“Peanut butter ones?”

“Those are okay.” She wasn’t very enthusiastic.

“What about grilled cheese?”

“Yes. Those are Lanara’s favorite. With extra cheese.”

“I see she has very good taste.” Tara hated to move away to make the food for the girl but didn’t know what else to do. “You know…” She frowned as if she were thinking hard. “It’s a lot warmer in the kitchen, where I’ll make Lanara’s sandwiches. Would you two like to come back there with me?”

“Yes, please.” Brooke shivered and glanced at the door as the wind suddenly howled and rattled the glass.

“Okay, then come with me.” Tara held the big swinging door open for Brooke. The girl hopped down from the stool and grabbed Lanara as she passed.

The kitchen was much warmer, but Brooke still shivered every few minutes. “Let me get you a special chair.” Tara pulled her mom’s wooden chair from the office and set it at the pastry table. “This is one of my favorite chairs. And Lanara can sit here, what do you think?” Tara dragged the stepladder that Wade used in the storeroom over beside the chair. Brooke nodded and smiled.

Tara pulled out all the ingredients for the sandwiches and warmed up the griddle.

“Can you make Lanara two samiches? If she can’t eat them both, I’ll help her,” Brooke offered.

“That’s a great idea.” Tara quickly prepared the sandwiches. Finally, the sandwiches ready, she put them on separate plates.

“Do you…or does Lanara like chips?”

“Yes. Lots.”

“What kind?” She lifted up several of the small bags she served with her sandwiches.

“Reglar.” Brooke mispronounced the word, not seeming to notice.

Tara put down the plates, one in front of the stuffed animal and the other on the side toward Brooke. “So you can help her.”

“I don’t think she can eat both of them,” Brooke very solemnly said. “I’ll help her.”

“Okay.” Tara leaned on the pastry table, resting her chin on her fists as she watched the girl gobble up the food.

“You make good stuff,” Brooke said around a bite of food.

“Don’t talk with your mouth full,” Tara said. “And thank you.” She smiled.

When the sandwich was half-done, and Brooke showed no signs of slowing down, Tara ventured to ask her a couple questions. “So, Brooke. Where’s your mom?” The last thing she needed was Sylvie coming in here accusing her of something, especially if she couldn’t get in touch with Morgan.

The girl shrugged and focused more on her sandwich, slowing only slightly in her chewing. “I think she’s out with Jimmy.”

“Who’s Jimmy?”

“Her boss. We stay at his house.”

“Oh.” That didn’t sound good. “Where were you before you came here tonight?”

“Can I have more chips?”

“Of course.”

“Lanara wants them.” Brooke had already eaten hers and was halfway through the portion Tara had put on the plate for the dragon. She put more on Brooke’s plate.

“Lanara is awfully hungry,” Tara observed.

“She didn’t get anything to eat all day, ’cept an icky granola bar that Mandy—that’s the babysitter—had in her purse this morning.”

Tara managed not to yell or groan. She had to call Morgan. She might be mad at him, and she might not be happy about some of the recent events between them, but this little girl couldn’t go without any more. She was already too thin and soaked through from the rain. Rain she had no business being out in alone.

Tara tried hard not to start asking a million questions about Sylvie and what life was like with her. Right now, that wasn’t her responsibility. Keeping this girl safe was.

She pulled out the phone and the girl hastily looked up. “Are…are you calling my mom?” Why didn’t that sound like something the girl wanted?

“I wasn’t going to. Do you want me to?”

Brooke’s tiny baby teeth bit into her lip as if she were thinking. “Can I stay here with you?”

Tara swallowed the hurt that came with the sound of the girl’s voice growing softer. “Of course, but don’t you think she’s missing you?”

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