A Wedding in New York
                                          (Volume 8 of the Tales of Ann & Robert)

                             Part 1

Scott McCall leaned back in the airplane's comfortless seat and sighed nervously. Maybe he should have warned his father that he was coming. He should have told Mom. She would have relayed the message and only twitted him a little on his cowardice. She'd had enough stern words for his reluctance to come to the wedding.

Scott hadn't really minded when his mother had remarried. He liked Walter, and he'd been glad to see his mother happy. Some of his more psychologically inclined friends had quizzed him on possible deep-seated resentment at the proof that his parents would never get back together, but Scott had become resigned to that a long time ago.

Maybe it was just because his father had always struck him as such a lone wolf, some old-fashioned tragic hero who wandered the landscape too immersed in honor and duty to take the time to be happy. And maybe Scott wondered what this woman had that his mother didn't that Robert McCall could settle down with her and not his family.

Be nice, guy, Scott said to himself. Circumstances have changed. Dad told you that most of the reason he and Mom broke up was because of his job. Time to grow up and not be so selfish. He tried, and you told him you forgave him.

But that left the other reason he was leery about this marriage. Was Dad making a fool of himself over a younger woman? Mom had said this Ann Marshall was quite a few years younger than Dad. He wouldn't be the first man to fall for a flattering gold-digger – though Mom had laughed at Scott's worry about money hunters. It was just that Scott didn't want to see his father reduced to a character out of a bad farce.

The intercom dinged with the announcement of arrival at Kennedy in twenty minutes. Scott's hands shook with nerves as he fastened his seatbelt. He'd know soon enough.

"Damn it, Jordan, hold up your end!" Mickey protested.

"I am--ow, shit!" Jordan swore under his breath as they muscled the couch out onto the street and into the moving truck. When they finally put it down, he plopped onto it with a weary moan and sucked the graze on the back of his hand.

"What's wrong with you?" Mickey asked as he sat down next to him.

"Bashed my hand on the door."

"Here, put something cold on it." He handed over a chilled can of beer.

"Oh, God, yes." They sat in weary silence, nursing their beers. "Why didn't they just hire somebody to move Robert over?" Jordan finally asked.

"They did," Mickey groaned. "Us. We get fed for this, remember?"

"Oh, excitement. I want union scale."

Suzy came up the ramp with couch cushions under her arm. "Hey, you can't sit down on the job. We've got boxes of books to move. Come on," she persisted as the two men just sat there and groaned. "You'll stiffen up if you don't keep moving. The worst is over, the rest of the furniture is staying for the new people."

"Damn pushy lawyer," Mickey muttered as he hauled himself up. "Come on, Jordan. We're coming, we're coming," he said to Suzy, who was waiting impatiently at the foot of the ramp. She sighed and went inside.

"There's a hot tub at the end of all this," Jordan said as he contemplated the flight of stairs.

"Thank god." A cab pulled up in front, and Mickey glanced over. "I don't believe it."

"What?"

But Mickey was headed for the young man who had just paid off the cabby. "Scott?"

Scott turned around and grinned. "Hi, Mickey."

"McCall said you weren't going to be here."

"Well, I didn't think I would be."

Mickey smiled slightly. "It's going to make him really happy to see you."

Scott shrugged nervously and looked at the moving van. "He's getting his stuff out, huh?"

"Wedding's day after tomorrow. We've been shifting stuff all week."

"Kind of hard to believe--"

"Scott!" came the delighted cry, and he turned to see his father come out the front door.

"Hi, Dad," he started, but Robert dumped the box he carried onto Jordan, who went "oof," hurried over, and gave his son an enthusiastic embrace.

"My god, Scott," Robert said, holding him at arm's length, "it's good to see you."

But Scott was staring at his father. He was ten years younger, thinner, and grinning like--like a man surprised and thrilled to see his son.

"You said you wouldn't be able to make it," Robert went on.

"Uh, well, I managed to rearrange some things and got the first flight over. There wasn't time to tell you." Scott held his breath and hoped that sounded plausible.

Robert didn't care. "That's wonderful. Where are you staying?"

"I hadn't really thought that far yet. Probably with Mom."

