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“Not yet, Dad, but I’ll get there,” Grant promised.

“I don’t have a son.” Agitation sharpened his father’s tone. “Who are you? Are you trying to rob me?”

“No, sir.” Grant stood. The ache in his chest expanded. “I was just leaving.”

Once Dad’s paranoia got rolling, it would take the nurses hours to calm him. Better to leave and try again another day. Besides, there was no point telling him about Lee when he didn’t recall Lee existed. Maybe the Colonel’s memory loss was a blessing today. His son’s death would have broken him if he were whole.

Grant found his dad’s nurse at the station around the corner and let her know what happened. She promised to check on him. Grant got back into the rental car and glanced at the dashboard clock. Thanks to his abbreviated visit, he had time for one more stop, the law offices of Peyton, Peyton, and Griffin. Anything to avoid going back to Lee’s empty house.

His brother had worked in an established law firm that occupied a converted stately three-story home on First Street. Miles of white trim set off pale yellow clapboards. Grant parked in the rear lot and followed the paver path alongside the building to the front door. He stepped into a polished foyer turned into a lobby. In the center, behind an antique desk, sat Lee’s pretty neighbor, Ellie. Gone were the ripped jeans and stained T-shirt, the wallboard dust and paint smears. Not that construction-worker Ellie wasn’t hot, but this . . . this feminine version reminded him too much of the Ellie from last spring—the Ellie in that sundress.

“Grant.” She rose, rounded the desk, and held out her hand. A pale blue blouse and slim gray skirt hugged her curvy body to just above her knees. Below the hem, her shapely legs ended in low-heeled pumps. Her hair was coiled in a neat bun at her nape. She wore minimal makeup. The effect was wholesome, natural, and demure.

Grant ignored the pleasure that lightened his chest. But damn, that smile. It brightened everything that had gone bleak inside of him at the nursing home.

“Hi, Ellie.” He took her hand. Her skin was soft and smooth in his rough palm.

“What can I do for you?”

The erotic image that popped into Grant’s head was both unexpected and inappropriate. He should be ashamed, but my God—

Damn sundress.

He released her hand. “Actually, I was hoping I could talk to Lee’s boss. We’ve been playing phone tag.”

“Let me see if he’s free to speak with you.” She went back to her desk and picked up the phone.

Grant gave her space. He strolled to the other side of the lobby and checked out the portraits of the senior partners hanging on the wall. Was being old and unhappy required of a senior law partner? Who wanted to look at a bunch of crabby old men when he could stare at Ellie?

“He’ll see you now.” She crossed the lobby, her heels silent on the blue carpet. She opened a door and stood aside.

“Major Barrett, come in.” Roger Peyton Jr. emerged from behind his desk to shake Grant’s hand.

“Mr. Peyton.” Scotch fumes hit Grant’s nostrils.

“Call me Roger, please. Mr. Peyton is my father. Would you like coffee?”

“No, but thank you. I just came to collect Lee’s things. I have to get back. There are so many details to address. I’m sure you understand.”

“Of course,” Roger said. “Please accept my condolences. Such a tragic event. We’ll certainly miss your brother here at the firm.”

Grant breathed though the stab of pain. No matter how many people offered their sympathy, he couldn’t wrap his mind around Lee’s death.

Roger appeared to sense his discomfort. “If I can be of any assistance, legal or otherwise, please don’t hesitate to call.”

“Thank you.”

Grant sidestepped toward the exit. “I don’t mean to rush, but I have to be back at the house soon.”

Roger ushered him to the door. He pasted a trying-too-hard-to-be-casual smile on his face. “I believe your brother had taken some client information home. If you find any of the firm’s property, would you please return it? Confidentiality is a very serious issue.” The man’s thin lips flattened and his eyes darkened.

“I’ll be going through my brother’s office over the next few days. If I find anything that belongs to the firm, you’ll be the first to hear.”

“Thank you.” The anxiety that simmered under the alcohol-induced glaze in Roger’s eyes seemed like more than confidentiality.

As he exited Roger’s office, Grant made a mental note to check out Lee’s boss. Did whatever was wrong with the firm have anything to do with his brother’s death?

