She went onto the deck, motioning Mac to follow. Snoozer’s high-pitched, raspy bark sounded from the yard. A deck spanned the rear of the house. Below it, a long expanse of Ireland-green lawn sloped toward the water. A hundred feet away, the current rushed high and swift from the heavy rains. Just on the other side of the deck, Morgan’s three girls and Snoozer chased bubbles. A picket fence surrounded the play area, keeping the kids and dog away from the water.
Stella shielded her eyes. The girls ran in circles, oblivious to their arrival.
Grandpa leaned on the railing and gave Mac a careful dose of scrutiny. Grandpa was critical of any male in Stella’s presence, but considering she hadn’t come home the night before, his attention would be dialed to high.
“Grandpa, this is Mac Barrett.” She gestured between them. “Mac, Art Dane.”
Mac held out his hand. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Dane.”
“Call me Art.” Grandpa angled his body to keep the kids and Mac all in his line of sight. He took supervision of Morgan’s little girls very seriously. His gaze darted to Stella. His lips pursed with concern. “You’re all right?”
“Fine. Just wet,” Stella said. “I’m going inside to shower and change.”
“Give me your handgun. I’ll clean it and your rifle while you shower.” Mac held out his hand, and Stella handed him her weapon.
“I’ll make sure he does it right.” Grandpa crossed his arms over his chest.
She smiled at him. “Be nice. No interrogating.”
Grandpa smiled back, but she could see his teeth as he turned to Mac. “What is Mac short for?”
“I’ll be right back. I promise.” Stella hurried to her room. Grandpa looked sweet and innocent, but she knew better. Once a cop, always a cop. The same went for being a grandfather.
She stripped down and showered. Twisting a towel around her hair, she stepped into a clean pair of black slacks and a white button-down. She glanced in the full-length mirror on the back of her closet door. Maybe she should pick a different colored blouse. She looked like a waiter or a Men in Black extra.
Who cares? This was work, not a date. She didn’t have to impress him.
But she wanted to.
This was why she didn’t date much. There was too much effort required when involved with a member of the opposite sex, energy she could funnel more productively into her career, which balanced on a precarious brink. Had she let her emotions rule this case? God knew she didn’t have much control where Mac was concerned. Maybe her impulsiveness had spilled over.
A vision of Dena Miller’s body flashed into her head. Then Missy’s. Her duty was to them, not Horner.
“So who’s the hottie out back with Grandpa?” Morgan stood in the hall. A red power suit hugged her tall frame. Totally put together, from her nude pumps to her pearl necklace, her older sister always made Stella feel like the tomboy she’d been in grammar school. While Morgan had jumped rope and practiced her cheers, Stella had played kickball in the street.
“Mac Barrett. I’m sort of working with him.” Stella shook her hair out. “Did you get Gianna to the station?”
“No. She wasn’t at the dialysis center when I got there.” Morgan leaned on the doorframe.
Alarmed, Stella froze. “She’s always there.”
“I was there early and I waited outside until fifteen minutes after you said she’d be done. I went inside. The waiting area was empty, and the nurse behind the counter refused to talk to me.”
“Damn it.” Stella moved faster now, maneuvering around Morgan and speeding to the bathroom. She coiled her damp hair in front of the mirror. “She was hesitant last night when I asked her. I should have known she’d be skittish.”
“You could hardly plan for a flood. Let me do that.” Morgan took over the bun-making. They were polar opposites. Morgan, with her refined silks and polished locks, had always known how to wear a scarf and which earrings complemented each outfit, while Stella was far happier in jeans.
“I’ll swing by her apartment on my way to the station.” Stella reached for her toothbrush.
Morgan did some twisty thing and pinned it into place.
“What did you do?”
“Nothing fancy. A simple chignon.” Morgan tucked a lock into place. “It’s no harder than that same old bun you wear every day.”
“I’m a detective, not a cover model. No one, including me, cares how my hair looks, only that it’s neat and out of my way.”
