“Hmph.” The suspicion in her eyes grew. “If this is another attempt to fire me, I will call your mother faster than you can—”
“Aunt Birdie, I’m not firing you.” If only. The aunt part got her attention. He rarely called her that. Didn’t feel appropriate. Especially not in an official setting like the sheriff’s department.
She came in, shut the door and sat, resting the bag at her feet. “What’s all this about?”
“Everyone in town is going to know soon enough, but I figured you ought to hear it from me. I’m getting married.”
Her whoop of joy nearly blew out his eardrums. “Hank, that is wonderful! I didn’t even know you were dating anyone. Who is she? Do I know her? When’s the wedding? Oh, I’m so happy. What does my sister think?”
He held a hand up. “Take a breath, Birdie. It’s an arranged marriage.”
That settled her down. “Arranged? Why on earth is your father doing that to you? In this day and age—”
“It’s the final seal on a truce between the Merrows and the Kincaids.”
She recoiled in horror. “You’re marrying a Kincaid? My poor boy, your father should be ashamed of himself putting you in that kind of position. Just wait until I talk to my sister. I mean, look at that awful Kincaid woman who was in here the other night. I can’t imagine my sweet nephew having to spend the rest of his life with that kind of woman.”
He narrowed his gaze, but she didn’t seem to pick up on the consternation flowing through him. “What kind of woman would that be, Aunt Birdie?”
“You know.” She waved her hand. “Loose.”
“And you can tell she’s loose how?”
“The makeup and the motorcycle and the leathers and the tattoos. Especially the tattoos. She’s probably covered with them. Probably has a list of her ex-boyfriends on her somewhere.”
“She doesn’t. And she’s not covered with them.” He knew, because he’d seen every inch of her. “She’s got exactly three. The number five on the inside of her wrist, a piece of ivy on her arm and shoulder and a tiny heart on her left ankle.”
Birdie’s gaze narrowed suspiciously. “How do you know that?”
“Because Ivy Kincaid is the woman I’m marrying. Do I really need to explain how I know about her tattoos?”
Birdie’s eyes rounded. “Hank!”
“Ivy’s coming here today, and we’re going to lunch. If you are anything but nice to her, I will fire you for real. Do you understand?”
She nodded, silent. But the silence only lasted a few seconds. “You…like her?”
“Is she the reason you were smiling this morning?”
Birdie took a moment to ponder that. “If she makes you smile, then I like that. But she’d better be a good wife to you or I’ll have a few words of my own for her. You can’t stop me from doing that.”
“She made me a steak dinner last night. Baked a chocolate cake from scratch.”
Birdie hmphed. “Lots of women bake. Doesn’t mean she’s the right one for my nephew.”
He leaned forward. “Listen to me. Ivy’s in the same spot I am, but as it so happens, we get on well.”
His aunt’s chin went a little higher in the air. “Apparently if you’ve seen all her tattoos.”
“She’s got enough to deal with without adding my crazy aunt to the mix. Be nice. Or you will have a lot of time off.” He pointed toward the front office. “Coffee.”
She stood and picked up her bag, marching away without another word. She came back a minute later with a manila envelope in her hand. “This was on my desk. Has your name on it. And I am not crazy.”
“Where did it come from?”
She shrugged. “Someone must have dropped it off when we were talking.”
He took it from her. “Coffee made yet?”
“I’m working on it, you ungrateful child.”
He smirked as she left. Sheriff Merrow was scrawled on the front of the envelope in barely legible writing, the black ballpoint ink a little smudged, but not enough that he could make out a fingerprint.
He tapped the contents of the envelope down to the bottom, then slit the top open with his pocket knife. He pulled out three grainy cell phone pics that had been printed on regular printer paper. Each one showed the same thing.
Ivy with a little boy. Had to be Charlie. Hank studied the photos, the sense that he was viewing a private moment giving him a second of unease. Obviously she hadn’t known these pictures were being taken.
Looked like they were outside a school. Charlie was a reed. A short reed. Hank shook his head, sympathy for the kid already growing. The way Charlie smiled up at Ivy made it clear the kid thought the world of his mother.
Hank stared at the pictures. Someone had delivered these for a reason. Did they think Ivy wasn’t going to tell him about Charlie? That by showing Hank these pictures, they’d create trouble? Why else would they be delivered without a word?
He held the photos up and inhaled. They reeked of shifter. Which didn’t do much to narrow down the field of suspects.
He tucked them away, almost forgetting about them until hours later when Ivy came in. Her voice in the reception area got him up from his desk. He opened his office door and leaned against the jam, taking in the sleek glory that was his bride-to-be.