Mercy sat silently. It was probably the closest she’d ever feel to being vindicated.
It felt empty. Pointless.
For years she’d wanted to tell her family, “You’re making a mistake,” and Levi had just admitted it.
It didn’t heal her soul-deep ache.
She sipped her drink, not tasting it, dumbfounded that Levi’s words hadn’t healed her years of guilt.
I’m still estranged from half my family. I’ve lost years I’ll never get back.
“It’s a delicate balance here, Mercy,” Levi said. He rubbed a cuticle with his thumbnail and she noticed all his cuticles were red and swollen. “Everything is about status and power. The fact that Dad and Joziah Bevins can exist in the same town is due to a lot of hard work and careful words.”
She thought of Daisy the cow.
Levi didn’t look her in the eye as he picked at the cuticle. The ugly undercurrents that she’d felt as a teenager in Eagle’s Nest were still here. Nothing had changed. People cared only about protecting their own asses.
Bells jingled and she felt a rush of cool air from outdoors hit her back. She tensed, realizing her back was exposed to whoever had walked in, but Levi stood and instantly transformed into Happy Coffee Dude. “Hey, guys, how’s it going?”
He glanced at Mercy and raised a questioning brow.
She didn’t know what her brother wanted. He headed behind the coffee bar, asking the men who’d entered what they would like to drink. Four men in heavy boots plodded past her, their coats dotted with misting rain. The smells of wet dirt and fresh air followed in their wake. Mercy studied their backs and listened to her brother’s patter. He called them all by name. Craig, Mike, Ray, Chuck. Between coffee orders, Levi continued to shoot her the same questioning look.
One of the men turned and gazed at her over his shoulder. It took her a full two seconds to recognize him.
Levi was asking if I want them to know who I am.
Mike broke off from the group and strode toward her with his hand outstretched. “You’re one of the FBI agents in town, aren’t you? We appreciate you taking a look into these murders. Our whole town has been rattled.” She stood and shook his hand.
No recognition in his eyes.
Relief flowed through her, along with a bit of annoyance. Mike had hung out with Owen in his youth. Apparently the youngest Kilpatrick sibling had been beneath his notice.
She gave an automatic smile. “We’re doing what we can.” Behind him she saw the other three men turn to note the exchange. She recognized Craig Rafferty but couldn’t place the other two men.
The one named Chuck strolled over with his huge coffee cup. His dark eyes studied her over the lid as he took a sip. “Cops in coffee shops. How’s that for a stereotype?”
She wanted to kick him in the side of the kneecap. Hard.
“Just like ranch hands in Wranglers and boots,” she replied. She touched her upper lip. “You’ve got foam on your moustache. I guess you ranching guys don’t drink your coffee black anymore.” She winked at him with a sly grin. “I like hazelnut syrup too.” Gag.
Mike grinned and elbowed the other man. “Watch out, Chuck. She’s onto you.”
Anger flashed in Chuck’s eyes and he turned his back.
“Ignore him.” Mike Bevins was still smiling.
“I will.” She sat back down and sipped her own drink, hoping he’d see she was done with the encounter. Mike Bevins reminded her too much of his father, Joziah. Same build, same eyes. At least Mike felt genuinely friendly. Joziah’s attitude had always felt forced.
“If you need someone to show you around town, I’m more than happy to.” His blue eyes shone with speculation.
“Thank you. I’m good. GPS, you know.”
“That doesn’t tell you where to find a great dinner,” he pressed. He leaned closer and rested a booted foot on a stool. “I liked the way you handled Chuck.”
She wanted to sigh. “Thank you. But really . . . I’m good.” She could be polite for only so long.
He held her gaze for another long moment, a puzzled look crossing his face.
Not used to being turned down?
She forced a smile to take out the sting, showing her teeth. Why can’t women simply say no and men leave it at that? “I’m working,” she added, kicking herself for feeling the need to let him down easy and protect his ego.
Mike nodded. “As you wish. Enjoy Eagle’s Nest.” He turned and went back to where the last of the guys was paying for his drink. The men tromped out, giving her polite nods or touching their hat brims. Chuck looked straight ahead.
Levi sank back into the seat across from her. “Mike recognized you?”
“Nope. He knew I was one of the agents in town, so I assume that much has made the gossip rounds. My name will eventually follow.” How will he feel when he realizes he hit on Owen’s little sister?
“I didn’t know if you wanted me to introduce you.”
“What’d you say to Chuck?”
“I complimented his drink.”
“He’s an ass. Hasn’t been in town that long.”
“I recognized Craig Rafferty. I had a bit of a crush on him way back when.”
“No way! You were a child.”
“Old enough to be interested in my brother’s cute friends. I liked them tall and moody.”
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