Her Last Goodbye Page 6

Sharp crossed his arms over his chest. “We need to find out what the sheriff has discovered.”

“I doubt he’ll talk to either one of us.” Lance gestured between him and Sharp. “We both worked for his arch enemy, Horner.”

Scarlet Falls Police Chief Dave Horner was a controversial figure. More politician than policeman, Horner had alienated other branches of local law enforcement with his quests to stay in the limelight and to kiss up to the mayor. His focus on good publicity over good policing had angered many of the officers who worked for him.

“I’ll go talk to the sheriff,” Morgan volunteered. “He might still feel grateful he isn’t facing a civil suit for the injuries our previous client sustained on his watch. Besides, I need to put him on notice that I’m representing Tim now.”

The sheriff was in charge of the county jail, where their last client had been injured.

Sharp snorted. “The sheriff isn’t the grateful type. He’s more likely to be suspicious of you for being an attorney.”

“Even though we proved the charges were bogus?” Morgan drained her coffee, then shook the cup as if it hadn’t been enough.

“Even then,” Sharp said.

“She still has a better chance than either of us,” Lance pointed out. “She isn’t tainted by an association with Horner.”

“True,” Sharp agreed. “And she’s pretty.”

Morgan shot him an exasperated look, and he held up a hand. “I know that’s a sexist thing to say, but the sheriff is a Neanderthal.”

“Wonderful. Is there anything I need to know about him?” Morgan asked. “I’ve never met him in person. I don’t have a good read on him.”

“He’s hardheaded and short-tempered.” Sharp rubbed his chin. “He’s a smart cop but a terrible politician, hence the constant head-butting with Horner. My best advice is to avoid a direct confrontation. I’ve never seen that work for anyone. Sheriff King will just dig in his heels.”

“All right.” Morgan nodded.

“A missing person’s case can require a ton of man-hours. His entire department is overworked and overextended,” Lance said. “You might commiserate with him, then try and convince him our help will be an asset.”

His dad had disappeared from Scarlet Falls, a town with its own small police force. Even with Sharp working diligently on Lance’s dad’s case, Victor Kruger had never been found. But twenty-three years ago, the world had been less monitored. Nowadays, it was much more difficult to stay off the radar. Between surveillance cameras and financial records, there had to be a lead if one looked hard enough.

“Good idea,” Sharp continued. “If Morgan takes the sheriff, we can dig in to Chelsea’s social media accounts and phone and financial records. We also need to scrounge through the recent local news and see if there have been any stories on other missing women.”

Lance nodded. “And follow up with Tim about his wife’s laptop and phone. I’ll let my mom know that we need her help again.”

His mother’s anxiety issues made her a shut-in. She lived online and was brilliant with computers.

“We need to investigate Tim as well.” Sharp drained his mug. “The sheriff isn’t wrong. If Chelsea is dead, Tim is the most likely suspect.”

“If he killed his wife, why would he come to us to find her?” Morgan asked.

Sharp tossed his glasses onto his desk blotter. “Just because he engaged us doesn’t mean he is innocent. He might think hiring a PI firm makes him look innocent. Some criminals are one hundred percent convinced that they are smarter than everyone else. He might think he can play us.”

“What would be his motive?” Lance asked.

Morgan pondered his question with a tilt of her head. “What if their marital troubles ran deeper than Tim suggested? Maybe Chelsea was going to leave him. Maybe she wanted to take her kids back to Colorado. Tim is obviously attached to his kids.”

“No offense,” Sharp said. “But you’re supposed to concentrate on proving your client is innocent.”

Morgan looked away, her jaw tight. “You’re right.”

Sharp sighed. “I know you aren’t completely accustomed to working in the private sector yet, but making sure everyone accused of a crime gets adequate defense is a cornerstone of our legal system.”

“Yes.” But she didn’t look comfortable with her new role.

Lance considered their client. “Did Tim seem cunning enough to kill his wife, cover it up, and keep his cool during our meeting?”

“Criminals are very good liars,” Morgan said.

She had a point.

“Let’s keep our eyes on the prize. Our job is to find Chelsea Clark. It’s already been five days. The case gets colder by the hour, so let’s get busy.” Sharp nodded at Lance. “Make it so, Number One.”

Sharp was right. They had to focus on the missing woman.

Lance wouldn’t wish living with the uncertainty of a long-time missing family member on anyone. Because not knowing was a whole different kind of pain. Every time a body turned up, every time a skeleton was unearthed, or a hiker ran across some bones in the woods, the family of a missing person had their wounds ripped wide-open.

Chapter Six

Chelsea woke to the smell of rust and steel in her nostrils and a thumping pain in her temples. Her vision blurred, and she squeezed her eyelids closed for a few seconds to try to clear it. Confusion fogged her mind. Something was wrong.

She should be hearing William cry. Her overfull breasts ached. Where was the baby? It was past time to nurse. He never went more than a few hours between feedings. He was practically attached to her. Was he sick?

She rolled to the side, coming up against a metal bar. The bed was not familiar. Neither was the silence.

Where am I?

She opened her eyes. For a few seconds, she blinked in the dim light. As she took in her hazy surroundings, bewilderment gave way to fear. It wrapped icy tendrils around her heart, forcing it to beat faster.

Not a nightmare.

The room came into focus in an instant, the truth clicking into place like a key turning in a lock until all the pins lined up.

Reality flooded her consciousness—along with horror as cold and clear as an autumn night. The shock and the sheer unbelievable nature of her predicament passed through her with a shudder.

She’d been abducted.

A vague sense of déjà vu lingered. How many times had she woken, confused and groggy? A memory surfaced.

She stares at her rearview mirror. A streetlight shines on a knife. The blade touches her throat, a sharp, biting pain that vanishes immediately under the numbing onslaught of rushing adrenaline.

“Drink or die,” he says.

Her hands shake as she lifts the fast-food cup he hands her. She sucks on the straw. Though initially sweet, the cola has a bitter aftertaste.

Darkness. A clear night sky. Cold air on her face. Wood smoke in her nose. The waving silhouettes of dead cornstalks in the moonlight.

The flash of memory faded, but not before Chelsea gagged.

She ran her tongue over her teeth. Her tongue was dry enough to stick to the roof of her mouth, and she could taste the lingering sweetness of the drugged cola. Vaguely, her brain registered that this was the first time her head had been this clear since she’d been kidnapped. She knew without a distinct memory that the previous times she’d woken, he’d forced more of the cola mixture into her mouth before she was strong enough to object.

How long had she been here?

It felt as if several days had passed.

What else had he done to her while she was unconscious?

Her brain rejected that line of thought and turned to her family instead.

William! Was he eating? He wouldn’t actually starve himself, would he? No. Surely hunger would force him to accept a bottle. Right?

There was nothing she could do about it from here. Tim might have his faults, but he loved his children. Bella adored him right back. Tim hadn’t quite bonded with the baby yet. In his defense, William had wanted no one except Chelsea since the day he was born. A sliver of guilt wormed its way past her fear. She had to accept part of the blame for that. Bella and Tim were so close that Chelsea had felt jealous at times. When the baby had come along and preferred her, she’d enjoyed it.

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