Brody took a breath and turned the knob. He took three steps and eased into a chair facing the chief’s desk. As usual, Chief Dave Horner was perfectly presented without a wrinkle on his starched navy-blue uniform or a spot of stubble on his chin to mar his clean-cut image.
The chief’s focus sharpened as he studied Brody’s face. “I heard Chet was involved in an altercation at The Pub last night. Tell me what happened.”
Of course he’d heard. Horner was more politician than cop. Police chief was an appointed position, and his job security depended on the continued reelection of the mayor who had hired him. Information was the key to Horner’s political game.
“Chet was drinking . . .” Brody relayed the basics but kept the details to a minimum.
The chief scratched his cleanly shaved jaw. “I should have expected him to snap. The news about his daughter must be too much for him to handle.”
“We have no evidence that those remains are Teresa. Chances are they are not. I’m still investigating.”
“Of course. You’re right.” Irritation creased his mouth as Horner corrected himself. He smoothed it over. “But not knowing her fate must be a huge strain on him. “We’ll need a statement from the woman who was with you last night.” Curiosity lit Horner’s eyes.
Brody had planned to ask Hannah for a formal, signed statement last night. The kiss had distracted him.
Just as the memory of their lip-lock was distracting him now.
“Of course, sir,” he said. “I’ll have it by the end of the day.”
Brody sent a silent thank-you to Hannah. The paperwork required by last night’s incident would have increased tenfold if Brody’s gun had been fired.
“I appreciate what it took for you to come in here this morning.” Horner leaned back and spread his palms on the surface of his desk. “I’ll take care of it from here. Thank you.”
But Brody didn’t move.
The chief sighed. “I’ll be gentle.”
Feeling low, Brody exited the office. A receptionist, an admin, and two patrol officers had come in while he’d been talking to Horner. All eyes were on Brody as he crossed the thin carpet. Stella leaned on the desk, her hands gripping the laminate edge. “Brody, wait.”
He stopped, preparing to be ostracized. Cops stuck by cops. They didn’t volunteer information that led to disciplinary action.
“We all know what happened last night.”
“What you just did must have killed you inside, and as much as we love Chet, you did what had to be done. No one blames you,” she said.
Brody lifted his head and scanned the room. No one avoided eye contact. This was a tight-knit group, and he felt like a traitor for reporting Chet’s drinking.
“You have our support, and Chet does, too.” Stella pushed off the desk. “Chet has been a mentor to everyone on this force. We all owe him. But he has no business with a badge or a weapon in his current state of mind.” But they all knew how much the job meant to Chet. It was all he had left.
Brody’s throat constricted. He couldn’t say anything but “Thanks.”
With the support of the other cops, Brody only felt twenty shades of shitty instead of fifty as he headed for his unmarked sedan. He had reams of paperwork to process from last night, but fifteen minutes later, he found himself staring up at the Barrett house. It was barely eight o’clock. Hannah could still be sleeping. He shouldn’t bother her. He reached for the gearshift to put the car in reverse. The front door opened, and Hannah stepped out onto the porch. She nudged the dog back into the house and closed the door behind her. She was dressed in blue plaid pajama pants and an oversize jersey that hung to mid-thigh. Her eyes were sleepy and her short hair tousled in a way that made Brody yearn to climb into bed beside her. Considering they’d only kissed once—as smoking as that one time had been—it was too early to take her to bed. He was not interested in anything meaningless, especially not with Hannah.
But the sight of her pulled Brody from his vehicle. He climbed the steps. “Did I wake you?”
“No one sneaks up to the house with AnnaBelle on duty.”
“It’s cold. You should be inside.” He tried to steer her toward the entry.
But she couldn’t be budged. She studied his face. Alarm pinched her features. “Something’s wrong. Did something happen to Chet?”
“I’ll tell you inside.”
She went with him, but her brows lowered with irritation. In the kitchen, he hung his jacket on the back of a counter stool and sat down. Standing next to his stool, Hannah wound her arms around his shoulders and hugged him close. Though surprised by the immediate show of affection, he rested his temple on her shoulder. His taut muscles loosened. Her hand splayed on the back of his head, her fingers sliding through his hair. He took a minute to soak up her strength. She had it to spare. After all she’d been through this week, she was comforting him.
He lifted his head. “What was that for?”
“I won’t know until you tell me, but you looked like you needed it.” She leaned back and scanned his face. “Ready to talk?”
The thought exhausted him. “Could I have some coffee?”
“Very.” Brody rubbed the back of his neck. “Chet’s couch needs to be a foot longer.” Though it hadn’t been the sofa that kept him awake. He’d been dreading the arrival of morning.
“How about some breakfast?” she asked.
“I was supposed to cook for you.”
She opened the fridge and took out a carton of eggs. “We’ll get to that.”
A new revelation occurred to Brody: No matter how bad a day could be, having someone to share it with helped. He’d never minded being alone before. But now . . .
He squashed the warm and fuzzy feeling that swamped him. Hannah was only here because she was hurt. She didn’t want to be in Scarlet Falls. As soon as she was fully recovered, she’d be back to the jet-set life she loved. Thanks to the doctor yesterday, though, Brody would have her for the next month. Maybe he shouldn’t get too attached—as if there were anything he could do to stop himself. Just watching her make him breakfast made him want to spend many more mornings with her.
“I had to report Chet’s behavior from last night.” He glanced at his watch. “He’s probably in the chief’s office right now.”
Taking an egg from the carton, she paused. “I’m sorry. Will he lose his job?”
“I imagine he’ll be encouraged to retire. His drinking has been a problem in the past. He was hanging from his last fingertip with the chief.”
Hannah whipped eggs and milk and dumped the mixture into a frying pan. She inserted four slices of bread into the toaster. “What will he do now?”
Brody shook his head. “I don’t know. He doesn’t like to have a lot of leisure time.”
“I can empathize.” She divided eggs and toast onto two plates and slid one in front of him. She brought orange juice and butter to the island and took the seat next to him. “He needs a distraction.”
Brody glanced sideways at her. She was toying with her eggs.
“How do you feel this morning?”
He gave her a skeptical head tilt.
“I really do feel fine.” She buttered a slice of toast and ate it. “Just bored.”
“You seem a lot more accepting about being out of work for a month this morning.”
“Watching Chet gave me some perspective last night. You’d think Lee’s death would have been enough to knock some sense into me. Work can’t be everything.” She drank coffee. “Maybe I need a hobby.”
She snorted. Wiping her mouth with a napkin, she said, “I don’t think that would work.”
“Macramé? Bead art? Pottery?” He’d had this same conversation with Chet, and it was just as humorous to envision Hannah in some sort of sedentary task. Neither of them was suited to leisure activities.
“There’s nothing wrong with any of those hobbies,” she said with a laugh.
“No, but I can’t picture you doing any of them.” He considered her. “What skills do you have?”
“You could be a mattress tester.”
“Very funny.” She rolled her eyes.
“What about catching up on TV?”
“I’m not much of a TV person. It’s been so long since I’ve had any real free time. Ellie left me DVDs of Downton Abbey. I watched three episodes last night after you brought me home. I felt . . . guilty.”
“It seems frivolous to lie in bed and watch television.”
“Maybe a month off will teach you how to relax.” Brody looked down to realize he’d finished his breakfast.
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
He laughed. “I doubt I can interest Chet in watching Downton Abbey.”
“What do you do on vacation?” He wanted to know more about her than he’d learned during her brother’s murder investigation.