“Mercy Kilpatrick?” Astonishment rang in Barbara’s tone. Mercy was out of her seat and hugging the woman before Truman could blink.

The women pulled apart and stared at each other before laughing and hugging again. Barbara wiped tears from her eyes. “Oh, girl. It’s so good to see you! I’ve thought about you so many times over the years.” They pulled apart again and Barbara looked Mercy up and down. “You look fantastic. City life agrees with you.”

“Thank you so much, Mrs. Johnson.”

“Call me Barbara now. You’re not a child anymore.” She looked at Truman. “Mercy was one of my star pupils. I always knew she’d go far.”

Mercy wiped at her own eyes. “Thank you, Mrs.—Barbara,” she said awkwardly. “You don’t know how much that means to me. You were a rock I could lean on, and I always could talk to you.”

“Where have you been? Why haven’t you come back to visit before now?” the woman asked. “I see your parents all the time, but they never talk about you.”

Mercy glanced at Truman and guilt flashed in her eyes. “It’s a long story. Can we meet at another time to talk? I’m working right now.”

“I’m sure the police chief won’t—”

“Can we please save it for later, Barbara? I’d love to catch up with you,” Mercy said quickly. “We’re tight on time.” She shot a pleading glance at Truman.

He was tempted to invite the kind woman to join them, simply to see how Mercy reacted. “She’s right, Barbara. We need to eat and run.”

Disappointment flooded Barbara’s face, and Truman’s heart twisted at the unfamiliar sight. “All right.” She shook a finger at Mercy. “You better not leave town without paying me a visit. I’ll hunt you down if you do.”

“I promise,” Mercy agreed.

The woman left after a few more words, and Mercy slid back into the booth as Sara appeared with their food. Truman silently added ketchup and mustard to his burger, swirling it around on the bun. He put the burger back together and took a bite, slowly chewing. He waited through a full minute of silence while Mercy attacked her salad, her gaze firmly on her food. He finally spoke.

“So . . . Special Agent Kilpatrick. I think you have something to tell me.”

Mercy swallowed a large corn chip and it scratched its way down her esophagus. She coughed and grabbed her glass of water. Truman took a bite of burger and calmly watched her as he chewed.

How much does he know?

She mentally raced through explanations, discarding most of them as she poked at her salad.

Stick to the truth. Doesn’t have to be the whole truth.

“I grew up in Eagle’s Nest, but I haven’t lived here since I was eighteen.” She risked a look at him, meeting his gaze. Truman showed no surprise. He was proving to have a solid poker face.

He took another bite of burger, and ketchup dripped onto his plate. His gaze didn’t leave her eyes. One of his brows rose. And?

“I had an argument with my parents.” She shrugged. “Teen stuff, you know. Boundaries. Life philosophies. Seeing how far I could push.” She stabbed at her salad a few more times, no longer hungry. “Anyway, I haven’t had a reason to come back.”

“But you’ve been in touch with your parents.”

“No.”

“Nothing?”

“Nope.”

“E-mail? Christmas cards?”

“None of us have tried anything.”

“But you’ve got four siblings. You talk to them, right?”

Mercy blanched. “You knew?”

“I put it together after Toby Cox said you looked like Kaylie Kilpatrick. I thought maybe you were her mother who took off years ago, but Ina Smythe set me straight.”

Mercy set down her fork as a black haze tunneled her vision. “What else did Mrs. Smythe tell you?”

“She couldn’t remember why you left town.”

Good.

“Why didn’t you immediately tell me you were from Eagle’s Nest?” His brows narrowed as he took a drink from his soda. “Were you trying to get the job done and get out before anyone noticed you?”

“Something like that.” Mercy sat perfectly still, fighting her body’s need to dash out the door. “This isn’t my favorite place.”

Truman nodded, seeming to accept that, but Mercy could tell he knew there was more to the story. He wasn’t going to pry it out of her. Yet.

“Your boss know you’re from here?”

“My boss in Portland does. She must have told the SSRA in Bend, because he mentioned it.”

“Is that why they sent you? They thought you’d have some insight into this community?”

Mercy paused. Could that be the reason? “I’d just cleared some cases off my desk. I was due for a new assignment.”

“And Peterson? Why’d they send him? There’s no way that agent has any roots on this side of the Cascades.”

“He worked on one of the cases I just closed. We work well together.”

“Anything else I should know?” Truman asked. He dropped his gaze and focused on cleaning up the ketchup with a fry.

“No.”

“Good.”

Silence hung over the table for a few minutes as Mercy tackled her salad again. For a small-town diner, it served an excellent salsa.

“How you doin’, Chief?” A gravelly voice interrupted their meal.

***

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