"Just as well," Robert sighed. "It's going to be rough camping here for the next couple of nights."

Scott was about to ask why he wasn't staying with his fiancée, when a call came from above.

"Robert!"

His father turned. "Yes, love?" and Scott's stomach lurched.

A youngish red-headed woman leaned out of the front window. Her hair was tied back with what looked like a neck tie, and she looked frustrated. "Why do you have three sets of dishes?"

Robert laughed. "Never mind that now. Look who's here! It's Scott!"

"Scott? Your son, Scott?" The woman disappeared inside.

Robert laughed again, and Scott looked at him out of the corner of his eye. He didn't use to laugh so much.

Jordan came over and stuck out his hand. "Hi, Scott, I'm Jordan, Ann's cousin. Robert seems to have forgotten his manners."

"Uh, hi," Scott said, shaking the offered hand.

"Robert says you're studying music in France."

"Yes, I am." Somehow it surprised him to learn that his father talked about him.

"Jordan teaches at Julliard," Robert said, catching up on the social requirements.

"You do? Cool. What subjects?"

"String theory and electric guitar."

"I beg your pardon?"

"It's complicated," Robert said. He looked at the building impatiently. "Where is she?"

"Brushing her hair," Mickey said.

"Washing her face," Jordan added. "Making herself impressive."

"What on earth for?" Robert asked, and Mickey and Jordan grinned at each other.

Scott suddenly realized that somebody was just as nervous about this meeting as he was, if not more so, and it wasn't his father.

"Excuse me," Robert said, exasperated. "Let me go hurry her." He headed for the door.

Mickey looked at Jordan, who nodded. "I'd better see what else there is to move," he said, and followed Robert.

Scott, only accepting the good luck, moved over to Mickey. "What's she like?" he asked.

"Smart, gutsy, funny. She's good for him."

"She's not marrying him for his money, is she?"

"Her? Scott, Ann Marshall is worth, all by herself, roughly fifty million dollars, and she's heir to about twice that. Your inheritance is safe."

"Mickey, it's not my inheritance I'm worried about, it's Dad. I saw how young she is." He swallowed hard. "This isn't some embarrassing Jennifer Syndrome thing, is it?"

"No, it's not. Your father has found someone to play stupid word games, argue history, and watch soccer with. It's hard to get a word in edgewise when those two start talking. I don't understand it, I just know that he is complete and utter hell to be around if he hasn't talked to her in the last ten hours."

Scott wasn't completely reassured. "How did they meet?"

"She called a particular ad in the paper. It turned out her bosses were in the intelligence brokerage business when they shouldn't have been. A messy business. He liked her from the start, even if he did refuse to admit it."

"Does she know about his old job?"

"Oh, yes. Do you think he'd marry her if she didn't?"

Robert's voice on the stairs heralded his reappearance with the woman from the window. Her hair was brushed and her face washed, but she kept brushing at dust smears on her jeans. Robert was too busy smiling in delight to notice her nervousness.

"Ann, I'd like you to meet my son, Scott. Scott, this is Ann Marshall."

Ann took a deep breath and held out her hand. "Hello, Scott. Robert's told me a great deal about you."

Scott shook her hand. "Hi. I'm afraid I haven't heard that much about you. Dad kind of took me by surprise." He studied her closely. He put her age at around thirty, and he caught himself checking her hair for signs of dye. She wore a t-shirt with an MIT Women's Alumni Association logo on it and the words "Yes, we do think we're so smart". Her jeans were patched Levis, and her running shoes were faded Nikes. She didn't look like a woman worth fifty million dollars.

For her part, Ann was studying her stepson-to-be as carefully. She had the advantage of seeing dozens of photographs of the young man and hearing his proud father gush. But she realized with horror that she hadn't internalized the fact that she wasn't that much older than him. No wonder he was giving her suspicious looks.

"So did you just come over from France?" she asked, hoping she didn't sound totally banal.

"Yeah, just got in an hour ago, haven't even called Mom to tell her I'm in town yet."

"Come in and use the phone then," Robert said. He hadn't missed the awkwardness, but he wasn't quite sure how to diffuse it.

"Thanks, Dad."

