Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(11)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(11)
Author: Melinda Leigh

“Do you know why?” she asked.

“No.” Jake shook his head. “He didn’t want to talk about it, but he’d been in a bad mood since he’d seen his dad on Sunday.”

“How does Evan feel about his dad?” Morgan pressed.

“He hates him, and he’s super piss—mad that he has to see him, but he didn’t get a say. His dad had already threatened to have his mom charged with contempt and some kind of alienation . . .”

“Parental alienation?” Morgan filled in.

“I think that was it.” Jake shuffled his sneakers in the mud. “Anyway, we drove out to the lake and hung out for a while. I dropped him off at home around twelve thirty.”

“Which lake?” Lance asked.

“Scarlet Lake,” Jake said. “There’s a beach near the school.”

“I know it.” Morgan’s girls liked the playground there.

“When you dropped him off at home, did you see anything unusual?” Lance asked.

Jake shrugged. “Like what?”

Lance turned up a palm. “Cars parked at the curb. People outside.”

“There are always cars parked on that street. I didn’t notice any particular ones.”

Lance frowned. “You didn’t see any people outside?”

“No, sir,” Jake said.

“Is there anywhere besides the lake where Evan might hang out?” Morgan asked. When Jake gave her a blank look, she added, “Where do you go when you get together?”

Jake rolled a shoulder. “Sometimes we hang at the bowling alley or arcade in town. But we’re all broke and don’t have a lot of time. I work at the grocery store on the weekends, and I have chores here.” He glanced at the barn. “Are we done? I have stalls to clean.”

“One more question. Do you know anyone by the name of T. Nelson?”

“Not T. Nelson, but Evan has been seeing a girl named Rylee Nelson.” Jake shifted his weight again, then checked the time on his phone.

“Where can we find Rylee?” Morgan asked.

“She works at Tony’s Pizza in town.” Jake took a small step toward the barn.

“Thanks for your help.” Lance gave Jake his card. “Call me if you think of anything else.”

“Or if you hear from Evan,” Morgan added. “I’m a lawyer. I can help him if he thinks he’s in trouble for something.”

“Yes, ma’am.” Jake stuffed Lance’s card into his pocket and headed for the barn.

Morgan and Lance returned to the Jeep.

Morgan wiped her boots on a patch of grass. “Evan is very upset about the court-ordered visitation with his father.” She changed her shoes and set the muddy boots on the rubber floor mat before swinging her legs into the vehicle.

Lance stomped his boots twice and climbed into the driver’s seat, completely ignoring the coating of filth on his treads. “And Evan has a new girlfriend he did not tell his mother about.”

“Also, Jake is mostly unsupervised. Duncan has no idea where he is or what he does.”

“They might not have a touchy-feely relationship, and Duncan might give Jake more autonomy than normal, but Jake trusts Duncan.”

“He does.” Morgan knew Jake could have it much, much worse. “But teenagers need supervision. Duncan feeds and houses him, but he doesn’t know when or if Jake comes home at night.”

Duncan didn’t seem to take much interest in Jake at all.

“He seems safe with Duncan, and he has rules. Rules are good for kids. If his mother truly abandoned him, then Jake doesn’t have many options.”

“I know.” When she’d been a prosecutor, Morgan had seen too many kids destroyed by the foster system. She would never suggest a kid be turned over to them unless they were in danger. She wasn’t a family law expert and wasn’t even sure of the legality of Jake’s guardianship. On one hand, Duncan had no formal relationship with Jake. On the other, Jake’s mother had left her child in his care, which would imply consent. Did Duncan sign his school paperwork? Did Jake forge his mother’s signature? Morgan was probably better off not knowing the answers to those last two questions.

Lance was right. Jake clearly trusted Duncan. And if the boy had truly modified his behavior for fear of having to leave, then he wanted to stay on the farm. Morgan should mind her own business.

Lance reached over and took her hand. “You can’t rescue everyone.”

Her face heated. “I’m not that bad.”

His short laugh said otherwise. “But I love that you want to protect everyone and everything. Now, what do we want to do next?”

“Let’s drive into town. We can show Evan’s picture around the bowling alley and arcade and see if Rylee is working tonight.” Morgan’s stomach growled at the thought of pizza. “Then we can cruise by Scarlet Lake on the way home and be home in time to put the girls to bed.”

“Sounds like a plan.” Lance drove to the bowling alley.

A senior citizen league occupied most of the lanes. The only people under the age of sixty-five were employees. Still, Morgan and Lance showed Evan’s picture to the staff at the desk. They all recognized him but said they hadn’t seen him recently.

