Coming from Hannah the corporate attorney, who could negotiate billion-dollar contracts in three languages without breaking a sweat, that said a lot.
“So if she hasn’t seen Kate in a decade, she doesn’t know the kids.” Second thoughts weighed on Grant. “I hope we haven’t let a panther out of the bag.”
“Me too,” Hannah said. “Mac left for the funeral home. That’s all right with you?”
“Definitely. I have enough on my plate. I have to run to the ice rink where Kate worked. I won’t be long. You’re on kid duty.”
Staring at the baby, Hannah took a deep breath. “I hope I can do this half as well as you.”
Grant traded places with Hannah. “Sit.” He handed the baby to his sister. “Burp her halfway through.”
“You’ll be fine. In the daytime, she’s a happy baby.” He ducked out to check the room across the hall. Carson had flung off the covers and sprawled sideways across his twin mattress. Grant pulled the door closed and went back to the nursery. “Carson’s still asleep. Keep an ear out for him. He’ll want a snack when he wakes up.”
Downstairs, Grant donned a coat and boots. AnnaBelle whined at the back door. “All right, you can come outside with me.” AnnaBelle bounded out into the snow. Grant found a shovel in the garage. He cleared a path from the garage to the back door. Shovel in hand, he headed for the front of the house. Barking drew his attention to Ellie’s house.
“Good dog.” A small figure huddled on the front steps leading to the porch. AnnaBelle crowded close.
Grant crossed the lawn. “Nan?”
“Grant.” Nan exhaled in relief. Dressed in jeans, a sweater, and sheepskin boots, Ellie’s grandmother shivered on a patch of ice. She clutched one arm to her chest. Her teeth chattered. “I’m so glad to see you.”
“What happened?” He dropped to one knee beside her.
“I came out to get a package on the porch, and I slipped down the steps. I twisted my ankle and landed on my wrist.”
“How long have you been out here?” He looked her over.
“I don’t know. Maybe half an hour.”
Given her age and absence of body fat, that was too long. “Is it just your ankle and wrist?”
“My pride took a nice knock, too.” Nan winced. “I didn’t hurt anything vital. I tried to crawl back into the house, but I couldn’t get up the steps.”
Grant eyed the three cement steps she’d fallen down. No doubt she had bruises she wasn’t feeling yet. “Let me get you inside and we’ll get a look at that ankle. Ready?” Grant scooped the tiny old woman off the icy concrete.
“Oh, my.” She gripped his shoulder as he carried her into the house.
AnnaBelle pranced beside him past the gutted living room. Grant walked back to the kitchen and set Nan down on a chair. He sat in the chair opposite and put a hand on the back of her boot. “This is probably going to hurt.” She didn’t make a sound as he eased it off her foot, then peeled down her wool sock, but her ashen face tightened. Her ankle was swollen to an angry purple. “I think I’d better take you to the ER.”
“Oh, maybe we could try icing it for a while” Her voice shook as she shivered again.
He gave her foot a doubtful glance. “I’m afraid it could be broken.” Hypothermia was also a concern. “You should call Ellie.”
“I hate to bother her while she’s at work.”
“She’s going to want to know.”
“Oh, all right. Would you hand me my cell?” She pointed to the end table, and he passed her the phone. “I hope she doesn’t get in trouble.”
“I’m sure Ellie’s boss will make an exception in an emergency.” While Grant was in there, he snatched a blanket off the back of the sofa. He wrapped it around her shoulders. Her color was graying. She was clearly in much more pain than she would admit. He didn’t want to wait any longer. “Tell her to meet us at the hospital.”
Ellie finished reviewing her flash drive. There was no sign that anyone in the office, including Frank, was hiding any information about the Hamilton case. Where could she look next? Grant had been less than cooperative. She put her palm to the fatigue ache in the center of her forehead. She hadn’t slept since Julia had tried to sneak off the night before. She’d never be able to close her eyes again.
