Stella took the card. “Did Missy have a recent boyfriend?”
“No.” Mrs. Green’s tone was emphatic. “She told me she had no time or energy for another person until she had her life in order.”
“How about a past boyfriend?”
“I don’t know much about her life in California.” Mrs. Green twisted her hands. “Do you know how she died?”
“Not yet.” Stella debated how much to reveal to Mrs. Green and as much as she hated to distress her, the woman deserved to hear the truth from Stella—not a news report. “The toxicology reports will take a few weeks.” She covered Mrs. Green’s hands with her own. “But she didn’t do this to herself.”
A tear slid down Mrs. Green’s cheek and dropped off her chin. “Then someone killed her?”
“I knew it from the beginning.” Mrs. Green sniffed and drew in a shaky breath.
“I’m sorry.” Stella squeezed her hands. “There’s more.”
Mrs. Green’s eyes cringed.
As much as Stella wanted to spare Mrs. Green, the press would eventually publish all the gory details. Stella could think of no way to soften the truth, so she just said it. “Missy was tortured.”
Mrs. Green gasped. Her hands curled into fists. Then her watery eyes turned angry. “Find him.”
“I will.” Stella let herself out. She heard sobbing as she pulled the front door closed. She would not stop until she found the bastard who hurt Missy.
In her car, she called the rehab center. The earliest the psychiatrist could see her was the next morning.
Her phone rang. The display showed an unknown caller.
“Where are you?”
“I’m at the auto body shop waiting to talk to the mechanic.” He sounded depressed. “I found my phone. Where do you want to meet?”
“I’ll come there.” She wanted to take a quick look at his Jeep, though the chances were slim the vehicle held any clues.
Ten minutes later, she parked next to a plain-Jane rental sedan. She scanned the large, weedy lot for Mac but didn’t see him. The office was a red brick building that fronted a row of garage bays. She went inside. No one stood behind the counter, but she heard Mac’s voice echoing in the main shop. The smell of oil hit her nose as she walked through a doorway and stopped dead.
Mac and a coverall clad mechanic stood next to his Jeep. He was dressed in his usual snug cargos, T-shirt, and hiking boots, but he was clean-shaven, and his blond hair was swept back from his face in a style GQ would approve.
Had she ever seen him clean-shaven? Once, at his brother’s funeral. But he’d been subdued and not himself. Stella wasn’t sure if she liked him better looking tame or wild, but when his eyes roamed over her, a delicious shiver zinged through her belly. Those eyes . . .
The mechanic walked away, and Mac waited.
Shaking off her shock, Stella crossed the grease-stained concrete and examined the Jeep. Ouch. “What’s the prognosis?”
The front end bore the brunt of the damage. Crumpled hood and fenders. Broken windshield and windows. She peaked inside. A large branch had punctured the passenger window and speared the headrest. The fact that he’d gotten out with minimal injuries was a miracle. If he’d hit that stand of trees just a little differently, he wouldn’t be standing here.
“Totaled,” Mac said.
He shrugged. “Could be worse. Better the Jeep than me.”
The thought swept a wave of sadness through her. Too much death had filled her life lately. His, too.
Mac walked around the vehicle to stand next to her. “You’re not going to comment on my change of appearance?”
Stella looked him up and down. “You clean up OK.”
“OK?” He laughed. “That’s it?”
Her gaze lingered on his face. “I kind of miss the scruff.”
A quick blast of heat lit his eyes. Then his head tipped back, and he laughed. “Well then, no more shaving for me. Where are we going first?”
“You’re sure you want to get involved? Your family doesn’t need you?” Stella had a feeling that Mac was in funeral-planning-avoidance mode.
“My day is clear until dinnertime.” He turned toward the exit. “As I told you last night, I’m going to look for this woman with or without you.” Picking up a backpack from the ground next to the Jeep, he glanced over his shoulder and gave her an are you coming? look. “I’d much rather work with you.”