To hell with this, Ann thought as they headed for the door. I will not be the victim of polite jousting. "So, Scott, are you coming to the wedding?"

Everyone stopped and stared at her, but she met Scott's eyes steadily. His mouth hung partially open in surprise.

Scott glanced quickly at his father, who was looking at Ann with mixed shock and dismay. But then he looked at Scott with uncertain hope. Scott's social duty reasserted itself.

"That's why I came," he grinned. After all, he couldn't very well boycott it after coming all this way, and it didn't look like he'd be talking his father out of anything.

Mickey slapped him on the shoulder. "What are you going to wear?"

"Huh? Oh, gosh, I didn't even think about that. Is it formal or what?" he asked his father. "You're best man, right?" he then asked Mickey, who he saw relax slightly.

"Yeah, I got roped into it."

Scott abruptly realized that people had been seeing his sudden arrival as a potential wrench in the works. He didn't want to mess anything up, he just wanted to make sure his father was all right. He made a silent vow to be a well-bred grown-up about all this. "Cool," he said with a grin. "I'll hang around and eat the refreshments."

"If there are any," Jordan said.

"Beg pardon?"

"Grandma's arranging everything, and she changes her mind about every six hours."

"Don't start, Jordan," Ann moaned. "I'm this far from calling her up and screaming at her. Silly me, I think the bride should be kept apprized of the arrangements for her own freaking wedding, but no, that would be getting in the way of art. If she weren't seventy-nine I'd go strangle her. Slowly."

Robert wrapped his arms around her. "Darling, relax. She'd only beat you to death with her cane, and then where would I be? There's always Plan B."

"What's Plan B?" Mickey asked suspiciously as Ann giggled.

"Plan B," Ann said with a grin, "is if we show up on Saturday and she's screwed up every thing, we bug out of there, kidnap your brother the Father, get it done in five minutes, then go pig out at the smorgasbord at the Trump Plaza." She looked up at Robert. "I don't think I can last out two more days. Can't we elope?"

He smiled and kissed her. "You told me in January, and I quote, 'Don't let me talk you into eloping.' We have the wedding license, Father Nick is all set, and even if it's raining, we can do the service in that enormous ballroom of your grandmother's. It will be legal, and that's all that matters."

"Too damned sensible, that's what you are," Ann muttered, leaning her head against his chest.

Scott reminded himself that he had planned to be an objective judge of his father's fiancée, and he studied the two of them together. A start of what might be jealousy went through him as he watched his father kiss the top of Ann's head and hold her close. Why hadn't he ever known this tender, caring man? It came into his mind like lightning--this Robert McCall hadn't existed then. Any gentle tendencies had been amputated as they arose. Scott vaguely remembered him then, a man who tried and desperately wanted to be a good, caring father but who never quite got it right. His chosen work and what it required of him wouldn't allow him any softness.

But now he had his chance, and the fates had delivered to him someone to share a life time's neglected love with. So who could blame him if he was making up for lost time? Scott wondered, with a prurient and shamefaced blush, what his father might be like in bed.

"Someone is shirking around here," came a shout from the second-floor windows, "and it's not me!" Scott glanced up and saw a young black woman leaning out the window and glaring at them.

"Suzy, there aren't any efficiency prizes to be won around here," Jordan yelled back.

"Oh, yes, there are. It's finally getting done with this! Robert, you're a pack rat!" Suzy's head disappeared inside.

"Which reminds me," Ann said, raising her head to look at her fiancé. "Why do you have three sets of dishes?"

"The every-day," Robert said thoughtfully, "the blue set that looks like what my mother had . . . What else is there?"

"You don't know? That explains the spider nests." She looked at Scott. "I hate to ruin your image of him, but he's a rotten housekeeper."

"You're no better," Robert protested.

"I have a cleaning woman."

"So do I! Show me these dishes. I don't believe you."

Suzy was waiting at the top of the stairs. "There's sixteen boxes left and the contents of that cupboard Annie found. Where's the dolly? And you must be Scott. Hi, I'm Suzy Johnson, Ann's sister."

"Hi," Scott said. He would not ask, it was none of his business.

