“I knew I’d find you out here with the horses,” a deep, familiar voice said.
Sierra swung around, her blue eyes wide with excitement. “Daniel!” she exclaimed as she threw herself into his arms. “You’re here!” she gasped and hugged her younger brother fiercely. “The kids are going to be so excited to see you!”
Sure enough, two voices were screaming his name, and he released his sister just in time to grab his thirteen year old niece, Brea, as she flung herself into his arms. Just seconds behind her was his ten year old nephew, Dan, named after his uncle – although only after he’d gotten his act together.
Daniel hugged both of them, thankful that his big sister hadn’t ever given up on him all those years ago because he would have missed out on this: unconditional love.
He’d gone through so much when he was seventeen after his father had died and his mother had committed suicide. Drugs, theft, rebellion like no one’s business. And all because he’d been in so much pain, so angry and confused! He’d been an idiot. Sierra had tried so many times to get through to him, but in the end, he’d just disappeared on her.
Now, he couldn’t imagine a better place to be than here with his sister and her family.
When he pulled back, he looked down at their smiling faces. “You guys getting good grades?”
Dan jumped up and down. “I got straight As this term! Wanna see?”
Brea rolled her eyes, but still wrapped her arm around her little brother’s head. It was her way of giving him a hug without actually giving him a real hug. And Dan loved it, smiling like a goofball because his older sister was being nice to him.
“He also got nominated for student vice president,” she told her Uncle Daniel. “If I were there, I’d probably vote for him as well.”
That only caused young Dan to laugh and wrap his arms around Brea’s waist. “She’d vote for me.”
Daniel laughed and ruffled his nephew’s hair. “That’s great! I saw your lacrosse game Saturday,” he told him. “That was a great goal!”
Dan shrugged as if it wasn’t a big deal, but it really was. “I saw you from the field, but I know you had to leave.”
Brea’s eyes were wide as she said, “You were sitting next to me one moment and the next, you were gone. What happened? A big break in a case? Did you have to go arrest someone? Was there a gun fight? Did you take a bullet?”
Daniel laughed at her questions and chucked his adorable niece on the chin, thinking to let Harrison know that he’d show up at the house with a marked police car for each of her dates, just so the guy knew not to mess with his beautiful niece. When she started going out on dates, which he hoped was not for a very long time.
“Yes, a break in a case. No, I didn’t arrest anyone and no gunfire so I didn’t take a bullet, you bloodthirsty wench!” but he was laughing as he answered all of her questions.
Harrison was leaning against the stable doors, his arms wrapped around his wife as he watched his kids interrogate their uncle. But he noticed the look in Daniel’s eyes. “I think Ruth needs some help in the kitchen. Your uncle will stay for dinner,” he said and looked to Daniel for confirmation, receiving the nod before he continued, “but you need to help Ruth with your chores.”
Dan looked up at Brea. “That means they need to talk about stuff they don’t want us to hear,” he said.
Brea rolled her eyes again, a natural occurrence for a teenager, apparently. “Come on, nerd. They want to talk without us.”
“How are we going to find out what they’re talking about?” he asked his sister as they started out of the stable.
Brea looked at her brother with surprise. “Dan, we always figure out what they’re discussing. Trust me,” she urged.
Daniel watched his niece and nephew walk away, pride and gratitude in his eyes and his heart. “They’re great kids, Sierra.” He turned to look at his sister and her husband. “Every time I see them, I’m grateful to both of you for not giving up on me when I was a stupid teenager.”
Sierra laughed. “You’re the best uncle and they love you. Thanks for not giving up on yourself.” She smiled up at him, thanking God every day for bringing her little brother back from the dangerous path down which he was heading. In retrospect, Sierra knew that she’d been too young to handle her parents’ deaths, her father’s arrest, the loss of their house and Daniel’s burning rage. But Harrison had stepped in to help and things had slowly gotten better.
Daniel was here for a reason though. She could see it in his eyes. “What’s on your mind?”
Daniel leaned against one of the stall doors. “You know I’ve been investigating a crime ring over in the west side, right?”
Sierra stiffened, but Harrison’s arms tightened around her, reassuring her once again. “Yes. You told me that it was becoming violent. What’s going on now?”
He shoved his hands into the pockets of his jeans. Daniel might be a decorated, brilliant police detective, but he still wore the faded jeans and canvas jacket over a hoodie that he’d favored as a rebellious, angry teenager. Not for the same reasons, thankfully. The heavy coat and sweatshirt more easily concealed his pistol, which she knew he had on him at all times, and it also disguised the muscles in his tall frame. He used to be a lanky, gregarious kid who’d gotten into trouble after their father died of a heart attack. Sierra’s father had been arrested for embezzlement and their mother, shamed and rejected by the women she’d called “friends” but who had quickly distanced themselves from the scandal, committed suicide by taking a handful of sleeping pills. Daniel had started down the wrong path, hanging out with a bad crowd that encouraged him to do stupid things, such as breaking and entering, theft and God knows what else. He’d run away from her for a long time, but Harrison had known where he was. He’d steered Daniel back to school, back to Sierra. Finally, and not without some irony, Daniel had found an affinity for police work. Very quickly, he’d worked his way up the ranks in the police force and he was awesome at his job.
Now he just needed someone to love, a family. Sierra knew he took too many risks with his life. She wanted him to fall in love with someone special, someone to come home to each night. A reason not to run into battle so recklessly.