“Shit.” Mac’s sister was much scarier than his brother.
Grant’s gaze swept over his torso. Concern tightened his mouth. “Do you need help?”
“Got it.” Grant was back in a minute.
Having his brother wrap him in plastic took all the fun out of the process, but Grant did a thorough job before retreating to the kitchen.
Mac stepped into the shower. The blast of cold water cleared his head and soothed the new bruises that mottled his chest and ribs, courtesy of the accident the night before.
As he dried off, he geared up to face his siblings. Then he stepped into a pair of jeans and reached for a T-shirt. The local anesthetic was still going strong, but his stitches pulled under the bandage. His entire torso had stiffened during the night. He took care putting his arms into the sleeves and headed for the kitchen. The smell of coffee perked him up even more.
Grant leaned against the kitchen counter. But it was the sight of Hannah sitting at the table, her hands folded neatly in front of her, that drew Mac up short. The former corporate attorney pinned him with her boardroom face.
Feigning indifference, Mac said in a flippant voice. “What is this, an intervention?”
Hannah leaned forward. Her sense of humor wasn’t up yet. “Do you need an intervention?”
Walked right into that one.
“I didn’t even know I had coffee.” Mac poured a huge mug and sipped, welcoming the burn as he swallowed. Last night he’d decided to tell his family everything, but in the harsh kitchen light, the truth didn’t seem so appealing. They were going to be angry.
“Look, Mac,” Grant started. “We care about you. Your behavior has been growing more erratic over the past few years.” His voice grew rough. “None of us have recovered from Lee’s death, and last night was hard. Really hard.” He breathed. “But we’re not going to let you walk away this time.”
“No one will understand what you’re going through better than us.” Hannah gestured between the three of them.
“We’re here for you,” said Grant.
“Whether you like it or not.” Hannah paused. “We don’t want you to get so overwhelmed that you—”
“It’s been more than a decade. Eventually, you both have to trust me.” Irritation flared in Mac.
But had he ever given them reason to have faith? He’d kept his entire life a secret. Trust went both ways.
Hannah raised a single brow. “I was going to say hop on the next flight to South America.”
“Oh.” Mac went back to his coffee. “Sorry. I guess I’m defensive.”
“We all need to try harder.” Grant raised his hands. “We haven’t communicated well in a long time, but I remember when we operated like a junior commando team. We could practically read each other’s thoughts.”
“That was a long time ago, Grant.” But deep inside, Mac longed for the connection he’d once had with his siblings.
“Where’s your Jeep?” Hannah asked.
Mac scalded his throat with another gulp. “I crashed it into a tree last night.”
Hannah straightened. “Do you need my help?”
“No.” Mac shook his head. “It’s not like that. I wasn’t under the influence of anything. I swear.”
Hannah’s response was uncharacteristically gentle. “I’m sorry. That’s not what I meant.”
He glanced from his sister to his brother. Exhaustion lined both their faces. Less than twelve hours ago, they’d watched their father die, and they’d likely spent the rest of the night frantic about Mac. The last year had been hell on all of them. While the Colonel’s death was difficult, none of them had fully recovered from Lee’s murder. It was their brother’s murder they were all still processing.
Guilt and grief rocked Mac. Hannah and Grant had suffered enough. No more adding to their pain. He owed them the truth.
“I work for the DEA.” Mac gave them the same speech he’d given Stella the night before.
“How long?” Hannah asked.
“The last three years,” Mac admitted.
“I don’t know whether to be relieved or pissed off,” Grant said.
“I’m both.” Hannah leaned back in her chair and tapped a finger on her chin. “Why all the lies?”
“Undercover assignments are dangerous. More lives than mine depend on complete secrecy.” Mac sighed.
“I’m insulted you didn’t trust us,” she said.
Mac nodded. “I know, and I’m sorry.”
“It’s not that simple.” Grant dropped into a chair. Both hands scrubbed down his face. “I went on plenty of missions I couldn’t share with either of you.” His blue eyes pierced Mac like twin bayonets. “Why are you telling us now?”
