Betty McLeod pushed open the door to the Eye Spy security shop and stomped inside.
“Outta ma way!” She swung her handbag at Lake Benson’s newest recruit, hitting him in the stomach.
“Oof.” The wimp rubbed his belly and glared down at her.
Betty just smirked at him. It would be a cold day in hell before she was intimidated by an oversized pup. Lake was hiring his security team members younger and younger these days. This one used to be a cop. Betty narrowed her eyes at him. She couldn’t see it. He barely looked old enough to shave.
She stalked to her La-Z-Boy and plopped into it. Wiggling until she got her bum in just the right dent to make it comfortable.
“You want to stop hitting my team?” Lake said from behind the counter.
“No.” Betty scowled at the man she considered her son. “They’re in the way. Can’t you send them out on a job? Somewhere dangerous.”
Lake’s lip twitched, which for him was tantamount to hysteria. Now he didn’t look like a boy. He looked like a proper man, capable of taking care of any situation he came across. There was a touch of grey coming in around the temple area of his blond hair, but apart from that, he was just as fierce and handsome as when she’d first met him. Some people found the ex-SAS specialist intimidating. Not Betty. She considered Lake to be her equal—someone brave enough to stand up to her. Not that he ever won, mind you.
“Get me a cup of tea, Princess,” she ordered the newbie.
Max’s jaw clenched as he stared at Lake. “I swear, one of these days, I will kill her and bury the body where no one can find it.”
“Get in line,” Lake said with a snort.
“Am I getting my tea?” Betty snapped. “I’m not getting any younger here.”
“Astrid,” Lake called into the back room, “bring Satan a cup of tea. Double the arsenic this time.”
There was a giggle. Astrid was another spineless addition to Benson Security. “When are you going to hire some grown-ups?” Betty said. “Our team is meant to be scary. This lot couldn’t intimidate a flea. I mean, look at him.” She pointed at the new guy. “Get. A. Haircut.”
“Lake…” The man-child clenched and unclenched his fists, making Betty cackle.
“See what I mean?” Betty pointed at Max. “If that’s supposed to scare me then he’s wasting his time. Are you sure he was in the police? Was it the real police force, or those guys in ill-fitting uniforms that patrol shopping centres?”
“I’m going to…” Max took a step towards her.
Betty was unimpressed. She dismissed him with a roll of her eyes and raked around in her handbag.
“Max,” Lake said. “Go take a break.”
“Aye,” Betty said as she brought out a brown paper bag with a steaming hot Scotch pie inside. “Away and powder your nose.”
He let out a strangled growl, and then slammed the front door behind him when he left.
“Quit winding up the staff,” Lake ordered.
“Quit hiring namby-pamby wee bairns.” She took a bite of her pie. “Where’s my tea?” she said around a mouthful of food, almost losing her false teeth in the process.
A piece of crust fell out her mouth and onto her favourite tartan dress. She picked it up and popped it back in. When she looked up, Lake was shaking his head at her.
“What?” she demanded.
“I swear you get worse every year.”
“Thanks.” She gave him a grin.
There was a noise behind Lake, and a tall, gangly brunette came through carrying a tray with a teapot, a cup and a plate of biscuits. Betty sniffed. Okay, so maybe not all the new recruits were totally useless.
The girl put the tray on the table beside Betty’s old chair, which sat in the corner of the shop. Then she scurried away, without even looking Betty in the eye.
“I thought you said this one had more backbone than the last receptionist.” Although to be fair, at least Betty saw Astrid now and then; she’d only ever spotted Julia from a distance.
“She’s perfectly fine around normal people,” Lake said.
Betty took his dig as a compliment. She’d never aspired to being normal.
“You know it’s sexist to hire women for reception and men as security specialists.” She took another bite of her pie.
“I have women on my security team.”
“Aye, Megan Donaldson.” Betty shook her head in disgust. “I don’t see why you made her a trainee but wouldn’t make me one. Her only experience is dyeing the Baxter sheep pink. I have a lot more tricks than that up my sleeve.”
Lake stopped going over the paperwork in front of him. “You’re eighty-nine. You’re too old to be a trainee.”
“I’m still fit.” She sat up straighter as though that would prove it.
“A snail can run faster than you.”
“But can it out-think me?” She tapped her temple.
Lake huffed a laugh. “I’m not taking you on as a trainee. You’re a liability just hanging out in the shop.”
“Coward. I’m going to call Callum and make him give me a job in London. He’s got more spine than you and a better attitude. He’s my favourite now.”
