Home > Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(6)

Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)(6)
Author: Melinda Leigh

At the back of his Jeep, Lance opened the cargo hatch and grabbed a waterproof jacket and his Go Bag, a small backpack he kept filled with emergency supplies, including protein bars, water, a first aid kit, a Mylar emergency blanket, a flashlight, and spare batteries.

A spare magazine and extra ammunition.

He grabbed his Kevlar vest. After their last case, they’d invested in body armor.

Sharp frowned. “I’d like to go on the search with you, but I don’t want to hold the team back.”

The admission had clearly hurt him. On their last big case, Sharp had suffered a serious abdominal wound. Before he’d been hurt, Sharp had been one of the fittest people Lance knew. Thanks to a green, crunchy lifestyle, his fifty-three-year-old boss had been in better shape than most twentysomethings. Given the seriousness of his injuries, his three-month recovery had been astonishing, but he wasn’t in marathon-running condition just yet, which irritated the hell out of him.

“Tonight’s search is going to be ugly,” Lance said. Lightning, thunder, and a blast of wind punctuated his statement.

“I know.”

Lance slung his backpack over one shoulder and turned back toward the house. “You’ll be running half marathons again by fall.”

“But I’m not there yet.” Sharp looked miserable, but he would never jeopardize the search. “I’ll see if I can be useful to Morgan.”

“Send her a text or call her. The sheriff doesn’t want you on scene.”

“I understand.” Sharp nodded, obviously depressed. “Text me if there are any major updates.”

“Will do.”

They separated at the bottom of the driveway. Lance headed for the sheriff’s vehicle, where the sheriff and two deputies gathered around an electronic tablet. Both deputies wore rain gear.

The sheriff motioned to Lance. “Kruger, you already know Todd Harvey.” Colgate gestured toward the other deputy, a wiry man in his late thirties. “This is Jim Rogers. Rogers is a hell of a hunter and tracker.”

“Glad to have you on board. I hear you know the boy.” Rogers extended a hand.

Lance shook it. “I do.”

The sheriff nodded at Harvey. “Todd’s in charge.”

Harvey pointed toward a satellite image of their general location displayed on the electronic tablet in his hand. Forest dominated the screen.

Lance glanced at the image. “What’s on the other side of those woods?”

“A couple of roads. More woods.” Harvey moved the image. “There’s an abandoned campground to the south, at Deer Lake. To the north are farms, individual homes, and a residential development. It’s three thirty. Evan could have as much as a three-hour lead on us. Is the boy familiar with the woods?” Harvey looked to Lance.

“He’s been out there a couple of times, and he’s damned fit. Unless he’s badly injured, he’s going to be able to move faster than the average person.” Lance believed in conditioning drills on top of conditioning drills. Hockey was an exhausting sport. Fit players made a better team—and tired teenagers got into less trouble.

“We’re coordinating with patrol vehicles from the state police and neighboring townships. Normally, I’d limit the search to a six-mile radius, but I’ll expand to nine. It’s easier to tighten the scope of the search than expand it later.”

“Seems you all know what to do,” Colgate said. “Keep me updated.” The sheriff walked away.

Rogers tapped the screen and shifted the map image. “I’m worried about the Deer River. It’s already high from the rains we had last week.”

A fat drop of water landed on Lance’s head. “Won’t take much to reach flood stage.”

More rain pattered on the pavement.

“We’d better get moving.” Harvey stowed the electronic tablet in the car and grabbed his own Go Bag. He led the way around the side of the house. The neighbor’s rear yard was not fenced, and they walked through it to reach the area behind the white vinyl fence that enclosed the Knoxes’ backyard. A fifty-feet-wide swath of tall weeds and grass separated the fence from the forest. A floodlight had been set up at the base of the fence, where the two clearest footprints had been found. Under a tarp strung up to protect the area from the rain, two crime scene techs were casting the prints. Closer to the woods, two deputies searched the weedy ground with high-powered flashlights.

Lance scanned the ground, tracking a line of smashed grass and weeds that led from the fence to the woods. Along the same path, three yellow evidence flags poked above the grass.

“Those flags mark partial shoe treads.” Harvey pointed. “All the tread marks look like they were made by Converse shoes, men’s size 13, which Mrs. Knox confirmed is Evan’s shoe size.”

“No second set of footprints?” Lance asked, thinking of the shooter.

“No. There are no additional tracks to suggest someone followed the boy.” Harvey walked toward the woods, parallel to Evan’s tracks.

