He pulled over to the nearly nonexistent shoulder and paused. Should he go on foot? He’d seen evidence of a few homes within the last few miles, but not many. The road she’d picked had no visible signage or markers. He was stunned that she’d spotted it in the pitch dark.

He decided to go on foot, praying she hadn’t gone far. He moved his Tahoe farther off the road, concerned someone would clip the vehicle in the dark. The SUV lurched into a shallow ditch, and he parked at a steep angle, shoving hard to open his door against gravity.

I should let someone know where I am.

I don’t know where the fuck I am.

He set off down the dirt road, cursing at himself. Being reckless wasn’t his thing. He thought things through before taking action, but for some reason his brain was slightly disconnected from his actions tonight.

His mother would call it testosterone poisoning.

Fifteen minutes later the forest parted and Truman entered a good-size clearing. He’d kept his flashlight covered with a glove, using the faintest hint of light to keep himself from tripping and falling on his face. Mercy’s Tahoe was parked in front of a small A-frame house. Two thin cracks of light shone at the edges of a window, its shade keeping 99 percent of the glow inside.

Am I going to get shot?

He crouched down and listened for a few minutes. He could hear the soft rush of a small stream nearby, but no noise came from the house. He didn’t see any other vehicles, but that didn’t mean she was alone. He could see the faint outline of a large barn about fifty yards behind the house that could easily hide a few vehicles.

Now what? Go knock?

He doubted every decision he’d made in the last hour. He’d been stupid to spy on her and stupid to follow her. He’d sneaked through the woods on foot like a stalker. Hell, every move he’d made in the last hour had mimicked that of a stalker.

Go home.

But why was she here? Was this related to the cases?

He knew it wasn’t a relative’s home. He knew where all her family lived.

Stalker.

Possibly it was a good friend whom she’d turned to for comfort after a trying day. A very good friend. Images of a naked Mercy rolling in bed with some mountain man made his stomach twist.

A powerful light came on at the back of the house, and he jumped. It lit up the grounds behind the home all the way to the barn, but not to the front where he hid in the dark like a freak. A loud crack shattered the darkness and he ducked. He heard two faint thumps from the direction of the home and raised his head. The crack sounded again, but this time he held still.

Not a gunshot. He knew that sound.

He inched his way around the edge of the clearing, keeping to the safety of the pines. More cracks, thumps, and tearing noises sounded. He moved faster, confident of the origin of the noise. He was probably a good fifty yards from the house when he found a position that showed him the source of the sounds.

Mercy was chopping wood.

She’d shed her coat and wore a tank top that showed every defined muscle in her shoulders as she swung the ax. Her hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and she’d changed into jeans and boots. She’d come prepared to work.

At eleven o’clock at night?

Who does that?

And she complains about not getting enough sleep. He wondered how many nights a week she fled to the forest.

Her ax jammed in a piece of wood and she maneuvered it from side to side. The piece split open and tumbled off the wide stump of a chopping block. She centered another piece and swung.

She had a singular focus. A drive. Truman wondered at the demons that drove her to chop wood in the middle of the night. Her family? Her background of prepping? Was she preparing for a disaster? He glanced at the home and barn again.

Away from everyone. A stream. Woods for hiding, but around the home it’s cleared in case of forest fire.

She couldn’t leave the prepping life behind.

This was her dirty little secret. Mercy Kilpatrick couldn’t separate from the lifestyle. He didn’t think she commuted to Portland from the location. She must stay here when she could and spend every minute prepping for a disaster.

He didn’t know whether to feel sorry for her or to admire her.

He stepped out of the pitch black and walked until he was at the edge of the light thrown by the powerful bulb on the back of her house. He waited until she’d finished a swing.

“Mercy.”

She spun toward him, her ax gripped like a weapon, ready to fight.

“It’s Truman.” He held perfectly still, knowing she could see his features.

Her chest heaved as she whirled away and buried her ax in the chopping block.

Truman wondered if she’d like to do that to his head.

“What are you doing here, Truman?” Her voice was steady as she turned to face him, but she was slightly out of breath. He took a few steps closer, locking his gaze with hers. Her eyes were defensive, her posture stiff. Anger radiated from her.

“Why did you follow me?”

“It wasn’t intentional,” he lied. “I was headed home after stopping at the police department and saw you leave Sandy’s place.”

“And wondered where I was going.”

“I did. Especially since you’d implied that you were headed to bed. The farther you got away from town, the more curious I got.”

Her forehead wrinkled. “Did you follow me out here on Monday night?”

“No.”

She nodded, but her eyes didn’t accept his answer.

“I didn’t. This is the first night and it was purely a coincidence.”

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