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“I saw a news broadcast this afternoon. In an interview, Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton claimed that Lee was their attorney and that he’d found new evidence in their daughter’s case right before he was killed.” He’d spent some hours reading every article on the case he could find online about the suicide.

“I didn’t see any news this afternoon. We were stuck in that ER cubicle for hours. Did the Hamiltons say what kind of evidence?”

“They said they didn’t know.”

Ellie dropped into the chair. Her face was still pale, her focus inward.

“Tell me what’s going on, Ellie.”

“Nothing.” She brought her hands to her face and pressed her fingertips to her forehead.

“I know something is wrong.” Grant moved closer. He reached out and took one of her hands in his. He pressed his palms around her cold fingers. “Maybe I can help.”

Her eyes lifted to meet his. For a moment, turmoil and helplessness looked back at him. Then she pulled her hand free and clenched it tight enough to whiten her knuckles. “I’ll take these files back to the firm tomorrow.”

“Ellie, tell me what’s wrong. Tell me what you know about this case.” He reached for her hand again. “You can trust me.”

But Ellie jerked her fist back to her body. “It has nothing to do with trust.”

“I want to help you.”

“I know, but you can’t.” Her voice sharpened. She picked up the box of files, took three steps to the door, and opened it. “I’m going to run these files to the office. I’ll tell Julia to walk Carson home.”

“Thank you.” But Grant was talking to empty air. Ellie was gone. He heard the front door open and shut.

He went back to the kitchen. Hannah was shaking a bottle of formula while Faith fussed on her hip. Though she still acted tentative, his sister’s skill with the baby surprised him.

“I have to go to Carson’s school.” The only time the teacher, principal, and counselor had all been available today was after school hours. “He’s over at Ellie’s house. Julia will bring him home when he’s ready. You OK here for a while? I shouldn’t be that long. The grammar school is only a mile away.”

“We’re fine.” Grabbing a dish towel, she moved to the family room and settled on the couch to feed the baby. “Could you hand me the remote before you go? I want to catch the market reports.”

“Market reports?”

Hannah shrugged. “I have to do something.”

Grant was tired of waiting, too. The police had made little headway on the murder case. The future of the children was undecided. The funeral was on hold until Lee’s and Kate’s bodies were released. Grant had only been in town a few days, but it seemed like much more time had passed.

Driving to the school, Grant pondered Ellie and her changeable attitude. He would keep working on her. Something was very wrong with Ellie Ross. He hadn’t known her long, but the woman he’d interacted with today seemed totally different from the smiling woman he’d met at a barbecue and the level-headed woman who’d kept her grandmother from shooting him Monday night. Today’s Ellie was terrified.

Something happened to change her entire personality in the last few days, and Grant’s gut instincts suspected Ellie’s 180 was connected to Kate and Lee’s murder.

Chapter Nineteen

Donnie slouched in the front seat, peered over the dashboard, and watched the hot teenage neighbor and the little boy go into the Barrett house. He’d done his research, and the details of Friday night’s shooting had been reported to death. He’d learned all about the Barrett family. He pegged the big man who left thirty minutes ago as Major Grant Barrett, Lee’s brother. He was military and therefore the one person Donnie would prefer to avoid. The blond woman he’d seen through the window was probably Lee’s sister. She didn’t worry Donnie. A female lawyer wouldn’t be any more of a threat than her dead brother had been. One bullet had put him down. He hadn’t even attempted to fight back.

If Donnie was going to get that boy, now was the time. But how to get in? A security system had been installed since he broke into the house last. If it weren’t for the damned dog, he might be able to get past a few door and window contacts without anyone noticing him.

He rubbed his freezing hands together. He’d parked his vehicle in a shadow. The absence of the sun’s rays kept the vehicle cold. His toes and ass were numb.

The front door opened. The teenager pushed a stroller out onto the stoop. The little boy followed her. Could Donnie get more lucky?


