Her Last Goodbye Page 38

Tim answered the door, the baby asleep, draped over his shoulder. He gestured for them to follow him back to the kitchen. The house was quiet, a countertop TV muted. He laid the baby in a bassinet. William didn’t stir.

“He’s quiet today.” Morgan peered at the sleeping infant and felt her hormones stir. No! Down!

“The pediatrician said the colic should start to improve between four and six months. He was right.” Tim gestured to the coffeemaker. “I just made a fresh pot of coffee. Can I offer you some?”

Morgan and Lance declined.

“Where are your in-laws?” Lance asked.

“Patricia is upstairs reading to Bella. Rand is taking a nap, or so he says. He was looking pretty rough.” Tim frowned. “The call from the sheriff took a toll on all of us, which is the opposite of what you would think, right? We should be jumping for joy, yet we’re a mess.”

Morgan empathized. John’s death had devastated her, but how would it feel to never know what had happened to her husband? To never have closure? Like Lance. “I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to feel. This is a horrible situation no one should have to handle.”

Tim poured himself a mug of coffee and then eased into a chair with his back to the TV. Morgan sat across from him. Lance paced the kitchen.

“Are you ready for the news conference?” Morgan asked Tim.

“I don’t know. I’m not good on camera. Maybe it would be better to let Rand talk.”

“Rand’s reward offer and his heartfelt plea as Chelsea’s father will help, but the public will want to hear from you too. You are Chelsea’s husband. The father of her children. They need to hear how much you and the kids miss her and need her back. Whenever a woman disappears or is killed, the husband or boyfriend is always the primary suspect. If you and Rand present a united front, it will help shape public opinion.”

Tim looked up. “I don’t care about public opinion. I just want my wife back.”

“Rand is offering money for the help of the community. He wants their help. It would seem very odd if you didn’t speak.” Morgan couldn’t help but jump ahead. What if the next body that turned up was Chelsea? With or without evidence, Tim would be a suspect in the public’s eye.

Next to her, Lance stopped. His body stiffened. Morgan followed his line of sight to the small TV. On it, a shaky camera recording, taken through a windshield, showed a blonde woman staggering on the side of the road. She wore a dirty yellow dress and had a blanket wrapped around her shoulders. She was barefoot. Blonde hair fell in a dirty wave to her shoulders. Her face was bruised and swollen.

A car pulled onto the shoulder, followed by the vehicle in which the person filming the scene was riding.

Morgan stood. “Turn on the sound.”

But Lance was already on it.

Tim spun in his chair. “Oh, my God.”

The audio played on the TV. They heard traffic sounds, then a man’s voice. “It’s a woman. She appears to be hurt.”

Yet the man continued to film rather than help her.

The woman collapsed onto the asphalt. A man in the car ahead got out of his sedan and hurried to her side, dropping to his knees on the road. A few seconds later, he took off his jacket and wrapped it around her, then turned and gestured to the man taking the video. “Stop filming and call an ambulance!”

The “you idiot” was implied.

Morgan’s gaze shifted from the screen to Tim.

He hadn’t moved. His face was frozen in shock. “It’s Chelsea.”

Chapter Twenty-Six

He paced the plywood floor of the storage container. The door was open, and daylight flooded the space. No point in closing it now.

She was gone. No. Not gone. She’d left him.

This was his first chance to examine the evidence. He’d tried to find her all night. And this morning he’d had other things to do.

The distinction hit him squarely in the chest with an ache of betrayal. How could he have been so wrong about her? Why didn’t he foresee her deception?

The mistake was his, not hers. He’d challenged a superior female, and she’d risen to the test. Overconfidence had been his error. It wouldn’t happen again. When he took her the next time, it would be final. She’d know there would be no getting away.

And he would eliminate any reasons for her to escape, which meant he’d need to eliminate her family.

But first he needed to know how she’d defeated him. He scanned the evidence in front of him. Squatting, he picked up the chain. The lock was opened, not broken, so she’d picked it somehow. She could have had a pin in her hair that he hadn’t seen. Next time he’d search her hair carefully.

The cot was on its side under a hole in the roof. When he’d left her the night before, the hole had been too small for a person to squeeze through. He’d made sure of it. But Chelsea had enlarged it. Rust had weakened the structure of the ceiling. She’d seen this and taken advantage of it. Then she’d used the cot to boost herself to the roof. If she hadn’t been able to fit, she would never have managed it.

Maybe she was too smart.

She’d certainly outsmarted him. He should have shored up the hole. He’d left it so she could see the passage of time and have a small amount of fresh air. Obviously, that had been a mistake. Next time he would use complete darkness and disorientation as an additional tool.

He’d failed. And if he didn’t get Chelsea back, all his work was for nothing.

That couldn’t happen.

Fury built inside him, and no deep-breathing exercise was going to settle it down. It raged in his chest like an animal in a cage, grabbed his ribs, and shook them like bars. He needed to release his anger or he wouldn’t be able to think clearly.

He went to his shed and picked up a knife. Pulling up his sleeve, he cut the skin of his forearm. Blood welled, but the slice was clean and sharp, the pain not enough to scramble his emotions. He needed the equivalent of a defibrillator to his emotions.

He fired up his blowtorch and heated the branding iron he’d used on Chelsea. The infinity symbol, because she was going to be his forever. The reminder stoked his rage higher. If he didn’t short-circuit it, he’d go into a red zone. A category-five hurricane of fury was building in his head. It couldn’t be contained. He had to decide how to release it.

His hand trembled with anger and anticipation as the iron began to glow. He rolled up his pant leg and pressed the orange-hot iron into his skin. The smell of burning flesh rose. Sweat poured from his pores. The pain burst, bright and beautiful and clear. It seared through his leg in a blinding explosion.

He lifted the iron. As the pain reached a crescendo and ebbed, the anger faded. He tossed the iron into the dirt to cool. Sweat soaked his shirt, and pain throbbed in his leg.

But his head was cool.

With the same first aid kit he used on Chelsea, he applied ointment and bandaged the wound. The lingering pain would help keep him centered on his task.

He pulled his pant leg down over the bandage, straightened, and walked outside. With renewed purpose, he continued his examination of Chelsea’s escape.

Just a few barefoot prints led toward the meadow and woods. Last night he’d followed her into the forest, but she’d gotten away in the dark.

This could all be fixed. He knew where she lived. He’d taken her from there once before. He could do it again. This time, she would be forewarned. The police would be watching her. The bar would be higher. But if he was patient, everyone would let down their guard eventually.

No one could remain completely vigilant for an extended period of time. It wasn’t natural. When nothing happened, they would become complacent.

But waiting was not one of his strengths. Maybe he should find another woman and hone his methods.

Chelsea was still meant to be his, but there was no reason she had to be his only woman. But what if she remembered too many details about the container? What if she led the police right back to his doorstep? There had to be some way to get to her.

He had to get her back.

And if he couldn’t, she’d pay the ultimate price.

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Chelsea rested her head on the pillow. Nerves hummed through her like electrical currents. Her body refused to accept that she was safe. They’d put her across from the nurses’ station to keep her under close observation. But it was the hub of the floor, crowded and noisy. Every bang of a metal tray or slam of a drawer startled her. The doctor, a tiny Asian woman with a calm demeanor, had said she was stable. But she didn’t feel very stable.

Prev Next
Free Novels Read Online | Read Wuxia Novel | Read Xianxia Novel