Her Last Goodbye Page 29

A reporter stumbled back as she elbowed him aside and fought her way up the three steps toward Rand.

“My wife and I just learned that the body of a young woman was found in the state park.” Rand’s jaw shifted. Muscles tensed in a face taut enough to shatter. “Until we hear otherwise, we will not simply assume this woman is our daughter. We will continue to look for her, and we hope the sheriff’s department will do the same.”

Morgan stopped dead. She didn’t have the heart to interrupt.

A reporter thrust a microphone in front of Rand. “Are you saying you don’t have confidence in the sheriff’s investigation?”

Bitterness glinted in Rand’s misty eyes. “He hasn’t found anything, has he? Hikers found this poor woman.”

Another reporter turned back to Tim. “Mr. Clark, do you think the woman who was found is your wife?”

Tim choked.

Morgan grabbed the microphone and pulled it to her. “We’re still waiting on word from the medical examiner. There’s no value in speculating at this point.”

Another newsman confronted Tim. “The sheriff’s office refuses to clear you as a suspect. How do you feel about that, Mr. Clark?”

Again, Morgan redirected the mic from Tim’s face to her own. “Mr. Clark simply wants the sheriff’s department to find his wife. He supports the sheriff’s efforts to conduct a thorough investigation. Tim has never been accused of having anything to do with his wife’s disappearance.”

Next to her, Tim cleared his throat. “I just want my wife to come home. I don’t care about anything else.”

He walked up the steps toward his front door like a zombie.

“Tim’s right,” Rand said in a stiff voice. “We won’t rest until we’ve brought Chelsea home. Which is why we’re offering a ten-thousand-dollar reward for information that leads to finding Chelsea.”

Morgan snapped to attention.

Questions burst from the media.

“Is there a hotline number?”

“Can tips be given anonymously?”

“Do you have details on that reward?”

“Is the offer still valid if she’s dead?”

Cold bastard!

Rand flinched at the question.

Morgan slid forward and gently eased in front of him. If she’d known he was thinking about offering a reward, she would have tried to persuade him to talk to the sheriff first. Rewards could be helpful, but they could also muddy the investigation. But the offer was out there. No way to take it back. All she could do was manage the fallout. “Details about the reward will be forthcoming from the sheriff’s department.”

“If the body is identified as Chelsea, then what happens to the money?”

Enough!

Tim stiffened and reached for the nearest microphone. “Please. My family is going through the hardest time of our lives. We ask that you pray for us. And if anyone has any information that might help find my wife, please call the sheriff’s department. Please help us bring Chelsea home, and if you don’t have any information, then we ask that you respect our privacy.”

With that, Tim turned and herded his father-in-law back into the house. Closing the door, he looked out through the narrow window next to the door.

Morgan repeated her statement about the reward. Lance stayed at her side, his body tense, his eyes scanning the group, looking for threats. When she was finished, Morgan ignored follow-up questions. They went inside, hoping the reporters would be satisfied enough to leave.

They found Rand hunched over the kitchen table.

His gaze met Morgan’s. “I’m sorry if I messed up. I wasn’t thinking. We saw the news about the body on Facebook. Patricia almost fainted.”

“I’m the one who should be sorry.” Tim sighed. “I was trying to get back in time to tell you in person. I didn’t want you to find out that way.”

“It’s not your fault. It would have been a shock no matter how the news was delivered.” Rand’s shoulders hunched as if unable to bear the weight of the day.

“Where are the kids?” Tim asked.

Rand pointed at the ceiling. “Patricia took them upstairs. She didn’t want Bella to overhear . . .”

“Good thinking,” Tim said. He turned to face Morgan. “I’m sorry. I hope I didn’t totally screw up out there. I didn’t know how to react.”

“You did fine,” Morgan said. “Your reaction was honest and sincere.”

Rand got up and paced the room. “I’m done with that sheriff. He’s just going to get mad. He didn’t want me to offer a reward in the first place. He’s lazy and doesn’t want to follow up on the leads. Do we really have to involve him in the reward? I’d rather we handle it ourselves.”

“There are legal obligations associated with a reward like this,” Morgan said. “It’s a verbal contract. And honestly, the sheriff is going to be annoyed, but he’s also going to want to retain control of the tips coming in. Handling the phone lines will be a full-time job.”

Rand crossed his arms and lifted his chin in defiance. “It only takes one good tip.”

“I agree,” Morgan said. “But we don’t have the manpower or the expertise to handle the sheer volume. But in the end, it’s up to you. I’m just asking that you give it serious thought before you decide. Remember, there will be people trying to take advantage. Ten thousand dollars is a lot of money.”

“Rand, I know what you’re trying to do,” Tim said. “But we hired a professional for a reason, right? What’s the point if we’re not going to listen to her?”

“OK. You’re right.” Rand nodded, the gesture short and curt and unhappy. He clearly didn’t want to give up control. “Let the sheriff handle it.”

“Do you want me to talk to Sheriff King?” Morgan offered. The sheriff was not going to be happy, but that was too damned bad. He should have been more sensitive to the family’s feelings.

“Is that all right with you, Rand?” Tim asked. “It’s your money.”

“It’s fine,” Rand snapped. Then his aggression faded back to grief. “I don’t care about the money. I just want my baby back.” His voice broke.

“I know.” Tim nodded. “But thank you anyway. This wouldn’t be an option without your help.”

“Now that the reward offer has been made, I’ll call the sheriff and let him know,” Morgan said. “We’ll need to issue a formal statement outlining the terms. The sheriff will have to give us a hotline number. Rand, do you have the money readily available? There could be multiple claimants; though, we’ll include an expiration date and language to give us the ability to change or pull the reward if necessary.”

As much as Morgan hated to be practical at a time like this, if Chelsea was dead, the family should keep its money. Rand and Patricia appeared to be comfortable but not wealthy. Tim would have new childcare expenses. Raising kids was not cheap. He would be doing it alone. As Morgan well knew, single parenting was hard enough without financial hardship.

She continued. “Also, we might want to consider holding a press conference once the details are worked out. The media will really jump on this. When Chelsea disappeared, coverage had to compete with the police shooting. It would be a good idea to get her picture circulating again and make sure everyone in the area knows she is missing and has a fresh image of her in their minds. We can utilize social media. Criminals will turn on their mothers for ten thousand dollars.”

At least, that was what Morgan hoped.

Chapter Twenty

The door opened, and he came in, his black-masked face like a doll with no features.

Chelsea’s heart jolted as she scampered off the cot, eyes cast down at her bare toes. Her body was sore, but she’d eaten the protein bar from that morning, sipped water, and moved around enough to prevent further stiffness from settling into her bruised limbs.

The calories and hydration had helped, though she was careful to move as if she was weak and timid. He seemed to like that.

He held a canvas bag in his hand. When he set it down on the floor, it jangled. Not food.

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