Eighteen years ago, Bulwark, Blaze County, Texas.

The familiar gnaw, the one Daniel King had managed to outgrow over the last few years, reappeared once the shock had fermented into fear.

He was sick to his stomach.

What were they going to do?

He was not yet eighteen, Siobhan barely sixteen. He was going to college, to Texas A&M in the fall, to major in criminology. He’d always wanted to be a Texas Ranger, had chosen Texas A&M because Siobhan would join him a year later. Her dream was to work with animals and qualify as a veterinarian.

Now she was pregnant.

They’d get married, of course. Her parents would pitch a fit, them being so young and all, but he was determined. They would be together, create a home for their baby. He wasn’t going to shirk his responsibility.

It was a given he’d have to surrender his college dream. He needed a job to support his family.

His family.

A wife. And a baby.

He gulped.

Maybe he’d go and work for his dad, but Daniel’s stomach heaved at the unwelcome thought. It meant being in the workshop, fixing cars. Using the machinery.

No. No! He couldn’t do that.

Maybe he’d continue working on the ranch full-time for Siobhan’s father. Daniel didn’t mind the manual labor of ranch work; it was preferable to the stench of a workshop. That is, if her pa didn’t kill him first.

Daniel cringed at the thought of the disappointment he’d see in Jonathan Lawson’s eyes. He’d broken his promise to the man, disrespecting him. He’d not taken care of Siobhan.

Instead, Daniel had knocked her up, good and proper.  

Daniel trudged up the porch stairs, pausing before he pushed open the kitchen door. Would his mother be sober? Maybe cooking supper? Or would she be passed out on the couch, an empty bottle lying on the floor beside her? It happened often enough to be expected. Or maybe she’d be in one of her moods, ready to heap familiar abuse on his head.

Oh, she’d have a fine time with this situation. She’d have fresh accusations to hurl at him.

Bile rose. Pain fisted. Daniel pushed open the door and stepped inside.

His mother wasn’t in the kitchen. Rather, his father was. The man was sitting at the kitchen table. Alone. Daniel heaved a breath of relief.

His old man’s broad shoulders, exposed by the white, sleeveless vest he always wore under his coverall, were slumped forward, his corded arms resting on the table. His large hands, with ingrained grease under neatly clipped nails, were linked. His mop of brown hair — normally neatly slicked back from his face — was in disarray, the beginning of a bald patch visible on the crown of his bowed head.

Daniel glanced at the clock on the wall. His brain was scrambled enough to have lost time. But no, it was barely three-thirty in the afternoon. His dad should be at work. Why was he home? Had he found out? No. Impossible.

“Hey, Dad.” Daniel didn’t wait for a reply — he didn’t want to talk — and kept on walking to the hallway, desperate to escape.

He needed to think. To plan.


The one word halted him, the tone alerting him to something being wrong.

He knows.

But how on earth had his dad found out? Only he and Siobhan knew, and they were going to tell her parents first. Together. Tonight. Afterward, he would tell his parents. That is, if Daniel wasn’t buried in a hastily dug grave in some far-flung gully on Lawson’s Landing.

Daniel turned to his father. If he was man enough to get his girlfriend pregnant, he was man enough for the recrimination — the terrible disappointment — he’d find in his father’s gaze.

But his dad sat there, devastation clearly written all over his lined countenance. And his eyes were swollen and red. His father had been crying.


“Danny. Son.” Dad’s voice broke, and he swiped a hand over his face. “Sit.”

Daniel moved to the table. He stood behind the chair, claiming his height. He’d reached six feet this summer, but he was still on the skinny side, gangly even. His body needed to grow some, fill his frame.

Daniel straightened his shoulders. He’d take the accusations about to be slung his way standing up. Like the man he was. After all, he was going to be a father in eight months’ time. 

His dad lifted his chin, pointing to the seat.

“Just spit it out, Dad.” Daniel forced the words out, gripping the back of the chair, white-knuckled.

“Your mother—” his dad rasped.

His mother?

