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Protecting His Own Part 23

Maybe we could make Beff like boys? Connor said doubtfully. If we were real nice Yeah, but fosters get money for keeping other peoples kids. So if Beth and Nolan keep us forever, they wont be fosters no more, and they wont get money.

Oh. Connor heaved a sigh.

When the Price man had explained about the money, Grant hadnt wanted to believe him. After all, grownups didntalwaystell the truth, but he remembered that Rory from school lived with fosters, and hed said they got money to keep him. And they told Rory they didnt get enough money to buy him Xbox games or a skateboard.

Would Beff like us if we gave them money? Connor asked. I have a dollar.

The momentary hope died. A dollar isnt much.

Connors face fell. Guess we gots to go back to the mean lady. Sniffling, he pushed a suitcase over and crawled under the bed.

Grant pulled the suitcase out farther and started to join him. The darkness felt right"like home.

Home.

He stopped crawling and stared at Connor as hope rose within him, big and strong and sure. Mama had money.

THAT NIGHT IN the great room, Beth held a book unopened in her hands and simply listened to the boys splash in their oversized bathtub. Their giggles mingling with Nolans deep laugh soothed her worries.

After the childrens quiet time in their room, theyd emerged with smiles. When Nolan said hed teach them to paddle his old canoe, theyd even cheered. After returning, theyd helped put the toppings on the pizza, creating happy faces from the pepperoni and sausage.

Happy faces.

Shed had to force herself to be cheerful, because, when theyd changed into shorts to go on the lake, shed seen their legs. Their poor little knees werent scraped or scabbed in the way a child might get from falling down. She knew"oh, she did"exactly what made those reddened bruised marks. Although she often knelt for Master Nolan, he insisted she use a cushion if the floor wasnt carpeted. But her first husband? Oh, hed loved to make her kneel on concrete or hardwood.

Nolan, observant Dom that he was, had seen the marks on the boys, and his face had turned dark, but hed shaken his head at her to wait. Now she understood why. While helping them shampoo their hair, hed also assess them quietly for other marks.

Beth glanced at her book and tossed it onto the coffee table. Nothing could keep her interest right now. Honestly, if the grandmother were nice, Beth would grieve at losing the children, but would be happy for them to have a loving relative. But this woman How could they let the children go to a woman who wouldnt care for them?

Footsteps. The giggles grew louder. The boys were out of the bathroom. There were thumping noises as they got their pajamas from the dresser and bickered over which superhero print each would wear.

Her smile faded when a grim-faced Nolan entered the great room. What? she asked.

Connor has bruising on his ass. They have some bruises on their shoulders and upper arms. He sat down beside her.

Rage filled her so quickly her vision went red. She made them kneel long enough to leave marks. And now youre saying she hurt them? Unable to sit, Beth stormed across the room and back. They were so hungry she must have starved them, too, didnt she? Didnt she?

Easy, sugar. He pulled her down in his lap. Maybe it was her. Or could be Connor fell down. Could be the boys were wrestling and picked up bruises. They wouldnt tell me. Not fucking anything. But well figure it out and fix it.

Her body vibrated with anger. Ill kill her. Thatll fix it.

His low laugh rumbled through the room. Best we find something else. The kids wont want to visit you in prison.

Youre taking this awfully well. She turned to regard him. As overprotective as he was, shed have thought there would be an explosion.

Im a calm man. At her skeptical snort, he sighed. And Im going to have to fix the bent towel rack in the kids bathroom.

Now there was the Dom she knew.

What should we do? she asked.

Theres not enough evidence to point fingers, butwere bound by law to report any suspicion of abuse, so we will conform to the letter of the law. Ill let Price know were worried.

She thought for a minute. After you call and report the marks to Price, Ill send a hard copy to his supervisor. Mrs. Molina seemed like a nice person.

Good idea. He growled. If the boys wont talk, we cant do much else right now.

But, Sir, the children go back to her tomorrow morning. Beth felt like crying. Lets run. Take the boys and run. We cancan go live in South America or something.

His mouth was an unhappy line. I hear you. But wed have trouble getting them out of the country, especially since wed be reported missing. Well stick to the rulesfor now. If the system fails them, then, yes. Our job is to protect them, so thats what well do, no matter the cost.

He was right. She hated it, but he was right. Only What if she hurts them?

Easy, darlin. We dont know if she did, right? He trapped her on his lap before she could start pacing again. But, just in case, Ill hire Galen to put surveillance on Mrs. Bruns house. Using one of those noise detectors, the agent will hear if she makes them cry"and someone canconvenientlyintervene.

Oh. Both intervention and a witness. I like the idea. She considered. I bet Gabi, Uzuri, and crew would be happy to visit the old woman and try to sell her cookie dough.

There you go. He stroked her hair. Well keep them safe. Somehow, well keep them safe.

Turning in his arms, she straddled his knees. I love you so, so much, my Master. She kissed him, gently. Sweetly.

With a huffed laugh, he squashed her against him and took control of the kiss. She could taste his fury.

A giggle broke them apart. Two well-scrubbed boys in pajama shorts stood in the doorway.

Beth wrinkled her nose at them. So, you think its funny to see the Nolanman kissing me?

Still giggling, Connor nodded.

Okay, buster, that means war. She picked up a soft pillow and fired it at him.

The battle was on.

Chapter Nineteen.

WHILE GRANDMOTHER WAS locking the front door on Saturday morning, Grant sidled over to the window and pulled back the curtain to watch the social worker driving away. Finally.

