Truman swore under his breath. “We need to check the grounds of the ranch. Royce?” The other officer appeared. “Call Lucas. We need more help out here. Tell him to contact Jeff Garrison at the Bend FBI office and tell him we’ve got a case related to the prepper murders.”
An hour later, a search of the ranch hadn’t revealed Rose.
Nausea had pressed at the back of Mercy’s throat since she’d arrived at the house, and twice Truman had asked if she needed to leave. When she’d first studied the blood in the kitchen, the thought that Rose had been taken by the prepper killer had tried to swamp her brain; she’d set it aside, wanting proof. Once she saw the broken mirror, reality had swept in and drowned her doubts.
He has her.
Who is he?
He’d followed Mercy to her cabin. At least twice, maybe more. He’d slashed her tires. Why?
She had no proof, but she was capable of putting two and two together. But why Rose?
Truman had rapidly pulled together the investigative team. Deschutes County had sent some deputies to walk the entire property, and Jeff from the Bend office had arrived with another agent.
They weren’t short on help.
Mercy sat with her parents in her father’s study. The furniture had been rearranged and the rug had been replaced since the night she and Rose were assaulted, but she still felt echoes of the attack. Or maybe they were fresh from today.
“Has anyone been hanging around the ranch?” she asked her parents. Focus on asking the right questions.
She couldn’t relax while sitting across from her parents. Emotions boiled and cooled inside her.
“No one new,” answered her father. “We have a lot of people come and go, but no one unexpected.”
“Can you write up a list of everyone who’s been here in the past week, Karl?” Truman asked her father.
He nodded and pulled a sheet of paper from a pile on his desk, then started his list.
“Has Rose complained of anything unusual?” Mercy asked. “Has she felt like she’s been watched?”
She felt Truman’s gaze on her.
Her parents exchanged a glance and shook their heads. “She did ask me to take her over to the Bevinses’ ranch on Wednesday. I thought that was odd,” Karl added.
“What did she do there?” Tension climbed up Mercy’s spine.
“Nothing. I refused to take her,” he stated, a familiar inflexible look in his eyes. “She wanted to talk to some of the hands about putting their kids in her preschool. I told her I wouldn’t drive her to go begging on his property.”
Deborah Kilpatrick touched her husband’s leg. “It wasn’t begging. She was genuinely concerned that they get a boost before kindergarten like the other children around here.”
Sounds like Rose. But why now?
“So she didn’t go,” Mercy repeated.
Deborah looked at her lap.
She cast a quick glance at her husband. “I didn’t take her, but I know she went over there on Thursday.”
Mercy hated the small ducking action of her mother’s head as she looked at her husband. “Who took her?” Mercy asked.
Deborah looked straight at her. “David Aguirre. He’s the pastor of our church, where Rose teaches preschool.”
Karl blew out a breath and folded his arms. His wife ignored him.
Truman tapped Mercy on the shoulder. “Can I talk to you outside?”
She nodded and followed. Truman closed the den door and led her to stand on the porch. County deputies were still working the scene under Eddie and Jeff’s directions.
“You think Rose went to the Bevins ranch because of your conversation Tuesday night?” Truman asked in a low voice.
“I do. I think she was trying to listen for the second voice from that night.”
“Do you think she found him?”
“Something happened.” Mercy gestured at the inside of the home.
“Okay. I know David Aguirre pretty well. I’m going to head to his place and ask about Rose’s behavior at the ranch and see if he knows exactly who she talked to. I’ll let you know what I hear.” He gave her arm a parting squeeze and a we’ll-find-her smile.
Mercy watched him jog down the steps of her parents’ home, placing his hat on his head, an unfamiliar longing in her chest.
Once all this is over . . .
Oh, Rose. Did I get you in trouble?
She walked back inside and put her hand on the doorknob to the den, keenly feeling Truman’s absence. She’d grown used to having him beside her. Now she had to face her parents on her own. Crying sounded from the den, and she pushed open the door, Truman immediately gone from her thoughts. Her mother was in tears, her father angry.
All her life she’d known her father would never strike her mother. He might be old-fashioned about some things, but he’d taught her brothers that the moment a man strikes a woman, he stops being a man.
Her mother was frightened for Rose.
“She’s my baby,” she said to Mercy with a tear-filled face. “I know she’s not the youngest, but I knew she’d always be with us. Now she’s gone.” A sucking breath. “Possibly with a killer. Oh, Karl! What’s happening to her right now?”
Her father directed his anger at Mercy. “You stirred this up. This is your fault. We’d lived in calm for fifteen years since you left and the first week you’re back, Rose goes running off with old ideas. We’d convinced her to let it go! What did you say to her? Because you might have gotten her killed!”
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