I wiped my mouth and sent Lena the McGovern Glare of Death.

“Uh, okay so maybe not.”

Resting my head on the wheel, I took a couple breaths and reminded Lena of our reality, “We have a truck full of contraband, two teens, and George.”

“Right so maybe the drive thru….


“Okay okay, I can see possibly you aren’t up for that. Tell ya what…. How about you guys go on and I get Uber… “

“Lena, get me home so I can lay down and die in peace or By the Goddess, I’m taking you with me.”

“Right right,. sure thing. Uh, maybe I should drive.

There was some re-arranging and low talking and…

I checked out, hibernating in my own little cave of misery. All outside was a bleary blur. I did note the moment George left us as the lack of taco and body odor shifted my misery down a millimeter or so.


Once a migraine sets in, there’s no getting rid of it, but taking enough pain meds to knock yourself out for eight hours usually works. I drugged myself up and hit the bed. My dreams were crazy, full of bullets and fire and buildings with giant orange mouths. I was running away from a particularly evolved brick and morter monstrosity with freshly sprouted chicken legs and gleaming metal teeth, when nerve-shattering beep-beeps blasted me.

I sat straight up. In bed. The alarm clock on my nightstand blared the blue lights flashing five thirty a.m. I slapped the bejesus out of it.

The nerve. Waking me up at that hour on a Sunday.

I fell back into my pillow and slept like the dead until the sun woke me at the much more civilized hour of nine twenty-two am

The first thing I did was rescue my foor alrm clock from the floor and set it carefully on the bedside table. After all, I was the one who’d forgotten to change the setting the night before what with the migraine… and the shooting… and the contraband.


I slipped sunglasses on before heading downstairs in search of coffee and pain pills. A migraine lifts in stages. The pain was mostly not there. I don’t know how to explain it other than to say it’s like an echo or an imprint. Bright light and loud noises still made it throb.

Got to the kitchen and stopped short. It was always cozy when the four of us gathered in the small space but throw in a hundred-and-some pound hell-hound and you went from cozy right on past crowded and slammed into the obstacle course.

Allie, in her usual Sunday morning attire of snugly fitting sweats, sat at the table reading her illegally obtained the New York times, a mug full of black coffee, and a cinnamon bun resting on a small plate beside it.  Lena, coffee mug in hand, was already dressed in jeans and a light sweater, sat across from her free hand pounding on her laptop. Christy was at the stove, measuring out loose tea leaves from several different glass jars into boiling water, also in a sweater and denim, but other than that, her clothes couldn’t have been more different. The sweater, about five sizes too big, was one of mine that had gone missing a while back, and came almost to her knees, and how that girl found cargo pants in blue denim, I don’t know. There was not much actual floor space left. Trudy was making good use of it. Sprawled in a semi-circle halfway wrapped around the table. There was no walking into that kitchen without a hop and a jump.

They greeted me in whispers. Good girls.

“How’s our guest?” I asked. Picking my way through to stand at the counter where the coffee maker rested.

Christy answered, “Fine, but we can’t keep her sedated much longer. She woke enough last night to take care of her bodily functions but keeping someone out like this can cause problems.

“I’ll talk to the medical examiner today.”

“It’s Sunday.” Allie reminded me without looking up.

“Jonna will meet me there. She and Sarah want Lars’ killer found.”

“Oh good.” Christy strained her concoction into a cup and handed it to me with a pain pill.

I studied the tea.

“It’s willow bark and feverfew.” Baby Sis informed me with an annoyed huff.

She could huff and puff all she wanted. She’d earned my suspicion.

The willow bark was okay. That was basically aspirin, but “Feverfew?” I sniffed, “That does not inspire confidence.”

“It’s an herb. It’s used to treat migraines. At least try it.”

“Nothing else in there?”

“Orange blossom and honey. That’s it.

Uh-huh. Christy loved to mix things up. She had her very own greenhouse in the back yard. It had a better security system than most homes. Seriously. Security. God only knew what she was growing in there. I never touched anything when I walked through. I sniffed again. “Do the oath.”

