Her Last Goodbye Page 45

He usually slept naked. It was more comfortable, and creating dirty laundry while sleeping never made much sense to him. But with four female guests, it didn’t feel appropriate. He didn’t own pajamas and settled on a pair of athletic shorts and a T-shirt. Good enough.

His cell phone buzzed from the nightstand. He read Morgan’s text: THE BREAK IS BAD. GRANDPA GOING INTO SURGERY. RISKY BUT NO OPTIONS. HOW ARE THE GIRLS?

He responded: GIRLS ARE IN BED AND FINE. SORRY TO HEAR ABOUT ART.

Lance hesitated. He wanted to tell her he loved her, but was this really the right time? No. Telling a woman you loved her for the first time in a text was lame.

He typed: THINKING OF YOU. Which felt weak, so he added: I’M UP. CALL ME IF YOU WANT TO TALK.

Morgan: OK. GOTTA GO. THX.

Well, damn.

Art’s condition didn’t sound good.

He set the phone down. Poor Art. And poor Morgan. Art was old for surgery, and Lance hated thinking of Morgan in the hospital, worrying. For years, her grandfather had been mother and father to her. She’d already lost both her parents and her husband. She did not need any more tragedy in her life.

Lance crawled into bed. He’d rather be with Morgan, but she’d entrusted him with her kids. He’d do his best to take care of them. He lay still, staring at the ceiling, wondering who had broken into Morgan’s house and why and coming up with few answers.

It felt as if he’d barely closed his eyes when something woke him. Not a noise. A feeling. The hairs on his neck went rigid.

He was being watched.

All his senses went on alert. He stared into the darkness at his open doorway, listening, not moving, waiting for his eyes to adjust. His gun was on top of his armoire, out of the children’s reach but also out of his immediate reach.

Scanning the room, he startled when he made out the small shadow standing at the foot of his bed, staring at him.

“Sophie?” He reached for the light and switched it on.

Tears streaked the little girl’s face. “I had a bad dream. He was there.” She sniffed and inhaled three sharp breaths.

Lance sat up. “It’s OK. You’re safe now.”

“I’m scaa-wed.” She pronounced the word in two syllables as she crawled up onto the bed and knelt in front of him, still clutching her stuffed horse. “Can I sweep with you?”

Her tiny voice broke, and his heart did that Grinch thing again. She trusted him to keep her safe.

How could he say no?

“Ah. Sure.” He lifted the covers next to him and she scooted under them. But she wasn’t content to occupy the other side of his king bed. She pressed her small body against his from her head to her feet, as if every inch of her needed reassurance that he was there to protect her.

Oh, what the hell?

Lance turned on his side and threw an arm over her. A contented sigh escaped her mouth as she drifted off to sleep.

The room was still dark when Lance woke again. Silence filled the house, and exhaustion blanketed him. Why was he awake? He checked the clock. He’d only been asleep for an hour. No wonder he was still tired.

A scream split his left eardrum, and he automatically lurched a few inches away from its source.

A small fist smacked him in the head, and the night came rushing back. Next to him, Sophie thrashed, then settled onto her back. She stared straight up at the ceiling, her big eyes wide-open but unseeing. She let out a scream, the plaintive, panicked pitch disturbing Lance right down to his soul. The hair on his arm rose, and goose bumps rippled along his skin.

Was this a night terror?

Must be.

It was pretty freaking terrifying.

What should he do?

She rolled suddenly. Her heel struck his thigh in the exact spot where he’d been shot the previous year. Pain burst in Lance’s leg. He reached down and rubbed the scar tissue.

Sophie shouted, “No.” Her limbs flailed, and she screamed a few more times over the next ten minutes. Lance’s gut twisted as he watched, helpless, hoping she didn’t wake the other girls. Morgan hadn’t said whether she’d roused Sophie or not. Somewhere in the back of his mind he recalled something about not waking a sleepwalker, but had no idea if the tidbit was fact or fiction. Just when he was considering waking her, the episode seemed to pass, and she relaxed back into the pillow. One little foot stretched across the mattress to touch his leg.

But Lance would never get back to sleep now. Sophie’s screams still echoed in his head.

Would he disturb her if he got up? He eased away, inch by inch, until he slipped off the side of the bed and fell on his ass. After tucking the blankets up to her chin, he slipped his phone into the pocket of his shorts, went into the kitchen, and started a pot of tea, wishing it were coffee. There was no way Sharp’s green tea was going to cut through the haze of one hour of sleep with a screaming three-year-old. The dog didn’t even crack an eyelid as he walked by the sofa. Snoozer was no watchdog.

Obviously.

Lance checked his messages. No updates from Morgan. He debated texting her, but he wouldn’t want to wake her if she’d dropped off to sleep.

A brushing sound caught his attention. A second later, Sophie appeared in the doorway.

“You weft me.” Her lip quivered, and she clutched her stuffed horse. Her eyes were huge, full of tears, and underscored by deep, dark circles.

Oh, geez.

Guilt speared him through the belly.

This babysitting gig was going to take some practice. Lance felt like someone had dropped him in the middle of the ocean without so much as a compass to tell him which way to swim. He’d have to rely on instinct. Kids didn’t bullshit, right? So the truth was probably best when possible.

Lance squatted to her level. “I’m sorry. I didn’t want to wake you.”

She walked right into him and rested her head against his shoulder. Her body trembled with a huge sigh, and Lance’s heart melted like a stick of butter in a hot pan. He wrapped his arms around her and picked her up as he straightened. Carrying her, he went back into the kitchen and poured a cup of tea one-handed. Then he started to assemble the ingredients for his morning protein shake, only to realize there were still several hours until dawn and that there was no way he could run the blender without disturbing his other three guests. He returned the frozen berries to the freezer.

Sophie’s body was totally limp. Lance glanced down. She was sound asleep against his chest, her little butt perched on his forearm, her tiny hands clutching her stuffed horse.

Lance eased into his living room chair. He set his tea on the end table. Sophie curled up against him.

Now what?

The child was exhausted and wouldn’t sleep unless she was with him. Shifting to one side, he drank tea, checked his e-mail, and waited. He must have drifted off at some point, because when Gianna, Mia, and Ava emerged from the bedroom, dawn flooded the room with light and Lance’s neck felt like someone had beaten it with a stick. He lifted his head from the back of the chair and rolled his shoulders.

Ava and Mia’s chatter woke Sophie, who crawled out of Lance’s lap. He stood and stretched his stiff back, a pins-and-needles sensation flooding his legs.

“We’re hungry.” Ava bounced toward the kitchen, with Mia and Sophie at her heels.

Lance grabbed his mug and followed them. This was going to be a two-cup, maybe a three-cup morning. He opened the refrigerator. “How about some eggs?”

The three children stared up at him like he’d said poison.

Gianna laughed. “Do you have bread? I can make them French toast.”

“In the freezer.” Lance pointed.

She pulled the loaf out.

“Ew. It’s brown.” Ava wrinkled her nose.

“It’s oat bread,” he said. “It’s good for you.”

None of the children looked convinced.

“What are those things in it?” Mia poked at the frozen loaf.

“Sunflower seeds,” Lance said with a sinking feeling. What did kids eat?

Mia frowned. “They look like bugs.”

“How about pancake mix or flour?” Gianna asked.

“Sorry.” Since he’d embraced Sharp’s crunchy and organic diet, Lance’s kitchen was full of eggs, vegetables, seeds, and nuts.

Someone knocked on the front door. Lance checked the time. Who would be visiting at seven thirty in the morning?

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