Say You're Sorry Page 9

He guided her toward his Jeep. He opened the hatchback and took out a warm jacket. He helped her into it. The sleeves covered her hands, and the hem fell to her thighs.

Before he could think, he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her to his chest. She fit against him perfectly. As wrong as the scene behind him was, having Morgan in his arms was right, and he took as much comfort from the embrace as he gave.

Morgan stirred, talking to his chest. “What happened to her?”

Reluctantly, he stepped back and zipped the jacket to her chin. “It is way too early for theories. We’d be guessing. Let’s wait for facts.” He appealed to the lawyer in her.

“You’re right.” But her blue eyes were dark pools, and her face had gone paler than the moon.

Eyes drifting toward the trees, Morgan took a huge gulp of air. “Could he still be out there?”

“I doubt it.” But he kept scanning the surrounding trees just in case. He’d only gotten a brief look at the corpse, but the blood smeared on her skin had appeared dark and dry. “I suspect she’s been dead more than a few hours.”

Fifteen minutes later, approaching strobe lights swirled in the dark. A patrol vehicle parked next to the Jeep, and Carl got out, his face grim. They didn’t bother with greetings. Lance showed Carl the body.

“Shit.” Carl turned back toward his cruiser.

By the time the first gray of pre-dawn brightened the scene, two more patrol cars, the medical examiner, and a forensic team had arrived. The team hung back, waiting for the ME to do his thing. Kit in hand, the ME trudged across the clearing. His white coveralls looked ghostly in the gray light. Despite the number of personnel, the clearing was eerily quiet. Normally, bad jokes would bounce around a death scene. Gallows humor was a favorite coping mechanism, but not when the victim was a kid.

A dark blue unmarked police car parked at the end of the row. Two figures got out.

Detectives Brody McNamara and Stella Dane hurried down the tract.

Stella rushed to her sister. “Are you all right?”

Morgan’s stiff nod wasn’t convincing, but she’d pulled herself together.

While the forensic team suited up in their PPEs, Brody and Stella followed the ME into the cattails. The horizon shifted from gray to pink as Morgan and Lance waited. Ten minutes passed before Brody and Stella emerged from the reeds.

“You must be exhausted. We’ll take your statements, and then you can go.” Brody motioned for Morgan to follow him. He guided her ten feet away.

Stella turned to Lance. “Tell me what happened.”

Lance related the events of the evening, from Morgan’s phone call to finding the body. Stella took notes, then returned her notepad to her pocket. “You’ll look after my sister?”

“Of course.” He nodded.

But Morgan’s spine was straight and her chin high as she finished giving her statement to Brody and then returned to Lance’s side.

They walked back to the Jeep. He started the engine, turned on the heat, and drove back toward the Dane house. Morgan was silent on the drive to her neighborhood. She pinched her cheeks, smoothed her hair, and climbed out of the Jeep.

A grim-faced Art opened the door before they reached it. He shot Lance a questioning look.

Lance shook his head. “Not now.”

With a long police career behind him, Art understood. He nodded.

They left their muddy shoes by the door. High-pitched chatter drew them to the kitchen. Lance followed Morgan into the room. The sight of the three kids eating breakfast was a welcome dose of positive energy.

Her three little girls sat at the table. Ava was digging into a syrup-soaked pancake. Mia slathered butter on a short stack. Tiny Sophie, who seemed to survive on three Cheerios a day, hadn’t touched her plate. Morgan’s wild child wore purple leggings, a neon green T-shirt, and socks in two different shades of blue. Her hair looked like it had been styled with a leaf blower. Instead of eating, she smeared a glue stick on a piece of paper and shook a small container of silver glitter over it. Glitter was Sophie’s crack.

Gianna stood at the stove ladling batter onto a hot griddle.

As soon as Morgan entered the kitchen, the girls ran to her in a chorus of “Mommy!”

“Good morning, my sweets.” She enveloped them in a giant hug, and the smile on her face warmed to genuine. She eased into a chair. The children surrounded her, and their chatter escalated. Lance’s head spun, but Morgan seemed to be able to listen to three conversations at once. Her face relaxed as the kids told her about their morning. How much could they have done already?

“Hi, Lance.” Ava climbed back into her chair. Mia zoomed over to give him a quick hug before returning to her breakfast.

Sophie crossed the kitchen, stopping in front of him and staring up, her big blue eyes seeing right through him. Seriously, the kid was a walking polygraph. “Mommy looks sad.”

Clearly, Sophie blamed him.

“Yes,” Lance said warily.

“Will she be happy again soon?” Subtext: what are you going to do about it?

“I hope so.”

“Me too.” Her nod was far too solemn for a three-year-old.

“I should go,” he said. The weariness in his bones came from more than one night of no sleep. It grew from the violent and senseless death of a bright young woman.

Morgan walked him to the door. “Thank you for everything last night.”

“You’re welcome.” He stopped over the threshold. “Call me if you need anything.”

“I will.”

Lance drove back to his small house in town, parked in the driveway, and went into his two-bedroom ranch. After the chaos of Morgan’s house, the emptiness of his own hit him hard. Who would have thought he’d miss the incessant chatter of three small kids? Not him.

He entered the bedroom, stripped, and stepped into the shower. The blast of cold water cleared his head. Five minutes later, dried and dressed, he stared at his bed. Considering the replay of this morning’s crime scene, he would pass on sleep just yet. In the dining room, he sat down at his piano but couldn’t muster the desire to play. Nor did he want to sit in his cold, empty space and stare at the walls.

Even though it was Saturday, he needed the distraction of work.

Grabbing his keys, he left. The office was only six blocks away. Lance’s morning commute took less than three minutes.

Sharp was at his desk when Lance arrived at the office. “You look like hell.”

“Thanks.” Lance went into the kitchen at the back of the space. “Do you have any coffee in here?”

“Do you really want to tax your adrenal glands?” Sharp asked in a no you don’t voice.

“Yes.” A dull ache throbbed at the base of Lance’s skull.

Sharp broke out the blender and leafy greens. “Seriously, tell me what happened last night.”

“As if you haven’t heard.” Lance dropped into a chair at the small wooden table.

“I know that eighteen-year-old Tessa Palmer was found dead near the local party spot at Scarlet Lake.” Sharp shoved sweet potato greens, his latest obsession, and frozen chunks of fruit into the blender. “I know you and Morgan Dane found her, and that it was a particularly nasty killing.”

Lance blew out a stream of air. “That sums it up.”

But he detailed the events of the night anyway. When he was finished, Sharp pulsed the blender until its contents were a revolting shade of green. He poured the concoction into a glass. “Antioxidants are good for stress.”

Knowing the shake would taste better than it looked, Lance drank it. “Do we have any cases to work on?”

“Of course.”

Lance followed Sharp into the office.

Setting his mug on the desk, Sharp selected a file from a stack. “Here. Sixteen-year-old Jamie Lewis has been missing for two months. The SFPD has no leads. Her mother is desperate. This isn’t the first time she’s run away, but it’s the first time the police haven’t been able to find her.”

Lance took the file and opened it. An eight-by-ten, full-color glossy of a young girl stared up at him. It was a school photo, but Jamie wasn’t smiling. Her mouth was twisted in an insolent scowl. But it was her eyes that startled him. They were dark with challenge and anger that belied her age.

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