Brad nodded and turned his face back to the midday sun.
“I also heard pattern resembled the arsons a few years ago."
He shrugged. “Campbell's back in town and back to his old tricks." Tension drew lines on his face.
Of course he'd say that. Water covered him as she jumped to her feet, her fists clenching and unclenching. She planted a punch on his rock-hard arm. He didn't flinch, but her knuckles cracked. Opening that same eye, a smile spread across his face. “So are you going to defend him again like last time?"
She shot him a glare that would have put a hole in a lesser man. Her blood boiled. “Shut up. He was innocent." She tried to loosen her tightened jaw.
Brad let his feet float out in front of him. “He turned tail and ran. Does that sound like the actions of an innocent man?"
Her arms wanted to cross, but she resisted such a defensive posture. Instead she swam around him, reaching for the side. “He left because there was no future for him in a town that had turned against him."
Brad stood, snorted and ran both hands through his short, but wavy blond hair. “He's back a few days and already a house has been torched. What are we all supposed to think?"
She took deep breaths before answering. “That he's innocent until proven guilty." She put her hands on her hips.
He gazed at her with pursed lips. “Are you going to take up where you left off with him?
She closed her fist again, but thought better of punching her brother. Jake hadn't been to see her and she wasn't sure how she felt about that. “None of your business. And if I am, that's my affair."
Tossing her head, she swam away from him, but he caught her by the foot. Rolling over and floating on her back, she looked at him.
A rare serious expression appeared on his face. “I don't want to have to pick up those pieces of your heart again."
She glared at him and tugged her foot from his grasp. “I pick up my own pieces, thank you."
She swam away, angry, but not sure at whom.
“Are you okay, Chels?" Penny Hall, Max's nanny asked, pausing in her salad tossing. She was part of the family since she'd been Chelsea's and Morgan's nanny, too.
When her father died, she'd promised to keep Penny who trudged along despite advancing age.
She wore her gray hair short, not in a bun and each day she put on lipstick no matter what tasks she had to do. Penny Hall was a holdover from more genteel times, and she dressed in a classic style. Chelsea couldn't help but admire her adherence to her ideals.
Plus, she loved her like a mother.
Chelsea took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face. “Fine, thanks. It's just pretty hot out there."
“I like it hot, Mom," Max piped up.
Chelsea tousled his hair. “I know, but I don't. Go wash your hands, sport."
Max bounded out of the room and she turned back to Penny. “Need help?"
Penny eyed her for a moment. “Set the table."
Chelsea moved to put silverware on the farm table at the opposite end of the kitchen. Brad walked in through the back door.
“Hey, Brad. What's on the grill?" Chelsea asked as if their argument hadn't happened.
He smiled. “Some beautiful T-bone steaks. I made some bleu cheese dressing too."
Chelsea smacked her lips. “Mm, sounds good. I'm starved and tired."
“You work tonight?" Penny asked, putting the salad bowl on the table.
Chelsea shook her head. “Nope, but I'm on duty for the squad."
“Riding for the squad, again? Third time this week," Brad said and frowned.
She shrugged. They'd been here before. “They need help and I can give it."
Taking a beer from the refrigerator, he took a long swallow and set the bottle by his spot at the table. “When are you going to give up on that place?"
Chelsea gritted her teeth. “What I do with my time is my business."
“I just don't understand you. You put a lot of time in and don't get anything back. And then there's the money."
She propped her hands on her hips. Ignoring his money comment she asked, “And just what do you get back from the fire company?"
“Besides free beer and cigars on Poker Night. It's not about getting anything tangible back." Though she knew it was. She clung to the last bit of her father she possessed.
“I just think you've put your heart and soul into this place and you've neglected other things. You're going to be disappointed."
The hair on the back of her neck stood. “Like what? What have I neglected?"
“Max," he said and put his hands on his hips.
“How? Most of my time spent there is during his sleep or his school and in the summer, camp. How dare you stand there in judgment of me and how I'm raising Max."
His eyes blazed. “Oh, that again. I'm not worthy since I didn't adopt him."
“When you have a child, you come tell me what it's like."
“Oh, yeah. No one can do anything as well as Chelsea. I forgot." He grabbed his beer.
She let out a breath in a huff. “Damn you, Brad. You know that's not how it is."
Penny stepped between them. “Separate corners guys." She indicated the door with her head.
Chelsea's heart sank. Max stood wide-eyed in the doorway. She glared at Brad and said through her teeth. “We can finish this later."
“You name the time and place," he whispered and went out the back door.
“Why are you guys fighting?" Max asked.
“We're not anymore, buddy. Did you wash up?"
He stared then nodded before sitting at his place. Chelsea hated when she and Brad fought, but she knew they would again. Somehow they'd never learned to resolve their conflicts. As if on a treadmill, they were bound to cover the same ground again and again.