Her Last Goodbye Page 37

And the thought broke her heart.

Stella’s partner, Detective Brody McNamara, opened the door to his unmarked car. “I’ll head back to the station and see what I can dig up on Harold Burns.”

“The sheriff warned us off him,” Lance said.

“It’s a good thing the chief and the sheriff don’t get along,” Brody said over the roof of the sedan. “I’ll have no problem convincing the chief to investigate Burns in spite of the sheriff’s warning.”

Or because of it, knowing Horner.

“That’s making politics work for you,” Lance said.

“For once, right? I’ll let you know what I learn.” Brody slid behind the wheel and then drove away.

“I’ll be inside.” Grandpa wobbled as he went up the front walk. Lance went ahead of him, holding the door open as her grandfather navigated the steps and threshold.

“He’s really unsteady,” Morgan said to her sister.

“I know.” Stella sighed. “But at least I convinced him to use his cane outside. I have this covered for today. You’ve handled the lion’s share of his care up until now. It’s my turn.”

“Actually, up until now, he’s taken care of me.” Morgan stared at the front of the house. “I’m having trouble with the turnabout.”

“I know. He’s always been there for all of us.” Stella looped an arm around her sister’s shoulder. “And now we’ll be there for him.”

“We will.” Morgan nodded. “We need to call Ian and Peyton. They should know what’s going on with him.”

“If they wanted to know, they would call more often,” Stella said.

“Peyton calls now and then, or at least she tries to.” Morgan’s younger sister was a forensic psychiatrist in California. “And Ian talks to Grandpa at least once a week.”

Stella had little patience for their siblings. “Ian lives three hours away. He could visit.”

“Ian never lived here. New York City is his home.” The Danes had moved to Scarlet Falls after their father had been killed. Ian had already been grown. He’d stayed in the city and followed in the Dane tradition, joining the NYPD. But instead of homicide, he’d chosen SWAT.

“We’ll debate family dynamics later.” Morgan hugged her sister. “You’ll keep everyone inside?”

Stella gave her a look. “Are you kidding me? I’m a police detective. I think I can handle keeping a house locked down for a few hours. Besides, your girls are angels. Most of the time.”

“I know.” Morgan blinked back a tear. “But I’m not always rational when it come to my kids’ safety.”

“Everything will be fine here.” Stella wrapped her blazer around her body, then turned and went back into the house, passing Lance on his way back to Morgan.

Morgan and Lance got into the Jeep.

“Are you all right?” Lance started the car.

“Yes. No. I don’t know.” Morgan blew out a hard breath. “Between my grandfather’s health and having Harold Burns stalk me and Sophie, I’m feeling guilty for going back to work.”

“Stella can handle things here until you get home.” Lance had worked with Stella when he’d been on the police force. “She’s a good cop.”

“I know she is.” Morgan’s phone buzzed. She read the screen. “It’s Sheriff King.”

Lance backed out of the driveway.

She pressed answer. “Morgan Dane.”

Sheriff King didn’t waste time on pleasantries. “The dead woman is not Chelsea Clark.”

Morgan felt the air rush from her lungs as the shock rolled through her. Even though they’d been acting as if Chelsea were still alive, she’d feared the worst. “Do you know who she is?”

“Yes. The ME was able to identify her with dental records, but her family has a right to be notified first.”

“Of course.” Morgan processed the news. “Have you let Tim know that the body isn’t his wife?”

“I called him before I called you.” The sheriff sounded offended that she would even ask.

“Thank you. I just wanted to make sure.” Morgan would still touch base with Tim. The fresh news would generate exposure for tonight’s press conference. “How was the woman killed?”

“She’d been badly beaten. She had broken ribs, a broken jaw, a fractured eye socket, and had ligature marks on both wrists,” the sheriff said. “She was five months pregnant and suffered a . . .” Papers rustled on the other end of the connection. “Placental abruption.” He pronounced the words carefully, as if it was the first time. “Do you know what that is?”

“Yes. It’s a separation of the placenta from the wall of the uterus.” Morgan let that sink in. “She bled to death.”

“That’s right,” the sheriff continued. “The ME said it’s a rare complication that early in a pregnancy. In this case, it was likely caused by a blow to the stomach.”

“Whoever held her didn’t take her to the hospital when she began to hemorrhage.”

“Correct.”

“Will the medical examiner be able to use the DNA of the baby to identify the father?” Morgan asked.

“Maybe,” the sheriff said. “She delivered, and the baby was not present with the remains. There’s another grave somewhere. We’re going to search for it. But—” The sheriff paused.

“What else can you tell me?”

“She was close in age and appearance to Chelsea Clark. Blonde. Blue-eyed,” the sheriff said. “And she’s been missing for eight months.”

“Runaway or kidnapping?”

“In the original missing person report, her parents said she had no reason to run away. She was a college student. Doing well in all her classes.” The sheriff sighed. “Like I said, the ME found marks on her wrists consistent with long-term use of restraints.”

“So she was kept prisoner all that time. How long has she been dead?” Morgan’s mind turned the information over and over, trying to stay detached from the details, which wasn’t easy with such a horrifying case.

“A week to ten days. Animals had been at the body, but the intact portions were in good condition. Cold nighttime temps preserved the remains somewhat. But we don’t know that this case has anything to do with Chelsea Clark. Yet.”

“Chelsea’s case is odd enough that I wouldn’t rule anything out at this stage,” Morgan said. “Do you have any other information for me, sheriff?”

“Harold Burns was working in the auto shop the night Chelsea disappeared.”

“Let me guess,” Morgan said. “His brother is his only alibi.”

“Yes. They don’t have surveillance video in the shop. Only in the office.”

“Convenient.” Morgan was almost surprised the sheriff had shared the information.

“I thought so,” King agreed. “I’ll let you know if I have anything else that I can share.”

“Thank you for the update, Sheriff.”

He grumbled something that sounded like “you’re welcome” and the line went dead.

“The sheriff was a regular Chatty Cathy today,” Lance said.

“That was a lot of sharing,” Morgan agreed. “I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop, right on my head.”

“Does this woman’s death have anything to do with Chelsea’s disappearance? They were approximately the same age with similar physical characteristics.”

Morgan looked out the window. Trees rolled past. “This woman was held captive for eight months by someone who raped, impregnated, and beat her. Then she died.”

“Whoever was holding her might need a replacement.” Lance followed her train of thought.

“All speculation.”

“One hundred percent,” he agreed.

“But a thin theory is better than no theory.” Morgan stared out the window as they drove to the Clarks’ house.

Chelsea could still be very much alive. Where was she?

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