Rogers hefted his AR-15 and gestured for Lance to go next. Rogers brought up the rear. They trudged through the wet, knee-high weeds and entered the forest. Once they were under the canopy, overhead branches provided some cover from the drizzle, but they all knew they had to move fast. The light rain falling now would soon become a downpour.

Thick, dense summer foliage also blocked some of the wind. The air became muggy, oppressive. Beneath his body armor, sweat broke out between Lance’s shoulder blades and dripped down his back. He continually scanned the surrounding forest, looking for signs that they weren’t alone and ignoring the swarms of gnats buzzing around his face. He listened for sounds of movement under the patter of rain on leaves.

Rogers bent to study the soft earth, eyeing the distance between tread marks. “He’s moving fast. Running through here at top speed. Not concerned with anything except putting distance between him and whatever he thinks is chasing him.”

Evan had run in a straight line for the woods during the initial stage of his flight.

Lance let Rogers and Harvey study the ground while he continued to watch the woods. The trees were dense, and the darkness pressed in on the men from all sides. Lance moved a few feet away from Harvey and Rogers. Instead of using his flashlight, which would show him only a small section of forest at a time, he allowed his eyes to adjust to the dimness.

Lightning flashed, illuminating the forest. In the split second of brightness, Lance scanned their surroundings. The woods were green from recent heavy rains. The lushness would provide plenty of cover for a shooter who had already proven himself capable of committing an execution-style murder.

Just because they hadn’t seen the killer’s tracks didn’t mean he hadn’t been there. Or hadn’t circled around in an attempt to intercept the teenager.

A person capable of executing an experienced cop might also be skilled enough not to leave a trail of footprints through the woods.

Rogers straightened, and they moved forward. It was impossible to move silently through the dense underbrush. Prickly plants snagged at Lance’s pants legs, and twigs snapped underfoot. For the first half mile, they were able to follow Evan’s flight by tracking freshly broken foliage and the occasional partial shoe tread in the earth.

They emerged from the underbrush onto a game trail.

Rogers crouched to study three shoe prints. “Looks like he took the trail from here. These prints are still far apart. And see the way he’s digging in with the balls of his feet? He’s still running at top speed.”

Lance hoped that meant the teen wasn’t injured too seriously, but he knew adrenaline could mask pain. Evan would be in panic mode. His bloodstream would be flooded with it.

Rogers stood, and they moved on. The trail was wide enough to open the canopy above their heads and expose them to the storm. The rain increased, now falling in a steady sheet. Wind whipped through the woods, blowing water droplets into Lance’s face. Each gust held a fresh chill as the temperature dropped. Soon, the storm would wash away all traces of Evan’s flight. On the game trail, there was no clear path of damaged underbrush, and his route was harder to track.

A road bisected the trail. Rogers surveyed the muddy shoulder and found a few broken twigs and one deep footprint in some thick mud on the opposite side of the road. “Looks like he stuck to the trail instead of taking the road.”

They picked up their pace. The rain became a downpour, hitting the ground faster than the already saturated soil could absorb it. Water puddled under their feet, washing away any remaining footprints that might have been in the earth. There would be no more tracks to follow. Lance hoped that the teen had stuck to the trail. Since they were no longer looking for tracks, they were able to move faster. Lance broke into a jog, his boots splashing in the mud, the rain lashing his face.

Rogers and Harvey wore brimmed hats, which gave their eyes some protection from the torrential rain. Lance was bareheaded. He didn’t raise the hood of his jacket. He didn’t want the nylon to impede his hearing. Water invaded his collar, ran around his neck, and trickled down his back.

They kept moving. The wind howled, its force pushing against Lance’s body. He leaned into it and pressed on. The rain shifted to hail, the hard beads stinging his face. He gave up trying to hear anything, raised his hood, and tightened the chin strap to keep the wind from blowing it off his head. The short brim provided his eyes some protection from the ice pellets peppering his face.

Hot Series
» Unfinished Hero series
» Colorado Mountain series
» Chaos series
» The Young Elites series
» Billionaires and Bridesmaids series
» Just One Day series
» Sinners on Tour series
» Manwhore series
» This Man series
» One Night series
Most Popular
» Secrets Never Die (Morgan Dane #5)
» What I've Done (Morgan Dane #4)
» When August Ends
» I'm Fine and Neither Are You
» What the Wind Knows
» Tumble (Dogwood Lane #1)
» Motion (Laws of Physics #1)
» The Last Letter