Home > It All Falls Down (Rose Gardner Investigations #7)

It All Falls Down (Rose Gardner Investigations #7)
Author: Denise Grover Swank

Chapter 1

 

 

“Your turn,” I said, reaching out blindly for Joe in the darkness. My hand connected with his elbow, and I gave him a shove as the baby’s wails grew louder.

He tugged the sheet over his head, but I still heard his muffled response. “I got up last time.”

Had he? I was so sleep deprived I couldn’t be sure, but baby Hope didn’t appreciate our debate and cried even louder.

“I’m so tired I think I might be brain dead,” I groaned as I rolled out of bed and stumbled across the hall to the nursery. Hope had worked herself up to a decibel level that would have been fitting for a fire alarm. My dog, Muffy, was giving me an anxious glare from her new bed next to the crib. The day we brought Hope home from the hospital Muffy had appointed herself my daughter’s guardian, and she rarely left her side.

“It’s okay. Momma’s here,” I said as I reached into the crib and scooped Hope up. “What’s wrong? Are you missin’ us, sweet girl? You just ate.”

Her response was to cry louder. Muffy got out of her bed and gave me a look that begged me to do something.

“Okay. Okay,” I said, soothing them both as I cuddled Hope close to my chest. I sat in the rocking chair and lifted my pajama T-shirt so I could nurse her. She latched on immediately and settled down, putting Muffy at ease. My little dog went back to her bed and resumed her guard post.

Hope nursed for less than five minutes before she dozed off. I was so tired, I leaned the back of my head against the high back of the rocking chair as I fought to stay awake. Between the two of us, Joe and I had been up at least five times tonight—thank God she took bottled breast milk from Joe—but this had become a pattern for the past several nights. Nurse for a few minutes, then fall asleep and wake up soon afterward, wanting to nurse again. We’d moved her from the bassinet next to our bed to her crib in the nursery in the hopes it would help—Joe had to wake up at a specific time for work, and it always roused her, plus he occasionally got work calls or alerts in the middle of the night—but it hadn’t helped.

My head knew she needed to learn to put herself back to sleep, but my heart couldn’t handle letting her cry. Thankfully—or not—Joe felt the same way. There was no question about Muffy’s opinion on the matter.

I must have fallen asleep, because the next thing I knew, Joe was leaning in front of me, his hand on my arm.

“Rose, come to bed,” he whispered.

Hope was in the crook of my arm, fast asleep.

“She’s just gonna wake up again,” I said, so tired I was close to tears. “Maybe I should stay in here.”

“Bring her to bed with us.”

“Back in the bassinet, you mean?”

He cradled my upper arm and gently pulled me out of the rocking chair. “It’ll be more of the same if you put her in there. Let her sleep in the bed tonight. It’s obvious she wants us. She barely takes any milk from either of us before dozing off. Just bring her to bed so we all can get some sleep.”

“But the experts—”

“Screw the experts,” he whispered, wrapping an arm around my back and leading me toward the door. “We need sleep, and I refuse to let her cry, thinkin’ her parents won’t be there when she needs them.”

I couldn’t argue with that, so I didn’t. I felt exactly the same way. Instead, I let him help me into bed. I was scared we would roll over and smother her, so I carefully laid her on the middle of the bed, and Joe put two narrow throw pillows on either side of her.

Muffy hopped up onto the bed, using the bench at the end as a springboard, and curled up into a ball.

Hope started to fuss now that she wasn’t pressed against my body, so Joe lay down on his side facing her. He rested his head on his pillow and placed a hand on her chest. “Daddy’s here, Hope,” he cooed softly. “You’re safe.”

At his touch, her whimpering stopped.

I lay down on my side, facing him in the semi-darkness. My heart melted into a puddle of goo as I saw him looking down at her. His gaze lifted to mine, and I could barely make out his soft smile. “Get some sleep. I’ve got this.”

And he did. He’d been with me every step of the way over the last six weeks. He’d taken a week of vacation on top of his two-week parental leave so he could help with her nightly feedings and make sure I napped during the day. He’d gone with me to her doctor checkups, helped keep her mountain of laundry maintained, taken turns cooking and cleaning, and insisted I leave the house from time to time so I got a break. I had no idea how I would have managed without him.

He’d been back to work for nearly three weeks, and I’d missed him being around so much that I’d started back to work part-time at the landscaping business I co-owned, bringing Hope with me. My business partner, Bruce Wayne, was trying to stay on top of things, but March through June was our busiest time, which meant we were plenty behind. Especially since I wasn’t the only one being pulled in different directions. Neely Kate, my best friend and the third full-time employee in the landscaping business, had just gotten married a matter of weeks ago. Before long, she’d have her own newborn baby—she and Jed were adopting, and their baby’s birth mama was over a week overdue. Babies didn’t stay in the womb forever, though, so it was a matter of days, not weeks. I figured it was best to try to catch up while we could.

The dark and the quiet lulled me back to sleep, and I was deep under by the time a ringing phone jolted me to wakefulness.

“Simmons,” Joe answered quietly in the dark, and I felt the bed shift as he got up and left the room.

Hope whimpered again, so I placed a hand on her stomach. She settled immediately, letting me catch a snippet from Joe’s conversation.

“When was he found?” he asked, then said, “Uh-huh.”

His voice was stiff, and given the way he’d answered the phone and the dark sky beyond the curtains, I knew this was an official call. Something bad had happened in Fenton County, and Chief Deputy Joe Simmons was being called into action.

My heart sank. Other than the usual burglaries and minor assaults, the crime world had been relatively quiet since my niece and nephew’s kidnapping and Hope’s birth.

Six weeks ago, a prepper family—the Collards—had kidnapped the kids for the Hardshaw Group, a crime syndicate from Dallas that was trying to get a foothold in Fenton County. Mike had done some work for them, and they’d felt a powerful interest in keeping him quiet. We still weren’t sure what role he’d played for them and why, let alone for how long, but he’d wanted access to the county courthouse. Vera Pullman, the woman who’d brought me to my niece and nephew—at gunpoint—had told me as much. Mike had gone into hiding after the kids were taken, but he’d reemerged as soon as I found them and marched himself to the state police to tell his side of the story.

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