Patrick stood on the porch. The ceiling light glinted on his honey-blond hair. She left the car and walked to the porch.
"Welcome home. Long night." His deep voice promised security.
For an instant, she thought of finding forgetfulness in his arms the way she had the night Jim had died. But that encounter had nearly destroyed their friendship.
Tears spilled down her cheeks. Were they for Barbara, herself or some unknown reason? She fought to control feelings of helplessness. If Patrick saw her as weak, he would react the same way Jim had. She never wanted to be smothered again.
He reached for her hand. "Don't tell me you knew the nurse I heard about on the police band."
She nodded. "I found the body." She fumbled in her purse for the house key. Patrick put his arm around her shoulders. For a moment, she leaned against him. "I'll be all right."
"I know, but it must have been a brutal shock. If you need a shoulder, mine's broad." He plucked the keys from her hand and opened the door.
She dropped her coat on the arm of the couch. A splotch of dried blood stained the right knee of her uniform. She gasped. Why hadn't someone told her?
She felt unclean. Her skin itched. She wanted to tear off the uniform. As she hurried to the stairs, she unfastened the buttons of her white shirt. "I have to shower."
The note of panic in Susan's voice drew Patrick to the stairs. When she turned, he saw the bloodstained knee of her uniform. He gripped the newel post. She must have found the body not long after the woman had been killed. His muscles tensed. Had the murderer seen her?
Long after she vanished, he remained at the foot of the steps. He wanted to follow her, to hold her, to protect her. She might be in danger. What if she had seen something that could identify the killer?
He released his held breath and walked to the kitchen. There, he measured coffee and turned on the machine. While the coffee brewed, he returned to the living room and took a bottle of brandy from the antique icebox Susan used as a bar.
Memories of the night Jim died arose. He had held Susan in his arms. A light kiss meant to offer comfort had ignited passion. He had forgotten her grief, forgotten his friend and had drowned in the heady sensations of making love with the woman he had wanted for years. The shock of hearing her call him Jim had iced his desire.
For months after the funeral, she had avoided him. Though he had understood and shared the guilt, he had feared they would never regain what had been lost. This past summer, they had become friends again, but he wanted more. Sometimes, he thought his desire for her had become an obsession.
Patrick leaned against the counter. He loved her, but she had to be more secure about her ability to deal with life before she would be ready for a relationship.
He reached for two mugs hanging from hooks above the kitchen table, poured coffee and laced Susan's with brandy. Just as she came down the stairs, he entered the living room. His body reacted to the gentle sway of her light brown caftan.
She sat on one end of the couch and tucked her feet under her. After taking the mug in her hands, she sipped and coughed. "You should have warned me."
"The perfect antidote for tonight's shock. Will help you sleep."
"Thanks, and thank you for the flowers." She leaned forward and stroked one of the chrysanthemums with a finger.
Patrick imagined her touching him in the same way. He lifted his mug. "Who was killed?"
"The infamous Barbara?"
"The very one."
"Any idea why?"
She cradled the coffee mug between her hands. "I think she was blackmailing someone."
The instincts Patrick had honed when he'd been a crime reporter rose to the surface. "Someone you work with?"
She looked up. "I don't know."
Who was she protecting? "What made you think of blackmail?"
"There was money scattered--" She leaned against the back of the couch. "Even talking about the murder makes me sick. I didn't like her, but I like the way she died even less." She put the mug on the end table.
"More?" he asked.
She shook her head. "I want to curl into a fetal position and stay that way for a month."
"What would that solve?" He put his hand on her shoulder.
"Nothing. I don't want to go to work tomorrow."
"Call in sick."
"They won't buy that. I'm just back from vacation."
"Ask for a different unit."
"Transfers take months."
He inched closer. "You don't have to stay at Bradley Memorial. What about home care?"
"Would you leave the newspaper for a magazine?"
Even when the erratic hours had destroyed his marriage, he hadn't considered changing jobs. "You win."
Susan stretched. "You've helped me answer a question I've been asking myself all evening. I don't want to leave the hospital."
"Have you considered a different shift?"
"I might." She spoke through a yawn.
"I'd better go. Will you be all right?" He reached for her hand. If she asked, he would gladly stay.
"Thanks for being here."
He tapped her chin with his fingers. "Remember, I'm just a wall away. Bang three times and I'll be over."
"You're a good man, Patrick Macleith."
Her reaction wasn't the one he wanted, but for now, her admiration was enough. He pushed aside the urge to take her into his arms. Moving too fast would scare her. He rose and reached for his black jacket. "Would you like to have Thanksgiving dinner at my place? The twins will be here."
"Then we'll eat at noon. Will you come?"
"Only if I can bring something?"
"The pies. Your crusts are terrific. Come early and help."
"Nine thirty. We'll watch the parades."
She walked to the door with him. "Again, thanks."
He jammed his hands in his jacket pockets and crossed the porch to his side of the large house. How much longer could he be with her without betraying his feelings? If he let her know how he felt, he was sure she would back away again.