Suzy waited a moment, then grinned at Ann. "Very well bred. He's not asking the obvious question."

"His mother's influence," Robert said. "Kay is a very well-mannered woman. Scott, Ann and Suzy adopted each other in elementary school."

"Oh, how I cried when Miss Rhodes wouldn't let me put her down as a relative in the same school," Ann said.

"Yeah, but we had Mr. Humphrey believing it for half the school year," Suzy replied, grinning.

"God, I wish I could have been there at that parent-teacher conference Mom and Dad went to." They giggled together.

Mickey, standing with Jordan on the stairs, cleared his throat. "Excuse me? Me and the other under-paid, over-worked heavy object carrier would like to get this over with, so we can get a shower before tonight."

Ann jammed her hands into her hair. "Shit, the party."

"Calm down," Suzy told her, "it's only two o'clock. You've got seven hours. Come on."

"What party?" Scott asked as they trooped into Robert's apartment.

"The pre-wedding shindig at O'Phelan's," Jordan explained. "It was easier to have one big one than a lot of little ones."

It took another hour to get the last boxes into the truck. Robert denied all knowledge of the third set of dishes (Scott saw Mickey smother a laugh when Ann whispered to him, "If any of these dishes should be caught or killed, the department will disavow all knowledge of their activities") and suggested they go into the Goodwill box.

Out on the sidewalk, Robert looked around at the proceedings. "Darling, why don't you go ahead and get the house open? We'll be about half an hour behind you."

"OK." Ann ran into the building and came back a minute later with a black leather jacket and a motorcycle helmet. Scott stared in disbelief as she headed for a red BMW motorcycle parked near the wall.

"That's yours?" he asked.

"Yep." She shrugged into the jacket, straddled the bike, and inserted the key. She started to put on the helmet, then hesitated. "You're not allergic to cats, are you?" she asked Scott.

"No, I'm not. Do you have one?"

"Two sinfully arrogant Siamese, last seen sulking in a matched pair on the piano." Ann strapped on the helmet. "See you over there, sweetheart," she called, then she started the engine.

As Ann roared off, Robert went over to Scott, who still looked bemused. "What's wrong, son?"

"I never pictured you marrying a woman who rode a motorcycle."

"She's also a black belt in karate, semi-professional blues piano player, and computer system consultant."

Scott studied his father's fond smile and decided to go for broke. "Why her? Why now?"

Robert relaxed when he saw his son was willing to be convinced. "Now that I've met her, the world isn't the gray, despairing place it was. There's still as much evil and pain, but I have Ann's strength and courage to draw on now, and she has more than I ever did."

"I find that hard to believe."

"Facing a gun is easy compared to getting up every day with only hell to look forward to." He saw Scott's confusion. "I'd best tell you now. Ann was married before, and it ended very badly. Don't bring it up if you can at all help it." His face went a little harder, a little grim mer. "I've seen her barely whimper in the face of things that have driven grown, hardened men to tears."

Scott studied the sidewalk for a minute. "Mom likes her."

Robert blinked. "She does? When on earth did they meet each other?"

"I don't know. Apparently she heard about all this and made a point of meeting Ann. She was worried about you. She said Ann has a good head on her shoulders."

Robert shook his head in wonder. "Kay said that?" He looked at Scott. "You were worried about me, too, weren't you."

Scott became very interested in a pebble. "You've got to admit this is something different for you."

"I'd be the first to."

"I've always thought of you as this, I don't know, loner, I guess. Solid, dependable, unchanging. Now there's this new person I've got to deal with, and you don't act like you used to. It's kind of thrown me."

"Is it a loss that I don't act the way I did?" Robert asked softly.

Father and son looked at each other, silently acknowledging the mistakes and regrets. "No," Scott finally said, "maybe not."

Robert put an arm around his shoulders. "Come on, help me make a last scan of the apartment. You also haven't called your mother yet."

Jordan and Suzy rode with Mickey in the van, and Robert and Scott followed in the Jaguar. As they drove into Ann's Chelsea neighborhood, Scott stared around him in growing amazement. The trees were fuzzy with new leaves in bright spring green, the sidewalks looked scrubbed, and the house fronts oozed gentility and money.

