“Nope. That was a new one to me, but I’ve always loved this water. I swam here dozens of times as a teen. It was a bit of a teen hangout during the summer.”

The blue sky reflected off the water. It was quiet. No car sounds, no phones ringing, no useless chatter.

“It is wonderful,” Truman agreed.

She took a deep breath and settled on the rock, closing her eyes for a brief second, inhaling the scent of sun-toasted rocks and murky lake water. Tension melted out of her.

“I think that’s the first time I’ve seen you let your guard down, Special Agent Kilpatrick.”

She turned to glare at him, but his gaze was relaxed and happy. For a split second Mercy lost herself in his eyes’ brown depths.

She swallowed.

No. Not for you. Unprofessional.

The thoughts stung.

He stood and held out a hand. “Let’s take a look around.”

She took his hand as her feet wobbled on the rounded surfaces of the big rocks. Time to get back to work.

Truman didn’t want the hours by the lake to end.

He and Mercy had walked the entire circumference of the small lake. No cave man. No weapons. Now they headed away from the lake and to the west, where the land sloped up several hundred feet to a dust-colored table-rock formation. She’d seemed as pleased with the sun as he was. She’d pulled her long, dark hair into a ponytail, and her step grew lighter.

He didn’t want to go back to the office.

Mercy was easy to be around. She didn’t take herself too seriously and had even cracked a half smile at some of his lame jokes. She’d shared bits and pieces of growing up in Eagle’s Nest, and he’d identified with a lot of her observations, as they’d correlated with his high school summer experiences.

“That must have been the worst for you, having to live here while all your friends were having fun back home,” she said.

“I hated the first few weeks of the first summer I lived here. But once I found some friends, it was sorta fun. Teens around here make their own entertainment. Get four guys together with one dirt bike and an empty field, and your entire week is set. Back home I had to search for things to do.”

“Where were you from?”

“San Jose.”

“That’s quite different from Eagle’s Nest.”

“But Eagle’s Nest isn’t bad. I’ve seen places a lot worse.”

“Like what?”

Truman glanced at her, wondering if she was just making idle conversation, but her gaze was focused on him with her brows raised, waiting for an answer.

“I did a couple of tours in Africa. I’ve never seen poverty like that.”

“Army?”

“Yes.”

“What did you do when you got out?” Curiosity filled her tone.

“I joined the city’s police force back home. I’d done that for several years when I got word of the job up here. I was ready for a change.” That’s putting it mildly. He kept his tone even, making it sound as if he’d taken the Eagle’s Nest job on a whim, while he tightened the lock on his memories.

“This town is definitely a change. Do you have siblings?”

“One sister. She lives in Bellevue, Washington, and is married to a—”

“Microsoft executive?”

He laughed. “Yes. Too stereotypical? She shops and seems to spend a lot of time in the gym.”

“Does she have kids?”

“No. Not sure there will be.”

“Do you want to go back to California?” she asked. “How can you handle such a different way of life?”

Truman thought for a long time before answering. “I feel good here. Like I’m making a difference. Back home there were too many people. I rarely saw the same people every week unless they were career criminals. In Eagle’s Nest it isn’t crime that brings me in touch with the residents. It’s usually some sort of need, and I like the challenge of meeting those needs.”

“I imagine there isn’t that much real crime,” said Mercy.

“But I’m always busy. Whether it’s arbitrating arguments or pulling a truck out of a ditch. Every night when I go home, I ask myself what I could have done better. I look for more that can be done. I have more freedom here to make good things happen. I don’t have to fill out a form in triplicate to make a request. In Eagle’s Nest I can just do it.”

Her smile was wide. “You’ve impressed me, Chief Daly.”

Her words touched him. “I’m not trying to impress anyone. I’m simply trying to do a job I love and leave things a little better behind me. The only bureaucracy is me and the city council. But Ina Smythe has them firmly under her thumb. And she likes me,” he added with a grin.

“I remember being scared of her when I was younger.”

“That’s understandable. She still intimidates me a bit.”

“It’s been interesting running into people I never thought I’d see again,” Mercy said slowly. “Inside I suddenly go back to being eighteen years old. It’s like the last fifteen years never happened. It’s a bit disconcerting.” Her mouth snapped shut, and she turned her head away from him, as if she’d revealed something highly personal.

Her sun-inspired happiness had evaporated. Whatever had driven Mercy Kilpatrick from town still affected her. Vulnerability had disrupted the FBI agent’s composed surface again in his presence. But it never lasted; it vanished within seconds.

***

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