It’s not just banter, but any narrative where characters who are on the same side are sparring. They may disagree, not even like each other, but they are aligned in their goals, even if they’re not sure what the goals are at the moment. In Agnes and the Hitman there was a kitchen scene where Agnes is dealing with several character, and dialogue at the same time. In Shane and the Hitwoman there were several scenes where a group of characters came and went in the setting and interacted. Including in the same kitchen. Here’s an excerpt pretty far into the book, spoiler alert, on the morning of the climactic scene:
“Hope you’re hungry,” Joey said as Lisa Livia entered the kitchen of Two Rivers.
She’d woken tucked in and comfy, but to an empty bed. She had no memory of Lucien leaving. Then again, she’d collapsed utterly exhausted and completely content into a deep sleep only to be awoken by the irritating chirping of the alarm on her phone after not enough rest. There were things she did have memories of and she’d reveled in them for a few moments before reluctantly sliding out of bed and getting dressed. There was, however, a large blood stain on the sheets and she’d stripped the bed. The last thing she remembered was telling Lucien to see Vicente and get re-bandaged. She was afraid she’d over-exerted him, but didn’t regret it at the time, although she felt a surge of guilt now.
Joey was working several pans and the smell of bacon filled the room despite the powerful exhaust running.
“What about the army?” Lisa Livia asked as she made a beeline to the coffee pot.
“That’s why I’m cooking here,” Joey said. “Don’t want to waste the food. They ate army stuff—called them iron rations– at the barn. Stuff in packets.” Joey was appalled. “The Field Marshal told me they were on a war time footing and needed to act like it. Can you believe they packed rations for a wedding?”
“I can,” Lisa Livia said as she poured the coffee. “They also brought guns and grenades.” Although she doubted the Duchess had packed any in her luggage. She took a sip. It was obvious Joey had made it as she immediately perked up.
Joey was still on the food. “When we hit the mattresses, I ate some of the best food of my life. It’s where I learned a lot of my recipes. Everyone took a shot at it, no pun intended, and there were a lot of great cooks among the fellows.”
“Cooks among crooks,” Lisa Livia noted.
“Lucien snuck out the front door a few minutes ago,” Joey noted. “Like he was on some sort of super-secret mission. Or coming from one.”
“He did. Guess he missed breakfast with the men.”
Joey pointed toward the dock, visible in the first light of dawn. “Speak of the devil and he appears, bringing all sorts of folk with him. Guess I need to put more bacon on.”
Lisa Livia looked out the window. Shane was coming down the walkway. Xavier next to him, along with a man draped in what looked like wet Spanish moss and Phoebe from the night before. Shane was carrying a rifle. “This will be interesting.”
“Seems like your morning was already interesting,” Joey noticed as he peeled off slices of bacon and dropped them on the grill.
“Remember, Joey, I’m a Fortunato,” Lisa Livia said. “I can hurt you.”
Joey laughed. “You’re a Fortunato for sure.”
“That’s the biggest gun I’ve ever seen,” Lisa Livia said as the group approached the house. “Why do men have to compensate so much?” Now that they were closer, she saw in daylight that Phoebe was a young woman with badly colored reddish-black, damp hair slicked back and dressed in a one-piece black outfit. With a sword on her back. “This is going to be really interesting. But not good interesting.”
One of Lucien’s men came running over. Xavier and Shane halted, along with the camouflaged man, who had a bloody shoulder and hands flex-cuffed behind his back. They were discussing something as Phoebe came up the steps and entered the kitchen.
She looked at the stove. “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” She stuck her hand out. “We weren’t properly introduced earlier. You must be Lisa Livia. I’m Phoebe. I’m a, uh, a colleague of Shane’s.”
Lisa Livia automatically returned the handshake, noting that Phoebe had finely honed facial features and the muscles under the skin-tight outfit rippled. The look in those deep blue eyes reminded her of someone, and then she realized it was the same as Carpenter’s and Shane’s and Joey at times.
Phoebe turned to the cook. “And you must be Joey. Love your book.”
With that, Lisa Livia knew Joey would throw himself on a grenade for this stranger.
Xavier came in behind Phoebe. “Smells good.”
“Who invited you?” Joey demanded.
“Circumstances,” Xavier said.
“More like an ill wind blew your boat off course,” Joey griped.