"Hard to believe that only a couple of streets over is the diehard artsy area," Scott commented. "Are you guys buying a house?"

"No," Robert chuckled, "Ann already had the house when I met her."

"I know what property values are like in this town, Dad. Mickey wasn't kidding, was he, when he said she's worth a lot of money."

"No, he was not kidding. She's from an old banking and real estate family. The house was a gift from her grandmothers."

"Wow. Does she have any sisters?"

"One younger one, and she already has a boyfriend."

"Darn."

Mickey blithely double-parked the van in front of Ann's brownstone, barely leaving room for Robert to get the car parked in front of the garage door.

"You are going to get such a ticket," Suzy said as she climbed out of the van.

"I'll take a collection," Mickey said.

Robert pulled out his key for the front door. "Mickey, did you ever get your tuxedo?"

"Uh, I'll go with Scott when he gets his."

"Mickey, you're best man," Suzy scolded. "If you look grungy I will personally pummel you."

"She's maid-of-honor," Robert told Scott. "She takes it very seriously. Sweetheart, we're here!" he called as he opened the door.

"Come on, Jordan, it's the last mile," Mickey said. "McCall, where's the couch going?"

"I'll find Ann and ask. Come on, Scott, I'll give you the tour."

There was a long hallway with framed prints on the walls, ending in a foyer that looked onto a formal sitting room furnished with Georgian and Chinese antiques.

"You can put your jacket in here," Robert said, nodding at a closet as they went past.

"OK," Scott said, bemused, as he looked around and followed his father farther back into the narrow house. The next hallway ended in a small barroom with a baroque pool table taking up most of the space. Scott sniffed curiously at the scent of chemicals in the air.

"That's the hot tub you're smelling," Robert explained as he headed up the stairs.

"Hot tub? There's a hot tub in here too?"

"And sauna. If you're shy, we'll wear something in there."

Scott felt his jaw drop at his father's nonchalance, but it dropped further when they reached the top of the stairs.

The atrium rose three stories to a skylight at the top. On the terra cotta tile floor was a baby grand piano in front of an iron sculpture of birds on the brick wall. Scott just stood for a moment, gazing up at two floors of balconies. A shaft of sunlight fell on a Georgian sheet music cabinet and the enamel and bronze sculpture on top, an Art Deco dancer with her skirts attached to her wrists. "Wow, Erte," he grinned, reaching for it.

"It's a signed original," Robert commented.

Scott yanked his hand back and put it behind him.

"Come on," his father laughed.

"What's next?"

"The kitchen, I think. Are you hungry?"

"Probably."

They went through a formal dining room, again furnished in antiques, past the pantry, and into an immense kitchen with white cabinets and stained glass in the windows.

Ann was there, speaking to someone on the phone, leaning on the counter, her eyes closed and her forehead in her hand.

"Grandma, please, all I want is a straight answer." She sounded near tears. "What did the caterer say?" She listened for a moment, and the tension in her shoulders eased. "Thank you. Did you get extra place settings? Robert's son was able to show up, and I won't have him eating in the kitchen with the staff. Oh, right, you wouldn't make him, it's what you did to those extra people who showed up at Cousin Gloria's wedding. No, true, they weren't related to the bride groom. No, he seems pleased that Mickey's going to be best man, he's not going to rearrange anything."

Robert tapped her on the shoulder, and she looked up in surprise and stared at Scott for a startled moment. Scott grinned and waved.

"Grandma, they're here with the last load, I've got to go. You'll meet him Saturday, unless Robert wants to drag him all the way out there to meet you, but I'll advise against it. You'll just try to rope him into something." Ann closed her eyes again and took a deep breath. "Grandmother Anastasia, the wedding is set. The catering is set, the flowers are set, my clothes are set. Keep trying to change things, and we're going to City Hall and to hell with all of you. Yes, I'm serious. I'll talk to you later. Good-bye." She put the phone down very carefully.

"What did she decide on?" Robert asked, putting his arms around her.

"Oh, her first menu of choice, of course." Ann leaned her head on his chest. "God, what is so hard about all this? When you finally get married, Scott, elope. Give a big party later, but grab the first qualified person and get married without telling anyone."

