Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(9)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(9)
Author: Melinda Leigh

“They found no sign of a break-in.”

Lance looked around the curtain again. “Then how do they think he gained entry?”

“Finish your shower. We may as well review everything with Sharp.” She picked up his boots and carried them out of the bathroom.

Something in her tone made him hurry. Five minutes later, he was dressed and walking into the kitchen. He felt almost human in clean clothes and dry socks.

“Sit.” Sharp pointed a wooden spoon at a kitchen chair. He stirred something on the stove.

Lance dropped into a seat.

Morgan walked into the kitchen carrying a cup of coffee. “I cleaned your boots and put them on the back porch to dry.”

“You didn’t need to do that,” Lance said.

“I know.” She smiled.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” She dropped into the chair opposite him. “Tell us what happened on the search.”

Sharp set a gross-looking green protein shake in front of him. Lance drank it without asking what was in it. He had no doubt it contained all kinds of antioxidants. Sharp’s lifestyle was the reason he looked as fit as he did twelve weeks after major surgery. Sharp frowned at Morgan’s coffee, but after working together for nearly nine months, he’d mostly given up badgering her about her caffeine and sugar consumption.

“We followed Evan’s tracks on a game trail that led to Deer Lake Campground,” Lance began.

“Didn’t they close that place a few years ago?” Sharp turned off the burner on the stove. He scooped the contents of his cast-iron frying pan onto a plate.

“Yes. It’s in pretty rough shape.” Lance’s mouth watered. Protein bars could sustain him, but his body wanted real food. “After I called you, the K-9 unit was able to track Evan to the boathouse and the public bathroom. The deputies found blood in both buildings.”

“How much blood?” Sharp set the plate in front of Lance. Scrambled eggs and home fries with onions were piled high. Everything would be organic, of course, and the eggs free-range as well.

Lance dug in. “Enough to indicate a serious injury.”

Morgan’s brow furrowed. She gripped her coffee cup in both hands.

Lance sniffed. “That coffee smells amazing.”

“I’ll make green tea.” Sharp shot her mug a disapproving look. He lit the burner under the teakettle, then turned to face them, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back on the counter. “Did you see any sign that someone was following him besides you?”

Chewing, Lance shook his head.

“So where is the person who killed Paul?” Morgan sipped her coffee.

“I don’t know.” Lance plowed through the eggs and moved on to the potatoes. “But Evan was running all out, as if he thought he was being pursued.”

“He must have been terrified.” Morgan’s eyes misted.

Lance reached across the table and squeezed her hand. For a woman who’d once been a successful prosecutor, she was a softie. She’d rescued two stray dogs and cared for her elderly grandfather. The young woman who worked as her nanny suffered from kidney disease. Gianna might help out with childcare, but it was clear that Morgan was the one looking out for her. Lance had no doubt that Morgan would work on Evan’s case without any discussion of compensation.

Nodding with approval, Sharp collected his empty dishes. “Since you’re back, I assume the dog lost the trail.”

“Yes.” Lance sat back. “He picked up the scent in the buildings, but outside was a no go. We suspect Evan took a boat from the campground. The handler walked the dog along the shoreline, but he didn’t hit on anything.”

“All that heavy rain and wind messed with the scent trail.” Sharp frowned.

“What is the sheriff’s game plan?” Lance asked.

Morgan outlined the usual procedure the police typically followed when looking for a missing teen. “He didn’t say much else.”

Lance stiffened. “Why? Aren’t we all on the same side here?”

“The sheriff is holding this case close.” Anger flattened Morgan’s lips.

“I’m not surprised.” Lance’s food churned in his gut. “What about all the scumbags Paul put away?”

“Colgate says they’re looking at Paul’s old cases,” Morgan said.

“The bullet between the eyes feels revenge motivated to me.” Sharp dropped a metal tea ball into a pot and filled it with hot water. He turned to Lance. “Do you need a combat nap?”

“No. We need a murder board.” Lance couldn’t be still, not with Evan still missing. The short break, shower, and food had revived him. He stood and headed for Morgan’s office, which they used as a war room in major cases.

A long whiteboard spanned the far wall. He hadn’t noticed when he’d stuck his head in earlier, but someone had already begun organizing the little data they possessed. Photos of Evan, Paul, Tina, and her ex, Kirk, hung on the board, affixed with magnets. As the victim, Paul held the center position.

