Page 10

Brody took the chair next to Grant and leaned toward him. “Is something wrong?”

Grant frowned. He opened his mouth then abruptly closed it, his gaze shifting to the doorway. Brody tracked his line of sight to see Hannah gingerly walking into the room. Yoga pants and a fitted, long-sleeve top hugged her lithe frame. Brody blinked in shock as she walked closer. The one word he’d never thought he’d use to describe her was frail. But that’s what came to mind. Normally, Hannah was tall and long-limbed in a kick-ass, athletic way. Her blue eyes, usually barbed-wire sharp, were clouded with pain and something else. Anxiety.

What the hell?

She met his questioning gaze and gave him a quick shake of her head. Whatever she wanted to say to him would wait until they were alone.

“Aunt Hannah.” Carson bolted from his seat. “You took a longer nap than Faith.”

Grant caught him around the middle. “Easy, sport. Aunt Hannah had an accident, remember?”

Carson slid to a stop, but Hannah smiled at him. “I’m fine, Grant, just a little stiff, and I could really use a hug.”

She eased into the only vacant seat, next to Brody.

“Yeah, that’s better.” She wrapped her arms around her nephew. Her muscles appeared to loosen as she rested her head against the child’s. “Hugs always make me feel better.”

“You should come see us more.” In three seconds, Carson squirmed out of her embrace.

“You’re right.” She brushed his sun-whitened bangs off his face.

“Uncle Grant,” the boy said. “Can we have cake now?”

“Soon,” Grant said with a smile.

Hannah turned to the baby. “Girlfriend, we need to talk about personal hygiene.”

Faith shrieked and reached both sticky hands for her aunt.

“Let me clean her up,” Grant said. “Ellie, could you toss me a dish towel?”

“I don’t mind sticky.” Hannah half stood and gave the baby a smacking kiss on her orange-smeared nose. Faith clapped her aunt’s cheeks with both hands. Hannah winced, but covered it with a smile. Brody looked closer. At the edge of her hairline, a bruise extended from her ear to her temple. The puffy, darkening patch was the size of a fist. Brody’s jaw muscles went taut again.

“You all right?” Grant asked. Ellie brought her a wet towel.

“Fine.” Hannah wiped orange handprints off her face.

“You should ice that egg on your head.” Grant got up and went to the freezer.

She pulled a foot up onto the chair and hugged her knee. Her pant leg rode up. A ring of bruises surrounded her slender ankle. Like fingerprints. Fury rode hot up the back of Brody’s neck. Accident his ass. He’d find out who hurt her and . . .

He stopped himself. He sounded like Grant. There could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for her bruises.

Catching her gaze, Brody whispered, “What happened?”

Hannah stared back. “I fell.”

“I thought you were in an accident,” he shot back under his breath.

“Well, I can assure you what happened wasn’t intentional.” Her voice sharpened, which made him feel better. The clop on the head clearly hadn’t affected her keen brain or quick tongue.

She smiled as her brother handed her an ice pack. Letting the subject go for now, Brody sat back and enjoyed the company. But he wasn’t leaving until Hannah told him everything.

The rest of the party went smoothly. Ellie’s grandmother was a hell of a cook, and Brody was happy to dive into a plateful of roast chicken and macaroni and cheese. Cake, candles, and the birthday song followed. When was the last time Brody had celebrated a traditional milestone? He took Chet out for a burger on his last birthday. Maybe that’s why he and Chet were so close. Neither of them had a personal life.

When Faith tired of smearing icing and cake over her face and head, she screamed for her freedom in a pitch that could scatter dogs.

“Shh.” Hannah lifted her from the high chair.

The baby snagged a handful of her aunt’s sweatshirt with an icing-laden fist. Hannah gently pried the stubby fist from her clothes. “I think a bath is in order, birthday girl.”

“I’ll hose her down, Hannah.” Ellie took the baby and left the room.

“Thanks for dinner.” Brody caught Grant’s eye. “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Sure.” Grant stood. “Let’s go into my office.”

He speared Hannah with a gaze. “I’d like to talk to you, too.”

