“We did what we had to do, Rose.”

“Did we?”

SIXTEEN

Later that night Mercy couldn’t sleep, but it wasn’t because she had energy to burn and a list of tasks to tackle. Tonight she was drained, so drained she was unable to relax into sleep. The roller coaster of emotions with Rose had burned her out.

It’d been worth it to talk with her sister again.

But now, as she lay in bed and stared at the ceiling, violence haunted the dim corners of her hotel room. She heard every sound in the old building. A flushed toilet. Footsteps walking past her room. The slam of a car door. She tried to tune them out.

Instead a fifteen-year-old flashback erupted to the surface. Bloodshed and fear and guilt.

Mercy yanked the gate closed and double-checked the latch.

In the dark she followed the path to the house, thankful she’d finished her homework at school. Spring was crazy busy on their farm and it would be nearly eleven by the time she got to bed. Jealousy flashed as she thought of the girls at school who lived in town. No animals to tend, no gardens to weed. Plenty of time to watch TV.

A different life. Mercy and her family lived differently for a reason. One she was proud of, but that didn’t mean she always liked it.

Those girls would be very sorry when they found themselves without gas for their cars and food for their meals one day.

Life would give them a crash course in gardening.

Her parents were gone for the night. They’d traveled to Portland for their semiannual shopping trip even though her mother had worried about leaving the three siblings alone after Pearl’s friend was murdered. Mercy’s father had waved off her concern. “No one can take care of themselves better than our kids.”

Her mother had reluctantly agreed. Throughout the year her parents would make a list of items they couldn’t get on this side of the Cascades. Last night they’d analyzed their list for hours, debating cost versus necessity of an ultracold medical freezer, a microhydro generator, and a half-dozen other items. Mercy had finally tuned them out. She didn’t care what they did. She loved her parents, but sometimes they took their TEOTWAWKI preparations a little too seriously. Other families took vacations; hers tucked away every extra penny.

At least Owen and Pearl could do as they pleased. They’d both married and now lived in their own homes in Eagle’s Nest, but Owen still spent a lot of time with her father, asking advice on prepping and then recruiting him and Levi to help him install solar panels. Owen was becoming more like her father every day—so serious about life. What happened to her older brother who would drag race and drink beer behind the Wilsons’ barn?

She stepped through the back door of her house. “Rose? Is there any pie left?” she yelled. Her stomach growled at the thought of her sister’s apple pie. Rose made an incredible pie. Her sense of smell alerted her when a piecrust was perfect; she didn’t need to see the color.

Silence greeted her. Mercy kicked off her wet boots in the mudroom and hung up her jacket. In stocking feet, she checked the cupboards for the remains of the pie. Rose had learned to hide baked goods or else Levi would eat everything. Mercy had eaten one small slice when the pie had come out of the oven, and she steeled herself for the discovery that Levi had finished the rest.

She wished he’d get married and move out. He’d already fathered a baby girl; he just needed to get things straight with Kaylie’s mother.

Thumping and a small crash sounded from her father’s den on the other side of the house.

“Rose? You okay?” Mercy kept snooping through the cupboards, wishing she had Rose’s sense of smell to find the pie.

“Darn it! Levi!” Opening the dishwasher, she’d discovered the empty glass pie pan.

More thumping sounded. Mercy slammed the dishwasher and went to see what her sister had knocked over. The front door was wide open, and she pushed it closed as she passed by, following the sounds to the den.

She rounded a hall corner and spotted her sister on the den floor. A man straddled her bleeding body. He looked up as Mercy froze and he lunged for her, knocking her to her knees as she spun around to run.

In the hallway his weight landed on her back, crushing the breath out of her lungs. She fought, swinging her arms and kicking her legs with every fiber of her muscles. She flung her head upward and was rewarded with a satisfying chunk as she connected with his nose.

“Fucking bitch!”

He grabbed her hair, yanking her head back, and punched the side of her face with his other hand. A section of hair ripped out of her scalp. Mercy’s eyes watered and her neck throbbed where it overextended. She stopped fighting.

He’s going to kill me.

Is Rose already dead?

Is this what happened to those other girls?

Is he the killer?

He released her hair and leaned harder on her back, speaking in her ear, his breath hot on her skin. An odor of fear and excitement reached her nose, rancid and oily. Her brain refused to compute his words of terror.

He yanked on the back of her jeans waistband.

Something erupted deep inside her and she arched back, leading with her elbow, determined to find his face. Her elbow connected with his eye socket and he screamed, slapping his hands over his eye. Mercy scrambled out from under him, kicking frantically, wishing she still wore her boots. She tripped and lunged, barely keeping her balance, to get back to the den to Rose.

Her sister was on her hands and knees; blood trickled from her nose and mouth, and her dress was torn down the front. Her bra and stomach were visible. Mercy stopped in shock and then rushed to help her sister. Rose cowered back and rose to her knees, one of their father’s handguns in her shaking hand, pointing at Mercy.

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