“That is why we hide,” I stated. Claustrophobia swallowed me as we sat in the sunshine. Will we ever be safe?

Her somber brown gaze met mine. “He’s sworn to kill me and you. I will never let that happen.”

“We need to leave,” I begged. “We’re too close. We can go to Africa or Canada.” Faraway, exotic-sounding countries that I’d read about in books and dreamed of visiting.

“He believed I left. The story was spread that I moved far away.”

“Why didn’t we go?”

“I can’t leave,” my mother whispered. “My heart and soul belong to these trees and this soil. I won’t leave them. In my time of need, they gave me strength. They are still my strength.”

Her words were true. Once I’d seen the connection: nearly invisible, hair-width ribbons of blue and green that sparkled as they flowed between her and the forest. More often I heard the bond as she moved through the trees. A subtle twinkling sound . . . like faraway chimes.

“Never forget that he promised to wipe me and my children from the face of the earth. Your children will also be in danger.”

Today my gaze rests on Morrigan, quietly reading the books I hastily packed. The same books that brought the outside world into my isolated home. My heart quietly crumbles at the knowledge of the danger we are in.

He is out.

My mother won’t be his last victim. The threat has roared to the surface after decades of hibernation. I will protect my daughter if it kills me. So we hide. Deeper than ever before.

Should I tell Morrigan I know who killed her grandmother?

She’s too young.

Guilt swamps me, and I silently beg my mother for forgiveness. So many times as a teen I ranted at her, angry at the rules she set upon me, furious at the bubble she’d raised me in. The threat she shared with me that day in the woods later felt nonexistent after the passage of a few years’ time. Our calm lives had given me false security, and my teenage hormones had taken over my brain.

I shake my head at the stupid teen I was.

Shouldn’t my mother have been notified if he was released from prison? I snorted. I doubt the prison knew how to find her.

Or did one of his associates do the murder for him?

It doesn’t matter. We will keep running.

TWENTY-ONE

Mercy sat at her desk the next morning. The predicted snowstorm had rolled through overnight and dumped eight inches of snow in Bend and two feet of white fluff in the Cascade mountain range. All the mountain passes had been closed, cutting Central Oregon off from the populous Willamette Valley. This sort of snowstorm was rare for the Bend area. It always got some snow each year, but not like this, and the city struggled to keep up with the plowing. Bend didn’t have enough plows to clear all the main roads. It had to prioritize.

Mercy’s 4WD had made her drive to work slightly less dangerous, and Kaylie was pleased that school had been canceled while she was stuck at her friend’s house. She informed Mercy they planned to watch movies and bake cookies all day.

I wish I were home baking cookies.

Her morning had consisted of a long reluctant good-bye to Truman, a dicey drive to work, and several hours of computer tasks.

Snow continued to fall, and she spent several minutes with her chin resting on her hand, enjoying the sight from her window. The city was covered in a magical white blanket, and she tried not to think what her evening commute might entail. More snow was predicted over the next few days. Her mind went to her cabin and the new pump system she and Truman had installed. She’d rather be checking on the winterization of her place than tapping computer keys.

A small cloud of claustrophobia hovered over her head. An inability to immediately reach her cabin, her safety net, kept her from fully relaxing. She could probably drive to it. She had chains for her 4WD and a shovel. But there was no emergency on the horizon. Her usual morning scan of national and international news reports had raised no red flags.

It appeared the world would be stable until the snowstorm was over.

I need to be mentally prepared to take the risk in weather like this.

Maybe this storm would be a good time for a cabin practice run with Kaylie. She’d never done one in heavy snow. In fact, all her drills had been in sunny weather. Twice she’d called Kaylie out of the blue and told her it was time to leave town. The teen had responded beautifully, dropping what she was doing and meeting Mercy at their rendezvous point. No supplies were needed because both their vehicles were already stocked to last a week in rough conditions. The only things needed from the apartment were Mercy’s two backup weapons in their locked cases. Not that there weren’t sufficient weapons at the cabin.

Speed was the priority. Unplowed roads could be a problem.

Kaylie had a little front-wheel-drive sedan that was fantastic in a few inches of snow. Was it enough? Mercy debated trading in the teen’s car for something with 4WD or even AWD. If Mercy couldn’t get to the rendezvous point on time, Kaylie’s instructions were to drive to the cabin in the mountains on her own.

I definitely need to upgrade her vehicle.

Suddenly the beautiful snow outside had shifted from a winter wonderland to a dangerous obstacle, and she looked away, directing her brain to focus on work. Specifically on the case that she had no part of.

Last night her boss had deemed the Rob Murray murder part of an overarching case that included the Lake and Sabin murder cases. Truman was at the county sheriff’s office, giving a statement about his visit with the murder victim. Forensics was poring over the knife left in Murray’s neck but had yet to officially connect it to the death of Olivia Sabin or Malcolm Lake. Mercy believed it had come from the knife collection at the Sabin home, but there was no supporting evidence.

Her phone rang, and Ava was on the other end.

She didn’t waste time with pleasantries.

“I asked Jeff if you could go interview Gabriel Lake at Christian’s home.”

“Why?” asked Mercy. She tamped down the excitement in her stomach, impatient to grab any opportunity to sink her teeth into the ongoing murder case.

“The agent Jeff sent to conduct the interview was turned away and told to contact Gabriel’s lawyer. Of course, no one went to work today because of the snow, so there is no reaching his lawyer until tomorrow at the earliest. I don’t have time to wait around, and I think Christian will let you in.”

A silent cheer erupted in Mercy’s brain. “I can’t guarantee his brother will talk to me. And the roads out here are a nightmare. I’m surprised the first agent made it to the house.”

“He said he almost didn’t. But I know you can. My efforts to reach their mother, Brenda Lake, have hit the same lawyer speed bump. She was happy to chat with me the other day, but my second interview request was shot down, and I was referred to her lawyer.”

“Considering Malcolm and Gabriel are both lawyers, that doesn’t surprise me one bit.”

“It bothers me that the family is suddenly uncooperative.”

Mercy understood. “I’m sure they’re just protecting their rights, but it does make them look bad. Has Christian been informed of Rob Murray’s death? Since Christian was willing to loan him that SUV, I assume they have a good working relationship.”

“To my knowledge, neither we nor Deschutes County have been able to talk to the Lake brothers since our visit. If Christian knows, it wasn’t from us. Has there been media coverage?”

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