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She stirred, her hand seeking her husband’s reassuring touch. Cold sheets. Panic fluttered in her chest and then died. She remembered now. What had happened to them that they could no longer talk? Her splayed fingers caressed the empty space next to her, as if searching for some imprint of the man she’d married, the father of her two children. What or who had come between them?

From downstairs, she heard a thud, followed by what sounded like a muffled grunt. She gritted her teeth. He daren’t wake the kids. It had taken all her wiles and half the night to convince little Oliver there were no three-eyed, boy-eating monsters living under his bed. Kayla hadn’t been much better, getting up at least once every hour to ask for a glass of water and a cuddle. Damn Warren. Didn’t he know by now children picked up on every vibe?

Another thud. Closer this time. She held her breath, listening. Footsteps. She rolled over, feigning sleep when she sensed his presence in the doorway. Her breathing didn’t falter.

A slight movement of air brushed across her face. She inhaled. Her breath caught, the sharp smell registering in the same instant the cold metal kissed her temple.


Dervla Johns ran her tongue around her teeth, checking for any lurking toast crumbs, and opened the door. Much earlier and Emmet would have caught her still playing tag with the alarm clock’s snooze button.

“What sort of time—” Her throat closed.

Off to the side and a good meter back stood their older brother, Gabe, his expression as dark as his eyes. Whatever the reason for her brothers’ visit together, she knew it was serious. Since their mother’s suicide two years ago, the two men had barely exchanged a civil word, let alone tolerated being within spitting distance of each other.

She looked to her ginger-haired younger brother for an answer but before he could open his mouth, Gabe shouldered past. “For fuck sakes, man, just tell her.”

“Tell me what?” she asked, her voice rising as Gabe disappeared down the hall, the runner’s thick pile absorbing his heavy footfall. “What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“Not here.” Emmet stepped inside, steering her back from the door.

She jumped at the unexpected blare of the television coming from the living room. The ensuing series of sound bites suggested her older brother had found the channel buttons but not the volume control. “If this is some kind of joke, it’s not funny.”

“Tell me about it.” Emmet sighed and patted her shoulder. “You should be sitting down for this one. C’mon.”

He took a step. Dervla grabbed his arm and jerked him back. “I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what the hell is going on.”

His mouth twisted from side to side but still he didn’t speak.

Only then did she notice his unshaven face. Her grip tightened. “Now, Em.”

“It’s Lucinda…” He wiped a hand over his mouth and started again. “It’s Lucinda. She’s been… she’s been shot.”

“What do you mean she’s been shot? What hospital is she in? Is she going to be okay?” Not that she and Lucinda were close; more a mutual standoff than a relationship. But she was the mother to Dervla’s half-sister and -brother. “Kayla and Oliver, where are—”

Emmet’s chest rose and fell. He caught her hands as they went limp, the answer in his silence.

She wrenched her fingers from his, clawing at the wall as she stumbled backwards. “No, that can’t be.” Unable to control the tremor that had taken over her body, she sank to the floor. “You’re lying. You have to be.”

He crouched down. “I only wish I were.”

Gabe materialized at her side, smelling of cigarette smoke. He tried to put his arm around her shoulders.

She warded him off with her hands. “Please don’t,” she said, the thought of anyone touching her – even her brother – too much to bear.

Regardless, he tried again.

“Don’t!” She flung his hand back with such force she almost hit him in the face.

He muttered something and moved off. Emmet stayed but kept his distance. Unlike Gabe, he knew her well enough to know when she needed space.

With her gaze fixed on a tiny crack in the aged hardwood floor, she breathed in, held it for a count of ten and exhaled. And again. The gravity of the news began to sink in, question after question swarming in her head. Shot? How? Why? Who?

“Dad…?” She swallowed, the lump in her throat not moving.

Emmet’s jean-clad legs shifted sideways. She glanced up. He shook his head, the fine lines around his pale blue eyes deepening. Her stomach knotted. She held her breath and waited for the words she knew were coming.

“We don’t know. Nobody does.”

“Nobody knows what?” Hope flickered.

“Where he is.”

“You mean he doesn’t know yet?” She held up a hand and Emmet hauled her to her feet. “We have to find him. Oh God, my keys. I can’t remember where I put my keys.” She whirled around. “Oh God, where did I put my keys?”

Strong hands grasped her bare shoulders, halting her mid-flight. “Not so fast.”

She tried to shrug him off, but his fingers just dug deeper, hurting her. “Why are we wasting time? Let’s go.” Out of the corner of her eye, she saw her other brother standing, arms crossed, in the middle of the hall. “Tell him, Gabe,” she yelled.

He advanced. “I’ll tell him all right. Never send a boy to do a man’s job, isn’t that right, Emmy-boy?”

“Piss off.”

“Oh stop it. Please, not now,” she said. “We don’t have time for this shit.”

“Did you hear that, Emmy-boy? No time for shit.”

Emmet ignored his brother’s taunts. “Dervla, there’s something else you—”

“I can’t go out like this,” she said, suddenly realizing all she had on was a pair of shortie pajama pants and a skimpy spaghetti-strap top. “Let go of me.”

“You’re not going anywhere,” Emmet said, his tone forceful. “Not until you’ve heard what I have to say.”

Her body tensed. She closed her eyes tight, wishing she could do the same with her ears. Whatever it was, she didn’t want to know. Not yet. Her brain could only take in so much at once.

“Lucinda, Kayla and Oliver were found murdered in their beds a couple of hours ago. The police are there now. As far as we know, they haven’t found the gun. Dervla…” He paused. “Dad is missing. They haven’t said as much, but we got the distinct feeling he’s their prime suspect.”

“Don’t be ridiculous. I know how much you hate him but that’s taking it too far,” she said, turning to her older brother for backup.

Gabe took a step forward, his full lips stretched in a grimace. “Sorry, sis. For once in his life, Emmy-boy is telling it as it is.”

Her gaze darted from brother to brother, desperate for a ‘gotcha’ from either one.

“No,” she said, “you’re wrong. They’re wrong.”

Bitter Nothings Sample