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“No, you assumed,” Hannah shot back.

“You’re right. I did. But I learned from experience that you Barretts have a habit of taking matters into your own hands. Like that night in Vegas.”

“Only when absolutely necessary.” It was Hannah’s turn to look away. “What was I supposed to do, ignore her? I called for the police. There wasn’t any help handy.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Empathy softened his eyes. “Now tell me why you slept with your gun.” He covered her hand with his. For a few seconds, the contact was good, solid, and grounding. Royce’s similar touch had spurred her to snatch her hand away, but this she welcomed. Brody’s touch felt right and tempted her to return the intimate gesture. Then the weight of his hand grew heavier and heavier until she felt trapped. Brody was a good man, but she was not staying in Scarlet Falls.

She pulled her hand out from under his, got up, and moved across the floor to refill her mug. Distance. She needed a larger personal boundary. Ten feet of kitchen wasn’t enough. Brody waited, his features steady with patient determination.

“I received another e-mail.”

Brody’s body went rigid. “When?”

“Late yesterday. Same message.”

“And you’re just telling me now?”

“I forwarded it to the detective in Vegas. Untraceable, just like the first one.” Hannah’s control slipped. “I can’t get that girl’s face out of my head. She needed help, and I failed her.”

Brody was on his feet and in front of her in two strides. He took her by the arms. “You can’t take responsibility. You tried to help her, at great risk to your own safety. Most people would have run the other way.”

“Maybe if I’d have run away, I could have gotten help.”

“No.” He gave her a light shake. “You can’t go back and second-guess your decision. At the time, you made the call based on the information you had in front of you. That’s all anyone can be expected to do. It’s too easy to question your actions with the benefit of hindsight.” His face went grim. Clearly, Brody had his own demons. “Besides, you just said it two minutes ago. You had no options. You couldn’t toss her to her assailant and run for it.”

“I didn’t have time to think. I just reacted.” Hannah met his eyes. “The end result is the same. He dragged that poor girl away, and I couldn’t do a damned thing about it.”

“Hannah, you did your best.”

“It wasn’t good enough.” Hannah pulled out of his grip and turned away. She went to the window and stared out into the yard. Two robins hopped across the back lawn. One shoved its beak into the damp grass and ripped a worm from the turf. Its body flailed until the bird ate it in two gulps. A shudder rippled from Hannah’s torso to her bare feet. The pretty scene faded, and she pictured Jewel being yanked from the rental car, her arms pinwheeling, small fists landing useless blows on her attacker’s shoulders, the girl’s terror palpable even to a stunned Hannah.

She rubbed her arms. “Do you think those e-mails are really from her? That she’s reaching out for help?” If she was, her time was running out.

“Why would she contact you and not the police?”

“I don’t know. It doesn’t make any sense.” Hannah covered her mouth with a fist. “But it feels like I’m letting her down all over again.”

“Do you do this all the time?”

“Do what?” She glanced over her shoulder.

Brody’s arms were crossed over his chest, and his gaze had sharpened. “Not allow yourself to be human. Try to shoulder the weight of things that aren’t your fault.”

She turned back to the yard. The robin moved on, its hunger not sated by one slender earthworm. Predators never stopped hunting.

“Some things are out of your control.” The harsh edge to Brody’s voice made her want to ask him what terrible event from his past had been out of his control. Who or what had put the pain in his eyes?

“I know that. Doesn’t mean I have to like it.” There would be more girls at risk, Hannah knew, all because she hadn’t seen that SUV coming.

“I’m glad you’re all right.”

“You’re not going to lecture me on putting myself at risk?”

“Maybe later.” Brody smiled. “You are what you are. Sometimes all that ferocity is a little scary. But I wouldn’t change anything about you.”

A different kind of spark heated Hannah from the inside as she registered the respect—and interest—in Brody’s eyes.

“But you could dial down the impulsiveness just a little. Your family doesn’t deserve to bury another member.” A grim frown dimmed his expression.

