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Authors: Melinda Leigh

She Can Scream (7 page)

BOOK: She Can Scream
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“Yes, ma’am. This looks great.” He filled his plate, the run establishing an appetite despite his rude awakening. Gran sat opposite him. One slice of bacon and a single pancake sat on her plate, but she didn’t touch her food. “Are you all right?”

She cleared her throat and waved off his concern. “I’m fine. Takes more than a cold to keep me down.”

She sipped her coffee, picked at her food, and let him eat in comfortable silence. After he pushed his plate back, Gran cleared the table. “Weren’t you with Wade Peterson last night?”

“Yes, I was helping him get ready to ship out.”

“Shame what happened to his sister.”

“How did you hear about that?” Silly him. His grandmother knew everything and everyone in town. Since retiring from a long career as an elementary school teacher, she’d turned her attention to community service and raising money for local charities. Gossip was her fuel, guilt her weapon of choice, and figurative arm-twisting her superpower. At seventy, Gran could crack wallets like walnuts.

Gran set his dishes in the sink. “My friend Nancy called me. She’s the secretary to the police chief here in town. Did you see Brooke last night?”

“Yes.” He’d come in late. Gran had already been in bed. But he still suspected she already knew he’d picked Brooke up from the hospital.

“How was she?”

“Banged up her knee, but otherwise she seemed fine.”

“Good. I hear she’s quite the hero.”

“She is.” A picture of Brooke, with her stubborn and scraped chin lifted in determination, filled Luke’s head. Emotions shifted in his chest, like they were making room. Brooke had saved a young woman’s life. That was more than he’d been able to do.

The vision intruded.
Smooth olive skin streaked with blood. The mischievous eyes that had flirted with him not two minutes before the world exploded turned glassy with pain and fear.

Now Brooke might be in danger.

“Lucas?” His grandmother was staring at him with sharp gray eyes that defied her age.

He cleared his throat and shook the image from his mind. “Is there more coffee?”

“Or course there is.” Gran refilled his cup. “Wade’s leaving soon, isn’t he?”

“Today. Soon, in fact.” Luke glanced at the digital clock on the microwave.

His grandmother sighed. “What terrible timing. I hate to see Brooke and her children alone with a violent criminal running around.” Was that a pointed statement?

Luke studied an errant ground swirling in his coffee. “I promised Wade I’d look after them until I have to leave.”

“Oh, that’s a relief. I’ll call Nancy and see what the Westbury police are doing about the situation. No doubt they’re on the lookout, but Michael O’Connell—he’s the Chief of Police—has been out on disability. I told you he’d been stabbed in the leg, didn’t I?”

“No.”

“Well, he was. But I’m sure he’s keeping tabs on things.” Gran opened the refrigerator and pulled out a covered rectangular dish. “I made a casserole for Brooke. Why don’t you take it over to her?”

“How did you know I’d be going over there this morning?”

Gran put the heavy dish into Luke’s hands. “Because I know what kind of man you are. You couldn’t do anything else.”

Luke left the house as the coming dawn warmed the horizon to dark gray. Gran’s confidence in him felt empty, hollow, backed up only by her faith. Where had it come from? He’d never done anything to warrant her unwavering support. He’d gone to college, then devoted most of his time to his career, to himself, really. He had a fat bank account and plenty of expensive things to show for it. He couldn’t think of one instance where he’d done significant good for others. In fact, the one time he’d been asked to help another person, he’d failed miserably.

He would keep his promise to Wade, but he didn’t want to. He wanted to run back upstairs and crawl under the bed.

CHAPTER EIGHT

“And now we go live to an update on last night’s brutal assault in Coopersfield.”

Riveted to the TV screen, he barely tasted his morning coffee. A blond reporter in a red suit stood in front of Westbury Community Hospital. “The young woman who was attacked last night while jogging is in stable condition at an area hospital this morning…”

So close
. Maddie was barely a ten-minute drive from his house. He’d been denied, but that wouldn’t last forever. He wanted so badly to see her. To watch her. To plan their next—their final—encounter.

An idea festered inside him. It might be fun to let Maddie know he was thinking of her. That he hadn’t forgotten.

He let the newswoman’s recap of his failure roll over him. It wasn’t as much fun as listening to the news reports of his successful exploits.