Her top drawer vibrated. She opened it and checked her cell phone in case it was Nan or the school. A message alert displayed, but she didn’t recognize the number. Ellie opened the text, discretely leaving the phone in her drawer. Normally, she wouldn’t violate the no-personal-calls rule, but there was nothing normal about this week. A photo appeared on the screen.
Though the image was dim, Ellie recognized the picture of her house. Grant, Taylor, and Julia stood on the front lawn, their images grainy but recognizable in the dark. Grant held Taylor by the arm. Under the photo was a caption: Have you found the file?
Helpless tears prickled the corners of Ellie’s eyes. Hoodie Man had been at the house last night when Julia was outside, vulnerable. If Grant hadn’t been there, Hoodie Man could have gotten her daughter. She typed need more time and hit the Send button.
What was she going to do? Would more time even help? She had no idea where to look.
Her phone buzzed with a return message: time is running out.
The piles of work on her desk blurred. Ellie had to get inside Lee’s house. Though Grant’s words had been ambiguous, she knew he had some of the firm’s files. Hoodie Man wasn’t going to wait.
She shuffled the expense reports on her desk, but her mind wasn’t on her work. Her phone buzzed from her drawer. Alarm coursed through her. What else did Hoodie Man want?
Nan’s cell phone number appeared on the display. Ellie’s already thudding heart went into overdrive. No. They couldn’t have hurt Nan. She stabbed her keypad three times with a shaking finger before successfully hitting the Answer key. “Nan?”
“Don’t get upset. I’m all right.”
Fear washed cold through Ellie’s veins. “What happened?”
“It’s not a big deal.” But her grandmother’s voice sounded weak. “I just slipped on the steps. I didn’t want to call, but Grant made me.”
“Let me talk to him.” Ellie heard Grant’s voice in the background, then the sound of the phone being passed.
“What happened, Grant?” she asked.
“She fell in the driveway, and her ankle is pretty swollen. Wrist, too.” Concern deepened his voice.
“I’ll be home in twenty minutes.” Ellie opened her bottom drawer and pulled out her purse.
“I’m going to take her to the ER,” Grant said. “Why don’t you meet us there?”
If he didn’t want Nan to wait twenty minutes, then her injuries must be more serious than a twisted ankle.
“All right.” Ellie ended the call. Purse in hand, she knocked on Roger’s door.
“Yes,” he called.
She opened the door. “I’m sorry to interrupt.” Actually she’d totally forgotten he was in a meeting with the accountant.
Roger’s expression went from annoyed to worried as he met her gaze. “What’s wrong?”
“My grandmother fell.” Ellie’s voice shook as she said the words out loud. “I don’t know how badly she’s hurt, but she’s on her way to the emergency room. I have to leave.”
“Of course. Are you all right to drive?” he asked.
“Yes, thank you.” Ellie gripped the doorknob.
“Go. Take the rest of the day. Let me know how she is.”
“Thank you.” Ellie found her car and drove to the hospital. The fifteen-minute drive felt like hours. Dread filled her belly. Was this a warning? A taste of what could happen if she didn’t do as she was told?
She parked her car in the hospital emergency room parking lot. The shakes spread through her entire body by the time she locked her car and hurried across the asphalt. Her shoes slipped on a patch of slush. Her feet went out from under her, and she went down with a splash. Pain radiated down her leg. She rubbed at her hip. She’d forgotten to change into her boots. Heels were not made for walking on snow and ice.
Nan is fine. Ellie had talked to her grandmother. So why was she freaking out? Because it could have been much, much worse. She got to her feet and brushed ice crystals off her wool coat. The hem of her skirt was soaked through and streaked with brown old-snow filth.
The ER doors slid open. She wiped her feet on a thick black floor mat. Skirting a yellow Caution Wet Floor sign, she stopped to scan the waiting room. A dozen people huddled on chairs, filling out forms on clipboards. She spotted Grant on the other side of the room.
He stood as she walked over. His face was grim. “They just took her back.”
“What’s wrong? It’s more serious than she said, right?” She tugged off her gloves. Fear pooled in her belly. Nan was fit for her age. She’d stayed active in the church and community since retiring, but there was no denying that she was getting older.
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