He only looked at her, but she knew, knew, he saw her terror. “I’m Colin McAllister. Captain.”
“I’m not even from this area,” she said.
“Neither am I. Neither is Maddie.” He waited a moment, then asked softly, “Where are you from, Ms. Smith?”
“Where are you from, Captain McAllister?”
“I’m from the Midwest,” she said. Eleanor Theodora Smith had been born in Eugene, Oregon, but she couldn’t tell him that. He was a cop. If he looked hard enough, he’d find that same Eleanor Theodora Smith was also buried in Eugene, beneath a bronze plaque expressing her parents’ grief.
“I’ve upset you,” he observed. “That wasn’t my intention.”
“What was your intention?” She could combat this fear only with aggression. “Did you imagine that I don’t know who I am and would be thrilled when you told me?”
“No.” He was frowning now. “No. I thought...”
“I thought perhaps Smith was a married name. And that Nell is a shortened version of your middle name.”
“It’s not. I’m Eleanor.”
“Or,” he continued, as though she hadn’t spoken, “that you were using a false name to hide.”
She flung her hands up, as though at the ridiculousness of that notion. “I won’t even ask,” she said. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, Officer...no, Captain. I really need to be going.”
He didn’t move. “Ms. Smith. May I give you a business card? Just in case there’s ever anything you want to tell me?”
She should refuse. Eleanor Smith wouldn’t have any reason to accept, would she? But Nell couldn’t seem to think. And his card would tell her where he came from. Where Maddie Dubeau was from. No, that was silly—she could find articles online, if he were telling the truth. But what if she couldn’t find anything? Couldn’t figure out how the name was spelled? The card would give her a way to reach him, if she dared. If she chose. Nell was appalled to discover how tempted she was to learn about the part of her life she hadn’t wanted to remember.
The keys were biting into her palm, imprinting themselves. She managed a shrug. “I can’t imagine why I’d have any reason to call you, but if it will make you feel better I can take your card.”
“It would make me feel better.” He took one from the pocket of his slacks and held it out without actually moving closer. She was the one who had to take a step, feeling like a small animal hungry enough to creep up and steal a scrap of meat from a mountain lion’s meal, even though he crouched over it. She snatched it from his hand and retreated immediately, poking the card deep into her purse.
“I’d like to hear from you,” he said quietly. “I swear to you that I’ll keep anything you tell me confidential. We can just talk. I won’t tell anyone who you are or where. I swear,” he said again, his voice deep and serious.
Nell scrutinized that hard, unrevealing face for a long moment, trying to see whether he was telling the truth, but how could she ever know? The risk was too great. And he was probably wrong anyway, about who he thought she was. Her shock of recognition might be false. He hadn’t even said how long ago this Maddie had disappeared. She wasn’t going to ask.
She only nodded. After a moment he backed up a couple of steps, his eyes still holding hers, and then he turned and strode away.
With a whimper Nell crouched, scooped up her books and hurried around her car. Even once she was inside with the engine running and the doors locked, she didn’t feel safe. She had to get away from here.
She’d intended to get a deli sandwich somewhere and then go to the shelter. As shaken as she was, she couldn’t. She just couldn’t. All she wanted was to go home, to lock herself in the sanctuary of her apartment.
But what if he followed her?
She drove, taking a circuitous route, gradually calming herself as she took one random turn after another and no other car stayed behind her.
Of course, he could have stuck some kind of locator on her car. She’d read about things like that.
If he were really a cop, though, he wouldn’t have to. He’d be able to find her.
Finally she made it back to her own street and the parking slot that she was lucky enough to have beneath the building. She scurried into the elevator, grateful to have it to herself, relieved it didn’t stop at the lobby level. Inside her apartment, she turned the dead bolt and put on the chain, shocked to see that her hand was still shaking.
Then she simply stood there, waiting for the sense of security to wrap around her. It never came.