Lisa Livia noted that Lucien’s soldier was pushing the wounded man in the direction of the barn, none too gently. She suddenly realized that was the person who would have died if Lucien had pulled the trigger. She shivered at the thought.
Shane entered. He put the rifle down on the far counter and Lisa Livia winced at the potential for scarring the top. Phoebe placed her short sword next to the rifle. Lisa Livia was glad Agnes wasn’t here to see her counter top turned into an armory.
Shane’s phone buzzed. “Excuse me,” he said and stepped outside and walked out of earshot.
“You’re from Carpenter?” Lisa Livia asked Phoebe who was helping herself to the coffee, pouring it into a Mob Food mug.
A line creased Phoebe’s smooth forehead as if that was an inappropriate question. “Who?”
“Carpenter,” Lisa Livia said. “Big guy. Black. Says ‘stay centered’ often. Runs some sort of super-secret group for the government. Worries a lot. Sound familiar?”
“I meet a lot of people in my line of work,” Phoebe said. “And I’m bad with names.”
“What line of work is that?” Lisa Livia asked.
“I paint houses,” Phoebe said and Joey paused, looking at her. Phoebe graced him with a sweet smile and cold eyes.
Xavier had been behind Phoebe and poured himself a cup of coffee, then waved the empty pot. “Coffee’s out.”
“Make more,” Lisa Livia snapped.
“Where’re the grounds?” Xavier asked as he opened the top of the brewer to add water.
“You’re a detective,” Lisa Livia said. “Figure it out.”
Shane spoke up from the doorway. “Be nice, Lisa Livia.”
“Was that Carpenter?”
“Is he coming?” Lisa Livia demanded.
“He’ll be here in time for the wedding. There were some problems he had to deal with at work.”
Lisa Livia tried to tamp down the surge of anger; that Carpenter would tell Shane but not let her know, despite what she’d said. Then she remembered Lucien and the anger dissipated.
Shane looked at Phoebe. “There was trouble last night in Technical, but we know who the infection is.”
“Anyone else you want to invite in to discuss classified material in front of?” Phoebe asked Shane as she checked the frying bacon. “I like it crisp,” she informed Joey.
“That’s the way I make it,” Joey said. “How do you want your eggs?”
“Surprise me,” Phoebe said.
“My kind of gal,” Joey said.
Phoebe shifted back to Shane. “What happened in Technical?”
“Louise was hurt,” Shane informed Phoebe. Lisa Livia noted that name grabbed Phoebe’s undivided attention.
“How bad?” Phoebe asked.
“She’s in the hospital,” Shane said, “but will be fine. Hit on the head, some blood, but nothing broken. Cut on the face. No internal injuries.”
“Fromm,” Phoebe said.
Shane nodded. “He set me up, set you up, and when Louise discovered it, he attacked her. Luckily, he’s incompetent in that area. He’s gone dark.”
“I’ll find him and kill him.” Phoebe said it was such calm conviction that even Joey paused in his stove work once more. Then the old man nodded approvingly.
Lisa Livia figured he was probably thinking this was the daughter he’d never wanted but wouldn’t mind having, then he flipped an omelet.
“I am an officer of the law,” Xavier reminded them. Which everyone ignored.
“First things, first,” Shane said. “Let’s get through today.”
“Roger that,” Phoebe said. “One clusterfuck at a time.” But her jaw was tight and she emanated raging cold as if the Duchess upset about sunburn was mixed with Joey in vengeance mode.
“I’m behind on a few things here,” Lisa Livia said as she sat down at the table. The binder was in the center, but no one was paying attention to it. She gestured at the big rifle. “You got that over on the shoal?” And then she realized that the young man who’d had it could have as easily shot her or Lucien and she shivered. And then she realized that Lucien had given her his pack and put it in front of her as protection. Which meant he’d been exposed. She gripped the coffee mug tighter.
Joey tore off some paper towels and put them on a platter. Then began laying bacon on it.
“Don’t worry about it,” Shane said, preoccupied with the news from Carpenter.
Lisa Livia picked up the binder and threw it at him.
Shane was bringing his hands up to protect himself but Phoebe snatched it out of the air. “Breakfast always this much fun here?” She put it on the counter, out of range of Lisa Livia. She tapped it and Lisa Livia noticed that her fingernails were gnawed to the quick. “Hey, tabs. Cool. I love organization.”