Before leaving, Mr. Price had told Grandmother she better not hit Grant and Connor cause Nolan had threatened with liabitterly, whatever it was. Grandmother had been really mad at Mr. Price. She was mad at him and Connor, too.

Mr. Prices car turned the corner and disappeared.

As his heart began thumping hard, Grant whispered to Connor, Are you ready?

Connor tightened his grip on his small backpack and nodded.

Grant turned. Oh, no. Grandmother, my shirt fell out of my pack. Can I go get it? Trying to act like he was a good boy, Grant pointed through the window at his red T-shirt on the sidewalk. Mr. Price had stepped right over it.

Her lips pinched together like Connors had when hed eaten a rotten grape. That was careless of you. Go get it immediately. She unlocked the front door and opened it.

With Connor beside him, Grant hurried to the door.

Not you. She grabbed Connors shoulder.

No. Panicking, Grant lowered his head and rammed her.

She staggered back.

Grabbing Connors hand, Grant charged through the door and tore around the corner toward the back. They crossed to the house next door and ran through that backyard and then others, zigzagging through yards and empty lots and across streets. He heard her yelling and kept running.

On and on.

He rejected the first bus stop and hid behind a house while Connor caught his breath.

The second bus stop was too close, too.

On the third, he led the way onto a bus headed for downtown. The driver frowned, but closed the door with a whoosh, and pulled into traffic.

No one paid any attention to them as they found an empty seat halfway back. Once in a seat, Grant held up his hand and chortled as Connors small hand smacked his in a high-five.

IT HAD BEEN one fucking crappy morning so far. At least in his opinion.

Not everyones. Nolan watched his cheerful construction crew at work on the ten-story commercial building. The happy guys were scoring some nice overtime with the weekend work.

Unfortunately, his day had started with threatening Price, telling the bastard hed be held responsible"and liable"if the boys returned with any damage. Issuing the threat had felt good, but probably only succeeded in pissing the asshole off. Once Price had left, Nolan had called Galen to get his man over to Grandmas house.

Still didnt feel like enough. Despite the sunny day, a chill kept raising the hair on the back of Nolans neck.

He turned his attention to the plans he was checking over for the foreman. The schedule had gotten screwed up last week"the electrical subcontractor had fallen behind"and so his crew had to play catch-up this weekend. His head wasnt in the game though.

Neither was his attitude. When hed arrived, the crew had taken one look at his face and steered clear.

Mid-morning, after getting the foreman squared away, Nolan was considering heading to the office when his cell phone rang. King.

Kouros. Got a problem. Galens Maine accent sharpened when he was pissed off. My mans at the house. Hes got a laser listening device to pick up sound from the windows. Should be able to hear a mouse squeak. Trouble is, he hasnt heard the kids since he arrived. No talking at all. No playing or crying. There are sounds of someone cleaning, but nothing more.

Maybe the boys are quiet? Coloring or something?

Thats what Cam figured at first, but now he thinks he was wrong. A minute ago, Mrs. Brun walked outside and yelled for the kids.

For the kids? Not at?

Exactly. Cam doesnt think theyre in the house. He probably got to Bruns house a few minutes after the children were dropped off, but that left a gap.

You figure they ran away? Fuck. As a nail-gun started up, Nolan paced across the construction site to get away from the noise.

Ayuh. Or theyre hiding in the backyard. Im going to leave my man there in case they return.

The kids dont know the area. Where the fuck would they go?

Its a long walk back to your place. Easy to get lost.

Nolan shook his head. Grants a planner. Reminds me of you, sometimes. Hed figure out what to do. He double-checked his phone log. No, they hadnt called. And Beth would have let him know if theyd called her.

See if the old woman reported the children missing. Galen hesitated. I recommend you visit Bruns house along with the social worker. If your kids are anywhere close, theyll come out for you. If not, the grandmother might have some clue as to where they ran.

Makes sense. Thanks, Galen.

As Galen hung up, Nolan started punching in numbers. To hell with Price, it was time to bring in the supervisor. Then hed call Beth and head for Grandmas house, whether or not he had company.

Jesus, where were they?

TWO LADIES AT the bus station had helped Grant figure out which buses to ride to Drew Park. The ticket had taken most of his money. But once they got Mamas money, he could buy a ticket to get home to Beth and Nolan. Connor was little enough he could ride for free.

Howd you know about buses? Connor asked when they were safely changed over to the next bus.

Remember when the pretty shelter lady took us older kids to Busch Gardens? She got us disdiscount cards to ride cheap cause were kids, and she showed us how to pay and get on and off and how to get help. Since Connor was getting older, he added the warning shed given. She said if a stranger offers a ride, dont go anywhere with him. And ask for help from at least two people in case one of them lies.

Connors eyes got big, but he nodded after a second. Jermaine would lie to a kid.

Yeah, he would.

But how do we get back to Beff? His eyes got all wet. I dont know where she lives.

I do. Grant puffed up. Remember she gave us the cards Nolanman sent her? It has her house number and stuff. He pulled out the postcard with the picture of an elephant. The other side had the address.

All right.

After the next stop, as the bus lurched into movement again, Connor frowned. You think Beffll be mad at us? Is Nolanman gonna yell?

Grants stomach got tight with the same worry. But brothers told each other the truth. Maybe.

At Connors worried expression, Grant confided his hope. But when we give them money, theyll be happy.

Connor considered and finally nodded. Everybody likes money.

Chapter end

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