Ellie didn’t respond but waited for another question.
“Mr. Cogburn was in a great deal of pain at the time, was he not?”
“Yes. He’d been shot.”
“Tell us exactly what you think you heard Mr. Cogburn say while you were treating him.”
She repeated the conversation again word for word.
When she was finished, Hammond said, “Even if he had said those words, you do accept that Mr. Cogburn could have been delusional and you could have made an inaccurate assessment as to his state of mind. After all, you’d just gone through a traumatic event yourself.”
“His eyes were clear, and he was lucid,” she said.
“These were your observations?”
“Yes. Willis Cogburn wasn’t delusional and he wasn’t lying,” she insisted.
“So you believe your observations are that accurate?” he asked in a mocking tone.
Ellie was becoming irritated. Why was the attorney continuing with these inane questions?
“Yes, I do. I think I’m very observant,” she said. She should have stopped there, but she couldn’t resist. “I observe that the rash on your left hand isn’t going to get better if you continue to use the same ointment. You’re allergic to it. I observe that the gentleman in the third row on the left has a bad case of conjunctivitis—pinkeye, in layman’s terms. And the woman in the second row has a bag of candies in her purse, and she’s trying to figure out a way to eat them without making noise. They’re M&M’s. I also observe that your associate attorney at the defense table keeps looking at his watch and is very anxious to get out of here because he appears to have something going on with the court reporter.”
The associate gave a look of panic and then dropped his head, staring at the desk.
Ellie paused, looked Hammond in the eye, and said, “And I observe you’re unzipped.”
The attorney turned crimson with embarrassment. He hastily zipped his fly.
“No more questions.”
Max and Ellie planned to be married in Minneapolis, eleven months after he proposed. He wasn’t happy about waiting, but as long as she told him she loved him every day and slept in his arms every night, he didn’t complain too much.
Ellie didn’t want to rush. It was important to her that her family be able to attend. She asked Annie to be her maid of honor. She was the older of the twins by two minutes, so Ellie figured Ava couldn’t throw a fit.
The wedding was simple but joyful. Annie’s baby girl, Meghan, was almost four months old and smiling all the time. She could usually be found in the crook of her grandfather’s arm. He doted on her. Since Patterson’s death and the birth of his first grandchild, Ellie’s father looked twenty years younger. He’d even started exercising, walking a couple of miles every morning. He was determined to stay fit so that he would be around to watch his granddaughter grow up.
As a temporary solution, Annie had moved in with her parents until after the baby was born and she could decide what she was going to do with her life. She had passed the bar in California and knew that she would eventually move back to San Diego, but she didn’t have any idea where she wanted to work. Her parents were helping her pay off her student loans, though she vowed she was going to repay every penny.
Max had kept his promise to her. Through his connections, he discovered the whereabouts of Lucas Ryan, Annie’s lover. An old buddy from the FBI academy linked Max with Michael Buchanan, a Navy Seal, who was currently stationed in San Diego. Buchanan explained that he couldn’t give out any sensitive information, but he’d see what he could do. Within the week, Max got his call. Lucas Ryan had been sent to Afghanistan, and that was all the information Buchanan could give. Max was told nothing about what Ryan was doing there or when he would be home.
FORTY – ONE
One summer morning, with Meghan in her arms, Annie opened the front door, and there he stood, the man who had broken her heart. His left leg was in a cast, and he was using a cane. She wasn’t sympathetic. She wanted to grab the cane and hit him over the head with it. But she also wanted to hug him. She stood there staring up at him and didn’t have the faintest idea what to say. He looked wonderful. Dark hair, dark eyes, tanned face, great body—he was an extremely attractive man. No wonder she had fallen for him. He was tall, dark, and handsome.
And a snake in the grass who had left her when she needed him most, she reminded herself.
Lucas seemed as tongue-tied as she was, but he was first to recover.
“I’ve missed you.”
She shook her head. “I don’t believe you.”
“May I come in?”
“No.” She stepped back so he could come inside.
He smiled at the baby as he walked past. “She’s cute,” he remarked. “Are you babysitting?”
“Annie . . .”
“You left me, Lucas. You never called; you never . . .”
She stopped because she knew, if she continued, she would start crying. Meghan started to squirm in her arms, and Annie realized she’d raised her voice. She shifted the baby to her other arm and quietly said, “I needed you.”
“I love you,” he said. “You know that. I couldn’t tell you I was leaving, and I couldn’t contact you. It was a special operation.”
