Page 33

“Tell me what’s wrong.” Grant crouched in front of her. Concern filled the blue of his eyes.

She shook her head. How could she trust him? She’d just met him. He was a military officer. He followed orders and rules. He’d tell the police, and her family would suffer the consequences.

“Ellie, what is going on with you?”

Her eyes began to burn as fear overwhelmed her. Before she could react, Grant folded his arms around her. He didn’t say anything, just held her against his chest. She resisted for a few seconds, then gave in. His arms surrounded her with solid comfort. She buried her face in his shirt and stopped trying to hold back. Tears stormed her, part relief that her family was unharmed, part terror that next time they might not escape.

The outburst passed in a few seconds. She became gradually aware of Grant’s hand stroking her back. The touch was more than comforting.

She lifted her head from his chest. “I’m sorry.” Grabbing a tissue from a box on the desk, she blotted her eyes. “I’m not usually such a mess.”

Get your act together.

“Talk to me, Ellie.”

“I can’t.”

“Why not?”

Unable to stay hidden, helplessness—and words—tumbled from Ellie’s mouth. “Because my family might die if I tell you.”

“What?”

“I’ve said too much.” She stood on shaky legs. “I’ll get Julia and Nan and go.”

“Julia and Nan are waiting to talk to the police. They can’t leave yet, and damn it, I want to know what the hell you’re talking about. Carson and Faith were in danger this afternoon, too. If you know something, you have to tell me. I won’t let anything happen to them.”

Ellie pressed a knuckle to her lips. No matter what she did, her family could be hurt. She was following orders, and Hoodie Man came after the kids anyway. And even if she gave him the file, she had no guarantees he’d leave them alone. She couldn’t win.

“Please, Ellie.” Grant put a hand on her arm. “I can help.”

“You have to promise not to tell the police.”

“I don’t know if I can do that.”

“Then I can’t tell you.” Ellie pulled away from him.

Grant stepped around her, blocking her path to the door. “All right. I’ll give you twenty-four hours.”

“Forty-eight.”

“Thirty-six,” he countered.

“Done.” Relief flooded Ellie. She wasn’t alone.

“But why not tell McNamara? He seems competent.”

“The man in the hoodie said if I told anyone, he’d kill my family.” Words spilled from her mouth. She told him everything that had happened from being taken at gunpoint from the firm parking lot to finding the heart and threatening note on her porch. “He said he’s watching me.”

“Do you have any idea who he is?”

“No.” She wrapped her arms around her waist.

Grant rubbed the back of his neck. “But I don’t understand. Why would he chase Carson and Julia? What could they possibly have to do with the Hamilton case?”

“I assume he did it to scare me.”

“And you still don’t want to tell the police?”

“No. They haven’t made much progress finding Lee and Kate’s murderer. The only physical description I can provide is average-size guy, probably not elderly. That’s not much to go on. If I tell them and they can’t find him, how long do you think they’ll be able to protect my family? Their resources are limited. You’ll be gone in a few weeks. My family will be alone—and vulnerable.”

A knock sounded on the office door, and they both went quiet. Grant opened the door. Detective McNamara stood in the hall. “I have Hannah’s statement. I’m going to question the kids. I’d like to take them down to the police station to do it. The county police artist is on her way to see if she can get a sketch. If we can come up with some suspects, I’d also like to show them mug shots. Is that all right with you?”

Ellie’s breath locked up. Would Grant give her away?

“Of course. We’re coming.” Grant’s hand settled under Ellie’s elbow in silent support. He steered her out into the hall, and they followed the policeman back to the kitchen.

Relief weakened the muscles in Ellie’s legs. Grant had kept her secret. But that was no guarantee that her family would be safe.

Chapter Twenty-Two

In the kitchen, Grant pulled Hannah aside. In the background, the baby cooed from a playpen parked next to Nan. “There are cops here, but when they leave, set the alarm.”

“I called Mac and left a message for him.” She lowered her voice. “He has Dad’s weapons collection. I asked him to bring it here.”