Christy held up her right hand, “I swear on the blood of our ancestors, there’s nothing else in there.”

Okay, blood of the ancestor was sacred. I sipped. I spewed. Grabbed for the nearest chaser. It happened to be attached to Lena’s hand, “Hey, get your own.”

Oh, for the love of Christmas. I set the foul stuff aside and grabbed a chunk of Allie’s roll sweet roll. cinnamon and creamy tart icing chased the bitter away.

Egad Christy, that stuff is flat awful.”

“Well, willow bark is bitter.”

Right then. There was no sipping that concoction. I wove around sisters, chairs, table, and Trudy to our old-fashioned fridge. The kind your Grandmother had with the rounded corners, giant handles, and frost. Lots of frost. We weren’t nostalgic so much as it was cheap and small. Both elements were necessary when you had an old house. I grabbed some ice and dropped it in Christy’s brew. While it chilled down, I poured coffee and doctored it with cream and sugar.

Taking a deep breath, I chugged the stuff down and chased it with coffee.

It did not instantly make me all renewed and awesome.

I glared.

Christy sighed. “Give it twenty minutes.”

I was on minute 14 when the storm blew in.

Gavin McIntyre filled our kitchen with six and a half feet of muscle, sinew, and foul temper. Everything else in our crowded kitchen diminished. Gavin had that indefinable quality that was hard to name but was recognized instantly. A combination of confidence, competence, and iron will, it was why men followed his ancestors into battle and the reason their enemies fled. If we were in fifteenth century Scotland, we would be addressing him as The McIntyre as he’d be leading the Clan. This quality was the reason, my sisters and I, as young girls, orphaned and in a strange country, had been drawn to him. He made us feel safe. We knew he could fix any problem and eliminate any threat. Somehow, Gavin had found out about our unconscious guest. The McIntyre was not happy.

Well, he could get in line. Happy was elusive these days. We passed each other with polite hellos occasionally. I’d probably get one of those “across the miles” cards at Christmas, but ever since the shoot-out at McGovern, me and happy were distant relations at best. And all of Gavin’s bellowing banging around my skull was not helping. I wasted no time slamming him in the back of the head with my fully-drained feverfew cup.

Went something like this.

“Have you girls lost your damn minds?”


“Dammit, Mckenna.”

Whack. Finger of opposite hand pointing to dark glasses on face.

A giant huff and harrumph and then I was in a chair and having the most amazing thing done to my head. Gavin spent some time in India and came back with this massage technique of pressing fingers on certain points of the head and face. I can’t remember the official name for it. I referred to it as Nirvana.

He was still blasting us in growling whispers. There was some whispers and hisses in response, but I didn’t bother trying to understand any of it.

Because… Nirvana.

Until Allie interrupted with an “Oh pooh.”  Gavin’s fingers paused. This caused me to raise my head and open one eye.

“Pooh?” He repeated in that careful tone indicating a three-name rant was about to go down.  “Sara Heather Aliana…”

Yep. All three.

“You have broken at least five laws, every one of them a capital offence.”

“Gavin Ian McIntyre,” Allie gave his three names right back, “What exactly, would you have done? We all know Sachet didn’t kill Lars. We also know the DA is an ass.”

Holy shit! Allie did not curse. Ever. Somebody was having a bad morning. I opened  the other eye. She looked no different than usual., but if Allie was cursing, something was up.

“Uh,” Lena, must have sensed something amiss as well. I got a side shot elbow to the ribs, “Aren’t you going to that charity thing with him.”

“He kept insisting. It was easier to let him give me a ride.” Allie flicked a hand in the air, “I’ll ditch him at the party.”

I got another elbow as Lena asked, “You’re going to ditch the D.A?”

Assistant D.A”  Allie corrected, plucking off a layer of cinnamon roll. Side note: How that girl ate like she did and didn’t gain weight was downright hateful. “He’ll be too busy schmoozing higher ups to notice I’m gone.”

