Sean was fraying. The calm and control that she’d witnessed at the compound was gone, and she worried for their safety. Several times she’d caught him staring at Eden with a hungry look, setting off shrill alarms in Mercy’s brain. He caught her watching him and looked away as if nothing had happened.
The focus on Eden disturbed her. Sean was no longer policed by society. It was just the three of them, and he held all the power. He could do as he pleased. His rules. No witnesses.
She and Eden both watched for opportunities. Mercy dreamed of grabbing his gun or a knife from the tiny kitchen area. When he boiled water, she saw her hands grab the pan and hurl the contents into his face. The crack of the ax outside made her itch to hold its handle.
But he was too careful.
I need him to make one mistake. That’s all.
They recited the directions back to the compound, pounding them into their memories. Mercy hated the thought of returning, but the compound was the only place that offered shelter—that they knew of. She was surprised how much of their trek she’d forgotten. Eden remembered landmarks that Mercy couldn’t recall.
There was no guarantee that they’d escape together.
And they might have to physically fight for their lives. They whispered about what they could use for weapons—the knives, his guns, a piece of firewood. Mercy lectured Eden on fear and how to set it aside, on being prepared to injure and attack. To kill.
If the opportunity arose, she feared the teenager would freeze.
Mercy gently flexed her knee and elevated it as much as possible. It had improved even with Sean’s continued abuse, her jeans no longer straining around it. The headache had nearly subsided, and now her vision stayed true. But the scabs on her face had dried, and they itched, and according to Eden, the tissues around her eyes were colorful palettes that changed every day.
She would kill for a shower.
Sometimes Mercy and Eden took turns distracting each other with happy stories, keeping their voices low as they talked about their lives back home. Sean had been silent a lot, but Mercy knew he listened to their conversations. She hoped their stories humanized the two of them, making him see that they weren’t expendable. Someone who could shoot Nelson in the head could also easily choose to eliminate them.
Eden spoke of her family, relating touching accounts of Noah and her mother. The teen now believed that Noah had survived, although she often broke into tears while speaking of him. Mercy told stories of her siblings, struggling to keep her voice from cracking as she pictured their faces. She shared stories of her job and was describing Eddie’s sense of humor when Sean finally spoke.
“You know your wonderful bureau has a rat,” he said abruptly.
Mercy froze, knowing he didn’t mean a rodent. “How do you know?”
He smiled, his hands clasped as he rested his forearms on his thighs, staring at them as usual, his eyes blazing with secrets.
Her mind raced. She had continually questioned how Pete had known her name and for whom she worked, and it suddenly made sense. Chad hadn’t known her identity, so someone else had told Pete. Someone outside.
“Pete planned to kill you when he found out you were FBI.” His voice was flat.
“Who told him?” He almost did kill me.
Sean shrugged. “Pete had sources.”
She sucked in a breath. How?
He tilted his head, studying Mercy. “You haven’t said a word about the federal gathering out in the sticks.”
Distracted, Mercy glanced at Eden. “What gathering?”
He examined her face thoroughly. “You don’t know,” he finally said with wonder. “How could you not know? Pete found out they were coming the day before they arrived.”
Mercy stiffened. Who? “I’ve had no contact with the outside.”
A single brow shot up. “Seriously?”
“When Chad left, I was incommunicado.”
“Sounds like the feds didn’t give a crap about your safety. The feds set up camp within a couple miles of the compound, and you had no idea?”
Mercy blinked, hope blooming in her heart. “Who? When?” They came to get me out?
Annoyance flashed. “You’re a really shitty agent. How in fuck’s sake did you get a job with the FBI?”
“How did you get a job?” she snapped back. “Or were you fired from the police department when your boss realized you’re a loose cannon? Maybe a little too heavy with the sexual harassment?”
“Got me figured out, do you?” Fury gleamed in his eyes.
“You tell me.”
He leaned closer, his gaze sparking with rage. “Once upon a time I was with the Henderson Police Department, but I left on my own two years ago.”
