Christian couldn’t look at her for more than a split second.

Salome is that child. Understanding swept over Mercy. She’s his half sister.

“My mother ran a nonstop vocal campaign of hate against my father. Gabriel was fed this poison along with his meals. I was too, but my mind didn’t work like Gabriel’s. His soaked it in like a sponge. I let her hostility roll off my shoulders. Even as a kid, I knew hate wasn’t something to harbor in my soul. But she often raged about the ‘whore in the woods’ who had corrupted our father and destroyed their marriage.”

A single tear ran down Salome’s cheek.

Mercy caught her breath at the shock on Salome’s face.

“I didn’t know this,” Salome whispered.

“I know,” said Christian. “My father was drunk when he told me. I don’t think he remembered that he told me, because he never mentioned it again.”

“He was always so kind to me. When did he tell you?” she asked.

“It was just after high school. I’ve kept it to myself all this time.”

“Did Gabriel know who I was back then?”

Christian shook his head. “I’m almost positive he didn’t.” His voice lowered. “Gabriel didn’t drug you to punish you for who you were; he drugged you because he was an asshole. He did it to several girls that year.”

“Did you know who I was the night you fought him off me?”

“No.” Christian was emphatic. “My father told me later.”

“What are you talking about?” Mercy finally asked. The two of them were talking as if no one else existed in the room. Memories and shit were pleasant, but there was a very angry man outside and two girls who needed help.

Christian opened his mouth, but Mercy cut him off with a hand gesture. “Never mind. There’s no time for some story. We need to focus on the girls.” She looked around the cabin. “This is the safest place on the property. The barn isn’t as fortified, but the hidden room will do its job.”

She met Christian’s gaze. “What is your brother going to do?”

He was silent. Bile rose in Mercy’s throat at the devastated look on his face.

“Why?” Salome begged. “Why does he hate me that much?”

Guilt filled Christian’s face. “I’m guessing, but my father told my mother he was changing his will. He enjoyed letting her know that I still had no part in it, but he also told her that Gabriel had destroyed his last chance. I gathered that Gabriel had borrowed money one too many times without paying it back.” He swallowed. “My mother was irate about him cutting Gabriel off . . . more than I expected her to be.” He looked to Salome. “If he’s not leaving money to us, I suspect that means he’s leaving it to you. He probably told her that, and she told Gabriel.” Curiosity crossed his face. “You visited him for years and he never told you he was your father?”

“No! He never said a word!” Salome looked ready to vomit. “Gabriel killed them over money? And he’s after Morrigan and me for the same reason?”

“Figure it out later,” Mercy stated. “Christian, I know you can shoot. What about you, Salome?”

Salome shook her head.

Mercy checked the views on her laptop. No sight of Gabriel. Then she strode to the tall gun safe in the corner, spun the dial, and removed a rifle for Christian. She slipped on a holster, seated her pistol, and shoved ammo in her many pockets. From under the seat of a bench, she pulled out three bulletproof vests. Originally there’d been one. She’d added two more for Kaylie and Truman months earlier. Christian checked the rifle as Mercy slipped a knife onto her belt and held another out to Salome. “I bet you know how to use this.”

“I do.” Salome took the weapon with ease and examined the balance.

“Were those your knives in your mother’s house?” Mercy asked. Salome handled the knife as if she’d been born with one in her hand.

“Yes, my mother started the collection, but I’ve increased it over the years.” Bitter but hopeful eyes turned toward Mercy. “Can you get my daughter?”

Their gazes held.

“Absolutely. My daughter is out there too.” Uncertainty and fear wove through Mercy.

But the confidence in Salome’s eyes sent a calming energy up her spine, obliterating the fear.

Nothing will happen to them. Not while I’m still breathing.

“Aunt Mercy?”

She nearly missed Kaylie’s soft voice through the radio. Mercy lifted it close to her mouth. “Yes?” she whispered.

“There’s a man. I think he took the fuel cans out of the barn.”

Mercy whirled back to the laptop again, searching the screen. “I can’t see him.” She pointed at Christian and Salome and gestured upstairs to her small loft. “Try to see him from the windows.”

“What is he doing with them?” Kaylie asked softly. “Morrigan and I are in the cabinet.”

Kaylie wouldn’t ask Mercy while Morrigan was listening if the barn was being set on fire.

“I can’t see him right now. I’ll figure it out.” She paused. “Be ready, Kaylie.”

Be ready to get out if the barn burns.

“Always,” came the teen’s reply.

Tears smarted at her niece’s answer. I couldn’t love her any more if she were mine.

“Don’t come out unless I say so or you need to.”


Mercy shoved the radio back in a pocket and studied her camera views.

Where is the bastard?


I have a brother.

It’s as if someone attempted to erase only child across my heart, but the words still show through the smears. They added sibling in tentative script; the word is awkward and harsh. It doesn’t fit. Yet.

My best friend is my brother.

I’ve always known our affection went deeper than friendship. I look at him now and my heart is happy; it knows the truth. Perhaps if I had listened closer to my heart, I would have realized it for myself.

But the man outside is also my brother. My brain refuses to accept this fact.

“Will Gabriel set the barn on fire?” I ask Christian as I peer out of a loft window, my stomach in my throat, worried sick over my daughter.



Living deep in the woods, my mother had a great fear of fire. One that she passed on to me. Not just a fear of forest fires but also a personal fear. “They burn witches,” she often told me.

“We aren’t witches,” I’d reply.

“It doesn’t matter. They believe we are, and that is all it takes.”

“This isn’t the seventeenth century.”

“Hmph. Don’t sass.”

My mother’s words echo in my brain as I search the grounds for Christian’s brother.

“It’s too wet,” answers Christian. He stands with his body to the side of a window as he scans outside. “Everything is covered with snow. It’d be nearly impossible to get a fire going.”

I look at the smoking Hummer without comment.

“When we were kids, he got in trouble twice for fooling around with flammables.” Disgust fills his voice. “Makes me wonder how many times he didn’t get caught.”

“We can’t see him,” I report down to Mercy on the lower floor.

“Keep watching. He’s somewhere,” she answers back. “Can you see his vehicle?”

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