Morgan’s exhale was filled with disgust. “But honey, that man is really hot.”
“I’ve been working with him for days. He knows what I look like.” After last night, he knew every inch of her.
Morgan sighed. “You’re hopeless.”
“You’re bossy.” Stella echoed their childhood.
“I’m the older sister. I’m supposed to be bossy.” Morgan flashed a quick grin.
Since her husband died, Morgan’s smiles were rare.
“How was the job interview?” Stella waited for an answer. Swigging some mouthwash, Stella studied her sister in the mirror.
“This is Saturday. It wasn’t an interview. It was lunch.” Morgan shrugged.
Stella spit in the sink. “With a guy who wants to hire you. You’re not exactly dressed for running errands.”
“It was a nice restaurant.” Morgan said, but her voice lacked conviction. “And I’m not even sure I want the job. He kept talking about his win of the Simmons case.”
“The news anchor who killed a family of six while he was under the influence?” Stella remembered the case. Simmons had been a local celebrity. The accident had closed down the highway that led into Scarlet Falls for half a day. She’d been off duty, but two of the responding officers had taken several weeks off afterward. Four small children had been in the car. Simmons had battled addiction for years.
“I guess he finally lost the fight.” Morgan sighed, moving from behind Stella to stand next to her. “I don’t know if I can handle cases like that anymore, Stella. That’s why I left the DA’s office in Albany.”
“Putting Simmons away might prevent more senseless deaths.” Stella rubbed her sister’s shoulder.
“But it won’t bring that family back to life.” Grief filled Morgan’s eyes.
“No it won’t.” Stella caught her sister’s eye in the mirror, hating the doubt and sadness she saw there. “Addicts don’t just hurt themselves.”
Morgan’s smile was sad but she swallowed. “Now that I’ve played Debbie Downer, let’s go see your hottie.”
Stella stopped in her bedroom and put on a thin blazer to conceal her weapon.
Morgan lifted the hem. “Your gun is wearing a hole in the fabric. My seamstress can reinforce the inside panel of your blazers so that won’t happen.”
Leave it to Morgan to think of her clothing.
They walked down the hall to the family room. They could see Mac and Grandpa cleaning guns on the patio table.
“Holy hell. He looks even better up close.” Morgan sucked in a breath and leaned close to Stella. “I assume that is what kept you out all night.”
“What’s your relationship with the hunk?”
“I don’t know,” Stella said.
“Well if you don’t want him . . .” Despite her teasing, the interest in Morgan’s eyes was mild. She wasn’t even ready for a job yet, let alone a man.
“Dibs.” Stella played along. Her sister wasn’t anywhere near ready to date, but humor was a big step forward. When she’d first moved back home, she’d spent too many nights sitting on the deck alone in the dark, crying.
“That’s what I thought.” Morgan steered Stella out onto the deck. Then her sister went down the steps to the yard to hug her girls.
At the table, Mac was reassembling her AR-15 with practiced movements.
“You should see how fast he fieldstrips a weapon.” Grandpa tossed the gun oil into the cleaning kit. “Where did you learn how to do that?”
Mac wiped the exterior of the gun with a clean rag. “My father was an army colonel. Other families had family game night. We fieldstripped weapons.” He handed her the rifle. “Ready?”
“Yes, thank you.” Stella took it. “Do you want me to clean your wound? Your shirt was soaked.”
“It’s fine,” Mac said. “What does the rest of your day look like?”
“I need to stop at Gianna’s on the way to the station.” Stella picked up her clean Glock from the table and put it in her holster. “I have to call the ME.” She took out her phone and called. Frank wasn’t available. Instead of leaving a message, Stella chose to be connected with his secretary, who told her that Dena’s autopsy was finished. She ended the call. “I have to go to the medical examiner’s office.”
“Do you want me to find Gianna?” Mac offered.
“Do you want to borrow my car?” Stella asked.
“No. I don’t want it recognized. I can take my bike.”
“What if it rains again?”
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