She’d gasped when he pulled into the Old Mill District. “This has completely changed since I left. It wasn’t like this at all.”

“It’s one of my favorite places,” Truman admitted. Even though it was geared toward tourists with the nearby hotels, wine tasting, and trendy shops, he felt his stress unwind whenever he visited. He wanted that for Mercy.

Her smile indicated he was on the right track.

They got a table on the patio and ordered food and coffee. She slipped on her sunglasses, leaned back in her chair, and turned her face to the sun. They sat in companionable silence for a few minutes, and he wished he could order a beer. The stress of their cases vanished, and he felt like a normal human without any responsibilities. The rain from the beginning of the week was a faint memory, and the latest forecast was full of sun for the next two weeks. As it should be. He was happy.

“Better?” he asked.

“Absolutely.”

“I was going a bit crazy in that small room.”

Mercy nodded. “I get sucked in. When I’m on a case, I feel like any moment I’m not working on it is wasted time. But I know everyone works better when they step away for a break.”

“And you’re not getting enough sleep.”

She lifted a shoulder. “I sleep.” The waiter set their food down and vanished.

Truman attacked his burger.

“Do you think about when this case is finished?” he asked a few minutes later.

She looked down at her salad and moved her sunglasses to the top of her head. “All the time. I want to get it solved.”

He scooted his chair forward an inch. “That’s not what I mean.”

Her green gaze met his. He was lost in their color and her thick black lashes.

The sight stole his breath.

“What do you mean?” She wouldn’t make it easy on him.

“I want to ask you out when this is done.” Blunt.

She went perfectly still, her gaze still locked on his. “That’s not appropriate,” she stated.

“I don’t see a problem once we’re done.”

The conversations of the people on the river footpath suddenly seemed very loud.

“I live in Portland,” she finally said, looking away.

“So?”

Her gaze flew back to his. “You don’t see that as a problem?”

“Sure it’s a hurdle. But if that’s the first thing you’re bringing up, I take it you don’t have an objection. I’m trying to find out if you’re willing to try this, Mercy. Can I get a straight answer so I can start sleeping better at night?”

Wide eyes looked at him. “You’re serious.”

“Damned right. You’re not seeing anyone, are you?”

“No.”

“Good.” He leaned forward the slightest bit. “You make me slightly crazy, Mercy. I don’t know what it is, but I find I want more of it. Let’s get this damned case wrapped up so I can take you out for a good steak dinner.”

She glanced at his burger and her salad. “Okay.” She blinked. “But—”

“No buts. We’ll address any problems as they come. We won’t know if we don’t try.” Something about her had become very necessary to him over the last few days, and he didn’t want it to end. A vein in her neck pulsed, and he fought the urge to gently touch it. Not yet. He had no idea what he needed, but he knew he couldn’t let her simply walk out of his life after closing the case.

“You don’t care that I’ve killed someone and covered it up.” Her eyes were cautious.

Is this a test?

“You’ve never asked me if I’ve killed anyone.”

Compassion filled her face. She didn’t speak.

“You aren’t the only one who carries a burden,” he said quietly.

“You’re right. I’m sorry.”

“There’s nothing to be sorry about. I understand how overwhelming your own problems can be, but hearing that other people have baggage sometimes makes yours a little easier to bear. You’re not alone, Mercy. And I’m definitely not perfect.”

“I don’t know how to do this,” she said slowly.

“Then we’ll both figure it out as we go along.”

“I haven’t dated in ages,” she admitted. “It’s incredibly hard with my job. Men hear what I do and they immediately start acting odd.”

“I think it takes someone in law enforcement to understand.”

“They’re hard to date because of their egos.” Her lips twisted.

“Understandable. I think we’re both pretty low on the ego scale. So do you accept my offer of dinner?”

Her smile widened. “I do. Will that be here or in Portland?”

A weight lifted from his chest.

His phone rang. Lucas. He tried to ignore it, but Mercy’s phone started to ring at the same time. Dread settled over him, and concern flooded her face. “It’s Eddie,” she said.

Holding her gaze, they both answered their phones. “Someone broke into the Kilpatricks’,” Lucas yelled through Truman’s phone. “Their daughter Rose is missing.”

Her phone at her ear, Mercy’s face turned white as she listened to Eddie.

THIRTY-TWO

Her heart racing, Mercy jumped out of Truman’s truck and jogged up the driveway to her parents’ house.

Déjà vu.

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