Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(22)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(22)
Author: Melinda Leigh

Lance exited the interstate and parked in front of a chain residence-type hotel.

“What name are you booked under?” Morgan asked.

“Smith. The sheriff isn’t very original.” Tina climbed out of the car.

Lance and Morgan exchanged a knowing glance, both reaching for their door handles. Tina was a grown woman, and the choice to be alone was hers. But Morgan and Lance would make sure the hotel room was safe before leaving her.

“We’ll walk you in,” Lance said.

They bypassed the main lobby and went in a side door using Tina’s card key.

“Wait here. Let me check the room first.” Handing Morgan the grocery bag, Lance took the key and went in.

Morgan put her back to the wall and watched the hallway in both directions.

Lance returned in a minute. “It’s clear.”

They went inside. The room had a tiny kitchen and living area combined, with a separate bedroom and bath.

Tina wandered a few steps into the suite, looking lost. “I know you don’t understand why I need to be alone. It’s just my way. Paul didn’t always understand either, but he let me be. I’m not a social person.”

“You don’t have to explain.” Morgan would have hidden from the world after her husband died, but her family wouldn’t let her completely isolate herself. “Everyone is different.”

Tina nodded. She set her purse on the kitchen table. Her body stiffened.

“What is it?” Lance took two long steps and stood next to her.

“An envelope.” Tina pointed to the table.

Morgan looked past Lance’s shoulder. A letter-size white envelope sat in the middle of the table. It was addressed to Mrs. Smith with her room number and the hotel address. The letter had been postmarked in Scarlet Falls and dated the same day.

“Maybe it’s from the sheriff.” But as she said the words, Tina backed away from it.

“He would have told you if he’d sent you a letter,” Morgan said. “And any written communication from the sheriff’s department would be on official stationery.”

Lance patted his pockets. “Do you have gloves?” he asked Morgan.

She pulled a set from her tote and handed them to him.

He put them on before picking up the envelope. He went to the kitchen and took a knife from a top drawer. He used the blade to slit the flap. He pulled out a single piece of paper.

Blocky print spelled out I KNOW WHERE YOU ARE in all capital letters.

Tina flinched as if she’d been struck. “How? How did someone find me?”

“There are only a few hotels reasonably close to your house. It probably wasn’t that hard.” Lance snapped a picture of the note and the front of the envelope, then slid the paper back inside. “Let’s go down to the lobby and see how that envelope got in here.”

He led the way out of the room and down the hall. The registration clerk waved as they walked into the lobby. “Mrs. Smith. Your husband called for you.”

Tina froze. Her eyes widened as she turned toward the desk. By the time she reached it, her face was the same color as the pale-gray tiles. Without any communication, Morgan and Lance separated to put Tina between them.

“He said he would be in later this evening,” the clerk said in a chipper voice. “Would you like to leave a key for him here at the desk?”

“No!” Tina leaned both palms flat on the counter, as if she needed it to support herself. She took one long breath in and released it, visibly composing herself. “My husband is dead.”

The clerk paled. “I’m s-sorry. Then how?” He looked from Tina to Morgan and Lance. “Maybe it was a mistake.”

“Do you have more than one Mrs. Smith staying at the hotel?” Morgan asked.

The clerk typed on his computer and leaned closer to his screen. “No.”

Morgan pointed out, “Then it wasn’t a mistake.”

With gloved hands, Lance raised the envelope. “How did this get in Mrs. Smith’s room?”

“It came for her here at the hotel.” The clerk adjusted his glasses. “I had housekeeping deliver it to her room.”

“No one is supposed to know Mrs. Smith is at the hotel,” Lance said.

“Hey, no one told me.” The clerk focused on Tina. “What do you want me to do?”

“I don’t know.” Tina’s words trembled.

“Did you give him any information?” Lance’s voice was clipped.

“No, sir.” A bead of sweat broke out on the clerk’s upper lip. “That would be against company policy.”

