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Grant hesitated at the threshold. “Would you mind putting away Kate’s things?” Searching through his sister-in-law’s intimates would feel like an invasion of her privacy.

“Of course.” She nodded grimly and pulled out the top drawer of Kate’s nightstand.

“We’re looking for places easily overlooked.” Grant pushed aside the clothes in the closet and felt along the walls. Nothing. The shoe boxes on the top shelf held only shoes. Containers stored off-season clothes. Grant left the closet. He walked around the room, lifting prints off the walls and checking behind them. He inspected the floor for any sign a board had been pried loose. “Do you know if they had a safe?”

Ellie shone a flashlight behind the headboard. “No.” Her voice was strained with sadness.

“Why don’t you tell me about the Hamilton case while we search?” He had read articles on the case, but he wanted Ellie’s perspective.

“Lindsay Hamilton was a junior at Scarlet Falls High. She moved here from California and joined the skating team. Within a couple of weeks of starting, she was targeted for torment. This bully faction was allegedly led by two girls, Regan Swann and Autumn Winslow. Both girls are stars of the team, top of the high school class, et cetera. According to Lindsay’s parents, these girls harassed Lindsay until she hanged herself in the woods behind her house.”

“If the girls were guilty, why isn’t there enough evidence to charge them?” he asked. “Are you sure the accusations aren’t groundless?”

“I’ve heard too much bullying in general at the rink to dismiss the allegations. Ice-skating is a cutthroat sport. You wouldn’t believe some of the things that go on.” Ellie climbed to her feet and brushed her hands on her jeans. “I suspect Regan and Autumn were smarter than most and didn’t leave a trail. Regan’s dad is some kind of computer specialist. If anyone would know how to wipe an electronic trail, it would be him. But Lee must have discovered something that convinced him he could win a civil suit. He was a little bit of a sap for a lawyer, but he wouldn’t take a case if he didn’t think he had a chance of winning. His caseload was already large. He didn’t have the time to throw away, and I doubt he’d want to get Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton’s hopes up for no reason either.”

“No, he always sounded stressed when I talked to him.” Which hadn’t been for a long time.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” She straightened. “There’s money missing from the firm. Roger’s dad, the Grand Poobah of the firm, gave him a thorough verbal lashing the other day. A series of fraudulent checks were cashed in the past couple of weeks.”

“How much was missing?” Grant’s gut sank.

“About twenty thousand dollars.”

“Lee had some unusual cash deposits.”

“You don’t think . . . ?” Ellie’s voice broke. “Not Lee. He would never steal anything.”

“I don’t know. I’m beginning to think I didn’t know my brother as well as I thought.” He hesitated before opening Lee’s armoire. He was determined to separate his emotions from his task, but rifling through Lee’s socks gave him an ache in his chest. He pulled a T-shirt from the bottom drawer. His fingers clenched in the fabric as he shook it out to see the word ARMY emblazoned in olive-green letters across the chest. Grant had given it to his brother twelve years ago when he left for his first deployment. Under the shirt was a familiar walnut box. He lifted the lid. Inside was the purple heart Grant had been given when he’d been shot in Iraq. He’d asked Lee to hold on to it for him for safekeeping. Underneath were their father’s medals.

No matter how much Grant traveled, he’d always known his brother was here, holding down the fort at home, taking care of Dad, and providing Grant with a sense of home even though he hadn’t lived in Scarlet Falls in more than a decade. He massaged a tight spot in the center of his chest with one hand. Damn it, Lee. What happened?

He snapped the lid—and his memories of Lee—shut.

“It’s not in here.” He needed to get out of this room. “Let’s go look somewhere else.”

Ellie looked up at him, her expression puzzled. Tears shone in the corners of her eyes as she met his gaze. Without speaking, she crossed the room, took his hand, and tugged him into the hall. The sounds of water splashing, muted conversation, and the baby’s babbling echoed from the bathroom. She led him through the door at the end of the hall and up the stairs to the open attic. Dust motes danced in the light of three bare bulbs suspended from the rafters.

