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Authors: Brenda Harlen

McIver's Mission

BOOK: McIver's Mission
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Contents:

 

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18

Chapter
1

^
»

L
aid
to rest.

The words taunted Arden Doherty with the illusion of
comfort, the suggestion of peace. There had been little peace in the lives of
Denise and Brian Hemingway, even less in the way their lives had been taken
from them. Abruptly. Tragically. Unnecessarily.

Arden
turned away from the gathering. Her absence wouldn't be noticed by the small
crowd of mourners who'd come to say goodbye. She wasn't family; she hadn't been
a friend. There was no reason to stay any longer, nothing she could do now.

Still, she glanced back one more time, not sure why
she felt compelled to take that final look. She knew she'd never forget the
image of those two glossy wood coffins, side by side—one less than four feet in
length—gleaming in the late-September sun.

Just as she'd never forget that she was responsible
for them being there.

Arden
walked briskly, as if she might outdistance her thoughts, her grief, her guilt.
She paused outside the cemetery gates to put on her sunglasses. The dark lenses
cut the bright glare of the afternoon sun and masked the tears that burned
behind her eyes. She desperately tried to switch mental gears, to think of
something, anything but the mother and son who would soon be buried.

She turned into
Woodfield
Park
,
her steps slowing as the top of the courthouse came into view: thick stone
walls; gleaming, multifaceted windows; towering white pillars. More impressive
to
Arden
than the architecture of the building was what went on inside. The law was a
complicated piece of machinery that churned tirelessly, if not always
successfully.

The building was a visible symbol of the unending
fight for truth and justice.
Arden
had dedicated her life to that same fight, and her own office was just down the
street, where she could look out her window and see the peaked roof of the
courthouse. Sometimes that glimpse was all she needed to remember why she'd
become a family law attorney: to fight for the women and children who couldn't
fight for themselves.

Today, she wasn't feeling very inspired, and she
wasn't ready to go back to the office. Not yet. She needed a few minutes by
herself to grieve, to acknowledge the helplessness that now seemed so
overwhelming. She found a vacant bench nestled in the shelter of towering oak
trees and settled against the wooden slats, confident that she was hidden from
the pedestrian traffic on the path by the massive stone fountain. Here, if not
solace, she could at least have solitude.

She tilted her head to look up at the sky, staring at
the cloudless expanse that, even through the shade of her sunglasses, was so
gloriously blue it almost hurt her eyes. The trees had started to change color,
flaunting shades of gold and russet and red. Birds chattered somewhere
overhead, although it wouldn't be long before most of them headed south to
escape the cold
Pennsylvania
winter.

It was a beautiful day. Or it would have been if she
could have forgotten, for even half a minute, about the scene she'd walked away
from in the cemetery. And the part she'd played in putting the mother and son
there.

She felt a tear spill onto her cheek, swiped at it
impatiently. She'd learned a long time ago that tears were futile, crying a
sign of weakness. But right now she couldn't help feeling helpless,
ineffectual.

"
Arden
?"

She stiffened at the sound of the familiar voice. The
last thing she wanted right now was company. Especially Shaun McIver's company.
She ignored him, hoped he'd keep walking.

Of course, he didn't. Anyone else would have respected
her need for privacy, but not Shaun.
Arden
had met him eight years
earlier when her cousin had married Shaun's brother the first time. After a
five-year separation Nikki and Colin had recently remarried, and
Arden
had danced with Shaun at
the wedding.

It had been an obligatory dance between the maid of
honor and best man, but it had opened the door to feelings Arden had buried
long ago, introduced her to desires she preferred to ignore. Uncomfortable with
the emotions he stirred inside her,
Arden
had resolved to stay away
from him. But Shaun was a lawyer, too, which meant that she had occasion to
cross paths with him both personally and professionally.

"Please, go away." Her tone wasn't as firm
as she'd wanted, the words not quite steady.

He ignored her request and lowered himself onto the
bench beside her. No doubt Shaun believed he had the right—maybe even an
obligation—to intrude on her pain.

