Finding a Hart

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Chapter 54

Stephanie

“Whoa, ma’am. You can’t go in there.”

I glared and tried to shove him aside. “Move.”

“Ma’am.” He grabbed my wrists to restrain me. “You need to stay back.”

“We’re with the Department of Child Safety,” Keon said behind me, his hand coming to rest on my shoulder. “This is Stephanie Gibson, I’m Keon Swift.” He held up his DCS identification and the officer finally dropped his hold on me.

“That’s all she needed to say.”

Without an apology or explanation, I brushed past him and continued hurrying to the house. I stepped inside the front door and glanced around frantically.

The living room was in shambles. The coffee table was cracked, a bookcase that held books and other random knickknacks now had literature and broken glass in front of it. Blood smeared along the hardwood in one place. When my eyes landed on Eldon, a very unrestrained Eldon, where he was talking to his police buddies, rage boiled over.

“Why the hell isn’t he in cuffs?” I screamed, stepping forward. “This isn’t tea time with your fucking buddies. He does not get a pass because he has a badge. You better get those cuffs on him and treat him like any other wife beater before I call every news outlet in town and tell them exactly what is going on.”

Keon said my name behind me but I ignored him when Eldon sneered.

“What the fuck are you doing here?”

I stepped forward so we were nose to nose and had to resist punching him. My whole body was shaking with anger. “I’m here because DCS was called in due to the danger of keeping your children in this home. I’m here to make sure you never hurt my sister, my niece, or my nephews ever again.”

I heard Keon inhale a sharp breath when I said the last part and I felt him behind me when an officer approached.

“Don’t you dare put your hands on her,” he warned whoever it was. Before anyone could say anything else, someone tearfully said my name. I turned and immediately went into a crouch when Tanner ran into my arms.

“Auntie Steph.”

I wrapped my arms around him and had to choke back the tears. I wouldn’t let him see me cry. “Hey, baby. Are you okay?”

He nodded and pulled back, wiping his little face as he did. “I’m okay but Mommy isn’t.” He glanced up at Eldon and his whole face went darker than I’d ever seen it before. “She’s hurt really bad. I called nine-one-one.”

“You did great, sweet boy. I’m so proud of you. Go back with your brother and sister and I’ll be right there.” I watched as he ran off and once he was out of sight, I turned to look at Eldon while pulling my phone out of my pocket.

I pressed a name and brought the phone up to my ear. It rang three times before a woman answered. “This is Alice Murphy.”

“Commander Murphy, hi. This is Stephanie Gibson with DCS. I have an issue and I need your help.”

The officer who was standing next to my brother-in-law looked at him with wide eyes but Eldon shook his head.

“She’s bluffing.”

“What’s going on, Stephanie?” Alice asked, her tone curious.

“DCS was called out to a DV case,” I started, not taking my eyes off of Eldon. “When we arrived, the assailant was just standing here shooting the shit with the officers. He’s a patrol officer with the North Park precinct and I don’t see anyone from IAB or the FIB.”

Alice growled quietly in my ear. She couldn’t stand when people abused their positions. The Phoenix Police Department was full of amazing officers but a select few, like my brother-in-law, managed to tarnish everything. “Tell me where you’re at and I’ll have someone out there from FIB as soon as possible. I’ll also call and notify Internal Affairs.”

I rattled off the address and thanked her before ending the call. I held up my phone again and narrowed my eyes. “Detectives from the Family Investigations Bureau are on their way and Commander Murphy is notifying the Internal Affairs Bureau. My next call is going to be to either the prosecutor or my best friend who works for KWAZ if you don’t start treating this seriously.”

“Why don’t you go check on your sister, Steph?” Keon suggested quietly. “I’ll stay here and wait for the detectives.”

I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to leave before I said something I couldn’t take back or leave before I exploded and beat the shit out of someone. Either way, I knew Keon was right. I nodded my head and shot one more scathing glare in Eldon’s direction before turning to head deeper into the house.