“I’ll make sure to give him a call and congratulate him.”
Betty narrowed her eyes at him. “At least he’s Scottish.”
Lake pointed to his face. “Look how little I care,” he said in that poncey English accent of his.
Betty had just opened her mouth to tell him where to stick his amused face, when the door opened and Lake’s wife, Kirsty, walked in. She spotted Betty and her shoulders slumped, which brightened Betty’s day no end.
“Great, you’re here,” Kirsty said to Betty, as she rounded the counter to give Lake a kiss.
“This is my chair,” Betty said. It’d been her chair for years. Ever since she’d owned the town’s underwear shop. She’d commanded an empire from that chair. “Where else would I be?”
“I thought you’d joined the Domino Boys. I thought you were playing dominoes at the pub.” Kirsty leaned into Lake, her long red hair curling about her face and round the scars on her neck—a leftover from a car accident, years earlier, that had ended her modelling career.
“I did.” Betty tugged at her hairnet to straighten it before reaching for her tea. “But they were boring. All they talk about is their ailments. If I wanted to listen to that crap, I’d hang out at the doctor’s surgery. What happened to real men? The ones who’d lose a limb, grit their teeth and get on with it? Like our new London boss. Callum lost his legs and do you hear him whine about it? No. Whereas other men whine like two-year-olds when they stub their bloody toes. I blame oestrogen. They’ve added it to the water. Now men cry at the least wee thing, and then they grow boobs.” She eyed Lake’s chest thoughtfully. “You look okay, but I’d keep an eye on it.”
“You’re talking rubbish again. Nobody’s added oestrogen to the water,” Kirsty said before shaking her head and turning to Lake. “I need to talk to you. In private.”
“Don’t worry,” Betty said. “You can talk here. My lips are sealed.”
They both looked at her like there were soap bubbles coming out of her mouth.
Kirsty’s lips thinned. “We’re not talking about our private business in front of you, so you can get that thought right out of your head.”
“Why not? I know everything anyway.” Honestly, she was beginning to think Kirsty was losing IQ points as she got older. Betty remembered her as being much smarter as a child. Hell, back then she’d at least had the good sense to run when she saw Betty coming.
Kirsty looked up at Lake. “Let’s go upstairs to your office.”
He ran a hand down his wife’s hair, and his face softened. “Okay.”
“Look,” Betty said. “If this is about you not being able to have bairns, I already know.”
Kirsty gasped, and Lake’s soft face hardened.
“What?” Betty held up her hands. “Was it a secret? I don’t see what the fuss is about. So you can’t have babies. Neither could I, and everything turned out fine for me.”
“Betty,” Lake rumbled in the tone he used to intimidate the minions.
She snorted her amusement. It was sweet when he thought that would work on her. She dug into her handbag and brought out some papers she’d printed off the computer.
“Back in my day,” she said, “we didn’t have the Interweb. Now you can get anything on there. Even kids. I had a look for you and circled the ones I like.” She thrust out an arm, papers in hand, and shook it when nobody took them.
With a tight frown, Lake leaned over the counter and took the papers. He smoothed them out in front of him while Kirsty continued to gape at her.
“How do you know about the…the…” The colour drained from her face.
“About the injuries from the accident meaning you can’t have babies?” Betty tapped her nose. “I have my sources. That’s why Lake should hire me as a trainee.”
“But…but…” Kirsty looked up at Lake, as she turned even whiter.
“Don’t faint,” Lake ordered, like that would stop it happening. He reached behind him, pulled up a stool and lifted Kirsty on to it. “Astrid? Water!”
A couple of seconds later, the new receptionist scurried through with a bottle of water, took one look at their faces and ran away again.
“No backbone,” Betty said in disgust.
“How do you know about Kirsty’s situation?” Lake’s tone was deadly, and if Betty had been anyone else, she was sure it would have made her pee her pants. But it didn’t. Mainly it just made her beam with pride.
“That doesn’t matter.” She waved a hand. “The point is, you two need to stop feeling sorry for yourselves and give me some grandkids. I’m not getting any younger, and I want to pass on my knowledge before I kick the bucket.”
“I think I’m going to be sick,” Kirsty said.
“Drama queen,” Betty muttered as she wriggled her way out of her chair and stomped over to the counter. She spread the papers out. “I saw on the Interweb, that you can get babies from all over the world. That actress, Angela Jolly, has one from every continent. You can pick them out with your shopping and they deliver them. I’m not sure how much they are. The web people were a bit offended when I asked, but you make enough money to afford a couple.” She pulled another piece of paper forward. “This place will even let you put in an order, and they’ll get you exactly what you want.”