Morgan walked in and brewed herself another cup of coffee. She sat at her desk. Opening a drawer, she pulled out a white bakery bag and offered it to Lance. It was full of chocolate donut holes.

“No, thanks,” Lance said. A sugar rush would lead to a crash, and he was already strung out.

Morgan ate one in two bites and wiped her fingers on a napkin. “As you can see, Sharp and I started laying out Paul’s case. While our primary objective is to find Evan, his disappearance is likely intertwined with Paul’s murder.”

On the right side of the board, Sharp’s blocky print spelled out POSSIBLE MOTIVES. Underneath, he’d listed ROBBERY and REVENGE. Next to ROBBERY, Lance picked up a marker and wrote, MISSING ITEMS?

Sharp came through the doorway carrying two mugs. He handed one to Lance. “Tina couldn’t find anything of value that was missing from the house.”

“That doesn’t mean robbery wasn’t the motive.” Lance studied the board. “The killer could have been interrupted by Paul, and then by Evan, before he was able to search the house for valuables. Maybe he decided to cut his losses and run. Most thieves are junkies looking for quick cash to buy a fix. They’re not typically criminal masterminds.”

“But they usually leave traces of a break-in,” Sharp pointed out.

“True.” Lance added a TIMELINE column on the board. “Paul was killed between midnight and one a.m. Evan came home around twelve thirty. How much did he see?”

“Enough to get hurt,” Sharp said. “Enough to make him run like the devil was chasing him. Maybe enough to identify the killer and become the next target.”

Lance set the marker down. “Paul’s gun-cleaning supplies were on the table. Maybe he couldn’t sleep and was keeping busy.”

“Evan was two and a half hours past his curfew.” Morgan leaned on her elbows and frowned at the board. “If one of my girls were that late, you can bet I would have been awake. I’d have called and texted their cell phone. And if they didn’t answer promptly, I’d ping the phone and drive to wherever they were.”

“You’d hunt them down,” Lance said.

“You bet I would.” Morgan didn’t blink.

“But Paul isn’t Evan’s father.” Sharp perched on the edge of Morgan’s desk. “The whole father-stepson relationship was still new. Paul was feeling his way through it, trying to establish a connection through male-bonding activities.”

“So he wouldn’t necessarily want to humiliate the boy.” As a prospective stepparent, Lance followed his logic. Morgan’s girls were younger, but Lance was still sensitive to the fact that he wasn’t their father. Their recent illnesses had hammered that home. Mia’s and Ava’s viruses had overlapped, and both of them had wanted to be with Morgan all night. As much as Lance had wanted to help out, he’d ended up giving the girls his side of the bed and sleeping on the couch. He’d changed sheets, washed soiled pajamas, and scrubbed carpets, but he’d felt useless in comforting them in their misery. The girls were well behaved, but in the future, he imagined that disciplining them would also be tricky.

The reality of being a stepparent was much more complicated than the idea of taking on three young children. Before he’d moved in with Morgan, he had no idea how hard the job would be. He loved the girls. He thought they loved him back. His bachelor optimism had told him that was enough. It wasn’t. Parenting was hard work, and he felt unprepared, as if he were jumping into a hockey game already in progress with no stick or skates.

“Maybe he thought his best course of action was to wait up for Evan and talk with him.” Morgan bit into another donut hole.

“That sounds like Paul,” Lance agreed.

“Maybe Paul left the front door open for Evan,” Sharp suggested.

“No.” Morgan shook her head. “Tina said Paul was particular about keeping the doors locked. Evan had a key.”

“Then we need to know who else might have a key to the house,” Sharp said.

Lance wrote the question on the board. “We need background checks on Paul, Tina, and Evan.”

“Don’t forget Evan’s father, Kirk Meade,” Sharp added.

“Let’s get some information on Evan’s friends also.” Morgan wrote a note on her legal pad. “Deputies were supposed to pressure Evan’s friends for information today.”

“That won’t work,” Lance scoffed.

“Colgate is an honest cop,” Sharp said. “But he’s old school enough to think intimidating teenagers is the best course of action.”

“We might have better luck with the kids,” Morgan said. “We’re not cops, and we’re on Evan’s side.”

“True,” Lance said.

“I’ll go to The Pub tonight,” Sharp offered. “And see if any of the boys know anything.”

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