“I was. I’m in town for Faith’s birthday party tonight.”
And she’d called him?
Don’t get excited. She probably needs to discuss her brother’s case.
Brody tried not to get personally involved with the people in his cases, but every once in a while, a case came along that he couldn’t shake. The murders of Lee and Kate Barrett had been the most intense of Brody’s career, and he’d kept in touch with the family.
He’d seen Hannah a few times since he’d arrested her brother’s killer. She’d arrive in town wearing a conservative, high-style suit, and change into jeans as if she changed her identity upon her return to Scarlet Falls, like Superman ducking into a phone booth. But when he imagined her, which was more often than he liked, her polished corporate attorney mode wasn’t what he pictured. No, he saw her barefoot and mud-streaked, having just chased a potential kidnapper away from her nephew. Hero tendencies seemed to be hardwired into the Barretts. Hannah was fierce and fearless like a primitive protective female, and no fancy clothes or law degree could fully hide her don’t-mess-with-mine attitude. It was hard to resist a woman like that. Damned hard.
Thinking about her warmed him again in a way no deep breathing was going to cool.
She hesitated. “I need your help.”
Brody straightened, his interest piqued. “What can I do for you?”
She didn’t answer right away, and he pictured her face turning serious. He pictured other things about her, too. Her long, lean body was constantly in motion. Short blond hair framed an angular no-nonsense face. Those bright blue eyes snapped to attention when she focused on a problem. And most of all, Brody pictured the few brief moments of vulnerability that seeped through her competence when she was with her niece and nephew.
“It’s a long story,” she said. “Do you have time to meet?”
“Are you at Grant’s house?”
“Why don’t I drop by later? I have some news for you and Grant anyway. Not good news, I’m afraid.”
Chet tapped Brody’s sleeve.
“I’m sorry, Hannah,” Brody said. “I have to go. I’ll see you in a few hours.” He ended the call and turned to his partner.
Chet stuffed his phone in his chest pocket. “Judge Marks is meeting us at the courthouse to sign the warrant.”
Brody pulled away from the curb. Ideally, they’d have a patrol car babysit the Brown house while they picked up the warrant, but Scarlet Falls didn’t have the manpower for such luxuries. There were times they operated on a cross-their-fingers budget.
“Who was that Hannah woman who called you?” Chet asked.
“Hannah Barrett. Her brother was murdered last spring.”
“That’s the case you caught while I was on vacation?”
“So why is she calling you?”
“I don’t know.”
“What’s she look like?” Chet waggled an eyebrow.
Scorching hot. Instead, Brody said, “I’m sure this is a professional matter.”
“You’re going to see her later?”
“When we’re done.”
“I can get someone else to help me,” Chet offered.
“Because everybody is dying to spend their Saturday afternoon searching a junkie’s room for stolen goods?”
“Because I don’t remember the last time I saw you distracted by a woman.” Chet lowered his sunglasses. “Besides, I’ve been a cop on this force for more than three decades. Plenty of people owe me favors.”
“Good to be the Godfather.”
“I wish I was seeing a pretty woman later,” Chet said wistfully. His wife had suffered a heart attack and died years before. On the rare occasion he talked about his family, he said his wife’s heart had broken the day their teenage daughter, Teresa, had run away and gone missing.
“I expect she’s calling me about her brother’s case.” Brody would have to give her the bad news he’d learned from the prosecutor this week.
Chet shook his head. “The prosecutor would be able to handle questions about the trial.”
The first time Brody had met Hannah, he’d thought her cold and aloof, but he’d soon realized she was the exact opposite. Her cool demeanor concealed a vivid intensity. Whenever he was in the same room with her, everything looked brighter, as if she cranked up the saturation of his color palette.
“Do you like her?” Chet asked.
“Then go for it.”
“She isn’t in town very often. I doubt she’d be interested in starting something.”
“What do you have to lose? For a bachelor, your life is pretty lame.”
