A Cop's Honor

By: Emilie Rose

CHAPTER ONE

HANNAH SANK DEEPER into her Adirondack chair and stretched out her legs. Her foot bumped the empty fire pit, and a few flakes of rust rained onto her ankles. She shifted again, hoping to find a more comfortable position on the hard seat. Her fingertips brushed across the chair’s peeling paint and a sense of futility rose within her.

The furniture and fire pit, like everything else around the house behind her, needed work. A lot of work. More than she could handle or afford, yet she was tackling it one project at a time. But sometimes she felt like a hamster on a wheel, spinning ’round and ’round and getting nowhere.

The old house was home—the first real home she’d ever had. Not that the places she and her parents had lived as her father climbed the army’s noncommissioned officer ranks had been bad, but they’d all been temporary. She hadn’t been free to paint or make any changes in the rented accommodations. And she had never, ever put down roots until she and Rick had bought this fixer-upper.

Rick. She closed her eyes and let the loss roll over her. Five years ago today he’d been taken from her. His death had robbed them of so many future plans as a family, and it had jeopardized their dream of turning this old house into the kind of home their children would remember fondly and always return to. She was trying to hold on to it, but life seemed determined to undermine that goal.

She took a deep breath of humid, hyacinth-and lilac-scented April air and tilted her head to stare at the full moon hanging like a fat beacon in the sky between towering oaks. A gentle breeze swayed the budding branches framing the orb. She pressed her bare soles against the still-warm brick pavers and endeavored to follow the advice she gave clients every day.

Inhale deeply to the count of ten, then exhale slowly. Release the tension by relaxing each muscle group sequentially: her forehead, her cheeks, her jaw, her neck, her shoulders. Knots loosened. Her pulse slowed and her grief settled back to a bearable level.

The click of the back door latch halted her progress. She’d thought both kids asleep before she’d slipped out for a moment of peace. Twisting, she leaned to look around the high back of her chair. The door eased open. Mason stepped onto the deck. Guilt pinched. Was he looking for her?

She opened her mouth to ask what he needed then noticed his backpack and remained silent. Why was he carrying it at this time of night? Where was he planning on going? He turned the knob and silently pulled the door closed. An uneasiness pricked through her. The feeling amplified when he furtively glanced around then tiptoed down the steps, carefully avoiding the squeaky middle tread. He turned for the side gate and clicked on a flashlight.

He wasn’t looking for her. Concern turned into alarm. “Mason, where do you think you’re going?”

He jumped, dropping the flashlight with a clank. The beam flickered and died. “Mom! What are you doing out here?”

The dismay on his face and in his voice confirmed that finding her hadn’t been his objective. Her heart thumped hard and fast in her chest. She rose and crossed the yard. “The question is where are you going at ten o’clock? You should be sleeping. It’s a school night. Your bedtime was nine.”

The sound of crickets filled the air.

“Mason Brandon Leith! Answer me.”

His gaze skittered away. “I…um… I…was going to camp out in the treehouse.”

Lying and sneaking out. Anxiety dried her mouth. She jabbed a thumb over her shoulder. “The treehouse is that way.”

“I…um…was looking for frogs first.”

Another lie. “Inside. Now.”

“Mooooom,” he wailed.

“Move it!” What had turned her sweet, easygoing ten-year-old son into trouble looking for a place to happen? He’d been suspended twice from school in the past three months for making inappropriate comments to other students then to his teacher, and finally, for sassing the school principal. She knew middle school kids were supposed to be difficult, but she hadn’t expected sixth grade to change her little boy into someone she didn’t recognize.

She followed him into the kitchen. “Where were you going?”

“I told you.”

“You lied. Try the truth.”

His chin jutted out. “I was going to meet a friend…for homework help.”

“At this hour? Who?”

“No one you know.”

That concerned her. “I’ve told you more than once that you’re not allowed to go to anyone’s house unless I’ve met them and their parents—and definitely not after bedtime and without permission.”

“How’s that supposed to happen? You work all the time. Even Grandmother Margaret says—”

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