Her Last Goodbye Page 22

She shoved her black mane away from her face. The sight of her smiling up at him froze his vocal cords for a second. Her bare lips looked soft and warm. He itched for their taste. Last night’s kiss had left him wanting more.

He leaned forward, but the sensation of being watched stopped him. He glanced around, his gaze catching a figure in the living room window. Sophie. Her skinny arms were crossed over her little body.

Lance straightened. “Your daughter is giving us the stink eye.”

As he watched, Sophie turned and fled the window.

Morgan sighed. “I’ll be ready in five minutes.”

Clearing his throat, he held the door open for her as they went inside. “Take your time. Our appointment with Curtis MacDonald isn’t until nine.”

She shivered and rubbed her arms. “Thanks.”

Lance peered into the kitchen. Art was reading the newspaper. Sophie worked on a pancake, and Gianna was loading the dishwasher. Both girls were in their pajamas. The dog begged at Sophie’s feet. The scene was warm and happy, the sink full of dirty dishes the only sign of the bedlam that likely preceded this quiet moment.

If he had told himself a year ago that he’d find this chaos warm and inviting—and that he wanted to be part of it—he wouldn’t have believed it.

“Morning,” he said.

Art looked up from his paper. “Morning.”

“Can I make you breakfast?” Gianna asked.

“No, but thanks.” Lance shook his head. “We have to go.”

“I’m ready.” In the doorway, Morgan buttoned up a black trench-type coat. She stuffed a small umbrella into her big purse.

They went out to the Jeep. Lance slid behind the wheel, started the engine, then turned to Morgan and pulled the scarf an inch away from her neck. The ring of bruises had darkened to a deep purple.

“Does it hurt?” His finger brushed her jaw as he released the fabric.

She tugged the scarf back into place. “It looks worse than it feels.”

“I hope so because it looks terrible.” Lance drove away from the house.

“Gee. Thanks.” Morgan sighed. “How was your mother last night?”

“The same. Maybe I’m just paranoid.” But his mom wasn’t herself and he needed to keep an eye on her.

“All you can do is your best,” Morgan said. “Oh. I have some news on the case. Last month, Chelsea took her car to an auto shop that employs a registered sex offender.”

Morgan filled him in on the details of her find.

“You had better luck than I did.” Lance drove toward town. The accounting firm of Skyver and MacDonald was local. “Chelsea mainly used her social media accounts to post pictures of the kids. She kept her accounts private and had very few connections. All her online relationships seem to be with family, friends, and coworkers. There were no changes or red flags in her recent posts or comments. There’s always the possibility of her accounts being hacked, but I didn’t find any obvious clues. Tim doesn’t have any social media accounts.”

Lance had also hacked into Chelsea’s work files, but he didn’t mention that to Morgan. He hadn’t had time to dig in to the data anyway.

“Should we go see Harold Burns or check with the sheriff first?” Morgan asked.

Lance turned left at a stop sign. “Let’s get Sharp’s opinion. He’s better with local politics than I am.”

Morgan put Sharp on speakerphone and gave him the details about Harold Burns.

“Morgan and I were debating whether we should call Sheriff King or stop in to see Harold.” Lance steered the Jeep onto the country road that led to town.

Sharp was silent for a few seconds. “Notifying King puts us at the risk of him warning us off without giving us any information. Then we couldn’t talk to Burns. Usually, I’m all for stepping carefully around law enforcement, but I think we’re better off asking for forgiveness rather than permission in this case. For all we know, King has already talked to Burns and kept it to himself.”

“So we’ll go talk to Harold after we finish with Curtis MacDonald,” Lance said.

“I’d start with a routine inquiry with the manager,” Sharp suggested. “Show Chelsea’s picture around the shop. See if anyone remembers her and what kind of reactions you get. If or when you confront Harold, do it in private. We don’t need to be charged with harassment.”

“I’d hate to ruin a sexual predator’s day,” Lance said, disgusted.

“The law is the law,” Sharp answered in a firm tone.

“Yeah. Yeah. I know.” But being nice to a predator turned Lance’s stomach. Experts could dispute the recidivism rate of sexual offenders all they wanted. Lance would never be convinced any of them could be rehabilitated. He held a grudge against anyone who hurt women or children and he always would.

“Morgan, please make sure he behaves himself,” Sharp said.

She laughed. “I’m the one who broke someone’s nose yesterday.”

“Point taken. Just try and stay out of trouble for one entire day.” Sharp chuckled. “Lance, I’ll call your mom and put Harold Burns at the top of her list. Let’s see if she can dig up more details on him. I’ll head to Tim’s neighborhood and start knocking on doors. You kids be careful.”

Sharp ended the call.

Ten minutes later, Lance parked in front of Skyver and MacDonald. The accounting firm was located in a small business complex at the edge of town. They went inside, and Morgan gave their names to the receptionist.

Curtis emerged in a few seconds. At forty-five years of age, he looked younger than Lance expected. Something about the word “accountant” made him think of old men and dusty ledgers. But Curtis’s light-brown hair was streaked with blond, not silver, and he moved like an athlete.

After brief introductions, Curtis asked, “Has there been any news?”

Lance shook his head.

“Please, come into my office.” Frowning, Curtis ushered them down a short hallway. He gestured toward a credenza that held a pod-style coffeemaker. “Do you want coffee?”

Lance and Morgan declined and took the two upholstered chairs that faced Curtis’s modern desk.

Curtis went behind the desk, but instead of sitting, he faced a window that looked out onto a small green space. “I still can’t believe she’s missing.”

Morgan began, “When was the last time you spoke with Chelsea?”

Curtis faced them, his distress plain in his eyes. “Friday morning.”

“Was there anything unusual about the conversation?” Morgan asked.

“Definitely.” Curtis rolled the chair out and dropped into it. He picked up a paper clip and twirled it between his fingertips. But he didn’t seem nervous, more like a fidgety man with too much energy for a desk job. “She was upset about something she didn’t want to tell me over the phone. She was going to come into the office Monday, but obviously that didn’t happen.”

Lance leaned forward and rested his elbows on his thighs. “So you have no idea what she wanted to talk to you about?”

“No.” Curtis’s tanned brow furrowed. “She’d been trying to catch up with her clients, but she was having a rough time. I was prepared for her to come in on Monday and quit. I had a counteroffer prepared.”

“You didn’t want her to quit?” Morgan asked.

“No. She’s smart and reliable. I’ll admit that her extended maternity leave has put me in a bit of a bind. We have the year-end statements to prepare and tax season right on top of that.”

“Seems like it would be easier to replace her,” Lance said.

Curtis shook his head. “Turnover is expensive. I already know what I have in Chelsea. She’s good at her job. And seriously, I’d feel like a total jerk firing her over a problem with her baby. Her absence has been inconvenient, but it’s temporary. We’ll survive.”

“What has Chelsea been working on?”

“Nothing specific.” Curtis said. “Her clients have been spread out among a number of associates. I simply started copying Chelsea on all activity and correspondence so she could get back up to speed. We were both hoping she could start coming in part-time and do some work at home.”

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