Damned if I’ll let her get hurt by this old crime.

It might be the wrong decision, but it was his decision and he’d stand by it.

People screw up, and she and Levi were guilty of some bad choices, but no one could deny that they had been within their rights to fire, since Mercy and Rose had been attacked.

Have I violated my own ethics?

He’d crossed a line he’d never thought he’d cross. As a member of law enforcement, he had a duty to report that he knew of a death and cover-up. As a decent member of the human race, he had the same obligation. But at the moment it seemed insignificant in light of the stress of the woman in front of him.

Can I live with my decision?

Definitely.

“Your father didn’t want to rock the boat any further with Joziah Bevins? Is that why he refused to talk to him?”

Mercy nodded as if her head weighed fifty pounds. “When I pointed out that the person who tried to break in might have murdered those other girls, he brushed it aside. I told him we were putting other women at risk by not looking into what we suspected. When he refused again, I knew I couldn’t live under his roof anymore.”

“What was his reasoning?” Truman had a hunch about her father’s attitude.

“He said other women weren’t our responsibility. We only focus on our own.”

His hunch was right.

“That didn’t sit well with you?”

The sour look she gave pleased him. It was the first sign of the old Mercy.

“I guess it’s a philosophical difference.” She shrugged. “If you see a nail in the road, you pick it up so it won’t lodge in someone else’s tire, right? Why on earth would you not do something about a possible murderer?”

“You were eighteen, right? And Levi was even older. You could have gone to the police,” he pointed out. “You didn’t need to wait for your father.”

She laughed. “We didn’t view the police as an authority back then. Police were the guys who handed out traffic tickets. The authority and enforcement in town was Joziah Bevins. If we wanted answers and action, Joziah is who we’d talk to.”

Truman started to contradict her and then closed his mouth. How many times had he heard the mayor and even Ina suggest they get input from Joziah Bevins before taking a new step? Truman had assumed it was because the man sat on the town council. Not because everyone was scared shitless of him.

Has Joziah influenced some of my decisions?

No. He could say that with confidence. He hadn’t crossed swords with Joziah Bevins. Yet.

I’m more of an outsider than I realized. No one had told him about Joziah. Was he expected to fall in line with the rest of the community? They’d be in for a surprise. Truman had no problem standing up for what he thought was right.

Does Mike know how powerful his father is?

Of course he does. It must be one of the reasons he wants to leave. “You think the second man at your house that night was one of Joziah’s men.”

A reluctant nod. “Exactly. Rose wasn’t positive about where she’d heard his voice before. It wasn’t enough for Levi and me to confront Bevins on our own. But our father could have done it.”

“Your father didn’t want anything to do with it.”

“And then Levi took his side,” Mercy said bitterly. “There’s a strong patriarchal core in my family. Levi stood against me when I threatened to go tell on my own. My father said I’d destroy the family if I went to Joziah with accusations of a possible attacker working on his ranch. And my father was right. Every male in my family begged me to let it go and then turned their backs on me when I said I couldn’t. And the women stuck with them.”

“You couldn’t see your family every day and forget about it.”

“No. And I couldn’t live with such outdated rules. Levi may have been part of the ‘protect our wimminfolk’ philosophy back then, but now he’s over it, thank goodness. I can’t say the same for Owen. He still won’t talk to me. I think my sisters have gotten past most of it.”

“Essentially your father’s refusal to do something that might have protected other women from being killed was the last straw for you,” Truman said. “But Mercy, if you felt so strongly, why didn’t you go report it yourself?” he asked again.

“I was also afraid what I said would reveal that a man had died. I didn’t want the police to come investigate a possible attack and discover evidence that Levi and I had shot someone,” she whispered.

“Understandable. But hard to live with.”

“Yes. I was ashamed when I left town, and I watched the news for months afterward, expecting to hear of more women murdered, but nothing happened, and I was relieved. Maybe the death of the first attacker was enough to stop all the attacks.”

“That’s possible,” said Truman.

“I’d been toying with the idea of leaving Eagle’s Nest for a while. After the attacks my father cracked down on me, told me to forget any plans for college. He told me to find a husband and even made a few suggestions of men he thought would take good care of me.”

Truman snorted. If there ever was a woman who didn’t need taking care of . . .

“Right?” Her mouth curved up on one side.

“Didn’t your father know you at all?”

“I’m not the same person I was back then. I was a good girl for a long time. I did what they wanted and followed their rules. But then I started to see what was outside of the tight circle I was raised in. I wanted to make my own decisions.”

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