What the bloomin’ fuck?
The sun was not
up, being barely gray light, yet someone pounded on the front door with a heavy freakin’ fist. Still in her tank top and boy shorts, Keko stumbled toward the entry. By the size of the shadow outlined through the six-over-six glass panes of the outer door, it appeared to be Himself, the sheriff.
MacBride knew she wasn’t a morning person, especially after the sexually overloaded night they’d barely survived.
“Damn it,” she ragged out loud, “why don’t you have an extra key hidden in the flower pot like a normal person?”
In a foul temper, she yanked open the door.
A beaten, bloody MacBride—but not her
MacBride—collapsed against her. His weight knocked her back into the cabin, pinned her to the floor under his heavy limp body. Harsh, ragged words were barely audible. “Tell Mac, Bane Two,” he croaked. Then he blacked out.
Keko wiggled out from under the hopefully-not-dead weight. She took a deep breath, exhaled, struggled to turn the big man onto his back. Except for the long matted ponytail that hung below his shoulders, he sure looked like MacBride—just beaten bloody. His pulse was slow, but at least he had one. She found her phone, texted MacBride. He texted back, short and sweet: Don’t call 911! Be home earliest.
No cops, no EMS. Well hell, what to do, what to do. In her line of work, she had enough first-aid training to realize she needed to move and move quickly. Who knew how long the man had been bleeding or when MacBride would make it home? The guy proved too heavy for her to lift to the sofa or wrangle him into the bedroom. She made him as comfortable as possible on the rug, pillows under his head and shoulders.
She scissored off his ruined T-shirt, then removed another T-shirt that had been folded and pressed against the wounds. Rivulets of bright-red blood leaked between the dark clotted stuff hardening around what appeared to be bullet holes in his right shoulder and bicep. She cleaned him as well as possible with saline solution from MacBride’s medicine cabinet, using hand towels and antibacterial wipes.
Even though the man wasn’t suffering from sucking chest wounds, she covered the holes with thin plastic sandwich baggies to keep the areas clean and lint free. She laid pressure bandages she’d fashioned from thick gauze pads over the injuries. Afterward, she wrapped him as tightly as possible, not easily managed with a man his size. She secured his damaged arm to his chest with as many rolls of elastic bandaging as she could find in MacBride’s well-stocked first-aid kit.
There. She hoped it would do until MacBride showed up. She also hoped the patient didn’t die in the meantime.
* * * *
There’s no way this is happening. No fucking way he can be screwing up my life again.
Mac had received Keko’s emergency Strange wounded MacBride on your floor. Get your ass home now!
text. Upon his arrival, he’d hidden the dusty, flat black Ford Raptor pickup in the empty garage bay, next to Keko’s Wrangler. Cleaning up the blood from the truck’s leather interior could wait until later.
Showered and dressed in old jeans and a polo shirt, seated in his living room on a club chair, Mac glared at Braedon, who was still unconscious. Keko had helped lay Brae out on an oversize sofa that could accommodate the length of his body. It had taken two of them to move his brother’s inert form.
Mac had checked the bandages Keko applied before he arrived; he hadn’t detected bright-red evidence of new bleeding. She’d done a good job; he decided to leave well enough alone and not mess with the dressings for the time being.
In addition to the bullet wounds, someone had seriously beat the shit out of Braedon. Keko had cleaned and medicated the lacerations and bruises on the man’s face as well as she’d been able. If his swollen, mashed knuckles were any indication, he’d given damn near as good as he got. Yeah, we MacBride boys were always good with our fists.
Those abrasions had been tended to, as well.
Fully dressed in T-shirt and cargo pants—Mac knew she didn’t do jeans or coveralls unless working—Keko curled up in the matching club chair. She stared at the unconscious man, then glanced back and forth between the brothers.
“Twins. Not just any ol’ twins, but identical twins. Scary identical. Except for his ponytail.”
“Yeah.” What had been her first damn clue?
“Y’know, in the interest of full disclosure, don’t you think you might have mentioned him while you were busy busting my cookies about being open and honest?” Her growly voice surprised him. “After all, he could be a potential brother-in-law.”
“No reason to discuss it. He and I don’t speak. We don’t see each other. We don’t drink green beer together on St. Paddy’s Day. We don’t exchange Christmas cards.” And I was fine with that arrangement. Have been for years. Since he fucked me over.
Keko shifted in her seat. “And yet, he’s here.”
“Yeah.” Yes, he’s here. And I don’t know why.
“Bullets need to come out.”
“Yeah.” Like I don’t know that.
“So, you gonna call 911 for an ambulance?”
He shook his head. “Can’t. Don’t know who shot him, or where the shooter might be. Need to avoid any sort of collateral damage until we recon the situation.”
Rather than using any normal form of communication, Mac walked into his home office, used a secure commlink. “Lucian? Problem, ol’ buddy. Braedon’s here.”
“Braedon? As in your brother Braedon?”
“Yeah, that Braedon. Beaten. Shot. Rounds lodged in his right shoulder, upper right arm, no exit wounds. Appears to be fairly substantial blood loss.”
“How old are the wounds?”
“Unsure. Guessing, I’d say within the last ten to twelve hours. Stable for the time being. Stopped the external bleeding, but needs attention soonest.”
Lucian spoke to someone in the background—probably Adam. “Guess we’d better get him here, under cover. We’ll be over shortly with the body wagon.”
“I didn’t want to presume. Thanks, man. I owe ya.”
