Brody opened her car door. In the back of his mind, he could picture his grandfather doing the same for Gran. They were together for sixty years. Best friends, Gran had said. Brody had always wanted that for himself.
“When will you leave for London?” he asked her.
“I don’t know.”
“You don’t sound too excited.”
“I don’t know what I want.” She turned and splayed her hands on his chest. “You confuse me, and what I feel for you scares the hell out of me. I’m not good at the relationship thing, but I’m working on it.”
He kissed her forehead. “I suppose I’ll have to give up my wild and crazy dating life and the club scene.”
Hannah snorted and got into the car. “In Scarlet Falls? The only clubs in town have greens fees.”
He closed the door. Long-distance was better than nothing. But he didn’t want her to go to London or anywhere else. He wanted her with him.
Hannah took a cab from Penn Station to the Manhattan office of Black Associates. She swiped her ID at the security desk and took the elevator up to the twenty-fifth floor. Pushing through the double glass doors, she made a beeline for Royce’s office.
Getting off the elevator, she passed two construction workers. The whine of a power tool floated down the hall.
“Miss Barrett. I’m so glad to see you looking well. Mr. Black said you were injured.” The secretary pressed a button on her phone. “Let me buzz Mr. Black for you. Go right in.”
Royce stood as Hannah went into his office.
“You weren’t supposed to come back until the neurologist cleared you.” Was that irritation in Royce’s eyes?
“I got a second opinion.”
He shook his head. “Not good enough.”
What was wrong with him? “I don’t get it, Royce. Why don’t you want me back at work? Obviously, I’m fully recovered.”
“No reason. Of course I’m happy to have you back. I simply wanted you to have the very best care.” He stood, his posture stiff. Something felt wrong. Royce was giving off a very strange emotion. He was definitely not happy she was back. Why not?
You should be worried about what’s going on in your own house.
Herb hadn’t meant house as in Scarlet Falls. He’d meant the law firm.
She raised her gaze. Their eyes locked.
Royce’s went arctic. “Hannah. What am I going to do with you?”
“You?” Disbelief paralyzed her for a few seconds. “You hired those young girls. You like . . .”
Royce made a face. “Of course not. But some men have a taste for youth.”
“The client always gets what the client wants.” Hannah turned away. She slid her hand into her pocket and, glancing down, opened the voice memo app on her cell phone.
“Exactly. See, you really do understand.” Royce said. “I’ll tell you what. I’ll make a deal with you. Full partnership. It’s what you’ve been working day and night toward for five years.”
Hannah turned back to face him. “If I keep quiet about you hiring underage hookers for a client, you’ll make me a full partner?”
“No deal, Royce. I’ve already given this company my sweat and personal life for five years. I draw the line at my soul.”
Royce opened his drawer, and a second later, Hannah was staring into the muzzle of a gun. He came around the desk and stood in front of her. “Then I guess I’ll have to ensure your silence in another way.”
“Now what, Royce? You can’t shoot me in your office.”
“I’d rather not, but I can if I must. The walls are well insulated. My secretary has gone to lunch, and the construction on the other side of the building will cover any loud or unusual sounds.” Royce cocked his head.
“Have you always kept a gun in your drawer?” she asked. “It’s almost impossible to get a carry permit in the city limits.”
“Herb called me and gave me a bit of warning.”
“Do you really like the Sig?”
“What?” Irritation and confusion lined Royce’s forehead.
“I know a lot of people love the feel of the Sig’s solid metal frame, but I like the lighter weight of my Glock, especially for concealed carry.”
Royce tilted his head. And that moment of distraction was all she needed.
Hannah’s hand shot out. In the same smooth movement, she turned her body out of the line of fire. Grabbing the slide bolt on the top of the gun, she redirected the barrel and twisted the gun out of his grip. It was like disarming a kindergartener. “Next time you pull a gun on someone, practice with it so you look half-competent.”
She eased the slide back a half inch and checked for a bullet in the chamber. “All this time, you could have helped me find that girl. You paid her pimp to set up one of our clients with underage prostitutes. That’s human trafficking, you bastard.”
