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“Do you have everything you need?” Grant reached for his socks. “That was Hannah. We need to get back.”

“All right.” She pointed to his calf. “What’s that?”

“Shrapnel.” Grant brushed his hand over the patch of gray bumps below a burn scar on his lower leg, where tiny bits of metal had been embedded since his first tour in Iraq.

“They just left it in there?”

“Doctor said they’d do more damage trying to dig it out than leaving it alone. It’s been in there for years.” He shrugged. “I know it’s ugly, but it doesn’t hurt.”

She reached for his shoulder and turned him away from her. He felt her finger lightly trace the puckered pink scar on his back. “And this?”

“Bullet. Also Iraq.”

He turned back to her and took her hands. “Now you see why I didn’t want you to get attached to me.”

Instead of answering, she leaned closer and pressed a soft kiss to his lips.

“We’d better go.” Moving away from him, she dressed.

With a fresh wound in his heart, Grant did the same. He stuffed his feet into his boots and picked up her bag of clothes. Ellie locked up as they left the house. He scanned the street, looking for any signs of surveillance. Was Hoodie Man, as Ellie called him, watching right now? He hadn’t relied on GPS technology alone. The picture he’d sent to Ellie clearly showed he’d also been doing personal surveillance. But tonight, Grant didn’t see or feel any eyes on him. A few cars were parked along the street. No signs of occupation, but he made a note to do another check later. He’d had enough waiting for the police to do things legally. Grant’s leave was ticking away. He needed this situation settled and his family and Ellie’s safe before he returned to the army.

He’d been formulating a plan. Tomorrow, he was putting it into action. They went out onto the porch. A silver Mercedes sedan was parked out front.

“Who is that?” Ellie asked.

“Boston plates. Must be Kate’s parents.” Grant hustled across the front yard. “I hope calling them wasn’t a big mistake.”

Chapter Thirty-Two

Ellie followed Grant into the house. An older couple stood in the foyer. Hannah was taking coats and hanging them in the closet.

“These are Kate’s parents, Bill and Stella Sheridan.” Hannah introduced Grant and Ellie. “Let’s go back to the kitchen. I just made coffee.”

Bill was tall, with a thick head of silver hair, blue eyes, and a slight stoop. His thin wife had a gray bob cut precisely to swing at her chin, pointy and angular as her face. They were well-dressed in slacks and sweaters.

Stella frowned at the peeling wallpaper in the hall. In the kitchen, Hannah set out mugs and coffee on the table. The baby stirred, making a fussy sound. The Sheridans crossed the floor and stopped in front of Faith’s baby seat.

“That’s your granddaughter, Faith.” Grant squatted and released the harness. He lifted the baby and turned her to face the Sheridans.

Stella reached a tentative hand and touched Faith’s chubby thigh. “Babies should take naps in their cribs.”

“She’s colicky,” Grant said.

Stella shook her head. “Babies need routine, Major. Put her in her crib and leave her be. She’ll cry for a while, but she’ll soon learn to be independent. If you coddle her, she’ll never learn that the world doesn’t revolve around her. I understand there’s an older child as well?”

“Yes. Carson is six. He’s taking a nap.” Hannah measured formula.

“I imagine this has been an awful week for him.” Stella lowered her hand from Faith’s leg. Was Kate’s mother nervous? She’d never seen her grandchildren. How many regrets was Mrs. Sheridan battling behind her gray eyes?

“He’s having a rough time.” Grant’s brow creased. Hannah handed him a bottle, and he settled at the table with Faith in the crook of his arm. The Sheridans sat across from him. Ellie contemplated backing out of the room and giving the family privacy, but the grief in Grant’s eyes pulled her to him. Ellie took the chair next to him, pressing her leg against his. He shot her a grateful look.

Bill ignored the coffee Hannah set in front of him. “When is the funeral being planned?”

Grant shifted the baby to his shoulder and burped her. “We haven’t made plans yet. The medical examiner just released their bodies a couple of hours ago.”

Remembering Grant’s tight hold on her as he slept in her bed, Ellie’s heart clenched. He hadn’t told her. Didn’t he trust her? He’d lied to her yesterday about where he was going with Mac. Was he holding anything else back?

