Read an Excerpt
Miguel Rodriguez Jr. referred to as "Mike" by everyone but his father, frowned as he sat in the cluttered room that his father referred to as his study, listening to Miguel Sr. tell him about his latest plan, the one involving not the ranch but the ranch house.
Mike could feel his frown deepening with each word that his father uttered.
When the older Rodriguez paused because he was either finally finished ormore likelyjust taking a breath, Mike saw his opportunity to register and give voice to his displeasure at this newest turn of events.
"You know, Dad, this keeps up and whenever the occasional tourist passes through Forever, asking where the local hotel is, people'll just start sending them in this direction."
Six months ago had seen his father inviting Valentine Jones, a movie location scout who thought their property would be perfect for her studio's next film, to stay at their house for part of the shoot. That had turned out fairly well, especially for Rafe, but that had been a fluke. The thought of another stranger living here at the house left Mike cold.
He didn't really mind strangers, but he wanted them in his own terms. And he did value his privacya great deal.
"Why are we putting up this person again?" he grumbled at his father.
"Because, as you so wisely pointed out, my beloved oldest son," Miguel said expansively, rocking back in his chair, "there is no hotel here in Forever. The woman who has agreed to go over those diaries and journals that I found in the attic needs to stay somewhere while she works."
Mike supposed what his father said was logical, but as far as he was concerned, it was also logical not to get in the habit of welcoming strangers with open arms. At times it was hard enough having not just four brothers and a sister, but their various spouses, moving through the house. Adding an unfamiliar face to the mix was flirting with the proverbial straw that had brought such grief to the camel and his back.
"Never said she didn't," Mike pointed out. "But why does it have to be here?" His dark eyes narrowed as he repeated a well-known fact. "I don't like strangers traipsing through the ranch."
"Once you meet her, she will no longer be a stranger," Miguel told his son, echoing an optimistic, upbeat philosophy he strongly believed in. "And since she will be working on your great-great-great-grandmother's journals, it is only right that she stay here. That way, if she has any questions," Miguel explained, "she will not have far to go for an answer."
Mike knew it was futile to point out that there were such magic devices as telephones and their brethren that could easily handle any questions that might come up. Instead, he went on record and voiced a lament.
"You know, Dad, I liked it a lot better when we were all struggling to keep one jump ahead of the bill collectors and you didn't have time for any fancy projects that had us holding an open house. What's next?" Mike asked. "We turn the house into a bed-and-breakfast?"
His oldest had a decent heart, but Miguel Jr. had never been accused of being overly friendly. For the most part, he kept to himself. He could be counted on in an emergency, but had a tendency to disappear when all was going well. He wasn't one, Miguel thought now, who liked to stop and smell the roses. His first-born was more inclined to walk right over the roses because as far as he was concerned, the flowers didn't serve any practical purpose.
"Having Valentine here did not turn out so badly, now, did it?" Miguel asked, tilting his head slightly in order to look into his son's face. He was hoping for a glimmer of a smile. He saw none.
"We lucked out that time," Mike countered with a careless shrug. And by his reckoning, they had run out of luck. "She married Rafe and they're happy, I get that. But Val had said that she wasn't going to stay for more than a week. From everything that you just said, this one is going be moving in with us until we all grow old and die," he grumbled.
"She's not going to be here long," Miguel protested, "just until she has your great-great"
Mike's hand shot up as if to push the vocalization of the woman's full lineage back. His patience was at a premium and that premium didn't include having to listen to an endless repetition of the word great.
"Please, Dad," Mike begged, "just say G-4 or something like that. I'm well aware that she was really 'great.'"
Always willing to do what he could within reason to humor his children, Miguel obliged. "Just until she organizes G-4's journals so that she can transcribe them all into a single book."
Mike had glanced at the journals the first night his father had brought the dusty, dilapidated box down from the attic, bursting with excitement over what he'd found. As far as he was concerned, what his father had so dismissively described as organizing probably involved an enormous amount of work. But maybe he was wrong. He was more than willing to find out that he was.
