Mercy looked up and caught her breath. Joziah Bevins. Her memory of the man merged with the older man in front of her. The lines in his face had tripled, his hair had thinned and whitened, and there was a new stoop to his shoulders. He’s old!

Has my father aged the same way?

My mother?

Her throat thickened and she blinked rapidly.

“Hey, Joziah. Just catching some lunch,” said Truman.

Joziah turned his attention to Mercy, and his smile slowly faded. Recognition fluttered and then faded in his eyes.

“This is Mercy Kilpatrick. She’s with the Portland FBI office.”

Recognition caught flame. “Well. Mercy Kilpatrick. It’s been a long time. I hadn’t heard you were with the FBI. You’ve really outgrown our little town, haven’t you?” Curiosity and caution shone in his gaze.

She expected him to pat her on the head and call her a good little woman. If he told her to show her pretty smile, she’d stomp on his toes.

He’d said both things to her before, but she’d never had the desire to stomp on his toes. Of course, back then she’d believed that type of comment was acceptable.

Funny how she’d changed.

“Nice to see you again, Joziah.” Her mouth felt odd saying his name; he was still Mr. Bevins in her brain. Or “that asshole Bevins.” She heard the words in her father’s voice.

“Been out to see your parents?” Joziah asked.

Why is that the first thing anyone asks? “Not yet. I just got here.”

He nodded, wheels and gears spinning behind his eyes. He glanced at Truman and back at her. “Working on the murders?”

“We’ve asked the FBI for some support,” said Truman. “They have a lot more resources than Eagle’s Nest or county.”

“I was very sorry to hear about your uncle,” Joziah said to Truman. “He was a part of the community for a long time.”

“Thank you, Joziah.”

Bevins said his farewells and took a seat at the diner’s counter, placing his cowboy hat on the seat next to him.

Mercy had held her breath the whole time. When she was a child, Joziah had scared the crap out of her. Nothing had changed.

“Jesus,” said Truman. “I thought you were going to puke.”

Mercy stared at him. “What?”

“When you first looked at him, you turned slightly green. I take it there’s some history there? Not everyone gets a big hug like Barbara Johnson?”

“He and my father don’t like each other. I grew up learning to avoid him.”

“You’re an adult now. I think you can make your own decisions about people. I assume he and your father butted heads over some things?”

“That’s putting it mildly.”

“Joziah Bevins is a popular man around town. Your father commands respect too.”

“It’s always been that way.”

“Should I have not introduced you?”

“You had to say something.”

“I could have left off your last name and the FBI part. That seems disrespectful, though. Would you prefer I do that from here on out?”

Mercy glared at him. “I’m not hiding from anyone.”

Truman grinned. “Oh yeah? Coulda fooled me.”

TWELVE

Two decades ago

“Dammit, Deborah! I know it was one of Bevins’s crew!”

“You don’t know that, Karl. You’re making assumptions!”

Mercy hid at the top of the stairs, listening to her parents argue. They rarely raised their voices, and shouting was unheard of in their home. But their loud whispers had been enough to wake twelve-year-old Mercy and make her sneak out of the bedroom she shared with Pearl and Rose. The house was dark except for a dim-yellow glow from downstairs. That meant they were arguing in the kitchen, lit by the single bulb in the stove’s hood.

“Someone shot that cow. One of my best.”

“Accidents happen, Karl.”

“That was no accident. Bevins approached me again about joining his circle. He wants me to bring along our entire group. That’s not going to happen, and I’ve told him several times before.”

“He’s just scared and trying to reinforce his position. You’re valuable. His vet doesn’t have half the skills you do.”

“It’s not just me, Deborah. He wants you too.”

Her mother was silent. Mercy could imagine her mother’s one-shouldered shrug. She wasn’t a vain woman, but she knew her midwifery skills were unmatched in the area. All the area women called on her mother throughout their pregnancies. Even the ones who had medical insurance and went to a real doctor in Bend. They still checked in with her mother and asked for second opinions. It made Mercy proud.

“I know the cow was shot intentionally,” her father said, losing some steam. “It’s no coincidence that yesterday I turned Bevins down again.”

“What can we do?” asked Deborah.

The silence was long and Mercy leaned forward, waiting for her father’s answer. Joziah Bevins was the one man her father complained about. Karl Kilpatrick never had a bad word to say about anyone, unless it was Mr. Bevins. And even then, Mercy suspected he held back his words a lot of the time.

“Nothing.”

Mercy sagged against the stair rail in relief. She didn’t want her father to fight Mr. Bevins. Someone would get killed. Her brothers claimed their father wasn’t scared of Joziah Bevins, but her father’s frustration scared Mercy. Focusing on the care of his family and working on his preparations kept her father occupied, but this one man seemed to get to him.

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