Lady Luck had given him the metaphorical finger last night. Was fate telling him something? Perhaps that he’d been lazy. He hadn’t challenged himself. He’d picked easy targets and relied on technology. And the worst offense? Last year’s killing had been same old, same old rather that the fresh thrill it was supposed to be.

He started his laptop, opened his social media app, and checked on Maddie. Lots of well-wishes from her friends. No
responses from his girl. Had he done more damage than he’d thought? A visit to the hospital was in order tonight. He had to know more than the official statement the hospital released on the news, and he was definitely going to plan a special surprise for Maddie.

“And a victim was saved by the intervention of one courageous woman.” The reporter’s sign-off caught his attention.

His head swiveled back to the TV. He stared at the photo of the attractive brunette on the big screen. Her age, her self-assured posture, and the determination in her gaze would normally cause him to cross her off his list of potential victims. It wasn’t that he didn’t find thirty-something females attractive, but younger women were often careless and therefore easier targets. But maybe picking off the easiest prey was killing his buzz. Pursuing a woman like that would change everything.

She’d be a challenge worthy of his talents.

CHAPTER NINE

Brooke stared at her clock. The alarm wouldn’t go off for another hour, but she’d slept off the worst of her exhaustion. Had the police caught the assailant during the night? There was no point trying to go back to sleep.

She swung her legs over the side of the bed and tested her knee. The joint was sore and stiff but not as painful as she’d expected. She hobbled into the bathroom and showered. The soapy water stung when it ran over the abrasion. She taped a fresh gauze pad over it and dressed in loose slacks.

“Time to get up!” She rapped on both kids’ bedroom doors and waited for the morning moans and groans to seep through the wood before making her way downstairs. In the foyer, she stopped cold.

The hallway smelled like coffee. She heard the quiet slide of drawers opening and closing. Of someone looking for something. Already on edge, her nerves prickled.

Who was in her kitchen?

Wade should be long gone. The kids were still upstairs…

Get real. Criminals didn’t make coffee. Wade must be running late.

Sunshine sprawled in the center of the kitchen floor. Instead of her brother, Luke was filling a coffee mug at the counter. As she limped into the room, he turned. Worn jeans sat low on lean hips, and a faded blue Penn State T-shirt highlighted his broad
shoulders. Brooke ripped her stare off the giant letter
S
front and center on his muscular chest. “You made coffee.”

“I did. How’s the knee?” Deep green eyes gave her a critical once-over. Just like the night before, he saw through her brave face, as if he didn’t even have to ask about her emotional state. He knew.

“Not too bad.” She was instantly glad a few dabs of concealer had masked her scraped chin, which was ridiculous. Her appearance should be the least of her worries this morning. Unsettled, she hobbled around the sleeping dog and sat down. “How did you get in here?”

“Wade let me in before he left.” Luke poured her a cup of coffee and set it in front of her. “He gave me his key, too, in case of an emergency. I hope you don’t mind.”

Brooke didn’t answer. Wade trusted Luke enough to suggest she… No. She wasn’t going there before coffee. Luke having a key to her house shouldn’t make her nerves do a jig. But one thought dominated her brain. While she’d been naked in the shower, he’d been in her kitchen. Her skin warmed. She reached for her mug. It was too early to contemplate her brother’s attempt at matchmaking. Her own unfamiliar response to Luke was more than she could handle at the moment.

“Thanks.” She sipped, praying the caffeine would machete its way through the haze. Between her knee and the instant replays in her head, her night had been fitful. Was it just the residual anxiety from last night’s attack that unsettled her? Or did Luke’s masculine presence in her kitchen add to the jumble? Her last smooth nerve threatened to wiggle free, and she fought to restrain the irritation in her tone. “Why are you here?”

“Wade asked me to keep an eye on you.”

“I know. He told me, but I didn’t expect to see you this early.” Sadness fractured her heart. Her little brother, soon on his way to a hostile country, was still looking out for her. But he should have asked her before giving his friend a key to her house. “You didn’t by any chance catch the news this morning, did you?”

His mouth tightened. “They haven’t caught him.”

With that one sentence, Luke’s presence shifted from unsettling to reassuring. “The more time that passes, the less likely it is that he’ll be caught.”

