Her Last Goodbye Page 25

Twenty-five yards from the Jeep, thunder boomed. As the first fat raindrops plopped onto the pavement, Morgan opened her umbrella and lifted it high. “You can walk under this too.”

“I might miss something.” Lance shook his head. “But you can take the camera.”

He brought it to her then went back to the line he was searching.

Morgan hung the strap around her neck. The rain turned into a downpour. Lightning flashed, and she startled. The wind caught her umbrella. She bent forward and angled it to keep it from turning inside out.

Ten feet from the Jeep’s bumper, in the weeds at the very edge of the pavement, something crunched under her foot. She stopped, squatted, and brushed her fingers through the tall grass. The gleam of wet metal caught her attention. Lifting the camera in a one-handed grip, she snapped pictures from varying angles.

“What is it?” Lance shouted over the rush of rain.

“I’m not sure. A piece of jewelry, I think. Do you have gloves?” She’d left her tote in the Jeep. Setting the camera back on her chest, she searched her pockets but came up empty.

Lance went back to the Jeep and then returned to her. He handed her a purple nitrile glove and a tape measure. She moved the weeds to fully expose a small silver pendant.

“Let me hold the umbrella for you.” He crouched next to her so she could take more photos.

As private investigators, they followed the same rules of evidence collection as the police. Collecting evidence in a downpour presented challenges. Lance blocked the rain and wind with his body as best he could. Morgan took additional pictures from varying angles and distances. She measured the distance between the necklace and multiple points of reference. Then she used her phone to pinpoint the exact GPS coordinates. When she’d recorded the necklace’s position adequately, she picked it up by the chain. They went back to the Jeep.

Lance held the umbrella over Morgan while she got into the passenger seat. Holding the chain, she shivered as he rounded the front of the Jeep. Then the driver’s door opened with a gush of wet wind. Lance slid into the seat and tossed the closed umbrella behind him. Rain plastered his hair to his skull and molded his clothes to his body. Below the midthigh hem of her trench coat, Morgan’s slacks were soaked. The insoles of her shoes squished.

He wiped water from his face with a hand. “Let’s see it.”

Morgan lifted the chain. The pendant dangled.

“The sheriff said his deputies searched this area,” Lance said.

“It was under the weeds. If I hadn’t stepped on it, I wouldn’t have noticed it.”

The pendant was a bird. Morgan twirled the chain and the pendant rotated. Three letters were carved into the silver on the back: CJC.

“What is Chelsea’s middle name?” she asked.

Lance took a Ziploc bag from his glove box, wrote the date and time on it with permanent market, and handed the baggie over the console. “Jessica. Her full name is Chelsea Jessica Clark.”

CJC.

Morgan lowered the necklace into the Ziploc bag but left the bag open so the pendant could dry. “We need to take this to the sheriff’s office.”

“Oh joy,” Lance said. “He’s going to be thrilled that we found something his men didn’t.”

She studied the necklace. “The chain is broken and there are a few long blonde hairs stuck in the clasp.” She unzipped her tote bag and took out her mini magnifying lens. “The roots are attached.”

As if the hair had been torn from her head.

Morgan shuddered. Had Chelsea fought?

“So now we know that Chelsea was here with her car.”

Morgan held up the plastic bag. “And the broken chain and roots on the hairs suggest the necklace was ripped off her neck. Maybe we finally found an indication of a struggle.”

Chapter Seventeen

Lance watched Morgan work the sheriff. She faced Sheriff King over his desk, all big blue eyes and sincerity. She folded her hands in her lap. Her expression was attentive, her posture ladylike, and yet her presence powerful in a way that Lance couldn’t quite quantify.

It was confidence, he decided. Every word she spoke rang with truth but was delivered in a quiet way that had King leaning forward to listen. Yes, she had the big, badass sheriff hanging on her every word.

She was good. Very good.

No doubt when she’d been a prosecutor, she’d commanded the jury’s attention just as naturally.

King leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his cleanly shaven chin. His eyes drifted to Lance, narrowed just a hair, then returned to Morgan.

Yeah. Lance was not one of his favorite people, which was why he sat back and kept his mouth shut. He would have stayed in the car if he didn’t know he needed to sign a statement about the discovery of evidence. Lance wasn’t as skilled at hiding his anger as Morgan. Frankly, his disposition was more like the sheriff’s.

King dangled the Ziploc bag containing the bird pendant over his desk. “So you found this in the weeds where Chelsea’s car was left?”

“Yes. It was buried in the tall grass.” Morgan nodded solemnly.

Which was a nice way of saying his men blew it while simultaneously offering an excuse.

The sheriff grunted. Lance had no doubt he was irritated at his department being shown up, by a woman no less, but Morgan was so polite and professional and pleasant about the fuckup that King couldn’t get mad, at least not at her.

But his eyes telegraphed his mood. His deputies were going to suffer the blowback from Morgan’s discovery.

“We don’t know that it belongs to Chelsea Clark,” the sheriff said. “Her husband wasn’t very specific when he gave us a list of what she’d been wearing when she left the house. He said he only saw her for a couple of minutes, and he was preoccupied with the kids. He couldn’t even tell me what color her boots were.”

Morgan nodded. “Actually, I called Tim and asked him if Chelsea was wearing any jewelry Friday night. He said she has a silver bird pendant that she wore all the time. I messaged him a photo. He positively identified the necklace as belonging to his wife. He says he has snapshots of her wearing it. He’s looking for one now.”

King grunted. “Would have been nice if he’d mentioned it to me.”

“I’m sure he just forgot. That night was very stressful.” Morgan continued. “The hairs have roots attached and would therefore contain DNA. Are you going to have DNA tests run or would you prefer I send the hairs to a private lab?”

Hair shafts were composed of dead cells and did not contain DNA. Only the portion of a hair that was located below the skin was connected to the blood stream.

“I’ll do it.” The sheriff bit each word off like a piece of beef jerky.

“Do you have a sample of Chelsea’s DNA?” Morgan asked.

“Yes.” The sheriff nodded. “Her husband submitted it when he filled out the missing persons report.”

“Is there anything else we can do to help?” she offered.

“No.” The sheriff sighed. “You’ve done more than enough.”

Morgan rose and offered the sheriff her hand over his desk. King shook it gently and thanked her for her help. But all Lance got was a gruff nod that all but said Don’t let the door hit you in the ass on your way out.

Lance and Morgan exited the station. The storm had followed them and pounded the parking lot with heavy rain. The Jeep was parked just twenty-five feet away. Yet Lance’s hair and clothes got a fresh soaking as they raced for the vehicle.

Inside the vehicle, Morgan’s teeth chattered. “Where to next?”

He started the engine and then turned the heater on high.

Lance checked the time on the dashboard block. “Dry clothes are next. Then we regroup. Want to make a quick stop at your house?”

“No.” She held her hands out to the heat vents. “I have a change of clothes at the office.”

“We can update Sharp while we’re there. He’s going to want to know about the necklace. We’ve found the first real evidence that Chelsea was forcibly taken.”

“I almost wish we hadn’t.” Morgan’s voice was quiet.

“I know.” Because now they knew that Chelsea was either being held captive or dead.

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