Home > Her Last Goodbye (Morgan Dane #2)(5)

Her Last Goodbye (Morgan Dane #2)(5)
Author: Melinda Leigh

“He did,” Tim said. “A few people dropped by to let me know.”

There were up to ninety thousand active missing persons cases in the United States at any given time, but missing adults often took a back seat to missing kids, homicides, robberies, and assaults. Without clear evidence of foul play, it was unlikely Chelsea’s case would take priority.

“Did you check your credit card statements for a train ticket?” she asked. Chelsea’s car had been parked so close to the train station.

“Yes. The last charge on her credit card was at the grocery store last Thursday,” Tim continued. “The police looked at the surveillance tapes from the train station. They said no one who looked like Chelsea got on the train that night. She never carried much cash. If Chelsea wanted to take the train, she would have bought the ticket online. That’s what we usually do.”

Unless she didn’t want anyone to know where she was going.

But Morgan didn’t say it. There wasn’t enough evidence to make assumptions. The sheriff’s office had made the usual ones, and that by-the-book approach hadn’t found Chelsea. It was time for some fresh blood—and brains—on the case. She didn’t want Tim to have to live in limbo for the next twenty years.

Morgan glanced at Lance. His face was a tight mask, but emotion clouded the blue of his eyes. Since his father had gone missing many years ago and had never been found, this case would bring up unpleasant memories for him.

Tim tapped the file on the desk. “I brought copies of everything the police asked for: phone records, a list of her family and friends, our employers, bank and credit card statements, social media account information. I copied everything I gave to the police.”

The baby began to fuss, starting with bleating cries that quickly escalated to wails.

“I’m sorry.” Tim removed a bottle from the diaper bag, unstrapped the infant, and picked him up. He offered the baby the bottle. “But I’m at least grateful that he’s decided bottles are OK. The first two days Chelsea was gone were a nightmare. I thought he was going to starve.”

The baby drank in greedy gulps. Tim sat back, and Morgan’s heart squeezed.

Sharp took the folder and opened it. He thumbed through the papers. “Does Chelsea have an alcohol or drug problem?”

“No,” Tim said. “She hasn’t even had a glass of wine since she got pregnant with William. Friday night would have been her first. She’s fitter than I am. She runs almost every day. She loves to hike. As a couple, we’re about as boring as it gets.”

Sharp made a note on a legal pad on his desk. “How long have you and Chelsea been together?”

“Five years,” Tim said. “We met senior year of college in Colorado.”

“Why did you move to New York?” Sharp asked.

“I was offered a job with Speed Net. The move was a little risky, but the company has enormous growth potential. The payoff could be huge. We only had Bella at the time.” Tim’s gaze dropped to the baby. “In hindsight, leaving Chelsea’s family has been really hard.”

Morgan stared at the baby for a few seconds, empathy tugging at her. “Tell me about Chelsea’s family. Is there any friction there?”

“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.”

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