Her Last Goodbye Page 41

“What?” Lance asked.

“A brand. It looks like an infinity symbol.” Tim sighed. “The doctor said a plastic surgeon will look at it. What if they can’t remove it? Every time she sees it, she’ll be reliving her captivity all over again. She’ll never be able to put it out of her mind.” Tim jumped to his feet and paced the small room. His gaze landed on random spots in the room and flittered away without seeming to register what he was seeing, as if his mind couldn’t process the last few hours. Tim was a man on the edge of the breaking point. “I have to go back to Chelsea. I don’t know what to say to her.”

Morgan answered, “There’s nothing you can say that will undo what’s been done. Just tell her you love her. She’s going to need you.”

“You’re right. Thank you.” He headed toward the door.

“Is there anything we can do?” Lance was just as worried about any immediate physical threat to Chelsea’s life. “Is the sheriff putting a guard on her?”

Tim nodded. “He’s posting a deputy outside her room tonight.”

Hopefully, the sheriff would be willing to continue to protect her until the man who kidnapped her was caught.

“What do you want to do about the press conference?” Morgan asked. “It’s scheduled for seven o’clock.”

Lance checked the time on his phone. It was after six. His stomach rumbled, as if it had just learned it was time for dinner. Had they eaten lunch? The day was a blur.

Tim looked unsure. “The sheriff said he’d handle updating the press, but he suggested someone be there to represent the family. I don’t really want to leave Chelsea, and her parents aren’t in any condition to be on camera. But what happens to the reward now that she’s been found?”

“The primary purpose of the press conference was to appeal to the public for help in finding her. The details of the reward were never publicized, so we can just pull the offer now that she’s been found,” assured Morgan.

Tim shook his head. “Chelsea’s dad wants the reward to remain in place for information leading to the arrest and conviction of the man who kidnapped Chelsea.”

“All right,” Morgan said. “I’ll rewrite the statement we drafted earlier.”

“So, you’ll handle the press conference for us?” Tim asked.

“Yes,” Morgan said.

“Thank you. Very much. We really appreciate your help. None of us are thinking clearly right now.” Tim left.

“I need to get to the press conference.” Morgan picked up her bag.

“I’ll take you.” He wasn’t happy that she was, once again, volunteering for publicity. But she was going to do her best for her client. And Lance would stick close.

They left the hospital, making their way through the parking lot. Back in the Jeep, Lance started the engine. “Do you need to stop at the office?”

“There’s no time.” Morgan opened her bag, combed her hair, and fixed her lipstick. “This should be quick. I’ll give a simple statement about the family being joyful over Chelsea’s return and appeal to the public to respect the family’s privacy. The sheriff will have to field questions about the actual investigation.”

Lance drove to the municipal building, where the sheriff had arranged for a room for the press conference. By the time they arrived, the press was already gathering and setting up. At least a dozen stations were represented. Chelsea’s disappearance hadn’t garnered this much attention, but then how many kidnapping victims escaped their abductors. Having been missing for a week, no doubt most people had written Chelsea off as dead.

Morgan walked toward the front of the room. Lance took a place near the wall, out of the line of media fire but close enough to be supportive.

Sheriff King stepped up behind a podium. Morgan took her place next to him. They tested microphones, and then the sheriff took the lead, introducing himself and Morgan, then reading a prepared statement. “Chelsea Clark was found on the side of Breakneck Road this morning by a passing motorist. The sheriff’s department is grateful that she is alive and reunited with her family. We are still investigating her disappearance, and we’re determined to bring her kidnapper to justice.”

The press jumped in with questions immediately. “What is her condition?”

The sheriff answered. “Mrs. Clark is stable.”

A reporter in the front row stood. “Where has she been all week?”

“It appears that she was kidnapped and held captive by an unknown person,” the sheriff said.

“Was she released? Did she escape?” another reporter asked.

The sheriff leaned closer to the mic. “It appears that she escaped.”

“What does that mean?” the reporter sounded almost hostile.

The sheriff tensed. “It means I can’t give any further information about an ongoing investigation.”

A tall thin man pushed his way to the front of the crowd. “Is this case related to the woman’s remains that were found in Black Run State Park?”

“No.” The sheriff looked taken aback. He wasn’t openly challenged often. “At this time, we have no evidence to link the cases.”

Thin Man continued. “Do you have a description of who took Chelsea Clark?”

Clearly irritated with the reporter’s relentlessness, the sheriff stiffened his shoulders. He inhaled, inflating his chest and sitting taller. He tried to stare down Thin Man, but the reporter’s expression remained smug.

When the sheriff spoke, his words were careful, measured, and full of authority. “Chelsea Clark was abducted last Friday night and held for six days by a man wearing a mask. She never saw his face.”

Thin Man changed the target of his inquiry. “Ms. Dane, as the family’s legal representative, can you divulge any details? The public has a right to know if they’re in danger.”

“Chelsea’s family is grateful to have her back and are focused on her well-being. They ask for the understanding and prayers of the community,” Morgan said. “If you want details about the case, ask the sheriff.”

Thin Man wasn’t deterred. “Is there a serial killer in Randolph County?”

The sheriff leaned close to the mic. “We don’t have evidence to suggest the cases are connected or the inclination to leap to such a conclusion at this time.”

Except that two women, approximately the same age and physical description, had been kidnapped and beaten.

Chapter Twenty-Nine

A child’s scream startled Morgan from a dead sleep. Her heart stuttered in her chest. The bed was cold. After being woken too many nights, Snoozer had abandoned Morgan to sleep with her grandfather. A second small cry floated through the open doorway.

Sophie.

Morgan listened intently for another sound. Her eyes drifted to the clock on the nightstand. Just after midnight. She’d slept barely thirty minutes after staring at the ceiling and worrying about the case for an hour.

Maybe the night terror will pass.

The previous two episodes lasted at least ten minutes each, but the doctor had said their duration could be a short as a minute or so. It was possible that they’d get lucky and Sophie would settle on her own. A thumping noise verified that this would not be the case tonight.

Bleary-eyed, Morgan tossed the comforter aside and stumbled out of bed. A chill swept over her. Grandpa liked to turn the thermostat down at night, and the old house could use new insulation.

Her bare feet hit the freezing hardwood. Where were her slippers? Not beside her bed where they should be. No time to look for them. She grabbed a sweatshirt and headed for her daughters’ room, still half-asleep and hoping she could remove Sophie before the screaming woke Ava and Mia. They were both sound sleepers, but if Sophie really got going, her screams could wake the dead.

Drawing the shirt over her head, she hurried into the dark hall. A night-light, plugged into a wall socket, cast light downward onto the floor, just enough to keep one from tripping over a toy on their way to the bathroom. The hallway led to the foyer, living room, and kitchen at the front of the house. Moonlight streamed through a window, cutting a swath of light through the darkness.

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