“Good point.” Brody laughed. What did he have to lose? He’d dated on and off over the years, had a few relationships that hadn’t gone anywhere. When they were over, he’d shrugged them off. But his instincts told him that a relationship with Hannah wouldn’t be as easy to forget.
Brody parked his car in front of the Barrett farmhouse. Paint gleamed fresh white in the setting sun. A gust of wind stirred dead leaves in the flower bed. He brushed at the grass stains on his trouser knees. He should have gone home and changed, but the search had taken longer than he’d expected. And he was stupidly anxious to see Hannah. He had taken the time to stop at Walmart and pick up a toy for the baby. Priorities.
Shifting the pink-wrapped package in his hand, Brody rang the bell.
Grant opened the door. Surprise lifted his eyebrows. “Brody?”
“Hey, Grant. How are you?”
Grant’s gaze dropped to the brightly wrapped package.
“It’s for Faith.”
“How did you know it was her birthday?” Grant moved back.
“Hannah mentioned it when I talked to her earlier.” Brody stepped into the warm house.
“You talked to Hannah?”
“I did.” Brody took off his jacket and hung it on a coat tree by the door. “I have some news for you.”
Grant scanned his face. “Something I’m not going to like?”
“Brody, I didn’t know you were coming,” Ellie said from the end of the hall.
Grant lowered his voice. “Will the news keep ’til after the party?”
“It’s not pressing.” Brody nodded, following Grant toward Ellie.
“The house is really coming along,” Brody said. The exterior of the home might be finished, but inside, the place was clearly a work in progress.
“Thanks.” Grant moved back to let him into the foyer. “Got those windows replaced just in time. Looks like a cold snap’s coming next week.”
Quiet conversation buzzed from the back of the house. They walked past the formal living room, currently housing construction supplies, and a dining room begging to be renovated, into the newly remodeled kitchen. Wood floors, honey-colored cabinets, and bronze granite made a warm space. A picture window looked out on an expanse of grass. A shallow stream separated the rear yard from the woods that backed the property. A tire hung from a massive old oak tree. The Barretts were making a home here. They deserved it. They’d been through hell.
He set his gift down on the center island.
“You didn’t have to bring a present, Brody.” Ellie smiled. She looked to Grant. “How did you know it was Faith’s birthday?”
“He talked to Hannah earlier,” Grant said.
Ellie blinked. She put a hand on Grant’s arm, no doubt assuming the call was about the case.
The thought of Lee and Kate’s murders brought Brody’s molars together hard enough to send a spike of pain through his temple. He loosened his jaw. The Barretts were moving forward. He needed to do the same, but the Barrett case had tainted Scarlet Falls with extreme selfishness and violence.
“Where’s the birthday girl?” Brody asked.
“You might want to keep your distance. Faith is heavily into textures these days.” Ellie nodded toward a high chair pulled up to the long farmhouse table. An orange substance coated the baby’s face and hands. Carrots, he decided. With a happy squeal, she fished in the bowl suction-cupped to her tray, grabbed a chubby fistful, and squeezed. Mushed carrots oozed through her fingers. The dog circled the chair, licking bits of food from the wooden floor.
He laughed, the sight of the happy, goo-covered baby easing some of his tension. “Did she get any of it into her mouth?”
“Not much,” Ellie said. “Sit down. Let me get you something to eat.”
Faith squealed again and banged her fists on her plastic tray. A scattering of Cheerios danced like Mexican jumping beans. Grant dropped into the chair next to her and gently hushed her. Odd. Usually, he let her squeal to her heart’s content.
Brody greeted the rest of the family. Grant’s six-year-old nephew, Carson, responded with a subdued “Hey.” Ellie’s grandmother, Nan, stood to give him a quick hug, and her teenage daughter, Julia, waved hello from across the table. The whole family was strangely quiet. Eight months after facing a terrible tragedy, Brody had thought the family was slowly healing, but today everyone seemed subdued and wary. Faith flung a handful of mushed carrot. It hit the floor with a splat. The baby was the only one acting normal.