I debated a long time about telling this story, after Moira and the Mennetti kids first showed up on the scene in SHADOW WALKER. The Mennetti family is one dogged by tragedy, secrets, and danger. I was afraid readers wouldn’t understand or accept the level of danger these two children were in, or how broken this family really is. But then, I wrote this scene, and I knew this was a family who deserved to have their story told.
“Frightened” – Excerpt from NO STRONGER BOND (Project Prometheus, Book #19)
Awkward wasn’t the word for the silence hovering over the dinner table. Moira shifted imperceptibly in her seat, fighting the restless urge to intervene. Her brother, Mason, always told her she had a fix-it personality, when it came to interpersonal relationships. She certainly always tried to smooth things between their ultra-conservative Catholic parents and her irreverent drag queen of a brother. Now, as she listened to the clink of the children toying with their food, and the droning tick of the grandfather clock in the living room that she usually only noticed after the kids went to sleep, she fought the urge to fix this very broken family she was thrust into the middle of.
Jason sat with his head bowed, casting furtive glances at the man he barely remembered, while Lisa kept inching her chair closer to Moira, her wide eyes full of outright fear. Not that Moira blamed her. Commander Mennetti was an imposing figure even to her, and she was a grown woman with a badge and a gun. The furrow between his dark brows didn’t help the matter, either.
“You know, it’d probably go a lot easier if you’d lighten up.” Before she could stop herself, the words were out of her mouth. The glare the Commander favored her with might have frightened a lesser woman – it certainly frightened both children, who were instantly glued to Moira’s side, Lisa crying softly, now. Moira simply lifted her head and gave it right back to him. “You’re frightening your children.”
“If you hadn’t been waving a gun around, earlier, threatening to blow my brains all over the sidewalk, they might not be so frightened,” he parried through gritted teeth. “Don’t you know better than to keep a loaded gun around little kids? Around my kids?”
“I’m a Federal Marshall. It’s my job. Someone has to protect them, and they certainly couldn’t count on their parents, could they?”
His fork clattered to the plate, and she instantly regretted the harsh accusation. Michelangelo Mennetti had been half a world away, fighting to protect more than just his children. She shouldn’t be blaming him for their trauma. But, dammit, how could the man not know who his wife was working for, or how deranged she was?
“I didn’t know.” The words, spoken softly and filled with such agonizing regret, could have been an answer to her unspoken question, or to the accusation hanging in the air between them. It didn’t matter; they tore at Moira’s heart just the same. She had to remember, this man barely knew his kids. Jason had just started kindergarten when Mennetti was deployed, and his wife had been pregnant with Lisa at the time. They’d never had a chance to be a family.
Her heart hurting for this broken family, Moira put her arm around Jason’s shoulders, first. He was trying so hard to be brave, but she felt the slight tremble of his shoulders. Thanks to their mother, both children’s experience with men was rocky at best. They didn’t trust easily – they knew the consequences too well.
“Jason, you remember your dad, don’t you? Remember the pictures you showed me of the park and the rocket?” She was careful to keep her voice soft and soothing.
He nodded, and his gaze went to his father, again, before darting away.
“He won’t hurt you, Jason.” Her eyes narrowed on the man in question, and she made certain he understood he better never prove her wrong. She saw something in him that reassured her, even as she sensed Jason relax beside her.
“C’mon, bud,” Mennetti urged, his lips tipping upward in a smile that nearly stopped Moira’s heart as he faced his son. “I know you remember.”
Jason’s face screwed up in an angry frown. “You promised me you’d be there if I needed you. You weren’t there! You weren’t there!”
With that angry yell, Jason broke free of Moira’s grasp and bolted from the dining room. The pound of his feet on the stairs and the slam of his door caused Mennetti to wince, and he started to rise. Moira shook her head. “Let him go, for now. He’ll be okay. He has to know it’s okay for him to be angry with you, that you won’t follow him or hurt him for it.”
Lisa, on the other hand, was having nothing to do with her father. She clung to Moira with a death grip, and Moira wasn’t about to traumatize her any more than she already was, right now. Rising from her seat, she scooped Lisa into her arms, and favored the man still at the table with a glance. “Let me get Lisa settled with her toys and books. Then, we need to talk. There’s a lot you don’t know.”
As she carried Lisa up to her room, Moira faced her own uncertainty. When Michelangelo Mennetti learned exactly how his children came to be in her custody, would any of them ever be safe again?