The Colonel’s eyes closed again. Every breath seemed as if it could be his last. But an hour later, the pattern eased into deep sleep. His hand relaxed and released Hannah’s. She let go.
In the hallway, Brody held her coat up. Hannah slipped her arms into the sleeves.
He put an arm around her. “That was rough.”
“Yes.” She rested her head on his shoulder, grateful for his support.
They passed the nurses’ station, and Hannah asked, “You’ll call me if he gets any worse?” Her chest constricted with the thought of the Colonel dying alone.
“Of course,” the nurse said.
Brody led her out of the building. Hannah lifted her face to the light rain. The mist refreshed her hot skin.
“Do they know how long he has?” Brody asked.
Hannah sniffed. “His body was ready to give up about a year ago.”
“But he won’t let go.”
“He can’t,” she said simply. “It’s not good or bad. It’s simply the way it is.” When the Colonel was ready, he wouldn’t ease into death. He’d march.
Just as she must concede control of her father’s condition, it was also time to accept all the good and bad from her childhood and move on. Hardship had molded her into a resilient person. The training drills and lessons from her childhood were crazy, but without them, would she have survived her encounter with Mick Arnette? Probably not.
“I’m probably never going to be a warm or fuzzy person,” she said.
Brody raised an eyebrow in confusion. “Where did that come from?”
“I was just thinking about my father and my childhood. Grant has my mother’s innate kindness. My father is a hard man, and I’m more like him than I’d like to admit.”
“I doubt Carson or Faith would agree.” Brody took her hand. “You’re so used to putting on a tough act for your job, you’ve convinced yourself that it’s you. But I know it’s not. Hard people don’t cuddle babies or hug sad little boys. They don’t chase pets in the middle of the night to spare a child some distress. They don’t fly across the country to help lost teenagers. I’ve seen the real Hannah Barrett. She’s pretty spectacular.”
Heat rose into Hannah’s face.
“You are strong and dependable and courageous almost to a fault.” Brody turned to face her. He lifted her chin with a finger and kissed her. “And you’re plenty warm and fuzzy when it matters—and to whom it matters.”
One month later
Brody walked out onto his front porch. Sniffing the smoke-scented December air, he straightened the wreath on his door and walked two blocks to the one-story house just off First Street. Snow had been shoveled from the brick path that led from the sidewalk to the porch. He wiped his feet on the mat and went inside.
Hannah and her brother leaned over a makeshift sawhorse-and-plywood table. Grant pointed to the drawing on the table. “I’ll cut the kitchen in half and extend the hallway so clients can access your office directly from the parking area out back.”
“That works,” Hannah said. She looked up and saw Brody. Her smile lit her eyes. She crossed the room and kissed him.
Brody kissed her back. “Hey there, counselor.”
Grant shoved his pencil behind his ear. “Are you two still coming for dinner?”
Hannah shot him a duh look she must have learned from Ellie’s teenage daughter. “Ellie’s grandmother is making macaroni and cheese. Who in their right mind would miss that?”
Grant grinned and grabbed his coat off a chair. “OK, then. I’ll see you in an hour.” He went out the back door. Hannah flipped the dead bolt.
She waved a hand over a set of plans on the plywood. “What do you think? My office will be here. This is a waiting area. Storage over here.”
“What are you going to do with all this space over here?” Brody pointed to the extra rooms on the other side of the house.
“I’m saving that for Grant’s office. I’ve just about talked him into starting his own contracting business. Now I just need to talk Ellie into quitting her job and coming to work for me.”
“About time.” Brody put a finger under Hannah’s chin and turned her to look at him.
“Nothing. You look happy.”
“I am happy.” She kissed him. “Are you ready to go home?”
“Always.” Brody took her coat off the hook in the hall and held it for her.
She smiled, turned, and slid her arms in. He settled the coat on her shoulders, a similar memory of his grandparents choking him for a second. Hannah locked up, and they started down the sidewalk. “I can’t believe I’m walking home from work. Six weeks ago I thought I’d be spending most of December in Spain.”
“So you miss it?” He wondered, always, if she would tire of living in the suburbs. Tire of him.
“Not one bit.” She leaned against him. “I don’t know what I was looking for, but I found happiness here, with you. Maybe I wasn’t looking for something as much as running away. There were a lot of bad memories here.”
“Aren’t they still here?”
“Yes, but now we’re making some good ones to cancel them out.”
“I heard from Chet today,” Brody said.
“How is he? Has he had any luck?”
Chet was in Las Vegas. Detective Douglas hooked him up with a private organization that searched for missing kids. He was consulting and hoping to find some trace of his daughter. “No luck yet, but he hasn’t given up hope. There have been a few leads. He’s sober. He’s keeping busy, and he seems to have found some purpose helping families find their missing kids.” Hope, that’s what Chet had found in Vegas.
They walked to the house. Inside, Danno greeted them with a meow, looking over his shoulder and trotting to the kitchen. Hannah handed Brody her coat. “I’m coming.”
She followed the cat down the hall. Brody hung their coats on pegs and joined her in the kitchen. She opened the fridge and took out a small piece of leftover chicken. The old cat rubbed on her ankles as she handed him the meat.
“You’re going to spoil him.” Brody leaned on the wall.
“Yes, I am.” Leaning over, Hannah grinned and scratched Danno’s head. The old cat purred louder.
Eyeing her long legs and tight butt in her faded jeans, Brody walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist. His lips cruised along her collarbone. “We have an hour.”
“Don’t you think of anything else?” She laughed, angling her head to give him better access.
He nuzzled the soft skin at the base of her neck. “Once in a while I have other thoughts, but I forget everything when you’re in the room.”
Just as Hannah had run from her hometown to escape bad memories, Brody had been running away when he left Boston. He’d thought he’d found happiness in Scarlet Falls, but happiness wasn’t a place. He could be happy anywhere as long as he was with her.
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