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They moved downstairs to the guest rooms and did the same checking of floorboards and spaces behind and under heavy furniture. They had no more luck on the first floor.

Two hours later, Ellie emerged from the laundry room. “Did you find anything?”

“Nothing.” Grant righted the sofa. They’d torn apart every cabinet and closet in the house. All that was left was the detached garage, and he doubted the file was under the lawn mower or in Lee’s workbench.

She brushed a cobweb from her hair. “What next?”

“I don’t know. I’m out of ideas.”

Her eyes went round. “What am I going to do if I can’t find the file?”

Grant stood and crossed the room. He took her by the arms. “You’re not alone.”

“He’s going to hurt my family.” Her horrified whisper rent his soul in two.

“I won’t let him.” But what would happen if he had to leave and the threat hadn’t been eliminated? “We have to figure out what Lee discovered the hard way. Lindsay Hamilton skated at the same rink as Julia. Do you know her parents?”

Ellie dropped onto the sofa. “No. I’ve never met them. Lindsay was older. Plus, Julia isn’t a serious skater. She only goes to her lesson and one team practice a week. Once in a while, Kate would talk her into practicing in a free skate, but Julia hated it. The advanced skaters are aggressive on the ice.”

“Aggressive?” Sitting next to her, he thought of the combative hockey players.

“They act like they own the rink. They’d skate in her path or spin close enough to make her uncomfortable.” Ellie rubbed her hands together, pushing at the skin until it reddened. “Julia likes skating, but it’s a hobby, not a passion. She certainly doesn’t love it enough to put up with the hassle.”

“Do you know Regan and Autumn’s parents?”

“I know who they are, but I’ve only spoken to them a couple of times.”

Grant reached over and put his hand on Ellie’s to still them. He wanted to fix everything for her. Frustration stirred in his chest, along with the desire to pull her onto his lap. “So maybe those skaters really are bullies?”

“The only thing I know for sure is that they hog the ice.” Her eyes met his, and the fear in them stirred his anger. “I feel so helpless. What do I do?”

“Do you have the Hamiltons’ phone number?”

“I do. I had to change one of Lee’s appointments with them. Let me sign in to my e-mail account.” She pulled her hands out from under his grip. He missed holding the contact immediately.

They went into the office. She sat down in front of Hannah’s laptop on the desk. “Here it is.”

Leaning over her shoulder, Grant inhaled the flowery scent of her hair and resisted the urge to wrap his arms around her. “Call them and see if they’d be willing to meet with us.”

“OK.” Ellie dialed the number. A minute later, she covered the receiver with a hand. “Voice mail.” She left a message and hung up.

“Do you think they’ll call back?”

She thought for a moment, then nodded. “Yes. Mr. and Mrs. Hamilton have shown no signs of giving up on their daughter’s case. They’re going to assume I’m calling them as a firm representative. Roger has been avoiding them since Lee died.”

“Why?”

“He doesn’t want to deal with it, and without whatever evidence Lee discovered, the case won’t go anywhere.”

Grant scratched his chin. Beard scruff rasped under his fingers. “Who has the biggest stake in this case?”

“Regan and Autumn.” Ellie brushed hair off her face. “Regan’s dad, Corey, is a computer guy, which explains how his daughter would know to buy and use burner phones.”

“I’d think most kids would be able to figure that out with a basic Google search. But Lindsay’s phone was wiped out with a cell phone virus. That seems like more specific knowledge. Do you think Corey would have helped his daughter eliminate her cybertrail?”

“I’d hope not.” Ellie frowned. “He’s kind of an ass, but helping his daughter torment another teen seems extreme. But I suppose it’s possible.”

“What does Josh Winslow do for a living?”

“He used to be an administrator for the juvenile justice system. But he stepped down. The media coverage of the bullying case was brutal.”

“I thought the media isn’t allowed to name minors?”

Ellie sighed. “This is suburbia. Everyone knows who they are.”

“So everyone believed Lindsay?”

“No, but there was speculation that the girls were getting special consideration because Josh was a civil employee.”

