Her Last Goodbye Page 20

Five-year-old Mia was the quiet child. “You didn’t come home for dinner.”

“I know. I’m sorry.” Guilt flooded Morgan. “But I’m here now. Can I have a cupcake?”

Mia nodded.

They went into the kitchen. The girls’ nanny, Gianna, was loading the dishwasher. Grandpa and Stella sat at the kitchen table. In front of them sat a plate of bare cupcakes, three bowls of white icing and three butter knives.

Morgan’s grandfather wiped his mouth with a napkin. A hint of white remained at the corner of his mouth. Morgan pointed to the corresponding spot on her own face, and Grandpa licked his lips.

“Grandpa!” Ava said in a stern voice. “That’s your third! You’re not s’posed to eat them all, Right, Mommy?”

“Right.” Morgan lifted an eyebrow at her grandfather.

Grandpa laughed. “Life is short. Eat dessert.”

All three girls looked at Morgan hopefully.

Shaking her head at her grandfather, she turned back to her girls and said, “One cupcake each.”

“You were s’posed to watch him,” Ava said to Stella.

Stella laughed. “He doesn’t listen to me.”

Before moving in with her boyfriend, Mac, over the summer, Stella had lived with Grandpa too. Come to think of it, had Grandpa ever had the house to himself? Morgan’s older brother, Ian, had been in college when their father had died. Ian had been grown, but Grandpa had helped raise his three younger granddaughters. The man was a saint.

Grandpa reached for another cupcake, his hand trembling.

Stella slid the plate out of his reach. “I doubt your cardiologist would approve.”

A saint with a stubborn streak.

“You’d think, at my age, I could do what I wanted,” Grandpa grumbled.

“Think again.” Morgan kissed him on the cheek. “We love you too much for that.”

The girls went back to smearing icing on cupcakes. Ava and Mia worked with slow and deliberate strokes, but Sophie’s cupcakes looked like they had been decorated with a fire extinguisher.

Morgan sniffed. The kitchen smelled of roasted meat and vegetables. She turned to Gianna. “That smells amazing. What was for dinner?”

“Pot roast.” Gianna dried the slow cooker crock and set it on the counter. “There are leftovers if you’re hungry.”

“We ate, but I will have a cupcake.” Morgan plucked one from the plate.

Though Gianna was still too slender, the dark-haired young woman had put on at least ten pounds and lost her death’s-door pallor since Morgan insisted she move in with them four months ago. She still needed kidney dialysis, but her health and quality of life had improved, so much so that she’d insisted on being Morgan’s live-in nanny.

Ava carefully smoothed the top of a cupcake and carried it to Lance. “This one’s for you.”

“Thanks. Vanilla is my favorite.” Lance took the cupcake and ate it in three bites. “I’d better go. I’ll pick you up at eight thirty?”

They were interviewing Chelsea’s boss at nine.

“That’s fine.” Morgan said, glad she’d kissed him goodbye in the Jeep.

“Where’s Mac?” Morgan asked Stella after Lance left.

“At SAR training. Five days in the woods. He’s in heaven.” Stella often said Mac would never be fully tamed. Totally at home in the wilderness, he had joined the local search and rescue team.

“I’d better go.” Stella stood. “I have an early day tomorrow.”

“I’ll walk you out.” Morgan followed her sister to the front door.

“He’s really good with kids.” Stella donned her coat.

Morgan opened the door for her. “He seems to enjoy them.”

“You’re lucky to find a second good man.”

“I am.” Morgan pushed back at the sadness that crept up her throat at the reminder of her late husband. No more lamenting about her loss. It was time to look forward to the future. She followed her sister outside. “How was the cardiologist appointment today?”

“As far as I know, the doctor adjusted his medication. Grandpa wouldn’t let me go in with him.” Stella tugged her keys from her pocket.

“Why is he so stubborn?”

“Because he’s a Dane?” Stella paused to brush a hair off her face. “I’ll call you tomorrow.”

“Thanks for taking him today.”

“Hey, he’s my grandpa too. Please don’t feel like you have to do it all. We’ll manage it together.” Stella got into her car and drove away.

Morgan watched her sister’s taillights disappear into the darkness. Stella was right. Morgan didn’t have to manage everything alone. Why did she always think she did? That whole bringing-home-the-bacon-and-frying-it-up-in-a-pan thing got old fast.

She turned back toward the house. The hairs on her nape rose. Was someone watching her?

She spun around, her eyes searching the darkness beyond the reach of the lights. There was no one in front of the house, and the street was empty in both directions. A gust of wind blew dead leaves along the gutter. Her imagination must be working overtime with Chelsea’s disappearance.

But her steps quickened as she hurried toward the front door. She went inside, locked the door, and set the alarm. Grandpa took home security seriously. He’d installed motion lights, surveillance cameras, and a solid alarm system.

Sophie waited in the hallway.

“If you pick a book, I’ll read to you,” Morgan said. Maybe cuddling with her girls would relax her. She obviously needed some downtime.

“Toy Story!” Sophie ran for the bedroom she shared with her sisters.

Morgan’s return to work had made them all a little clingy. Even with Gianna insisting on being her live-in nanny, Morgan preferred to handle bedtime. There was something special about putting her children to bed at night, seeing them safe and warm and content, before she settled herself for the evening.

She read a bedtime story, kissed each little girl, and tucked the covers around their tiny bodies. As always, her heart trembled when the children said good night to their daddy’s picture on the dresser in their room. But Morgan was getting better. No more tears. John had been clear about wanting her to move forward and enjoy life.

But damn, the juggling act that had become her life was hard. How would she ever make her relationship with Lance a priority?

With no solution to her predicament, it was almost a relief to turn her attention to Chelsea Clark’s disappearance.

With the girls in bed, Morgan opened her briefcase at the kitchen table and began to review the Clarks’ financial statements. Chelsea and Tim didn’t write many checks. Most of their bank transactions were direct deposits and automatic withdrawals for regular monthly bills. Tim paid the utility bills online. Chelsea and Tim had separate credit accounts. Tim’s was more active, but nothing stood out as unusual on his statements for the past three months. Most were repeat transactions. Boring purchases like coffee and sandwiches. Morgan skimmed Chelsea’s statements.

Grandpa shuffled in and poured himself a glass of milk. “What are you doing?”

“Reviewing my clients’ financials. I don’t see any red flags, but I’m going to try and trace the wife’s recent activities as best as I can. For now, I’m assuming Chelsea was kidnapped. If someone planned her abduction, he saw her somewhere.”

Grandpa nodded. “Best to start with the most dangerous hypothesis. If she abandoned her family, she’ll be alive to find later.”

So many ifs.

“Shouldn’t you be using your cane?” she asked.

“I don’t need it.” But Grandpa kept a hand on the wall or the counter as he moved around the room. “Most women are hurt by people already in their lives so it makes sense to start there. If the crime was random, then finding her will be harder.”

With one hand on the back of a chair, Grandpa drank his milk.

Morgan started a list of all the places Chelsea had frequented in the past few months. The statements showed regular activity at a local grocery store, the Walmart, and a gas station. Morgan jotted down the locations. She added less frequent stops at a café, a few small retailers, and an auto-repair shop. There was no recent charge for Chelsea’s yoga studio, but Morgan put it on the list anyway. “I’m not finding much.”

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