"And how long is that going to take?" Mike asked.
"I don't know, son," Miguel confessed honestly. "This is all new to me."
Mike stifled a sigh. Just as he thought. "Exactly," he said out loud. "How do you know she won't be taking advantage of your hospitality? She might decide to stick around endlessly." The last thing they needed, he thought, was a pseudo-intellectual lolling around, spouting a few learned words and then withdrawing into her room to live off them for another day.
Damn it, he wasn't going to let his father get duped this way, Mike thought.
"How do you know she will be?" his father countered innocently.
His father's heart was just too good and too big, Mike silently lamented. "Because it's human nature to take advantage of people."
"Forever is filled with people," Miguel reminded his son. "And they," he went on proudly, "do not take advantage of one another."
For the most part, Mike knew he couldn't argue with that. But that kind of behavior was not the norm. The world was filled with con artists and scammers. Their little town was the exception to the rule. "Forever is an unusual place."
"And maybe, once she is here, this woman will be just as 'unusual' as everyone else in Forever," his father theorized. "Give the woman a chance, boy," Miguel requested. His eyes washed over his son, silently entreating Mike to lighten up. Not for the sake of the young woman who hadn't arrived yet, but for his own sake. Miguel felt that his son was missing out on so much being like this. "You have to be more open-hearted, Miguel."
Mike shook his head. In his opinion, his father's heart was much too open. "And just where did you get this woman's name?" he asked.
Ordinarily, along with the question, he would have thrown in a warning about using anything that came off an online site because as far as he was concerned, his father was incredibly innocent for a man his age. But his father didn't even have a nodding acquaintance with a computer or the internet and no desire to strike up any sort of friendship with either anytime soon. So the idea of his father surfing through want ads was just incredibly ludicrous.
Thank God for small favors, Mike thought wryly.
But the question still remained: Where had he found this woman's name?
"Olivia recommended her," Miguel answered simply.
Mike stared at his father, almost dumbfounded. "Olivia?"
Miguel nodded his dark head. "The sheriff's wife."
Mike closed his eyes for a second, searching for strength. "I know who Olivia is, Dad. I'm just surprised that she would condone something like this." As far as he knew, Olivia was a private person. Perhaps not as private as he was, but relatively close. Why would she just give him someone's name like that? What did she know about this woman? And who could vouch for this so-called journal organizer?
"She didn't just condone it," Miguel informed him proudly. "She encouraged it. And," he said with emphasis, saving the best for last, "she thinks my idea of passing this book on to my grandchildren when it is finished is a very good idea."
A sense of defeat pressed against his chest. Mike could see that his father had made up his mind about this. He knew that once that happened, there was no swaying the old man. Miguel Rodriguez was an easygoing, loving man most of the time. He could also be as stubborn as hell once he set his mind on something, Mike thought with an inward sigh.
Granted, the ranch was supposed to belong to all of them equally, but it was an unspoken rule that Miguel got the final say in all matters should there be a division of opinion. After all, this had been Miguel Rodriguez's ranch before he had decided to divide the land among all of them. It had been his way of thanking his children for pitching in to save the ranch from its creditors and the bank that sought to foreclose on it. Had they not all found some sort of work and handed every penny they earned over to him, the ranch would currently belong to another family, not theirs.
Throwing in the towel, Mike decided he needed to get the particulars nailed down so that at least he knew how long he had to put up with this so-called intellectual's invasion.
He pinned his father with a look. "Exactly how long is Miss Organizer going to be here?"
Miguel had always tried to be truthful with his children, never answering something for the sake of closing the subject if he actually didn't know. "That depends."
"On what?" Mike's voice rose with a touch of indignation. "On whether or not she likes getting a free ride?"
Mike knew for a fact that his father's hospitality was boundless, that whoever stayed here on the ranch wouldn't be allowed to contribute a dime toward their keep and while his family was far from financially hurting these days, he didn't like the idea of his father being taken advantage of by some little two-bit opportunist, either.