Better to keep him in her sights. “Do you promise to stay out of the way and do what I tell you?”
“That’s not an answer.”
“No, it’s not.”
They walked through the shop. Stella paused next to the rental car. “Do you want to drop this off at your place?”
Mac grinned. “That’s not mine.” He held out his backpack. “Would you mind taking this?”
“No.” Confused, she tossed it into her backseat.
He crossed to a Harley-Davidson parked in the shade of the building. “I told you I had a bike.”
Stella hadn’t noticed the sleek black vehicle in the shadows.
“That’s not what I’d pictured.” She’d thought he’d meant a bicycle, but when he slung a leg over the Harley, the image of him on a mountain bike was ridiculous.
“Where are you going?” she asked.
He held his helmet in two hands. “I’m going to talk to Adam Miller about his missing wife.”
What the . . . ?
“How did you get his name?” she asked.
“He was on the news about fifteen minutes ago, giving an impassioned plea for his wife’s safe return.” Mac settled his black helmet on his head and nodded toward the auto shop. “I saw it on the TV in the office.”
Damn. That was fast.
With no other options, she said. “Let’s drop your bike at your house, and you can ride with me.”
His eyes gleamed with victory. “Yes, ma’am.”
Stella opened her car door. “Follow me.”
But Mac’s engine started with a throaty rumble, drowning out her words. He roared out of the parking lot, and Stella rushed to catch up. Driving after him, she sincerely hoped this was not an indication of how well she could keep Mac Barrett under control.
In the passenger seat of Stella’s cruiser, Mac rubbed at his jaw. Shaving off his thick beard had left his face raw.
“I’d like to start at the accident scene,” he said.
“Makes sense. We’ll be passing it in a minute.”
Stella cruised to a stop on the shoulder of the road and they got out. Mac walked to the spot where he’d seen the woman. He closed his eyes. In his imagination, he saw driving rain, darkness, and a lifeless, female body. Cold passed through his bones and he opened his eyes to the sunlight.
Stella touched his arm. “Are you OK?”
He nodded, walking to the shoulder and scanning the roadside. He searched a sizable square of ground around the bend in the road, but saw nothing in the mud or tall weeds growing by the shoulder. “I’m pretty good at tracking. I was hoping to find something to follow.”
“Any footprints or tire tracks were washed away by the storm.” Stella watched him search the ground. “We issued an updated alert. Local, county, and state officers are looking for Dena Miller.”
Fifteen minutes later, he gave up. Back in the car, Mac found her case notes on the floor. He opened the file, appreciating her thoroughness and attention to detail. “How long has Dena Miller been married?”
“Five years, but you shouldn’t be reading that file,” she said but didn’t make a move to take it away from him.
Mac speed-read through her notes. He was of the ask-for-forgiveness-later mindset, and she seemed resigned to his intrusion. “What do you know about the husband?”
“We’re still investigating him.” Stella’s tone was curt.
“You don’t like him.”
“I don’t know enough about him to form an opinion.”
Ten minutes later, they stopped at a day spa. Dena’s massage therapist, Laura, verified she’d finished Dena’s massage around one and stated that Dena had acted normally. She didn’t seem to know her client on a personal level and didn’t have anything interesting to say. On the way out of the building, the receptionist gave Stella a printout of Dena’s receipt showing a one-oh-five p.m. checkout.
Stella parked in front of Active Physical Therapy and Personal Training, and they went inside. A door on the right led to a gym room. Weights clanged as a short, ripped guy grunted his way through a set of bicep curls.
Stella showed her badge at the reception desk and asked for Lyle Jones. They were shown into a small patient room to wait. Mac paced. Small spaces didn’t agree with him.
The door opened and a short, jacked dude walked in. His skin bore the deep orange of a bottle tan over a scattering of acne.
“I’m Lyle.” He shook their hands. “You want to talk about Dena?”
“Yes.” Stella produced her badge.
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