“Who’s bleeding?” McNamara pointed at the mud-streaked hall behind him. Barefoot prints were smeared with wet red smudges.
Hannah glanced down at her feet. She was the only one not wearing shoes.
“That must be me.” She peeled off her socks. A cut on her heel dripped with blood. “I must have stepped on something sharp. It’s not bad. I don’t think it needs stitches. Doesn’t even hurt.”
“Yet.” McNamara crouched next to her and lifted her foot for inspection. His hands were unexpectedly callused. “That needs to be cleaned. Come on.”
“I can do it myself.” She pushed to her feet.
“The bottom of your foot?” He didn’t roll his eyes, but she could tell he wanted to, which was a relief. Most of the time, the cop acted like a robot. He put his arm under her elbow.
With his help, she hobbled to the powder room. “I think there’s a first aid kit under the sink.”
“Got it.” He made quick work of cleaning the cut and covering it with a Band-Aid. “Is that all right?”
“It’s fine,” she said, although her foot was beginning to throb. “I’m just glad no one else was hurt.”
McNamara got to his feet. “You were lucky. Those kids could’ve been hurt.”
“You don’t have to tell me that.”
The cop frowned down at her. “There’s no point beating yourself up. No one had any idea the kids were in danger.”
Hannah would never be able to close her eyes without seeing that man chasing them down. Her lungs contracted, and pressure built behind her ribs. “Regardless, I should have gone to the park with them.”
“When you learn how to predict the future, let me know. That ability would certainly make my job easier.”
Not sure how to take his statement, she studied his face.
“That was a joke,” he sighed. “Look. The kids are all right. Take a minute to breathe and appreciate that. Sometimes, you have to balance being worried with being grateful.”
Hannah breathed. The weight on her chest eased, but the relief was minimal. “Why would anyone go after the kids?”
“I don’t know, and that’s what’s most terrifying.” He took a small notebook and pen from his pocket. “I’d better take your statement first. What did he look like? Tell me everything.”
For a few seconds, Hannah wanted to let all her fears and insecurities spill out. But he was only asking about the incident, not volunteering to be her therapist. Besides, who had that much time? Her gaze raked over his lean, hard physique. No. The cop didn’t look like any shrink Hannah had ever seen.
“I didn’t get a good look at him. He took off as soon as he saw me.”
She steadied herself and relayed the event in a logical and linear manner. But in the back of her mind, all she could see was that man chasing down the children.
“One more question for you.” The cop pointed his pen at her. “Your brother had two large cash deposits hit his account a couple weeks ago, both just small enough to avoid federal reporting requirements. Do you know of any assets he could have sold, accounts he could have closed?”
“No.” As much as Hannah didn’t want to face the possibility that Lee could have been involved in something illegal, she had no explanation for the sudden appearance of nearly twenty thousand dollars.
Grant changed Faith’s diaper. She alternated between sticking her toes in her mouth and babbling. The baby talk made his chest ache. She could have been hurt this afternoon. Carson and Julia, too.
He zipped up her one-piece footed coveralls. With her feet secured, she chewed on her fist. Drool ran out the side of her mouth. Grant wiped her chin with his sleeve, which should have been gross but didn’t bother him.
Why would anyone chase the kids? What did that guy want? Did he kill Lee and Kate?
He leaned over and pressed his forehead to Faith’s. She grabbed his hair with both fists and let loose with a high-pitched, excited shriek. He wouldn’t be able to take it if anything happened to these kids. They’d already had their parents stolen from them. Kate should be here for every baby squeal. Carson should have his father to comfort him after a nightmare.
Grant’s gut twisted. Anger burned a path through his chest.
Gently prying her fingers loose, he picked her up and held her close. In an active mood, she squirmed and batted her chubby fists on his shoulder. Her feet moved as if she was running in place.
