She forced a smile onto the stiff muscles of her face. “No worries, though. Carson would eat mac and cheese for every meal if you let him.”
“I’ve been picking your grandmother and daughter’s brains for the last hour and taking notes. Let me find my sister to take Faith. Do you have a few minutes now?” Grant watched her with intent eyes that narrowed in suspicion.
She needed to improve her game face. Grant would not be easy to fool.
“Sure.” Ellie nodded, trying to appear casual when she wanted to race through the house searching for the file.
Grant turned to Nan and raised his voice. “Mrs. Ross? Have you seen my sister?”
“I told you to call me Nan like everyone else.” Her grandmother slid the wide blade of the knife under a slice of cake and lifted it onto a plate. She pointed to the back door with the knife. “Hannah is outside on her phone.”
Grant went to the window. Through the glass, Ellie could see a slim, blond woman pacing the back patio, coatless, arms curled around her middle as if she were freezing. Grant knocked on the glass and pointed to the baby. Hannah shook her head and pointed to her phone.
“I’ll take little Faith.” Nan held out her arms.
“Are you sure?” Grant hesitated. “If you stop moving, she starts screaming.”
“She is not the first colicky baby I’ve walked.” Nan tossed a clean dish towel over her shoulder.
Grant handed Faith over. Nan took her with expert arms. “You two go have a nice talk.”
Ellie followed Grant to the home office. He closed the door. The small room was set up to make full use of little space. The desk and hutch were pushed against the far wall. To the right of the door, a credenza held a printer and a stack of law books and periodicals. Grant gestured toward a wooden schoolhouse chair next to the desk. Ellie perched on the edge of the seat, her gaze searching for files. It wasn’t here. Or at least it wasn’t in plain sight. She needed to get a look inside the credenza and desk.
Grant swiveled the office chair to face her and eased into it.
“If Nan is intruding, please let me know,” she said.
“God, no.” Grant shifted his weight. The chair creaked. “I’ll take all the help I can get. I’m thrilled to see Carson eat. Between your grandmother and Julia, I now have a list of his favorite foods and the recipes to make them.”
He leaned forward and rested his forearms on his thighs. The small space brought him close enough that she caught a whiff of that woodsy aftershave. The skin around his eyes crinkled into crow’s feet, though she guessed he was only in his midthirties. War and responsibility aged a man, she supposed. She pictured the photo of him that graced the mantle in the living room. He was in uniform, rifle in hand, squinting though the Middle Eastern desert sun. A few wrinkles didn’t make him any less attractive. In fact, the lines made his face more compelling in a masculine way that sent a tiny shiver through her belly like a warning shot.
Her attraction for him was natural and evolutionary. A man had threatened her family, and Grant looked like a strong, capable protector. Biology aside, she was not getting involved with him. She needed that file and that was the end of their relationship.
Ellie shifted back on the seat. Polite small talk eluded her. All she could think about was the Hamilton file and what would happen if she couldn’t find it. She scrambled for conversation. “How are you?”
One side of his mouth lifted. “Terrified of screwing things up with the kids.”
“You seem to have a decent handle on them, considering it’s only been a day.”
“I don’t know.” His brow creased. “I have a feeling it’s going to get harder. Carson talks about Lee and Kate as if they’re still alive.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know what’s normal.”
“Me either. I’m meeting with the elementary school counselor tomorrow. I’m hoping she can give me some guidance.” Grant stared at her in silence for a minute. Grief turned raw in his eyes, and she felt the pressure of empathy and respect build in her chest. Not many people could handle the situation he’d been thrust into without preparation. He didn’t flinch from the pain, but Ellie leaned away from his piercing gaze—and from the intimacy that passed between them.
“So how can I help? I’m not much of a cook. Nan has charge of our kitchen.”
“I wanted to ask you a few questions about the law firm,” he said without breaking eye contact.
“I can’t tell you anything confidential.” Unless, of course, it meant getting her hands on that file.
