He grabbed a chair from the dining set and set it directly in front of her, handing her the drink. He sat down with a sigh and took a long drink from his beer. The citrusy smell of hops wafted across the space between them and tickled her nose.

Exhaustion settled into every muscle and her brain, and she took the tiniest sip of her drink. It wasn’t strong. Whatever Truman had in mind, it wasn’t to get her drunk and make her spill her guts. His brown gaze fixed on her over the rim of his glass, and an unease stirred her stomach. What does he want?

“I have two questions,” he said softly. “The first is why do you think someone would follow you, and the second is what happened fifteen years ago that made you leave town? I’ve looked. There are no police reports involving your family around that time. Little happened that year except for the murders of Jennifer Sanders and Gwen Vargas. But you’ve already said they were friends of your sister’s, not yours.”

She nodded and took another minuscule sip. “I don’t think either question is any business of yours.” I won’t tell him.

His gaze narrowed. “It is if I think it’s affecting your performance on this investigation. You’re not getting enough sleep and it shows. You’re consistently distracted, and I think you spend more time trying to avoid people in town than investigating.”

She jerked and Simon launched from her lap, her claws skittering on the hardwood as she raced out of the room. “I take this investigation very seriously! I am not a slacker! I’m doing the best I can.” Fury narrowed her vision. How dare he? “Who found those weapons today?”

“We did.”

“Bullshit. I crawled on my belly into that space after leading you to the cave. If anyone is compromised on this case, it’s you with your focus on your uncle. There’ve been three other victims, you know,” she snapped. He didn’t spend too much time focused on his uncle, but if he was going to poke her, she would strike back. “You walk around this town like you’re the only person seeking justice. We’re all working our asses off.”

He sat very still. She’d found a wound. “I’m not on some noble crusade for justice,” he said. “I want payback for my uncle. Someone out there thinks they’re smarter than I am, and I’m going to prove them wrong. Very wrong.”

The absolute evenness of his tone disturbed her. Truman Daly was fully in control, or else he was a split second away from snapping. She didn’t know which.

“We both want the same thing,” said Mercy.

“Then you need to come clean. Something hangs over your head. I see it emerge when you run into people from your past. But it doesn’t happen with every person. Just some of them. Why does Joziah Bevins rattle you so bad?”

“There’s a history there. Our families were at odds.”

“Explain.”

She shrugged. “Dad said he shot one of our cows.”

Truman leaned back in his chair, surprise on his face. “A cow? That’s it?” He blinked. “I mean, that’s horrible, but that’s not worth years—”

“It was done as a message to my parents. They’d refused to join the Bevinses’ community. Again.”

“Community? I don’t under—”

“Remember how you said earlier that the preppers are often about community? And asked why I was preparing my cabin alone?”

“Yes.”

“Some of those communities take themselves very seriously. They’re practically micro-towns of specialists. They need doctors and vets and mechanics. They always have a very strong leader.”

She saw the comprehension dawn.

“And people declare allegiance to the group?” he asked. “You promise to help a circle of people when disaster strikes? That’s the history of the turbulence between your father and Joziah Bevins?”

“Yes. My father has a quiet draw. People trust him and want to be involved with him. Joziah is forceful and demands allegiance and then rules with an iron fist. My father didn’t want anything to do with him.”

“Your mother’s a midwife,” Truman stated. “Everyone in town swears by her.”

“And my father is skilled with animals. Very important trades.”

Truman scratched his head. “Okay. So now I think I get it, but what does that have to do with you leaving?”

“It’s a long story.”

“I’ve got all night—at least half the night is left. Start talking.”

She wanted to tell him everything. No one had gotten under her skin the way Truman had. She liked him.

I like him a lot. More than I should.

Her secrets had festered in her heart and mind for too long. What was the risk?

Her job.

Her family. Levi’s family.

Prison?

“You’re shaking.” Alarm and concern widened his eyes.

“You don’t know what you’re asking me.” He was right; her legs shook as if she were freezing. With a trembling hand, she set her drink on the end table.

“Jesus Christ. How bad is it?”

“I could go to prison,” she whispered, her mind spinning out of control. “My brother too. He has a daughter. I don’t have anyone, so it’s not that big of a deal—”

He leaned closer. “Are you hurting anyone by not talking about it?”

“I don’t think so. Believe me, I’ve asked that a million times.” I’m so cold. She zipped up her coat, suddenly wanting hot tea, hot chocolate, hot coffee. Something comforting.

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