“Aw, everybody leaves their name and number. It made me curious that you didn’t.”
She shrugged, her hair tickling along her shoulders. “When I dialed, it seemed like a good idea. When she answered, it seemed…not.”
“What changed your mind?”
Another shrug. “It suddenly looked silly. Not something to bother the police chief with.”
“You can bother the police chief with anything. You can bother me with everything.” His gaze narrowed, emotion radiating from him with the same intensity of the steam coming off the pavement after the rain. “What happened, Mila?”
Her lips thinned, and her hands tightened where she hugged herself. Without a word, she turned. It took all of eight steps to get from her place in the living room through the dining room, into the hall and into the bedroom. There she backed up close to the open door, leaving plenty of room for Sam to step inside.
When he did, the impact was incredible. The air heated and bristled against her skin. Each breath seared her lungs, and she was pretty sure if her muscles tightened one more degree, at least one of them would break like a giant rubber band and ricochet madly around the room.
He looked around the room clockwise, taking in the side window, the iron bedstead to which a few flakes of pale green paint still stubbornly clung. He glanced at the night table, the wicker chair squeezed into the corner, the old dresser, then at the two rear windows. The blinds were closed on all three windows, but they hung crookedly on the one nearest the kitchen. One slat was kinked, allowing a tiny view outside, and a loop hung awkwardly from the pull cord.
“When I come home from work, I put Poppy out, let her in, shower and change clothes. I keep most of my clothes in the hall closet, so I don’t usually come in here until I go to bed.” Her voice was steady but had a troubled tone to it that she wished she could scream away.
But because she wasn’t a screamer, she calmly went on. “I was cleaning the kitchen after dinner. A breeze came up, and I heard a thumping sound from the bedroom. Poppy came in, whined and went back out, and I came in and found the blinds banging against the window frame in the breeze.”
Sam slowly turned to face her, his expression grave. “And you didn’t open the window.”
She shook her head.
“And even if you had, you wouldn’t have messed up the blinds.”
She shook her head again. He looked so serious that she felt both validated, for making the call to the police station, and vulnerable, because he thought the call valid, as well. He thought someone had been here. Had invaded her sanctuary.
“Is anything missing? Has anything been disturbed?”
She had paced through every room, studied every item, wondering that very question. Last weekend, she had gotten the dead bolt on the front bedroom, its only key with her all day, so that room had definitely been safe, but the rest of the house seemed untouched, too. “No, not unless it was the most meticulous burglar in the world.”
“Have you looked outside?”
“No.” She should have. She’d thought about it. How many evenings had she let herself into the backyard and just strolled around? She had gotten as far as opening the back door, and she’d stopped, backed up, closed and locked it again.
“You have a flashlight?”
“In the kitchen.”
He headed that way, spotting the heavy light on top of the refrigerator before she could point it out. “You wait here, and keep Poppy with you.”
She sat in the dining chair he’d occupied a few nights ago and held Poppy between her knees, rubbing her shoulders and wishing Gramma was there to hold her the same way. She’d never cared much about physical contact, probably because with her parents it had always meant pain. But there were times, Lord, when she wanted a warm body next to hers, a hand on her shoulder, an arm around her. Just a little touch that said, It’s all right.
Bending, she rested her chin on top of Poppy’s head. The dog’s breathing was shallow; hers was shallow and unsteady. Knowing Sam was only a shout away made her feel safe. Knowing that someone else had been that close troubled her.
She heard his voice before she saw him again. He came in, cell phone to his ear, his expression fierce. “Yeah, I’ll be here,” he said before disconnecting. “You watered your plants today?”