“My last assignment went FUBAR.” He summed up the incident in Brazil. “I’m going to be home, lying low, for a while.”
“You’re not going back?” Grant’s tone was more statement than question.
Mac kept to his pledge to be honest. “I haven’t decided what I’m going to do.”
His brother folded his arms over his chest, clearly unhappy with his answer.
Mac added, “Part of the reason I kept my job a secret was that I didn’t want you to try and talk me out of it. I screwed up my life. I screwed up everyone’s lives. I finally have a chance to make up for all my mistakes.”
“You don’t have to make up for anything,” Grant said.
But Mac felt like he did.
Hannah’s eyes went misty. “But you’re all right?”
“Yes. To be totally clichéd, it’s just a flesh wound,” Mac said.
“So what happened last night?” Hannah asked.
With a deep breath, Mac told them everything, from leaving the nursing home to his conversation with Stella.
“Strange . . .” Grant said. “And I’m not a big fan of weird events, not after everything that’s happened over the last year.”
“I’m going to find her.” Mac set down his empty cup. “I need to find her.”
He couldn’t have another woman he couldn’t save haunting his sleep.
“Does Brody know about this?” Hannah’s mouth pursed.
“I imagine Stella will tell him this morning.” Mac spun his empty coffee mug on the table.
“Is there anything we can do?” Grant asked.
Mac stretched. “Let me borrow your cell phone. I need to call the auto shop.”
“OK.” Grant held his phone toward him. “On one condition.”
Wary, Mac froze. “What?”
“You have dinner at my house tonight. We can talk about all of this. Plus, we have funeral and estate issues to discuss. Ellie has been worried sick, and the kids miss you.” Grant had proposed to Ellie on Christmas Day. They’d bought and renovated a home. They were raising Carson and Faith and building a family together. They were happy. Was that envy crawling around in Mac’s chest? Since when did hearth and home have any appeal to him?
“Deal.” For once in his life, Mac wanted to be part of his family. Now he had to figure out how to make that happen. He’d been alone so long, anything else took thought and effort.
Hannah reached across the table and opened her hand. Mac took it. Grant placed a hand on each of their shoulders. The three of them were connected now in a way they hadn’t been since they’d faced all those survival challenges their father had set up for them. They were bound by their shared experiences.
But once there had been four of them.
Grief welled in Mac’s chest. Raw and sharp, it nearly choked him. Grant’s hand squeezed his shoulder. Mac swallowed hard. Lee had been gone for fifteen months, but the wound his murder left was still wide open, and the Colonel’s death had been a handful of salt.
Mac needed to deal with his pain before the scar it left was permanent.
Stella jerked awake. Her heart hammered. Her breaths bellowed in and out of her lungs as if she’d just run the academy obstacle course.
Trembling, she pushed her sweaty hair off her forehead. The nightmare had been vivid enough she could smell gunpowder, feel the stock of her AR-15 against her shoulder, and hear Lance groaning as she fired at the armed and fleeing suspect. But winging him hadn’t been enough. He’d gotten away. He’d gone on to kill two cops. Hannah and Brody had nearly died.
Swallowing the sickness rising in her throat, she got out of bed and stumbled to the shower. Not even the scalding water could completely wash away the nightmare. Dawn had not made an appearance yet when Stella tiptoed into the dark kitchen. The remnants of her nightmare lingered. Gunshots, blood, the sharp scent of gunpowder. A quick burst of panic kicked her adrenals into overdrive. Breathing deeply, she leaned on the counter, her fingers gripping the edge until she got her pulse under control. She hadn’t had a flashback in a long time. She’d thought she was over them.
But would she ever truly get over what had happened? Failure was tough to accept.
She turned on the overhead light and lifted the coffeepot, grateful that it was already full. Pouring herself a mugful, she drank half its contents standing over the sink. The caffeine hit her system and eased her lack-of-sleep headache. Three restless nights were beginning to take their toll.
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