She’d compensated by working her ass off. Staying prepared.

“I caught a glimpse of Dad earlier in town,” she said slowly. “He looks the same, but older.”

Pearl tipped her head. “You look older too.” Her gaze seemed to probe, searching for Mercy’s vulnerable spots. “Mom hasn’t changed. More gray. Hell, even I’ve got plenty of gray now.”

Mercy met the gaze, wondering if she was looking at herself in six years. She knew that between her and Rose, she had the strongest resemblance to Pearl. But I haven’t raised two kids and lived on a farm with pigs.

She had an overwhelming need to break her sister out of her prison. She leaned forward and lowered her voice. “Are you happy, Pearl? Is Rick good to you? Is there something else you want to do with your life?”

Shock crossed her sister’s face. Then anger. “Of course I’m happy! I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do, and I’m married to the best husband in the world. We have a good life here, Mercy. We don’t need to live in the big city and buy the latest iPhones and designer handbags,” she snapped. “Don’t pity me because I still live in Eagle’s Nest. It’s a good place to live a simple life.”

Mercy saw the lies in Pearl’s eyes; she didn’t challenge them. “I was just catching up on the last fifteen years. I’m not judging you.” The lie soured on her tongue.

She looked down at her blank notepad and calmed her brain, focusing on the second reason for visiting her sister. “Did you know weapons were stolen from Jennifer’s apartment that night?”

“No.” Surprise infused Pearl’s tone. “I knew she had a few guns. Everyone does. Is that important?”

“We’re not sure. Weapons were missing from Gwen Vargas’s home too.”

Pearl sat back in her chair. “Huh.” She was quiet for a moment. “Easy to sell.”

“Yes,” agreed Mercy. “A photo album was missing from Gwen’s home, but nothing like that was reported from Jennifer’s. Do you know if anything personal was stolen? Maybe something her parents mentioned later?”

“I don’t recall,” said Pearl. “I didn’t talk to her parents except at her funeral.”

“Did the officers ever show you pictures of the crime scene?”

“No. And I don’t want to see them.”

“What if I got you some pictures of Jennifer’s room? Would you be able to tell if anything was missing?”

Pearl thought for a moment. “I honestly don’t know.”

“You practically lived there.”

A sad smile crossed her sister’s face. “That’s true. I could look—as long as they’re not pictures of . . . the body—but it’s been a long time to remember small details.”

“I’ll keep that option in mind. Do you remember what happened to the mirrors in the crime scenes?”

Pearl covered her mouth with one hand. “I’d forgotten about that. They were all broken. It was odd.”

“Have you heard of anything else like that happening around here?”

She thought hard for a moment and slowly shook her head, her gaze unfocused. “I think I’d remember if something like that happened again. So many rumors were going around after their deaths . . . they said the killer was disfigured and couldn’t look at himself in the mirror. Or it was actually a woman who hated both Gwen and Jennifer because they were attractive.”

“They were raped.”

“Rumors don’t follow logic, and there are other methods of rape, you know.”

Mercy froze. Had penetration with a foreign object been considered? There’d been no semen. She needed to read the police reports again.

Pearl made a good point.

But I know a woman wasn’t there when Rose and I were attacked.

Doubt flooded through her. Mental images clashing with logic.

A woman could have been there. Or instigated the crimes.

She took several deep breaths, trying to rationally process the new possibility her sister had raised.

Could a woman have recently killed the three men? And stolen their weapons?

She kicked herself for allowing a sexual bias to cloud her thinking. Don’t discount women. They were capable of having done any of the crimes. The odds stated their killer or killers were male, but that didn’t mean they shouldn’t consider a woman.

“Was there someone that jealous of Jennifer?”

Her sister took a deep breath. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know or won’t say?” Mercy asked carefully.

“Just because someone is a bitch, it doesn’t mean they’re capable of murder.”

“Very true. But if you have suspicions, you should speak up.”

“I didn’t have suspicions. There’s no way she would have done something like that.”

“Who?”

“Teresa Cooley. But just because she fought with Jennifer doesn’t mean she’d kill her. Or Gwen.”

Mercy couldn’t put a face with the name. It was slightly familiar. She scribbled it on her notepad, feeling as if she’d read the name recently. Perhaps in the police reports. Pearl might not have suggested the name years ago, but possibly someone else had.

Was a woman behind the attacks back then?

A small door to her memories tried to burst open. She mentally leaned against it, refusing to let its contents send her hiding under her covers. The memory of the attack didn’t need to resurface again. Once after her visit with Rose had been enough.

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