“Back then it was no big deal to sell a rifle to your neighbor. No one cared. So we’re back to the same question we’ve asked for fifteen years. Who’s the second guy?”

The background music of the café filled the silence between her and Levi. Nancy Wilson’s powerful voice asked in song if she was so afraid of one who was so afraid of her.

“We don’t know how to find him, and he’s afraid of being found.” She stated the obvious.

“Did Rose say more about who she thinks it was?” Levi asked.

“Not when I talked with her yesterday. Most of the town was at the Bevins barbecue the day she thought she heard the voice for the first time. There’s no guarantee she’s remembering that part correctly.” Mercy’s brain started to spin. “She could have heard it in a store . . . or maybe even mixed it up with something on TV . . . we don’t know that was where she heard it.” Anxiety started as a small bud in her chest and quickly bloomed. Rose’s early certainty about where she’d heard the second voice was the catalyst that’d pitted Mercy against her father.

She’d defended her sister’s belief and wanted to go to the Bevins ranch and find the source of the voice. They’d made up a lie, telling her father that Rose had heard a man outside their home and thought someone was about to break in, never revealing to him or the rest of the family that someone had broken in and attacked his daughters.

Her father had declared Rose was mistaken about the voice and refused to allow Mercy to rock his fragile relationship with the powerful rancher. He’d told Mercy to stay silent. When she’d rebelled against the silence, it’d enhanced the problems she already had with her father’s views on the roles of women. At home. In public. For the future. Mercy knew she couldn’t live in the shadow of a man for the rest of her life. Their fights came to a head, and he told her to accept his ways or leave for good.

The family had supported his decision, leaving Mercy ostracized and standing alone with her beliefs.

She made the difficult choice and left Eagle’s Nest, her family, and the only way of life she’d ever known, but her attacker was never far from her thoughts. Memories of him persisted.

His smell.

His hands.

His hot breath. And sharp nails. And stinging punches. And—

She shut it down.

Not now.

Mercy had felt abandoned.

She’d been nearly raped and murdered and had kept it a secret.

And her family had stood up against her.

“How did you get your job?” Levi abruptly asked.

She embraced the change of subject and directed her brain back from the edge of an abyss. She knew Levi wasn’t asking about her educational requirements. He wanted to know how she could have killed someone and become an FBI agent. “Lies of omission. It was easy for me to say I’ve never been convicted of a crime. And I passed all their psychological testing without problems.”

“That’s because it was justified,” Levi said firmly. “In your heart you know you did what was right. We both did. Do you like your job?”

“I love it,” she admitted. “My brain is engaged every day. I spend a lot of time staring at a computer screen, but I love assembling the puzzle pieces once I find them.”

“Sounds dull,” said Levi. “But you were always the one asking questions and looking deeper into stuff. I can remember you digging in the dirt for hours, fascinated with every layer you uncovered.”

“It changed colors and textures. I wanted to know why.” It was true. She would pick apart a piece of nature, break it into the smallest elements she could see, and then pester her siblings with her questions.

“I always figured you for some sort of scientist,” he said gruffly.

“I like what I’m doing better.”

“You’re lucky you left.”

His tone stabbed her heart. “You can’t mean that.” His gaze focused on her coffee, and she wished he’d look at her.

“For a long time I didn’t think you were lucky. I was pissed at you and I was glad that the fighting in the family stopped once you left, but then I resented you for escaping.”

If he’d slapped her, she couldn’t have been more shocked. “Nothing’s keeping you here. Why resent me?”

“I was stuck. I had Kaylie and her mom to deal with. I didn’t have the open road that you did.”

“Open road?” Anger flew up her throat. “I was shoved out the door and told to not come back. My father told me I was wrong. My choice was to live under his rules or leave. That’s no fucking open road!”

He cringed, but he looked her in the eye. “I know that. I can see it now. But back then I just wanted out too. This isn’t how I pictured my life.”

Mercy scanned the coffee shop. “It looks like a pretty damned fine life to me. You’ve got a beautiful daughter and a great business supplying crack to your buyers.” She met his gaze. “It appears peaceful.”

Levi looked at the room with pride. “Kaylie did most of it. She’s got a knack for making something sort of awesome out of a pile of junk.” He glanced at Mercy. “She’s a lot like you.”

Mercy didn’t know what to say. She’s obsessive? She can’t turn her brain off?

“Dad was wrong to put you in such a hard place.” His Adam’s apple moved up and down. “I told him he’d fucked up. But I told him too late. You were long gone. He has his pride. He’ll never admit he made a mistake.”


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