Just like her.
Saturday’s memories crashed through her brain. She shook her head. She couldn’t do this right now. “No. I don’t want…”
“Please.” His eyes pleaded with her as his hands clenched in fists. “I’ve got to figure out why this is happening right now. You were there when it started long ago. And you were there on Saturday. Why is that?” He looked like he wanted to stand but stayed sitting, probably in deference to her height. “Have you heard about the murdered cop?”
He knew? Lacey studied his face as she nodded. When she’d spoken to Michael on the phone that morning, he had briefly mentioned the death of the retired cop. The state police had asked him not to print anything yet. How did Jack—?
“Cal Trenton was my partner before he retired. Lakefield Police.”
Jesus Christ. Jack Harper was in as deep as she was.
“You know people with the Lakefield Police?” she asked.
Maybe he could get more information on what’d happened at Suzanne’s crime scene and the connection to the murdered cop. Her one phone call to the department had been cut short. The police weren’t talking to anyone. But maybe they’d talk to Jack Harper. Get her some answers. She owed it to Suzanne.
Lacey glanced down the hallway, seeking a distraction. The last thing she wanted to do was rehash a nightmare with this stranger, but she desperately needed to get out of the building, away from those mourning parents. Urgent work was on her desk, but right now she couldn’t focus. She wanted her head on straight before going through those charts; she had to do right by the victims. She made a decision. “I can give you thirty minutes, and then I have work to do.”
Lacey inhaled the delicious scents, wiping the smell of burned flesh from her nose. She was used to most of the odors of the ME’s office. Disinfectant and death. She rarely noticed them anymore, but the burned smell had been harder to shake.
The tiny deli was a regular haunt of hers. She’d enjoyed their panini and clam chowder since she was a teen and used to meet her dad there for lunch on the weekends. Lacey blew on her hot chocolate, put the two burned teenagers and one set of grieving parents out of her mind, and covertly studied the man across the table.
They’d effortlessly made meaningless small talk as her mind spun.
She’d checked him out on the Internet over the weekend. Her curiosity had been piqued by the man she’d met under odd circumstances Saturday morning.
Jack Harper had made a fortune with his family company in a relatively short period of time. To her amusement, she’d found an article from Portland Monthly naming him one of the city’s top ten eligible bachelors. It featured a picture of him wearing a hard hat and flashing a cocky smile in front of the bare-bones structure of a growing office building. Those damned eyes grinning at every available female in town. He probably had women tearing down bridges to get at him. Scanning his features, Lacey admitted he was very good looking. He had a rugged maleness that the female in her instinctively responded to. His eyes were the cool, sharp gray she remembered from Saturday morning. How would he look in a bad mood? She’d hate to be on the receiving end of anger from those eyes. The strong jaw and two vertical lines between his brows told her she’d accurately pegged him as strong-willed.
Fascinated, she watched him eat. He’d put away half his sandwich in three bites and rhythmically emptied his bag of potato chips without looking like a pig. He was in constant motion as he ate and talked, moving his hands and arms without seeming nervous. It was probably how he burned off all those calories.
She hadn’t eaten like that since she left college and ended her daily six-hour gymnastics workouts.
Lacey looked at the hot sandwich in her hand. She’d had two bites, and Jack was nearly done. Setting it down, she realized she wasn’t hungry. Thinking about DeCosta and Suzanne did nasty things to her appetite. Eating after autopsies didn’t bother her. Never had. But this was different.
Jack eyed her sandwich with a scowl, highlighting those vertical lines between his brows. She didn’t know if he wanted to finish it or was annoyed that she’d eaten so little.
“How often do you deal with situations like that?” Jack asked.
“Like what?” Serial killers?
“Back at your office. The parents.”
“Oh.” Lacey was silent for a moment, remembering Mr. Spencer’s tight face. “Only a time or two. It’s not my job. My father usually handles it.”
“One of those burned girls was their daughter, wasn’t she? The fire was on the news last night.”
Against all rules and regulations, Lacey nodded and took a tasteless drink. “She was one of them.” A memory of the odor of burned flesh touched her nose, and her stomach churned. She wondered what Jack saw as he studied her. An emotionless doctor?
“You were really great with the parents.”
Until I ran out the door. She shook her head, eyes down. “I didn’t do anything.”
Silence grew thick and dense between them.
“What happened that night?”
Lacey picked at the seam on her hot-chocolate cup, avoiding his eyes, knowing he didn’t mean last night’s fire. Jack was going back to the original reason for his visit.
“Why do you need to know?” She forced herself to look at him. Why had she agreed to this?
Steady eyes met hers. “My name is being sucked into a growing snowball of dead bodies and I need to know why. I need some history of the situation to get a bigger picture of what’s going on. I figured you were the best person to give it to me.”