A dozen teenagers worked the machines at the arcade. Morgan approached a blond boy in skinny jeans and sneakers. “Do you know this boy?”

The boy shrugged. “Maybe I’ve seen him in here before.”

“Recently?” she asked.

He shook his head, blond bangs waving in front of his eyes.

She moved on, but none of the kids had anything more useful to say. They went back out to the car.

Frustrated, Lance jerked the gearshift into drive. “I didn’t spot any sparks of recognition or obvious signs of lying.”

“Me either,” Morgan said. “And no one appeared exceptionally nervous. Shall we try Rylee Nelson?”

Lance drove to the pizza parlor and parked. Tony’s was busy at dinnertime. Six of the restaurant’s dozen tables were full of families. In the back, three tables had been pushed together to accommodate a Little League team.

Employees wore black aprons and red T-shirts with TONY’S emblazoned across the front. Morgan scanned the staff. Three young girls waited tables. Three more hustled behind the counter, filling take-out orders, answering phones, and working the register. Morgan could see into the kitchen. A male cook used a wooden board to slide pizzas in and out of the huge oven. On a stainless steel counter, another man topped rounds of pizza dough.

Morgan approached the counter.

“Can I help you?” a girl with a long brown ponytail asked.

“We’re looking for Rylee.” Morgan smiled. “Is she here tonight?”

“I think so.” Ponytail Girl glanced around, then nudged a blonde next to her. “Where’s Rylee?”

“I dunno. She was here a minute ago.”

“We’re friends of her mother,” Lance lied without blinking an eye.

Not as proficient at lying, Morgan merely smiled.

“I’m going in the back for boxes. I’ll see if she’s back there.” Blondie hurried away.

Morgan stepped away from the counter to give real customers space. As she sidestepped toward a window, movement in her peripheral vision caught her attention. She turned her head and spotted a girl in a red T-shirt and black apron hurrying across the parking lot, away from the pizza parlor.

“I’ll bet that’s her.” Morgan rushed for the door.

Lance was right beside her. He pushed through the exit and passed Morgan, calling, “Rylee! Wait! We just want to talk to you.”

“Don’t scare her,” Morgan shouted after him.

He ignored her, but it was already too late.

The girl glanced over her shoulder. Panic widened her eyes. She broke into a run, tripped over the curb, and went sprawling onto the concrete sidewalk.

Lance and Morgan jogged over to her.

“Are you all right?” Morgan gave Lance a stay put look. He was intimidating, and the girl was clearly afraid.

He stopped, lifting both hands in surrender, and backed away.

Morgan crouched next to the girl. “I assume you’re Rylee. Are you hurt?”

“I’m not saying anything.” The girl crabbed away from Morgan. She was about sixteen, with spindly arms and legs she hadn’t grown into. Her short brown hair was streaked with purple, and a nose ring glinted in the light. “Get away from me.”

Morgan froze. “We just want to ask you a couple of questions.”

Rylee scrambled to her feet and brushed some dirt off the knee of her jeans. The fabric was torn, but Morgan didn’t know if it had been ripped before the girl fell. She didn’t see any blood.

“I don’t talk to cops.” Rylee’s tone was hostile. She pointed at Morgan. The girl’s arm was covered in intricate blue designs. They did not look like tattoos but ink, as if she’d drawn the patterns on her skin with a pen. “And leave my brother alone.”

“We’re not cops, and we’re not here about your brother.” Though he was now on Morgan’s list of people they needed to learn more about.

“We’re looking for Evan,” Lance said. “Did you know he was missing?”

“Everyone knows.” The girl took two steps back. “I don’t know where he is. Now leave me alone.”

She whirled, stomped across the parking lot to an ancient Buick sedan, and jerked the door open. Rusty hinges squealed in protest. The engine started on her third attempt, and she drove out of the lot with a squeal of her nearly bald tires.

“We usually have better luck with teenagers,” Morgan said, discouraged.

“We’re getting nowhere with this investigation.” Lance punched one palm with the opposite fist. “Evan has been missing for nearly eighteen hours. We both know that his chances of being found alive decrease with every hour that passes.”

Morgan checked the time on her watch. Five thirty. She and Lance had had two hours of sleep the previous night and hadn’t had a full night’s rest in a week. She was running out of steam. Lance’s face was lined with exhaustion. Even he would need to recharge at some point. Adrenaline and worry were keeping him going.

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