Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(7)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(7)
Author: Melinda Leigh

He scanned the shoreline. Could Evan have found a boat in good enough condition to paddle away?

He walked to the end of the dock and stared out over the water. The southern end of the lake remained out of view, and no boats marred what he could see of the lake’s perfect surface.

Lance’s mind’s eye returned to another lake, another missing teen—and the body he and Morgan had found lying in the reeds the previous autumn. He could see her clearly, but his imagination replaced her face with Evan’s.

He pivoted to return to the beach. Something scraped under his boot. He looked down. A silver key chain lay on the dock at his feet. Lance used the sleeve of his jacket to pick it up. He dangled it in front of his face. A silver wolf’s head shone with the reflection of the bloody sunrise.

Chapter Five

In the Knoxes’ living room, Morgan balanced a notepad on her knee. Next to her, Tina perched on the couch, her posture rigid, her phone open in her hand.

Morgan jotted down Evan’s email accounts and passwords. There were only two—one issued by the school, the other personal. “He doesn’t have any other accounts?”

“Not that I know of.” Tina turned grief-stricken eyes on her. “Do you think they’ll find him?”

“They’re doing everything possible,” Morgan reassured her. “Are you working on the family timeline?” She had asked Tina to list everything she could remember happening during the previous week.

“Yes.” Tina kept a family calendar on her phone. The sheriff had already taken a copy of the last week’s agenda. But now Tina was interpreting abbreviations, adding notes, and listing phone numbers. She’d also given the sheriff access to Evan’s cell phone records.

“When you’re finished, we’ll work on a list of Evan’s social media account information,” Morgan said.

“OK.” Tina coped better when she was kept busy.

Morgan closed her eyes and rested her head against the back of the sofa, willing Lance to call with an update. Her gaze strayed to the window, bright with dawn. The storm had raged for nearly three hours. She prayed that he was all right, and that he’d found Evan.

Alive.

Morgan crept through the darkness, the reeds surrounding the lake waving in the night. Her feet splashed in the shallow water at the shore’s edge. The reeds parted, and a flashlight beam fell on the body of a dead teenage girl. Horror filled Morgan. Her stomach rolled into a tight ball.

Morgan’s body jerked. She glanced around, disoriented. She must have dozed off, only to have a nightmare about her first case as a defense attorney. They hadn’t found the victim in time. Sickening dread gathered behind her sternum.

The sheriff walked in. “Mrs. Knox?”

Tina’s eyes filled with fear.

The sheriff held up a hand. “I’m sorry. We didn’t find him, but I need you to look at a picture.” He pulled a chair to face her, sat down, and showed her his phone screen. “Do you recognize this?”

“Yes.” She nodded. “That’s Evan’s house key.”

“Kruger found it at the Deer Lake Campground.” The sheriff pocketed his phone. “We’re sending a K-9 unit to see if the dog can pick up Evan’s trail there.”

Tina exhaled. She blinked rapidly, as if light-headed. “But he was alive when he reached the campground. Why isn’t he coming home? Could the person who shot Paul—” She stifled a sob behind her fist, then took a deep, shaky breath and pulled herself together. “Could whoever shot my husband be holding Evan captive?”

The sheriff hesitated. A full thirty seconds ticked by before he finally said, “We don’t have enough information at this point to answer those questions.”

He knew more than he was saying.

“Have you determined how the intruder gained entry into the house?” Morgan asked.

“No, but the crime scene unit isn’t finished with the house yet.” The sheriff turned back to Tina. “We have the list of Evan’s friends that you gave us earlier. I’ll send a deputy around to talk to them.”

Tina frowned. “I thought you already called his friends.”

“We did.” The sheriff stood. “But maybe seeing a deputy in uniform on their doorstep or being brought down to the station might encourage them to cooperate more fully with us.”

Morgan thought the opposite was more likely. Kids with previous legal problems did not rat out their friends to the cops.

“Do you have any reason to believe these kids are not being forthright?” she asked.

“Nothing specific.” Sheriff Colgate shrugged. “But you know how these kids are.”

Morgan didn’t. “What do you mean by these kids?”

The sheriff met her gaze. His face hardened. “None of these kids are honor students,” he said, as if that one statement was explanation enough.

Morgan didn’t let it go. Did the sheriff know that Evan wasn’t an honor student either? And more importantly, did that make him less important? “I don’t understand.”

