Who wants another sneak peek of THE RETURN OF THE O’CONNELLS? The next installment in The O’Connells series will be released this week, but you can read Chapter 2 now!
Charlotte’s cheeks had really plumped out. Marcus wasn’t sure why he noticed that today, maybe because he could see her discomfort in the way she walked with her hand on her lower back before sliding onto a stool at the island. He heard Alison on the stairs with Eva, evidently going up, and moved around to his wife.
“You okay there, babe?” he said, surveying the jicama and red peppers, her favorites of late, along with sour cream, oranges, and sardines. He picked up the knife and took in the broccoli and cauliflower, as well, knowing she wanted it all chopped.
“Yeah, just cramping, is all, and my feet are aching. Not sure this is much better. I’m tired and just damn uncomfortable. Sorry, don’t mean to complain.” She made a face, letting out a breath that took some effort. But then, everything had been taking more effort lately: sleeping, getting up, moving, even driving, as she couldn’t seem to get close enough to reach the pedals anymore.
“You get to complain,” he said. “You know I’d carry the baby for you, but it’s not possible. Just sit there, and I’ll finish this. You should really stay home tomorrow. I’ll put Colby on the phones and get him to look after things, and I’ll have a talk with Alison about her doing more over here for you, helping with Eva, doing the laundry.”
Charlotte lifted a brow, and he took her in. She had her hair pulled back and was wearing one of his white and blue T-shirts, considering they had passed the point where she could even button up her deputy shirt. She was moving a lot slower, and he wasn’t sure he wanted her in the office at this point.
“When the baby comes, you know you can’t get by with just Colby,” she said. “I know we haven’t talked about this, but we need to discuss bringing someone in temporarily.”
The way she said it, he knew she was getting to the heart of the discussion he’d been putting off.
“About that,” he said, not missing the way she stiffened, “we haven’t really talked about the next step, likely because of everything that’s happened with the family. Seems it’s been one disaster averted after another. But we need to.” He made a point of setting the knife on the wooden cutting board and leaned on the island, hearing a car pull up outside and knowing they’d be invaded by his family any moment.
He reached over and touched her arm, then ran his hand up, over her shoulder, and back down before pulling back and picking up the knife again. “No, let me finish. We need to talk about this now because this baby is coming soon, very soon, and you’re going to be home here—and maybe that doesn’t need to be temporary.”
The way she hesitated, he could see she wasn’t about to take this well.
“Charlotte, I need you to listen to me, okay? You know I need to bring someone in now to handle everything you do, and you’re right that I’ve put off talking to you about this because of everything that’s been going on, but I can’t anymore. I’m the sheriff, and the city council have also put it out there.”
He thought back on his discussion with the mayor and council members, who had said with no political correctness whatsoever that it was time to hire a woman to take over for Charlotte, because she was pregnant and would need to stay home. Actually, it had been Jessa, whom Suzanne had once been friends with at school, now married with her own kids, who’d come right out and said Charlotte needed to stay home with her baby so a job could go to someone who needed it. He was still stunned that had slipped past her lips, and two of the men on the council had even flushed red. He’d make sure that part never got back to Charlotte.
“Put what out there, exactly? What are you talking about? I love my job and working…”
“I know, and it’s not forever, but you want to be home with the baby after it’s born, right?” he said. Why was it that they’d never really taken a moment and talked about this? “And there’s Eva, too. With Mom gone and us not knowing when she’s coming back…”
“Well, of course I’m not planning on going right back to work, but I never planned on staying home. Eva is in school right now, and Alison can still pick her up like she’s been doing. It’s not unworkable. You know I love my job and working with you…”
“Yeah, but, Charlotte, with the upcoming election, anything could happen. I could suddenly not be sheriff anymore. It’s a possibility, so there’s that, too.”
That was the other thing they hadn’t talked about. He wondered if it was something she’d been thinking about, by the way she hesitated and let out another breath.
“You’re being ridiculous,” she said. “You’re a shoo-in, and everyone who knows you around here knows you’re the best for the job.”