“Is that wrong or right?” he asked. “His daughter wasn’t charged with anything. I don’t know whether to feel bad for him or not.”

“I know what you mean. I thought I had a good handle on Julia, but considering she sneaked out in the middle of the night, obviously I was wrong. I don’t know what to think of Josh. At least his wife is a surgeon, so financially, they’re going to be all right.”

Ellie had given him a lot to mull over: information on the case and a smoking hot kiss that rocked him to his soul. He hoped the Hamiltons would be able to shed more light on the case. He was on his own with the kiss and his needy soul.

The doorbell rang. Barking erupted in the hallway.

Grant walked to the window. “It’s the police.”

Chapter Twenty-Five

AnnaBelle went ballistic, barking and circling in the foyer of the Barretts’ house. Ellie followed Grant to the door. He opened it. “Please come in.”

Detective McNamara wiped his feet on the doormat and stepped inside. Hannah joined them. She quieted the dog with a hand on the retriever’s head.

“We have some pictures to show the kids.” McNamara lifted an eight-by-ten envelope in his hand.

The cop zeroed in on their handguns. “Do you have permits for those?”

Hannah crossed her arms, her eyes hardening. “Yes. Do you need to see them?”

“Not right now.” McNamara gave her a tight head shake. He obviously didn’t approve. “Can you shoot it?”

“Yes.” Her mouth pursed. Mutual irritation passed between them.

Grant cleared his throat. “What can we do for you, Detective?”

McNamara shook the envelope. “As I said before, I have some pictures we’d like to show to Julia and Carson. Are they still awake?”

“I think so. I’ll get them.” Ellie jogged up the stairs. Julia’s voice carried from the open doorway of Carson’s bedroom. Ellie peered in. Julia and Carson snuggled on the bed in their pajamas, relaxed. A copy of a Henry and Mudge chapter book lay open between them. Julia read a page, then tilted the book toward Carson. The words were slower, but he read well.

Sadness filled Ellie as she interrupted the peaceful scene. “Would you two come downstairs for a minute? Detective McNamara wants you to look at some pictures.”

Carson’s eyes went from relaxed to scared in a blink. Julia frowned and gave his shoulder a squeeze. She took him by the hand and led him down the hall.

Downstairs, the cop and Grant were sitting at the kitchen table. Mac, who’d finally returned Grant’s call and agreed to move in for a few days, walked by with a fussing Faith on one shoulder. On the other side of the kitchen, Hannah leaned backward against the cabinets. A coffee mug steamed in her hand. No relaxing for Grant’s sister. She caffeinated 24/7.

McNamara rubbed his face with both hands. Bags under his eyes attested to the hours he must be putting into the case.

“Can I get you some coffee?” Hannah offered.

“Please,” the detective said.

Hannah poured a mug. The detective waved off cream and sugar. He drank while Carson and Julia shuffled into the room.

“Hi, kids. Do you think you’re up to looking at a few photos for me?” McNamara opened the envelope. “We’ll do this one at a time, OK? Julia, would you wait in the hall?”

She nodded.

Carson pulled his hand out of Julia’s and hurried to Grant to climb on his lap. Grant folded his arms around the child and brushed blond bangs off his forehead. Ellie took her daughter’s hand and led her to the hallway. It had been a long time since Julia had allowed her mother to hold her hand, but tonight, she curled her fingers and hung on.

“Now that I’ve recovered from the sheer terror, I want to tell you how proud I am of the way you handled the situation today,” Ellie said.

“Proud enough to lift my sentence?” Julia’s attempt at humor told Ellie her daughter was all right.

“Not a chance.” She squeezed her daughter’s fingers.

“It was worth a try.” Julia shrugged.

“But maybe I haven’t given you enough credit.”

They heard papers shuffling, then Carson’s small voice. “This is him.”

“All right,” McNamara said. “Julia, your turn.”

Grant stood with Carson in his arms and walked out of the room. Ellie and Julia took their places at the table. McNamara spread six head shots across the table. The photos were all of young, rough-looking Caucasian men in their early twenties. None had tattoos.

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