Jim went over to where Patsy waited and lifted her hand to his cheek. He turned his mouth to kiss her palm.
“Your house that you love so much, Pats. Well it’s…” He broke off and looked at her.
“You trying to tell me that they have trashed our home!”
“No love. They have destroyed it.”
For a long moment nobody spoke. Patsy stood up and cuddled into Jim’s comforting bulk. She sniffed a couple of times, then made a visible effort to straighten her spine.
“In the end it was just a house. And we’re okay. And the kids are okay. And the animals are here or with your Mam. So it don’t matter.”
But then it all got too much for her and the tears fell in earnest. Jim held her closely while she cried.
“I’m sorry love,” he said softly.
“Don’t be stupid Jimbo. You got nothing to be sorry for.”
“If I hadn’t been so stubborn.”
Patsy took his broad good natured face in her two hands and looked straight into his eyes.
“If you never stood up for what you know is right you wouldn’t be the love of my life.” She turned her astoundingly blue eyes on Sam. “Yeah. I do know. A lot of fuss about house. But you see Jim had it built for me as a surprise present for our tenth wedding anniversary and it was exactly the house of my dreams. Aside from loving the house, it was that he knew. Down to the tiniest detail.”
Sam smiled gently. “Never mind Pats. They can’t take that from you.”
For a moment she frowned then her face cleared. “You are only right. They can’t. Thanks Sam.”
Anna burrowed into Sam’s willing embrace and put her face up to be kissed.
“You are so right my loved one.”
“I know. But that doesn’t remove the need for retribution.”
Jim’s head came up like a hunting dog. “Indeed it doesn’t.”
Rod spoke in a voice about as dangerous as the growl of a man eating tiger. “I find myself pissed off. And I’m up for retribution. Whatever form that might take.”
“First things first.” Jim had control of his voice now. “We have to talk to the boys.”
“You mind if we do that in private?” Patsy was humble.
“Don’t be silly, course you have to be private,” Anna said. “You want us to clear off, or will you talk in the sitting room?”
“Sitting room. Please.”
Patsy and Jim went towards the door, but Sam stopped them with an upraised hand.
“If the little men are worried about where they are going to live, you can tell them you are staying here.”
“You sure Sam? You have to understand it could be dangerous.”
Sam made a very rude noise. “Go tell them.”
They went and Anna put a hand up to Sam’s determined chin. “Thank you my darling.”
He grinned a tight grin. “Why don’t you see if your magic fingers can dig up any clues as to who precisely needs a spanking.”
“As if we didn’t know,” Rod sounded right on the edge of losing control.
“Cool it,” Sam said firmly. “You are of no use to anybody if you can’t keep a lid on your temper.”
Rod made a noise deep in his chest that had the dogs out of their baskets glaring at him. Their reaction served to calm Rod more than any human intervention could have. He bent down and smoothed one silky and one rough head.
They wagged forgivingly and returned to their beds.
Sam headed for the office he and Anna shared and returned with a couple of disreputable looking laptops and a blue toolbox in his hands. He put them down on the table and Anna flexed her fingers.
“Coffee,” she murmured and that was the last sound in the big kitchen for a very long time.
By the time Jim and Patsy came back into the kitchen, with Jim carrying Bill and Charlie and the other boys clustered around their mother, Anna was making pleased little noises in her throat.
“Got you, you double-dealing bastard,” she said with some satisfaction, then realised there were children in the room. “Oops. Sorry”
Jamie gave her a taut grin. “We’ve heard swearing before. And if that means what I think it means…”
Jim was across the room in two strides. “How the fuck?”
For once Patsy didn’t bother to correct his lapse into profanity, being too busy trying to look round his bulk. Sensing an imminent meltdown if Anna got too crowded, Sam took a hand.
“Stand back everyone and let Anna explain.”
“Yes. Give me room to breathe.”
Jim stepped back and grinned apologetically.
“Okay. Better. Right. It all circles back to a certain Glaswegian gent that Jim threatened to brain with a baseball bat. Or, to be more precise, to his phone. The gizmo I plugged his call into gave me access to his phone’s memory. I mined it a bit and found some strands linking him to a certain Armenian gentleman who met an unpleasant end in Edinburgh. But the dead don’t rise from the grave to arrange firebombing. However, when dead men turn out to have brothers. Very wealthy brothers…”
Rod looked at Bill and Charlie. “Fingers in your ears little men.”
The boys obliged, and Rod swore for several minutes. When he had relieved his feelings somewhat he smiled grimly and cracked the knuckles on his big hands.
“Don’t do that,” Patsy slapped him quite hard. “It sets my teeth on edge.”
The little ones cautiously removed their hands from their ears.
“Is it going to be all right now?” Bill sounded scared and Sam hunkered down to his level.
“I reckon it will, now we know who and why. Just a matter of straightening a few things out. In the meantime you get to stay here if you wouldn’t mind that.”
“We wouldn’t indeed. But what about school?”
“You get some time off while we sort ourselves out.” Patsy smiled reassuringly. “Those who want can maybe go to Montana for a few weeks. But they get to be homeschooled while they are there.”
If he had thought about it Sam might have expected the twins to grasp such a chance and hold on for dear life, but that wasn’t the case at all.
As usual it was Cy who acted as spokestwin. “Thanks Mum, but no. That would be running away. No Cracksman runs away. We can’t do much in the retribution stakes. But we can help to keep the little men safe.”
Patsy said nothing simply holding out her arms. She was quickly wrapped in a three-way hug.
“Love you, Mum,” Matt’s voice hovered between a growl and a squeak.