Her Last Goodbye Page 32

Chelsea.

Arcing the light back and forth, he spotted another print and connected the dots. The line pointed straight into the woods. He picked up speed, projecting her trajectory.

“Where are you, Chelsea?” he called. “You can’t get away from me. If you come back now, I won’t hurt you, but if I have to hunt you down, you’ll be sorry.”

Very sorry.

Maybe his lessons hadn’t been firm enough. He could fix that. When he found her, she wouldn’t be able to run away. Hell, she wouldn’t be able to walk.

Or crawl.

He started down a game trail, his light seeking and finding a footprint and a spot of dark liquid. He squatted and touched it. Turning over his hand, he examined the bright smudge.

Blood.

Still wet and bright.

She hadn’t gotten far.

He straightened, tilting his head and straining for sounds.

She was barefoot, wearing a dress as bright as a beacon. She didn’t have a coat, just a blanket to protect her from the fall-crisp air. Though the temperature wasn’t low enough to cause frostbite, she’d definitely suffer hypothermia.

No. He’d find her. He had to.

She was his.

He felt for the gun in his pocket. If he couldn’t have her, no one could.

Underbrush rustled to his left—and another sound.

Heavy breathing?

He turned toward the sound and broke into a jog. She was close. He could feel her. Smell her. Sense her.

They were connected by a link that could be broken by only one thing: death.

Chapter Twenty-Two

At nine thirty Friday morning, Lance followed Morgan into her office and watched her get settled. “Good morning.”

She set her bag and stainless steel travel mug on her desk, removed her coat, and hung it in the closet. Her pants and suit jacket were black, and so were the circles under her eyes.

Worry pulled at him. She’d spent hours the previous day hashing out the details of the reward offered by Rand with the sheriff’s department. As predicted, the sheriff was pissed off, but he’d taken on the responsibility. The hotline was supposed to be up and running, and a press conference was scheduled for that evening. Morgan would have spent the night drafting rough statements for Tim and Rand.

No doubt she’d been up late reviewing notes on the case as well. And they’d split the job of writing up the reports on yesterday’s interviews. With her grandfather not able to drive, taxiing Sophie to preschool and Gianna to dialysis also fell on her shoulders.

She raised her coffee cup to her lips and drank deeply.

“Are you all right?” Lance asked.

“Sophie had a night terror.”

“What is a night terror?”

“She was thrashing around and screaming in her sleep.”

“Oh, hell.”

“Yes. ‘Hell’ sums up my night perfectly.” Morgan tilted her head back and drained her mug. She crossed the room to the Keurig machine on her credenza. Setting her mug under the spout, she plugged in a pod and pressed the “On” button. “She woke the whole family. I had to bring her into my room for the rest of the night. Sharing a bed with Sophie is like sleeping with an octopus on Red Bull.”

Sophie was an unpredictable, sensitive, out-of-the-box child. She experienced life with an emotional meter permanently set to high. She loved powerfully and without reservation. And held a grudge, like the one aimed at Lance for claiming some of her mother’s attention, with the steadfastness of a SWAT sniper locked on a target.

“Poor kid. She must have been a mess,” Lance said.

“Not at all.” Morgan drummed her fingers on the credenza as the coffeemaker gurgled. “A night terror isn’t the same thing as a nightmare. She slept through the whole thing and woke up in a great mood surprised to be in bed with me.”

A smile tugged at Lance’s mouth. “Then poor you.”

Morgan sighed. “Night terrors are named appropriately. It was terrifying to watch. I’ve been awake since three.”

“Morning,” Sharp said as he walked in, drawing up as he scanned her face. “You look terrible.”

“Thanks.” Morgan laughed. She lifted her refilled mug and inhaled, her eyes closing in a way that was almost sensual.

“I told you that stuff was bad for you.” Sharp lifted his mug. Large red letters on the black ceramic read PRIVATE DICK. It had been a gift from his cop buddies when he’d retired from the force and opened the investigation agency. “Are you sure I can’t replace that poison with organic tea and a protein shake?”

Morgan clutched her cup closer, protecting it like a starving wolf standing over a fresh kill. “Hands off the coffee.”

Sharp backed away, shaking his head. “Caffeine overloads the adrenal system. In the long run, you’ll end up more fatigued. Ask Lance.”

“Lance is not getting in the middle.” Lance turned to face the whiteboard.

Sharp walked up to stand next to him. “Are we still waiting on an ID of the body?”

“I just talked to the sheriff,” Morgan said. “The woman’s face and hands were badly damaged by animal activity, and her lower jaw is missing. The medical examiner was going to start on the autopsy first thing this morning. He has Chelsea’s medical and dental records. If it’s not Chelsea, he should be able to rule her out, even if he can’t identify the body.”

An autopsy could take anywhere from two to four hours. Difficult and damaged remains complicated the process. A preliminary report wouldn’t be ready until the next morning, but the county ME would not leave the Clark family hanging any longer than necessary. If he could rule out Chelsea, he’d let them know ASAP.

“The ME likes to get an early start,” Lance said. “We’ll hear from him in the next couple of hours.”

“Are we ready for the press conference?” Sharp asked.

“I need to talk to Tim and Rand this afternoon, but everything is set up with the sheriff’s office.” Morgan took her place behind her desk. “Now what?”

“We were hired to find Chelsea,” Sharp said. “We assume the body isn’t hers until we hear otherwise.”

“Let me get my laptop and we’ll go over the background checks.” Lance went to his office and grabbed his computer. Last night, he’d made his first foray into Chelsea’s work files. Two hours of reviewing financial statements and tax documents had left his eyes crossed and his head aching. He’d found nothing suspicious, but he’d barely covered 10 percent of the material.

On the way back into Morgan’s office, he opened the file his mother had e-mailed him that morning. “We’ll start with Fiona West, Chelsea’s best friend. There’s nothing even remotely interesting in her background. In her interview, Fiona claimed that Tim and Chelsea were having marital problems. Tim worked too much.”

“That’s what Tim said in our initial meeting,” Uncapping a marker, Sharp wrote a note under Fiona’s name on the board. “Who’s next on your list?”

“Kirk Armani.” Morgan opened her file. All her papers were neatly sorted, hole-punched, and affixed in the proper place. “According to Tim’s boss, Kirk has a crush on Chelsea.”

“Kirk seemed very uncomfortable when we asked him about her.” Lance set the laptop on the corner of Morgan’s desk.

Morgan shook her head. “The very act of being interviewed would create stress for Kirk. Did your mother find any red flags in his file?”

“No,” Lance admitted. “We’ll put him aside for now. Moving on to Tim’s boss, Elliot Pagano.”

Morgan flipped through her paperwork. “What do we know about his wife’s death?”

Lance scrolled. “His wife died in a car accident last year. She was under the influence of OxyContin when she got behind the wheel. Not enough to kill her but enough to impair her driving. Her death was ruled an accident, not a suicide. She had family money and did invest some of her funds in Speed Net as a start-up, but most of her estate was tied up in a trust specifically designed to keep spouses from inheriting family money. Elliot didn’t receive any of it. Her life insurance policy was held by the family trust.”

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