“He didn’t answer his phone?” Irritation and anxiety sparred in his chest. Damn Mac. How hard was it to keep his phone on?

Hannah shook her head and lowered her voice. “He keeps the firearms box in his attic. If he doesn’t call, we could drive out to the cabin and help ourselves.”

Grant nodded. He would love to have his M-4, but a machine gun was hard to conceal around the house, not to mention the difficulty of tucking it into his waistband.

“I wish I’d had my Glock this afternoon,” she said.

“Don’t blame yourself, Hannah.” Grant gave his sister a quick hug. “None of us expected this. I still don’t understand it, but from now on, we’re on guard. No chances.”

“Right.”

“You’ll look after Faith and Ellie’s grandmother?”

“I will.” Hannah’s mouth tightened, the ferocity of her expression sharpened by her lean face and edgy haircut. “I won’t let you down again.”

“You didn’t let anyone down, Hannah. You saved those kids.”

Her sideways glance was full of self-reproach.

“You’d scare the crap out of me.” But Grant’s attempt to lighten her mood only gleaned him a scant, tight-lipped smile.

He herded Ellie, Julia, and Carson into the minivan. He glanced at his nephew in the rearview mirror. Carson seemed to be holding up all right, but the boy hadn’t needed any more trauma. His eyes were too serious for a six-year-old. “Do you need to talk about what happened, Carson?”

The boy shook his head. “I’m not allowed.”

“Detective McNamara asked us not to discuss it until we’d given him our statement,” Julia explained.

“I listened,” Carson said.

“You certainly did. Good job, buddy.” Grant adjusted the mirror and studied Julia. The teen’s face displayed more anxiety than Carson’s. She had a better grasp of the danger they’d been in that afternoon. But neither kid had cracked under the pressure. They’d held it together like soldiers. From what Hannah had told him, Julia had behaved like a hero.

“OK. Well, we can talk about it afterward.” Grant backed out of the driveway and headed toward town. A glance at Ellie’s face showed her gaze fixed on the passenger window. Her revelation had rocked him.

His mind conjured up images of a man holding her at gunpoint and threatening her family and Ellie spending the next two days searching for the file.

Abducting Ellie was one more reason for Grant to extract payback. He’d given her a hard time agreeing to keep her predicament from the police, but the truth was, Grant wouldn’t mind finding his brother’s killer before the cops. Plus, Ellie made fair points about the lack of progress on the murder case and her inability to provide a description of her extortionist. Grant wanted the killer punished before he went back to Afghanistan. It wouldn’t be fair to force her to expose her secret and risk her family’s safety when he might have to leave her with the threat still viable.

Ellie and her family had worked their way into his heart over the past few days. In a perfect world, he’d tuck them under his wing along with his family. But nothing was perfect.

He parked at the police station and escorted them inside. Ellie and Julia took chairs in the waiting area. Carson walked in a circle, touching everything. His little hands ran over plastic chair backs and desk edges, as if he needed to ground himself physically in the police station to hold it together. Grant took a seat and offered the boy a knee, but Carson shook his head and kept moving.

While they waited for McNamara to get organized, Grant checked his messages. Mac hadn’t responded to his text. He would feel a lot better about Faith, Nan, and Hannah being alone if his sister had her handgun. Her hand-to-hand self-defense might be rusty after years as a corporate attorney, but she’d been a natural marksman at birth. Shooting came as easily to her as studying to Lee and sense of direction to Mac. Grant swore his youngest brother could find his way out of Siberia with a stick and a roll of duct tape. If only Mac were as reliable as he was directionally gifted. In the meantime, at least Hannah had Nan’s shotgun.

“We’re ready for Carson.” McNamara gestured toward an open door.

Grant put his hand on his nephew’s shoulder and guided him inside a small conference room. Five chairs surrounded an oval table.

McNamara stopped at the door. He motioned toward a slender young woman with long red hair and glasses seated at the table. “Kailee is a police artist for the county. She’s going to work with Carson while I take Julia’s statement. Then we’ll switch.”

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***