For a brief second, fear flashed in Luke’s eyes. Or was that a reflection of the panic brewing inside her? Out the back window, a gray predawn mist rolled across the foothills. A secluded location and expansive windows were two of the house’s best features, but this morning the lovely view represented sheer vulnerability.

“Let’s hope they find him this week.” He blinked the raw emotion clear and turned away. At the sound of pans rattling, the dog lifted her head. “How about some eggs?”

Sunshine scrambled to her feet, arthritic limbs sliding on the tile with the shaky grace of a newborn fawn.

He gave the dog a pat. “I wasn’t talking to you.”

Sunshine’s tail arced in a slow, hopeful wag.

“She wants her breakfast.” Brooke put a palm on the table and started to push to her feet.

Luke raised a hand in a stop gesture. “Sit. I’ll do it.”

“OK.” Brooke eased back down. “There’s a bag of kibble in the pantry. Thank you.”

“I like dogs. I wish I was home enough to have one.” Luke fed the dog and filled her bowl with fresh water. He returned to the stove. “How many eggs can you eat?”

“Just one. I’m not a morning person.” As if the traumatic connection between them wasn’t hard enough to resist, he was good-looking, had a sense of humor, was kind to pets,
and
he cooked. She was in trouble. Brooke gulped her coffee. Another gallon and she might wake up and come to her senses.

Karen’s death and a failed marriage had ruined Brooke. She stared at Luke’s broad back. The explosion had damaged him. She could sense the broken pieces under his polished veneer. Putting all their baggage together would be insane, right?

“How about the kids?” Luke cracked eggs into the pan.

“We don’t usually eat breakfast.” Brooke had given up years ago. Haley was too crabby and Chris too sleepy in the morning to get any food into them.

While the pan sizzled, Luke grabbed the ice pack from the freezer and handed it to her. “How’s the swelling?”

“Went down some overnight.”

“If you stay off of it, it might be even better tomorrow.” He gave her another one of those appraising looks.

More heat flushed across her skin.
Ugh.
“Look, I appreciate you coming over here at the crack of almost dawn, but we’re fine. Really.”

“I promised Wade.” The jut of his jaw told her that was that. “He’s worried about you.”

“I’m worried about him too.” A small piece of her heart sheared off the way a hunk of glacier slides into the sea. Her temper dropped off with it. Please, God, let nothing happen to her brother.

Luke slid a fried egg and a slice of toast onto a plate and set it in front of her. Brooke tested the egg. Perfect. She forked some on top of her toast and bit in. “This is good.”

Luke rinsed his mug and stowed it in the dishwasher. “How are your parents?”

“When I talked to them last week, they were headed to Arizona for the winter.”

“Too bad. No chance they’d come home for a visit?”

“My mother’s emphysema is irritated by the damp and cold of winter. The last two years they’ve wintered in the Southwest. It’s the healthiest she’s been in a long time.”

He tossed a hunk of toast to Sunshine. The dog missed the throw and snuffled along the tiles for the food. Brooke scratched the dog’s back as she passed by. A pungent odor wafted across the kitchen.

“Sunshine, you smell awful.” Still scratching, Brooke wrinkled her nose. “What did you roll in? As soon as my knee is better, a bath is going to the top of my to-do list.”

Unconcerned, Sunshine turned so Brooke could reach her head.

Luke took his plate to the sink. “I’m more worried about her lack of watchdog skills. When I came in, she was sound asleep in the hall and didn’t wake up until I tripped over her.”

Sunshine’s back paw twitched as Brooke’s nails found an itchy spot beneath her ear. “Give her a break. She’s eleven years old. Her hearing isn’t what it used to be. Besides, she’s the friendliest dog on the planet. When she was younger, she was more babysitter than watchdog.”

With a final pat, Brooke turned her attention back to her breakfast. Appetite dulled, she offered a toast corner to the dog. “I wish they’d have caught him.”

His expression went grim. “I’m in town for the next week—”

“It’s all right, Luke. I appreciate your help, but ultimately I’m not your responsibility. I doubt we’re in much danger. I don’t know who he is. I can’t identify him. He has no reason to bother us.” But her statement rang empty. The media had her name.
Had they broadcast it yet? Regardless, it was only a matter of time until her involvement was public information. She didn’t exactly keep a low profile. For the first time, she regretted her public devotion to her cause.

BOOK: She Can Scream
6.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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