Page 51

Ellie washed out the baby’s bottle and put it in the dishwasher. Grant leaned back against the counter next to her. He hadn’t shaved today. The blond scruff on his jaw made her think of their lovemaking. She’d never experienced anything that intense—or sweet. Her face heated. She tugged her turtleneck higher, making sure the faint beard burn on her neck was covered.

She turned and leaned toward him, then stopped midmotion. She’d been leaning in to give him a comforting kiss. That sort of intimate domesticity could never happen between them, but shock filled her at how much she wanted it. Grant was so unlike any other man she’d dated. Strong, reliable, honest. If she allowed herself, she could easily imagine weekends of blissful, boring, ordinariness. Grant looking sexily rumpled. Kissing her with the wicked promise in his eyes that he’d do a lot more at the first opportunity. The family innocent and ignorant of his intent.

Well, not Nan. She didn’t miss much.

Ellie’s phone vibrated once. An incoming text. A second buzz in her front pocket reverberated in her hipbone. She felt the blood drain from her head as she pulled out her cell.

Afraid to look at the display until she was in private, she ducked out of the room with a quick, “excuse me.”

Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Grant following her as she went into the office.

He closed the door. “Same number as yesterday?”

“No. It’s a new one.”

“What does it say?” he prompted.

She read the message. “Do you have the file?”

“Type yes.”


“I’m done screwing around with this guy.” Grant’s eyes chilled to ice blue. “Today, we’re making him a file.”

A sense of the inevitable filled her. Grant was right. This had to end. Her hands were steady as she typed Yes into the phone and hit Send.

They stared at each other as nearly five minutes passed.

“I think your answer surprised him,” Grant said. “Which is good.”

The return message came in and Ellie read it. “Eight o’clock tonight. Same parking lot as before. Come alone or everyone dies.”

Turning into the parking lot of St. Vincent’s Thrift Shop, Grant adjusted the wig and slid down in the driver’s seat of Ellie’s minivan. He drove past a brick bungalow on his left and into an asphalt rectangle approximately thirty by sixty. A light fastened to the back of the building cast a puddle of light onto the pavement. Beyond the reach of the single light, darkness waited. The shop was a few blocks from the commercial district, with the closest residence a half mile down the road.

Plenty of privacy.

With all senses on high alert, Grant drove to the rear of the lot and parked in the darkest corner. He scanned the surroundings but saw no sign of company. A flip of a switch killed the headlights. The van’s interior dome light had been disabled back at the house. Ellie’s phone sat on the console next to the GPS tracking device. Hoodie Man knew the van was here.

Where are you, Donnie?

If Grant had been running an operation like this, he would have arrived early and secured the area. Hoodie Man wasn’t here yet, so he was likely an amateur. Adrenaline flowed hot and fast through Grant’s veins. Tonight he’d face his brother’s killer and find out who’d hired him to kill Lee. Then Grant and his family could begin to heal. He lowered the window to listen to the night. A vehicle engine approached. Tires grated on salt and sand left on the blacktop after the ice had melted.

A sedan pulled into the lot behind the minivan. So far, so good. The driver got out. In the van’s mirrors, Grant watched the black-clad, hooded figure give the lot a cursory scan before approaching the vehicle. The sedan’s headlights glinted on the metal of a gun. Without speaking, Grant stuck the fake file out the open window. He held it vertically and used it to block his face from view.

The hooded man stepped forward until he was next to the driver’s side door. He snatched the file, his excitement getting the best of him. Grant’s hand closed on the door handle. He jerked it back and pushed. The door slammed into the man and knocked him off his feet. The gun and file flew out of his hands. They slid across the asphalt, blank sheets of paper scattering in the wind. Grant launched his body out of the vehicle. Fueled by fury, he landed on top.

Out of his peripheral vision, he glimpsed Mac running out of the adjacent field. Grant had dropped him off well before the meeting to provide cover.

Straddling his opponent’s chest, Grant yanked back the hood and ripped off the bandana. He raised his hand—and froze.

