Her Last Goodbye Page 35

“Get in your seat,” Morgan ordered, glancing over her shoulder and dropping her tote bag on the floor.

Harold Burns stood on the pavement just outside the grocery store door, his eyes locked on Morgan’s van.

“Mommy?” Sophie climbed into her seat obediently, her voice high with fear, her face streaked with tears.

“It’s OK, sweetie.” Couched in the small confines of the vehicle, Morgan fastened the safety seat harness and climbed over the console into the driver’s seat.

But Sophie clearly knew that it wasn’t OK. She sniffed, leaning her face on the headrest and crying quietly.

Morgan started the engine and drove out of the lot toward Sharp Investigations. She was not leading Burns to her home. With an eye on the rearview mirror, Morgan pulled her cell phone from her pocket and called Lance. “Are you still at the office?”

“Yes.”

“Can you meet me outside in a few minutes? I’m on my way there. Sophie is with me.”

“Morgan, what’s wrong?”

“Sophie and I went to the grocery store.” Morgan stopped at a red light, her eyes darting between the windshield and all her mirrors. A car pulled up behind her minivan. She exhaled when she saw an older gentleman at the wheel. “Harold Burns was there.”

Lance swore. “Where are you?”

“Four blocks away. I’m calling Stella next.” She punched “End,” then called her sister, giving her a brief explanation. “Gianna needs to be picked up at dialysis.”

“OK,” Stella said. “I’ll get her and meet you at Sharp Investigations.”

Morgan drove, checking her mirrors, looking for a red pickup truck.

What was Burns’s game? And where had he gone?

Chapter Twenty-Four

Lance paced the sidewalk.

Where is she?

The thought of Burns intimidating Morgan and her little girl stirred a giant pot of rage in Lance’s chest. He’d like nothing better than to find Burns and give him back a big dose of his own medicine.

When he’d been a cop, Lance had hated the revolving-door nature of the system. There were people who could be rehabilitated, but there were those who were just bad. Born bad. Made bad. Whatever. It hardly mattered after the fact. Violent men like Burns were dangerous. Occasionally, like now, Lance was appalled at the violence of his own response to them.

But this was personal.

This was Morgan. And Sophie!

Damn it.

Men like Burns shouldn’t be allowed to share air with an innocent child.

The heat of fury had climbed into Lance’s throat by the time Morgan parked at the curb in front of the office. Her face was as white as a fresh sheet of copy paper. She got out of the driver’s seat and opened the sliding side door. Sophie was still crying. Her big blue eyes were scared.

As much as the sight made Lance want to beat Burns senseless, he swallowed and shoved his anger back into its box.

Sophie needed calm.

She needed to feel safe.

God. How do parents do this?

Morgan’s hands were shaking so hard she couldn’t get the harness unfastened.

Lance stepped in. “Let me.”

“Hey, Soph.” Lance unfastened her harness, lifted her from the seat, and held her closely. “Everything is OK.”

She seemed to forget that she didn’t trust him. Her arms went around his neck in a panicked chokehold and her spindly legs wrapped around his waist. She clung to him with a strength that broke his heart.

He made her feel safe.

Morgan grabbed her tote bag from the van, and Lance herded her up the walk and into the office. Holding Sophie in one arm, he locked the door and engaged the alarm. “Are you all right?”

Morgan nodded. But her hands were still trembling and her face had gone from pale to gray.

Sharp emerged from his office, his face grim.

At the clatter of dog nails, Sophie lifted her head from Lance’s shoulder. “Puppy.”

Morgan smoothed her hair and worked to collect herself. “Sophie, this is Mr. Sharp and his dog, Rocket.”

Rocket leaned on Morgan’s leg and whined.

Ignoring Sharp completely, Sophie leaned over and reached for the dog. Her tears shut off like a closed tap. “Put me down.”

Even Lance couldn’t compete with a dog.

Lance cautiously set her on the floor, watching the dog for a reaction. But the stub of Rocket’s docked tail wagged. She sniffed then licked the child’s hand. Sophie giggled.

“Sit,” Morgan said.

The dog planted her butt on the floor and offered Sophie a paw.

Morgan crouched next to Sophie. The dog showed no sign of the timidity she exhibited with strange adults.

“Looks like Rocket likes kids.” Sharp nodded.

Sophie turned her huge, teary blue eyes on Sharp. “Can I play with her?”

“You certainly can. Let’s go get her ball.” Sharp extended a hand toward Sophie.

“I’m hungwy.” Sophie was usually distrustful of strangers, or at least she’d always been distrustful of Lance, but she took Sharp’s hand without hesitation.

Lance made a note to talk to her about strangers with puppies.

“Let’s see if we can find you something to eat,” Sharp said.

“We left my banana at the store.” The sniff in Sophie’s breath tugged at Lance’s heart all over again.

“You know what?” Sharp led the little girl down the hall. “Rocket loves bananas too. I have some in the kitchen.”

As soon as Sophie and Sharp disappeared into the kitchen, Morgan lost it. Tears began to flow down her cheeks. Covering her mouth, she raced for the bathroom. Lance waited outside, feeling useless. At least he’d been able to hold and comfort Sophie.

When she emerged, her face had been scrubbed and she smelled of mouthwash.

“Do you want some water?”

Morgan shook her head. “Not yet.” She was still shaking. “I’m sorry. Tossing our cookies after a stressful situation is a family thing.”

With a glance at the kitchen door, Lance led her into her office. He’d finally made progress with Sophie. He didn’t want the sight of him hugging her mother to set the kid off again.

Once inside the room, he pulled her to his chest and hugged her hard. She pressed her face to his body.

“He wouldn’t have pulled that stunt if you were with me.” Morgan was not the damsel-in-distress type, but she wasn’t stupid either. “He must have followed me.”

“Well, it won’t happen again,” Lance said. He was sticking closer to her than paint on a wall.

“I need to go home for my gun.” Morgan had a concealed carry permit. Feeling that small children and guns didn’t mix, she rarely carried it. “For a completely nonviolent incident, that was utterly terrifying. What if he’d done something, and I wasn’t able to protect Sophie?”

Lance rubbed her shoulder. “He didn’t and Sophie is fine. It serves no purpose to torture yourself with every possible outcome that didn’t happen.”

Morgan nodded, but she didn’t look convinced. “I need to call home and warn Grandpa. What if Burns knows where I live?”

“Your house address is unlisted, right?” Lance asked.

Morgan sniffed. “Yes. But we both know how easy it is to get names and addresses.”

Tax records, deeds, and other public records weren’t hard to find. Visibility was the downside to all the publicity her last case had garnered.

Someone knocked on the front door.

“I’ll get it.” Lance went out into the hall and opened the door. Stella pushed past him. “Where’s Morgan?”

“In her office.” Lance gestured toward the open door. “She’s fine. So is Sophie.”

Stella and Morgan greeted each other with a tight, sisterly hug.

“Where’s Gianna?” Morgan asked, looking over her sister’s shoulder. “Is something wrong?”

“No. She’s fine. I called her to make sure. Brody went to get her. He’s going to take her home and stay there.” She leaned back, holding Morgan by the arms and assessing her. “I wanted to get right over here and make sure you were all right. Tell me what happened.”

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