Truman gripped the dish. If she turns up dead.
“Give my best to her parents.” Rachel’s shoulders sagged as she walked back to her car. The boys stared solemnly at Truman.
They know something is wrong.
The whole community suffered when something happened to one of its own. Judging by the outpouring of food and well-wishes, Rose Kilpatrick had touched everyone.
A king-cab pickup pulled off the single-lane driveway to let Rachel’s vehicle pass. Truman recognized one of the Bevins ranch trucks. Mike Bevins was at the wheel, and Truman could make out other men in the truck. He wondered if one of them was Joziah.
Three hands accompanied Mike. Truman spotted Craig Rafferty’s big bulk with a gallon of juice in his hand. The other men carried covered dishes.
Would I ever have seen this on my old job? No. He’d seen mourning families and church services for victims, but he’d never seen anything like the turnout for Rose Kilpatrick. The caring of the community made his throat tighten.
This is why I live here.
He nodded at the four men. “Any word on Rose?” Mike asked.
Truman shook his head. “Appreciate you stopping by.”
“Can we give our regards to her parents?” one of the hands asked.
“Not now. They’re overwhelmed and talking with the FBI.” Truman realized he still held Rachel’s warm dish. “Just set your stuff on the steps. I’ll take it in.”
“Is there anything we can do?” Mike asked as he placed his food on the porch. He shoved his hands in the front pockets of his jeans, looking earnestly at Truman. “I’ve got a bunch of men ready to volunteer to search. You just say where.”
“They don’t have any leads on a location yet, but if you notice anything suspicious, let us know. You could ask your guys if any of them happened to be passing by here and saw a vehicle leaving.”
Mike raised a brow at his three men. They all shook their heads. “I’ll ask the rest when I get back to the ranch.”
The Kilpatricks’ door opened and Mercy stepped out. Truman thought she looked pale and thinner than usual, but it could be the darkening evening.
“I’m sorry about your sister, Mercy,” Mike said, taking off his hat. Nods and “Sorry” came from the other three.
“Thank you. And thank you for the food. That’ll be a big help.”
Silence filled the air as the men shuffled their feet in the gravel. They said their good-byes and drove off. Mercy let out a giant sigh as she and Truman watched the dust from the truck’s tires.
“Everything okay in there?” Truman asked. Mercy stood with her arms wrapped around her, her expression pained.
“As okay as it can be.” Her voice shook.
“Hey.” Truman stepped in front of her and placed his hands on her shoulders. A faint tremor shook her body, but she looked into his eyes, and he recognized the gaze of a person at the end of her rope. She put up a good front; she behaved as if she were taking everything in stride, but he suspected she was seconds away from collapse.
Every word he wanted to tell her sounded patronizing and empty. He didn’t want to give her useless encouragement when her world had been rattled to its core.
Following instinct, he pulled her close, wrapping his arms around her back. She was nearly as tall as he, and her chin rested on his shoulder for a brief second before she ducked her head and pressed her face against his neck. Her entire body shook as she took a gasping breath.
“I wish I’d never come back to Eagle’s Nest.”
“You’re here for a reason.”
“The FBI should have sent someone else.” Another deep, raspy breath. Her arms were still wrapped around her stomach as if she was scared to let go of herself. He tightened his grip, her hair catching on his chin. She smelled of coffee and cinnamon rolls and pain.
“You’re the best person they could have sent. No one knows what makes these people tick like you do.”
“I’ve been gone too long. Everything’s changed.”
“Still. You have more insight than any other agent.”
“All I’ve done is disrupt. Rose would be home right now if I hadn’t brought up the old attacks. She would have never started searching for that voice again.”
Truman could say nothing that would change her mind right now.
“I couldn’t stay in there anymore. Every time my father looks in my direction, I feel his hatred.”
“He doesn’t hate you.” Empty words.
She shuddered. “He blames me. If I’d only been the quiet, obedient daughter he wanted, none of this would have happened.”
Truman stepped back to look her in the eye. “Four men would still be dead. Two women would still be dead. And because of you, we’re very close to finding a killer.”
“But my sister,” she whispered. Her tears finally spilled. “I should have reached out before. I’ve wasted fifteen years because of my pride. We could have—”
“Stop it,” Truman ordered, squeezing her shoulders to emphasize his words. “I need you focused if we’re going to catch the guy who took your sister.”
“Dammit, Truman. This has been a fucked-up day.” She wiped her eyes. “And of course Jeff ordered me off Rose’s case. He’s promised to keep me informed, and I can sit in on any interviews, but outside of my parents and David Aguirre, no one else has seen her.”
“You’re still on the prepper cases. Any progress we make there is a step forward for Rose.”
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