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The distance between her and her father might never be bridged. Her mother was coming around, but only as far as she was comfortable under her husband’s watchful eye. Pearl was similar, acting stiff around Mercy when her husband was present. Owen wouldn’t let his family acknowledge her, and Rose had admitted he was angry about Levi’s death.

I don’t care how my family feels. Not much, anyway.

She inhaled the baked scent of the pines, refusing to feel shame that she couldn’t stand in a line and listen to the mourners spout their banalities.

Today is about Levi. I said my good-bye.

She’d come to terms with what Levi had done to her and Rose. She hadn’t forgiven him. Yet. But she refused to harbor any hatred. What was done was done. Allowing anger to fester against her dead brother would only hurt her.

In a few weeks she’d ask a few people to share happy memories of her brother. Just not today.

“Aunt Mercy?” Kaylie appeared beside her. “I don’t want to stand in that line.”

The sight of her niece lifted her spirits. Levi was always present in Kaylie’s face and in her gestures. The more time Mercy spent with the teen, the more she saw the young Levi she remembered. It was comforting.

Two days ago Mercy told Kaylie her name had been the last word on Levi’s lips. The girl had fallen apart at the revelation, but Mercy had known it would comfort her later.

Now Mercy put an arm around her shoulders. “I can’t do it either. I think it’s okay if we stand back here and watch.” Kaylie’s mother hadn’t attended, and Mercy’s heart hurt for the teenager.

So alone.

“Your daddy loved you very much,” Mercy whispered, knowing the girl had heard the phrase a thousand times in the last few days. Mercy’s mother had brought Kaylie to stay in her home and fussed over her in a way Mercy suspected the teen had never experienced.

“I know,” Kaylie said. She took a deep breath. “I have a big favor to ask you.”

“Anything.”

“I want to come live with you in Portland.”

Mercy started. That she hadn’t expected. Levi’s last request rang in her head, and she shut it away. She hadn’t told anyone what he’d asked of her. “You have another year of school left. You should finish it here. Grandma and Aunt Pearl will take good care of you.” Her voice shook.

Kaylie shook her head. “They don’t get me. It’s always just been my dad and me. I don’t know how to fit in with a family.”

“Oh, Kaylie—”

“You don’t have to make up your mind yet,” she said quickly. “Think about it. I clean up after myself and I don’t need to be entertained.”

Can I take on a teenager?

She pulled the girl tight to her side, remembering how abandoned she’d felt as a teenager. She wouldn’t let that happen to Kaylie.

But she had her own life to straighten out first.

“Trust me,” Mercy said. “I won’t leave you alone. But I have some things to do, and then I’ll tell you what I decide.”

Kaylie looked her in the eye. “Promise?”

“Absolutely.”

Truman watched Mercy hug her niece as he waited his turn in the receiving line.

He wanted to skip it and escape like Mercy, but the chief of police had a duty. He took his turn, shaking hands, hugging the women and repeating his “I’m sorry for your loss” line until he felt blue in the face. He shook the last hand and stepped away.

“Hey, Truman.” Mike Bevins fell into step with him, and he stopped to shake another hand.

No escape yet.

“I know this is the wrong time to bring it up, but I’m hearing some rumors and I thought I’d run them by you.”

“What’d you hear?” Truman asked cautiously. He’d been interviewed several times about the shooting at Ned Fahey’s home, but the public still asked him questions.

Mike looked down at his boots. “Did Craig really say that he killed those men because he wanted to be next in line for my father’s business?” His shoulders slumped.

Truman took a breath. “Yeah, he told Rose that. That was news to you?”

“In a way.” Mike finally met his gaze. “He was always a half step behind me, you know? Craig wasn’t a talker, but when he did, he often asked about my future plans and encouraged me to move to Portland and start teaching those survival classes. I didn’t realize it was because he wanted me out of the way.”

“Is your father here?” Truman asked.

“No. His health has taken a turn for the worse.”

“I’m sorry, Mike. What are you going to do?”

Mike turned to look at the receiving line, where Owen Kilpatrick stood next to his father. “For now I’m going to be what my father needs me to be. But I won’t let it rule my life.”

“You could do both. Run the ranch and teach.”

“I know,” he said. “But I’d hoped for a clean break.” His blue eyes met Truman’s. “There will be some changes at the ranch when my father dies. There are some aspects of his philosophy that I don’t care to continue.”

No more preparing for the end of the world at the Bevins ranch?

Truman wondered how the loss of that pillar would rock the rest of the town. “Good luck. I’m here if you need me.” He held out his hand.

Mike was solemn as he took the hand. “I know. Thank you, Truman.” He left to join a circle of men waiting for him. Truman watched him go, wondering how heavily those men leaned on Mike Bevins. They might have a few changes coming.

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