Rest & Trust (The Night Horde SoCal #5)By: Susan Fanetti
Sherlock aimed carefully and threw his last grenade.
It was a good hit. The explosion rattled the floors and walls, and fire and flying body parts filled the warehouse.
“Woo-hoo!” the eight-year-old at Sherlock’s side shouted and put up his hand for a high-five. “DIE MUTHAFUCKAS!”
Sherlock slapped his palm. “Dyl, dude. Play it cool,” he muttered. “Your mom’ll kick both our a—butts.”
Playing with her dolls at a small pink table across the room, Dylan’s little sister, Chelsea, shrieked, “Mommy! Dylan said a Very Bad Word!”
“Shut up, you stupid bitch,” Dylan snarled at her.
Sherlock paused the game, glancing toward the doorway to the kitchen as he spoke. “Dylan. No. Over the line.”
“MOM-MEEE!” four-year-old Chelsea wailed.
As Sherlock set his controller aside and stood to go to her, to try to calm her down, Dylan and Chelsea’s mother, Taryn, came into the doorway. She held a bottle of Tabasco in her hand.
“Dylan Jonathan Wilkes, get in here right now.”
Dylan’s eyes were wide and already getting wet. “No, Mom. Please! I’m sorry!”
“Now, or you’ll have to take two.”
Sherlock fucking hated that she dealt that way with Dylan’s recently rebellious mouth. “Tare, c’mon.”
She turned tired, angry eyes on him. “Shut your mouth, Tim. You’re not their father. You’re nothing but their playmate.”
Already crying, Dylan threw his controller on the sofa and stood, then trudged toward the kitchen. Sherlock was too pissed and worried about what was happening there to spend much time being pissed about the way Taryn had, yet again, pushed him to the side, but he took a beat and let the irritation make its way through.
Almost six years, they’d been together. On and off, long cycles of each. Sure, neither had ever thrown the ‘L’ word around, and sure, they’d never gone on anything like a date, but he was over here all the time. Fuck, he’d been around before Chelsea had even been born. Or conceived.
Chelsea wasn’t his—both kids had the same father, and Sherlock had inadvertently found himself in the middle of Taryn’s marriage, separation, reunion , separation, and divorce drama when they’d first met—but he had been around enough during Chelsea’s whole life that she sometimes called him ‘Daddy Tim.’ Taryn always corrected her when she did.
It was Taryn holding back. Always her. He dealt with it because…well, she was a great lay, and he liked her kids—more than that—and he liked coming over and having a normal night with homework and games and dinner and bedtime. His mom had worked nights, and his dad had split when he was little. He and Thomas, his older brother, had been on their own most of the time. He hadn’t had normal family nights as a kid.
He was a sap; sue him.
Club girls were fine, and when Taryn went through one of her ‘we’re done’ spells, he took liberal advantage of the offerings in the Hall. But he’d hadn’t tried to get serious with any other girl, in the club or out of it, since he’d met Taryn. He didn’t know why. He didn’t love her. She was too emotionally cold, her shell too hard, to love. But he loved her life, so when she wanted him in it, he came, and when she didn’t, he left.
He knew the signs after all this time, so he knew she was coming to the point where she’d want him away. He thought he might finally be reaching the end of his patience with the revolving door game.
That was a fight they could have after the kids had gone to bed. Right now, hearing Dylan gagging, coughing, and crying, he set a quieted Chelsea back on the floor and walked toward the kitchen.
He met Dylan in the doorway. The poor kid’s face was wet with tears and beet red, and he had his mouth open, his tongue sticking out. She wouldn’t even let him rinse afterward. This was a thing that happened fairly often of late. Dylan, in third grade, had learned the power of foul language. He’d also developed a rebellious streak. He didn’t seem capable of controlling either, even knowing the consequences.
It wasn’t just his mouth. Recently when Sherlock had been over, Dylan had refused to complete a homework assignment he’d been struggling with. Taryn had made him stand in a corner until he’d agree to finish.
Sherlock hadn’t stuck around that night, but she’d told him later that Dylan had stood in that corner all night, all the way until it was time to go to school the next day. Then he’d gotten detention for sleeping in class. And he’d lost electronics privileges for that. Mom and son were starting a downward spiral.
