“Shhh, Aunt Mercy.” Kaylie could barely be heard. “Don’t talk.”
Mercy’s hands iced and she nearly dropped the radio. Kaylie must have heard the man enter the barn. My voice could give away their location.
Please remember the cabinet. Vomit surged up her throat, and she clamped her teeth together.
How can I get her and Morrigan out of there? She couldn’t rush the barn with an armed man and possible hostages inside.
She glanced back at Christian, who sat on the floor next to the crumpled woman, his chest heaving, his head between his knees and his hands squeezing his skull.
“It was your brother,” Mercy stated. “Your brother blew up the Hummer.”
His head shot up, his eyes wide. “He’s here?”
“And now he’s in the barn with Morrigan and Kaylie.”
“What?” Salome started to rise.
“I think they’re hiding. There’s a secret room in the barn.”
Salome inched away from Christian, anger on her face. “I’ve let you carry your secret, knowing you would tell me when it was time,” she said. “It’s time.”
At the sound of the explosion, Kaylie had shakily stepped to the barn door and peeked through a crack. The black vehicle was on fire, but the house looked okay. She touched the radio in her pocket. Mercy had drilled her to hide first. Ask questions later.
Fighting the urge to run to the house, she guided Morrigan behind the false back of one the barn’s storage cabinets and closed them in. Morrigan had dashed for the barn doors at the roar of the blast, but Kaylie had blocked her. She’d talked fast, calming the girl and begging her to be silent. Their hiding spot appeared to be just another cabinet in a long row, but the shelving swung out, exposing a space big enough for two adults to hide. They squeezed in and found water, food, and a flashlight tucked in a corner. Kaylie flicked on the flashlight and sent a mental thank-you to her aunt for her paranoia.
“But my mother,” Morrigan pleaded.
Kaylie showed her the radio. “My aunt will contact us.”
“Call her!” Tears flooded Morrigan’s cheeks.
“Shhh. No, the rule is that she reaches out to me first.”
Seconds later Mercy did just that, and Morrigan calmed down.
The distinctive creak of the barn door sounded and Kaylie clamped a hand over Morrigan’s mouth, her gaze ordering the younger girl to be quiet. “Shh, Aunt Mercy. Don’t talk,” she whispered through the radio. Morrigan’s eyes flared wider, but she was silent, and Kaylie slowly pulled away her hand.
“I’m going to turn off the flashlight,” she told Morrigan, her words nearly soundless.
The girl took Kaylie’s hand, gripping tightly, and nodded.
Kaylie turned out the light, the image of Morrigan’s terrified face burned into her retinas.
She slid her hand up the back of the hidden door in the absolute dark, feeling for the inner latches. She silently locked the three of them, their clicks inaudible, though they vibrated under her shaking fingertips. Morrigan’s panicked breathing filled the small space. Kaylie leaned closer to the girl. “Breathe with me,” she whispered, taking the child’s other hand. Together they took long, slow breaths.
Slams and scuffles sounded inside the barn. Kaylie imagined the intruder kicking the PVC of her washing machine and opening the cabinets. Glass shattered on concrete. Morrigan jumped, losing the rhythm of their breaths.
Kaylie squeezed the girl’s hands in the pattern of the breathing, and Morrigan struggled to settle into the rhythm again.
The fruit and vegetables we canned are the only glass items in the barn.
The rustling search of the cabinets came closer. Quivers shot through Morrigan and up Kaylie’s arms. Kaylie massaged the child’s hands, trying to send silent reassurance.
The sound of ripping fabric filled the barn. Rip after rip. She pictured the sheets and towels Mercy had stored with the medical supplies, intended for use as bandages or tourniquets.
He’s destroying everything we have.
The childlike destruction shocked her. Why? Who does that?
A faint but short metallic screwing sound reached her ears. Over and over. Each noise was followed by a phsst sound and then a gloppy splashing that Kaylie couldn’t identify.
The man muttered as he moved to a closer cabinet and continued his destruction, his voice getting louder.
“Aha!” The rustling stopped, and Kaylie heard two long scrapes, as if something heavy was being dragged off the shelves.
Her mind scrambled to decipher the noise.
The fuel cans.
Mercy stored gasoline, diesel, and kerosene. Red, yellow, and blue. Color indicators Kaylie had memorized as a child. In January she’d helped Mercy replace her stash of all three fuels. The scraping sounds had come from the direction in which the gasoline was stored. The red plastic containers shone clear in her mind’s eye.
Will he set the barn on fire?
She let go of one of Morrigan’s hands and slid open two of the locks, her fingers hovering over the third, ready to dash out at the first sound or smell of fire. She pressed her ear against the crack of the hidden door and strained to hear. His footsteps grew quieter and she heard the distinctive creak of the barn door. The barn had a smaller door at its rear, but Mercy had fastened it from the inside with a chain and heavy padlock.
Footsteps returned. Kaylie leaned back from the door and held her breath. Two more scraping sounds. Retreating steps.
Her heart tried to pound its way out of her chest, and she wondered if Morrigan heard it.
“What’s he doing?” the girl whispered.
“I don’t know,” Kaylie lied. They couldn’t leave the cabinet now; he was making multiple trips.
Kaylie leaned against the door, her ear at the crack again, and waited for the moment his footsteps didn’t return.
Furious, Mercy whirled on Salome after her accusation at Christian about secrets. The woman was creating drama while Mercy’s priority was to get the two girls to the safety of the house. Her mind spun with possibilities. Kaylie told me to be quiet, so that means she heard the man. Surely the teen would go immediately to the cabinet; they’d drilled repeatedly for handling an invasion of the property. The hidden room was weak compared to the security of the cabin, but at least it was something.
She thanked the sense of caution that had driven her to build the false back in the cabinet.
“What do you mean he’s keeping secrets?” Mercy challenged Salome. She glanced at the screen. The man still hadn’t come out of the barn. I’ve got to get in there.
“He knows why Gabriel would try to kill me.”
Shocked, Mercy locked gazes with her old friend, seeing truth in his eyes. Her heart sank. “Christian?” she whispered.
“I never dreamed he’d kill your mother . . . or my father.” He lowered his head again, his hands pressing on his ears as if he could keep out the horrors.
“What happened?” Mercy took a step in his direction, wanting to yank on his hair, shake him, kick him. Anything.
His head shot up, and he raised his arms defensively in her direction.
Mercy halted, realizing she’d lifted her pistol. She immediately lowered it to her side.
“A long time ago, my father told me he’d had a child with another woman.”
Salome’s breath hitched.
“I was young, but it made sense. When I found out, he and my mother had been divorced for about ten years, but the fights they’d had all my life were still fresh in my mind. My mother’s screams . . . her words . . . her accusations.” He glanced at Salome, and the dark woman stared back at him, her gaze locked on his face; she was expressionless, but her nostrils flared as if she scented something foul.
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