Her Last Goodbye Page 34

“Harassment is illegal, Ms. Dane,” the sheriff said in an irritated, frosty voice. “Stay away from Burns, and stay away from his brother’s auto shop.”

The connection went dead.

Burns had played them.

Shock filled Morgan, then a hefty dose of anger kicked it aside. She lowered the phone. “Did you hear that?”

The grim faces of Lance and Sharp answered her question.

“That son of a—” Lance muttered a curse under his breath.

Morgan got up and paced the narrow space behind her desk. “I knew this was a possibility when we went to the auto shop. I should have done more to prevent it.”

Lance punched his palm. “I can’t believe the sheriff would side with a violent sexual offender.”

“Hold on. I’m sure he isn’t taking Burns’s side. King might not work or play well with others, but he’s a competent cop.” Sharp held up a hand. “I’m hoping he’s investigating Burns and doesn’t want us in his way. If I were him, I might feel the same way.”

“Probably isn’t enough, and the only reason King is onto Burns is because we found him.” Lance scowled.

“Maybe. Maybe not,” Sharp said. “We have no idea what the sheriff has been doing.”

“Burns is our top suspect in Chelsea’s disappearance. How do we ignore that?” Morgan swallowed her disappointment in herself. She was accustomed to working with law enforcement and having the support of the police department. She needed to change her way of thinking, but the whole situation was frustrating. “I know the sheriff isn’t obligated to share the details of his investigation with us, but he could at least hint that Burns has actually made his radar in the investigation.”

“Look. King is known for holding his cards closely, even with other branches of law enforcement,” Lance said. “The man doesn’t trust the people who are on his side. I doubt there is any way to make him trust a defense attorney. We are on the opposition in this case.”

But Morgan knew they’d handled Burns the wrong way. “We should have approached Burns differently. We should have put him under surveillance without making contact. We showed our hand. Now we can’t even watch him without risking a harassment charge.”

Sharp got up. “I’m meeting the boys for lunch later. Maybe one of them will have an idea. They’re a cagey bunch, and they gossip like little old ladies. I’ll find out what they know and get them sniffing around.”

The boys were Sharp’s fellow retirees from the local police force who met regularly at the local tavern.

Morgan checked the time. “Oh. Is it eleven o’clock already? I have to pick up Sophie from preschool and Gianna from dialysis. I’m sorry.”

When she’d been a prosecutor, the kids had gone to daycare. John had been deployed more than he’d been home. Morgan had lived like a single parent. But after her husband had died, she’d taken two years off. She’d forgotten how hard it was to juggle work and kids and sanity.

“How long until Gianna gets her license?” Lance asked.

“Her driving test is scheduled for next month, but finding time to let her practice has been tough. Obviously, I’m not going to let her practice when the kids are in the car.” And Gianna would have to gain some driving experience before Morgan would allow her to taxi the girls around.

“I can help,” Lance offered.

Sharp paused on his way out the door. “Me too. And if you need any help with your grandfather, let me know.”

“Thanks. Stella and I are trying to divvy up his doctor appointments.” Morgan gathered her things. “I’ll be back in an hour.”

Shrugging into her coat and hoisting her bag over her shoulder, she went out to her minivan and drove to the preschool. She picked up Sophie at eleven thirty, but Gianna wouldn’t be finished with dialysis for another thirty minutes. Seeing no reason to waste a half hour, Morgan drove to the supermarket and parked. Taking Sophie by the hand, she crossed the parking lot and pulled a shopping cart from the lineup. She turned to lift her daughter into the child seat on the front of the cart.

Sophie took a step backward and crossed her arms. Preschool made her tired and cranky. “I wanna walk.”

“I need you in the cart today. We have to be quick. Gianna will be finished soon.” Morgan picked her child up and set her in the cart.

As much as her youngest did not like being restrained, she also recognized when her mother meant business. Morgan fastened the safety belt.

Sophie obeyed, but not without stating her opinion. “I don’t like to sit in the cart.”

“I know you don’t.” Morgan pushed the cart into the store. “What did you do in school today?”

“Can I have a cookie?”

“No. It’s almost lunchtime.” Morgan headed for the produce aisle and put a bag of potatoes in the cart.

“But I’m hungwy.” Sophie wasn’t a big eater. If she was asking for food, she must be starving.

“Did you have a snack today at preschool?”

Sophie shook her head, the motion sending her two ponytails swinging. “I wanted to finish my picture.”

Typical Sophie. Too busy to eat.

Morgan scanned the aisle for a reasonable option. It would be at least another thirty minutes before they picked up Gianna and drove home. Thirty minutes was a loooong time to spend with a hungry and tired child. “How about a banana?”

“Can I have it now?”

“You can eat it as soon as I pay for it.” Morgan walked faster.

“OK.” Sophie perked up. Her purple sneakers swung back and forth as she began to sing the theme to Toy Story. An older woman smiled as they passed her cart.

Morgan turned down an aisle and collided with a male body. Knocked off balance, she steadied herself with her hand on the cart.

“I’m so sorry.” She stepped back and looked up. All the breath left her lungs and fear sent a bolt of adrenaline into her bloodstream.

Harold Burns stared at her, his eyes gleaming with recognition. The basket that dangled from his hand held a single can of tuna fish. “You’d better watch where you’re going.”

Morgan continued to move away, pulling the cart sideways and trying to step between Sophie and Burns. But the cart nosed into a display of canned peaches. The stacks of cans toppled and rolled across the tile.

Burns didn’t move. He just stared at her, his eyes full of malice—and satisfaction.

Had he been following her?

Cans rolled under the cart. Burns’s gaze drifted slowly from Morgan to her daughter. A silent alarm rang out in Morgan’s head.

Get Sophie away from him!

Next to her, Sophie said, “Mommy?” Her voice was soft and small and scared as she picked up on Morgan’s reaction to Burns.

Morgan glanced up and down the aisle. Thirty feet away, the older woman compared prices of Parmesan cheese. Next to her, a young man piled boxes of pasta into a basket on his arm.

They were in a grocery store. In full view of two other shoppers and multiple surveillance cameras, Burns couldn’t hurt Sophie.

She’s safe. Morgan breathed in an attempt to calm her screaming pulse. But her body responded to Burns’s proximity to her child with immediate protest. If she’d been alone, her response would have been completely different, possibly even rational. But her brain simply couldn’t override her primitive maternal instinct, the same internal wiring that helped cavewomen keep their offspring safe from predators and ensured the survival of the human race.

There was no arguing with pure and primal instinct.

This violent sexual predator could not be this close to her daughter. The very act of him turning his gaze upon her child was a clear and direct threat.

Morgan grabbed Sophie, pulled her from the cart, and backed toward the exit.

“Mommy, my bananas,” Sophie cried, reaching backward as Morgan hurried out of the store. She rushed across the parking lot.

Sophie sobbed quietly as Morgan broke into a jog, opening the side door of the van as she ran toward it. She put Sophie inside, climbed in the side door with her, then closed it behind them. Not even the click of the door locks could temper her panic.

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