“Here,” he said, stopping. “Your bike was about there.” He pointed, remembering how deep the handlebar was dug into the soil and the chill that gave him. “There was some scuffing, but not clear footprints.” He crouched. “I think the blood was about here. Your wallet had fallen a ways in that direction.” He nodded toward the clump of low green ceanothus.
Nell was a statue. Staring. It was a long time before she even blinked. Alarmed, he slowly rose to his feet. Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea.
“It’s creepy here,” she whispered, as if someone might be listening.
He glanced around, wondering if kids who still used this path had ever even heard about the girl who was abducted. If their parents had told them, warned them away from the park, did they feel a little thrill when they pedaled furiously through, defying those warnings? Maybe stories of Maddie had added some horror-movie excitement to teenage keggers.
The thought sickened him.
“It sure as hell was that night. Teenagers party here in the park sometimes. That’s what I expected to find. But I knew as soon as I got here that I was alone. It was too quiet.”
Not today, he realized. He could hear chain saws off in the distance. No heavy equipment; the ground might be too wet. There was noise from traffic out on the street, voices muted by distance.
She shivered. “I don’t remember. I thought I would, but I don’t.”
Maybe not, but something was stirring uneasily in her head. She could be spooked only because she knew this was where it had happened, but the way her gaze darted around seemed extreme. He wondered if she’d stopped that night and heard a noise. That was what she looked like right now—as if she wanted to run but didn’t know which direction.
His gloved hand closed over hers. “It was a long shot.”
“You said I was unlikely to remember.”
“I couldn’t be sure, but whatever happened here caused the memory loss. You know, it was bad. There was enough blood to scare the crap out of me.”
He had purposely tried to sound rueful. Her big brown eyes fastened on his face, and after a moment she almost smiled. The tension in her body eased. She made no effort to retrieve her hand from his.
“How old were you?”
“Twenty-two, only two months on the job. The car accidents I’d dealt with to that point were fender benders—I’d broken up keggers, arrested shoplifters.” He didn’t mention the domestic violence. Those calls had gotten to him, but not surprised him. “I hadn’t seen anything really ugly yet. Later...” He stopped. Two or three years later, would he have reacted the same to the scene of Maddie’s abduction, the face looking up at him from the driver’s permit?
“You were a kid yourself,” she murmured.
Colin huffed out a brief laugh. “Yeah, I guess I was. Although I wouldn’t have appreciated you saying so then.”
Her lips definitely curved, but failed to soften the stark lines of her face. She shivered again.
“You’re cold,” he said, but she shook her head.
“No. Oh, I guess a little. Mostly...” She pulled in a deep breath. “It’s that same feeling I had last night, when Emily told me about Beck. As if a ghost brushed by me.” She tried for a smile. “Predictable, I guess. I expected to feel something. You know?”
“I do know.” Although it meant letting go of her hand, he pulled her to him. Not a good idea, but she looked so damn vulnerable, she got to him.
For a moment, Nell was stiff, but then with a sigh she let herself lean, even wrapping her arms around his waist. The scent of her shampoo, of her, filled his nostrils, overriding the smell of pine and snow. Even with their bulky winter garments, she felt good against him. He laid his cheek against her head and closed his eyes. Some of his own frustration and tension eased. Hating the thought of letting her go, it was a long time before he spoke.
“You had enough?” he murmured at last.
She tensed, gathering herself. “I think so.” Her arms dropped to her sides and she stepped back. That shyness was in her eyes again, but only until she turned her head, shivered again, then turned resolutely to start back.
Following her, he had no trouble deciding to skip a visit to the scene where bones were being retrieved. He didn’t have any good excuse to visit anyway. He’d be told if anything important was found.
He and Nell had emerged from the trees and he’d just hit the remote to unlock doors when he heard someone call, “Captain?”
Jane Vahalik hurried toward him. Seeing her suppressed excitement, he went to meet her.
“Were you stopping by?” she asked.