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He squeezed her hand. “Don’t cry. Everything’s going to be all right.”

And, oddly, it was. Hannah wiped her cheeks. He was too weak for much conversation, but he seemed to be content to sit in silence and hold her hand. When he fell asleep, his face was relaxed and peaceful. She waited until his breathing leveled out before slipping from the room.

“He thought it was just after the explosion.” Hannah stopped at the nurses’ station to pluck a tissue from the box on the counter.

“That happens. Are you all right?” Grant wrapped an arm around her shoulders and steered her down the hallway toward the exit.

“The best visit I’ve had with him in years, and he thought I was someone else.”

“He can’t help it. I know you’re hurting, Hannah. But he had a really good hour, and you gave it to him.”

“I know,” she sighed. Outside of her hometown, she fared better, but here in Scarlet Falls, painful memories overwhelmed her. She was instantly reduced to a nine-year-old girl left behind while her father took her brothers on an outing in the woods. He usually let her go if she asked, but he’d never been happy about it. And the fact that she always had to justify her inclusion spoke volumes of their relationship.

Her therapist had not been surprised she had trouble forming attachments.

Grant pushed the door open, and they walked out into the daylight. The breeze swept cool over her face, but the sun rallied for warmth on her skin. Her brother started toward the truck. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“Not really,” Hannah said.

“I’m here for you when you’re ready.”

“When did you get so touchy-feely?” She regretted the snipe as soon as it left her lips. “I’m sorry. That was bitchy.”

“I won’t let you push me away, Hannah.” He stopped in the middle of the parking lot. “Mom’s death was devastating. For me, it was a hell of a lot easier to fly in for two weeks a year and let Lee handle the family. We drifted apart over the years, but Lee’s death taught me that was a mistake. We all let him down. I won’t let that happen again. We need each other. ”

Hannah thought the opposite. To her, Lee’s death reinforced how much it hurt to lose someone she loved.

“After Mom died, I didn’t want to be here either, but now, raising Faith and Carson, being with Ellie . . .” Grant paused, as if the intensity of his feelings for his new family was too much to explain. “In a way, it was easier to sever all those connections and let my career take over. Getting shot at overseas was less scary than taking on the responsibility for Lee’s kids. But I didn’t know what I was missing.”

“Are you this determined to rein Mac back into the fold?” she asked in an attempt to divert the conversation to their youngest brother, who was the wildest of them all.

“Don’t worry. Mac is next on my list. After you.” Grant had their father’s piercing blue eyes, and the sharpness of his gaze pinned her in place. Hannah looked away, her lungs tightening until little dots appeared in her vision.

Her new phone rang. Royce.

“Hold on. It’s work.” She stepped away from a frowning Grant and answered the call as if she were in the middle of the ocean and Royce was tossing her a life ring. “Hello.”

“How are you?” Royce asked.

“Better,” Hannah lied. After the visit with her father, she felt empty, every drop of emotion wrung out of her body. This is why she stayed out of Scarlet Falls. Visits home drained her.

“I’m glad to hear it.” He sounded doubtful.

“Did you get my e-mail?” She could hear the sounds of traffic over the line.

“I did.”

“Well?”

“I’m not sending you anything,” Royce said.

“What?”

“You are supposed to be recuperating, not working.”

“I can do both.”

“Not this time.” Royce’s voice softened. “I’ll never forget how pale you were when I saw you in that parking lot. I thought you were dead, Hannah.” He paused. “I told you in Vegas. Your job will be here when you’re fully recovered, but I won’t allow your ambition to get in the way of your recovery.”

“But—”

“No buts.” Impatience sharpened Royce’s tone. “I care too much about you to let anything happen to you.” His voice deepened. “But I will say that I miss your company.”

Hannah had no words. When she went back to work, she and Royce were going to have a long conversation. She liked him in a professional, friendly way. That was it. She wouldn’t allow him to destroy her reputation.

“Feel better, Hannah. Maybe if you rest, you’ll be well enough to join me in Madrid.” Royce hung up, leaving her listening to an empty line.

She walked back to the car. Grant was in the driver’s seat. She climbed in, and he started the engine.

“Everything OK?” He backed out of the parking space and shifted into drive.

“Yes.” The lie came out of her mouth automatically.

Instead of driving off, he studied Hannah’s face. The car trembled, waiting for the brake to be released. Grant’s face tightened. “You don’t have to pretend with me.”

“Then no.” Hannah rubbed the ache in her temple. “I don’t know.”

“If there’s one thing I understand, it’s total confusion.” Grant nodded as if her change of answer pleased him. He moved his foot, and the truck eased forward. “You’re going to get through this. Everything’s going to be all right.”

“That’s exactly what Dad said.”

“Lee used to say it, too.”

“I don’t know how they could both be such perpetual optimists,” Hannah said. “Dad was paralyzed, and he just plowed ahead, pretending everything would turn out fine, and we both know Lee had his share of problems.”

“He made the best of a bad situation.” Grant pulled out of the parking lot. “When you’re going into combat, you plan extensively for worst-case scenarios, but you can’t focus on them. To do the job, you have to believe you’re going home in one piece.” Grant released his grip on the steering wheel and shook his hand as if he’d been clenching it tight enough to stiffen his knuckles. Maybe he wasn’t as recovered as he seemed.

Hannah turned to his profile. “You don’t have to pretend with me either. How are you, really?”

“I’m all right. The VA hooked me up with a PTSD support group. But I miss Lee, and I worry about the kids.” A smile loosened his face. “Having Ellie helps. I’m going to ask her to marry me at Christmas.”

“That’s great.” Hannah patted his shoulder. She approved of Ellie one hundred percent. She was loyal, kind, and totally in love with Grant. How many women would be willing to take on a man with PTSD, a willful infant, and a traumatized little boy? “I’m so happy for you. How is living with her daughter and grandmother?”

“Chaotic but good.” Grant stopped at an intersection and turned right. “We’re getting into a rhythm. Everybody pitches in.”

“You all seem happy and busy.”

“The kids don’t leave me much time for reflection. Faith won’t remember any of this, but I worry about Carson. His parents were murdered. Something like that is bound to leave a scar.”

“You’re doing great with him.”

“He’d like it if you visited more.”

“I’ll try,” Hannah said.

“Where are you going next?”

“London.” She hoped. Sort of.

“Don’t be a stranger, Hannah,” Grant said. “I never understood how important family is to my sanity. Dad had Mom. That’s how he got through his days after the injury. After she was gone, he just couldn’t hold it together anymore. She was his lifeline. Today, you gave him his memory of the happiness he had with her, even if it was just for a little while. That’s priceless.”

Hannah nodded. It hadn’t been priceless. It had cost her. But Grant was right. She needed to put her own expectations and needs aside.

“You’ll visit him while I’m away?”

“Yes.” How would she get through that by herself?

“I know you spent most of your life trying to please him, but that’s in the past. You can’t hold on to it. Let it go. You’ll feel better.”

“He wasn’t interested in having a daughter.” There. She’d said it. It sounded pathetic and selfish coming out of her mouth. The man was paralyzed and dying, and she couldn’t let go of her childhood daddy issues. Sad. Just sad.

“He didn’t mean to slight you. He just didn’t know what to do with a girl. He grew up with four brothers and went to military boarding school. He honestly thought you’d be happier doing girl stuff with Mom. He was always so surprised when you wanted to go camping or hunting with us.”

“If I didn’t do all the wilderness excursions, I wouldn’t have spent any time with him at all.” Even with tagging along, she’d always felt like an afterthought. And on that note, time to change the subject. “What time is your flight tomorrow?”

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