Her Last Goodbye Page 3

As did the ache in his heart every time he laid eyes on her. What he felt for her, even in this fragile, early stage of their relationship, floored him. They’d only shared a few—albeit scorching—kisses. But he couldn’t deny his attraction went far beyond the physical.

Relief got the better of him. He moved suddenly, cupping her face in both hands and kissing her hard on the mouth. When he lifted his head, her blue eyes were dark and wide. “I know you can handle yourself. But I still wanted to rip Tyler’s head off for hurting you. It was all I could do not to strangle him.”

She smiled. “I’m sure he appreciates your restraint.”

“You probably broke his nose.” He grinned.

“I didn’t mean to break anything. I practiced those self-defense drills so many times growing up that my reactions are pure muscle memory.”

Morgan’s father and grandfather had been NYPD detectives. Her dad had been killed in the line of duty fifteen years ago, but clearly the lessons he’d taught his kids had stuck.

She pulled a blue, flowered scarf from her massive purse, in which she seemed to keep everything but a side of beef. She tied the scarf in a fancy knot around her throat to cover the bruises. But he knew they were there.

Her phone buzzed.

“Is that your sister?” he asked, remembering that Morgan’s sister was taking their grandfather to the cardiologist that day. Stella was a detective with the Scarlet Falls PD.

“No. His appointment isn’t until this afternoon.” Morgan read the display. “It’s Sharp. He says to hurry back. We have a client.”

After the danger they’d faced in the last case they’d worked together and this morning’s incident, Lance hoped the new case would be nice and boring.

“He says it’s a hot one,” Morgan said.

“Of course it is.”

Chapter Four

Morgan led the way into Sharp Investigations. The PI firm occupied the lower half of a duplex on a quiet street a few blocks off the main drag of Scarlet Falls. Lance’s boss lived in the upstairs unit. Downstairs, the two-bedroom apartment had been converted into professional space. Morgan had taken over the spare office. Though they were separate entities, private attorneys often required the services of PI firms. Being under the same roof was convenient, and the rent was cheap. With a brand-new practice, Morgan’s cash flow was tight.

A few sharp barks greeted them. Rocket, the white-and-tan stray dog Sharp had recently adopted, rushed them, wagging and snuffling at Morgan. A bulldog mix of some sort, her sturdy body was filling out nicely with regular meals.

Sharp met them in the foyer. “The client’s name is Tim Clark.”

In his midfifties, retired Scarlet Falls police detective Lincoln Sharp was fit and wiry. He wore his more-salt-than-pepper hair buzzed short. After twenty-five years on the force and another five running his own private investigation firm, Sharp sized people up with gray don’t-mess-with-me eyes that didn’t miss a thing. His lean, hawkish features looked tough, but Sharp was a total marshmallow on the inside.

“Clark?” Morgan crouched to greet the dog. “The name sounds familiar.”

“It should,” Sharp said. “His wife disappeared last Friday. It was on the news.”

“Now I remember.” Morgan recalled the news report. Young mother vanishing into thin air, her car found in the middle of nowhere.

The case had made headlines only briefly, until a police shooting over the weekend had garnered more public attention.

Morgan and Lance followed Sharp into his office, and he introduced them.

In his late twenties, Tim Clark had messy brown hair that fell to his shoulders. He hadn’t shaved in a few days, and his button-up shirt was as wrinkled as a sheet of aluminum foil that had been crumpled into a ball and smoothed out again.

He stood to shake their hands. “Thanks so much for seeing me. I should have called for an appointment, but honestly, I haven’t been thinking straight.”

Sharp took his seat behind the desk, and Lance leaned on the wall.

Tim eased back into his seat. An infant carrier sat at his feet. From the blue blanket tucked around the baby, Morgan assumed it was a boy.

“How old is he?” she asked.

“Four months.” Tim’s eyes misted. “His name is William. I’m sorry I had to bring him. My daughter is with my neighbor, but Will is colicky. No one wants to watch him.”

“It’s not a problem,” Morgan said. “I have three kids.”

The baby stirred and made a snuffling sound, and Morgan melted a little as she settled in the chair next to Tim.

“What can we do for you, Tim?” she asked.

“I’m not sure.” Tim rocked the baby seat with his foot. “My wife went out last Friday night to meet a friend for a glass of wine. She never arrived at the restaurant.” His voice faltered. “No one has seen her since.”

Morgan leaned forward. “I’m so sorry about what happened, but why are you here?”

His eyes went bleak, and he stared at the baby at his feet. “Because the sheriff has spent more time investigating me than trying to find my wife.”

On the armrest, Tim’s hand curled into a tight fist. His eyes lifted, and behind his despair, a fiery hint of anger flared. “I don’t know exactly what I need, but I saw you on the news last month, in that case where the police arrested the wrong man. You proved them wrong. I need you to help me. My wife has been missing for five days, and the sheriff is never going to find her if he refuses to look beyond me for suspects. And that innocent man last month went to jail. I can’t afford to let that happen. My kids need me.”

The air seeped out of Morgan’s lungs, leaving her hollow. She had no way of knowing if Tim was guilty or not. He wouldn’t be the first husband to kill his wife and then report her missing.

What if the sheriff was right? One of her greatest fears in practicing private law was that she could be responsible for keeping a criminal out on the street. She knew it would happen eventually. Criminals lied. It was what they did.

Morgan’s family sent criminals to jail. They didn’t keep them out. But last month’s case had eliminated any opportunity of her working in the prosecutor’s office. That bridge hadn’t been burned. It had been incinerated. She’d been hoping to work mostly civil litigation, but small-town lawyers couldn’t afford to be too picky. She could not pay her bills without clients.

The baby made another little noise.

The daylight pouring through the window showcased the deep bags under Tim’s eyes. He hadn’t slept in a while. Morgan clearly remembered her youngest child’s colic. It had seemed endless, even though John had been home to help for most of it. Poor Tim was doing it alone.

And he clearly did need her help.

Every defendant deserved good counsel, and her job as a defense attorney was to represent her clients to the best of her ability. She needed to have faith in the legal system.

She folded her hands in her lap. “So the sheriff has not officially cleared you?”

“I don’t know.” Tim lifted a shoulder. “He says he’s investigating other people, but I don’t believe him. They don’t seem to have any clues. Maybe if they’d actually tried, if they’d actually investigated someone besides me in the very beginning, they would have found her by now.”

Tim’s eyes glistened with moisture. He turned away and closed them for a few seconds.

Morgan doubted the sheriff hadn’t investigated anyone except Tim, but the spouse was always the primary suspect. Sadly, nearly one half of all female homicide victims were killed by their intimate partners. When Chelsea wasn’t found within the critical twenty-four- to forty-eight-hour period, any cop holding the case would have investigated Tim.

“Where were you Friday night?” Morgan was blunt.

But Tim didn’t miss a beat. “I was at home with the kids.”

“Can anyone verify that?” she asked.

“Bella and I had a video call with my in-laws around eight thirty for about fifteen minutes or so. After that, it was just me and the kids.”

“How old is Bella?”

“Three.”

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