His dad lifted his gaze to Daniel’s. His stare was anguished, his eyes brimming with tears. “Your mother overdosed today, Danny.”


His dad repeated his statement.

Daniel pulled the chair out, dropping to the seat. “Dad?”

“I’m sorry, Danny, but she’s gone.”

Gone? “Mom’s … dead?” Stupefied, he could only stare at his father, willing the man to deny his words.

His dad nodded, once, as tears ran unchecked down his face, dripping from his stubbled chin, some falling on his rigid arms, some on the faded Formica tabletop.

Daniel barely made it to the half-bath tucked under the stairs before his roiling stomach emptied into the toilet.


Daniel sat slumped forward on his bed, wrecked. Empty. Numb.

He’d made a subsequent trip to the family bathroom a few minutes ago, hurling until there was nothing left in his stomach except a deep burn.  

The hateful scrap of paper — a page torn from one of his schoolbooks — had been lying on his bed, waiting for him. Now the page trembled in his hand to such an extent he couldn’t make out the words. Not that he needed to read the letter again.

No, the rambling, hate-filled phrases filling the page, penned by the woman who’d birthed him, were seared into his brain. 

Daniel let the paper fall to the floor as his head dropped to his hands. Some words weren’t new to him. Some of the accusations in the letter had been hurled at him daily since he could remember, some for the last seven years.

But some were new. Gut-wrenching new.

He’d always known his mother despised him, but he understood the why now. There was another reason for her hate. From before the day his brother had died. From before he, Daniel, had even been born.

Dad was not his father.

He was the result of rape.

You are from bad seed. Bad blood runs in you. You are bad, she’d written in her note.

He, Daniel, was not a King. Not a true King. He was not his dad’s son. 

She never called him son. Never. Only boy. How he hated the word.

And now she’d killed herself. Suicide.

Not an accidental overdose as they’d assumed. No, she had deliberately taken her own life, and she blamed her firstborn for it.

He was cursed.

His own mother had cursed him. He sank to his knees, great sobs wracking his body as he acknowledged what he needed to do.

He needed to leave, needed to get away from those he loved.

Away from Dad, who was not his father. The man whom he’d disappointed when he had refused to set a foot into the workshop for the last seven years, sissy enough to become physically ill just looking at the machinery. Oh, he knew his dad only placated him when he’d encouraged Daniel to go to college. He knew his dad, in his heart of hearts, wanted him in the workshop. Beside him. Kings had lived in Bulwark almost since its beginning, first as blacksmiths, and now as mechanics.

Not as Texas Rangers, where Daniel eventually wanted to end up.

Peter King had looked forward to the day both his sons would be beside him. King and Sons.

But Daniel was not a son. He was bad seed. The product of rape.

And Alexander, little Xander, the true son, hadn’t lived to see his sixth birthday. Daniel, the big brother, the one who should’ve looked out for him, protected him, had let that happen.

The bad in you will destroy those you love. Dooming words from a woman who’d hated him.

He needed to get away from his Bluebelle before he destroyed her. Destroyed the bright light in her dancing blue eyes. Never again would he pick her up to go for a ride in his truck; never again would he hear the tinkling of her laughter as she cracked up at one of his lame jokes; never again would he kiss her sweet lips; never again would he feel her sweet curves as she melted into his arms; nor would his hands run through her silky hair as it cascaded, black as night, down her smooth back.

He wouldn’t see her grow round with their baby.

And he certainly wouldn’t be here when his child was born.


That evening, when he should have been with Siobhan facing her parents, Daniel was on the side of the road, walking. He aimed for the truck stop farther along. If he hoofed it, he could be there in another two hours.

Then he’d find a ride to … anywhere.

So long as it was far away from Bulwark, Texas. 


Present day, Bulwark.

Daniel halted outside the wide metal bay door of the workshop. The heavy odor — grease, metal, rubber — stayed his steps. It was a foul stench, redolent with soul-searing memories. Memories flaying him to the bone, damning him.

His brother’s fragile five-year-old body lying crushed under the auto lift, the blood pooling from under the little boy, spreading farther, wider.

