He scooted his chair closer, set his beer next to her drink, and took her hands. His were incredibly warm, and she relaxed into the heat.

“Did you kill someone, Mercy?”

She held his gaze, but saw the giant bottomless pit near her feet. Can I trust him? She teetered on the edge for a long second and then took a step. “I think so.”

He didn’t blink. “Why do you only think so?”

“Because Levi shot too. We both did.” No turning back now. Icy spasms shook her chest and flew down her arms to her hands. He clutched them tighter.

“Who did you shoot?”

“We don’t know who it was. We didn’t know him.”

“Was he hurting you?” he asked carefully.

“Rose. He attacked Rose. And then me,” she added softly.

“Then you were justified.” He lowered his head and let out a sigh.

“But we hid him. We’ve hidden it for fifteen years. And didn’t tell anyone. We can never tell anyone we killed him.” She was babbling. All the words she’d buried deep inside flowed out of her.

“I’m not going to push you to tell anyone—wait a minute.” He gripped her hands. “Was this the same person who killed Jennifer and Gwen?”

“We think so.”

Mercy looked ready to dissolve into a puddle of stressed-out-special-agent goo. Her hands felt like ice and quivered constantly. What is it like to hide a huge secret for fifteen years? He ached to take away her stress. Her secret didn’t surprise him. The vulnerable glimpses he’d seen from her had warned him she was hiding something big.

She told me she killed someone. And it doesn’t change how I feel about her.

Color him surprised.

Her shooting sounded justified to him, but had she stalled the other murder investigations by not coming forward? How would the FBI handle her old story? Had she messed up the current investigations by not revealing what she suspected about the old murders?

Truman doubted she would go to prison for murder, but she would be in life-altering hot water for a slew of other things.

What’s my role here? Cop or friend?

He shoved the question aside for the moment, unwilling to explore the answer. Mercy had confided in him. She’d taken a huge risk and he’d pushed her to do it. Guilt was bitter on his tongue.

“Did your father know? Is that why you left?”

She shook her head, her gaze on the floor. “No one knows except Levi and Rose. And now you. We didn’t tell my parents the whole truth. We told them that someone had tried to break in . . . and that Rose recognized his voice as someone she associated with the Bevins ranch, but she didn’t know who. I wanted my father to confront Joziah and let Rose listen to his workers’ voices because the man could have been the one who murdered Jennifer and Gwen. My father refused.”

“Wait. You said the attacker was dead. Who would Rose be listening for?”

“There was a second man. She heard him speak that night and knew she’d heard him before but couldn’t place the voice. He got away before Levi or I could see him. We heard his truck leave the property.”

Two men?

“He left his friend behind? Dead?”

“Yes.”

“He never came back searching or asking for his accomplice?”

“No. We expected him to, but it was like the dead man belonged to no one. No one came looking for him. No one was reported missing.”

Mercy’s story was growing odder by the moment. Who doesn’t report their missing friend?

A murder accomplice.

“The man who escaped knew the other had been shot?”

“We heard the engine a few moments after the shots. I have no doubt the guns scared him off, but he had no way of knowing if his friend had been hit.”

“So you’re wrong that I’m the third person to know what happened. One other person knows—the guy you scared off.”

Mercy nodded.

“Start from the beginning.”

Mercy haltingly told him a story that made his hair stand on end. A break-in. An attack. First Rose and then herself. Gunfire. He’d seen the brutal pictures of Jennifer Sanders and Gwen Vargas. Mercy and Rose had come close to joining them.

Truman was silent as he absorbed the weight of what she’d told him. “Where’s the dead man?” he finally asked.

She seemed to crumble. “Levi hid the body.”

“Ah, jeez.” Truman stood and paced in a circle, running his hands through his hair. Another crime she and Levi could be tried for. “Where the fuck did he hide it?”

She didn’t say anything.

“Come on, Mercy.”

Her ponytail fell over her shoulder as she shook her head, her eyes distant. “It’s Levi’s burden. I won’t make it worse.”

No body, no proof.

She’s drawn the line. Her story is just a story unless a body supports it.

He sat back down and took her hands again. She tried to tug them away, but he held on. “I’m here to support you. We’ll figure out a way through all this.”

“No. No one can know.”

“I’m not going to tell anyone.”

He wasn’t. He’d decided on his role in her story.

It’d been a simple decision that surprised him. He should have mentally and emotionally struggled with the decision, but he’d looked in his heart and immediately known the answer.

Mercy was an honest person. If her shooting hadn’t been justified, she would have admitted it.

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