"Go lay down, darling," Robert said. "We can manage the boxes and all."

"Oh, God, the boxes," she muttered.

"Go. Where do you want the couch? I'll pretend I didn't hear that."

"I'm sorry." Ann sighed and straightened. "It goes up top, but you'll never get it up those stairs."

"Then we'll leave it in the atrium and let Mickey worry about it while we're gone." Ann didn't answer, just put her arms around his waist and snuggled close. "Two more days, darling, and then on to France."

"Can we eat lunch in the gardens of Versailles and throw crumbs at the pigeons?" she asked in a small voice. "I've always wanted to do that."

"Of course," Robert said fondly. "Every day, if you want."

Ann pulled back a little to look up at him. "And the Eiffel Tower at night to see the lights?" Dismay showed in her eyes as she remembered his dislike of heights. "Maybe not the Eiffel Tower."

He laughed. "For you, the Eiffel Tower at night. Now, go lie down before Suzy catches you and asks interior decorating questions."

She sighed, then smiled up at him for a moment before moving away. As she passed Scott, she paused. "Thank you for having a wonderful father," she said softly, then went on her way.

Scott watched her go, fighting down a grin. People silly in love always took him that way. And if any two people were silly in love…

"What's so funny?" his father asked.

"Huh? Oh, nothing."

They spent the next hour ferrying boxes in and up the various staircases. Scott overheard a portion of a conversation between Mickey and his father on the subject of ammunition storage, but they cut it off when they saw they were being observed. So the armory still existed. Scott wondered if Ann knew about the weaponry and what her reaction to it was if she did.

Finally everyone but Robert collapsed on the couch illegally parked in the atrium. Jordan stared up at the skylight, too tired to lift his head from the back of the couch. "We ought to just leave this here. This is nice."

"The colors clash," Suzy said, her eyes closed. Jordan made a rude noise.

Robert came in with a tray of glasses and a full pitcher. "I don't suppose that's a pitcher of martinis," Mickey muttered.

"No," Robert said, "iced tea. Some of you are driving. Wait till tonight to get plastered if that's what you want."

Scott ran his cool glass along his throat. "So where are these cats she mentioned?"

"Well, one of them's contemplating your forehead," Jordan said, pointing above Scott's head.

Scott carefully tipped his head back to look at the sheet music cabinet. The Erte was obscured by a light brown body with a dark brown head and unblinking electric blue eyes.

"I still can't tell them apart," Mickey commented. "Which one is that, McCall?"

"That's the male, Tutankhamon –Tut to his friends, Lord of the Two Lands and Son of the Sun to the rest of humanity," Robert added.

Scott felt pinned by the intent, measuring regard. The cat wasn't declawed, he noticed. "I don't think His Majesty likes me," he said cautiously. "Why is he looking at me like that?"

"Ann is the one who talks to the cats. It satisfies me that they're willing to have me in the house."

Tutankhamon deigned to release Scott from the royal gaze and began a brief bath. Scott breathed a sigh of relief and moved slightly to not be directly below the cat. The blue eyes tracked his movement. "What's that around his neck?" A golden tag hung from the cat's collar.

"It's got his name in hieroglyphics," Suzy said. "There's a shop on 5th Avenue that does them."

Scott looked at his father in dismay. "You're marrying a cat fiend."

"Someone has to." Robert checked his watch. "Three-twenty. Suzy, does Ann want me to drive her to O'Phelan's tonight?"

"She said something about cruising Times Square on the bike afterwards."

"Ye gods," he muttered.

"Sounds like fun," Mickey said, grinning.

Robert glared at him. "Yes, you went with her last time. I'll talk her out of it. Anyway, the party starts at nine, and I, at least, want to hit the hot tub after lifting all this. Who's with me?"

Everyone raised their hands. Scott saw his father's eyes on him curiously, and he decided to show off his sophistication by not protesting the California-style bathing. France had hot tubs, too, and no silly nudity hang-ups.

Everyone was too tired – or too well-bred - to make any comment on anything embarrassing in the hot tub. Scott tried to figure out the logic behind a ten-person sunken whirlpool in a house with two people and two cats.