Mac returned to the living room, resumed his seat. “Lucian and Adam are on the way with the Suburban. We can lay Braedon flat on the rear cargo deck without causing more damage or attracting attention. We’ll move him to safety at Sanctuary, sequester him there, call in a medic friend who knows the value of discretion.” He stared at his brother once again, then shook his head. “Keek, complete silence, right? Until we know what’s going on, no one can know he landed in town.”
Keko nodded, then unfolded herself from the chair, eyes wide, expression worried. “MacBride, I need to know what’s happening here. I think I deserve that much.”
“Honestly, with Braedon, one never knows. Can’t even venture a guess at this point. He’s been doing his own thing for years. Not sure where or for whom he works or even if he is
working. Last I heard, he was hanging around the New York metro area, which explains the Jersey tags on his truck. Don’t know why he saw fit to land on my doorstep, eight freakin’ hours away. He could have bled to death on the road. Only thing we can do is keep him alive until he’s conscious, then sort out whatever shit storm he’s gotten himself into this time.”
“What did he mean, Bane Two?”
Mac jerked, stared at her. “What?”
“I just remembered. When he fell on me, before he blacked out, he said to tell you, ‘Bane Two.’ What does that mean?”
He grimaced. “Four sons, barely a year apart, two of them twins. Our mother referred to us, with great frequency, as the banes of her existence. We took that and ran with it. In order of age, Mannix Jr. and Reagan were One and Four. Braedon, who is eighteen minutes older than me, was Bane Two. I was Bane Three. Our private brother code for oh-fuck-one-of-us-is-in-deep-shit-so-get-the-lead-out-and-close-ranks
. Bane Two means Braedon has landed himself and his issues, whatever they may be, where he’s not wanted. He’s been shot and beaten to a pulp, which means life has been ugly. Not a good thing, especially if his problems followed him.”
“Well, he is
Mac shook his head. “Not to me,” he growled. “He jumped ship on the brother connection years ago.”
She folded her arms and glared at him. “Yeah, well, you don’t realize how lucky you are to have loving parents and siblings. As you know from firsthand experience, I have an egg donor who is not particularly fond of me, her only child, and a dead father. No brothers or sisters. You announce out of the blue that you want babies. I feel I don’t know you—”
“Don’t be like that, Keek,” he interrupted. “You do know me.”
“Obviously not as well as I thought.”
* * * *
Keko had been perched on a chair in Sanctuary’s oversize kitchen for most of the night, until early morning. Her body ached, stiff as a board. By the time National Clandestine Service Special-Agent-on-Leave Lorelei Randall of the awesome brown eyes and crinkly blonde mane swept in with a giggling toddler tucked under her arm, Keko’s hands were already wrapped around a large coffee mug. Normal-size cups were not permitted at the lodge. A Bushmills whiskey bottle sat in front of Keko, the level down by about a third.
Lorelei strapped Matthew into his walker, then turned him loose. As soon as his tiny sneakers hit the floor, he took off to investigate the baby-proofed main area of the spacious lodge, determined to discover anything that may have been overlooked. She read the bright-red wording on Keko’s khaki T-shirt—Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms: Who’s Bringing the Chips?
Keko motioned to the disappearing toddler, her finger-pointing somewhat lax and uncoordinated. “I thought walkers weren’t good for babies. Not recommended or some sort of bullshit.”
Lorelei sighed. “Like dog experts who never lived with a dog, it seems that the loudest child development experts don’t have children. Therefore, they don’t understand the need for a few minutes of calm to collect themselves, to take a breather. Since Nanny Extraordinaire Rosa requested the day off, be prepared for more child abuse after the baby wakes. I’ll drag out the playpen from its hidey-hole in the library, totally ready to stifle my son’s need for spatial creativity and short-circuit his ingenious wanderlust while I deal with his sister. The diva is sleeping in after the night’s excitement, thanks be to all that’s even remotely holy.”
That brought a much-needed chuckle from Keko. “What’s with the kitten collars on the back of the walker?”
“The bouncing bells? Think the mom version of echolocation. Tells me where the little monster is. He can’t reach to disengage them, at least not yet. He actually walks well by himself, but I can’t track him and still deal with Princess Pissy Pants. The walker protects the world from Matthew the Marauder plus keeps him semi-contained while he builds up those all-important leg muscles. Y’know, so he can escape more quickly when he’s not safely confined.” She heaved a heavy sigh. “I’ve been told that Adam was a very quiet, very unpretentious, very reserved child. I’m withholding judgment on his son.”
“Aha. Solid thinking,” Keko agreed. After a third of a bottle of Bushmills, she was impressed that she could actually manage an opinion. Or even speak. One small glass of anything was usually her limit, and, occasionally, over her limit, depending on the strength of the poison involved.
“Exactly,” Lorelei said. “So, what do you have there, Keek? Irish coffee for breakfast?” She reached for the mug, sniffed, returned it. “Seems we mostly forgot the coffee part, didn’t we?”
Not sure how to explain, or even if she could
explain the events of the last twenty-four hours, Keko wisely declined to respond.
Since Lucian, Lorelei’s gorgeous Southern-born mate, wasn’t around to reprimand her, Lorelei sneaked a mug of water into the microwave to heat for tea, rather than boiling it properly in a kettle. “Tough night?”
Keko stared at her, continually astounded that even with a toddler and a newborn, her friend looked freakin’ amazing. Eschewing jeans and sweats, Lorelei was turned out in sea-green linen slacks and a cream blouse. Whether she was fashionably turned out or not, her question was legitimate and therefore required an answer.
Everyone knew Keko rarely drank; she and alcohol didn’t mix, so chances were good that her brain was fried. All the symptoms were there.
“Yeah, you could say that.”
Danica St. Como