All he could do was shake his head. “So much has happened to create doubts in everyone’s minds. Come election day, with other names on the ballot, people could be voting for someone else just because that candidate doesn’t come with the same baggage. After the scandal, people here are still wondering what the O’Connells are hiding, thinking there has to be something there. I may very well be home with the baby,” he teased.
She didn’t pull her gaze or smile. “Don’t joke about something like that, Marcus. Besides, the election isn’t for a while yet, and if anything, this year has been one of a lot of changes and surprises. I shouldn’t have to tell you not to jump all the way to the worst-case scenario. Do you want me to stop working and stay home? Is that what you’re saying?”
The way she asked, he had to remind himself this was dangerous territory. Just then, he heard the front door and footsteps, and then Brady walked in, went right to the fridge, and opened it and pulled out a beer before twisting off the cap.
“Hold that thought,” was all he said to Charlotte as he turned to Brady. “That’s as far as that goes, young man.” He reached for the beer and took it, seeing something in his younger brother’s expression that he recognized all too well.
“I’m eighteen,” Brady said. “You know this is ridiculous. Luke lets me have a beer.”
From the way Brady said it, with that teenage attitude, Marcus predicted that he was likely going to point out that he was legally an adult next.
“Really? Now, why don’t I believe that?” Marcus said before he lifted the beer, took a swallow, and set it on the counter by the cutting board in front of him. Charlotte was staring long and hard at Brady and then him.
“It’s true,” Brady said. “Seriously, what’s the big deal, anyway?”
What was he supposed to say? When he was Brady’s age, he’d been drinking and getting into the kind of trouble he still couldn’t believe he’d escaped unscathed. “It is a big deal,” Marcus finally said. “So, considering I’m the sheriff and the legal drinking age is twenty-one, try helping yourself to a soda instead. Seriously, Brady—and what’s with the face? Something happen today?”
He heard the door and more footsteps, then a thunk, before he spotted Karen, barefoot in a short-sleeved dress. Jack appeared behind her, and he was sure Suzanne and Harold were there now, too.
“Nothing. It’s fine,” was all Brady said before walking out of the kitchen without helping himself to a soda.
Jack said something to Charlotte, and Karen was in his fridge, pulling out a bottle of white that he hadn’t known was in there.
“Hey there, Marcus, can you open the oven?” Suzanne said as she strolled in behind them, carrying a roasting pan covered with tinfoil. “I’ll pop this in to warm again.” She still wore her heavy bomber jacket, and her hair was hanging long and loose.
“Sure. What is that?” He opened the oven for his sister, spotting Harold, too. His deputy jutted his chin to him and gestured to the living room, where Brady had gone. Maybe he’d have a word with the kid and figure out what was going on with him.
Karen was pouring a big glass of wine, and Jack was still talking to Charlotte, though without pulling his gaze from his wife. Evidently, there was something amiss between the two of them. It had been a while since his sister had had a drink.
“Made lasagna,” Suzanne said. “Well, I decided to be creative and made a vegetarian kind. The noodles are zucchini.”
“And no meat?” Marcus said, taking in his sister, who he knew had way too much time on her hands.
She pulled a face, and he could hear more voices from the front door—Owen, Tessa, and Ryan, he thought. Suzanne shrugged out of her coat. “Lasagna doesn’t always have to have meat in it, you know. Besides, it will be good. There’s lots of mushrooms and cheese. You’ll never miss it.”
“Miss what?” Owen said, and Marcus wondered what he’d say, considering he was mister barbecue, in charge of that part of dinner, which had to always be meat.
“Suzanne made lasagna for us, vegetarian,” Marcus said.
The way Owen dragged his gaze from him to Suzanne was almost comical. “Not funny, Suzanne,” was all he said.
She just waved her hand and wandered to the fridge before pulling it open and taking out a beer. “Be adventurous, Owen. We don’t always have to eat meat.”
Ryan and Jenny came in next, and everyone seemed to linger in the kitchen. When he met Jack’s eyes, the other man nodded toward the living room.
“Here, take over,” Marcus said, handing the knife to Ryan, who only looked at it for a second before Jenny shook her head and stepped in.
“Ryan’s useless,” she said. “Here, let me.”
