Page 28

Nodding, Hannah crossed to the coat tree.

Brody reached over her shoulder and lifted her jacket off the hook. He held it open so she could slide her arms into the sleeves. After a slight hesitation, she did.

“Everything all right?” he asked.

“Yes.” She adjusted her collar and headed for the door. “Can I tell you about it later? I have a splitting headache.”

“Sure. I thought doctors were supposed to make you feel better.” Brody opened the door.

“That makes two of us.”

They took the elevator to the ground floor. “Do you want to wait here while I get the car?”

They’d left his sedan in a garage two blocks over.

“No. I’d love some fresh air.”

“We’re in Manhattan. Good luck finding any of that.”

Hannah’s short laugh eased the heaviness in Brody’s chest. Outside, the sidewalks were crowded. They maneuvered around the line for a hot dog cart, Hannah threading through pedestrian traffic with the confidence of a person who spent a lot of time in cities. Her long legs had no trouble keeping up with his. A guy stepped out of a doorway directly in front of Hannah. Without breaking stride, Brody angled his body and shouldered the jerk out of the way. The man stumbled, then righted himself with a self-righteous shout of “Asshole!”

Hannah glanced over at him. Over the pain in her eyes, humor glinted.

Brody lifted a casual shoulder. “He should have been watching where he was going. He could have knocked you over.”

“I can handle myself, but thank you,” she said.

“I know you can handle yourself, but you shouldn’t have to.”

“I’m not disagreeing. The guy was rude. Grant would have accidentally put an elbow into his face.”

“Your brother’s temper is legendary in the department.”

The cool air, exhaust-scented as it was, seemed to perk her up. They took the elevator to the fifth floor of the parking deck and crossed the stained concrete to Brody’s SUV. He opened the passenger door. Hannah flashed him an inquisitive half smile as she took her seat. He rounded the car and slid behind the wheel.

“Something wrong?”

“No. I’m just not accustomed to having my coat held and doors opened,” she said. “Not that I don’t like it. It’s charming.”

“What can I say? I was raised by my grandparents.” Brody steered the car down the spiraling ramp.

“Where did you grow up?”

He lowered his window and punched out with his credit card. “Boston. My parents died in a small-plane crash when I was little.”

“I’m sorry.” Hannah reclined her seat a few inches.

“I was only three. I don’t remember them.”

“Do your grandparents still live in Boston?”

“No. Gran had a stroke nine years ago. Granddad didn’t last six months without her.”

“That’s sad and sweet at the same time.”

Brody drove out of town. Listening to the traffic report, he exited the city via the Lincoln Tunnel, threaded his way through North Jersey to I-87. Once they were on the interstate, the highway opened up. “I don’t miss city traffic.”

Hannah didn’t respond. Brody glanced over. Her eyes were closed, but even sleeping, she looked stressed. He bet the news from the doctor wasn’t what she had wanted to hear.

He turned on the radio but kept the volume low as he tuned his satellite radio to a classic rock station. Three hours later, at six o’clock, darkness had fallen, and Hannah was still asleep, her head lolling against the seat rest. The trip into New York had taken its toll. He couldn’t imagine the toll a six-hour round-trip train commute would have had on her.

He passed the green sign for Scarlet Falls and eased onto the exit. The car bounced over seams in the blacktop. Hannah jerked awake.

“We’re almost home,” Brody said.

She blinked and swept a hand through her short blond locks. It settled back into place as if it knew to obey orders. “God, I’m sorry. I slept through the whole drive.”

“You were tired. I’m glad you slept. That was the whole point of me driving you.”

But Hannah frowned. Obviously, she wasn’t used to letting anyone take care of her.

“Are you going to tell me what the doctor actually said?”

Hannah stretched. “I need coffee.”

“You need food. We skipped lunch.”

She pressed the pads of her fingers to her closed eyelids. “I’m not hungry.”

“Headache?”

“No. The nap cleared that up.”

“What then?”