Shmoozing. Right. Sure.” Lena said, stretching the words out. I blocked elbow number three before it could land.

If Allie noticed Lena’s reaction, she ignored it in lieu of dressing down The McIntyre. “We successfully hid Sachet away without her being aware she was doing anything wrong. Mac was brought on board by Carter as we knew she would be, and she will find the guilty party. Done and done.”

Gavin harrumphed again. All right then. Situation diffused. Massage resumed. Everything was copasetic. Hell, happy might even be popping in for tea.

Then Lena opened her mouth, “And then we can stab him thirty times.”

Happy shot right by. Dammit.

Gavin threw his hand over his face. Which meant my head was only getting half a massage. I’d have evil eyed but half Nirvana was enough bliss to make the lifting of the head a no-go.

“Could be a her.” Christy pointed out.

“Him. Her. Whatever. They’ll bleed out just the same.”

And now the other hand paused. Dammit Lena! That girl could not keep her mouth shut to save her.

“Nobody is getting stabbed.” I said.

Hands resumed. Nirvana saved.

Stabbing is a messy business. Poison is much cleaner, but that was a conversation to have when Gavin was not in the room. I couldn’t take anymore non-yelling.

“Mac,” Lena addressed me, “He could whistle the overture.”

“What overture?” Christy asked.

Oh no.

The Overture.” Lean said. And we all knew there was only one Overture that never needed naming and this was going to be so bad.


Allie,  Gasp.

Lena, “Yes”

“The whole thing?” Christy asked like her heart was breaking. Allie made soft mewling noises. This was not going to end well.

Not for the first time I vowed to find some electrical tape and apply it to Lena’s mouth.

“Yep. According to Nigel, Lars could whistle the entire Star Wars overture.” Lena broke for more gasps before continuing, “And he was taken before he could share his gift with the world.” The big-mouth then raised her fist to the sky and shouted, “This crime must be avenged.” The hand came down. Coffee was gulped, a shoulder shrugged, “I’m good with stabbing.”

“It’s too bad we can’t go back in time,” Allie pulled off a bit of roll, “If it were the fifteen-hundreds Gavin could cut off the villain’s head, pop it on a pike, and stick it in the front yard. Punishment and a warning all in one.”

“Yeah,” Lena’s eyes went dreamy, “Those were the days.”

Christy paused her measuring and blending, “I say we chop ‘em up and stew ‘em.”

That was one vote for stabbing, one for beheading, and a single chop and stew.


Gavin didn’t say a word. Just pulled his hand down his face and pointed at my sisters with the other. Neither hand was on my head. I had to handle this.

The problem was, my sisters weren’t joking. Not even a little. Our family has a long history of violence. When I say long, I’m talking 1,000 years give or take a century. We learned our history at our Great-Grandmother’s knee. Some people got bedtime stories about old ladies living in shoes. We got stories about “The Matriarch who held her castle by hacking her enemies into pieces while they screamed.” 

In feudal times the best way to hold onto land was to brutalize anyone who tried to take it from you. The McGoverns never lost so much as a square inch. I had to cut this off. Also, no Nirvana. I couldn’t stab my sisters. I had to use words.

“Nobody is getting chopped and stewed. There will also be no stabbing, beheading and/or piking of said head.”  Pretty sure the Carty Town Historical society would get us on that last one.

“I got it.” Lena’s face lit up. Dread shot down my spine. “We should rig their stuff to explode and give it back to them. Brilliant. Right?”  She looked around, her hands making gimme motions “Come on, give it to the girl.”

Gavin was standing behind me, I couldn’t see him, but there was no mistaking that quietly intense tone when he asked, “What stuff?”

The shark smelled blood in the water.

Lena. You idiot.

I was going to give it to her all right. The Mcgovern death glare is diluted somewhat by dark glasses, but I got my point across.

Lena winced, “Yeah okay, my bad.”

Gavin hadn’t so much as twitched a pinky, “What stuff?”

Lena looked to me.

Not. Even. She blabbed so she could be the one to drop the bomb in the kitchen.

