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"And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me "
Detective Atticus Kincaid pushed his white handkerchief into his mother's icy hand and wrapped an arm around her trembling shoulders.
Susan Kincaid was holding up like a rock through her husband's funeral service and burial ceremony, but Atticus could sense a brittleness to her stoic composure. And even through the raincoat she wore, he felt a chill that he suspected had as much to do with the shock and emptiness inside as it did with the rain beating down on the green awning over their heads and misting the air around them.
"Your father loved this song," she whispered, scarcely loud enough for him to hear. She wrung the handkerchief between her fingers, catching Atticus's hand and holding on tight. "Holden sounds so much like him when he sings it."
"He sure does," Atticus agreed, sitting ramrod-straight and allowing his mother to take whatever strength she needed from him. Dutifully, he turned his attention back to his younger brother, who stood beside their father's flag-draped casket, singing Deputy Commissioner John Kincaid's favorite song.
" sleep in peace until you come to me."
Damned ironic. His father was a good cop. A great man. The best father any four sons could ask for. There was nothing peaceful about the idea of some unknown perps kidnapping and torturing him, and then shooting him at point-blank range. How could John Kincaid rest in peace when his killer was out there somewhere, not giving a damn about the pain he was causing this family? Maybe even gloating at the huge hole John Kincaid's death left in the ranks of the Kansas City Police Department?
Was themotive personal? Professional?
Why were the clues collected from the crime scene so sketchy? Why were there no suspects in custody? Why the hell didn't homicide already have a man behind bars for this travesty?
Atticus's skin crawled with the need to find answers.
But for right now, he'd sit here amongst the gathering of family, friends and fellow cops, and pretend he had everything under controlfor his mother's sake.
Holden finished the song, placed his KCPD hat back on his head and raised a white-gloved hand to salute their father. Atticus pressed his own hand over the Kansas City Police Department badge clipped to the pocket of his dark-blue dress uniform, feeling the black mourning ribbon beneath his palm like the slash of a knife straight through the heart that lay beneath. But a hand over his heart was the only outward sign of grief he allowed himself to show.
He heard a noisy sniffle behind his right shoulder and glanced up to see his father's administrative assistant, Brooke Hansford, wiping away the tears beneath her thick, owl-like glasses. Brooke had been his father's organizational and technological savior at work. And though he'd always figured she was about his agethirtyshe looked young and fragile and completely vulnerable with her pale cheeks and red-tipped nose.
Lacking a second handkerchief to give her, Atticus waited until her puffy gaze met his and he offered her a wink. Brooke responded with a hasty smile and a loud sniff before ducking her head to dig into her oversize pursefor a tissue, no doubt.
Yeah. The bastard who'd killed John Kincaid had robbed a lot of good people of someone they loved.
The minister was saying a last few words, but checking on Brooke had already diverted Atticus's attention to the other mourners surrounding them. He spotted his older brother, Sawyer, standing hatless in the rain, his anger and grief evident in the grim expression on a face that was normally creased with a smile. He was shifting from foot to foot, restlessly scanning the crowd as he listened to the graying man standing beside him. Though a black umbrella obscured part of his face, William Caldwell, one of their father's oldest friends, was easily recognized by the expensive tailoring of his suit and coat and the gold fraternity ring that matched the one his father had been buried with.
A lot of people were hurting today.
Atticus absorbed each flinch of his mother's hand as the honor guard sounded off their twenty-one-gun salute. But he barely heard the explosive pops himself as he swung his gaze around to find one more family member.
It wasn't until his mother clasped the folded flag to her chest and he stood beside her that Atticus finally located his oldest brother, Edward, standing beneath a canopy of pine boughs and budding ash branches, some thirty yards from the main group. Edward seemed to be leaning heavily on his cane, but his chin was held high, and he looked a hell of a lot more put together than the last time Atticus had seen him.
Susan Kincaid squeezed Atticus's arm. She'd seen her oldest child, too. "Go talk to him, will you, son? I don't want Edward to think he's all alone at a time like this."