“I doubt Lee would have hidden the file up here,” Grant said.

“Shh.” Ellie wrapped her arms around his waist and hugged him.

Shocked, he pulled back, but she tightened her hold. Grant, ignoring the warning signals from his conscience, returned the embrace. He rested his forehead on her hair and accepted the comfort she offered. His heart stirred in an uncomfortable and dangerous spiral. He liked this. Too much. This was the sort of thing his married friends missed while they were deployed: human contact, shared emotions. For a second, he thought maybe it was worth missing. But no, that would be selfish. This wasn’t just about him. It wouldn’t be fair to Ellie to start something he couldn’t finish. He moved every year or so, and if he really wanted to be a general, he didn’t need emotional ties tempting him to turn down assignments that could further his career. It was much easier to remain emotionally detached, because until this week, that’s what he’d been. He thought he’d had a relationship with his brother, but it was all an illusion. He’d barely known Lee. Grant had spent most of his adult life alone and aloof, avoiding personal connections and complications.

But damn. He couldn’t seem to let go of the soft woman in his arms.

She sighed, and her body relaxed. She shifted, leaning back. “I’m sorry.”

“For what?”

Her warm brown eyes filled with empathy. “That this all happened to you. You haven’t had time to grieve.”

A small shudder passed through him, followed by a wave of need he couldn’t explain or deny, except that his soul was an empty shell. He pressed his lips to hers and let the taste of her fill the void inside him. Instead of resisting, she clutched his shirt and let him in. What started out tender and innocent shifted. Desire warmed him and pooled low in his groin. A hungry groan eased out of her throat.

He wrapped a hand around the back of her neck, tilting her head and angling her mouth for a deeper invasion. She wound her arms around his neck. His free hand slid around her body and splayed at the base of her spine. He urged her hips closer. There. Right there.

“Grant.” She moved her mouth an inch away from his.

“Mm.” There was nothing more he’d like to do than strip Ellie naked and make love to her. And even though he knew there was no way that was going to happen at this moment—he didn’t have a condom, there were too many children and other family members in the house, and they were in the middle of searching for a key piece of evidence—he wasn’t ready to let her go yet. Holding her, kissing her, thinking about making love to her, eased his loneliness. She gave him hope.

She squirmed. “We can’t . . .”

“I know,” he whispered against her cheek. “Just give me another minute. Please.”

He wanted an hour or ten. Hell, since he was fantasizing, he might as well wish for a whole day of Ellie without distractions.

But that was not to be.

Reluctantly, he pressed a kiss to her temple and eased away from her body. “Thank you.”

Her mouth tilted in a sad smile.

“Were you close to Lee and Kate?” he asked, getting back to business.

“I worked with Lee for years, but since I moved next door, Kate became a good friend. We had a lot in common. They were new to the neighborhood, too. They’d just moved into this house a few months before me.”

“I don’t know much about Kate.” Grant sighed. “I spent two weeks of my leave with them each year, but I feel like I didn’t know her as well as I should have.”

“You can hardly help being sent to Afghanistan.”

But he could have visited more when he was stateside. He’d been so focused on his career that he’d neglected his family.

“Kate was quiet.” Ellie turned away from him and walked to a small octagonal window. “She and Lee were proud of you.”

He shoved his thumbs into the front pockets of his jeans. “I still wish I’d been here more.”

She nodded in understanding. “I’m sorry you can’t change that, but being here for Carson and Faith is what’s important now.”

And that was only temporary.

“I guess. I really don’t know where else to look.” He scanned the attic. A row of storage containers was lined up under the eave. “We’ll check these boxes, then start on the guest rooms.”

The boxes were full of clothes Carson had outgrown. Had they been saving them for a future little boy? Grant closed the lid before the sadness enveloped him. There was no point speculating. He moved containers and lifted insulation but found no secret hiding places.