"Jordan, wake up Suzy before she drowns," Robert said, his eyes closed.

"I'm not asleep," Suzy said. "Stop kicking, Jordan."

"You looked asleep."

"I was thinking. Did Becky ever finally agree to housesit all month?"

"Reluctantly," Robert answered.

"If she won't do it," Mickey commented, "I'm going to be in and out of here anyway. I'll keep an eye on the place." His watch beeped. "Four o'clock, those who care."

"Time to order the pizza for you gracious people who helped," Robert said, reaching for a towel and climbing out. "If you hear the doorbell in about half an hour, go answer it. My wallet's on the bar. I need to try and convince my fiancée that cruising Times Square in the middle of the night is a good way to get in trouble."

He left, and Mickey snorted. "Yeah, right. You've got to be impressed with his plausible excuses, anyway."

Scott's jaw dropped, again, but he hung onto his poise with his toenails. "I take it we should stay down here, then?"

Mickey gave him an approving look.

Suzy's eyes opened. "The pool table. Pizza incoming. I get first break," she announced as she scrambled out of the water.

Ann and Robert joined them forty-five minutes later. She seemed in a much better mood. "Why is the couch in my atrium?" she asked.

"Because it didn't work in the kitchen?" Scott offered, sinking the eleven ball in the side pocket.

Ann gave him a narrow look. "So you play pool," she commented.

"I'm pretty good, too," he grinned.

"He's beat all us," Mickey added helpfully from his perch on a bar stool.

"Well, that's not hard," Ann told him. "Twenty bucks?" she said to Scott.

"No," Robert said firmly. "You are not fleecing my son."

"Who says she'd win?" Scott protested.

"I don't care, no gambling. Anyway, we need to get going. I need a shower before tonight, we have to see if your mother left you a key and if she's willing to have you roll in at some godless hour." He looked at Ann. "So you're determined on the motorcycle."

She grinned and kissed him. "I'll be good." She pointed a warning finger at Jordan, who was smirking knowingly. "Don't start."

Suzy punched Jordan lightly on the arm. "So am I the only one staying?"

"Looks like it," Mickey said. "I've got to dump the moving van."

"The rest of you can do what you like," Robert said. "Scott and I are leaving." He went over and kissed Ann. "I'll meet you at the club, love."

"OK. See you there." In the bustle, Ann pulled Jordan to one side. "What are you planning for tonight, cousin?"

"What do you mean?" he grinned.

"I've never found crude jokes amusing, and any stupid adolescent party favors are right out. The quickest way to get me never to speak to you again is for you to do or authorize some thing tasteless. Just a thought."

Jordan gave her a reassuring hug. "Sweetheart, trust me. I will not embarrass you. I won't even embarrass Robert – though I bet he takes a lot of embarrassing. He mentioned something called strip chess the other day." He smothered a laugh at Ann's blush, then got serious now that they were alone. "You know I love you, Annie. He makes you happy, which makes me happy. I won't do anything to mess this up for you." He leaned down to give her a kiss that wasn't meant for use between cousins.

"I don't know what I would have done if you hadn't approved of this," she said.

"Beaten me to a pulp, no doubt."

Several hours later, Robert pulled into a stall of the parking garage near O'Phelan's. Scott got out the other side and grinned at his father. "Gee, I never thought I'd get to go a bachelor party in your honor, Dad."

"It's not a bachelor party. No one will be jumping out of any cakes - at least I hope not."

The sign on the front door read "Closed for Private Party", but the door opened at their approach. "Excuse me," Mickey said with a grin, "but are you a member of the party?"

"Very amusing," Robert said, shucking his jacket and handing to him. He frowned at the empty room. "Are we that early?"

"Annie and Suzy and Chao Tsu are in the kitchen with Pete. Pete is telling Chao Tsu that this isn't her restaurant and that guests aren't allowed to tell her how to cook. They're the only ones here so far. But this is New York, promptness is a faux pas." He carried Robert and Scott's coats off.

Ann, Suzy and Chao Tsu came giggling together out of the back. "Hi, sweetheart!" Ann called. "Isn't it wonderful how many people want to come and wish us well?"