Then the dreadful sounds registered. First the screams. His. Followed by his mother’s. A wailing siren.

Haunting echoes of his past.

All the traumatic events Daniel had encountered — experienced, survived — in the military, never eclipsed the horror of seeing little Xander’s lifeless amber eyes staring at him. Accusing him.

He realized, as a rational adult, a ten-year-old could not be held responsible for the horrible accident. He had been too young to be left in charge of his baby brother in a dangerous environment filled with heavy machinery. If blame had to be cast, it would fall on his mother for leaving them unattended, but in her grief, she had latched on to a scapegoat — her firstborn son.

The boy she had already hated.

It had taken Daniel years to shake her hold on his mind, to put aside the awful words she’d left for him to find.

But now … this vile stench …

He recalled every single condemning word she’d flung at him.

A tsunami of blame flooded back, overwhelming him, pummeling him with waves of grief and pain.

Daniel turned, walking a short distance back across the forecourt. He sucked in a deep breath of cool, cleansing March air. There was a bite in it, winter not yet willing to release its grip to spring. Daniel’s eyes roamed the surrounding area, fighting the rising nausea, and focused on taking in what he’d not noticed on his drive here.

Snuggling up against the southeastern edge of the Caprock Escarpment, Bulwark was the county seat of Blaze County, an hour’s drive northeast of Lubbock. It was a small town, population holding steady at just under three thousand souls.

Growing up, his dad’s auto shop had occupied the corner of Main and 4th West. A few years back, Peter King had expanded his business to the adjoining lot, stretching till 5th West. He had taken on more staff to work in his workshop and the new auto-parts shop facing Main Street. He’d also changed the decades-old name from King and Sons to King’s Auto.

Even his dad had given up on him. Maybe it was best to let sleeping dogs lie. Leave his past where it belonged. In the past.

Daniel took a step toward the street.

No! He was not a coward. Not anymore, at least.

He turned.

The bay door was wide open, waiting to chew on him, spit him back out.

Suck it up, Daniel. If you can survive Afghanistan, survive the aftermath of it, you can face this.

Daniel walked across the threshold.

A radio was playing in the background, pumping out country music loud enough to be heard above the racket of machinery. His father’s business was flourishing. A few vehicles were on the floor in various states of repair, with three mechanics busy in two of the bays. More vehicles waited their turn, parked neatly to one side. The workshop, well-lit under the bright fluorescents, had doubled in size, the equipment modernized.

Yet it was the same. All very neat and clean. Tools of the trade were lined up, every piece in its place ¾ on walls, in cabinets, on trolleys. Just as his father had always kept it.

Pity one couldn’t box away the stink.

Daniel fought down the bile, ignoring the stabbing clutch of pain in his belly as he moved deeper into the shop. His jaw clenched tight in frustration at his involuntary reaction.

A sound of muted voices came from his right, the original workshop, now the shorter leg of the L-shaped building. He moved closer.

“The ratchet … shit.” Those words were followed by the sound of metal falling to concrete, a grunt of pain. “Got the bastard out!” The triumphant call was followed by the grind of sliding wheels.

“Daxie, your mom’ll scold you for your potty mouth,” an older voice chastised, more amused than critical.

It wasn’t hard to recognize his father’s voice, and hearing the familiar rumbling cadence of it, Daniel felt an unexpected pang of longing for the man who’d raised him. He’d been an utter fool to sever ties.

The other voice, the younger one, made him hesitate again.

His steps faltered. He hadn’t anticipated meeting him so soon.

A hoot of laughter reached him. Daniel swallowed hard.

“Nah, Pops, never. You know her mouth can be worse than mine. You should’ve heard her the other day when she returned from calling on old man Mitchel.” Another chuckle came from the younger person. “She made my ears burn.”

Daniel strode the distance toward the voices before he talked himself out of it. The two men came into view. They were standing side by side, peering over the open engine of a battered and faded mustard-yellow Camaro.

