Her Last Goodbye Page 28

“It’s possible,” the sheriff said. “The age bracket fits, and she was blonde.”

The air whooshed out of Tim’s body with an almost inaudible moan.

Morgan touched his forearm. His hands clenched his armrests tightly enough to raise the tendons on the backs of them and turn his knuckles white. She leaned closer. “Are you all right?”

Tim didn’t react. His eyes were fixed in horror on the sheriff, who was watching him with sympathetic—and assessing—eyes.

And Morgan got it.

Sheriff King had wanted to see Tim’s reaction. King had wanted to be the one to deliver the news. So he’d done his best to isolate Tim so he didn’t find out another way.

As if he was following Morgan’s train of thought, the sheriff said, “I didn’t want you to hear this on the news, which is why I sent a deputy to get you immediately. When I left the scene, the first reporters were showing up. It won’t take long.”

Morgan had proudly worked many cases on the side of law enforcement, but in the last few weeks, she’d seen the flip side of criminal law. How people who were supposedly considered innocent were treated. And what she’d learned so far wasn’t pretty.

The sheriff could have gone to Tim’s house, or he could have sent another officer. Dragging Tim in hadn’t been necessary.

“Do you know how long she’d been out there?” Lance asked.

“Hard to say.” The sheriff shook his head. “Coyotes had dug up—”

Tim made a soft, choking noise.

“Sheriff,” Morgan said in a reproachful voice.

The sheriff blinked at her. “Sorry.”

“Could my client have some water?” Morgan asked, furious. They’d all seen Tim’s response to the news. He was obviously shocked. He did not need to know that wild animals had mauled the body.

“Of course.” The sheriff got up and left the room.

Tim shoved his chair back, bent at the waist, and buried his face in his hands. His breathing was too fast and shallow.

Morgan put a hand on his arm. “Take a deep breath and hold it for a few seconds. You’re going to hyperventilate. There’s no point in assuming the worst. Hang on until we get more information.”

Without lifting his head, he nodded.

The sheriff returned with several bottles of water that he set on the table. He dropped back into the seat facing Tim.

Tim sat up, his face contorted with the effort of controlling his emotions.

“What do you know about the woman?” Lance asked.

The sheriff lifted a shoulder. “Not much other than she was blonde and the medical examiner thought she was in her twenties.”

Tim’s eye twitched. He didn’t need to hear every detail at this time. Morgan could fill him in on the details when the preliminary autopsy report was finished.

Morgan handed Tim a bottle of water. “Why don’t we go into the hall for a couple of minutes?”

Tim twisted off the cap and took a mouthful of water. He seemed to have trouble swallowing. He lowered the bottle and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “No. I want to hear everything.”

“Are you sure?” Morgan asked. “It’s not necessary. You might be torturing yourself for no reason.”

Tim pressed his palms to his eyes for a few seconds. When he lowered his hands, he’d regained his composure. “Where was she found?”

“Route 87, in Black Run State Park,” the sheriff said. “I know this is hard. I’ll let you know as soon as I have more information to share.”

“Thank you.” The words caught in the back of Tim’s throat, and he stared at his water without drinking, seemingly lost.

“Let’s get you home before the press shows up.” Morgan didn’t want Tim to have to run a gauntlet of reporters, cameras, and microphones to get into his house.

Nodding, Tim stood. He wobbled a little and put a palm on the table to steady his balance.

“Oh, Tim,” the sheriff said. “Before you leave, I need you to officially state that this belonged to your wife.”

He set a small paper evidence bag on the table. Opening the metal clasp, he dumped the contents on the table. The bird pendant slid a few inches across the smooth fake wood surface. “Does this look familiar?”

Tim paled and sucked in a sharp breath. Leaning harder on the table, he reached forward to touch the pendant then paused, his hand hovering a few inches above the silver bird.

“You can touch it,” the sheriff said. “It’s already been processed.”

“It’s Chelsea’s.” Tim picked it up by the chain. He straightened. Draping the necklace across his palm, he stroked the tiny silver bird. “She never takes this off. Her parents gave it to her when she graduated high school.” He looked up, his eyes bleak. “This was near where her car was found?”

“Yes,” the sheriff answered.

“So she was there, anyway.” Tim closed his eyes for a few seconds.

With a quick look at Morgan and Lance, the sheriff added, “Maybe.”

The sheriff was holding back. Morgan searched his face. He had more information than he was giving them.

“How long until we know?” Tim asked in a too quiet voice.

“Worst case scenario, we have to wait for a DNA analysis, which could take weeks. But it’s possible we’ll know much sooner.” Could the sheriff be any more vague? But then again, maybe he had good reason.

The police had Chelsea’s fingerprints. The body must have been in bad shape if the sheriff wasn’t sure that they could be compared. Rodents sometimes nibbled on fingertips. Bears and coyotes dismembered and disseminated bodies. The medical examiner might not even have all of the remains. While Morgan believed in being honest with her client, Tim didn’t need to know any of these things. Not yet, anyway. If the body was positively ID’d as Chelsea, then he’d learn all the gruesome details. Until then, what was the point in causing him more distress?

“Oh, no.” Tim started for the door. “I have to get home before Rand and Patricia see this on the news.”

Her parents would be devastated.

What were the chances that the body of another blonde woman would turn up the same week that Chelsea disappeared?

Chapter Nineteen

Morgan bristled as they passed four news vans parked in front of Tim’s house.

Damn it!

This is not how Chelsea’s parents should have heard about the body being found. The sheriff should have driven out to the house to tell Tim and Chelsea’s parents instead of dragging Tim down to the station. Rand and Patricia deserved more respect than finding out via the news.

“Looks like the press found out about the body,” Lance said. “The days of carefully controlled press conferences are over. There’s more pressure to be first than there is to be accurate.”

“I should have called them,” Tim said.

“You did what you thought was best,” Morgan said.

“You know what they say about good intentions,” Tim replied.

Lance parked, and the three of them got out of the Jeep and walked up the driveway. A dozen reporters smoothed their hair and touched up their makeup. Cameramen and sound techs set up equipment.

“There he is!” someone yelled. “Tim!”

A reporter lunged at him. A microphone was thrust into his face. Lance shouldered the reporter out of the way, but a dozen bodies pushed forward.

Angry, Morgan leaned over and spoke in Tim’s ear. “Don’t answer any questions in this format. Try to ignore them.”

But the barrage came from all sides. Morgan and Lance flanked Tim, trying to shield him, but his hands were shaking by the time they reached the top of the driveway.

Then the front door opened, and everyone froze. Chelsea’s father stepped outside, his face set in a stony mask of despair. Three seconds ticked by as everyone simply stared. Then the moment of silence passed, and reporters turned away from Tim and rushed for Rand. His eyes were watery and red-rimmed. His body swayed as if he was barely able to stay on his feet.

He knew.

Tim walked closer, through the gauntlet of cameras and eager bodies.

Morgan pushed through the throng. “Excuse me.”

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