Sherlock wanted to talk to him, to try to get him to see around the fight in front of him to the bigger picture, but Taryn didn’t want him parenting her kids. Even after all these years.
Shrugging off Sherlock’s comforting hand, Dylan slunk back to the sofa and sat down. Sherlock stood in the doorway. Taryn had her back to him, doing something for the meal she was preparing.
“Don’t you fucking say a word,” she spat without turning. “You’ve stated your opinion. I don’t need to hear it again. He needs to learn respect.”
Despite her warning, Sherlock spoke. “There’s got to be a better way. That’s so…” he wanted to say ‘abusive,’ but he landed on the less fraught, “…extreme.”
“Dammit, Tim. Shut. Up. I’m making the decisions here.”
Though he’d been Sherlock when they’d met, and he’d introduced himself to her as Sherlock, she’d immediately demanded his ‘real’ name. Lost in her bright green eyes and a whole lot of whiskey, he’d told her that his ‘real’ name was Timothy. She’d called him Tim since, and he’d quickly given up trying to change that. His small blood family and this weird faux family all called him Tim. Everywhere else in his life, he was Sherlock.
Sherlock Holmes. Yeah, it was ridiculous, but his brothers had given him the name, and that made it his real real name.
“I’m gonna head out.” Taryn had been in a mood since he’d arrived, and now the kids were bottoming out. It wasn’t a good night, and he was only making things worse.
At that, she turned around. Her face was creased with exhaustion. She wasn’t a beautiful woman; Sherlock wasn’t much attracted to beautiful women—a woman like Trick’s new wife, Juliana, whose beauty was fucking perfect, just intimidated him. Maybe it was a holdover from his adolescence, when he was the scrawny geek no girl noticed except to sneer at, but too much beauty gave him a twitch. Sherlock liked women with flaws. Didn’t matter what kind of flaws. Just something that made them real. Tangible.
Taryn could be pretty—she’d been pretty when he’d met her, during her first separation, the only time they’d been out in the world together. But she had to try, and she didn’t try often. Usually, she pulled her bright red hair into a severe ponytail, she wore no makeup to speak of, which made her ginger brows and lashes sort of fade in with her pale skin, and she dressed almost exclusively in either her work scrubs—she was a phlebotomist at the nearby managed-care clinic—or yoga pants and t-shirts. Her belly and ass had gone flabby after Chelsea, and yoga pants weren’t exactly hot on her. Scrubs weren’t hot on any woman.
But he loved her body. He knew it completely, and he knew exactly how to make it sing. They were perfectly compatible fuckmates.
When they were good, they were great. Out of bed, they didn’t have much in common, in taste or personality, but she had a ribald sense of humor and an adventurous spirit, and when she was in a good mood, she laughed easily and often. Her musical laughter and bright smile made her beautiful.
Tonight, she seemed almost ugly. More than fatigue and anger warped her features. He couldn’t place it, but she was just…dull.
“Don’t go. We need to talk.”
Yeah. As he’d suspected, it was time for her to tell him to hit the road. Very much over it, he sighed. “I know this scene. Why don’t we just cut to the part where I storm out?”
“It’s not that. Well—we need to talk. Stay.” She put a smile on her face. It wasn’t a successful effort.
The sound of the game he and Dylan had been co-opping started up, and Sherlock glanced over to see the boy with the blue controller in his hands. He’d overcome the latest Tabasco Incident.
Sherlock turned back to Dylan’s mother. “Yeah, okay.” Without waiting for more from her, he returned to the sofa and picked up the black controller. “I bet we can clear one more level before it’s time to eat.”
He sat on the sofa and watched some reality show while she put the kids to bed. Another thing he wasn’t allowed to do: participate in the bedtime routine. He said his goodnights in the living room, before they went down the hall to bed.
When she came back up the hall, she went right by him and into the kitchen. She returned with a glass of whiskey for him and a huge glass of white wine for her. And her stash tin.
Handing him the whiskey, she said, “C’mon. Let’s go sit outside.” She headed out the front door, and he stood and followed.