The sheriff’s jaw tightened. “Kids with prior arrests are less likely to be honest with us.”

Morgan didn’t respond, but her mind was busy. Evan had prior arrests. Was the sheriff making similar assumptions about him?

Sheriff Colgate scratched his head. “Do you have Evan’s email account information?”

“Yes.” Morgan handed the sheriff the paper, glad that she’d made a copy for herself. The stubborn set to the sheriff’s shoulders gave her an uneasy feeling that she and Lance could be shut out of his investigation. Paul had been a deputy. His retirement was recent, and the sheriff’s department still considered him one of their own. All of these factors might make the sheriff want to keep the case details to himself.

“What are you doing to find my son?” Tina’s voice had toughened. She was no longer begging, and her tone was more defensive. Clearly, she had also noticed the sheriff’s change of attitude.

“Law enforcement has been notified statewide.” The sheriff looked up from the list he was scanning. “Officers are trolling the teenage hangout spots in Randolph County. The Scarlet Falls PD is looking for him there in case he went back to visit his old friends. I’ve put out a press release with his photo. We’re reviewing his phone history, and we’ll go through his social media accounts to see if he had any new or strange contacts.” Colgate paused, his mouth flattening into a grim line. “We won’t stop looking for him, Mrs. Knox.”

Tina studied the sheriff with an intense expression. “What about an AMBER Alert?”

“We can’t issue an AMBER Alert unless we confirm that Evan was abducted,” he explained.

“Have you talked to the neighbors?” Morgan asked. “Surely someone heard the gunshots.”

“We have. The neighbor over there”—the sheriff gestured toward one side of the house—“is away on vacation. The neighbor on the other side is deaf and was in bed without her hearing aids. No one else heard anything except thunder, which could have masked the sound of the gunshots.”

“Paul was a deputy for a long time,” Morgan said. “He must have put away some nasty criminals. Have any violent offenders been let out of prison recently?”

“We’re looking at Paul’s old cases.” The sheriff nodded. “Mrs. Knox, did Paul say anything recently about being threatened? Was he getting unexplained calls or texts? Was he acting strangely, or did he seem particularly worried about anything?”

“Paul is—was serious about home security. He changed all the locks when we bought the house, and he was going to install a security system. We didn’t have the money for a professional company. Paul was going to do it himself. He was worried about my ex-husband. Kirk was in prison for assault for the last couple of years. He was released on parole a few months ago.”

“Has your ex-husband ever threatened you or Paul?” Colgate asked.

“No, but he hated Paul.” Tina’s fingers worried the seam of the sofa cushion. “Paul was the deputy who arrested Kirk for assault. It’s how we met. Although we didn’t actually get together until months later when Paul came into the urgent care. Kirk blames Paul for the divorce. Kirk had zero interest in Evan when we lived together, but the minute Kirk was paroled, he sued for visitation. He just wants to get even with me. Can you believe he even tried to get alimony? Thank goodness the judge turned around and asked me if I wanted to countersue for child support.”

Did Tina’s bitter ex kill Paul?

Tina paused for a breath. “Kirk lives in a group home. Visits with Evan are supposed to be in a public place. We agreed that they would have dinner every Sunday night, but I still can’t believe the judge granted him visitation, even community supervised. Anyway, two months ago was Evan’s first scheduled meeting with Kirk. Evan isn’t happy about it, but he goes.”

A sixteen-year-old did not have the authority to refuse a court order, and the custodial parent was obligated to foster a relationship between the child and the noncustodial parent. A strained relationship was not enough justification to refuse visitation. Generally, the court’s opinion was that the relationship could not improve if the child and parent did not see each other, and that it was in the best interest of the child to know both his parents. Since the visitation was community supervised, in a public place, Tina could not argue that Evan was in any physical danger. In short, she had no grounds to petition the court. Judges did not like to terminate parental rights.

“But to your knowledge, your ex-husband never communicated directly with Paul,” the sheriff clarified.

Tina shook her head. “Not that I know of. Kirk called me or texted Evan if he needed to cancel.”

“Do you think Evan might go to his father for help?” the sheriff asked.

“I doubt it,” Tina said.

“We’ll pay him a visit anyway. Can I have your ex’s full name and contact information?” The sheriff clicked his pen over a tiny notepad.

   
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