Colin couldn’t argue. He’d also wondered if the red cinder of Angel Butte didn’t cover more bones.
Feeling the cold, he shoved his hands into the pockets of his slacks. Damn, the change in temperature from rainy Seattle to the eastern side of the mountains was dramatic.
“You know we can’t log and tear up this section of woods just because.”
His lieutenant glared at him. “What do you want to bet Maddie’s here, if we just knew where to look?”
Emotion swelled in Colin’s chest until his ribs ached. The force of his desire to tell Duane that she was alive was like a punch. To say that he’d seen her, with his own eyes. Talked to her. Somehow, sad-eyed Maddie had survived whatever happened that night. Done more than survive, had found a way to touch the lives of other kids whose eyes were sad, too.
But he couldn’t. He’d promised her. He’d known, watching her press herself back against her car while fighting abject terror, that the only way he could ever learn her story, ever bring her home, was to walk away and let her make the choice herself. If he’d tried to compel her, she would flee. She would hate him, and he didn’t want Maddie Dubeau to hate him.
And also...seeing how afraid she was, Colin had to ask himself why. Twelve years later, and she was petrified because someone from her past had recognized her? Did she have a good reason? Would he be endangering her if he brought her into the open?
A part of him was thinking he should do just that. His conscience was scraped raw. What if he came face-to-face with her father? It was bad enough not telling Duane. Colin didn’t think he could look Marc Dubeau in the eye, knowing what he did.
No, he thought. He had to keep his promise. He’d leave Maddie’s photo where it hung in his office and hope that someday his cell phone rang and he would hear her voice.
“I’ve always believed she’s alive,” he said abruptly. “Don’t ask me why, but I still do.”
The older man stared hard at him. “You’ve never said that before.”
“Are you going to tell me I’m dreaming?”
Duane gave a short bark of laughter, then rubbed a hand over his face. “No. You’ve got good instincts. You always did. I hope you’re right, Colin. I hope you’re right.”
Colin waved at the scene around them. “Bring me up-to-date.”
* * *
NELL GAVE SERIOUS thought to disappearing again. She went so far as to pack a couple of her suitcases so they were ready for her to grab at a minute’s notice.
A voice of reason tried to quiet her panic. What had been dangerous to her teenage self might not be a threat to the adult she was now. It might even be that she’d spent all these years afraid of the wrong thing. This Captain McAllister said there was blood, a bike lying on its side. Someone had heard a scream. Maybe she’d had a perfectly good life before she was attacked. A family she loved.
But—reasonably or unreasonably—she didn’t think so.
Which still didn’t mean she had any reason to be afraid of the man and woman and boy she distantly remembered, now that she was grown up. It might only be that she’d thought they wouldn’t understand whatever trouble she’d been in. And she had, after all, been a teenager skewed to believe parents wouldn’t understand.
Irrational or not, panic made her stomach jittery. She hardly slept.
The next morning, she went straight to the bank and withdrew a couple thousand dollars.
Just in case. Better safe than sorry.
During the next two days, Nell made tentative, if probably ludicrous, plans. She spent the lunch hour of the first day wandering a cemetery in search of a grave marker for a child who would have been the right age if she’d lived. Whose name she could steal. She stood staring down at one such marker, an infant who had died at three days old, when she thought, Oh, that would be brilliant. Jeez. If she picked someone who’d been born and died here in King County, right where Eleanor Smith would have to disappear, she might as well draw a big red arrow for anyone searching for her. This way.
Walking back to her car across the springy, wet grass, she gusted a sigh. Assuming an identity wasn’t easy these days. The internet and shared databases made both hiding and appearing anew harder than it used to be. Harder, even, than twelve years ago. Plus, she’d have to start all over again, maybe give up her dream of graduate school, and she didn’t know if she had that in her.
What she didn’t do, not right away, was look up Madeline Dubeau on the internet. A part of her knew she didn’t have to, had known the moment he’d said the name that she was Maddie. Whatever was wrong with her wasn’t complete amnesia, the kind that made a man stumble into the emergency room at the hospital and say, “I don’t know who I am.” She did have memories, some clear as if they happened yesterday, tactile and real, while others were misty, barely seen.