Her Last Goodbye Page 13

“But you don’t know that she was ever there. If someone abducted her, he could have taken her somewhere else and then dumped the car near the train station.”

“Or Chelsea had someone pick her up,” King added. “It isn’t a crime to walk away from your family.”

“Why would you think Chelsea walked away from her family? She has two children.” Even as Morgan said the words, she knew the weakness in her argument. People did unexpected things all the time.

Terrible, cruel things a normal person couldn’t fathom.

“The husband admitted his wife was having a rough time with the second baby, and that he didn’t give her much help. I spoke with her parents out in Colorado. Both said how tired their daughter has been, how often she cried over the phone. And her best friend, Fiona West, painted a less rosy picture of Tim and Chelsea’s marriage than Tim did.”

Morgan put Fiona at the top of her interview list, and doubts about Tim’s innocence nagged at her.

“I know it must be hard for you as a devoted mother to think about a woman abandoning her children.” The sheriff’s tone softened. “But it happens.”

Morgan had no difficulty imagining women doing far worse things to their children. She’d prosecuted enough monster mothers. A shudder rippled through her as she remembered a few horrific cases. “You’re right. Not all women were born with maternal instincts.”

King continued. “Chelsea was feeling neglected and exhausted. Maybe she needed a break and wanted to teach Tim a lesson.”

“Let’s hope that’s the case.” Morgan finished the water, tossed the empty bottle in the trash, and stood. “Because I’d like nothing more than to have her show up safe and sound.”

“I’ll have someone pull up the train station surveillance video so you can watch it before you leave. It won’t take long. There’s so little activity, you can fast-forward through most of it.” Leaning forward, the sheriff tugged the scarf away from Morgan’s neck. His eyebrows shot up as the corners of his mouth went down. “Are those from this morning?”

“They look worse than they feel.” Morgan turned toward the door. “Thank you for your help. I’ll call you if we learn anything.”

“Same here.” King nodded. “You should be more careful. It would be a damned shame if someone wrung that pretty neck.”

Chapter Ten

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Lance rounded the desk in his mother’s home office and kissed her on the cheek.

“Of course.” His mom tapped her keyboard, blackening her computer screen, then she swiveled her chair to face him. “I like to feel useful.”

What had she been doing that she felt necessary to hide?

File in hand, Lance hesitated. Would the case be too much stress for her? The smile on her face didn’t resonate in her eyes. She tucked a lock of shoulder-length gray hair behind one ear. Had she lost weight? Her fragile-thin frame couldn’t spare an ounce. But since Lance saw her every day, he didn’t always notice slight changes, and he couldn’t quite quantify what was wrong today.

She wouldn’t meet his gaze. Her blue eyes seemed paler, her skin flushed, and her attempt to smile more transparent.

He scanned the tidy room. “No boxes today?”

The modern world of online shopping was an agoraphobic hoarder’s dream come true. Lance and his mom had an agreement. She ordered things she didn’t need every day. If she wanted to keep a purchase, she had to dispose of an item of equal size. Lance returned or donated the rest. The system was bizarre, but it kept Jennifer Kruger’s home relatively sane and safe. Lance would not allow her to live in a firetrap ever again.

“No.” She took the file from his hand and spun away from him.

Strange.

But maybe be was being paranoid. With good reason, he was hyperaware of her behavior.

Clutching the edges of her thick cardigan together, she set the folder on the blotter. “Tell me about the case.”

Again, Lance hesitated. Chelsea’s disappearance had brought back painful memories for him. How would his mother handle the parallels? Over the years that followed his father’s disappearance, she’d retreated into an eggshell of an existence. Her world was self-contained, easily shattered, and impossible to make whole.

“We’re looking for someone,” he said vaguely. “We need thorough background checks for the people on this list, and we need you to review the missing woman’s computer and phone files.” He set Tim’s USB drive on the desk.

She scanned the first few pages of their suspect list. “This is about that young mother who went missing, isn’t it?”

Shit.

“You know about her?” Lance asked.

His mother turned a page. “It was on the news.”

His shut-in mother taught online computer science courses and designed and maintained websites. Since she only left her house to go to therapy, she literally lived online. Coverage of Chelsea’s case had been limited, but his mom hadn’t missed the story.

“Maybe I should do the background checks,” Lance said.

“No.” His mom put a possessive hand flat on the file as if he were going to snatch it away. “Do you want me to do a deep dig on the husband?”

His mom’s precarious mental state often camouflaged her intelligence. She knew Tim would be a suspect despite the fact that he’d hired them.

“Yes,” he said.

“Hi, Jennifer.” Morgan walked into the room. She’d come with Lance but had been in the kitchen putting away groceries they’d brought. Knowing Morgan, she’d also taken stock of mom’s supplies.

Lance’s mom’s face went as bright as the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center. He needed to have a talk with her. She was clearly building up unreasonable expectations about his relationship with Morgan.

How could he ever have a real life? There were too many variables to predict his mother’s reaction.

Damn it.

He should never have introduced them. His intentions had been good. Morgan would give his mother another person to interact with besides him and Sharp and the package delivery man.

Now if things didn’t work out between him and Morgan, his mother was going to be disappointed. Who knew how she would handle it? And what if she got her hopes up about having grandchildren and that didn’t pan out. Could she even handle grandchildren?

Why was he thinking about giving her grandchildren?

Suddenly hot, Lance pulled at the neck of his T-shirt. The room felt small. Morgan already had three kids.

Three.

Her life was a 24/7 power play to the kids’ advantage. Would she want more? Why was he even thinking about this?

His mom stood, leaned over the desk, and touched Morgan’s arm. It wasn’t quite a hug, but it was the most physical contact his mom had had with a human other than him or Sharp in a long time.

Morgan returned the touch, as usual letting his mother set the boundaries. “I hope you don’t mind. I started a pot of coffee, and we brought apple pie.”

Mom beamed. “Of course I don’t mind. I love pie.”

That, at least, was the truth.

Dropping back into her seat, his mom waved at the file in front of her. “This is just a list of names. Tell me more about the case. Did Chelsea Clark really just disappear into thin air?”

Like his dad.

“We don’t have enough information to say yet.” Morgan smiled.

His mom nodded, her face grim.

“I could really go for some pie.” Morgan shot Lance a worried glance. “Why don’t we talk in the kitchen?”

Morgan and Lance took twenty minutes to fill his mom in on the necessary details of the case. His mother ate an entire slice of pie, which eased his mind. Anxiety dampened her appetite. So her being able to eat was a good sign.

“You’re sure you don’t mind doing those background checks?” he asked his mom.

“I want to do them. I get bored.” She kissed him goodbye and then shooed them toward the door.

Outside, Lance stood on the front step and stared at the closed door. The he dug his phone from his pocket and called Sharp. “Would you mind stopping in to see my mom?”

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