Falling for the Brother

By: Tara Taylor Quinn

CHAPTER ONE

MIRIAM THOMAS. INSTANTLY ALERT, Harper Davidson stared at the report on the computer screen in front of her. Miriam Thomas. It wasn’t a common name. But not a stretch to think there’d be more than one woman bearing it.

As newly promoted head of security at The Lemonade Stand, a unique 5.1-acre resort-like women’s shelter on the California coast, Harper made it her first task every morning, after dropping Brianna at the day care on-site, to take a look at the resident status report. Kind of like a doctor looking at patient charts. In the month she’d been doing so, the task had consisted of nothing more than a simple wellness check. The fifteen new residents who’d arrived in those four weeks had all joined them during waking hours and she’d been notified immediately.

Miriam Thomas had been brought in at 2:00 a.m. with a broken arm and multiple contusions on her chin, as though someone had held her head still with great force.

Harper skimmed the basic details in the overview, suspended from any kind of reaction, as she searched out identifying information that generally wasn’t her primary concern. How old was the newest resident and where was she from?

Seventy-five. Albina, California.

Hands shaking now, Harper moved her mouse. Clicked. And clicked again, typing codes and passwords that would get her into a database containing the complete file. She was alone in her small office off the main building at the Stand, coffee not even made, and could hear the silence like the roar of the ocean just wooded acres away.

Miriam? At The Lemonade Stand? What had happened?

Her screen changed and she was in. She typed Miriam’s newly acquired resident number.

Who’d brought her here? She had to get further in to find out details. Why hadn’t Bruce let her know?

The Stand would’ve had no reason to call Harper unless Miriam had asked them to. Which wasn’t likely. Harper’s background check had mentioned her ex-husband by name, but not his family, and it wasn’t like anyone would have memorized that information anyway. She’d never taken the Thomas name. And even if she had, it wasn’t all that uncommon.

She’d never taken the name because she never should have married Bruce.

But…

The page opened and Harper pulled back. In her three and a half years on staff at The Lemonade Stand she’d seen a lot of disturbing injuries and broken women. They were an everyday fact. Not that she ever grew desensitized. But she’d learned early on to draw boundaries around her personal emotions—just as she had as a cop when she’d been first responder at a deadly car crash. Or a murder.

Gazing into the meek stare coming from Miriam’s photo, she lost those boundaries. Miriam, meek? And the bruises on that soft chin… Her face bore little resemblance to the face Harper was used to—one more prone to smiling with confidence that all would be well. Miriam had been the ultimate law-enforcement family member. The wife of a detective. The mother of a detective. The grandmother of a cop. She’d taken it all in stride, certain that her men would survive and make it home in time for dinner.

Or whenever they were expected.

They always had, too.

Her husband had died at home, from kidney disease. Her son, Bruce and Mason’s father, had passed away at home, too, from a heart attack due to being a hundred pounds overweight—not that Harper had been there. She’d only heard about it from Bruce when they’d met in his driveway to pass Brianna back and forth for his bimonthly visitation overnighters.

Taking a minute to catch her breath, on what had started out as a normal Tuesday morning in July, Harper got a bottle of water out of the small fridge beside her desk and sipped from it. Then she swept nervous fingers through her short blond hair and reached for the mouse. Scrolled slowly past that photo.

Miriam had been brought to them from the urgent care in Albina; the report didn’t say who’d brought her in and she assumed someone from the urgent care had called The Lemonade Stand. One of Harper’s employees—probably Sandra, who was the most senior officer on duty the previous night—would have driven over to pick her up. Harper would have a report on that, too.

Scrolling further, she stopped. Stared.

Miriam’s abuser was… Bruce Thomas?

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