She told him.

Gavin about flipped his buzz-cut right off. He ranted for a full quarter of an hour. A truck load of handguns, illegally obtained, and serial numbers filed off, along with the ammunition was frowned upon by well, most people. He finally calmed down enough to ask where we’d gotten the weapons. I told him. That took the wind out of his bellow.

“The shoe guy?”

“Yes, the one who died.”

“He had guns in storage?”


“Well, why the hell didn’t you turn them over to the cops?”

 “Gavin, think about that a minute.”

Turning it over to the police would shut whoever this is down fast. Whoever they are, they’d cool off, go quiet, under, lay low. However you want to say it, it amounts to our best lead drying up and blowing away like so much dust in the wind.

“Okay,” Gavin conceded, “I can see how that could make finding the killer more difficult. But you’re setting yourselves up as bait.”

“Lars has a daughter.”

“Right.” Gavin said with a kind of fatalistic resignation,

He knew me well enough to know he wouldn’t change my mind. “You need to talk to the wife again.” He said instead of the protest he knew would be ignored.

“I know. But I’m damn well having coffee first.”



 I was adding cream to my second cup when Lena announced we had company. We were the only two left in the kitchen. Gavin having gone on his grumpy way, Allie moved upstairs to dress for the day and Christy had taken Trudy out for her morning absolutions.

As it turned out, I didn’t need to go find Nadia. She and Sasha were on my front porch. Lena seated them on the couch. Now my vision was a little wobbly what with the migraine hangover, but even I could see Nadia did not look good. There was no makeup on her pale face, her hair hung limp around her face and dark circles hung under her eyes.

Sasha though, for a girl who’d been in an all-out shoot out not 12 hours ago, she was holding up remarkably well. Her jaw was set. Her eyes flashed. I’ll bet the Valkyrie wore that very expression when swooping over a battlefield. Overnight our teen girl had transformed into a warrior. I’ll bet all hell had broken loose in that Tudor last night.

Lena broke the ice, plopping down in a chair across from them with a, “So how’s tricks, ladies?”

“Mom has something to tell you.” The pint-sized warrior said.

Nadia looked like she’d rather be sucking on rotten eggs in hell, her lips pursed so tight it was miraculous that she made them move. “Lars has a half-brother.”

“Okay.” I acknowledged that little nugget. Lena, in all her research had not picked up anything about a brother – half or otherwise. That in itself made the information noteworthy.

Nadia’s lips moved again, “They aren’t especially close.”


Nadia opened her mouth and closed it.

Sasha’s flashing eyes rolled. Ah, there, the teen was still in there, “Oh for fuck’s sake Mom,”


As was the mother.

Sasha ignored her mother’s scolding gasp. Wow, the girl was around us for less than twenty-four hours and she was rebelling against authority and cursing. We were such great role models.

Lena snickered. I punched her in the arm. “Ow. What’d I do?”

Plenty, I’ve no doubt, but Sasha dropped the half-brother’s name and my brain stopped. Hand to God, it froze up like a pea in a blast freezer. Total. Whiteout. I somehow choked out a “Pardon?” Nobody heard me.

Lena was making one hell of a racket. That girl spewed forth sounds not found in nature. It started off with croaks, slid into a snarls, and finished with an ear-piercing screech.

I’ve always suspected banshee blood somewhere in our lineage.

The sounds attracted the rest of the household. Allie came blazing down the steps wearing her velvet dressing gown and half of a made-up face. Christy came racing with Trudy at her heels. Identical sets of blue eyes searched the room for the person being tortured.

Then Lena’s screeching morphed into words.Thaddeus Jackson? Thaddeus Jackson?  The A.D. of fucking A.?”

Nadia, who had turned a most hideous shade of pale puke green bobbed her head in a single, shaky nod.

Lena leaped out of her chair, “That’s it. I’m out. Anybody wanting off this crazy ride meet me at the truck in ten. I’m taking the first train out of town. Somewhere out there is a cannon needing a ball and I’m going to find it.”