Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(15)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(15)
Author: Melinda Leigh

“Not exactly. Why don’t we wait until the body is identified before we make any associations?” The sheriff brushed past him and continued to the conference room. He avoided eye contact with Morgan as he entered the room.

“Mrs. Knox?” The sheriff stood in front of her. “I’m so sorry for putting you through this. I wish I hadn’t had to.”

She looked up at him with red-rimmed, bloodshot eyes. “I know, but now what? Has everyone stopped looking for Evan?”

“No, ma’am. I have every available man on the case.” He glanced at his watch. “I’d like you to come down with me to the station and answer a few questions. I’ve just gotten some information we need to discuss before the press conference I’ve scheduled for tomorrow morning.”

Lance glanced at Morgan. Her eyebrow was up, and clearly, so were her suspicions.

“We’ll bring her to the station,” Morgan said.

“There’s no need.” The sheriff narrowed his eyes at her. “I’m headed there anyway.”

But Morgan clearly wasn’t going to cede control. The police could not force anyone to answer questions. “I insist. Mrs. Knox has a right to have an attorney present during questioning.”

The sheriff’s jaw shifted, as if he were grinding his teeth. “She’s not under arrest. We just want to talk to her.”

“Then you’ve completely cleared her?” Morgan asked.

The sheriff said, “We’ve confirmed that she was working until after one o’clock.”

Which wasn’t exactly a yes. Morgan stood. “Lance and I will bring Mrs. Knox to the station.”

The sheriff was up to something. Lance knew it. But what?

Chapter Ten

Evan’s body jerked. A blast of pain jolted him awake. His pulse hammered in his ears. He tried to scream, but his throat was too dry to emit anything other than a croak.

He forced his crusty eyelids to separate. Sunshine seared his eyeballs in a blurry haze of light. His body rocked, and agony radiated from his arm. His empty belly roiled. He closed his eyes, swallowed, and waited for the sick feeling to pass. When he no longer felt as if he were going to puke, he tried again.

He opened his eyes and turned his head from side to side. He was lying in the bottom of a canoe. The overcast sky made it difficult to estimate the time. A few inches of water had accumulated in the aluminum bottom. His jeans and sneakers were soaked. Since he’d tied his T-shirt around his arm to stop the bleeding, he was shirtless.

His flight the night before rushed back to him. Images and sensations flooded him as if he were right there, experiencing the night all over again. He forced the slideshow to cut off.

Paul was dead.

His eyes had been empty, staring at the ceiling. No life left inside.

Evan remembered the very last words he’d said to Paul. I wish you’d never married my mother. Those were words he could never take back, as much as he wanted to—mostly because they weren’t true. He was ashamed that they’d come out of his mouth. When he spent time with Kirk, he turned into his father, as if douchebaggery were contagious.

His stomach turned again, nausea compounding his misery. Tears pressed against the backs of his eyes. He fought them back. He couldn’t afford to lose it, not if he were going to survive.

Not that he was even sure he wanted to live. Did he deserve to?

He shoved the memory away. Pain, throbbing and hot, brought his attention back to the present. He’d been freezing all night, but the morning was heating up fast—and so was he.

He was dehydrated, and he needed to do something more with his wound than tie a T-shirt around his arm. The canoe shook, startling him.

He lifted his head and looked over the edge. The canoe was caught on something in the center of a river or creek, maybe the Deer River. Brown water bubbled white, eddying around rocks. Where was he? The storm had been wild. He’d been swept out of the lake, but he had no idea where the water had carried him. Remembering the torrential rain, thunder, and wicked streaks of lightning, he was surprised he hadn’t drowned.

Something buzzed near his ear, and Evan startled. A dragonfly cruised past his head. Its long, slim body hovered over the water next to the canoe. Bulbous eyes seemed to stare at Evan for a minute before it zoomed away. He’d better get moving too.

He sat up. The shoreline was thickly wooded, and the river was clearly swollen from the heavy rain. It ran all the way to the top of the bank. Water rushed past his canoe at a speed he’d never seen in the area before. He could hear it roaring downriver. If this was the Deer River, where he and Paul had camped, it looked nothing like the waterway had just a few weeks ago.

His canoe sat amid a pile of broken branches, maybe even a small tree, that had been swept down the river and gotten jammed up at a bend. He reached for the broken paddle lying in the water at the bottom of the canoe. He poked at the branches. The canoe rocked, but the floating debris held him fast.

Evan used the paddle to shift the lighter bits of debris, not an easy task with only one good arm. He moved a fat branch and revealed the wet sheen of a large rock beneath the hull. Pushing with the paddle, he moved the canoe. The metal bottom scraped as it slid off the rock.

