"James must have locked me in on his way out," said Seana, referring to her husband. Matt trailed her into the spacious living room, where the constant battle to keep an adult room free of the influence of four children raged. "So, what crisis brings you to my door this time?"
"Why do you assume there's a crisis?" asked Matt. Her youngest child, Patrick, was sitting in his fenced-in play area, stacking blocks. The boy glanced up at his uncle and frowned.
"Say hello to your Uncle Matt, sweet." The toddler glared. Seana just laughed. "He's being shy today," said Seana, leaning over the fence to rumple her son's dark hair. "What else am I supposed to assume, Matthias, darling? You only come here on your own during a crisis. Last time I saw you was when Becky left."
Matt hung his head, dropping onto the sofa. "Wow, I didn't think it'd been that long. Okay, maybe I should come more often. I'm sorry, Seana."
"That's all right, honey, I'm teasing you. How about some coffee?" Seana asked, smiling warmly.
"Might as well. I don't think I'm getting any sleep, anyway. The other kids in school?"
"Yes," Seana replied, bustling off toward the kitchen. "Jimmy's started third grade this year and has a horror of cursive writing. Mary and Beth are doing well in first grade, both still excited about getting to go all day. I'm sure they'll be over that in no time, though. But of course they're still delighting in confusing their teacher about which one is which."
"You gotta have some fun when you're twins," said Matt.
Seana was an old-world hostess, and believed in treating her guests, even family, with a certain style. She returned with a tray containing a beautiful coffee service, including creamer and sugar bowl, cups and saucers, and a two-tiered plate of tiny cakes and cookies. Matt smiled as she set the little coffee table and served him. Of the three of them, Seana had been the most influenced by Sean Patrick's Victorian-style raising. Gracious manners and the correct fork were important to her. Seana knew Matt well enough to know how he liked his coffee. She poured for him and added a goodly amount of cream. Her sugar cubes were decorated with tiny violets that swam to the top of the coffee when the sugar melted, and it was only at Seana's house Matt allowed sugar in his coffee. She put one cube in, and he watched as the flower drifted to the top. For herself, she filled her cup only half-full of coffee, put in six sugar cubes, and filled the rest with cream. Matt chuckled.
"Not on another diet, are you?" he teased, taking one of her awesome shortbread cookies that had been dipped in chocolate and rolled in crushed pecans.
Seana made a face at him. She had been fighting with her weight for almost as long as Matt could remember, an effort not at all helped by her fondness for cooking. Matt could remember when she'd been barely able to reach the counter, standing on a foot stool while Sean Patrick taught her how to cook. She'd surpassed their uncle in flexibility and style when she was in high school, and gradually became the main cook for the family until her marriage, which had somehow derailed a semi-serious consideration of culinary school and life as a pastry chef. Instead, she had chosen to be a wife and mother, and Matt never saw any sign that she regretted that decision. Seana was easily the best-looking of all of them, in Matt's opinion, with her dusky skin, rich black hair, and sparkling dark eyes, but Seana had always been happily plump, and had lately edged into near obesity before she forced herself to watch her calories more closely. "I'm going to try something this year," she said, sipping at her coffee-flavored sweet cream, "And see if I can lose twenty pounds before the holidays, so afterward I'm just at status quo."
Matt chuckled, looking fondly at his sister. "You know I'll give you personal training, whenever you ever want. I promise, I'd be out here every day, just say the word."
"You're the muscle-man, Matt, it's just not my style," replied Seana with a sigh.
"Honey, if you build up your muscles just a little you wouldn't have to worry quite so much about the calories," said Matt in a wheedling tone. "You won't be bulked up like me, it's just toning and conditioning. You'd be surprised. And, bonus, you'll be healthier."
"I know, I know. You think I don't get enough exercise chasing after the kids?"
"No, not really," said Matt frankly, looking at Patrick in his pen. "He's going to be joining the others in school next year, and then where will you be? Besides, honey, think about them. A healthy mom is better for them, too."
Seana stuck her tongue out. "I'll think about it, Matt. Now then. You haven't told me what's bothering you," she said, turning the conversation back to him and deflecting him from the standard lecture on her weight and lack of exercise.
"Ah, that," said Matt. He ate another cookie and drank some coffee, then told her in as few words as he could about the Hiera Sacra woman, Sean Patrick's behavior toward her, and, most disturbing of all, the appearance of the big Texan vampire hunter in Los Angeles. Seana listened without comment until he reached the end.
Then she said, "It sounds as though Uncle Sean Patrick had very little choice, Matt. If he'd let her just leave, she could have come back, only with others. More vampire hunters. He'd have had to run away." Seana and her four children adored Sean Patrick. He was the same kindly uncle to her children as he'd been to Matt, Seana, and their sister Tara before their parents' death forced him to become their father. He was the guy who came with gifts and games, who played guitar for them and sang and took them to Disneyland when the sun set. He was everyone's favorite uncle, and it didn't matter to any of them that he couldn't play ball in the sun or go with them to the beach on long summer days.
"Better than taking her in, having her stay in his apartment. Suppose she kills him in his sleep?" asked Matt.
"Uncle Sean Patrick's always been pretty good at reading people, Matt," said Seana, filling his coffee cup and putting a little more into her own.
"Oh, come on," snapped Matt. "He trusts everyone."
Seana just smiled serenely. "I'd be tempted to trust her, if he does. Besides, he's a big vampire. He=s managed to live over a hundred years without your assistance."
"It took the entire rest of the family to stand in for me," muttered Matt. Seana laughed.
