“What a horrible woman,” Mercy muttered. “Poor Toby. Do you think he really heard a voice?”

“I believe he heard someone ask for help.” He looked at Mercy. “I hope that person turns out to be your sister.”

“But it was last night,” she whispered, her mouth drying up. “A lot can happen in twelve hours.” Her brain spun with possibilities. Did he really hear a human? Could Rose be there?

Truman’s answer was to press on the accelerator.

She picked up her phone, her mind racing, her hope building. Please let it be Rose. She latched on to the new information and felt a positive energy grow in her chest. For the first time since Levi’s confession, she felt hope. “I’ll let Eddie know where we’re going. He’ll inform the rest.”

Hang on, Rose.

THIRTY-EIGHT

Rose took another sip from the bottle of water. It was her last one. She’d used the other bottle to bathe. It seemed wasteful to use drinking water for something as unimportant as cleanliness, but she’d been desperate to remove the essence of Craig Rafferty from her body.

Now she was clean, but the burn between her thighs and the pain around her neck reminded her of what he’d done.

I’m still alive. That’s more than Jennifer and Gwen.

He’d left her two bottles of water, a bucket, a towel, and a chocolate muffin.

She counted her blessings.

As she removed the plastic wrap on the muffin, she recognized its scent from the Coffee Café. Kaylie made it. The thought of her niece nearly brought her to tears, but none came because Rose didn’t have any tears left. Craig had ripped them out of her over the course of several hours during the night. The room stank of him. The bed stank of him. Her hair stank of him.

I’m still alive.

He’d told her in great detail what he and Kenny had done to Jennifer Sanders and Gwen Vargas. Words she could never unhear. Then he’d strangled her, whispering that her life was over as he tightened his grip around her neck, a loud buzz overtaking her brain. But just as she lost consciousness, he removed his hands and her hearing returned. Then he did it again. And again.

She lost count of how many times he took her near death.

“I hold your life in my hands,” he crooned with his fingertips on her neck, his lips near her ear. “Literally, your life is mine.”

He’d played stupid games, asking how many fingers he was holding up, what expression was on his face, or if he was the best-looking man she’d ever seen. She’d been slapped for not answering so she’d answered, throwing out random numbers and stroking his ego. He’d forced her to compliment him over and over. To her surprise, her words made him as happy as real compliments. He’d turn joyful after she’d told him how strong he was, thank her for noticing, and then talk about the men he’d fought.

His brain wasn’t right. It was twisted, distorted. She imagined it smelled gangrenous and felt spongy.

When he’d told her Levi had hidden what he’d known about the women’s murders, she’d instantly struck at him with her fists, screaming that it wasn’t true. To her surprise he’d backed off, assuring her that what Levi had believed wasn’t true. “What do you mean?” she’d asked.

“Levi believes that Kenny killed Jennifer and Gwen by himself. He thinks I was clueless that Kenny intended to attack you that night,” he explained. “We both know that’s not true, don’t we?” The slime in his voice turned her stomach. “It’s always been about you, Rose,” he whispered. “We didn’t know your sister was home that night. You’re so innocent, moving around town with the confidence that no one will hurt you or refuse you anything. But I bet you’re not as innocent as you seem. Have you ever had two men at once, Rose?”

She’d refused to answer and been punched in the stomach, bringing a fresh round of tears. He’d immediately apologized.

“Why did you break the mirrors?” she whispered.

He was silent for a long time before answering. “You’d have to know my father. Mirrors meant vanity to him, and vanity was something you had to beat out of your kids. There were no mirrors in our house when I grew up. I can remember him breaking a tiny mirror of my mother’s he’d found in her purse. It was prideful, sinful. She only should be looking at him. When he broke her mirror . . . the look on her face.” His voice took on a dreamy tone. “That was power. The way she looked at him in awe and fear. Those women—Jennifer and Gwen—they were vain. They needed to know that the world didn’t revolve around how they looked.” His finger moved along her cheek. “You’ve never needed a mirror. You are the absence of vanity. You’re as a woman should be.”

“Let me go,” she whispered.

He stroked her hair. “In time.”

The wistful tone in his voice told her she’d be dead before he let her go.

When he tired of using her body, he lay beside her in the filthy bed, positioning her head on his chest, and continued to play with her hair as he talked. And talked.

“I’m going to be important in Eagle’s Nest,” he promised. “I’ve waited a long time. I’ve put in the hours and I deserve it. Joziah Bevins can’t last much longer.”

She’d stiffened at the name and he felt it.

“You think Mike will be the heir to Joziah’s kingdom? Mike doesn’t want anything to do with it. Joziah’s going to pick the man he thinks is most qualified, and that’s going to be me.”

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