Today's Reading

One of the reasons Maggie chose Florida is that it's considered "accommodating" regarding guns, the state policy being one of "shall issue" for a concealed carry license. This means it's legal to carry a concealed weapon and relatively easy to get a license to do so. Which Maggie did, filling out the necessary forms and submitting them, along with her fingerprints and a recent photograph, to Tallahassee for a background check, then waiting five days to receive her permit.

She completed the three-hour-long obligatory course in firearms training within a week of buying the gun. And she's been carrying it with her ever since.

Just in case, one day, it becomes necessary to use it.

Chapter Two

Dani Wilson looks out her kitchen window to see the school bus idling on the street. "Boys," she calls toward the den at the back of the house. "The bus is here. Tyler! Ben! Let's go. Y'all know Manuel doesn't like to be kept waitin'." She counts silently to ten, taking several deep breaths to still her growing irritation at the lack of response, trying not to take it personally.

After all, it's nothing new. She deals with this every day at work, her patients rarely replying to her polite queries—about their day, their health, their lives—with more than one-word answers. "Fine," they'll grunt, or "Good." True, their mouths are open wide and often stuffed with cotton, but would it really be so hard to add, "And you?"

The hard truth is that no one gives a damn whether Dani Wilson is happy or not. No one is interested in the problems of an erstwhile Southern belle with a handsome doctor husband, a thriving practice, and a six-figure income. She is all too aware that the people with whom she spends the bulk of her time would rather be somewhere—anywhere—in the world other than with her.

Is it any wonder that the suicide rate among dentists is higher than in any other profession?

She looks toward the kitchen's center island with its four high-top chairs lined against one side. "How 'bout you guys? How you doin'?" she asks the two betta fish, one red, one blue, each as pretty as a peach, swimming aimlessly in separate bowls on the island's granite countertop. Two bowls are necessary because of a fierce territorial instinct that sees them fight to the death if put with other fish. Even surrounded by glass, they must be kept a suitable distance apart.

"I thought we agreed, no pets," Nick said when Dani brought them home one day after work, an impulse purchase she still can't explain.

"Well, they were so pretty and I just thought..."

"You thought what?"

"Well, it's not like a dog or a cat...."

"That's not the point."

"I thought it'd be good for the boys,"
she said.

"Trust me," Nick said. "They'll lose interest in a week."

Of course, he was right. At least as far as their younger son, Ben, was concerned. After loudly insisting that the blue betta was his, he'd proceeded to largely ignore him. "He's boring," he proclaimed. Tyler, on the other hand, has spent hours with his forehead pressed against the smaller red betta's bowl, talking to it to the point that the fish, whom he named Neptune, now actually allows the boy to put his hand inside the bowl and stroke him.

Dani finds this amazing; Nick is unimpressed. "I'm worried about that kid," he'd say, with a shake of his head.

"He's sensitive."

Another headshake. "Who bonds with a fish?"

Dani sighs and heads for the back room. "Boys! Let's get goin'. The bus is fixin' to leave without you."

"No, it's not," her husband contradicts, his back to her. He is standing in front of the glass-fronted cabinet that houses his impressive firearm collection, ten-year-old Tyler to his left, eight-year-old Ben to his right. "He's early. He can wait a few minutes. And it's 'let's get going,'" he adds, stressing the final 'g. "Not 'goin'.' The g is not silent." He glances at his sons. "Proper pronunciation is important," he tells them. "People judge you by the way you speak. Remember that."

Dani nods. She knows he's right. He's right about most things. But she was born and raised in Alabama, and even though she's lived in Florida since they got married almost fifteen years ago, a Southern cadence isn't the easiest thing to lose.

To which Nick would undoubtedly counter that, last he heard, Florida was still considered part of the South, and that her habit of peppering her sentences with corny aphorisms makes her sound like a hillbilly, and dropping her g's as well as using contractions like "y'all" has nothing to do with geography and everything to do with being grammatically lazy.

And he'd be right. Because he's always right. Although she remembers a time when he found such speech idiosyncrasies endearing. Funny how the very things that once charmed us become the things that irritate us the most, she thinks, remembering that she used to find his self-confidence—some might call it arrogance—appealing. Her father, a successful internist, had been casually dismissive of her stay-at-home mother in much the same way. Wasn't that at least part of the reason she'd been so determined to have a career?

This excerpt ends on page 16 of the hardcover edition.

Monday, January 24th, we begin the book Clive Cussler's The Devil's Sea by Dirk Cussler.

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