This was perfect. But he’d have no choice but to take the teen, too. His new motto was no witnesses. A six-year-old shouldn’t be that hard to grab, but the two of them at once would be hard to manage. The thought of having that young girl all to himself for a couple of hours felt nearly as important as getting rid of the boy.

Kids were loud, so he needed to do this fast. The neighborhood seemed empty now, but at four o’clock, the window of opportunity was closing. He knew from his earlier stakeouts that homeowners would start returning from work soon.

If he grabbed the boy, would the teenager fight for him? She’d be torn because the baby was there, too. She might choose to protect the baby and run for help. Too many variables.

Whatever. Donnie would have to improvise.

He straightened his knit hat and brushed the wrinkles from his jeans. Too bad he didn’t have a tie or jacket to make him look legitimate. Hood up or down? Definitely down. In this neighborhood, guys didn’t wear hoods. He flipped down the visor and checked the concealer he’d used on the teardrop tattoo. It was heavy-duty, made for scars, the girl at the store had said. The blue ink bled through. Lying bitch. It was less noticeable, though. Hopefully, no one would see it until he got close.

He zipped his jacket to his chin, got out of the van, and headed toward the children.

Julia lowered her side of the seesaw to the ground, lifting Carson into the air. A red knit cap pulled low on his forehead shadowed the little boy’s eyes, and cold colored his cheeks red. He wiped a hand under his nose, but a little snot on a mitten was worth the first smile she’d seen on his face all week.

Had it been almost a week since Mr. and Mrs. Barrett died? No, not quite. It had only been six days but seemed longer.

She glanced over at the baby stroller, parked next to the seesaw. Tucked under a thick pile of blankets, Faith slept. She’d just finished a bottle when Julia had brought Carson home and volunteered to take both kids outside.

Thin patches of snow still dotted the playground. Where the ground cover had melted, the grass was wet and squishy underfoot. Major Barrett didn’t seem the kind of man that would mind some mud on the floor. Besides, Carson desperately needed the fresh air. Julia, too. She was grounded for a to-be-determined length of time. Sitting in the house had been making all three of them depressed.

After Julia’s stunt with Taylor, this was as close to the outside world as she was going to get for a long time. Mom was really mad. Not yelling mad, but quiet mad, which was way worse. Now she was freaking out about Nan’s broken foot, too. She’d probably be angry that Nan had suggested Julia take the kids to the playground.

With a woof, AnnaBelle raced to Julia. She spit a tennis ball next to her, then danced backward, barking. Julia hurled the ball across the park. The dog streaked off after it.

“I wish I could throw that far,” Carson said, climbing off the seesaw. He jogged over to the slide and started climbing.

Julia checked the baby again. She slid off her glove and reached under the blanket to make sure Faith’s body was warm. The space under the fleece blanket felt toasty.

A sharp bark drew her attention. AnnaBelle was racing across the muddy ground toward her. She slid to a stop.

“Where’s the ball, AnnaBelle?”

But the dog wasn’t looking at her. His ears were pricked toward the street. A white van was parked at the curb. She’d seen that vehicle before, but when? Julia’s neck prickled.

To keep the small kids away from the street, the playground was separated from the sidewalk by a basketball court and rectangular patch of grass. The space between the van and the kids didn’t feel like nearly enough distance.

Instinctively, she glanced around for Carson. He was scampering off the bottom of the slide.

“Carson,” she called.

He ran over, bits of mud flying from under his snow boots and splattering his waterproof pants. His eyes were bright as he chewed on the end of his mitten. “What?”

Julia put a hand on the stroller handle. The van’s door opened, and a man got out. He looked familiar, but she couldn’t place him.

“It’s him again.” Carson backed up a step. His eyes filled with apprehension.

“Have you seen him before?”

Carson nodded. “He knocked on the door the night Mommy and Daddy left, remember?” The little boy’s expression darkened, the happiness of playing in the mud wiped out as he remembered his new reality.

But movement pulled Julia’s gaze back to the man. He was walking toward them. She searched her memory but came up with nothing except a weird, creepy sensation that made her want to get away.

“Let’s go home.” She pushed the stroller in the opposite direction.