Her Last Goodbye Page 44

Morgan and Stella went to his bed. Morgan did not allow herself a reaction. Grandpa lay surrounded by beeping monitors and dripping IVs. He looked as if he’d shrunk. Just a few months ago, before his blood pressure had suddenly spiked, he’d been a robust, active man. The sheer stillness of his body shocked Morgan.

He opened his eyes and held out a hand. “My girls.”

They went to his side. Morgan took his hand, taking comfort that his grip was strong despite his obvious frailty.

“I called Peyton and Ian,” Stella said. “They’re both going to come as soon as they can.”

“No need for them to travel all this way,” Grandpa rasped. “The surgery will be over before either one of them can get here.”

“That’s not the point.” Morgan gave his hand a gentle squeeze. “We all love you.”

Peyton and Ian hadn’t been around much in the past few years, but that didn’t mean they loved him less.

“I love you too, but don’t look all glum,” he ordered. “I’m not ready to die yet. I have things to do.”

The nurse tapped on the door frame. “We’re going to take him up now.”

Morgan and Stella each gave him a kiss on the cheek before retreating to the hallway. They followed posted directions to the surgical waiting room.

In the small, ugly mauve room, Stella made a cup of coffee on a pod machine in the corner. “He’s tough. Try not to worry too much.”

“I know.” Morgan would rather talk about anything except the surgery. And silence amplified her worry. “When are Peyton and Ian coming?”

“I don’t know. Peyton checked for flights, but they were all full. She’s going to get on the standby list.” Stella sank into a plastic chair. “I left a message for Ian.”

“He must be working. It’s not like he can return a call when he’s busy with a hostage situation or serving a high-risk warrant.”

“He should visit more.” Stella lifted her Styrofoam cup. “Want one?”

Morgan shook her head. Her stomach was roiling from the earlier adrenaline dump. “He should be thinking about settling down. As far as I know, he doesn’t even have a steady girlfriend. Or a plant.”

“He will, as soon as he’s done with SWAT.” Stella sipped her coffee and made a face. “You were ready to settle down young. The rest of us took longer to mature.”

“Does that mean you’re settling down?” Morgan asked. The night seemed surreal. Too many shocks for her brain to absorb. She wanted normal for a little while, even if it was just an ordinary conversation. “My kids could use some cousins.”

Stella choked on her coffee. “I’m not that settled yet. Please. Mac and I have only been living together for a few months.”

“But you’ve thought about it?”

“Of course I’ve thought about having kids in the future. Keyword: future. Could you imagine having a few mini-Mac wild boys running around? Any kids Mac fathers are guaranteed to be a handful.”

“But adorable.”

“Yeah.” Stella’s sigh was just a little wistful. “That too.”

They distracted themselves with more inane small talk until Brody walked in a short while later.

“Any news?” he asked.

Stella updated him. “We’re waiting. What did you find out about the break-in?”

“This guy knew what he was doing.” Brody sat across from Morgan and Stella. “Older security systems were easily beaten by burglars. They simply found the siren wire and the telephone line and cut them. The system couldn’t summon the police and the siren didn’t go off. Newer systems use wireless technology as a workaround.”

“Our system is wireless,” Morgan said. “With a backup battery in case we lose electricity.”

“But wireless systems aren’t foolproof either. Every time there’s an advance in security technology, criminals find a way to beat it. It’s a vicious cycle.” Brody scratched his chin. “We believe the intruder used a jammer to interrupt the radio frequency of the wireless system. The alarm never sent a signal to the central monitoring station or the siren. Once he beat the alarm, he took his time picking the lock.”

“Not an amateur.” Stella huffed.

“No. Definitely not.” Brody swept a hand through his short hair. “I contacted the unit watching Burns’s house.”

“You have a unit watching Harold Burns?” Morgan was surprised.

“We do, but because of Burns’s legal maneuvering, they’ve been told to keep their distance and stay off his property.” Brody’s face tightened with a frown. “We haven’t seen any movement or lights at Burns’s house. His car has not left the garage. But his house is surrounded by forest, and he only lives a half mile from his brother’s auto shop. He could easily walk there through the woods and help himself to a car. In short, we have no way of knowing for certain if he’s actually inside.”

Chapter Thirty-One

It was after one in the morning when Lance lugged three backpacks into his house. Then he went back to the Jeep and carried Ava and Mia inside, one by one, and tucked them into his guest bed. Gianna and Sophie walked in under their own steam. Unbelievably, Morgan’s littlest was still awake. Snoozer shuffled into the house, jumped up on the sofa, and curled into a ball.

“The girls can sleep in the guest room. I can give you mine,” Lance said to Gianna. He’d sleep on the couch.

After he moved the dog.

Gianna shook her head. “I’ll share with the girls. That way, if they wake up and don’t know where they are, I’ll be there.”

“Will all four of you fit?” Lance’s guest bed was a queen size but still . . .

“They’re small.” Gianna hadn’t bothered to dress. In her flannel pajamas and oversize sweatshirt, the eighteen-year-old looked much younger. Even with the pounds she’d gained since moving in with Morgan, Gianna was still slender, though less frail and much healthier than when she’d lived alone.

“OK. I have a blow-up mattress. I’ll put it in the bedroom in case you need more room.” Lance went into the garage and used his compressor to inflate the twin mattress. Then he wedged it between the wall and the bed. The second bedroom in his compact house wasn’t large. Neither Ava nor Mia stirred. Amazingly, they hadn’t objected to being roused from their beds in the middle of the night, though Morgan had only told them that Grandpa was hurt. She didn’t want to frighten them.

Sophie was scared enough for all three children.

“I’m going to use the bathroom.” Gianna carried a small bag toward the hall bath. “Are you OK, Soph?”

Nodding, Sophie wandered around the living room, inspecting Lance’s few pieces of furniture.

“I don’t wanna go to bed.” Sophie hugged a toy horse tightly against her face. The sight stabbed Lance in the heart. The child was always a handful but not typically whiny. She’d had a rough, frightening night.

“How about a glass of milk?” he asked.

She nodded and followed him toward the kitchen. Passing the piano, she stopped. “Can I touch it?”

“Sure. But softly, OK? Mia and Ava are sleeping,” Lance said.

Sophie sat down on the piano bench and raised a hand over the keyboard. She pressed a key, her touch light and hesitating, almost reverent. A soft middle C sounded through the dining room.

Lance sat down next to her.

“Can you play a song?” She plunked another soft key.

“It’s too late.” Lance’s gut wrenched as she turned and blinked her big blue eyes at him. “But I promise I’ll play for you another time. In fact, I can even teach you a song.”

She nodded hard and sniffed.

“How about we get you to bed, Soph?” Gianna walked into the room and held out a hand. Sophie scrambled off the bench, took it, and let Gianna lead her into the guest room.

Lance drank the milk himself. Then he hauled his exhausted body to his bedroom, stripped off his clothes, and took a quick shower. He’d still been up, unable to sleep, when Morgan had called. It was now two a.m.

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