"Yes, very flattering." He glanced at her outfit, leather pants, boots, and a muscle shirt cut for a woman. "You're dressed for the motorcycle. You're not really going cruising, are you?"

She kissed him. "No, I'm not. If I were, I couldn't drink all those bottles of Dom Perignon I found in the wine cellar."

"Ooh," said Scott in appreciation. "The good stuff."

"Indeed."

Suzy poked Ann. "You have to share, you know. I'm your maid of honor after all."

"And I don't even get to be a bridesmaid again," Chao Tsu pouted. "So I get good champagne too."

Ann put her head in her hands. "Chao Tsu, you took a holy oath before Buddha and your ancestors never to be involved in another wedding my grandmother was involved in."

Chao Tsu shrugged. "So? And give up a wonderful excuse to harass you?" She hugged Ann and laughed, and she and Suzy drug her off to find a drink.

Scott looked at his father. "Women's business," Robert said solemnly. "I do not even attempt to understand."

Guests began arriving within the half-hour. Jordan set his portable sound system to playing background blues, which was frequently overwhelmed with talk. Scott wandered the room, grabbing munchies from the selection on the bar and listening to the conversations. He got pulled into an argument involving someone who worked at Ann's blues club and a computer geek over why France considered Jerry Lewis one of the premier comedians of the twentieth century.

Ann, Suzy, and Chao Tsu huddled together over one of the small tables in the middle of the room, drinking champagne, whispering together and giggling.

"You know," Suzy said, "stupid me, I never really noticed. Hey, Mickey!"

Ann blanched. "Suzy, don't you dare!"

Mickey looked up from chatting with Pete at the bar. "Yeah?"

Suzy waved him to come over. "I've got a question."

"OK." He frowned at the way Ann was batting at her best friend's arm. "What are you three up to?"

Chao Tsu studied him with a cocked head. "You're right, Suzy, he is going to look good in a tux."

"I thought so."

Mickey blinked. "Excuse me?"

Suzy smiled. "We were just comparing our male friends, thinking of how they'll look at the wedding. You'll do."

"Uh, thanks." He reached over for the champagne bottle and discovered, not to his surprise, that it was empty. "You three are tanked."

"Not at all," Chao Tsu said with dignity. "By the way, do you work out?"

"Sometimes," he said suspiciously. "Why?"

"Annie says you have a nice butt. Turn around."

"What!" He stared at Ann, who put her arms over her head.

Suzy leaned around for a look. "Yep, he does."

Mickey quickly backed up so he could keep all three women in sight.

Chao Tsu smiled happily. "And Annie says the rest of you isn't bad either, from what she's seen in the hot tub."

"Annie!"

Ann pulled her knees up. She could be heard to be muttering something that sounded like a request for God to please kill her now.

"Well, she's right," Suzy said judiciously. "From what I saw this afternoon."

Mickey wondered if he should be appalled at being flattered or just appalled. He tried to think of something to say, but words failed him.

Ann peeked around her arms and glared at the other two. "I'm going to kill both of you very, very slowly."

Suzy pouted. "Well, I knew you weren't going to share Robert, but I didn't know you were going to be stingy with Mickey, too."

Ann gave up and bolted for the bathrooms.

Mickey cleared his throat. "You're making all that up, right?"

"Not at all," Chao Tsu said cheerfully. "We tell each other all sorts of things." Suzy chortled knowingly.

Mickey bolted himself. "It is nice," he heard Chao Tsu say behind him.

"Uh huh," Suzy agreed.

Robert sat at the good table next to the empty fireplace, letting well-wishers come to him. Mickey hurried up to him. "McCall, do you know what those females are saying?"

Robert put a hasty hand up. "I do not want to know. I've heard them cackling together in the hot tub and I try to stay as far away as possible. Though it's better than when they're clustered together giggling and whispering."

Mickey looked back over at the women's table suspicious, in time to see Ann return and start chewing out the other two. She snuck a glance over her shoulder in Mickey's direction, blushed when she saw him looking, and turned around quickly. Mickey went to get himself a drink and stand somewhere that he could have his back to the wall.

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