“Oh.” The woman flushed, then the enormity of it sank in. “Oh. Sorry. I didn’t realize.”
“It’s okay,” Mila said. No one besides Gramma could possibly imagine how unusual the past eight days had been. It was safe to say they had changed her. They would mark the time when fear had found her again. When attraction had found her, too. When she’d opened her mind not to the things her parents had taken from her but to the things she could still have. Hope. Laughter. A future. Friends. Maybe even love.
After another moment, the two officers left. Sam hooked Poppy’s leash onto her collar while Mila gathered her bags, and they walked out together. He watched as she locked up, and she wondered how effective it really was. A tall fence with locked gates hadn’t kept her visitor out. What did it matter if he didn’t get in through the door when the window had been so easy for him?
“Do you rent?”
Sam’s question caught her off guard, drawing her into a frown as she followed him to the pickup in the street. “Yes. Why?”
“Maybe your landlord will pony up for some better window locks.”
“Hmm. I was thinking about picking up some wood dowels at the hardware store.”
He laughed, but there was little humor to it. “Wedge them in tight enough, and that should work.”
He didn’t add the obvious, but Mila heard it just the same: Until the guy breaks the glass. She would like to think one of her neighbors would hear the noise and investigate, but no one in her small area was particularly neighborly. She assumed most of them worked during the day, and the heat kept most people who were home inside, with air-conditioning and other distractions.
Sam undid the truck’s locks with the key fob, then opened the rear door so Poppy could jump inside. By the time he closed the door, the dog was sitting in the front seat, tongue hanging out.
“She’s not as well behaved in a car as she is on a walk,” Mila said apologetically.
Sam’s disbelieving look was almost enough to make her laugh, though she wasn’t feeling much humor, either. At least he didn’t point out that Poppy and well behaved didn’t belong in the same sentence.
After a moment spent staring between her and the dog, now grinning and drooling at him from the other side of the window glass, he did laugh. It was weak and born more of stress needing an outlet than anything else, but it sounded good, and it eased the tension in her muscles and made her grateful. Before she tried to sleep tonight, she would make a note of it in her book.
She did have laughter in her life. Not hers, but she would claim it until the time she could find her own.
* * *
Sam parked in front of Jessica’s building and shut off the engine. He expected Mila to say he didn’t need to see them to Gramma’s door, but she didn’t. He appreciated rationality when it fell in so neatly with his own plans. “Does Poppy need a walk before we go in?”
“Probably.” She reached inside one of her bags and pulled out a thin plastic produce bag, stuffing it into her pocket.
“Cedar Creek doesn’t have a pooper scoop law.”
Her expression was clear revulsion. “You shouldn’t need a law. That’s just common decency.” Sliding to the ground, she gestured to the east. “There’s a parking lot on the side street, with a couple of trees that she likes to sniff.”
Her demeanor was calm, quiet, controlled. Sam hadn’t quite reached that point yet. He hated people who preyed on other people, whether weaker or more vulnerable or simply available. No one should ever have to be a victim of any kind, especially in her own home.
And he hated that the prowler had chosen Mila. Hadn’t she been through enough the past week? Did the universe of bad luck have to dump it on her all at once?
It made him feel antsy. Frustrated. He was the chief of police, damn it. If he couldn’t even keep the people he cared for safe, what good was he?
The wind began blowing as they walked, shuffling trash along the curbs, picking up fine dust and debris and scattering it midair. There was no cooling in this breeze, though. It stirred the heavy, hot air, then left it hanging where it was, too stubborn to move on.
“It would be nice if that wind was carrying some rain,” Mila remarked as Poppy turned automatically at the intersection. Then she made a face. “Such a clichéd subject.”