The police were making zero progress investigating the murders within the boundaries of the law. Enough was enough. Lee and Kate’s deaths had to be connected to the bullying and suicide of Lindsay Hamilton. Ellie knew something about that case, and Grant needed to make her talk to him. He also needed to find out where Lee had gotten that twenty thousand dollars, even if discovering the truth was painful. Scarlet Falls was festering with secrets, and Grant was going to drag them all out into the light.
Grant made two vows. No one would hurt these children, and he would find the person who killed his brother and make the guilty party pay.
Ellie turned her car into her neighborhood. A police car passed her, lights on, and her pulse scrambled. She pressed the gas pedal harder. No! It can’t be.
The police couldn’t be going to her house.
Nausea flooded her belly as she drove down her street. A police car sat at the curb next to the park. Two more were parked at Lee and Kate’s house. Relief, and then guilt, surged through Ellie. She shouldn’t be grateful the police were needed at her neighbor’s house instead of her own. Her gaze was drawn to the policeman taking photographs at the playground.
What had happened?
Ellie parked in her driveway, got out of her car, and slammed the door. With one eye on the Barrett house, she ran up to her front porch and went inside. An empty hush greeted her.
“Nan,” she called out in the foyer. Silence answered her. “Julia!”
Ellie hurried back to the kitchen and family room, but the rooms were empty. Nan wasn’t there. She’d made sure her grandmother was settled on the sofa before she’d left to deliver the files Grant had found to the firm. Ellie jogged upstairs and checked the three bedrooms anyway. No Nan. No Julia.
She raced outside and across the front yards. In the Barretts’ driveway, a uniformed officer stood next to his open cruiser and talked into his radio. On the front porch, she pressed the doorbell.
Another officer opened the door.
“I’m Ellie Ross. I live next door. What happened?”
“This way, ma’am.” He stood back and gestured for her to enter the house.
Ellie walked into the foyer, dread gathering behind her sternum. She looked up as Grant carried Faith down the stairs.
“Ellie.” He moved toward her. “Everyone is fine.”
“What happened?” she repeated. “Are Nan and Julia here?”
“Yes, and they’re all right.” His words were reassuring, but his eyes went flat.
Still, knowing that her family was OK made her light-headed with relief. Ellie reached for the wall.
“Whoa.” One-handing the baby, Grant caught her elbow. He steered her into Lee’s office. “Sit down. I’ll be right back. Keep your head down and breathe slowly.”
In the desk chair, she rested her elbows on her knees and let her forehead drop into her palms. The room pitched beneath her. Her vision went fuzzy. Closing her eyes, she concentrated on sucking air in and out of her lungs. The increased oxygen didn’t help.
They are all right. They are all right. Do not throw up.
Her inability to find the file hadn’t gotten her grandmother or her daughter killed.
She heard the office door close. A hand splayed between her shoulder blades. Grant. The warmth and weight of his touch anchored her to the present.
Everyone was all right.
“Are you OK?” he asked.
Ellie lifted her head and nodded. The room tilted, then stilled.
“What happened?” she asked again, this time without the hysteria in her voice.
“Julia took the kids to the playground down the street for some air.”
“I told her to stay with Nan.”
“Nan is the one who sent her over. Your grandmother thought some fresh air would cheer them all up.”
“If I wanted her cheered up, I wouldn’t have grounded her.” Ellie swallowed her anger, but her hands clenched into tight fists.
“While the kids were at the park, a man approached them. Julia didn’t like the looks of him. She grabbed the kids and ran home yelling. Hannah chased the guy off. No one was hurt. I brought your grandmother over here just in case. I didn’t want her alone.” He paused, his gaze seeking hers as she stared at her fists. “They’re OK, Ellie. Your daughter reacted in exactly the right way. She listened to her instincts and saved them all.”
Ellie raised her chin. Her eyes locked with his. Her gut was screaming at her to trust him. He had taken care of her family while she wasn’t there. But could she count on him to keep quiet?
Thoughts spinning, she let her head fall into her hands. Her palms pressed against her temples as if trying to contain the terrible images rolling through her mind.
Hands shook her shoulders. She opened her eyes.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com