“What about the children? What plans have been made for them?”

Grant cleared his throat. “We haven’t made any decisions yet.”

“What are the options?” Stella interlaced her fingers and leaned her forearms on the table. “Are either of you married?” Her gaze shifted between Hannah and Grant.

“No,” Grant admitted. “Why didn’t you speak to Kate over the years?”

“Kate made her decision. She rejected us.” Stella’s cheeks flushed. “We all made mistakes. Now we’ve no opportunity to rectify them. Something I will regret until the day I die.” She placed her palms on the table. “Major, it seems to me that the best option for those children is for us to raise them. We have sufficient income to ensure they get the best care and private education. We know an excellent child psychologist, and we’ve already made inquiries to find a qualified nanny. They won’t want for anything.”

Except affection, thought Ellie, but she kept her mouth shut. This wasn’t any of her business. The Sheridans didn’t appear mean, just standoffish. But Carson craved physical contact. Ellie couldn’t imagine either of the Sheridans cuddling with him after a nightmare.

“I think you should meet Carson before we discuss any long term plans.” Grant said.

Stella nodded. She didn’t have to wait long. Carson appeared, sleepy and rumpled, in the kitchen doorway. Grant passed the baby to Hannah, and Carson climbed onto Grant’s lap.

“Carson, these are your grandparents,” Grant said.

“Hello, Carson. It’s nice to meet you.” Stella reached out and touched his arm. “You look like your mommy when she was little.”

Carson curled a hand around his lips and leaned close to Grant’s ear. “I don’t know her.”

Grant patted him on the back. “It’s OK.”

Bill cleared his throat. His eyes were misty. “You can call us Grandma and Grandpa if you like.”

Carson turned his face into Grant’s chest and wound his arms around his uncle’s neck.

Stella pulled a tissue from her pocket and blotted her eyes. “Why don’t we come back tomorrow, after he’s had some time to adjust to the idea?”

“I think that’s a good idea.” Grant stood, with Carson still in his arms.

Ellie put a hand on the ache in her chest. How would it feel to be estranged from a child for more than a decade and have her die violently before you could make amends?

“Remember our offer,” Stella said.

“As I said before, we haven’t made any decisions yet.” Grant rose, patting Faith on the back. They escorted the Sheridans to the foyer. Hannah fetched their coats.

“Children need stability.” Bill held his wife’s coat. “Please keep that in mind.”

Stella paused in the doorway. “We’re staying at a bed-and-breakfast.” She handed Grant a card. “I’ve written my cell phone number on the back. Please call if you decide on a funeral date.”

Grant closed the door after them. Mac came down the steps. “Who’s hungry?”

“Me.” Carson lifted his head from Grant’s shoulder. He set the boy down, and Carson followed Mac down the hall into the kitchen.

Hannah rested her cheek on Faith’s head. “Not the most demonstrative pair of grandparents.”

“Our family is hardly perfect. We’ve barely seen each other in the past few years.”

“I don’t know.” Hannah shook her head. “Carson didn’t seem too keen on her, and she didn’t ask to hold the baby.”

“She’s had a shock. I imagine she always thought there’d be time to reconcile with Kate. And now there isn’t.” Grant sighed. “Maybe it’s just as well they weren’t too pushy. I’m not sure he’s ready. He doesn’t ask about the future. He can barely get through today.” Was Grant talking about Carson or himself? “He’ll warm up to them.”

Hannah stopped and stared at him. “You can’t be thinking of letting those people raise the kids? Or maybe I should say, letting their hired help raise the kids.”

Ellie agreed with Hannah, but this was the Barretts’ decision, not hers, though her heart broke for Carson. The little boy was attached to Grant. Ellie could relate. She didn’t want to think about Grant leaving.

“I don’t know,” Grant said. “Are you prepared to quit your job? I’ll be in Afghanistan for at least another month, and it wouldn’t surprise me if my deployment gets extended. It usually does. I could end up overseas until fall. Mac is headed for South America. What else are we going to do?”


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