“Let me help you.” Frank squatted next to her and tossed napkins on the mess.
“It’s all right. I’ve got it.” Ellie dumped the soggy mess into the trash and started a fresh pot.
Frank sauntered out, glancing back to toss a caught-you grin over his shoulder. “I saw you searching Sue’s desk. But don’t worry. I won’t tell. Your secret is safe with me.”
Ugh. Frank was not the guy she’d choose to entrust with secrets. Watching the coffee drip, Ellie put a hand on her aching temple. She didn’t have the energy to worry about Frank. His little games couldn’t compete with extortion—unless he was Hoodie Man.
The dream made no sense. Grant hadn’t witnessed his brother’s murder, so why did he keep seeing it in his mind?
His eyelids were lined with sandpaper, or at least that’s what it felt like when he opened his eyes. His view was dry and blurry. He was oddly weighed down, and a steady tapping noise sounded like a bomb ticking. He blinked. His vision cleared, and a tousled blond head came into focus.
Carson sprawled across his body. Grant’s shoulders hung off the edge of the family room sofa. Next to them, the baby swing clicked each time it passed the center line of its arc.
Ah, yes. The Night From Hell replayed in his mind. He’d tucked Carson into bed and walked the baby up and down the halls until two a.m., when a nightmare brought the little boy back, tearful and hiccupping. The dog had picked bedlam hour for a barking fit, too. The swing had become his savior. The instructions stated that babies weren’t supposed to sleep in the damned things, but these were desperate times.
Grant closed his eyes. Another hour of sleep might dull the ache in his head.
“Uncle Grant.” A tiny finger pried open his eyelid. “Are you awake?”
Grant opened his other eye. “I am.”
Carson dropped Grant’s eyelid and propped his chin on his hands, bony elbows in the center of Grant’s chest. His blue eyes were a scant three inches from Grant’s face. Hearing the boy’s voice, AnnaBelle jumped up from her bed in the corner, trotted to the sofa, and stuck her wet nose between their faces.
“She has to go outside.” Carson squirmed off Grant’s body.
A knee squashed his groin. “Oof.”
Removing his nephew’s knee from his crushed privates, Grant eased upright. Carson ran to the back door and opened it. AnnaBelle bolted out into the yard.
“She’s OK out there by herself?” Grant squinted out the window. Last night’s clouds were gone. In a brilliant, crystal-blue sky, sunshine slanted across four inches of fresh snow.
“She’ll be right back.” Carson went to the refrigerator and took out a juice box. He brought it back to Grant. “Can you open this?”
“Sure.” Grant shoved the straw through the hole and offered it to his nephew.
“You hafta put the flaps up or else it’ll squirt all over.”
“Gotcha. Flaps up.” Grant handed it back.
Carson took a long pull from the skinny straw. “Am I going to school today?”
Grant considered the exhausted eyes looking up at him. On his list of many phone calls was Carson’s elementary school. “Do you want to go to school today?”
Carson shook his head.
“Then you’ll stay home today.” Grant checked the baby. Still sleeping. “We’ll talk about that again in a few days, all right?”
“Waffles?” Grant heaved to his feet and stretched his back. He felt like he’d been on an all-night march. He needed coffee. Now. He shuffled into the kitchen and started the machine.
Sunlight spilled through the back window. What time was it? He blinked at a clock on the wall. Ten a.m.
Faith stirred, and Grant started a bottle. He’d already learned that a screaming fit before a feeding increased his chances of being firehosed with baby gak. In an exhausted blur, he fed the kids breakfast. No, wait. Brunch. Whatever.
He mainlined coffee and cleaned up the kitchen. Before he had time to think about a shower, it was noon. The doorbell rang. AnnaBelle sprinted for the front of the house.
“Maybe that’s Aunt Hannah.” Praying help had arrived, Grant rubbed his bleary eyes.
Carson didn’t respond. Carrying the baby, Grant went to the front door. He peered through the sidelight. His sister stood on the porch. One hand rested on the handle of a spinner suitcase. A briefcase was slung from her shoulder. He opened the door wide. AnnaBelle surged forward.
