“I feel filthy.” She turned on the shower and stripped off her blouse.
Brody crossed the room. “Hannah.”
She was stepping out of her slacks, letting them drop to the carpet. “I don’t understand. Why do people have to be cruel? Why do girls get victimized and good family men murdered?”
He pulled her to his chest. Her brother’s death last spring had left her scarred.
“Do you know how old Lola is?” She pulled her face away from his body. Anger glittered in her eyes. “Fourteen. She’s fourteen years old. The Mexican cartel kidnapped her. They murdered her father right in front of her. What kind of people do that?”
“I don’t know.” Brody wiped a tear from her cheek. “I love that you can’t even understand that concept. I love you.”
She burst into tears. Not the response he’d hoped for his first declaration of love.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said that after the day you had.”
Hannah cried into his shirt. “I love you, too.”
“You don’t seem happy about it.”
“Obviously, I’m really messed up.” She sniffed and lifted her head again. “Make me forget all about today. I need to feel something that isn’t tainted. Something pure and clean.” She kissed him.
Brody smiled down at her. His hand stroked her face and settled on the column of her neck. He could think of nothing more pure than showing her how much he loved her.
“I’m going to miss you when you’re in London.” His heart was hers forever, but in a week’s time, their bodies would be separated by an ocean.
She kissed him. “I don’t want to go.”
“Then don’t,” he said, confused.
“What would I do? I need goals. I need purpose.”
“Do whatever you want. You can be a lawyer anywhere, Hannah.”
“I worked my whole life for the opportunity that is right in front of me.”
“I’ll support whatever you choose to do. I would never want you to feel like you were sacrificing something to be with me.”
She brushed her fingers across his temple. “Being with you would never be a sacrifice.”
Hannah awoke in Brody’s arms. Half the giant bed was empty with her body plastered against his warmth. She lifted her head from his shoulder.
“You’re awake.” He kissed her. “Good morning.”
Her fingers trailed along the muscles of his broad chest. She slid her hand under the covers. He pressed his mouth to hers, tenderly. Regret filled his eyes.
“What is it? Not in the mood?”
“All I have to do is look at you and I’m in the mood. Actually, just thinking about you is enough. But I have some news.”
Hannah sat up, pulling the covers over her breasts as the chilly air hit her bare skin. Brody levered up on one elbow. The sheet fell from his torso, revealing his black-and-blue rib cage.
She reached out and touched the skin with a fingertip. “I should have wrapped that for you last night. And we shouldn’t have made love. It couldn’t have been good for your recovery.”
“It was the best thing possible for my recovery.” He took her hand. “Douglas called. They found Jewel last night, and she’s alive.”
Hannah gasped. Shock and joy numbed her. She hadn’t expected to ever see the girl again. “When? Where?”
“Lola’s information, combined with all the data the trafficking team pulled from Mick’s phone records and computer, led them to a warehouse on the outskirts of the city. When the police arrived, the building was on fire, but Jewel and another girl were hiding. Apparently, the traffickers got wind of the raid and cleared the place out during the night. These two girls slipped away in the commotion.”
“Oh, my God.” Hannah pressed a palm to the center of her chest.
Brody squeezed her other hand. “Douglas said you can see her later today.”
“Yes.” Hannah read something else in Brody’s eyes. He was holding back on her. “What is it?”
He sighed. “About fifty miles away, the police found thirty-six dead girls in a storage container.”
“No.” Horror wrapped around Hannah.
“I’m sorry.” He pulled her close.
Hannah pressed her face to his chest and cried. She had no resolve left. It was done. She’d helped find Jewel. She knew in her brain she hadn’t caused the deaths of all those other girls, but her heart was heavy with sadness and guilt.
Ten minutes later, she was empty and spent. Her eyes ached, and her chest hurt. “They were nothing but potential witnesses to those men.”
“They’ll try to get Jewel and the other girls who survived.”
“I’m sure they’ll be guarded.” Brody stroked her hair. “Douglas and his team are working with the FBI and Border Patrol, plus a host of other agencies who specialize in investigating human trafficking. Homeland Security could get involved. They are taking the girls’ safety very seriously. In fact, Douglas said if you want to see Jewel, I mean Jenna, then you’d better go today. She’ll be moved soon to a secure location.”
Hannah wiped her eyes. “OK. Give me twenty minutes to get myself together.”
Within an hour they were back at the hospital.
Douglas ushered Hannah into the hospital room and stepped out. “The two girls seemed to have bonded, so we’re keeping them together. It’s important to call her Jenna. She needs to regain her sense of identity. That’s one thing traffickers take away early, along with hope and dignity.”
A very pregnant teen slept in one bed. Jewel, no, Jenna sat in the bed near the window.
“Hi, Jenna.” Hannah approached the bed. “I’m glad you’re OK.”
A tear rolled down the girl’s cheek. “Thank you for everything.”
“It wasn’t me.” Hannah shook her head. “You saved yourself, and it looks like you saved someone else, too. Two someones.”
Brody filled a Styrofoam cup with coffee in the waiting area. “What will happen to these girls?”
Detective Douglas popped the tab on a can of Diet Coke. “Jenna has a mother, but I don’t know that she’ll go back home. The mother’s pedophile boyfriend was picked up for violating the terms of his parole, but Mom is unstable and unreliable. Besides, we need Jenna as a witness. We want to keep her safe, and if we hold on to her, she’ll get the help she’s going to need.”
He had the haggard look of a man who saw dozens of dead teenagers the previous day and just couldn’t process the sight.
“Can you keep her safe?”
“The girls will probably go into safe houses. We’ve dealt with this before. Witnesses tend to disappear in any case even remotely related to a Mexican cartel.”
“This isn’t over.”
“This will never be over,” Douglas said. “But we’re a step closer. Mick Arnette and his brother won’t be abusing any more girls. We have eyes on Herb Fletcher. We have new witnesses who hold vital information. Mick was in the habit of leaving his computer lying around. He used a password and must have assumed the girls couldn’t access it. But Lola said she watched him and learned his password. Jenna did the same. That is one very smart girl. Before she tried to run away from Mick’s house, she copied his document files to a cloud account. We have everything. Spreadsheets of income and expenses, client information, and online classified accounts where he advertised the girls. We also have a cell phone that communicated with the parent organization. That’s a lot of data to sift through. We’re in this for the long haul. On top of all that, we have Sam’s girlfriend.”
Hannah came down the hall. She wiped her eyes with a tissue.
“Are you all right?” Brody asked her.
“Yes. I gave the girls my card and told them I was available for legal assistance if they need it.” She turned to Douglas. “Jenna is worried about a dog that was kept at the house.”
Douglas nodded. “There was a pit bull mix chained up out back. He barked a lot but was surprisingly friendly. Poor beast was half-starved.”
“What happened to him?” Hannah asked.
Douglas drank from his can. “He was supposed to go to the animal shelter, but one of the guys on the raid team felt bad and took him home. Maybe I can arrange to have the dog visit Jenna. Could help win her trust. Thanks.”
“Good-bye, Detective. Let me know if there’s anything you need from me.” Hannah turned toward Brody.
He steered her to the elevators, and they navigated the hallways to the exit. Outside, the sun washed them with heat. “Going to be cold in New York.”
They walked to the car.
“I still can’t wait to get home,” she said.
But it wasn’t really home. Not to her. Brody would miss her when she left. “When will you go back to work?”
“I don’t know.” She stopped beside the rental car. “Royce is in the Manhattan office. I’ll probably take the train down on Monday and talk to him.”
“Can’t you just call him?”
“No. Face-to-face is better with Royce. On the phone, he issues orders and hangs up on me.”