She paused. Their eyes locked for one long breath before she blinked away. Brody could have studied her all day. She wasn’t the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen, but she was by far the most compelling.

“I’ll be right there.” She went to the sink, wet a paper towel, and wiped at the icing stain on her shirt.

Grant led him to a small room in the front of the house. Not yet renovated, the office was covered with wood paneling and blue carpet that called to the 1980s. He closed the door behind them and sat on the edge of the desk, the same chipped old desk and chairs that used to sit in his dead brother’s study. “What’s up?”

“It’s about the trial, but we might as well wait for Hannah. She didn’t fall, did she?” Brody asked.

Grant crossed his arms over his thick chest. “No, she didn’t, but she didn’t want to upset Carson.”

“Understandable, but she looks like she’s in rough shape. What happened?” Brody asked.

“Why don’t you ask her?”

“Because she scares the crap out of me.” To be specific, it was the powerful interest for her stirring in his chest that intimidated him.

Grant laughed. “Hannah’s not scary unless she’s armed.”

Brody gave him a pointed look.

“OK. Maybe she’s a little fierce, but not scary,” Grant admitted as he studied Brody. Did Grant suspect he had a thing for his sister? “Try softening her up with Dunkin’ Donuts. Boston Kreme is her kryptonite. Mushroom pizza is also a favorite.”

Brody made a mental note. “You’re going to be away next week. She’ll be alone out here.”

“I wouldn’t be going if I wasn’t sure she was all right,” Grant said. “And Mac is scheduled to be home on Thursday.”

In Brody’s opinion, the youngest Barrett, a wildlife biologist, was highly unreliable. “Where is Mac?”

“Brazil.”

“So about Hannah . . .”

“She was assaulted in a parking lot in Las Vegas Thursday night,” Grant continued.

“What?” Brody snapped to attention. He’d become immune to many things in his twelve-year career in law enforcement, but violence aimed at women and children hit a perpetually raw nerve.

Grant nodded, grim faced. “She walked into some guy beating on a girl.”

“Let me guess. She intervened.” From past experience, Brody knew Hannah would never be able to turn her back on some girl in trouble. She seemed to foster the same hero complex as Grant, except she wasn’t a former army officer.

“Yeah. He popped her in the head.” Grant tapped his temple. Fury flared in his eyes. Clearly, he was working hard to keep his temper in check.

Knowing some criminal had put his hands on her sent Brody’s blood into a silent boil. Call him old-fashioned, but there was no excuse for a man to ever raise his hand to a woman.

Grant agreed with a grim nod. “Hannah rallied, but after she got the girl into her car, he rammed them with his SUV.”

Footsteps in the hall silenced them. The door opened, and Hannah walked in. Grant gave her his chair. She eased into it as if her entire body hurt. But when she turned to face Brody, her gaze was as sharp as usual. “Grant said you have some news.”

Brody hesitated. Why couldn’t he ever bring her good news? “The defense attorney for Lee and Kate’s killer has filed for another postponement.”

She leaned back and crossed her legs. “What’s their claim this time?”

The trial had already seen delays due to a mental health evaluation for the defendant, assault charges filed against Grant by the defendant, and a psychological examination of Carson, who the defense attorney insisted testify though the prosecutor said it shouldn’t be necessary.

“They want to move the trial, claiming that publicity has tainted the potential jury pool.”

“I’m not surprised. I should have predicted it.” Hannah’s expression turned stormy.

“The prosecutor will be in touch later this week. I just wanted to give you a heads-up.”

She lifted her eyes. “I know notifying families isn’t your job, so thank you.”

“I didn’t want to see you blindsided.” Brody wished he could make it all go away. She and her family deserved peace.

“I appreciate it. Grant will be away, but I’ll meet with the prosecutor this week.” Hannah hugged her waist. Despite her confident tone and words, she looked vulnerable, and when Brody imagined a man hurting her, he wanted to break something. Like a head.

Through the door, Ellie called Grant’s name.

“Excuse me for a minute.” Grant went into the hall, leaving the door open.

“Now you want to tell me what really happened in Vegas?” Brody asked. “Unless you fell into a fist, you’ve been bullshitting me with that accident story.”

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***