But then his rang. Was that the Dubeaus’ number? He pulled to the curb and answered.
“McAllister?” It was Marc. “We expected Maddie for dinner and are concerned because she hasn’t showed up. She’s not that late, but... Do you know where she is?”
His blood ran cold. His gaze flicked to the dashboard clock—6:11 p.m. Late enough that she should have called.
“No,” he said. “I’ll find out and call you. Let me know if you hear from her in the meantime.”
He ended the call without waiting for protest or comment. Except for the few blocks closest to her old home, he was driving the same route Nell would have. If her car had broken down...
Why wouldn’t she have called either her parents or him?
Don’t think that way.
He’d spotted no small red car before he reached his own driveway. He turned, wound through the trees—and there her car was, in its usual spot. He wanted to be relieved, would have been if lights had been on in her apartment or his house. But both were dark.
Something on the pavement beside her car glinted in his headlights. Colin slammed on his brakes and leaped out. The motion-activated light came on, and he was already swearing viciously when he crouched to pick up Nell’s keys.
* * *
NELL MIGHT ALREADY be dead. If she weren’t, she would be soon if he didn’t find her quickly.
Colin shoved his fear down deep and capped it. She needed him to think calmly and logically, not to let his emotions make him act stupidly.
His first call was to Duane.
“Where am I?” Duane sounded surprised. “Portland. I left this morning, plan to come back tomorrow night. Do you need me? What’s up?”
“Jesus. How? When?”
“It won’t take me ten minutes to throw everything in the car,” Duane said, sounding stricken. “I’ll start out right now.”
“Thanks,” Colin said, hating the sickening certainty that sat on his shoulders like some grotesque horror with razor-sharp teeth.
The first thing he was going to do was have Nell’s cell phone traced—and Duane’s.
It took almost no time for Nell’s phone to be traced to River Park.
The location filled Colin with dread. It wasn’t chance. She was supposed to have died there. He mobilized a search team. Officers with flashlights fanned out, each in a carefully laid out section of a grid, all of them knowing it was quite possibly her body they were looking for.
It didn’t take any special intuition to know where he was going to look first. Colin set out down the same path he’d followed that night twelve years ago. Tonight was bitterly cold, and the park nowhere near as quiet as it was then. The thrashing to each side and an occasional call gave away the clumsy presence of the searchers. Flashlight beams glanced off tree trunks and crisscrossed.
With each step, he swept his light in a careful arc, determined to miss nothing. He couldn’t let himself think about what it might illuminate. They’d gotten here fast. She might still be alive.
He hadn’t gone ten feet when he saw something. A heap of cloth. Sick with apprehension, he pushed aside stiff branches of snowberry and saw the cloth amidst low-growing ceanothus, just as Maddie’s small, whisker-faced coin wallet had been. But this—
Colin crouched. It was her handbag. Swearing, he swung his flashlight beam in increasingly frantic circles. He yelled for help. Picked up her bag and groped in it, his fingers closing on her phone.
He stood and stared back toward the road. Somebody could have pulled over, maybe gotten out, maybe not, and given the handbag a good heave. Sent a message, and eliminated the threat her phone represented all at the same time.
His knees almost buckled. And yet, he didn’t recognize relief in the stinging pain. She wasn’t here, thank God. Thank God.
But she could be anywhere in the vast empty country comprising forests and high mountain desert that stretched in every direction from Angel Butte. They might never even find her body.
* * *
SHE AWAKENED TO darkness, pain and nausea.
One of her recurrent nightmares always began the same way. But this didn’t feel right. Nell struggled to understand why, and finally did. In dreams, the physical sensations were never so real. The sharp edge of metal beneath her hip, that roiling nausea with the taste of bile.
And, oh, her head hurt.
Panic welled up, momentarily paralyzing her as she panted for breath. This had to be her greatest terror, to be trapped in the trunk of a car, knowing when it was opened she’d be facing her death personified.
Breathe, she ordered herself. Slowly. In. Out.
Somehow she kept the nausea at bay as she tried to think. Why would she feel so awful?