“True.” A sad sigh slipped from Hannah’s lips. “But I wish I could have helped her.”

“I know,” he said. “Would you like me to call the Las Vegas police and see if they’ve made any progress on the case?”

Hannah hesitated. “What’s the point?”

“They might tell me more than they’d tell you.”

“Maybe.” She considered his offer. What could it hurt? “OK. Thank you.” She opened her phone and read the detective’s name and number from her contacts list.

Brody checked his watch. “I have to go. Please, if something freaks out the dog—or you—call me.”

“Thanks, Brody.”

“I’ll stop back tonight and let you know what I find out.”

“You don’t need to go to any trouble.”

“It’s no trouble. I’ll bring dinner.”

She walked him to the door. “I don’t need—”

“Stop. I didn’t say you needed me to bring you dinner, but I’d like to.” Brody put a finger under her chin and studied her face.

“Thank you.” Hannah’s pulse scurried. He wasn’t going to kiss her. Was he?

Before she could contemplate how she felt about that idea, he lowered his hand and backed away. “Get some rest, Hannah. You look tired.” He went out the door into the chilly morning air.

That’s it?

Hannah stared after him for a minute. Nudging the dog out of the way, she closed the door. “What do you think about Brody?”

AnnaBelle wagged her tail.

“You like everybody.” Hannah patted the dog’s golden head. “I have to admit, Brody’s different. Obviously, the man has never heard of flattery.”

But somehow, Brody’s concern had more of an effect on her than all the empty compliments she’d been given by other men trying to slip past her professional defenses and into her bed. He was honest. He didn’t just look at her; he saw her.

And she liked it. Most of the time.

“I don’t want to deal with this right now,” she said to the dog. “I have nothing to do today. I’m going back to bed. No barking.”

The dog wagged its tail but made no promises.

“Maybe if I get some sleep, Brody won’t tell me I look awful when he comes back tonight.” Hannah’s steps quickened. He was coming back.

“Don’t get excited,” she said to the dog. “Nothing is going to happen with him. I’m not staying in Scarlet Falls.”

Chapter Twelve

The medical examiner’s office was located in a concrete building in the county municipal complex. In the antechamber to the autopsy suite, Brody suited up in a gown, booties, and cap. He pulled the clear plastic shield over his face and went inside. The smell of disinfectant didn’t come close to masking the odor of a decomposing corpse.

Frank peeled off his gloves.

“You started early.” As much as Brody felt the need to attend the autopsies of his cases, he was relieved to have missed this one.

“I have a full plate today. But I didn’t want her to wait, in case . . .” Aw. Frank did have a heart. Nice to know. “So far nothing’s come back on the fingerprints. Too bad Chet doesn’t have a set for his daughter. That would have made it easy to rule her out. Waiting must be tough.” Frank paused. “Anyway, I’ll send the DNA in for analysis. The lab promised to expedite the testing. Results should be back in two to three days at the latest.”

“Did you compare her dental records?” Brody asked.

“I did. I can’t comment. Her teeth and jaw are too damaged, and some of her teeth are missing.” Frank shook his head. “I requested a consultation with the state police forensic odontologist.” The New York State Police made forensic dental specialists available through the Medicolegal Investigation Unit. “He’s at a conference and won’t be available until Thursday.”

“Blood type?”

“The corpse is O positive. So is Teresa Thatcher and about one-third of the general population.”

But it was one more factor that weighed in favor of the remains being Teresa. Damn it. Poor Chet.

Brody looked back at the body. An autopsy tech was sewing up the Y-incision with huge black stitches that railroad-tracked up the corpse’s abdomen. “What can you tell me? I’d like to clear this up for Chet faster than three days.”

Frank lifted the clear shield over his face, grabbed a paper towel from a wall dispenser, and mopped the sweat from his head. “The victim is female, Caucasian, approximately seventeen to twenty-five years old, brunette, brown eyes, five foot six inches tall, one hundred ten pounds. Internal organs show no evidence of drug or alcohol abuse, to be confirmed by toxicology reports.”

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