Mercy bit her tongue and felt her hands curl into fists.

Reply as a professional, not as their daughter.

“I need to know what she’s said about anyone at the Bevins ranch recently.” She hated the high pitch of her voice.

“She doesn’t associate with anyone over there!” her father roared. “None of us do!”

“I saw Levi talking with a whole crew from there in his coffee shop,” Mercy snapped. “And Joziah Bevins greeted me pleasantly this week. You’re holding a one-sided grudge!”

“I never threatened his family,” her father hissed. “And his daughter isn’t missing!”

Mercy froze. “When did Joziah threaten our family?”

Karl looked away. “Ages ago.”

“What did he say?” she asked sharply.

Her mother’s hand was pressed against her mouth as her gaze darted between Mercy and her husband.

“It was implied,” Karl said.

“Jesus Christ!” Mercy wanted to strangle him. “I remember when our cow was shot. You had us convinced that Joziah Bevins was second-in-command to Satan. Did he or did he not threaten physical harm to us?”

Her father looked away.

Mercy counted to ten and looked to her mother. “Did he directly threaten your children?”

“Not exactly. He wanted our skills and connections,” Deborah whispered. “He’d approached me several times in town, trying to get me to convince Karl to join him.”

“We stay away from him,” her father said solemnly. “When the time comes, we know who our friends will be.”

Her energy drained away. “There’s more to life than preparing for the end of the world, Dad.”

Disappointment clouded his eyes. “Of course there is. But peace of mind is important too. I’d never forgive myself if I let an opportunity to prepare for the future pass because I was lazy.”

“No one can accuse you of being lazy,” she muttered.

“And I know you haven’t left it behind,” he added.

Mercy looked at him, keeping her face carefully blank.

“I know about your cabin. Did you think the sale would escape my attention? You’ve done a good job up there.” He nodded approvingly.

She wanted the floor to swallow her up.

“What?” asked her mother, confusion wrinkling her forehead.

He kept my secret.

THIRTY-THREE

Truman found David Aguirre at home.

The church pastor lived in a small double-wide that had belonged to the previous minister until he died and left it to his church. The yard was well tended and Truman knew the paint was fresh because the congregation had gotten together and painted the home last summer as a surprise for their pastor. David answered the door and immediately let Truman in. Part of Truman had hoped to find him drinking a beer and watching football, but instead the sight of a Bible, open notebooks, and a laptop on the dining room table suggested he’d been working.

Something about David had always rubbed him the wrong way. Truman could never put his finger on it, but Mercy’s blatant distrust of the man had added to Truman’s unease.

David had always been pleasant to Truman; he had no basis for his disquiet.

“I’m glad to see you,” David said as he gestured for Truman to take a seat at the kitchen table. “My phone has been ringing off the hook. Coffee?”

“Please. Who’s been calling?”

David gave him a side glance as he poured coffee in a huge mug. “Who hasn’t? A ton of police crawling all over Karl Kilpatrick’s farm? Everyone wants to know what happened. I don’t know why they think I would have answers.”

“Rose Kilpatrick is missing.”

David’s hand jerked and coffee slopped on the counter. “Rose?”

“You took her to the Bevins place yesterday?” Truman asked, watching David’s every reaction.

“I did. She called Wednesday night saying she wanted to talk to his hands about enrolling their young kids in her preschool. She said her father wouldn’t take her.”

“That surprise you?”

“The fact that her father wouldn’t go? Heck no. Everyone knows the heads of the Kilpatrick and Bevins families don’t mix.”

“Not true for the younger generation, though, right?”

David nodded. “The youngers are always more forgiving. As evidenced by Rose wanting to go over there. And Levi and Owen don’t seem to mind hanging out with Mike Bevins. I figured it was a personal thing between the two older men. That’s just how it’s always been.” He raised a brow at Truman. “As a newcomer, how do you see it?”

“The same. What exactly did Rose do over there?”

Mike set a mug in front of Truman. “You think that trip is related to her disappearance?” Disbelief filled his tone.

“I’m just following up on her last movements.”

“Everyone likes Rose. She took chocolate chip scones to the ranch and handed them out. She knows how to get men to listen to her: target their stomachs.”

“So nothing weird happened? Do you remember exactly who she talked to? Did you see Joziah?”

David sat in the chair across from Truman and leaned forward, his brown eyes concerned. “You can’t believe that anyone over there would do anything to that woman.”

“Do you know every man on that ranch?” Truman asked. “There has to be some turnover in the hands.”

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