It wasn’t Donnie. Corey Swann stared up at Grant.

“You killed my brother.” Grant’s fingers curled into a fist. He wanted his knife. “I should just slit your throat right here.”

“Killed your brother?” Corey wheezed as Grant sat on his sternum. “What are you talking about? I didn’t kill anybody.”

Damn it. Corey must have hired Donnie to kill Lee but hadn’t trusted the hit man to recover the file. “You hired someone to kill him. Same thing.”

Corey coughed.

Grant pulled his dad’s KA-BAR from its sheath on his calf and pressed the blade to Corey’s throat. “I know about the GPS. I know you threatened to kill Ellie’s family. I saw the texts you sent, using a burner phone just like your daughter used to torment Lindsay Hamilton.”

Corey drew a ragged breath. Reluctantly, Grant shifted his weight slightly to let him draw a breath.

“Yes,” Corey gasped. “I threatened to kill them, but I didn’t hurt anyone. I just wanted that file.”

“Why?” Grant asked, vaguely aware of Mac coming to stand next to him. “What’s in the file?”

“I don’t know!” Corey cried. “But your brother found something to implicate my daughter. I had to find out what it was and destroy it.”

“You don’t even know what it is?” Shock flowed through Grant. This man had hurt people to prevent his daughter from being accused of the crime she committed.

“No, but whatever it is, no one can find out about it.” Corey’s eyes watered, the moisture shining in the headlights, fear etched in his expression. “All I did was threaten Ellie Ross. That’s it. I was afraid Lee Barrett found enough evidence to convince the police to file charges against my daughter. I couldn’t risk that. Even a civil suit would destroy her future. I won’t let her life be ruined for one mistake.”

“One mistake? She drove a girl to commit suicide.”

“She didn’t kill anyone. That girl had mental problems. No one could have predicted she’d hang herself because of a little teasing.”

“A little teasing? I read the texts she sent to Lindsay,” Grant said. “Your daughter was brutally and intentionally cruel. She taunted that poor girl mercilessly.”

“Regan had no idea the girl was medicated. I’m sure she wouldn’t have teased her if she did.” But Corey’s eyes weren’t convinced. He was making excuses and he knew it.

“You don’t even care, do you?”

“I need to protect my child.”

“What about teaching her to be a decent human being? What about forcing her to live with the consequences of her actions? Do you not care what kind of person you’ve borne and raised?”

Corey’s gaze went flat. Clearly, that ship was halfway to the Caymans.

Mac tapped Grant on the shoulder. “You can’t kill him.”

“I can hurt him.” Grant’s blade was poised directly over Corey’s carotid artery, but he could easily move it to a less fatal location.

“Grant, let’s call the cops,” Mac said. “We need to find Donnie.”

Donnie. Shit. Donnie could be anywhere.

Grant grabbed Corey by the hair and pressed his knife to his throat. “I can take your whole fucking head off from this angle. So where is he, Corey? Where’s Donnie?”

Corey’s face twisted with resentment. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You can’t kill him.” Mac pulled out his phone and punched numbers.

But Grant wanted to. Listening to his brother summon the police, red hazed Grant’s vision. Rage muddied his thoughts. This man had threatened to kill Ellie’s family, and now he was holding back information. As soon as the cops got here, Corey would shut up and call a lawyer.

“Grant!” Mac yanked on his shoulder. “You can’t kill him.”

That caught Grant’s attention. He straightened, removing the knife from Corey’s throat. Corey’s head fell onto the ground, and his body shook with self-pitying sobs. Grant stood and sheathed his knife.

“What now?” Mac asked. “The cops will be here any minute.”

“We tie him to something, and we split up. Do you want the house or the skating rink?” Grant looked behind him. Corey’s sedan was still running. “I’ll take his car. Hopefully the cops will be able to get him to talk.”

Sand grated on blacktop. Grant whirled toward the sound as Corey launched his body at his legs. Grant sprawled, his legs shooting back, his weight coming down on the back of Corey’s shoulders. Corey hit the pavement face-first and went still.


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