Michael burst into his mother's house and immediately survey the front rooms for any signs of assailants, destruction, explosives, weapons, men in suits or red laser dots. One hand twitched toward his waistband, where a small handgun was tucked in preparation.

"Mom?" he called, voice neutral.

His mother stepped out of the kitchen. "Michael!" she said with delight. "You came!"

"You said that it was a matter of life or death." The familiar mixture of frustration and protectiveness was filling his chest. "I don't see anything dangerous, Mom."

"I have over a dozen poinsettias in my garage that are going to die if I can't find them somewhere cooler to live."

"You called me away from a business meeting for flowers?"

Madeline placed her hands on her hips and gave Michael the glare that had sent trained special forces operatives cowering. "These flowers are for the neighborhood boy's Christmas charity. It's very important, Michael!"

"What does this have to do with me?""I want you to buy some of them!" Madeline told him, clearly thinking that the answer was obvious.

"And what do you expect me to do with them?"

"Your apartment could do with some brightening up. Or you could find a nice young lady to give them to."

Michael tried to imagine his warehouse filled with bright red flowers. He considered arguing, but then he saw the beginnings of a storm brewing in his mother's eyes. Sighing, he took out his wallet. Maybe Fiona would appreciate some flowers.