He halted again a few feet away. They were intent on their task, not noticing the newcomer, which afforded Daniel a few moments to study them. 

The older male, grey-streaked hair slicked back off his lined face, stood with a slight stoop. The grey and the stoop were new, Daniel thought with a pang. Clad in blue overalls with a grease rag half out his pocket, his father also sported a thickening at the waist.

Thick, chin-length, tawny hair obscured half the face of the younger, slimmer male. Taller than his elder, his young, developing muscles were visible beneath the tight, faded blue Henley he wore.

His son. Dax.

His seventeen-year-old son whom he’d never met.  

The son he’d abandoned before birth, agreed to be adopted — and raised — by another man. All the medals Daniel had been awarded for bravery during his service to his country could not hide what he was at heart — a coward.

Shoulders back, breathing deeply, Daniel stepped closer. “Dad.” 

As one they turned to face him.

His dad gaped, rooted to the spot. “Daniel?”

A scowl formed on Dax’s face.

He was also the first to recover, storming closer and halting a short distance away. He looked Daniel over, amber eyes blazing shards of gold, a snarl forming on his young face.

“You’re Daniel King?” he snapped.

Daniel looked his son in the eye. “Yes.”

The right hook caught Daniel on the jaw, and he staggered back from the unexpected blow. One he should’ve seen coming, because he’d anticipated the hostility. He deserved the hostility. And the blow.

Dax closed the gap. “I’ve been waiting for this day,” he ground out.

The second punch caught Daniel in his diaphragm, leaving him gasping for breath.

“You’re not welcome here,” the youngster huffed, bringing both arms up to Daniel’s shoulders and shoving hard.

This time Daniel lost his balance, his foot catching the side of a low trolley. He went down, landing heavily on his side, nipping the edge of the trolley, and sending it skidding across the floor.

Pain shot down his left hip and into his residual limb. Daniel couldn’t stop the groan of agony from escaping.

Dax took a step forward, flexing his hand, eyes narrowed as he stared at Daniel sprawled on the floor. “You should leave, not bother coming back. We don’t need you here. Never have. Never will. Fuckin’ asshole,” he snarled, and stomped away.

Daniel dropped his upper body to the ground and rested his head against the cold, hard surface, needing a few moments for the stabbing pain in his hip to subside.

No amount of time would ease the ache in his heart.

The rumble of a car engine sounded, followed by squealing tires. 

His father’s hand came into view, offering a hand up. Daniel waived it off. “Give me a minute,” he grunted.

“You okay?”

The concern in the much-missed voice cut Daniel. He nodded, despite what he was feeling. Physically he might be fine. Emotionally …? He’d never be okay, because regret never went away; mistakes weren’t miraculously erased.

“Army injury,” he muttered. “It bothers me from time to time.”

“Y’all need to forgive Dax. He’s a bit of a hothead.”

“Nothing to forgive, Dad. I deserved every blow. And more,” he added gruffly.

Daniel took a few deep breaths, watching his dad watch him, before he held his hand up. “How about that help now?”

His dad clasped his hand and gave a hefty pull. Daniel surged to his feet, wincing as he put his weight on the injured side, testing the sturdiness of his stance.

His parent noticed. “You wanna tell me about this injury of yours?”

“It’ll keep.” As he looked his father over, a fresh wave of remorse washed over him. “It’s good to see you.” He’d missed the man. He’d cut himself off from so much.

Lost years. Time gone. Wasted. 

He was pulled into a tight hug. Daniel felt shudders go through the older man, and he clamped his arms around his dad in response.

His dad pulled away first, his cheeks wet. “You visiting?”

Daniel shook his head, and his lips pulled up on one side. “No. I’m home. For good. Setting up a business here. Need to mend a few fences.”

At some stage, Daniel knew, he’d have to explain why he’d left, tell his dad everything. About the letter his mother had left for him the day she died and the devastating revelations it held. And about his time in the army and his injury. His road to recovery.  

But not today. There would be plenty of time later.

Today, Daniel just wanted to enjoy the unconditional love from the man he’d always called Dad.


