or how he did it. The room was silent. Several moments passed, and then Ellie stood up and looked around the auditorium . . .”
“I was waiting for one of the big kids to raise a hand.”
“But no one did,” her father said. “And so my daughter raised her hand. I remember Goodrick had a smirk on his face as he berated the students for not having even a guess, and he accused them of not paying attention—which, if you think about it, was actually a criticism of his lecturing skills—but he finally noticed Ellie and pointed to her. ‘A child has a question for me?’ he asked.”
Max smiled. He had a feeling he knew what was coming.
“Ellie looked embarrassed because now everyone was staring at her, but she said, ‘No, sir. I know the answer—five thousand fifty.’ Goodrick then saw me sitting beside her and, thinking I had fed the answer to her, wagged the marker at her and challenged her to show the audience how she arrived at the conclusion.”
Ellie turned around and interrupted her father’s account. “I’m finished with this window. Want me to help you finish yours?” she asked Max.
“And did she?” Max asked William, ignoring her.
“She certainly did,” he answered. “She went up on the stage, took the marker from him, and showed that the problem could be broken down into fifty pairs of identical sums of one hundred one. And fifty times one hundred one gives the answer: five thousand fifty. Goodrick looked thunderstruck, but to his credit, he did congratulate her on getting it right. He then asked if she could solve another problem. I realized he was trying his best to trick her with the second one, but she got that right, too.”
Ellie waved her brush at her father. “Dad, Max doesn’t want to hear—”
“Yes, I do,” Max said.
Her father continued, “I put a stop to it after those two problems and took Ellie home.”
“He made me promise not to tell Mom what happened,” she said.
“How come?” Max asked.
“Claire and I had agreed to help our daughter lead as normal a l
ife as possible,” William said. “Getting up onstage and drawing attention to her capabilities at such a young age . . . her mother and I didn’t want that, and . . .”
“And what?”
He looked sheepish. “And I knew I’d catch hell if my wife found out.” He laughed and said, “I swear it was the only time I allowed her to perform in public. Ellie always loved math. She read all the books I brought home, and she and I would do problems together every now and then at night when the twins were having their baths or doing their homework.”
Fortunately, her father resisted the need to tell more stories about her, and Ellie was thankful. She finished the painting, and while her father took Max out to the garage to show him the apartment, she showered and changed into clean jeans and a blouse.
Her mother didn’t approve of the outfit. “You should put on a skirt. We have company.”
“Mom, he’s just a friend.”
“Set the table in the dining room.”
“We have a huge, round kitchen table. Max will be just as comfortable here. Besides, you’ve already got it set for dinner.”
“I just thought it should be a little more formal. When Ava and John come for dinner, she always insists we dine in the dining room.”
Of course she does, Ellie thought. Ava was all about appearances.
“We don’t need to impress him.”
“Oh, all right. Go ahead and set a place for him at the kitchen table.”
“Thanks, Mom.” She kissed her mother on the cheek.
“Since you’re in such a good mood . . . ,” her mother began.
Ellie got a plate down from the cabinet. “The answer is still no.”
She carried the silverware and linen napkin to the table and set a place for Max. Never in a million years would she have guessed she’d be doing this for him.
“You don’t even know what I’m going to ask,” her mother said as she began to gather vegetables from the refrigerator.
Ellie took them from her and put them on the counter next to the sink. Her mother handed her a chopping board.
“I was just saying that since you’re in a good mood, you might want to reconsider . . .”
“I’m not going to be in the wedding.”
“Now, Eleanor Kathleen . . . ,” her mother said.
“You’re wasting your time.”
“You’ll break your sister’s heart.”
Ellie shook her head slowly. “Guilt isn’t going to work. The answer is no.”
“No, what?” her father asked as he came in the back door with Max.
“Your daughter is being stubborn,” her mother said.
Max was carrying tomatoes from the garden William had proudly shown him. He laid them in the sink and turned the water on to wash them. Next to him, Ellie was chopping vegetables. Her mother saw how fast she was working and immediately cautioned her.
“You be careful with that knife. It’s sharp.”
Ellie didn’t look up. “Yes, ma’am.”
“And slow down, for heaven’s sake. You’ll cut your finger off. Here, give that knife to me. I’ll do it.”
“I’ll slow down,” Ellie promised.
Her father had gone into the hearth room and was standing with his hands in his pockets, watching the news on television, and her mother had gone into the dining room to get one of her fancy salad bowls when Max leaned into Ellie’s side. “Your mom knows you’re a surgeon, right?”
She laughed. “Yes, she does.”
“So she’s got to know you use sharp knives.”
“Both my mom and dad know what I have become, but neither one of them saw me get there. I was a child when I left home. They weren’t there to see the progress from university to medical school to residency to fellowship. They didn’t hear all the stories that happen during training.”
William walked into the kitchen. “Max?”
“Yes, sir?”
“It appears it will be a while before dinner is ready. Do you have a minute to step out in the backyard and have a talk?”
Uh-oh, Ellie didn’t like the sound of that. “A talk about what?” she asked.
