Her Last Goodbye Page 59

“This isn’t right.”

“No.”

“Would you call Sharp and put him on speakerphone?” Lance asked.

Morgan held the phone between them as they waited for Sharp to answer.

“What’s up?” Sharp asked.

Lance explained the error regarding Derek’s address. “Could you double-check the house number and pull up a satellite photo of the area?”

“I’ll will. I’ll call you when I have something.” Sharp hung up.

“We need to talk to Tim and Chelsea,” Morgan said. She checked her phone. Tim hadn’t called her back yet.

“Do we really want to upset her when we really don’t have much information?” Lance asked. “We have no backup. The sheriff is convinced the Burns brothers kidnapped Chelsea. We have no proof Derek is the one who actually took her.”

“No. We don’t. We also have no evidence that he’s going to come after her again.”

“But you think he will?”

“Yes,” she said. “If we’re right and the sheriff is wrong, then Chelsea’s kidnapper is still out there. What if whoever broke in to my house wanted to get to Chelsea through me? Chelsea and Tim deserve to be warned.”

Derek Pagano was the center of too many coincidences. Morgan remembered the man who’d broken into her house. He’d threatened to take Sophie for insurance that Morgan would cooperate. Had that been Derek? If so, he was willing to go to great lengths—and hurt children—to get what he wanted.

Chelsea.

How would they protect her? All they had was a hunch that her kidnapper wanted her back.

Morgan straightened. “Turn the Jeep around.”

“What are you thinking?” Lance asked in a suspicious voice as he made a U-turn.

“Head for Tim and Chelsea’s house.” Morgan reached for the armrest as the vehicle lurched. “We need to talk to them.”

“OK.” Lance pressed the accelerator, and the vehicle surged forward.

“He branded her with an infinity symbol.” The brand was the one thing that separated Chelsea from the other two women. It was unusual. Personal. Intimate. “Chelsea’s kidnapper intended to keep her forever. He won’t let her go easily. He’ll know about the arrest of the Burns brothers, and that the sheriff considers the case closed.”

“And that the sheriff will pull the car sitting in her driveway,” Lance finished.

Morgan tapped her phone with a fingertip. The fact that Tim hadn’t returned her call worried her.

“We need to make a stop. I have an idea,” Morgan said. “You’re not going to like it.”

“Wonderful.”

Outside the car window, clouds obscured the moon. Night smothered the landscape.

Was he hiding out there? Waiting for Chelsea to assume she was safe and drop her guard?

Chapter Forty-One

Chelsea woke with a start. The darkness suffocated her. She drew in a gasp of air, and her heart leaped into a full panicked sprint.

“Hey, Chels. It’s OK.” A light clicked on. Tim was sitting in a chair by the window, an electronic tablet on his lap. He got up and moved to the side of the bed. He put a hand on her forehead. She flinched.

“I’m sorry.” She couldn’t help it.

“Don’t worry about it.” He smiled to cover the hurt in his eyes. “You can’t expect to go through what you did and not be affected. We’ll get through this.”

He put his hand out on the bed, palm up, and waited for her to take the initiative. She didn’t want to. She didn’t want to be touched at all. Her body hurt. From her face to her feet, there wasn’t an inch of her that didn’t ache.

She shifted her legs under the blanket. The burn on her buttock blazed. Agony shot from the brand, radiating like a starburst into her hip and thigh.

“I don’t feel safe here.” She’d been taken from her own driveway. How would she ever feel safe in her home again?

“The doctor said we should try to wait a few months before we move.”

“I know.” But Chelsea wanted to run away from this house—this town, this state—as fast as she could. When they’d returned home, there had been reporters outside.

In the container, all she’d wanted to do was get home. Now that she was home, she didn’t want to be there.

“What about going to a hotel for a few days?” She wanted to be somewhere no one knew her.

She wanted to hide.

“Do you want to talk to the psychiatrist?” Tim asked. “He gave me his cell number.”

The same psychiatrist who’d recommended keeping her routine as normal as possible.

“No.” Even Chelsea knew she was hiding from her own shadow and that she had to face reality.

“Do you need a pain pill?” Tim asked.

Across the hall, William began to cry.

She nodded. At least William had accepted bottle feedings so she could take medication. Between the drugs, the beatings, and the dehydration, her breast milk had dried up while she’d been gone.

It hurt to think the words: Kidnapped. Held captive. Beaten. Branded. The psychiatrist had said she should expect nightmares and panic attacks. They were normal reactions to the trauma she’d suffered. The only bright spot had been that he hadn’t raped her.

But hiding from her pain wasn’t going to help. She needed to face it, and she was too exhausted to do it alone.

She laid her hand in Tim’s. His fingers closed, the connection between them familiar and comforting.

William grew louder, and Chelsea automatically started to rise.

Tim squeezed her hand. “It’s OK. Your mom will get him.”

“No. I want to feed him. The doctor said normal activities will help.” She should strive for moments—even seconds—of normal activity. Take each day one minute at a time. All she’d been able to think about when she’d been in the container was getting back to her kids. That, at least, made her feel sane.

“I’ll get him for you then.” Tim released her hand and stood. “Your dad took Bella out for ice cream. She was restless. Will you be all right for a few minutes alone? I have to warm up a bottle.”

She wasn’t really sure, but she nodded. Tim walked out of the room. Chelsea eased to her feet. Her soles were bandaged and sore from running miles in the woods barefoot.

She hobbled to the bathroom. Even though she’d seen her reflection earlier, the sight of her black-and-blue face startled her. She shivered. She still couldn’t get warm. She’d lost eight pounds in nine days but had no appetite. She gently brushed her teeth. Her bruises would fade. The swelling would go down. In a few weeks, she’d look normal.

Except for the brand.

The doctors wanted her to wait until she was fully recovered before undergoing plastic surgery to remove it. But they warned that it was deep. No matter what they did, she would have a scar. A permanent reminder of her captivity.

She could deal with that. She was alive. She’d held her baby and read to Bella. Thankfully, Chelsea’s mom had prepared the little girl by telling her that Mommy had fallen and landed on her face, just like when Bella had fallen off the slide and scraped her knee a few weeks before. So after a long, hard look, Bella had pointed to her knee and decided her mommy would get better soon too.

The sheriff had called to say they’d caught her captor and rescued the blonde woman he’d kidnapped the day before. It was really over.

Everything was going to be all right. Her mom and dad and husband were taking care of her.

So why did her hands continue to shake?

William cried louder. Chelsea was afraid to pick him up. She was still weak. But she couldn’t stand to listen to him cry. She brushed her teeth gingerly, then washed her hands.

Where was Tim?

A loud thud downstairs turned Chelsea’s blood to ice. Her knees shook as she walked toward the hall.

Chapter Forty-Two

Moonlight lit his way. He cruised past the Clarks’ house. No police car. The sheriff’s department thought they had Chelsea’s kidnapper and had pulled their deputy from his babysitting duty. Tim’s Toyota was parked in the driveway, but the Dodge rental car was gone. Chelsea’s parents must have left as well.

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