The kitchen door slammed, causing Siobhan Scott to jerk her head up, a reprimand at the ready for her son’s abrupt entrance.

Dax stopped just inside the kitchen and huffed. “He’s back.”   

Siobhan bit back her rebuke at noting Dax’s stiff posture and deep scowl. “Who’s back, honey?”

“Him!” Dax threw himself onto a kitchen chair, almost tipping it over. He stretched an arm out to steady himself. 

She arched her brows. “Maybe you can be a bit more specific.” Her dark ponytail swished across her shoulder blades as she turned her attention back to the stove.

She really wasn’t in the mood for her son’s dramatics tonight. She was tired from a hectic week dealing with ornery animals and their ornerier owners. It was one of her rare, shift-free weekends and, as her kids had their own plans for tonight and tomorrow, she could do whatever she wanted. She’d spent considerable time anticipating her evening. In detail. Tonight, she was going to sit down and put her feet up. Binge-watch a series — she wasn’t sure yet which one, though. Open the bag of Lays hidden in the pantry. Wash it down with a beer. Or two. And tomorrow she was going to spend the day relaxing, preparing herself for Sunday. Because on Sunday they had a road trip up north. To visit the in-laws. Urgh.

But many years of being the adult — and parent — won over. With an inward sigh, she lowered the heat of the burner to face Dax. “Who’s back?”

Dax pushed a chair out with his foot. “Sit, Ma.”

He folded his arms over his chest and flipped a long lock of blond hair from his eyes with a quick flick of his head, a frown furrowing his brow. The first inkling of alarm rang in her, and she levelled a concerned look at him.

“What’s going on?” She pulled the wooden chair farther out and sat, leaning her elbows on the table, hands clasped.

“Ma.” Dax hesitated and cursed, eyes blazing. He sat forward and stretched his arms out, flexing his right hand before resting it over hers.

“Dax,” she exclaimed, noticing the reddened knuckles, “what happened to your hand?”

“Ma—” His fingers, long and slender, tightened their hold on hers. “Ma, Daniel King is back.”

Shock slammed into her, the unexpectedness of those words leaving her momentarily breathless.

But no, she must’ve heard wrong.

Siobhan gulped a much-needed breath, shaking her head. “I’m sorry, I thought I heard you say …”

She trailed off as Dax’s lips pursed tight.

“He—” Dax swallowed, his Adam’s apple bobbing with the movement. “The asshole walked into Pop’s shop a while ago. Just walked in as if he left yesterday,” he fumed.

Siobhan wrinkled her brow. “Daniel King, your father, is here? In Bulwark?”

“He’s not my father,” Dax snarled. “He’s nothing more than a fuckin’ sperm donor.”

Daniel was back?

Panic churned her stomach. Surely not. Daniel, the boy — no, he was a man now — who’d abandoned her, barely sixteen and pregnant, over seventeen years ago, couldn’t be back.

If not for the regular deposits into the account he’d set up all those years ago and the communication with lawyers when Colin adopted Dax, she’d’ve assumed him dead. Nobody, not even his own father, had heard from the coward since he’d hightailed it out of Bulwark the day his mother died.

The day they’d found out she was pregnant.

Now he was here. In her town.

What was he doing back? And who did he think he was, just appearing out of the blue, no warning, no—

“My bad, I shouldn’t have blurted it out,” Dax whispered.

She held up her hand and shook her head, shoving her tumultuous thoughts back into the dark cave she’d sealed off years ago. At some point, she’d have to haul them out, think on the return of Daniel King.

And what it meant for her and her son.

Their son. Dax.

Her stomach roiled. She fought the nausea down. No brooding — and absolutely no self-pity — now. She could do so later.

Dax needed her now.

She let her gaze roam over her lanky, almost-adult son. He’d turned seventeen a week ago and was fast growing into his tall frame. He already topped her by almost a foot. Heaven only knew when he’d stop growing. He was even taller than—

No. Not going there now.    

Siobhan brushed her fingers lightly over the reddened knuckles. “Daxie, what did you do?” 

