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Chase walked to the front porch. She followed. As she made the steps, she spotted a car parked to the side of the house. A fancy, bright blue convertible. She was far from a car expert, but it looked fast—and expensive.
Was someone else here? She took in a big breath and didn’t pick up anyone’s scent. Except … a dog.
As she passed one of the wicker chairs, she noted a pair of binoculars on top of one cushion. She glanced back at the bird feeders and recalled Miranda’s claims that birding was good for a person’s soul and aura. Refocusing on Chase with disbelief, she asked, “You’re a birder?”
“No,” he denied it, a little too fast. She glanced inside through the large glass windows to the lodge-style decorations. Big leather furniture, wood floors, and colorful rugs.
“Who lives here?” she asked.
“I do,” he said. “Well, me and Baxter.”
“Baxter?” she asked.
He shifted a little and opened the door. “Meet Baxter.”
A big black Lab with a gray muzzle came barreling out. Even though he ran right toward Chase, Della took a step back.
She wasn’t afraid of dogs, just cautious.
Chase gave the dog a good scratch behind his ear and the animal’s entire backside wagged with excitement. Della recalled Chase telling her that the only “someone” he hadn’t lost in the plane accident had been his dog. Was this the same dog? She suspected it was.
“He won’t bite,” Chase said when she still stood a step back. “Will you, Baxter?” he asked the dog.
Baxter seemed to take that as an invitation and moved closer. While his gray snout put him in his older years, his toned body and movements didn’t show signs of age. She held out her hand for him to sniff then she slowly turned her hand over and ran her palm over the top of his head.
The canine accepted her touch, but stared up at her with caution. Della pulled her hand back.
“Not a dog person?” Chase asked.
“No, I like dogs. My dad wasn’t too big on them though, so we never had one. But my neighbor had several through the years, and I sort of got attached to a couple of them. My neighbor was a divorced man who was always late with the dog’s supper; some nights he wouldn’t even come home. I had my mom buy dog food, and I’d feed him when I saw he wasn’t home after dark.”
A slow smile appeared in Chase’s eyes. “So Della Tsang actually has a soft spot?”
“It’s not a very big spot.” She shot him a frown. The truth was that soft spot was larger than she’d like.
She shifted and a bird swooped right past the porch. She glanced at the feathered creature as it landed on one of the feeders. It piped out part of a song, almost saying thank you, dug its beak into the wire mesh to snag a piece of food, and then flew off.
“I knew I heard a…” Chase said.
She looked back at him. He had the binoculars plastered to his eyes, and when he lowered them, his expression looked victorious. “That bird’s not supposed to be here now,” he said.
She almost grinned at his enthusiasm. “Not a birder, huh?”
He didn’t really appear embarrassed, just caught. “Maybe a little. But it was forced on me. My mom was an avid birder. She dragged me to bird-watching events four or five times a year.”
Della heard devotion in his voice when he talked about the woman who’d raised him the first fourteen years of his life, and it made her realize how little she knew about this guy. Not exactly her fault. He’d been secretive from the beginning.
And still was. Her gut said he knew more about who had sent him to check on her and Chan. And that someone could be the one person Della was searching for: her uncle. She’d recently learned her dad’s brother was a vampire who’d faked his own death years ago, and she wondered if he’d made contact with Chase.
She wasn’t going to forget that she didn’t completely trust Chase. Hopefully, if they collaborated with the Vampire Council, she might get answers there. Hell, her uncle could even be one of the council members. That thought sent a wave of urgency to get this case started—to find Natasha and to find her own answers.
Chapter Twelve
Another bird swooped past, and awkwardness slipped into the moment. Della and Chase stood there on the huge front porch, gazes locked, each lost in their own thoughts.
She focused back on the trees and asked another question. “Did this place belong to your parents?” When he didn’t answer right away, she looked at him.
“No,” he said, watching the bird feeders. “Though my mom would have loved it.”
And, just like that, in spite of just telling herself she didn’t trust him, she felt herself wanting to know more. More about his past life, his present. That desire suddenly felt wrong and dangerous. Forbidden. An image of Steve flashed in her head as guilt sat on the edge of her heart.
She swallowed the uncomfortable feeling down her throat and remembered why she was here. “We should look at those files.”
His right brow arched ever so slightly, as if he knew she was purposely pulling back, but he opened the glass door wider to let her in.
The aroma of wood and leather filled the room, along with light traces of Chase’s smell and his beloved Baxter.
“Sit down,” Chase said. “I’ll grab the files.”
She didn’t feel comfortable enough to sit. Alone, she stood by the large coffee table and brown leather sofa and studied her surroundings. She gazed up, a little awed by the high ceiling and immaculate decorations. Against one wall was a huge pine cabinet holding a large television. She envisioned Chase there, Baxter curled up beside him watching TV. Next to that, she noted a few framed pictures decorating some of the shelves. She listened to make sure he wouldn’t catch her snooping. Hearing him rummaging through a drawer, she edged closer and stared at the first image—two girls, their arms around each other, laughing like best friends. The second was a group picture. She picked up the image that appeared to be a family portrait.