Someone had sunk a lot of money and elbow grease into the house.
Eddie opened the door with the oval lead glass and Mercy followed, feeling slightly grumpy.
Bed-and-breakfasts weren’t her thing. Too personal. She’d prefer an anonymous hotel with four plain walls where the staff didn’t know her name and she didn’t have to share a breakfast table with strangers.
“Smell that?” Eddie whispered. “Now I’m hungry again.”
She inhaled, and the odor of fresh-baked cookies flooded her senses. Her stomach rumbled.
“Hello, hello! I’m so glad you’re here!” A tall, slender woman with long, red hair came through a swinging door behind a small reception desk. She wiped her hands on her white apron and gave them a genuine smile. Flour dusted her T-shirt. She reminded Mercy of a hostess on a TV cooking show. “Nice to see you again, Agent Peterson.” She nodded at Eddie. “I have your rooms ready for you.” She held out a hand to Mercy.
Mercy took it. “I’m Mercy.” The cookie odor hovered around the woman, and Mercy couldn’t help but return her smile.
“You don’t know how relieved we are to be here,” said Eddie. “Do I smell cookies?” he asked hopefully.
“I’m always happy to have law enforcement staying in my place,” Sandy said. “It always feels a little safer. And the cookies have just a few more minutes. Once you’re settled into your rooms, you’ll find a plate of cookies right over there on that table. They’ll be there every afternoon. And there’s always fresh coffee.”
“I’m in heaven,” Eddie muttered. “Are you single?”
“No,” Sandy said firmly with a flash of dimples. “You’re young enough to be my son.”
“Adoption works too.”
“You’re going to be trouble, aren’t you?” she asked.
Mercy fought to control her eye roll. “It smells great. Which way to the rooms?”
Sandy led her upstairs to a pleasant room with an attached bath. Mercy peeked in the bathroom. Eddie was right: it had a newly tiled big-ass shower. As Sandy took Eddie to his room, Mercy jogged back downstairs and out the door to get her water and food stash out of the back of the Tahoe. She slammed the rear door of the Tahoe shut, and a white pickup caught her eye as it parked at the post office across the street. A man stepped out and walked around the back of the truck, his profile to her.
She caught her breath.
She knew the walk and the tilt of his head. Even the style of cap was familiar.
His jeans were faded and loose, and heavy work boots were on his feet.
He walked in the door of the post office and vanished.
Mercy couldn’t move, her bag gripped in her hand.
Does he know I’m in town?
No doubt. Gossip travels fast, and she’d bumped into too many familiar faces.
He looked older. His hair was white instead of salt and pepper. His shoulders were more stooped. He was still thin. No aging beer paunch for him. He took his health too seriously to allow it.
She took two steps in the direction of the ancient Ford truck, unsurprised that her father had kept it running all these years. He didn’t buy anything new. He’d drive the truck until it could no longer be repaired.
What will I say to him?
She stopped. Unable to take another step as fear coiled in her stomach.
Hey, Dad. Remember me?
What if he didn’t acknowledge her? Like Levi hadn’t?
I can’t deal with this right now.
She turned around and blindly walked up the steps to Sandy’s, barely able to lift her feet, drowning in a need to connect with the rest of her family.
Pearl would talk to her. And Mercy could ask her about Jennifer Sanders. A work interview.
Yes, that’s what it will be.
Eddie had offered to come with her, but Mercy turned him down. Concern had flashed in his eyes when he realized she was headed to see a sister she hadn’t spoken with in fifteen years.
She didn’t want his pity. She didn’t want him to smooth the way for her.
It was something she had to do on her own.
She’d thought about asking Truman Daly to meet her there. The Sanders case belonged to his department, and he had the right to know that Mercy was contacting a witness. But she talked herself out of calling him, knowing she’d update him later. She didn’t want any observers if Pearl slammed the door in her face.
Those brown eyes of his saw too much.
She knew Truman was trying to figure her out, and she wasn’t ready for it. Eddie and her coworkers saw what she wanted them to see. A hard-working but slightly unsocial agent. But Truman had seen her reaction to his uncle’s home and her encounters with Joziah Bevins and David Aguirre.
She wasn’t ready to let him see more. Especially a reunion with her estranged sister.
The driveway to her sister’s small ranch home was long. Mercy had checked to see if the home was still owned by Rick Turner, Pearl’s husband, and wasn’t surprised to see that Pearl’s name wasn’t on the public record as a co-owner. It was the mind-set she expected from her family. Men own the property; women lean on the men.
As they work their fingers off to take care of their home and family.
Pearl had been her first sibling to get married. Mercy had been awestruck by her sister in her white wedding dress. Pearl and Rick had seemed mature and worldly to Mercy’s twelve-year-old eyes. Now, knowing her sister had been only eighteen when she married made Mercy want to cry. Pearl had gotten pregnant immediately.
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