Mercy smiled. “It’s good to see you,” she whispered. No matter the situation that had broken their family apart, Pearl was her sister. “How are your kids?”

“One’s married and the other is a junior in high school,” Pearl said proudly. “Are you married?”

“No. It’s never happened for me.”

Pity flashed in Pearl’s eyes.

“I love my job,” Mercy felt the need to state. “Part of the reason I’m here is because we’re also looking into Jennifer Sanders’s death. I discovered there’s been no follow-up since the first investigation.”

Pearl looked away. “I try not to think about that anymore. Would you like something to drink?”

Mercy agreed and followed Pearl into the kitchen. The atmosphere had changed, and the excitement of their seeing each other had been replaced by caution and curiosity. And walls. Walls had gone up in Pearl’s eyes at the mention of Jennifer. Did Pearl think Mercy had visited only because she had official questions?

It was partially true.

“I wanted to see you,” Mercy said as she watched Pearl make two cups of tea. The faint scent of licorice filled the room, and Mercy smiled. It’d been their mother’s favorite tea. Mercy still bought it. “I’m not here solely for work.”

Pearl gave her a knowing look. “So you’re saying you would have stopped by at some point or another?”

Mercy had no answer.

“It’s okay, Mercy. I understand. It’s a two-way street. I could have reached out to you.”

But you never would. Not since our father ordered everyone not to associate with me.

It was stupid. They were adults abiding by their father’s ancient demands.

Some habits were hard to break.

Especially if you believed Dad was absolutely right.

Pearl set a mug of tea in front of her and sat in the chair across the table. A decorative sign above the sink said: Use it up. Wear it out. Make do or do without.

How many times did I hear my father say that?

Mercy wouldn’t have chosen those words to decorate her kitchen. “Can we talk about Jennifer?” she asked.

Pearl took a sip of tea and nodded, her gaze on the tablecloth. Mercy drew a notepad out of her bag and her sister frowned at it.

“I feel like I’ve done something wrong,” she said.

“Only if you’re the one who killed Jennifer.”

Pearl dropped her mug a half inch onto the tabletop and sloshed hot tea on the table. She swore and wiped it up with a napkin from a stack in the center of the table. “Of course I didn’t kill her! What kind of question is that?”

“The type of question that points out that you have nothing to feel guilty about.”

The annoyance on Pearl’s face was reminiscent of their childhood squabbles.

Her sister sighed, propped up an arm, and leaned her chin on one hand, gazing at Mercy. “You’re right. What do you want to know?”

“You were interviewed by an Eagle’s Nest officer after the murders. Do you remember that?” Mercy didn’t mention she’d already read the officer’s notes on the interview.

“Of course. I was horrified at what’d happened. The officer was nice and respectful, and wanted to know when I’d talked to her last and if I knew of anyone who’d want to hurt Jennifer.”

“Did you?”

“No. Everyone liked Jennifer.”

“Was she dating anyone?”

Pearl moved her gaze to stare out the window. “Not right then. She didn’t have a steady boyfriend.”

“I didn’t say steady. Did she date anyone? Even just casual get-togethers?”

“She dated Owen for a while before he married Sheila.”

“What? Really?” Mercy straightened in her chair. “I had no idea she dated our brother.”

“It didn’t last. She dated several of the guys in his circle. David Aguirre, Mike Bevins. Jamie Palmer. Nothing was ever serious, and of course none of them could have been involved in her death . . . that was done by someone crazy. Probably someone who was passing through town.”

Mercy pressed her lips together. Crazy was often discovered in plain sight.

“I’ve thought and thought about that day,” said Pearl. “I could never think of anyone who could be a suspect.” She wiped her eyes. “Sometimes I wonder if our daughters would have been best friends like Jennifer and I were.”

Sadness overwhelmed Mercy. She’d never had that sort of friendship with another female. Her sisters had been her closest friends. Until they no longer were.

“Levi’s daughter is close in age to your son, right?”

“Yes, Kaylie is in the same grade as him.” A mothering look entered her eyes. “Kaylie is a bit wild. Levi does his best, but he gives her a lot of leeway that our dad never did.”

Mercy remembered the small stud in Kaylie’s nose at the coffee shop and silently agreed. And cheered.

“Levi raised her alone?”

“Yes.” Pearl hesitated. “He’s never been quite the same since Kaylie’s mother left. He really cut down on his involvement with the family. Dad and Owen have just about given up on him. I don’t think he pulls his weight. I don’t think he wants to anymore.”

A chill shot through Mercy at the thought of Levi being cut from the family’s circle.

Why does that bother me? I was cut.

She hated the thought of anyone being on their own. She’d learned to pave her own way, and it hadn’t been easy. Every day she was fully aware that she didn’t have her own community to lean on. When she’d first left, it’d been freeing, but it’d also been terrifying. Walking a tightrope without a net.

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