“Patterson,” her father answered. “If Max is interested, I thought I would catch him up on what I’ve learned from my friends in the FBI.”
“Sure,” Max said. “I’ve got the time.” Turning to Ellie, he whispered, “Don’t you leave this house.”
Ellie stood at the sink, staring out at the yard. She couldn’t see the two men, but she could hear the low murmur of their voices. She was certain Max was asking all sorts of questions.
He knew just about everything about her; she knew absolutely nothing about him. Well, not exactly. She knew he lived in Honolulu but grew up in Montana. And that was it. Sisters? Brothers? She didn’t have a clue. She needed a plan, she decided, to get through dinner. As soon as it was over, she’d get him alone and start demanding answers.
Dinner was a challenge.
“Where did you grow up, Max?” her father asked as Claire served the salads.
“Butte, Montana.”
“Are your parents still living there?”
“No,” he answered. “When I was a freshman in college, they moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota.”
“Do they live in Minneapolis now?”
“Yes, sir, they do.”
“It gets so cold there and so much snow,” her mother interjected.
“I wouldn’t think it would be too much different from Montana. Gets real cold there, too,” her father said. “What does your father do for a living, Max?”
“He’s an attorney,” he answered. “He worked for the Department of the Interior for twenty-five years, retired, and now works as a children’s advocate for the State of Minnesota.”
“Admirable,” William said. “I imagine it’s a difficult job. Do you have any brothers or sisters?” he asked without pausing.
Ellie listened to the interrogation with mixed feelings. She wanted to hear more about Max, but she was terrified by the possibilities of where the discussion would lead.
“Dad, stop with the questions please,” she said. “Max isn’t interviewing for a job.”
“We’re just having a friendly conversation,” her father protested.
Max, Ellie noticed, didn’t seem the least fazed by all the questions. She, on the other hand, was sick to her stomach and could barely get her salad down. She never should have lied to her father. As soon as she’d introduced him to Max, she should have told him the truth, but she didn’t. She made the decision to keep quiet because her father hadn’t looked well, and she’d put him through such heartache. How could she have burdened him with more?
“And your mother? Does she work outside the home?” her father asked.
“She teaches music.”
“Any brothers or sisters?” he asked.
“Dad, enough already. Let Max eat.”
“No sisters,” he answered. “I have six brothers. Simon’s the oldest, then me, then Bishop, Sebastian, Bradley, Tyler, and Adam.”
“Your parents had their hands full with so many boys,” Claire said.
“Simon Daniels,” her father said. “That’s the same name as the football player Ellie’s so crazy about. He’s always her number-one pick in her fantasy football leagues.”
“When I get first choice,” Ellie explained.
Max flashed a smile. “You know who Simon Daniels is?”
“Of course I know him. He’s one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. His stats last year were amazing: over forty-three hundred yards passing, a sixty-eight percent completion rate, lowest number of interceptions in the league. Don’t you follow football?”
“Sure, I do,” he replied. “How many fantasy leagues are you in?”
“I’m cutting back to two this year.”
“Max, would you like more roast beef?” her mother asked.
“No, thank you.”
“What does your brother do for a living?” William asked as he took t
he platter that Claire handed him.
“He’s a football player.”
Silence followed the statement. It didn’t last long. Ellie dropped her fork.
“Are you telling me your brother is the Simon Daniels, the future Hall of Famer?”
“That’s what I’m telling you.”
Ellie’s mother looked puzzled. “But he’s African-American, and you’re . . . not.”
“Simon’s parents adopted me,” he explained. He smiled as he added, “Then they got on a roll and adopted the others. I was eight years old when my adoption was final.”
“What happened to your biological parents?” William asked.
“Car accident.”
“No more questions, Dad,” Ellie pleaded.
She knew her face was flushed. She could feel the heat in her cheeks. Max had all but knocked her off her feet with his ohso-casual announcement that Simon, the perfect quarterback, was his brother. She was flabbergasted and trying not to let it show.
“Ellie, I couldn’t help but notice you looked thunderstruck by the news that Simon was Max’s brother. You didn’t know?” her father asked.
“Uh . . . no,” she stammered. “Max never mentioned it.” Her mind raced to find an excuse. “But I understand why,” she said.
“Enlighten me,” he persisted, frowning now.
“He wanted me to like him for him . . . not who he’s related to,” she explained and hoped to heaven she was making sense.
Her father nodded, and that gave Ellie hope that he was buying yet another lie.
“There are still lots of things about Max I don’t know yet,” she said. Was that ever an understatement! “We’re getting to know each other.”
She pushed her chair back, stood, and snatched Max’s plate. She was on her way to the sink as she asked, “Finished, Max?”
She cleared the rest of the dishes while her father told an amusing story about one of the professors at the university. Then the topic moved to the wedding.
“The relatives will be pouring in here in two more days, and William and I have been frantically working on the house,” her mother announced.
“Not frantically, Claire.”
“Are there any other bedrooms that need painting?” Max asked.