Morgan put an arm around Tina’s shoulders and steered her away from the counter. “Let’s go sit down. Lance will call Sheriff Colgate. He’ll have to move you.”

Lance walked a few feet away, his cell phone pressed to his ear.

“I need to get my things.” Tina’s body shook under Morgan’s arm.

“Later.” Morgan led her across the lobby, away from the door and windows to the tables where the hotel served a free breakfast buffet every morning and offered coffee and tea round the clock. Morgan picked a table in the corner. She steered Tina into a chair, then made her a cup of hot tea. She pressed it into Tina’s shaking hands.

Tina wrapped her fingers around the cardboard cup. Morgan went back to the alcove and poured herself a cup of coffee.

Lance appeared next to their table. “He’s sending a couple of deputies. They’re going to take you to a new hotel, and you’ll have a deputy with you 24/7.”

Tears leaked from Tina’s eyes. “But I want to be out looking for Evan.”

“We’ll take care of that,” Lance assured her. “You stay safe. When we find him, he’s going to need you. He’s been through a lot.”

She didn’t look convinced.

Morgan pointed out the one thing that would get through to Tina. “If something happens to you, Kirk will get custody of Evan.”

Tina’s shoulders caved forward. “OK.”

They stayed with her until the deputies arrived and took charge. They put the note in a plastic evidence bag.

Despite the coffee, Morgan was bone-weary as she climbed back into the Jeep. “Do you want to go back to the office?” she asked.

“No.” Lance glanced at his watch. “It’s past nine o’clock. Let’s take a run by Scarlet Lake. Damn it. We already missed bedtime.”

Morgan’s house sat on the Scarlet River, which ran into Scarlet Lake, so the lake was close to home.

“It’s all right. I checked in with the girls while you talked to the sheriff. Mia and Ava seem to be fully recovered from the virus. Gianna gave them their baths. Grandpa read them their bedtime story. They’re not neglected by any means.”

Lately, Lance was their choice to read bedtime stories, though they were happy enough when their great-grandfather took over.

“I’m the one who minds missing bedtime.” Lance reached across the console and took her hand. “Before we started dating, I had no idea how attached I would get to the kids.”

Three months ago, Lance had moved in with Morgan, and she’d accepted his marriage proposal. He’d become a part of their lives. He drove the girls to playdates and walked them to the bus stop in the morning.

Morgan smiled. “They do grow on you.”

“I can’t imagine going back to living alone.”

“Good thing you don’t have to.”

Morgan thought of Tina and her absolute despair when she’d thought her son had died. At this moment, she was all alone in a hotel room, worrying about Evan, maybe afraid to hope that he was still alive. If he wasn’t, she’d have to live through his death all over again.

“I’d really like to set a date for the wedding,” Lance said.

Morgan sighed. She should be excited about getting married, but every time she started thinking about plans, memories of her first wedding intruded. John had died in Iraq more than three years ago, but she still saw him smiling at the altar in his uniform and holding each of the babies when they’d been born. Then she saw his flag-draped casket being unloaded from the plane. She loved Lance with all her heart. But she’d never stopped loving John either. His death had devastated her. Damn it.

How could she resolve feelings she didn’t truly understand? “We have so much going on right now. Can we get through the renovations and then plan the wedding?”

“Grant says the kitchen reno will take three months. The addition at least another three.”

“So nine months.” That was a long time to put off setting a date.

“Three plus three equals six.”

“Not in contractor time.” Morgan shook her head. “Haven’t you ever watched HGTV?”

“Do you want to wait that long?”

“You don’t?”

“Not really.” Lance frowned. “I was hoping we’d be married this year.”

“It’s already June.” A tiny sliver of panic raced through Morgan’s stomach. “Do you have any idea how long it takes to plan a wedding?”

“Apparently, I do not.”

When they were halfway to the lake, rain began to fall on the windshield. A minute later, lightning flashed and thunder boomed. By the time they arrived, the rain had turned into a downpour, and the parking lot was empty.

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