She didn’t acknowledge his explanation. “What happened to your leg?”
“Sit down and put your foot up,” she ordered. She pushed the ottoman in front of the sofa. “Would you like something to drink before you leave?”
“I’m not leaving. I know you’re upset, and you have every right, but . . .”
She poked him in the chest and, in a soft voice so her daughter wouldn’t become frightened, said, “I don’t want to love you.”
Tears came into her eyes, and she wanted to curse. The last thing she needed now was to become weepy. There would be plenty of time for that after he left.
“But you do.”
“I did,” she corrected.
He sat down on the sofa and pulled her onto his lap. She didn’t fight him because she held the baby. Her back was ramrod straight.
His hand moved to the back of her neck. “How come you keep getting prettier?”
A compliment wouldn’t soften her heart, she decided, but the baby was smiling at him and gurgling. He reached out and stroked Meghan’s cheek. She was quick. She grabbed his finger and began to gnaw on it.
“She’s teething,” Annie explained.
Lucas looked around the room with a puzzled expression. “Does your mom run a day care or something?”
“Or something,” she answered. “Are you still a Navy Seal?”
“Yes,” he said. “Marry me, Annie.”
“You’re out of your mind. Shrapnel hit your head, too, didn’t it?”
He pulled her toward him and kissed her. His mouth was warm and coaxing. She couldn’t stop herself from responding.
“I love you,” he said again.
“And I love you,” she admitted. “But that doesn’t mean—”
He kissed her again, and she didn’t resist. She wrapped her arm around his neck and leaned into him. Oh, how she had missed him.
And shed buckets of tears. No, she wasn’t going to go through that again.
“I’ve got a surprise for you,” he said as he reached into his pocket. “I’ve been carrying this around for a year now.”
It was an engagement ring. Annie stared into his eyes and saw the torment there.
“Annie, I’m so sorry I couldn’t tell you. Will you marry me?”
“I have to think about it,” she whispered. “And I’ve got a surprise for you, too.”
She stood, then placed Meghan in his lap. “Meet your daughter.”
FORTY – TWO
Yet another wedding.
Ellie was thrilled with Annie’s news and hoped that Lucas’s family was as wonderful as Max’s. Simon had been Max’s best man at the wedd
ing, and his other brothers had been groomsmen. She loved all of them, but she had a special bond with their parents. They were such kind, loving people. Simon had saved Max’s life, and his parents had nurtured him.
Max’s two-bedroom apartment overlooking the ocean was her home now. Once she was licensed to practice medicine in Hawaii, she went to work at one of the hospitals in the city. Ellie loved watching the weather channel in the dead of winter and laughing every time she heard about another snowstorm in the Midwest. Max remarked that her laughter sounded absolutely ghoulish.
The Wheatleys, like Max’s parents, had already visited. Everyone who came hated to go home. Who could blame them?
“We live in paradise,” she whispered to Max late one night. They were in bed and had just made love.
“You’re still awake?”
She laughed. “Yes,” she said. “I’ve been thinking about the Landrys. Ben told me they were appealing the verdict.”
“On what grounds?” he asked, rolling onto his back. He stacked his hands behind his head and yawned. “That they don’t like life in prison?”
“The judge really gave it to them, didn’t he?”
“They gave the order to kill you. Life in prison isn’t long enough, as far as I’m concerned.”
“What do you think happened to Greg Roper? After he pointed to those photos of Cal and Erika Landry, he vanished. Do you think he’s still alive? Or did they get to him and kill him? I hope he ran and hid from them.”
“There’s a good chance he’s still alive,” he said. “Cogburn told us he went to Roper and threatened to kill him and his family if he ever showed his face in St. Louis again. The police still have a missing person’s file active on him, but there’s hope he’ll show up sometime.”
“I hope so.” Ellie yawned. She trailed her fingers down Max’s chest and cuddled up against him. “Simon called.”
“What’s wrong with him now?”
“He thought he found a lump, but by the time he finished describing it to me, he decided it might be a callus.”
“He loves having a doctor in the family.”
She adjusted her pillow and closed her eyes. “Don’t forget we’re having dinner with Ben and Addison and little Benjamin this weekend.”
Ellie laid her head on Max’s chest, and he stroked her hair. Since they had just made passionate love, he thought she needed to hear how much she pleased him. “Our marriage . . .” He paused while he searched for the right words to tell her how happy she made him. “Our marriage . . .”
Her deep breathing stopped him.
Smiling to himself, he pulled the sheet up over her and whispered, “It’s all good.”