Royce shrugged. “They’re just whores.”
“They’re children! You are as sick and depraved as the men who lust after schoolgirls.”
Anger sharpened Royce’s eyes. “It’s a hard world out there, Hannah.”
And she was sick of it. “The client gets what the client wants?”
“That’s how it works.” Sweat beaded on Royce’s forehead. “You can’t prove anything.”
“Oh, please. If there wasn’t a trail of some sort, you wouldn’t have pulled this little number on me. It’s nearly impossible to keep an activity under the radar in this day and age. Technology has its price.” Hannah gestured with the gun. “I do like the feel of this grip.”
Suddenly everything was clear. “Sending me to that neurologist, that was all part of it, wasn’t it?”
“I wanted you out of the way for a while.”
“Why? I was going to London. Isn’t that out of the way enough?” Mental head smack. “The girls were for Timothy.”
Royce took a step forward.
Anger stirred fresh behind Hannah’s ribs. “I wouldn’t do that if I were you. I actually know how to use this gun.” She reached for her cell phone and dialed 911. “Oh, and I quit.”
Two hours later, Hannah sat in a plastic chair in an NYPD chief’s office with a cold cup of coffee cradled in her hands. The police had her recording of her conversation with Royce. Her eyes burned with unshed tears, and there was only one person she wanted to talk to. She dialed Brody’s number.
Rain misted Hannah’s face as she stared at the front door of the nursing home.
“Are you all right?” Brody reached around her and opened the door.
Hannah let out the breath she’d been holding. “I don’t know.” Her nerves were as frayed as a worn end of rope.
“It’ll be OK.” Brody put his hand on the small of her back and steered her into the lobby.
Hannah breathed. Her lungs had felt inelastic since the nursing home had called her thirty minutes before to tell her that the Colonel had had difficulty breathing. She’d planned to visit this afternoon but had come immediately instead.
She checked at the reception desk. “How is he?”
The nurse smiled, but her eyes were sad. “His breathing was labored earlier this morning, but he seems a bit better now.”
Hannah swallowed and nearly choked. Brody took her hand, his body heat burning hot against her icy skin. She led him to the acute care wing and paused outside her father’s room. Through the open doorway, she watched a young male medical tech check the Colonel’s vital signs. The young man jotted the readings on a clipboard. Leaving the room, he nodded to them on his way out. Grant was sitting in a chair by the bed. Seeing Hannah and Brody, he joined them in the hall. He and the family had returned home the day before, and he’d been furious when she’d told him everything that had happened while he was away. But his eyes held no anger this morning.
She looked around him into her father’s room. “How is he?”
Grant lifted a hand. “Maybe a little better. Hard to say.”
“Forgive me yet?” she asked.
“No.” Grant gave her a small smile. “But I still love you. I haven’t heard from Mac. Do you know where he is?”
Hannah shook her head. “No. I haven’t heard from him since I picked up the dog at his place on Saturday night.”
Grant’s mouth tightened as he stepped aside so she could enter the room.
Hannah let out a smooth breath. Channeling Grant, she left her expectations at the door. Go with the flow.
Brody took her wet coat and hung it on the back of a chair by the door. Stepping up to the bedside, she took in her father’s continued deterioration. His skin looked tighter, almost translucent. His chest rose with a wheeze and deflated with a shudder. How long could he live like this? His life was nothing but misery. Death would be a kindness for him, but the Colonel would never go gently. It was his nature to scratch and claw for one more breath. His fighting spirit was the one trait dementia couldn’t defeat.
His eyelids fluttered and opened. He blinked between her and Brody a few times. Several seconds passed before he focused on her. His lips moved. No words emerged, but his expression changed. Once recognition took hold, his gaze never left her face, as if Brody weren’t there. On the bed, the Colonel’s fingers curled in a Come here gesture. Hannah reached out and took his hand. Brody moved a chair behind her, and she lowered her body onto the seat. Brody’s hand on her shoulder grounded her.
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