The pastor looked lost in thought. “I saw new faces yesterday, and I let her do all the talking. I didn’t want anyone to feel pressured that I was there to ask them to church. I made it clear it was Rose’s idea to come talk to them.”

Truman’s stomach churned.

“What did she do?”

“Well, she wanted to talk to everyone. Said she didn’t want any kids passed over. Even when I knew a man was single she insisted on giving him a scone and asking if he knew of any young children who could use some learning time.” David rubbed at the stubble on his chin. “I was with her the whole time. She likes to hold your arm when she walks somewhere unfamiliar, you know.”

“Were the men polite?”

“Definitely. It was a good-looking woman with home-baked goods. They were more than polite.”

“Did she act odd at any point?” Truman was starting to wonder if he was on a ghost chase. “Did she seem surprised or stunned by anyone she talked to?”

David thought and shook his head.

“Did anyone avoid talking to her?”

“Not that I noticed.”

Truman’s mind spun. Now what?

Rose had run her fingertips over every square inch of the room, thankful he’d tied her hands at her front.

Her wrists and ankles were bound, but she’d always had excellent balance. It took some maneuvering, but now she had a good mental map of the room in her head. It was small. Nothing on the walls. One bed.

The wood floors were rough and needed to be refinished. A throw rug in the center of the room was made of the sort of knotted fabric scrap she and her sisters had made rugs from when they were younger. It was crushed nearly flat and had holes in several places. Old. She’d woken up on the rug, a smell of dust and chemicals in her nose. She’d called out a few times, but had known immediately that either she was alone in the house or he was ignoring her.

She’d felt her way to the room’s door, its ancient metal knob and lower keyhole confirming what her nose had decided.

A very old home.

The presence of a bed cemented her belief that she was locked in a home. The sheets and bedding smelled sour and unwashed. Her hands had lightly skimmed the mattress and quilt as her nose picked up clues about its former occupant.

Male.

Old. Or else ill.

She was rarely wrong. More than three decades of smelling people had taught her to identify when people were sick or taking medication, and how often they bathed. All her life she’d been around men who worked outdoors. The previous resident of this bedroom had definitely spent time outside.

The room didn’t have a window, but there was a small closet door with an identical knob and keyhole. It was also locked. She’d felt along the frames of both doors, searching for an opening, a weakness, a way to escape. Her tied hands couldn’t stretch as high as she wanted, and twice she fell, having forgotten her feet were bound.

She pressed her ear against the wall opposite the door. A faint sound of water. Not water in the pipes, but an actual river or stream close by. But the sound was never consistent, and she wondered if her brain had created it. She tried the other three walls. Silence.

The slam of a far-off door had first woken her, and there’d been no human sounds since then. Did he leave?

It’d been a man who’d entered her parents’ home. She’d left the back door unlocked, intending to dispose of the potato peelings once she’d finished peeling. She’d felt his presence before she’d heard the closing click of the door and had spun around, the small paring knife in her hand. He hadn’t said a word as he took three steps into the kitchen and grabbed her. She’d slashed and thrust with the knife, earning grunts of pain from her attacker. Her bowl of potatoes had spilled and she’d tripped, taking her attacker down with her. He’d sat on her stomach, his hands around her throat, cutting off her windpipe, and she imagined her parents returning home to find her dead among the spilled potatoes. A blow to her jaw created explosions of light behind her eyelids and she had a brief moment of wonder at the sight before the pain registered.

Then she’d woken up here.

Not raped. Not dead.

She had no problem counting her blessings.

I need a weapon. Something small and sharp. Unexpected.

She knelt on the floor, searching for a splinter of wood from the old boards. Fragments of old varnish slid under her fingernails and instantly crumbled. The bed frame was her next target, but it was made from dense hardwood. After she’d felt every board, she perched on the edge of the bed and thought hard. There was nothing to pick up in the room except for the bedding. Either everything had been removed or not much had been there in the first place.

Maybe pictures hung on the walls at one time?

Could a nail have been left behind?

She started skimming the walls again, moving slower. Her first search had been quick, feeling for bigger items. Her pinkies kept growing numb from her raising her hands, and she’d let them dangle for a few minutes before tackling the wall again.

I should be terrified.

She wasn’t. Her heart occasionally pounded as if she’d been running on a treadmill, but mainly she was focused and calm. She’d been waiting fifteen years for him to come back. Her brain had rehearsed every possible encounter, and long ago she’d given up being scared.

I know it’s him.

Had her visit to the Bevins ranch triggered his retaliation?

She hadn’t heard the second voice again. Not yesterday. Not ever.

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