Kirsty groaned and put her head between her knees.
Betty ignored her. “I already sent them a computer letter asking if they could get us one with red hair and an English accent, just in case you want a kid that’s like the two of you.”
“I’m going to pass out,” Kirsty wailed.
Lake pinched the bridge of his nose. He took several breaths before looking at Betty. His eyes were ice. Betty cocked her head and considered him. She’d never seen that look before.
“Satan, you’ve outdone yourself this time.” Lake pointed at the website that said they’d provide kids to order. “This is bloody illegal. They’re probably kidnapping children. I don’t even know how you found this site, but I’ll pass it on to my government contacts and get it shut down.”
Betty looked at the printout and frowned. “I found it on the hidden internet.”
“You mean the dark web?” Lake’s voice sounded tinny. “How the hell did you get onto the dark web?”
“I watched a video. Now that I think about it, the guy who told you how to do it didn’t show his face. I thought he was camera shy. I should have guessed he was a criminal. Now, if I’d had Benson Security training, I wouldn’t have made that mistake.”
Lake’s jaw clenched.
Betty ignored him and pointed to a Chinese organisation. “What about one of these? This wee lassie looks feisty, I like that. That’s if you want a girl. I don’t see the problem, women are smarter, but you might want a boy.”
“Please, tell me you realise that adopting a child isn’t the same as picking out new curtains?” Kirsty said, still facing the floor.
Betty looked at the printouts, then up at Lake who shook his head to tell her not to answer the question.
“I don’t see why you’re making a fuss. You wanted kids. I sorted it for you. The least you could do is say thanks.” Betty grinned. “And name your daughter after me. Betty Benson. Sounds good, aye?”
With a whistled tune, and a spring in her step, Betty left them to think about it. As the door closed behind her, she headed for the pub and the Domino boys. She put her hand into her huge bag and pulled out something else she’d found on the Interweb. It was a gift for the Domino Boys. She grinned at the knitted plaque. It said: Domino Players Do It With Viagra. She planned to tell them it was from the Knit or Die women and get Dougal to put it up behind the bar.
With a cackle, she watched the sun sparkle on the loch as she headed down main street. Maybe she’d get some fern cakes on the way. It seemed like the perfect day for a cake.
“Take a deep breath,” Lake said as he crouched down in front of his wife.
“That woman is the bane of my life.” Kirsty’s big blue eyes looked up at him, and Lake felt his heart melt all over again.
She was perfection. And she was his.
“How did she know about my fertility problems?” Kirsty said.
“I think she’s bugged the place,” Lake said. “I found discrepancies in the inventory. A couple of listening devices were missing.”
“Please,” Kirsty put a hand on his cheek. “Please let one of the new team members take her out.”
His head fell back, and he roared with laughter. Only Kirsty could make it bubble out of him. He pressed a gentle kiss to her soft, pink lips.
“I can’t do that. She’ll just come back to haunt us.”
“There is that.” Kirsty sat up and pushed her hair out of her face. “You’re going to shut that disgusting baby operation down, right?”
“Oh yes,” Lake promised; even if he had to do it personally.
“And maybe you should restrict your pet Hobbit’s internet access while you’re at it,” Kirsty said.
Lake figured he had more chance of getting the world to spin in a different direction. “I’ll get right on that,” he said instead.
Kirsty wasn’t fooled, but her eyes sparkled as she wrapped her arms around his neck. “I’ve got the tickets.”
He felt a rush of adrenalin shoot through him. “When do we leave?”
“Tonight. Ten o’clock flight out of Glasgow. I’ve packed already.” Her eyes filled with tears, which she blinked back rapidly. “Can you believe we’re going to get our baby?”
“I can’t wait.” Lake gave her a hard kiss that left them both breathless. When they broke apart, he rested his forehead on hers. “You know Betty will think this was her idea.”
Kirsty let out a sigh. “I don’t care what she thinks, but we aren’t calling our daughter Betty. We can get a dog and name it after her. A Doberman. One that drools.”
Lake chuckled. “Come on, let’s get out of here and get on the road.”
“You’re right, we need to get going,” Kirsty said as he stood and tugged her to her feet. “It’s a long drive to Glasgow.”
“It’s an even longer flight to China,” Lake said.
“I can’t wait,” Kirsty whispered as they walked out into Invertary’s main street.