I found Kate in the den in the back of the house. She was sitting on the couch with two paramedics crouched in front of her and Stella and Tanner at her sides. Two patrol officers were back there, too, although neither was speaking to her. One watched her with indifference on his face and the other looked nervous. One EMT was shining a light into her face and speaking quietly.

“You need to go to the hospital, ma’am.”

Kate shook her head. “I’m okay.”

“Kate.” I spoke her name softly and she turned her head to look at me. A gasp fell from my lips almost instantly.

Her beautiful face was a mess. Her bottom lip was fat and split, with blood dribbling down her chin. Her right eye was already starting to swell and the blood vessels inside of it had all burst, leaving the white completely blood red. Her right cheek was already bruising and the shirt she was wearing was torn with blood spatter all over it.

“Stephanie,” she hiccupped, obviously trying to hold back her tears. I rushed forward and pulled Stella into my lap so I could wrap my arm around my sister. Kate couldn’t stop the sobs at that point and her whole body shook as I held her tight.

I rocked her back and forth, still holding Stella, and my heart broke when I saw Tanner wrapping his arms around my sister from behind, gently shushing his mother while saying, “It’s going to be okay, Mommy.”

My eyes moved to the first EMT and he gave me a sympathetic look. “She’s refusing to go to the hospital and it sounds like she might not press charges.”

I closed my eyes tight and shook my head before reopening them. “Can you give us a minute?”

“Actually, we’ve been waiting to speak to her,” said the indifferent officer and I looked up at him with narrowed eyes.

“So you can convince her not to press charges? Do you know how inappropriate it is to have officers from the North Park precinct even in this home right now?” The officer obviously wasn’t expecting me to know that and his eyes widened as I continued. “Commander Alice Murphy is sending someone from the FIB over and we’ll speak to those detectives when they arrive. It’s time for you to leave.”

Both officers exchanged a look before hurrying out of the den and the paramedics gave me an encouraging nod before stepping away.

I pulled back slightly so I could look at my sister’s battered face. “This isn’t the first time he’s hit you, is it, Kate?”

She stared at me for a long moment before shaking her head. “No.”

“Let me guess,” I said as I pushed some hair off of her face. “He kept his hands off of you while you were pregnant with Ryder but found other ways to punish you, maybe by throwing stuff or yelling at you? And before now, he’s managed to keep his blows to your chest but was just out of control tonight and hit your face?” When my sister didn’t deny it, I kept going. “And this probably isn’t the first time Tanner or Stella have seen their father treat you like garbage but maybe it’s the first time they’ve witnessed his physical violence with their own eyes?”

“He waits until they’re sleeping,” Kate whispered as a tear rolled down her face. I nodded and ducked slightly so we were eye-to-eye.

“It’s the classic pattern of an abusive husband, honey. He escalates and one day, he could kill you. Or maybe he’ll hit Tanner.” When Kate’s eyes widened, I knew she was really listening. “You can’t keep doing this, making excuses for him. You can’t go on with the fear that he’s going to use his fists on you or one of the kids. You can’t let Tanner or Ryder grow up thinking this is how you treat your wife. You can’t let Stella grow up thinking that it’s normal for a man to hit her. You have to have the courage to stand up to him, Kate. For you and for them.”

“What do I do?” she whispered, her broken face almost frantic. “I’ve never worked, Steph. I’m not strong and independent like you. Eldon takes care of us, keeps a roof over our heads. How will I feed my kids?”

I shook my head and pressed a kiss to her forehead. “You are strong, Katelin. You are stronger than you know. And you have us. You have this whole family behind you. Like Mom would ever let you starve.”

That earned me a tiny smile. It was short lived, though, because someone spoke behind me and Kate immediately looked at her lap. I turned my head and Keon gestured to the people with him.

“The detectives from FIB are here.”

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