He looked at her, his lips pulling up in one corner. “All the time spent sparring with Uncle Sully finally paid off. I gave him the welcome he deserved.”

“You punched him?”

“Oh, yeah.”

Part of her was horrified at his confession. The other high-fived his actions. “I hope you sent him to the floor,” she said, drily.

“Damn straight, I did.”


Siobhan settled in for her quiet evening at home, but the highly anticipated peace had died a sudden death with the unwelcome news of Daniel’s return. The Lays bag lay unopened beside her. The beer was sweating a ring on her coffee table, and she couldn’t bring herself to care. Instead of immersing herself in some drama on the small screen — she’d abandoned four different programs in the last ten minutes — her mind kept roiling with her own personal drama.   

Daniel was back.

Damn, shit. Shit

Daniel was back.

The man she’d vowed never to give another thought after he’d cut her from his life was now occupying her entire mind. She hated herself for that, but she couldn’t seem to stop it from happening.  

She didn’t want to brood. Swear to God, she didn’t. It gave the man far too much power in her life, and he was …

And back to brooding.

She needed a distraction. Even kid-drama was better than … this … this morass of self-pity.

But her kids had social lives, unlike their mother. Gracie was at a sleepover with her friend, Willow. Dax was out with Sam at the lake with a few of their friends.

She couldn’t even rely on her besties. They, too, had social lives. Darla was on a date with her flavor-of-the-month; Becky was away on a much-needed weekend break with her husband; and Maggie was hosting the sleepover Grace was at.

She could’ve stayed over at Maggie’s, too, and had an adult sleepover with her friend. But she knew the house would be overrun with the six seven-year-old girls, and she wasn’t up for the noise and chatter associated with that. Nor the inquisition she’d be subjected to. Maggie was a hairstylist, and she had a knack for dragging out all sorts of stuff from even the most tight-lipped person, and the very last thing Siobhan wanted was to talk about him.

So, here she was, a woman on her homestretch to thirty-four, widowed, two kids, one already half her age, watching — trying to watch — a series on Netflix. On a Friday night. On her own, regurgitating the wretched time when she’d been abandoned, heartbroken. Left alone to face the wrath of her parents.

Not that her parents had been wrathful. Not at all.

Once their initial shock had worn off, they’d stood by her, downplaying their disappointment, she was sure, but never, not once, had they admitted it to her. They’d ignored the gossip, the shunning from certain narrowminded townsfolk, handled her dark moods with compassion, and had even looked after Dax while she studied full-time, earning her undergrad degree.

Now Daniel was back. No forewarning. Nothing.

“Fuck it all!”

The uncensored expletive burst free with an angry puff of air. She slapped her hand on the cushion. What the ever lovin’ hell was he doing back? And what was she going to do about it?

Should she seek Daniel out and demand he leave again?  

No, she wasn’t up for a confrontation with him. She remembered the pain of his desertion only too well. The agony. The fear. He didn’t deserve a moment’s attention from her.

She’d ignore him, that’s what she’d do. Pretend he wasn’t there.

He’d cut himself from her life. She’d return the favor.

“He’s nothing to me,” she spat in disgust. Not anymore. Not ever again.

Urghh! Now she was talking to herself.

She rubbed her chest, failing to ease the spasm clutching tight at her heart.

Enough, Siobhan. Focus on the now.

She picked up the remote. Okay. Okay, she could do this. What to watch? She scrolled through her choices again, settling on Suits. The sassy Donna, the shenanigans of Harvey and Mike would—

She bolted upright. “Yes!” She reached for her cell and scrolled through her contacts before she changed her mind. 

“What’s up, doc?”

She snorted at his clichéd greeting. Max Harland was her very own version of Mike Ross. Laid-back, fun. He even looked a bit like his television counterpart. He was just the distraction she needed tonight.

“So, my ex is in town, and I need to get my mind off that very unpalatable fact. You busy?”

A brief pause followed her statement.

“I need some clarification, beautiful,” Max finally said. “Is this Dax’s father we are talking about?”

