“Welcome to my craziness,” she said, waving an arm with a flourish.

Mercy’s hideaway was small but well laid out. The two-story home had a wood stove in a giant rock fireplace, but the interior was cold. He wondered if she had another source of heat. Clearly she wouldn’t bother to heat it when she popped in for only a few hours each night. The walls were wood but well insulated. He knew she’d made the home as weatherproof as possible by the change in the acoustics of their voices as they entered. It was incredibly solid. Blackout shades covered every window.

I’m impressed.

She caught him looking at the shades. “Keeps anyone from seeing the interior lights at night.”

“You open them during the day, right?” The cabin had high ceilings and large windows, and a small loft for the second level. The sun and warmth streaming through the big windows must be heavenly.

“When I’m here. Most of the time I keep everything closed up. I don’t want people looking in the windows when I’m not around.”

“I doubt anyone can find this place.”

“You never know.”

“Do you have a security system?”

“I do. If it’s breached, it sends me a notice on my phone. But there’s not a lot I can do from Portland if a break-in happens. I have neighbors who watch things a bit, but they’re elderly.”

“Call me. I’ll come check.” He meant it.

She looked stunned. “Thank you.”

He scowled at her surprise. “You have friends here. Why don’t you use them?” The thought of her in the cabin alone rubbed him the wrong way. No doubt she could handle an emergency much better than I could.

She swallowed hard. “I didn’t have friends here until this week,” she whispered.

“Your family doesn’t know about this place?”

“No.”

“But isn’t one of the cornerstones of prepping to surround yourself with people who can help you? And you offer help in return? My uncle didn’t really subscribe to that belief; he tended to piss people off instead of make friends.”

“Some people prefer to just be on their own. Rely on themselves. Your uncle might have been one of them.”

“Are you?”

She paused. “I don’t have much choice.”

“You have every choice. There’s a town full of people not far from here who are learning that you’re mildly awesome. Family too, I believe.” Am I trying to convince her to spend more time here?

“I won’t divide them.”

“Divide your family? How can you do that?”

“I nearly did it once. It’s not hard.” Her jaw snapped closed, and he knew she’d said more than she liked.

He stopped prodding and took another moment to look around her home. “Is that a sewing machine?” It looked like a simple small table with some drawers, but it had a cast-iron foot pedal that reminded him of his grandmother’s machine. On top of it a laptop was open, a weather forecasting site on its screen.

“Yes. The machine hides inside the unit. Doesn’t need power. You pump the treadle with your feet.”

“A relic.”

“A useful one.”

“I feel like I’ve stepped into the nineteenth century. Do you have a washboard too?”

Her eyebrows slanted together. “No.” Her voice was icy.

He enjoyed her snarky reaction, and his fascination was piqued. Mercy wasn’t crazy; she was smart. And resourceful.

“Canning equipment?”

“Of course. And before you ask, I have solar panels, surgery instruments, a gravity-fed water system, and a greenhouse.”

“Weapons?”

“Of course. Anything else you want to know?”

Yes. “I’m good for now. What do you need help with tonight?”

“I don’t need help.”

“Well, I want you coherent for tomorrow. What can I do to get you out of here faster?” He planted his feet and crossed his arms. If chopping wood was what it took to spend time with her, he’d do it.

She stiffened. A split second later she lunged for a light switch, killing the inside and outside lights, drowning them in darkness. He heard her dash across the room, and then a soft snap sounded.

Truman couldn’t move. The low light from the laptop screen was too faint for him to maneuver by. “Mercy?”

“Shhhh.” Her voice was closer than he’d expected and he saw her silhouette stop at the laptop. With a few keystrokes she pulled up four grainy camera views on the screen. He spotted her barn, the drive out front, and two views of her home. All sensations of being in the nineteenth century vanished.

“What happened?” he whispered.

“I heard a vehicle. I turned on the outdoor infrared floodlights.”

Nice.

She enlarged the view of the drive, and he realized that during the seconds in the pitch dark she’d also picked up a rifle.

“See anything?” He removed his gun from his shoulder holster.

“Put your weapon away,” she ordered.

“You first.”

She was silent. Her figure was tense and alert as she watched the screen. “He backed up. I think he spotted the house and decided to back away.”

“I didn’t see anything. You saw a vehicle?”

“The quickest flash of a grille as I pulled up the driveway view.”

“He might have turned down the wrong road. Or didn’t expect to find a house here.”

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