"Nonsense. He might be a little boyish at times, Matt, but I like to think he's reasonably canny when he needs to be. He's managed to avoid vampire hunters all this time, and even escape from them more than once." She considered the cookie tray, but noticed Matt's eyes on her and sat back from it with a sigh. "Besides, from your description of his behavior, it sounds to me like he's attracted to her and just wants to get to know her better. Of course, keeping her prisoner isn't the usual way to win fair maiden, but when it comes to a vampire and a vampire hunter, the rules of romance may be different."
Matt gave her a look. "You're taking this pretty lightly."
"I just think Sean Patrick couldn't have gotten this far without knowing what he's doing just a little bit, and as for your vampire hunter in the restaurant, well, you're tired and have vampire hunters on the brain. Could it be the man just looked like the one who came to the ranch, and your panic and tiredness just combined them inside your head?"
Matt frowned. "I don't... I don't think so, but... Damn, maybe you're right." He rubbed his face with his hands.
Seana leaned across the table and patted his hand. "Sean Patrick needs to live his own life, and you know what he really wants more than anything else in the world is to see you live yours instead of his."
Matt bit his tongue, hard, before he spoke again. "It'd be easier if I didn't have to worry about him."
"And how often does he give you opportunity to worry about him?" asked Seana reasonably. "I mean, really. Not just those worries in your head that a legion of vampire hunters is going to descend on him at any moment."
"Well, once they hear his name it could happen, Seana. You know that," said Matt. "Okay, maybe, just maybe, the man I saw at Denny's wasn't the same guy who came looking for him that time in Texas. But what if he is? What if he's the guy who was looking for him at cousin Jesse's place a couple years ago, too? Remember?"
"You may be right. And I suppose it's true. He sure would hate to lose the bar, but you know he'd vanish if he had to," said Seana. "And I'm not going to worry about it until it happens. He knows he has places to go and people he can trust if he needs to hide out, and he won't hesitate to go if he has to. But who in the world can get into his apartment without the code? Besides, Matt, I think he leans on you because you're there. If you had better things to do, he'd get along just fine without you, just like he did when he first left Texas and came here alone. You remember what Grandpa used to say about him."
"Yeah, I remember," said Matt. He helped himself to another cookie.
"And maybe you don't want him to get along without you, either," said Seana, probing. Matt felt his face flame.
"No, it's not that," he said, squirming. He was way too tired to argue.
"I worry more about you than him, Matt," said Seana. "I think if you'd just let go and enjoy yourself you'd worry less about things you have no control over. Becky's been gone for months now. Are you seeing anyone?"
"No," he said, grumpy, and glared at the cookie tray.
"That's what you need to do," said Seana with calm practicality. "Uncle Sean Patrick sort of lives through us, you know. The whole family thing. You're the one the 'Matt O'Connor' name continues through, and you know more than anything in his heart of hearts he wants to see YOU have children, another generation. I know he loves my kids more than chocolate, but if you get married and have some actual O'Connor children it would make his decade."
"I'll get married someday, Seana," said Matt, weary, shifting in his seat uncomfortably. Maybe. He was starting to truly doubt it.
"Somedays always have a way of catching up with you," said Seana.
"Dang it, Seana, I'm only thirty-two," Matt snapped, getting irritated. "I have plenty of time for someday, and I'm not ready to just leap at the first woman who throws herself at me. God knows enough of them do that."
"Well, how can they help themselves?" she said, smiling at him. "If only you weren't my own brother_" When Matt looked at her in horror, she laughed at him. "See, now I have you thinking about something else, don't I?"
"That's why I come here, Seana," said Matt, realizing what she was up to and chuckling. "You always could do that."
"That's what I'm here for. I just wish you'd come around more often." Seana rose to refill the coffee pot, and bent to kiss her brother on top of his head. Matt gripped her hand briefly, giving it a little squeeze of affection. "I like seeing you. Hard to imagine it, but I sometimes get lonely without other adults to talk to during the day." She paused to rumple Patrick's curly hair again as she passed the playpen. The three-year-old gave her a winning smile, that O'Connor smile most of them seemed to have. When Seana returned from the kitchen, she put the coffee pot down on the table and lifted Patrick out of the pen. "Come see your Uncle Matt, Patrick," she said, giving him a cracker. The toddler gnawed on it while he viewed Matt through big, solemn, blue eyes.
"Hey, buddy," said Matt. Patrick leaned back against his mother. Matt grinned. "He's still not talking to me, eh?"
"You don't come over often enough," said Seana. "He needs to see you more. Come with Uncle Sean Patrick sometime."
"How many times you see him?" asked Matt.
"As often as once a week, depending on business," said Seana. Matt's eyes widened.
"You see, you don't pay that much to his activities," said Seana, grinning. "Patrick's never shy around his Uncle Sean Patrick, are you, honey?"
Patrick looked up at her and asked, "Unc' Sn' Patik comin'?" in an enthusiastic voice.
"Not today, button," replied Seana, smoothing his hair again.
"Why do I not know this?" asked Matt.
"I don't think Uncle Sean Patrick tells you everything he does," said Seana, "and he likes to come out and play with the kids."
"Not to mention your cookies. I should have guessed, he was probably here on Monday. These are his favorites," said Matt, taking another chocolate-covered shortbread.
"Yes, he was here Monday. Come with him sometime."
Matt leaned back on the sofa. "I will do that, I promise." They talked casually for a while, until Patrick was comfortable enough to sit on Matt's lap.
Matt was nodding when Seana took the toddler away and said, "Stretch out on the couch for a bit, Matt. Get a little sleep."
"Don't mind if I do," he murmured. He couldn't remember his head actually hitting the sofa pillow.