“If your mom has called the authorities, we have to let them know. If she hasn’t…” She paused. “Well, that works in our favor.”

Tara understood, and rubbing her hand up and down Brooke’s back, she tried to calm the girl. “Do what you need to do to make everything legal, Emily.” Tara tilted her head so she could see Brooke’s face more clearly. “But the only person I’ll let you go with is your dad, okay?”

That seemed to calm Brooke some. Tara felt her shirt dampen with the little girl’s tears and part of her ached, wishing she could take them all away.

“I’ll call from here so you’ll know everything I say, okay?” Emily didn’t wait for anyone to answer as she pulled out her phone. She also lifted her briefcase off the floor and pulled out a laptop.

“Bernice? Hi, it’s Judge Hawkins.” The indistinct sound of a woman’s voice came from the other end of the call. “Yes, we’re all safe out here. Thanks.” More talking. “We have an issue I’d like to report. Tara found a little girl wandering in the rain.”

Tara breathed a sigh of relief and leaned her head against Brooke’s. Every so often, she shuddered with a half-asleep sob.

“Yes, in town,” Emily continued. “But Tara brought her out here. She didn’t know where else to take her that would be safe.” Emily listened. “Yes, we know you guys have your hands full. But we want to let you know in case someone’s looking for her. She’s safe and sound here.”

More undistinguishable chatter, and Brooke seemed to calm. Her breathing was rough, but her eyes were closed.

“She asleep?” Tara mouthed to Wyatt. He leaned forward and nodded. The frown on his face was deep.

“I’m taking temporary custody of this girl, Bernie. I know it’s unusual, but she’s about six years old, and I’m concerned that there’s something wrong or something has happened to her parents. I can’t accept this or let it pass. Let Dutch know that I’m taking over the case.”

Emily listened for a long minute. “Yes, yes, that’s fine. We’ll keep her here tonight and give you a call in the morning. Hopefully, the rain will stop soon, yes. Good night, Bernie.”

The entire room breathed a sigh of relief when Emily hung up. She looked accusingly around the room. “See? I made it legal, and she’s staying here with us.”

She started typing on the laptop nestled in her lap. “I’m opening a case file. Let’s get the facts down now. That’ll help Morgan in the long run, as well.”

“Thank you,” Tara whispered and leaned her head on the soft cushion of the couch. Her eyes burned. For an instant, she wished she was six again and could cry herself to sleep with Brooke.

“Here.” Someone nudged her shoulder, and Tara opened her eyes. DJ had a glass in each hand. “It’ll help you sleep.”

Tara almost laughed. “I’m a big kid now? I get a drink from Granddad’s bar?” The carved wooden bar dominated one end of the room. Granddad had commissioned it from a local artisan when he’d built the house, believing it was better for his employees to party close to home and under his watchful eye. As kids, they’d all been in awe of its grandeur.

“You’ve earned it.” DJ smiled and took a swig of his own drink—whiskey, from the scent. His was straight on the rocks, not “watered down” as he called the mixed drink he’d given her. “We all have.”

Wyatt handed Emily a drink and they savored the silence.

“I’m thirsty, too,” Brooke said softly.

That elicited a laugh from them all.

“We can fix that. How about one of these?” Wyatt fixed her a drink that smelled suspiciously like a Shirley Temple, complete with a maraschino cherry. The highball glass looked huge in the little girl’s hands.

“That’s pretty special treatment,” Tara told her. “I don’t remember him ever making one of those for me.”

“I’ll gladly make you one,” Wyatt offered with a wink.

“I’ll take a rain check, thanks.” She lifted her drink, much stronger than Brooke’s, in a mock salute and prayed it would do as DJ promised. Sleep seemed incredibly elusive right now.

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