“I need coffee.”

“Seriously. How are you? You looked a little rough coming out of the doctor’s office.”

“You are persistent.”

He smiled.

Hannah sighed. “I failed the cognitive test, and my balance is off, but considering it’s only been a few days since I was knocked down, the doctor says I’m recovering as she’d expect.”

“But?”

“Regardless of what her tests said, I feel fine, and she still won’t clear me for work.”

“Oh.”

“She won’t even retest me for another month. I was supposed to be in London next week working with one of the firm’s largest clients,” she said.

“Were you looking forward to that?” Brody wasn’t sure how he felt about her, but the thought of her leaving Scarlet Falls depressed him. Hannah was the first woman to interest him in a long, long time. Every time he thought he had her figured out, she threw him a curveball. The first time he’d met her, he’d thought her arrogant, aloof, and cold. But he couldn’t have been more wrong. She’d grieved her brother and stood by her family, proving to be smart and loyal, stubborn to a fault. In a heartbeat, she could shift from sharp corporate attorney to affectionate aunt. When a man had attempted to snatch her little nephew, Hannah had chased the scumbag. Barefoot. With snow on the ground. Her foot had been bleeding, and she hadn’t even noticed.

Complex was the only word for Hannah. She was a puzzle he wanted to solve but not in any rush. He wanted to take his time and get to know all her layers. The strength of that desire surprised him. His ex-wife only had two layers. At the first challenge, her pretty veneer had peeled back faster than steamed wallpaper.

For a long minute, Hannah simply stared out the window. “I thought so, but now I’m not so sure. I couldn’t wait to get out of Vegas.”

Brody brightened. “You won’t lose your job?”

“No.” She shook her head. “Royce won’t fire me. I’m not worried about that.”

“Then what’s the problem? Take some time off. Make sure you’re completely recovered. You don’t want to go back at less than one hundred percent, right? Poor performance wouldn’t help your career, and it’s not worth risking your health.”

“It doesn’t look like I have an option.” She glanced at him. Her brow lowered. “I don’t back away from anything easily. The Colonel raised me to identify my objectives and devote my efforts to achieving them, to work around, over, or through obstacles. All my life I’ve had to scratch and fight for what I wanted. Now I’m not sure what I want, but the instinct to do battle is still there. Without a goal, I feel lost.” She flushed and blinked away, as if embarrassed by her revelation.

“How about if I give you a task?” He eased the car around a curve. “Decide what you want for dinner.”

“Coffee.” She arched a challenging brow.

“I’ll stop for coffee if you tell me what you want to eat.”

She shot him a dirty look. “You suck.”

He laughed at the childish retort. He liked this less-formal, more-familiar Hannah. “If you’re tired, let’s pick up food, and I’ll cook something.”

“Can you manage steak?”

That wasn’t what he’d expected her to choose. “Yes, but most women ask for salad.”

“Salad isn’t a meal.” Hannah’s face scrunched. “I could really go for a steak, rare, and potatoes any way you can make them. You’ll have to cook at Grant’s house, though. The dog has been alone all day.”

“I can do that.”

They stopped at a grocery store a few miles outside town.

“Coffee,” Hannah whimpered, making a beeline for the beverage counter.

Brody selected two hefty sirloins and a bag of potatoes. Hannah appeared at his elbow, bliss on her face as she took a long sip. She licked her lips. Distracting.

“How about a vegetable?” he asked.

Hannah gave him a sour-lemon face. “Not for me.”

He grabbed a bag of string beans. “They won’t kill you.”

“I have no proof of that.”

He paid for the groceries, and they went back to the car. Brody’s step was lighter at the prospect of an evening with a smart woman, a quiet dinner, and some entertaining conversation. A man couldn’t ask for much more.

His phone buzzed halfway home. Unfortunately, he recognized the number. The Pub. Chet. So much for balancing on the edge of the wagon.

Brody glanced over at Hannah. “I’m sorry. I have to answer this.”

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