Edward had chosen to be alone for months now, but today wasn't the day to point out that fact. "Yes, ma'am." He nodded to Holden to take his place at their mother's side. "Holden?"
"I'll stick with her." Holden drew her hand into the crook of his arm.
"You did a beautiful job, sweetie." As Susan stretched up to kiss her youngest son's cheek, Atticus pulled down the brim of his KCPD hat and picked up an umbrella to do her bidding.
He wasted no time cutting straight across the sloping hill. Edward might have become a pro at hiding out in a shadowy house or the bottom of a bottle, but no way could he outrun his determined brother. The master detective's shield Edward had locked away might outrank Atticus's own detective's badge, but as far as he was concerned, their mom outranked them all. And if she wanted someone to bring Edward back into the family fold, then, by damn, Atticus was going to do it.
Edward's gray eyes, one of the few things they seemed to have in common these days, scowled at Atticus's outstretched hand.
But stubbornness was another shared trait. "Don't tell me you don't recognize what this means, Edward. It's good to see you."
His oldest brother seemed to need time to process what the gesture of man-to-man friendship might cost him. But then perhaps he remembered which brother could go the longest before saying "uncle" in one of their childhood backyard pile-on tussling matches. Atticus was relieved to feel the firmness of Edward's grip when he finally reached out to shake his hand. "Don't you dare try to hug me."
Atticus's mouth curved with half a laugh. He shifted to stand beside his brother and watch the distant pomp and grieving from his lonely perspective. Maybe the silence should have been awkward. But Edward had never been much of a talker. The soft patter of the rain on the overhanging branches was a soothing sound in the quiet, and the deep scent of the wet pine surrounding them reminded Atticus of saner, happier times when their father had taken the boys camping and fishing on weekend trips.
But the sweet memories of all they had lost began to curdle in Atticus's stomach, and the solace of the moment passed. Since Edward hadn't yet bolted for cover, Atticus carried out their mother's request. "You should come say hi to Mom. She knows you're here, but it'd mean a hell of a lot to her if you made the effort to touch base." He glanced over at Edward, who rested both hands on the grip of his cane now. "She's hurting. We all are."
"I don't hurt anymore." The words rolled out with a dark note of finality. Maybe he'd been in pain for so long that he was done feeling anything. Was it respect alone that had made him get out of bed and trim his beard and get here this afternoon? Edward tilted his thick walnut cane and pointed toward the green awning. "But this pisses me off."
So big brother felt something, after all.
There was more silence as the crowd began to disperse, opening umbrellas and turning up collars as they walked down the hill to the cars lining the road that twisted through Mount Washington Cemetery. Finally, Edward pulled back his shoulders and turned to Atticus with a gut-deep sigh. "I'm sure Mom has invited people over to the house, but I can't do the small-talk thing. Just give her my love."
"Give it to her yourself. Let me get Sawyer and Holden on this. We'll keep everyone away and you can have a private moment with her before she leaves Mount Washington."
Edward thought hard about the offer, then nodded.
"You know, Ed, if you ever need anything"
"Don't go there." A muscle ticked beneath the scar slashing along Edward's jaw. "I'll meet you by her car in ten minutes." He limped away from the crowd, pausing at the far edge of the copse of trees. He never turned back around. "Thanks, A. It's good to see you, too."
The gruff admission may have been the truest comfort Atticus had had since learning of their father's murder several days earlier. But the reprieve was over. With the hardest part of his mission accomplished, Atticus easily spotted Sawyer, standing a head taller than anyone else in the crowd, and went to make the arrangements for the meeting.
He was on track to find Holden and their mother when a smooth feminine voice purred behind him. "Atticus." Familiar white-tipped nails clutched the sleeve of his jacket, stopping him. Atticus braced as a blond-haired woman lowered her umbrella and stepped into view. Every silvery-gold strand was perfectly placed around her striking features, every word was carefully chosen. "I'm so sorry this had to happen to youto your family."
