Craig had hit an artery.
How can I put a tourniquet on a neck?
Levi opened his eyes. “Rose?”
Mercy leaned closer. “She’s going to be fine.” I hope.
“Good. Should have told you about Craig earlier.”
“You weren’t sure.”
“I wondered.” He held her gaze. “I missed you. I’m glad you’re back.”
She smiled at him with shaking lips. “Me too.”
“Take care of Kaylie for me. Keep her mother away.”
Ice flooded Mercy’s veins. “Don’t talk like that.” She pressed harder against his neck.
“Not Pearl,” he whispered. “Not Mom. You.”
She swallowed hard. His words were so faint. The pulsations under her fingertips grew farther apart.
Sirens sounded. County deputies.
“You’re going to be just fine,” she pleaded. He can’t leave me now. I just got him back.
“Tell her I love her.”
“Tell her yourself!”
“Kaylie,” he whispered. His eyes closed, and he took a shuddering half breath.
Mercy stared at her brother’s body, ignoring the car doors that slammed in the driveway.
This isn’t happening.
Three days later
Mercy hated funerals.
She’d been to only two in her lifetime, but this third one would be filed in her memory forever. She watched them lower Levi’s casket and gave up trying to hold in her tears. All day she’d held them in, trying to be strong for the rest of her family, but the finality of watching her brother disappear below the earth was too much. She looked up, past the mourners and acres of trees. Familiar white mountain peaks stood against the blue sky, and the dusty dry smell of the pines soothed her.
Central Oregon was still her home; her roots here were deeper than she’d realized. The fifteen-year absence seemed to dissolve, and she drew strength from the physical beauty around her.
Rose’s grip on her hand tightened.
She was the reason Mercy had tried so hard to be stoic. Rose had suffered at the hands of her kidnapper and lost her brother, yet Rose was the one who’d shown strength. Scabs had formed over the long slashes on Rose’s face, chest, and arms. Remnants of how Craig had made her scream . . . to torment Mercy.
It’d worked. She heard Rose’s screams in her dreams every night.
The wounds were superficial. Rose might have some scarring, but every time Mercy looked at her sister, Craig Rafferty came to the forefront of her thoughts. Rose didn’t care about the scabs; she held up her head. Men stared at her injuries. Children backed away. Women teared up. Rose ignored their reactions and offered support and thanks to everyone who talked to her about Levi.
“It’s about Levi today,” she’d told Mercy. “Marks on my face don’t matter.”
At the house Mercy had seen her gently trace the marks on her cheeks, her expression blank. Then she’d touched her stomach, a look of wonder on her face.
Mercy had begged her to get the morning-after pill.
“I won’t do that,” she said. “If there’s a baby, I want it.”
“But Rose,” Mercy started, a dozen reasons crowding her mind. The child of a rapist. What will you tell the child? Will another man take on that child one day? Then she realized that if anyone could handle the situation, it was her sister. Her heart was enormous, and she possessed a true gift of forgiveness.
Even blind, she was more resolute than Mercy.
Rose didn’t know if she was pregnant. But her introspective expression told Mercy she hoped she was.
Their second big conversation had been about the death of Kenny, the first attacker.
They and Truman had agreed to keep it quiet. The only two other people who had known about Kenny were dead.
The police had found Jennifer’s and Gwen’s prom pictures in Craig’s apartment. They’d also found his fingerprints on the stolen weapons at Owlie Lake. In her interview, Rose had stated that Craig had told her he’d killed the preppers and the two girls. Craig Rafferty would probably take all the blame for what both men had done.
It’d been enough to start the wrapping up of the cases and offer healing to long-grieving families.
David Aguirre started a final prayer over Levi’s grave. Around her, heads bowed. Mercy stared at the gaping hole and struggled to pull up more memories of her brother. Why did I let fifteen years go by? His final moments in the dirt outside the Fahey home haunted her, and she hated that they would be a prominent memory for the rest of her life.
Around her everyone stood, and she stiffly moved to her feet, feeling decades older. Placing Rose’s hand on her arm, she followed her siblings and parents out of the first row of seats, blindly walking behind Pearl. Her family started to form a receiving line, and Mercy begged off, transferring Rose’s hand to Pearl and escaping to stand under a towering ponderosa pine between old gravestones fifty feet away. Her father still wouldn’t look her in the eye, but her mother had assured her he didn’t fully blame her for Levi’s death. Mercy had been stunned at her mother’s words. Blaming me is an option?
She carried her own minor guilt over Levi’s death, but she hadn’t placed him outside that house, and she wasn’t the one who had hid the identity of a possible killer for fifteen years. She, Truman, and Rose had agreed not to share Levi’s involvement with Craig. There was no gain for anyone in knowing what her brother had done.
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