“Understood.” A baby wail pierced the walls. Grant turned his head to listen, but Faith’s cries faded. “Your boss asked me to look for some files. I found some papers, but I’m not sure if they belong to the firm. Can you be more specific? Which file was Roger upset about?”
The fact that Lee had agreed to represent the Hamiltons wasn’t public knowledge. Even acknowledging client representation could be a breach of confidentiality. Plus, it would be easier to snag the Hamilton file if it were just one among a stack of meaningless clients. If Grant knew the file was significant, he might not give it up.
“Why don’t you let me look through the files you found?” Ellie offered. “I can return the firm’s property for you, and save you the trip.”
Grant tilted his head, his attention sharpening. “Why don’t you tell me what I’m looking for?”
“I can’t.” Ellie shook her head. Lee had taken that file home. It must be here somewhere.
Grant crowded her until their knees touched. The points of body contact, two scant square inches, seemed to be the only parts of her body with feeling. Under her jeans, her skin warmed. Her gaze dropped. His thighs were as thick as her waist. His elbows rested on his legs, his clasped hands falling between his knees. Her heartbeat quickened, her instincts torn between running away at top speed and crawling onto his lap. The second option expanded until her legs were wrapped around his waist. An empty, almost desperate, ache started deep in her belly. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t dated in the last decade. She’d had a couple of beaus. There’d even been sex, occasionally. Rarely. OK, about as often as a legitimate bigfoot sighting. She’d never had a long-term adult relationship. What would it be like to have a man she could count on? Grant was dependable.
Time to dial her imagination back a notch. Lust she could handle, but those deeper yearnings were downright dangerous.
She lifted her gaze to his face. The intensity of his focus reminded her that, as gentle and caring as he was with his brother’s children, he was also a hardened officer, a natural leader who’d seen multiple tours of duty in war zones. She suspected he was looking right through her facade. It would be so much easier to let him take care of her. So much for being a modern, independent woman. Biology was a bitch.
“My brother was murdered,” he said in a flat voice.
Ellie slid backward an inch to break the contact between their bodies. “I know. But I can’t breach client privilege. I’m sorry. The best I can do is to offer to return the files for you.”
“I’ll give them to you as soon as I’m done with them.”
Ellie’s spine snapped straight like a metal measuring tape. Fear rocketed through her. He was going to hold out. “They belong to the firm. Those files are confidential. You’ve no right to keep them.”
“Hypothetically, if I found any files, they’re in my brother’s house, which makes them his property until I decide otherwise.”
“You can’t do that.” Sweat pooled at the base of her spine. “Those files are stamped property of Peyton, Peyton, and Griffin.”
“I guess I won’t see any stamps until I have time to look closer.”
“Roger can file a legal petition.”
Grant shrugged. “Probably, but that’ll take some time, and he has to prove I have the files first.”
“You just told me you have them.”
“Did I?” he asked.
Anger and terror flashed warm in Ellie’s chest. “This isn’t a game.”
“No, it isn’t.” His voice sharpened. “My brother and his wife were murdered. Someone broke into the house today and searched it. I’m wondering if one of his cases caused Lee and Kate’s deaths. Was he working on anything sensitive?”
Alarmed, Ellie stopped him with a raised hand. “Wait. Back up. Someone broke into the house?”
“Yes.” His lips thinned as he pressed them together.
“Were the police here?”
He nodded. “Detective McNamara said it isn’t unusual to have a robbery attempt after a death.”
“That’s horrible, but it doesn’t surprise me. I drove off several possible burglars. But that was at night. To break in in broad daylight seems bold.” And desperate.
“I don’t think it was a burglar. The house was thoroughly searched, and nothing was taken. Not my tablet or Kate’s pearls, among other things.”
“Then why do you think they broke in?” She tried to sound as if she had no idea. “What do they want?”
“I’m not sure.” He leaned back. His fingertips scraped on his jaw. His attention was still locked on her face, and skepticism clouded the clear blue of his eyes, as if he suspected she was lying. “But I wonder about that case file your boss was so anxious to get back. Is there something in that file worth committing robbery and murder and now burglary?”
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