Arden
braced for the questions, prepared to deflect any attempts at idle
conversation. But he didn't say anything at all. He just slipped his arm across
her shoulders and drew her close to the warm strength of his body.

The quiet compassion, the wordless understanding,
unraveled her. She felt another tear slip out, track slowly down her cheek.
Then another.
Arden
pulled off her sunglasses, brushed away the moisture with her fingertips. She
drew in a deep breath, fought for control of her emotions. She tried to pull
back, to pull herself together, but Shaun didn't release her.

"Just let it go," he said.

And she did. She wasn't strong enough to hold back the
tears any longer, and they slid down her cheeks. Tears of regret, despair,
guilt. Helpless to stop the flow, she turned her face into the soft fabric of
his shirt and sobbed quietly.

Shaun rubbed his palm over her back, soothing her as a
mother would soothe a child—as Denise Hemingway might have once soothed
four-year-old Brian.
Arden
's
tears flowed faster, and still Shaun continued to hold her. She didn't know how
long he sat with her, how long she cried. Eventually her sobs subsided into
hiccups, her tears dried. Still, her throat was raw, her eyes burned, her gut
ached with the anguish and futility of loss.

She felt something soft pressed into her hand and
focused her bleary eyes on it.

A handkerchief?

It almost made her smile. She didn't think anyone
carried them anymore. She should have known that Shaun would. She pulled away
from him and unfolded the pressed square of white linen to wipe her eyes, blow
her nose.

"Do you want to talk about it?" he asked.

Arden
shook her head. "No."

Maybe he thought she owed him some kind of explanation
after such an outburst, but she hadn't asked him to intrude on her grief. She
wasn't used to leaning on anyone other than herself. That she'd needed someone,
and that he'd been there for her, both surprised and irritated her. And she was
just waiting for him to pry, to demand, so she'd have a reason to be annoyed.

But he didn't pry. He didn't demand. Instead he tipped
her chin up and looked at her with genuine concern and compassion in the depths
of his dark green eyes. "Are you going to be okay?"

She drew a deep breath. "I'm fine."

"Okay."

Shaun glanced at his watch, and she hoped he had
somewhere else he needed to be. She didn't like to seem ungrateful, but she'd
cried all the tears she had in her, and now she just wanted a few minutes to
herself to gather her thoughts. Then she would head back to the office and bury
herself in any one of a dozen cases that needed her immediate attention.

"Do you want to grab some dinner?" he asked.

Arden
frowned. "With you?"

One side of his mouth curved in a wry smile, and she
felt a jolt of something deep inside her. Something she didn't understand and
wasn't prepared to acknowledge.

"Yes, with me," he said.

"I don't think so." She was baffled by the
invitation and wondered if all that crying had somehow short-circuited her
brain.

"Why not?" he asked in the same casual tone.

Her frown deepened. Why was he pursuing this? She
couldn't ever remember him seeking out her company. "Because I have to get
back to the office."

"You're not going to get any work done
tonight."

"Despite the outburst," she said, irritated
by his confident assertion, "I didn't have a complete mental
breakdown."

"You need to get your mind off what's bothering
you."

"And having dinner with you is going to do
that?" she asked skeptically.

"It might."

"Look, I appreciate the offer. And I appreciate
the shoulder. But I don't have time—"

"Dinner with me," Shaun interrupted without
raising his voice, "or I'll call Nikki."

Arden
lifted one eyebrow, silently communicating her displeasure that he'd drag her
cousin into this. "Why would you call Nikki?"

"Because I'm concerned about you. You're upset
about something, and I don't think you should be alone right now."

"I have things I need to do."

He pulled a cell phone out of his jacket pocket and
held his thumb poised over the keypad. "She's on speed dial."

Arden
sighed. The last thing she wanted was her cousin to be worrying about and
fussing over her. "I want Mexican."

"Mexican it is." He dropped the phone back
in his pocket.

* * *

BOOK: McIver's Mission
4.07Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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