Marcus stepped away, around Ryan and Charlotte. Everyone was talking, though the voices of his family faded as he walked out of the kitchen, following Jack into the living room, where Brady and Harold were sitting across from each other, deep in discussion.
“Everything okay?” Marcus said.
Jack appeared dressed down, and Marcus wondered about the new shaggy look he had going on. What was that about, a big case? He didn’t think so. Either way, shaving seemed to have been put on the back burner.
“Look, I wanted to give you a heads-up, is all,” Jack said. “I just told Karen that I got a call, and my name’s been put out there for governor. I knew it was coming, and soon. So there it is—and there’s something else.”
He just stared down at Jack, who was a few inches shorter than him, knowing he’d made a deal with the devil, so to speak, to save their asses. “I don’t know what to say. I’m sorry, considering we had a serious part in this. So the favors have been called in.”
“Knew it would come,” Jack replied. “At the same time, Karen just dropped a bombshell on me before we walked in. I need to get her out of here. We have something to deal with. Can you keep Brady for the night?”
He heard the sound of a car but couldn’t see who it was, as the inside door was closed. “Yeah, Brady can stay. Should I be worried about something between you and my sister?”
Just then, Marcus’s phone started ringing, and he pulled it out, seeing an unknown number.
Jack touched his arm. “Take your call,” was all he said, then started back to the kitchen, obviously not wanting to talk.
“Marcus here,” he said.
Harold looked over to him expectantly and gave him everything from where he sat, likely because one of them could need to head out now.
“It’s Mom,” Marcus finally said, shaking his head at Harold, hearing the voices from the kitchen. He leaned against the stairway railing. “Hey, was thinking about you,” he said. “How are you and…?”
There was something strange about knowing his mom was with their dad, but he hadn’t shared with anyone how unsettled he was about it.
“And your dad, you mean?” she said. “I’m sorry I haven’t called, but I wanted to let you know that we’re coming back.”
He hadn’t expected that. Just then, the front door opened, and there was Luke—with a woman who had brown hair and wore a dark coat. It seemed as if it had been one thing after another as of late. Marcus reached over and punched his brother’s shoulder playfully, then gestured to the woman before turning away.
“Like now, you mean?” he said. “Are you sure it’s okay?” He took in the dark railing going upstairs, knowing Alison and Eva were up there.
“You know what, Marcus? I miss all of you, and Charlotte’s due anytime now. I want to be there. I told your dad I was planning on coming myself, but your dad said he was coming, too. Through it all, he misses all of you, and I know he still wants to make so much right. He said he knows how to be careful, to hide, so what am I to say to that?”
He thought he heard something in the background. “Okay, so when? I’ll let everyone know.”
“No, don’t tell anyone. I want it to be a surprise. Listen, that’s your dad calling me. I’ve got to go. Your dad’s just working out logistics now, as he said, but I’m hoping a few days, two at the most. Any problems on his end, and I’ll come myself.”
It would be great to see his mom, but not telling anyone was something he didn’t want to do. This family couldn’t handle more secrets.
“A surprise, really?” he said. “Don’t you think we’ve had enough? I have to tell Charlotte, at least…”
His mom sighed. “Okay, fine, just don’t make a big deal about it.”
“So I can tell everyone?”
“Yes, just not the kids, Brady, Alison, Eva. I want to surprise them, and your dad still has some things to work out with Brady because of how everything went down. He still hasn’t talked to him.”
Right, and then there was that. “No promises,” Marcus said. “Call me when you know.”
Then he hung up, and he could hear Luke in the kitchen, introducing whoever the woman was.
He had to think about Karen and Jack and whatever was going on with them, too. Maybe now wasn’t the time to tell his siblings that their mom was planning on coming back. Luke had brought someone home, Karen and Jack had a problem, and then there was Brady, who’d likely be staying with him and Charlotte that night.
Right, just another evening with the O’Connells.
When he started back to the kitchen, he heard Charlotte say, “I think my water just broke.”
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Andy Friessen has packed up everything and moved his family two states away to protect his wife, Laura, his newborn babies, and his stepson, Gabriel, from the threats of his mother. What Andy doesn’t know is that they’ll soon face a new threat, one he never saw coming…
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