Chapter Seven

Ellie felt Grant’s gaze hot on her back as she led him to Lee’s medium-size office down the hall.

She flipped the light switch on the wall. Fluorescent lights overhead flickered, then illuminated. Two copier paper boxes sat on top of an empty desk.

Grant scanned the space. His gaze settled on the boxes. “He was here for seven years. That’s all that was his?”

“He didn’t keep many personal items here. Mostly photos.” Ellie stood aside. Grant always seemed too close. Or maybe she was just too aware of him.

He lifted one of the lids, pulled out his brother’s nameplate, and ran his forefinger over the name LEE BARRETT engraved into the brass.

“Were you and your brother named after Generals Lee and Grant?” she asked.

“We were.” He sighed, his chest deflating. “It wasn’t so bad for us. My youngest brother, McClellan, got the worst of it. We nicknamed him Mac out of pity. My father is a Civil War buff.”

His gaze lifted from the nameplate to study her face. Heat rose into her cheeks at the scrutiny, but she didn’t look away. Grant’s directness was both refreshing and disconcerting.

“Oh, excuse me.” A masculine voice startled Ellie.

She whirled. The other associate, Frank Menendez, stood in the doorway. The box in his arms made it painfully clear he was moving into Lee’s office.

Ellie recovered her composure. Damn Frank. The seat of Lee’s chair had barely cooled.

Lured from a law partnership in Albany, Frank had been with the firm for less than a year. He had been Lee’s competition for the partnership. Hired by Roger Peyton Sr., Frank played for the opposing team. Ellie tried not to hold it against him. The family rift affected most of the firm’s employees. It was nearly impossible to avoid being claimed by one side or the other.

She motioned between them. “Major Grant Barrett. Frank Menendez.”

Frank set his box down on the credenza behind the desk. “Sorry for your loss.”

“Thank you.” Grant shook his hand. From the sad drift of his gaze, he was aware that Frank was moving into his brother’s office.

Frank shifted his weight in the awkward moment of silence that followed. He nodded to the stack of files on the credenza. “I’ll bring these out to you, Ellie.”

“All right.” Suspicion bloomed in Ellie’s mind. Frank wasn’t ordinarily helpful. What was he up to?

“I need to get going.” Grant picked up the boxes.

“I’ll show you out.” She escorted him to the lobby without any more conversation. She pushed the front door and went onto the porch to hold it open for him. “I’m sorry about Frank.”

“Nothing to be sorry about.” The stoic gaze he turned on her made her eyes tear. “Thank you for everything.”


“Good-bye.” She shivered, the cold blowing right through her thin silk blouse.

“I didn’t mean to make you cry,” he said.

“It’s just the wind.” She blinked the mistiness from her eyes.

He leaned closer. Ellie caught a whiff of a mild aftershave, a woodsy scent that reminded her of warm spring days. His leather jacket was open. The V neck exposed the masculine column of his throat. What would that solid body feel like under her palms?

“I’d like to talk to you later. I have a few questions.” His gaze darted back through the doorway to the law firm lobby, and Ellie knew that his questions would be about the missing case files and Frank Menendez, and that she wouldn’t be able to answer them.

Grant Barrett, and his soldiering-on-through-his-grief fortitude, awakened emotions inside her: respect, empathy, and an inexplicable desire to rest her head on his chest while he wrapped those strong arms around her. What would it feel like to have someone to share life’s burdens? None of which would excuse talking about the firm’s private business. She was contractually bound to maintain client confidentiality. She needed this job, and he was only here temporarily. She had no future with a man who would leave her. Been there, done that.

But none of those reasons stopped her lips from blabbing, “All right.”

It was a good opportunity to see if the Hamilton file was in Lee’s home office, as Roger had requested. Ha. Like that was why she’d agreed. Mentally, she rolled her eyes at her own ridiculousness. But while she was in Lee’s house, lusting over his brother, she would keep her eyes open for the Hamilton file. The children would be home then, and Ellie needed to see how they were faring, especially Carson. She could still picture the utter despair in his eyes. Regardless of her determination to keep her relationship with Grant neighborly and platonic, she would do whatever was necessary to help the kids adjust.