“Yeah.” She sighed. It wasn’t much of a deduction. There had only been two men in her life. One was dead.

“So, you’ve put a well-deserved bullet through him and need to get rid of the body? I can’t do that, gorgeous. As your lawyer, I cannot be involved in the coverup. Client-attorney privilege doesn’t cover accessory to the fact.”

Her lips pulled in a brief smile. See? He was just what she needed tonight.

“Nah. But thanks for the idea. Dax already beat up on him.” She gave Max a brief rundown of what Dax had told her.

Max chuckled. “I knew I liked your kid. So, what do you want to do?”

“I could handle some beer and dancing at Daisy’s.”

“Sure thing, lovely. I’ll see you in a few.”

From experience, Siobhan knew ‘a few’ was at least half an hour, even if Max lived only minutes away. His manner might be insouciant outside his law office, but he was a preener and took an inordinate time with his appearance. Even though the man had moved thousands of miles from Boston, it hadn’t eradicated the high-class breeding he’d come from.  


Siobhan was halfway through putting on makeup when the doorbell rang.

Max was early.

She pushed open the bathroom window as it was on the same side as the front door. “Doors open,” she yelled over the cacophony of barking dogs. “Make yourself at home, honey. I’ll be a few minutes still.”

The front door opened and closed, footsteps sounded on the hardwood floor, and more subdued barks from her two mutts followed. Siobhan went back to her task, musing about the young lawyer she’d be spending the evening with.

She enjoyed the friendship she and Max shared. They’d met shortly after his arrival in town last year when he brought his cat in for a checkup. They hit it off immediately, despite him being six years younger. They’d even tried to take it a step further, but after a mutually embarrassing attempt at intimacy, they ended up laughing off the idea.  

A few minutes later, Siobhan stood back and stared at her reflection, satisfied with her handiwork. She certainly would never win a beauty competition, but she was far from ugly. Her hair was very dark — so far, no grey strands visible — and reached halfway down her back. Her bright blue eyes, currently enhanced with some shimmer and extra swirls of mascara applied to her already long lashes, were her best feature. Her nose ended with a slight turn-up, but its shape and size were decent. She’d given up trying to conceal the spattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks, courtesy of her maternal Irish heritage. Her lips were generous, her mouth quick to smile.

Tonight, though, it was pursed in a straight, uncompromising line.

Lighten up, girl.

She turned sideways, giving her rounded backside a quick glance. Yep, the rhinestone pockets of her new jeans looked good on her. She’d long ago made peace with the extra pounds on her. Since Dax’s birth, she’d never been able to shed the weight, no matter how much she exercised. Okay, full disclosure, she didn’t put much effort into exercising. And dieting wasn’t for her as she enjoyed food far too much, so she’d never bothered trying. Colin had never worried about it, and she certainly wasn’t an unhealthy weight. Besides, her mom carried a few extra pounds, as well as her grandma, so why fight it? It was in her genes.

She stepped into a spritz of perfume — a Christmas gift from her grandmother and her new favorite scent, one that gorgeous model Cecelia advertised — and declared herself ready for a night of fun.

Back in her bedroom, she grabbed the black leather jacket from her bed, slipping it over her pretty, light-blue, roll-neck top as she meandered down the short hallway, the heels of her well-worn, black, ankle-high Lucchese boots — the last Christmas gift from Colin — a dull thud on the wooden floor. She altered her stride, stooping low to rub the head of the Boxer mix, Bernadette, who’d come to call her. It was Bernie’s thing, calling her when there were visitors and Siobhan took too long to respond, while Sadie, the golden Labrador mix, entertained the visitor. 

“I know, girl. I’m on my way. Settle down.”

Woof. Woof. Bernie ran back, tail swishing from excitement, nails tapping on the floor to rejoin her sister.

Siobhan paused in the hallway, grabbing her cell and house keys from the table. “I’m ready, Max.”

She took a final peep in the mirror above the table, tucking a stray hair in place, when she noticed movement in the mirror.