“Where’s Henderson?” asked Eden, who had been listening with wide eyes.
“Outside of Las Vegas,” Mercy answered. She caught her breath. The ATF weapons heist had been in Nevada.
Was Sean one of the thieves?
Fast moving, prepared, and precise was how the survivor had described the attackers at the ATF robbery. That portrayal fit Sean.
The ATF hadn’t figured out how the attackers had known where to ambush the vehicles.
But a former Nevada police officer might still have a friend on the local force who knew that the transportation of the weapons stockpile was about to go down.
Pieces fell into place, creating audible clicks inside her head.
He held her gaze for a long second before he strode out the door again.
On the seventh day since they had escaped, Sean’s temper was running hot. Mercy and Eden stayed quiet, impossibly attempting to blend into the floor and bed frame.
“This is how life should be,” Sean muttered as he paced. “No TV, no cell phones, no computers. Completely self-reliant.”
Is he trying to convince himself?
To Mercy, Sean didn’t seem comfortable at all with the isolation. In the past she’d spent two weeks alone at her cabin. It had taken a day or two, but she’d learned to embrace the silence. Sean didn’t seem capable of it.
“Bathroom break?” Eden quietly asked. He’d taken them out that morning, but that was several hours ago. They’d eaten a second meal, and Mercy was feeling the pressure too.
“Time to take the dogs out?” he joked.
It was a joke they’d heard too many times.
Days ago they had formed a routine for going outdoors. He would untie Eden and order her to stay seated as he unlocked Mercy’s handcuffs from the bed and then fastened the cuffs behind her back. When it was her turn in the outhouse, he’d uncuff her while making Eden sit in the snow. The second Mercy’s cuffs were off, he pointed his gun at Eden’s head until Mercy emerged and put her hands behind her back to be locked up again.
Eden and Mercy had picked the routine apart over and over, searching for a weakness. Every scenario ended with one of them shot. Mercy refused to risk it.
This time he ran a finger across Eden’s cheek after he untied her, making Mercy’s stomach burn, the hungry look in his eyes nauseating her. Eden’s face was full of fear. Still grinning, he unlocked Mercy’s cuffs, and the key slipped from his fingers, bouncing behind one of his boots.
Mercy lunged at his legs, wrapping her arms around his knees, throwing her body weight into his lower half, and knocking him off balance to the floor. The gun he’d tucked into his waistband fell free and slid away a few feet.
“Eden! Go!” Mercy ordered.
The teen leaped to her feet and charged out the door, leaving it open as she vanished.
Sean’s cursing didn’t penetrate Mercy’s focus. He was on his back, beating at her head and shoulders to free his legs from her locked arms.
With all her energy, she slammed an elbow into his groin, and his entire body contracted, his legs and chest coming toward each other to protect himself as she rolled away. For the briefest split second, indecision warred in Mercy’s brain as the gun on the floor grabbed her attention.
Too far away.
She stumbled to her feet and sprinted out the open door, his guttural howls ricocheting in her skull.
She veered left, ignoring her sore knee and following the packed snow path toward the outhouse and woodpile. The land in the opposite direction was covered with pristine snow over a foot deep beyond the eaves of the cabin. If she had turned right, she would have left a crystal clear trail for him to follow, her steps too slow and her back exposed to his shot.
Her lungs burned, her ears attuned for sounds behind her as she ran.
Eden got away.
That’s all that matters.
As long as the girl headed to the compound, she might be safe. But first Mercy had to stop Sean from following the teenager.
Her gaze locked on the ax stuck in the wide stump that Sean used as a chopping block. Slamming to a stop, she thrust the handle down and yanked the ax from its hold. She dashed around to the back of the woodpile, clutching the ax to her chest, her lungs pounding with exertion as she leaned against the wood, squatting slightly to keep her head out of sight.
The woodpile was enormous. Mercy estimated there were four or five cords of cut wood under the numerous tarps. Sean had constantly cleared the snow all the way around the base of the pile, leaving a path where her footsteps barely showed.