Sheila Murty was clearly at least sixty years of age, but she looked amazing for it. Her platinum blond hair looked natural, streaked with gray. She was a stocky woman, about Hope's height, but hers wasn't the form of a woman who indulged. She was solid, with well-defined arms, one decorated with a snaking ivy-and-roses tattoo. She wore a halter-top that probably belonged on a woman half her age, but it didn't seem out of place on Sheila. She had the rough edges of a biker, though her vibrant green eyes were warm and welcoming.
"You never told me your mother was a Hell's Angel," Hope accused Peter in a quiet voice, for his ears only.
He laughed. "She wasn't. Believe me, Sinead and Sheila were a world apart. It never ceased to amaze me they'd been friends since childhood."
He looked up then, and greeted his mother's friend as she came out from around the bar, and Hope noticed she wore tight-fitting jeans and boots. " 'lo, Sheila."
Peter's arm was suddenly gone from Hope's shoulder, as he swept the older woman into a hug and bussed her cheek. A strange feeling she would swear was jealousy pricked Hope, to know he would never greet her like that. She had no idea where the feeling came from. After all, she didn't want him to greet her the same way. Don't you?
Hope swallowed hard, fighting her own impulses, even as Peter released Sheila and draped his arm back over Hope's shoulder, this time in a far more possessive manner than before. "This is Hope MacKenzie."
Sheila's warm green eyes lit with welcome. "Finally."
Hope started. Something in the way she said that... "Excuse me?"
Peter's chuckle, as his hand slid to her waist with a familiarity that didn't exist, whipped her head his way as he said, "Sheila's been tryin' to get me married off for years. Every woman she meets goes through her radar as wife material."
Furious fear shot through Hope. "I'm not--"
"Of course you aren't, lovey," Sheila acknowledged with a stern look for Peter. "Come, sit. You need to eat." Her gaze went to Peter, and she frowned, clearly worried. "Both of you."
Sheila was off at a brisk stride, and Peter smiled wryly at Hope as she helped him sit at one of the oak tables. "Sorry 'bout that, lass. She's got a romantic streak, does our Sheila."
Hope nodded, her lip caught between her teeth as she battled impulses she didn't understand. Her body and mind were sending her mixed signals, and she wasn't sure how to deal with it. So she did what she always did whenever the waves in her life got too choppy. She avoided it. Her gaze fixed on the TV over Peter's shoulder, tuned to the BBC's world news coverage. And froze.