Her Last Goodbye Page 5

“Not that I know of. Chelsea is an only child. Her father is a chiropractor. Her mother is a teacher.”

“Is your family in Colorado as well?” Morgan asked.

“Yes, but I was glad to leave them behind.” Tim raised his chin, his jaw tightening. “My parents are alcoholics and drug addicts. My father served time for burglary. Mom sold heroin out of our kitchen, and my brother was in prison for armed robbery when I left the state. I don’t want my family anywhere near my wife and kids. That has been the one additional benefit of moving east. Back home, they’d occasionally call or show up at our apartment looking for money. I haven’t had any contact with them since we moved here—though I’m a junior so my father’s records are constantly crisscrossing with mine.”

Morgan made a note to find out if Tim’s parents were still in Colorado. Who knew what kind of schemes three criminals in need of cash could hash out? Especially if they resented the one member of the family who’d successfully navigated the straight and narrow.

“Did you bring a photo of your wife?” Sharp asked.

“Yes.” Shifting the baby around, Tim reached down and produced a photo from the diaper bag. “This is Chelsea.” His hand trembled, just slightly, as he handed it across the desk to Sharp, who studied the picture with a frown.

Tim pushed his hair off his face. Then he squeezed the back of his skull for a few seconds, as if the pressure of his fingers would help hold it together.

Sharp passed the photo to Morgan. Wholesome and fresh-faced, Chelsea was a pretty young woman with long blonde hair, even white teeth, and big blue eyes. In the photo, she stood on a mountaintop. The background was pure blue sky and more mountains rolling into the distance.

“That was taken last year. We were hiking in the Catskills.”

Morgan handed the picture to Lance. He took the photo by its edges and studied it.

“How was Chelsea’s mental state after William’s birth?” Morgan remembered the chaos of her third child’s birth. There had been days she’d functioned like a zombie on autopilot. “Did she have any signs of postpartum depression?”

Tim sighed. “The sleep deprivation has been hard on her. I wouldn’t call her depressed, but she’s definitely frustrated. We both know William’s colic is temporary, but some nights it doesn’t feel that way.”

So, Chelsea Clark was a physically fit, mentally exhausted woman who was making the best of a tough situation.

Until she disappeared into thin air.

Morgan’s youngest child had been an infant when her husband had been killed in Iraq. Sophie had no memory of her father. Morgan’s middle child struggled to recall him, and even her oldest, now six, studied John’s picture every day in fear that she would forget her daddy. Would Tim’s children suffer the same way?

Not if she could help it.

Chapter Five

Lance’s hands went clammy as he listened to Tim’s story. The similarity between Chelsea’s disappearance and Lance’s own past echoed like shouts in a deep, dark cave. Twenty-three years ago, Lance’s father had gone to the store and never returned.

When Lance’s father had disappeared, his mother had suffered the exact same scrutiny—and frustration—that plagued Tim now.

But Sharp, who’d been the lead investigator, had quickly eliminated her as a suspect and moved on. Lance remembered being ten years old, sitting in the hallway just outside the kitchen, and listening in on the conversations between his mom and Sharp. His mother crying. Sharp trying to give her hope without making promises. As the weeks, months, and then years passed, those conversations hadn’t included any hope at all, and his mother had stopped crying and started fading away. Twenty-three years had gone by, but the memories still brought a sick feeling of helplessness to Lance’s gut.

Morgan leaned forward. “Tell me more about Chelsea. She worked before she had William?”

Tim nodded. “Chelsea is an accountant. The name and address of the firm is in the file.”

Sharp looked up from the papers he was rifling through. “Has she talked to her boss lately?”

“They talk on the phone about once a week.” Tim burped the baby. “He’s been really decent about holding her job for her. He’s even been letting her work from home part-time.”

“Do she and her boss get along? Any disagreements with coworkers?” Sharp asked. “Any unusual calls or e-mails on Friday?”

“Not that I know of.” A defeated sigh rolled through Tim. “Frankly, I don’t know what she did on Friday. I came home from work late, and Chelsea was mad at me. She didn’t have much time to get ready. Bella was already at a neighbor’s house. I took the baby. Chelsea changed her clothes and left. We haven’t talked much lately. She was exhausted from being up every night.” Tim looked away, guilt tightening the corners of his mouth. “I could be a better husband. Having William 24/7 these last few days has made me appreciate what Chelsea has been going through. I should have done more from the beginning. I know I work too much, but I don’t know what else to do. My job isn’t nine-to-five.”

“Do you fight often?” Morgan asked.

“No. It’s rare. Most of the time Chelsea just does what needs to be done,” Tim said with a sigh of remorse. “But I should have been home on time. Chelsea usually rolls with my schedule. I should have made her a priority for once.”

Chelsea sounded strong and resourceful. She dealt with her stress by strapping her two kids into a jog stroller and going running every day.

Maybe running had gotten addictive. Maybe she’d run farther away.

But Lance didn’t believe his own father had abandoned his family. He had an equally hard time envisioning the young mother leaving her kids behind, even though he knew some women did just that. Either way, they needed to find her.

And if they didn’t, Tim would have to live with regret for the rest of his life.

Sharp asked the question on everyone’s mind. “Is there any chance your wife simply needed a break and left?”

Tim studied his son’s face for a few seconds. “I’ve asked myself that same question over and over again. Even if she was really mad at me, she’d never leave her kids. She had it all planned out. She nursed him right before she left. She’d have one glass of wine at eight thirty. It would clear her breast milk in two to three hours, and she’d be OK to nurse him by eleven thirty.” He lifted his gaze to meet each one of theirs. “She planned to be home. Something happened to my wife last Friday night.”

The baby began to squirm and squall, and Tim stood, jiggling his son. “We need her.”

“We’ll do everything we can.” Sharp got to his feet.

After Tim left, Morgan went to the kitchen to nuke a cup of leftover coffee. For a major case, they’d use her office as a war room. The whiteboard had hung on her office wall long before it was her office.

“I’m making green tea. Are you sure you want to drink that?” Behind her, Sharp nodded at the microwave. “That stuff will kill you.”

“I’ll risk it for fully functioning brain cells,” Morgan said on the way back to her office.

Lance was already staring at the whiteboard. He’d made copies of Chelsea’s picture and used a magnet to fasten the original to the center of the board. He’d started a timeline on one side, noting the time Chelsea left home and when Tim realized she was missing.

Sharp walked into the office, mug in hand. “Where do we start?”

Lance taped up an aerial photo of the place where Chelsea had disappeared. “How did her car get here?”

“Either she drove it or someone else did.” Morgan leaned on her desk and sipped her coffee. It was past lunchtime, and her stomach gurgled audibly.

“Or someone forced her to,” Sharp added. “One thing we know, if Chelsea had walked away from the car, the dog would have picked up a scent.”

“Agreed. It’s all but impossible to fool a K-9.” Lance made a note on the board with a dry erase marker. “So she left the area in another vehicle.”

“She wasn’t alone,” Morgan said. “Either Chelsea asked someone to leave a car for her, or she was abducted and the kidnapper had a car waiting.”

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