“Food,” Joey announced putting the platter of bacon on the table and rapidly loading plates with omelets. “Chow down.”
“Scooch over,” Phoebe said to Lisa Livia as she slid onto the bench against the wall, next to her. “Better eat up. Big day ahead.”
Lisa Livia gave way barely an inch but it was enough for Phoebe to fit.
Joey finished the plates and took one of the chairs and Shane took the other. Xavier grabbed a chair from the corner and dragged it over. Rhett, smelling bacon, ambled in and pushed his way through the legs to take his rightful place underneath the table.
“Want me to do the blessings?” Phoebe asked.
“What?” Joey asked.
Phoebe laughed. “Pulling your leg, old timer.”
Lisa Livia could tell by the scowl on Joey’s forehead that he was reconsidering the daughter I never wanted but would like, but then Phoebe tore into the food and the look disappeared.
Lisa Livia felt Rhett’s nose push between her leg and Phoebe’s.
“What’s his name?” Phoebe asked.
“Rhett,” Lisa Livia said.
Phoebe gave the dog a piece of bacon. “Great balls of fire! It’s Rhett’.”
“They don’t quote that movie much in these parts,” Lisa Livia said.
“I didn’t name the dog,” Phoebe said as she fed Rhett more bacon.
“What’s going to happen?” Lisa Livia asked, addressing Shane. “Please tell me this has all been a bad dream.” Not all bad, she reminded herself.
“I’m afraid not,” the Duchess said from the kitchen door. The Duke was behind her. While she wore her long red coat over an ornate red dress, the Duke was dressed in red breeches and a red, puffy sleeved shirt. He had not donned his armor yet, but had a foil at his side, the blade exposed. Lisa Livia noted that the Field Marshal and Lucien remained on the porch, both dressed in the ceremonial outfit, sans armor, but plus swords. A new, thicker bandage, decorated Lucien’s upper right arm. Lisa Livia felt a surge of guilt, but not regret.
“Want some hot chow?” Joey asked, pushing back his seat and hurrying to the stove.
“We ate with the men,” the Duke said as they came in. “But a cup of tea would be wonderful.”
That threw Joey off. “’Tea’?”
“I’ll make it,” the Duchess said which threw Lisa Livia off even more. The Duchess went to the stove, took the tea pot and filled it, then set it back on the stove and fired up the burner.
“Thank you, my dear.” The Duke glanced over his shoulder. “Lucien? Would you like some food? You missed the Field Marshall’s iron rations this morning.”
“I’m fine,” Lucien said.
“I’m sure you are,” the Duchess said, glancing at Lisa Livia who met her gaze.
The Duke nodded at Shane and Phoebe. “Thank you for securing the back door. Ronaldo is a misguided youth and Drusilla has exerted dangerous influence on his family. I am glad you spared him. He is redeemable.”
Phoebe snorted, but it was more a lazy yeah, right, than anything that would rate on the Duchess disdain scale.
“You still think they’re going to follow the law of the Lacessere?” Shane asked. “So far they’ve tried to mine the bridge and positioned a sniper. That’s not exactly covered in the Great Charter, is it?”
“Wait!” Lisa Livia said. “The bridge? Agnes loves that bridge.”
“Don’t worry,” Shane said.
“It’s all she talked about on the phone for like a month,” Lisa Livia continued. “About drove me crazy. I learned more about trusses and spanners than I ever wanted or needed to. It was like she was building the Golden Gate.”
“Don’t worry,” Shane repeated. “We stopped him.”
“Who stopped him?” Lisa Livia asked. “Stopped who? How? Is that how Lucien got shot?”
Shane exchanged a look with Phoebe as the tea kettle began to whistle. The Duchess busied herself putting tea bags in two cups and pouring the hot water, while no one answered Lisa Livia’s question.
“You gonna eat that bacon?” Phoebe asked her.
Lisa Livia eyed the knives and the hanging frying pans, deciding which would be the most convenient weapon.
“Can we speak outside?” the Duke asked Shane, now that the Duchess had her tea.
“Sure,” he said. He walked outside with the royalty.
Xavier was leaning back in his seat, watching and listening carefully, but not commenting.
“Can I have some more?” Phoebe asked Joey, holding up a plate that appeared licked clean to Lisa Livia. “Pretty please?”
SHANE AND THE HITWOMAN