He dropped it in the tip jar. “You too.” He took his cup out of Mercy’s hand, his gaze still questioning her.

Mercy took one last lingering look at her niece and then at her brother. Levi turned and vanished without acknowledging her again. She followed Eddie out into the cold and got in their car. She held her coffee with both hands, unable to look at the other agent.

“That guy clearly knew you but didn’t say anything,” Eddie stated. “And since the barista who looks exactly like you is his daughter, I assume he’s your brother?” His voice cracked on the final word.

Mercy nodded and sipped her coffee. Damn. She’d forgotten to add the heavy cream.

“Who doesn’t acknowledge his sister? Not that you said anything either,” he muttered. “So I assume whatever the issue is, it goes both ways? Did you know that was his coffee place?”

“No.”

Eddie sighed and took a long swig out of his paper cup. “Sorry, Mercy. None of my business.” He paused for all of two seconds. “Tell me you knew that was your niece.”

“No. I suspected it once you pointed it out, but I didn’t know which sibling of mine she belonged to.”

“You knew this brother had kids, right?”

“One.”

“He didn’t wear a wedding ring. Was he married?”

“No. When I left, his girlfriend wouldn’t let him visit their one-year-old daughter. I guess that changed.” Mercy set down her cup and started the car. “Let’s get going to the other crime scene before it’s full dark.” She backed out of the parking space. Embarrassment with a small spark of fury flushed her face. She hadn’t heard a peep out of her family in fifteen years.

What other surprises waited for her in Eagle’s Nest?

THREE

Truman Daly swore under his breath.

He’d followed the old Ford pickup for a mile as it weaved and bobbed down the rural highway, the driver pointedly ignoring the swirling lights and sirens from Truman’s vehicle. He had to make a quick decision before the Ford entered a populated part of the town. Truman knew the driver and fully expected an earful when he finally got Anders Beebe to the side of the road. An earful he’d already heard a half-dozen times in his six months as Eagle’s Nest police chief. The old Ford caught a tire in the soft shoulder and overcorrected into the oncoming lane, then swerved back into its own.

Anders has to be drunk.

Making his decision, Truman accelerated and pulled the department’s Tahoe into the other lane, preparing to tap the old-timer’s right rear fender and send him into a spin. Instead, before Truman could tap the Ford, a huge cloud of steam burst out from under Anders’s hood, and he pulled off the road and rolled to a stop. Truman parked behind him and wished his department could afford a body camera to record the imminent kooky conversation.

With one hand on the butt of his gun, he approached the vehicle. The window was jerkily lowered by a hand crank. “Anders? You okay?” he asked.

“What the hell did you do to my truck?” The old-timer’s words ran together, and Truman picked up the scent of beer from five feet away. “How in the Lord’s high heaven did you do that?”

“I didn’t do anything to your truck. Something’s up with your engine.”

“Yes, you did! You police got some new fancy gadget to illegally stop citizens. How much tax money did the government spend on that?”

“Can you step out of the vehicle for me?” Truman asked. He knew Anders was generally harmless, but he’d never encountered him drunk, so his reflexes were on high alert.

“I do not consent!” Anders shrieked. Truman stepped close enough to see empty beer cans on the Ford’s bench seat.

“How much have you drunk today, Anders?” he asked.

“I do not consent! Codes and statutes aren’t laws unless I consent!”

Truman sighed. Even while he was drunk, Anders’s sovereign citizen beliefs were in full force.

“Your vehicle’s not going any farther today, Anders. Let me give you a ride and you can call someone to look at it.”

The man’s red-rimmed, pale-blue eyes couldn’t hold eye contact with Truman. The lines in Anders’s face were deeper than usual, and his gray hair stuck out in all directions from under his hat. “I do not wish to create joinder with you,” he stated.

Truman bit his tongue. Sovereign citizens had a whole litany of confusing pseudo-legalese to quote whenever they encountered a government official. The first time one had told Truman he didn’t want to create joinder with him, Truman had nearly replied that he wasn’t asking for sex. “I don’t want to create joinder with you either, Anders, but I will help you back to town. Does that work for you?”

“I’m a freeman on the land,” he sang.

“We’re all free men, Anders. Why don’t you hop out and let’s see what’s happened under your hood?” At least Anders wasn’t yelling at him anymore, but he was swaying nonstop in his seat. Truman doubted he could walk.

Probably why Anders had decided to drive.

The Ford’s door creaked open and Anders tried to stand but stumbled forward into Truman’s arms.

“Gotcha.” Truman turned his face away from the alcohol and body odor fumes. “Let’s get you to my vehicle.” He guided the man to the back door of his Tahoe, deftly checking him for weapons on the way.

“I don’t want to create joinder with you,” Anders muttered as Truman’s hands ran over his faded denim overalls.

***

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