Miguel gave no indication that his son's tone annoyed him. "On how long it will take her to organize those journals and diaries in such a way that she can use them to create a memoir that does your great-greatthat does G-4 justice," Miguel amended.
Mike didn't bother stifling his sigh of displeasure this time. "In other words, she's going to become a permanent member of the household."
"Only if you or Ramon marry her," his father countered innocently. "The way Rafe married Valentine."
Or if you marry her, Mike thought, keeping the response, which he meant more than half-seriously, to himself. It had been a long time since his mother had died and there were times Mike worried that his father was ripe for the picking by some enterprising little gold digger.
"Well, I certainly won't," Mike said out loud, "and Ray is still half pining after that starlet who was here while they were filming that movie in Forever. Although he does fall in and out of love like some people change socks," Mike acknowledged, "so maybe you'd better warn this literary cleaning lady that she might just want to stay where she is instead of coming to the Casa de Rodriguez," Mike concluded.
His father surprised him by shaking his head sadly and asking, "When did it happen, mi hijo?"
Mike looked at his father, confused. "When did what happen?"
"When did you become this old man?" Miguel asked. "These are the years when you are supposed to be young and foolish, my son. Enjoy life. Make mistakes and pick yourself up and try again. That is how you grow," the older man insisted. "Through experiences."
Sure there might have been timesfew though they were, Mike silently maintainedwhen he thought that something might be missing from his life. But that had been part of the sacrifice he'd felt he had to make for the good of the family. "Sorry, Dad. Someone around here has to be the serious one."
The way Miguel saw it, it was a matter of definition. "There is serious and then there is inflexible." Miguel patted his son's face. "Do not miss out on being young, Miguel. You only get one chance at it."
He was who he was and for the most part, he'd made his peace with that. He was too old to change now, Mike thought. "You seem to be doing just fine for both of us, Dad."
Miguel shook his head. It was obvious by his expression that he was trying to understand just where he had gone wrong, where he had failed his first-born. All his other children were outgoing and had a zest for life, even Eli, while Miguel Jr. seemed to work hard at avoiding it, foregoing any personal dealings outside the familysometimes even inside the family. That was no way to live, the older man thought sadly.
But it wasn't a problem that could be solved quickly, or even soon. And he had something more pressing that needed tending to.
"We can discuss this at some other time," Miguel told his son. "Right now I need you to go and pick the young lady up at the airport."
The closest airport to Forever was over fifty miles away. A trip of that nature would take a huge chunk out of his day.
"When?" Mike asked, preparing to beg off whatever date his father gave him.
"Leaving in the next twenty minutes would be nice." Miguel watched his son's jaw drop in amazement. "I know how you like to give yourself enough time in case something comes up like a traffic jam outside of Laredo."
"Today?" Mike asked in disbelief. "You want me to pick her up today?"
Miguel nodded. "Her plane lands in a little less than two hours."
"And you're just telling me this now?" Mike asked in disbelief.
"I thought it was better that way. It gives you less time to be angry about it. You know how you get," he pointed out sadly to his son.
"Dad, I can't just drop everything and"
"You have nothing to drop," Miguel told him calmly. "I have already checked."
Mike didn't like being thought of as predictable. "What if I had plans you didn't know about?" he challenged.
"When have you ever had plans no one knew about?" his father countered.
"I could," Mike maintained stubbornly.
"Do you?" Miguel asked, his eyes meeting his son's.
With reluctance and no small measure of annoyance, Mike replied, "No, I don't."
"Good, then I would hurry if I were you."
"How am I supposed to find this literary genius?" he wanted to know.
It was more a matter of the young woman finding his son, Miguel thought. After he'd seen her picture, thanks to Olivia's computer, he saw great potentialnot just for his ancestor's journals, but for his present-day son, as well.
"I told her you would hold up a sign with her name on it and I described you to her."