Breezing through the doorway, Hannah halted the dog with one raised hand and a command. “Off.”
The dog’s tail stopped midwag, drooping to the floor.
“Since when don’t you like dogs?” Grant leaned over to kiss Hannah on the cheek.
From her pointy heels to the short cap of polished blond hair, his sister looked every inch the corporate attorney. She stopped in the foyer to slide her long black coat down her arms.
“Since I traded your hand-me-down jeans for adult clothing.” She went to the closet and hung her coat. Her tall, thin frame was draped in a white cashmere sweater and pale gray slacks. Against the peeling green wallpaper, her Saks attire looked elegant and out of place.
Hannah walked closer. Her heels clicked on the scratched parquet. A small, curious smile tilted the corner of her mouth. She reached out and gave the baby’s foot a tentative squeeze. “You must be Faith.”
“Haven’t you seen her before?”
“No. Before Jakarta I was in Berlin. Before that, Prague.” She lifted her gaze from the baby to Grant. Her eyes misted. “How are you, Grant?”
The air left his chest. “I don’t know. A little overwhelmed by it all, I guess. I didn’t expect to be the first one here.”
Nodding, she sniffed. “I came as soon as I could get away from the negotiations.”
“Wait. You didn’t come right away?”
She backed up a quarter step. “You don’t just step away from a billion-dollar deal.”
“I stepped away from a war, for Christ’s sake.” Grant gritted his teeth and stopped. Arguing with Hannah for being Hannah was pointless. His sister had made partner in a high-powered firm by being single-minded and ruthless. She would never settle for less than complete world domination. Not for the first time, Grant wondered if their father had picked the wrong child to push into the military. The Colonel had wanted a general in the family. Hannah would make a great general. Or dictator.
“Never mind. You’re here now and that’s what matters.” Grant let it go. As they’d learned this week, life was too short. “Why don’t you say hi to Carson before you go change?”
The grief hit her eyes again, and she struggled to suppress it. She wasn’t a cold person. She felt plenty, but like the Colonel, she’d never been comfortable with emotional expression, hers or anyone else’s. “Where is he?”
“The kitchen.” Grant led the way.
“Hey, Carson,” Hannah said in a soft voice from the center of the room.
Grant elbowed her forward, prodding her toward their nephew. Hannah shot him a don’t-rush-me glare before sitting next to the boy. Grant gave her credit for going to Carson’s level.
“What are you drawing?” she asked, tilting her head to see the picture.
Carson shrugged. “A man.”
“He’s crying,” she noted. “Is that a house?”
The little boy nodded. “It’s our house.”
“Why is the man crying?”
Bony shoulders lifted and fell. “I dunno.”
“I like the shamrock.” She rose. “I’m going upstairs to change.”
She was going upstairs to cry, Grant thought. “I’m in the guest room at the end of the hall. Take the room next to it.” Lee had wanted the big house for family get-togethers. The first time in years that Grant, Hannah, and Mac would all be under one roof, Lee was gone.
Hannah brushed past him, her mouth tight, her control slipping.
He handed her one of the new house keys. “Are you all right?”
Nodding, she closed her fist around the key and turned away. Hannah hadn’t always been so distant. None of them had weathered Mom’s death well. Grant and Hannah had run from Scarlet Falls and all its disappointments as soon as possible. Mac had a local address, but he spent half the year traveling all over the globe. Only Lee had stayed.
Grant gave her a half hour to get herself together. He inspected the contents of the baby’s bag. Like his own pack, it focused on bottled water, dry clothing, and sanitation items. He restocked items that seemed to require restocking, then added a couple of kiddy granola bars he found in the pantry in case Carson got hungry while they were out.
“Hey, Carson, let’s take a drive out to Uncle Mac’s place.” Grant was hoping there’d be some sign of his youngest brother at his cabin. It wouldn’t hurt Carson to catch a combat nap in the car. The kid was exhausted.
At the foot of the steps, he called for his sister. She’d changed into jeans and boots but still wore the cashmere sweater. Her face was bare, the makeup washed away, her eyes puffy and red-rimmed. Casual and clean-faced, she looked ten years younger and more like the girl he’d grown up with than a corporate attorney.
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