"Hayley." He couldn't help but check to see if her cameraman was trailing behind her. Despite the male escort he didn't recognize standing back at a polite distance, she appeared to be unplugged. Say something nice. After all, those could be tears, not raindrops glistening on her cheeks. "Thanks for coming."
"Your father was a valuable asset to the police department. He was always good about keeping the lines of communication open with the press. He raised four wonderful sons, as well. I admired him." The nails dug in as Hayley Resnick tipped her lips up to kiss him.
Uh-uh. He couldn't do this. Not today of all damn days. Atticus turned his head, and after the briefest of pauses, she settled for pressing a kiss to his cheek. "How's your mother doing?"
Atticus resisted the impulse to bolt when she released him to open her umbrella again. He didn't want the woman he'd once bought an engagement ring for to think she could still trigger that kind of emotional response in him. He'd confused her desire for an urbane escort, a willing lover and an inside source for KCPD informationwith love. He wouldn't make that same mistake again. He could play the same pretend-I-give-a-damn game if she could. "Mom's holding her own. Exhausted. Not eating like she should. About as well as can be expected."
"I'm sorry to hear that. Will there be a gathering at the house? I'd like to pay my respects"
"No," he lied. Too quickly. Keep your cool, Kincaid.
"Just the immediate family and a few close friends from work. Like I said, Mom's pretty worn out."
His family's grief was a private thing. He'd learned the hard way that Hayley wasn't above using pillow talk to ferret out a story and further her career. She'd never quoted him directly, hadn't legally broken the boundaries between free speech and police security, but there wasn't an offhand comment that she couldn't turn into a lead if she sensed there was a story to be had. Atticus needed to end this conversation before the reporter in her picked up on some nuance of intonation, and she detected just how close to the surface his pain and frustrations were riding.
And then he spotted the perfect excuse to walk away. Brooke Hansford, heading down to the road, slipped on the wet grass. That big hobo bag swung out, nearly dragging her to the ground before she caught herself. Wiping her wet and probably muddy hand on her coat, she glanced quickly around. Her soggy bun bounced against her neck as she checked to make sure no one had seen the gaffe. When her eyes met his, she froze for a moment. But then she pushed her glasses up on her nose, stuffed her hands into her pockets and turned away. Even at this distance, she couldn't hide the rosy blush that stained her cheeks.
The tension eased from the clench of his jaw, due as much to Brooke's ingenuous embarrassment as to the easy opportunity she presented. Atticus summoned the practiced smile that had carried him throughout the day. "If you'll excuse me. I see a friend I need to catch up with. Again, thanks for coming."
It felt good to leave with the last word for a change.
Lengthening his stride, Atticus angled down the hill and quickly caught up with Brooke. He adjusted his umbrella over her head and fell into step beside her. "Need a lift to the house? Mom said you were helping with the pot luck."
All he could see was the part in her curly, blond-brown hair as she kept her eyes glued to the path in front of her. "Um, no thanks. I have my car."
He followed the point of her finger to the blue VW Beetle about a quarter mile down the road. "Then let me walk you there so you don't get soaked to the skin."
"You don't have to"
"Dad would have my hide if I let a lady walk that far in the rain without benefit of a hat or umbrella." To show Brooke that he wasn't taking no for an answer, Atticus tugged on her wrist, pulling her hand from her pocket and linking her arm through his.
Hayley had grabbed as if she still had the right. Brooke paused, looked at her mud-dappled hand where it hovered over his sleeve, and finally, with a sniffle that probably had as much to do with the mention of John Kincaid as with the chilly dampness, she lightly curled her fingers into the material and nodded. "Okay."
Atticus was a cop as much as he was a hurting man. He'd just said his amens and put his slain father in the ground. Though he knew protocol wouldn't allow him to work the murder investigation, something needed to be done. Besides, work was a hell of a lot easier to focus on than any grief or resentment he might feel. "What was Dad working on before he left the office last week?"
Turning the conversation to work, Brooke seemed to relax.