The boat rocked and bobbed a few times, then floated away from the logjam.

The current picked up. Evan used the paddle as a rudder to steer toward the shoreline. The glaring sun amplified his thirst, and he desperately wanted to find some clean water.

But the river had other plans. The canoe dipped and shot back into the center. The boat rounded the bend. Evan’s mouth went even drier at the sight of white water and large boulders ahead. Sliding through an eddy, the canoe wobbled and nearly tipped. Evan grabbed for the sides and tried to use his weight to balance the canoe. But this wasn’t a kayak. The canoe was made for calm water, not rapids.

He reached out with the paddle to catch the branch of an overhanging tree. The paddle caught, but the pull of the current ripped it right out of Evan’s hands. With no way to steer, he held on as the canoe slid down a short waterfall and went nose first into a deeper pool. The boat hit the water and rolled, pitching Evan over the edge.

The water closed over his head, shockingly cold after the warmth of the sun. He tumbled, out of control, striking rocks and debris. He broke the surface and spit out a mouthful of mud. Trying to suck in some air, he coughed and sputtered as he was swept along.

The water sucked him down, then tumbled him into a rock. His injured shoulder took the brunt of the impact. Pain blasted through his arm. His lungs burned as he fought for a breath when his head broke the surface. The water sucked him down again, rolling him over and over until he didn’t know which way was up.

He floated, suspended in the murky cold, considering what it would be like to simply let the river take him. Would all the pain go away?

Disoriented, Evan opened his eyes and looked for the light that would lead him to the surface.

But all he saw was darkness.

Chapter Eleven

Morgan sat in the passenger seat of the Jeep, her thoughts churning. Normally, the sheriff’s request to question Tina at the station would not set off Morgan’s alarms. But the sheriff had not been up front with them. She had sensed hostility radiating from him, like the hot wind that came before a vicious thunderstorm.

Lance drove beside her, tense. He knew something was up too. Tina sat in the back seat, shredding another cuticle. How did a parent cope with not knowing whether their child was alive or dead? Morgan couldn’t even think about being in that situation without risking a panic attack.

They parked and went inside. The sheriff met them in the hallway and escorted them into one of the nicer conference rooms. It contained a wooden table and upholstered office-type chairs. He gestured toward a small table in the corner where a pod-style coffee maker stood. “Help yourself to coffee. I’ll be right back.”

Tina sat at the table, facing the door. Lance declined coffee. Morgan went to the machine and brewed two cups. She set one on the table in front of Tina.

Without drinking, Tina cradled the Styrofoam cup in both hands. Her demeanor had changed after the scene at the morgue. She seemed less desperate and more determined. The initial shock of Paul’s death and Evan’s disappearance had settled. She looked like a woman getting her act together to take action.

Morgan sat next to Tina. Lance took the chair opposite her.

The sheriff entered the room, a manila file tucked under his arm.

Tina’s swollen eyes fixed on the file. “Have you found my son?”

“Not yet.” The sheriff settled in a chair at the head of the table. “I have dozens of law enforcement officers in the field searching for him. A K-9 unit is working the woods and shoreline all around Deer Lake. If Evan is anywhere in the vicinity, the dog will pick up his scent. A good dog is worth a hundred men when tracking a person. We have the ground search covered. The most useful thing you can do is give us more information.” The sheriff’s mouth tightened. He opened his file. “We also talked to all of Evan’s friends on the list you gave us. They all denied seeing him tonight or knowing where he is.”

Which meant nothing, Morgan thought. Sixteen-year-olds were good at keeping secrets from adults.

The sheriff’s chair squeaked as he leaned back. “At this time, we do believe Evan’s disappearance and Paul’s murder are linked.”

Linked was an interesting word choice. Lance tilted his head, one eyebrow shooting up in a no shit expression. Morgan touched his foot with hers and gave him a cool it frown. On an ordinary case, his temper could run short. His close relationship with Evan would slice his tolerance for bullshit in half.

“Did forensics find anything useful at the scene?” Lance rested his forearms on the table, his posture deceptively relaxed. His tension was all in his eyes.

“A few things, yes.” The sheriff leaned back and folded his arms across his slight paunch. “The blood on the fence, the back door, and Evan’s phone is type B negative.”

Tina stiffened. “Evan and I are both B negative.”

“Paul was O positive.” The sheriff nodded. “I’ve asked that the DNA tests be expedited, but I can’t say when the lab will get to them. However, only about one point five percent of the population has B negative blood. I’d say the chances are good that the samples belong to Evan.”

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