How can I use that to our advantage?

“You’ll burn, whore!”

“That’s not the way to speak to your half sister, Gabriel!” Her whoops echoed off the ceiling.

She’s falling apart.

Yanking her focus back to their safety, Mercy took another look at the camera angles. Gabriel had moved into her forward camera’s view, crouching behind the roasting Hummer.

“Can you keep him distracted? Keep yelling at him?” she asked Christian and Salome. “I’ll sneak out the back, go wide, and try to get a clear angle.”

Salome nodded, but Christian grabbed Mercy’s arm. “What are you planning to do?” Terror and worry filled his face.

Mercy was stunned at the anguish for his brother on his face. “He’s a threat, Christian. He murdered your father and Olivia. He won’t stop until Salome and probably the rest of us are dead too.” Why does he think I gave him a gun?

“But . . .” He couldn’t finish his sentence, his gaze darting between her eyes.

“I understand.” She laid her hand on his. Gabriel was Christian’s brother. He had every right to be rattled at the thought of his brother being shot, murderer or not. “I’ll only do what he pushes me to do.”

His face fell, but he nodded and pulled his hand away.

“Good luck,” he told her.

“You’re not my sister!” Gabriel roared. “You’re the spawn of a whore!”

Mercy pointed at Salome. “You’re up.”

“I’m going to curse your dick, you asshole!” Salome shrieked. “You’ll never get it up again!”

Well done. She flashed Salome a thumbs-up.

Mercy slipped out the back door and silently went down the steps. If she veered left, she should be out of Gabriel’s line of sight until she reached the edge of the woods. Then she could circle behind the barn and move closer using the cover of the trees. It was a long and roundabout way, but she didn’t see another option.

Gabriel shouted an unintelligible threat, and Salome started to chant at the top of her lungs. A singsong string of nonsense to Mercy’s ears, but eerily familiar to what she’d heard at Olivia’s deathbed. Goosebumps rose on her arms.

That ought to rattle him. Especially if he believed Salome had powers.

She was almost to the barn when more shattering glass followed by a muffled whoosh made her stop and check the house. No shots had been fired. Fresh smoke rose from in front of the house. It’s the Hummer. Something else ignited. The sounds repeated and a fresh burst of smoke appeared over her house.

Flames flashed in her upper windows.

He threw Molotov cocktails through the broken windows.

Her heart stopped as her world tilted off center.

My home. My work.

A barrage of miniexplosions sounded. Glass containers exploded as Gabriel threw them at the front of her home. Flames flickered in her small lower windows, and she took two steps toward the house, her gaze fastened on the back door, silently begging for Christian and Salome to appear. Get out!

“Aunt Mercy? What’s happening?” Kaylie was in tears.

She grabbed her radio. “He’s throwing Molotov cocktails into the house.” Vomit surged up her throat.

“It’s on fire?”

“It doesn’t matter,” Mercy choked out. “As long as everyone is safe.”

“Those were the sounds we heard in the barn . . . he was emptying the canning jars. He must have used them and the gas—”

Mercy cut her off. “I’m almost behind the barn. I want you two to get out of the cabinet and meet me outside the back door. We can’t take the chance that he sets fire to the barn next.”

“The back door is fastened from the inside with that chain and padlock.”

And the key is in the kitchen.

A major fuckup on my part.

They couldn’t go to the front of the barn; Gabriel would see them immediately. “There are bolt cutters in one of the cabinets.” Mercy closed her eyes to think. “I think the third one. As soon as you’re out, I want you to head east. Don’t stop. I’ll radio you when it’s safe.”

“We’ll leave tracks in the snow.”

“I don’t care. Just get moving. He’s occupied at the front of the house.”

Movement out of the corner of her eye made her turn to see Christian and Salome darting away from the house to the woods. Mercy exhaled noisily, her mental load lightened.

Everyone was out of the way. Now to get the girls farther away.

Mercy awkwardly jogged through the deep snow. A minute later she reached the back of the barn and pressed her ear against the door. Clanking sounded from the other side. Kaylie had found the bolt cutters.

Two feet of snow piled up against the outside of the door, nearly as effective as the padlock for keeping the girls locked inside. Mercy dug at it like a dog, exertion heating her face. Finally the door could open enough for Kaylie to squeeze through. Morrigan was right behind her. Mercy hugged her niece tight to her chest, wishing she’d left the girl back in town. “You need to head through the forest.”

“What about you?” Kaylie pleaded. Her gaze went from Mercy’s bulletproof vest to the rifle slung over her shoulder. “Oh.”

“My mother?” Morrigan whispered, clutching Kaylie’s arm. Her eyes were huge in her delicate face.

“She’s fine,” Mercy promised. “I saw her get out. You two need to start moving. No stopping.”

“I love you, Aunt Mercy.” Kaylie’s voice cracked and she wiped her eyes.

“Love you more.” Mercy ached to hug her again, but time was too tight. “Go.”

She watched the two figures lumber through the snow, Kaylie towing Morrigan behind her.

Mercy darted back to the tree line and continued her trek to get Gabriel in her sights.

Truman stopped and turned off the ATV, not trusting his ears.

More explosions?

Two more far-off detonations sounded, and more smoke rose in the direction of Mercy’s cabin.

Fire.

Mercy? Kaylie?

Images from his past of a burning car flashed in his mind, replaced by the recall of a recent burning barn. His healed burns prickled and stung under the skin of his neck and thigh at the memories, the old injuries echoing in his nerves. Every fiber of his muscles wanted to run in the opposite direction. His heart was thick in his throat as he restarted the ATV, his focus on Mercy and Kaylie. I might be walking into a nightmare. He shut down the terror that tried to take over his brain. Please be safe.

His progress had been painstakingly slow. The vehicle wasn’t capable of much speed, and the snow made it feel as if he were crawling.

Am I too late?

THIRTY-EIGHT

Smoke and flames billowed from all her windows.

Frozen in shock, Mercy’s muscles threatened to shatter.

I won’t cry. It’s just boards and bricks.

But it was more than that. Her cabin was the result of years of backbreaking work. It had kept her centered and grounded.

Now she floated with no tether, anxiety and panic taking her higher. Her aspirations and dreams burning as she watched.

Her soul crumbling, she leaned against a tree, closing her eyes to block the burning of her core.

Knowing she had a fallback position had kept her sane, and her brain threatened to tip over into the dark.

Not now. Don’t think about it now.

Four months earlier it was all she’d had. Now she had Kaylie. Her family. Truman.

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