“You didn’t follow me for nearly thirty miles on a coincidence.”

“You’re right. I know that sounds disturbing. Even I can see that,” he admitted.

“That’s stating it mildly. You fucking followed me. What did you expect to find?” Fury straightened her spine and shoulders.

“Not this,” he told her. “I don’t know what I expected. Something to do with the cases, I guess.”

“No. This is my space and my time. I come here to be alone.” She turned away and yanked her ax out of the stump with a quick downward jerk. “Go home, Truman.”

“No wonder you’re tired during the day. How late do you stay?”

“Until I’m done.”

He looked around. “Are you ever done? Isn’t this an ongoing thing? A lifestyle?” He said the last word cautiously.

She looked over her shoulder at him, her chin in a headstrong position he knew all too well. “So you think I’m crazy like your uncle.”

“I didn’t say that.”

“Did you know that two percent of the American population grows food for the other ninety-eight percent? Did you ever stop to think what would happen if we suddenly lost our food distribution?”

He had. His uncle had preached the same thing. “No.”

She opened her mouth and abruptly closed it, pressing her lips together. She was fighting to keep herself from launching into full lecture mode.

“Can you show me what you’ve done around your place?” he asked. He didn’t want to get into an argument with her. He wanted to understand her better.

She stared at him in surprise.

“How often do you come here?” he asked softly. Her rigid body language had faded and he knew the next few minutes would determine if she opened up or sent him scrambling back down the road in the dark.

“Some weekends. All my vacation time.”

“Being assigned to Eagle’s Nest put you in a handy location to get some things done up here.”

“Yes,” she agreed. “I couldn’t pass up the opportunity. Even if it meant coming at night.”

“I understand.” He really did.

The desire to sink her ax in Truman’s skull had faded.

When she realized who’d said her name, she’d wanted to melt into the ground. Embarrassment, fright, and vulnerability had swamped her. She’d verbally lashed at him, hoping to drive him away. But he’d stood his ground.

Her ground. Her property and home.

Her second-biggest secret.

She’d felt like a wounded wild animal as he’d approached, but he’d come slowly, his voice kind and his gestures quiet to keep her from fleeing.

Truman’s voice had a way of calming her. The same way he’d gentled the Sanderses earlier that evening. He’d spoken to her, and she suddenly didn’t want to push him away. In fact, he’d asked about her work, and she wanted to show it to him.

She’d never shown anyone her hideout.

The only people who knew about it were the couple down the road and the man who’d sold it to her. It was her center of peace in her hectic life. It grounded her and kept her sane.

“I don’t think you can understand,” she said slowly. “You don’t know what it’s like to be raised as I was. From day one, preparing for a disaster has been hammered into my head. I can’t get away from it. Even though I don’t want to believe it can happen, I must have this spot ready in case it does.”

“I heard it from my uncle,” Truman said. “Not as much as you did, but enough to see the logic in his plans. I admired him for what he did, but he let it run his life. I don’t think you do that.”

“I don’t,” she agreed. “My place in Portland has a small supply, but this is where I put my big plans in motion.”

“I’d like to see it.”

“What for?” If he sees the inside, he’ll know too much about me. It made her twitchy. She’d been on her own for too long.

“I want to see what you’ve done. Make me understand.”

“Why?” she whispered. She had a sensation of standing at the edge of a giant sinkhole. She needed to step back, but she couldn’t move. Truman moved closer, one of his hands held out as if he were approaching a skittish horse.

It was an apt analogy.

“Because I want to know more about you.” He stopped walking. He was close enough for her to see the stubble on his jaw and the sincerity in his eyes.

“Are you handling me like the Sanders parents?” She held his gaze.

“I didn’t handle them. I meant every word I said. And I mean it now. You make me want to know more.”

He’s telling the truth.

She broke eye contact. “I have a lot to do tonight.”

“I’ll help you get it done faster. Maybe you can get some decent sleep.”

Her gaze met his again, and she knew she wasn’t getting rid of him tonight. She was both relieved and disturbed by the thought.

“Show me the inside.”

She nodded, unable to speak, worried she was about to burst into tears. She wanted him close and she wanted him gone, and her emotions were about to rip her in two.

Just accept it for tonight.

She turned away. “Follow me.” She snatched a light sweater from the railing as she went up the few steps to the deck at the back of her small house. She struggled to get her arms in the twisted garment, and he grabbed the neck and a sleeve, allowing her to slip them in. His warm hands left a tingling spot where he’d touched her shoulder. The sensation persisted as she led him into her home.


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