Mercy flinched at the ice in his voice. His brain was cracked, rotting with anger and hate. Was it from decades of verbal barrages from his mother? “What did Michael Brody see?” she asked.

“Who? Oh. The reporter.”

Do I hear regret in his voice?

“I agreed to meet him in the park for an interview. He’d said on the phone that he’d found something interesting he wanted to discuss.” His tone intensified. “I think he found out about the loans from the judge.”

“And you shot him for that?” He must believe Michael is dead.

Silence.

“Brody lived,” she said. “You didn’t kill him. I’m sure you can work out a deal—”

“Do you think I’m stupid? I fucking study the law! They’ll hang me.” An element of hopelessness entered his voice. “I won’t go to prison.”

“It’s not too late—”

“Didn’t I tell you to shut up?”

“They’ll go easier on you for not kill—” She lost her words as he stepped out from behind his tree, fully facing her, his gun at his side, barrel down, bleak acceptance in his gaze.

He wants me to shoot him.

I have no weapon.

She froze, unable to speak or move. Every coherent thought flew out of her brain as they locked eyes. She waited.

Gabriel stared at her for a long moment, and then his eyes lit up. “Where’s your gun, Special Agent Kilpatrick?”

He raised his weapon.

Mercy couldn’t breathe.

THIRTY-NINE

Truman followed the tire tracks down Mercy’s winding lane. Two vehicles had traveled the road before him.

Smoke, gasoline, and burning rubber assaulted his nose, and he slowed, his fear and anxiety about what lay ahead spiking.

He rounded a curve and saw the open back hatch of Christian’s black Lexus. He halted. The crackle of flames filled his ears. A large red gas can lay on its side behind the SUV.

Where’s my shooter now?

He swung his leg over the ATV and pulled out his rifle, then carefully made his way to the vehicle. No driver. Debris was scattered, clearly emptied from an overturned duffel bag in the snow. Rob said Christian carried gas and emergency supplies in all his vehicles. Protein bars, MREs, duct tape, a tarp. Truman spotted a large plastic bag with the remains of a liquid inside. He picked it up and sniffed. Gas.

He could rig a large bomb with gas and a plastic bag.

Truman moved forward, leading with his weapon until a smoking Hummer came into view. That is what he blew up with the makeshift bomb. Past it, Mercy’s cabin burned. Flames and smoke pouring out of the windows, fire poking through the roof.

Dear Lord.

Is Mercy inside? Kaylie?

No one could survive in that inferno.

His grip tightened on his weapon as he fought back nausea, his head spinning.

On his side of the destroyed Hummer, he spotted a few glass canning jars, screw lids, and two more gasoline cans. Ripped strips of fabric serpentined in the breeze from the fire.

Molotov cocktails. He’d made enough as a teen to recognize the components.

Who bombed the cabin?

He wanted to yell and see if anyone was in the structure. Anyone in there is long dead.

Agony ripped through his brain, ordering him to give up. Not until I see she’s gone.

He scoured the area, and a spot of blue in the woods caught his eye. Truman darted off the drive and into the forest, jogging through the snow.

Gabriel Lake stood alone, wearing a blue coat, aiming a pistol at a tree.

It was Gabriel, not Christian.

Truman was close enough to see his delighted smile, but the unhinged look in Gabriel’s eye brought Truman to a halt, rattled by the animosity that was rolling off the man.

He’s evil.

A subtle movement on the ground made his heart speed up. Mercy was sitting below the tree.

She’s alive.

His knees shook in relief and he struggled to stay on his feet.

But then Mercy turned her face away from Gabriel, as if she couldn’t watch. Truman’s relief evaporated in shock as he realized that Gabriel was about to shoot her.

Why doesn’t she run?

She met Truman’s gaze and her eyes were a bottomless pit of regret.

She’s given up.

Time slowed as Truman raised his rifle, his entire world hanging by a thread.

I clench the knife Mercy gave me as I push through the snow, my gaze locked on her sitting at the base of the pine.

Christian hisses at me. “Stay back.” He has a rifle, and I’ve let him lead the way, but the sight of Mercy in the snow, her back to a tree and terror on her face, pushes me forward. The scents of burning boards and plastics interfere with my nose, but I’m not blind. A fading red shock is consuming her.

Gabriel’s back is to us, and he suddenly steps out from behind his tree.

Her time is up.

Gabriel raises his gun. Christian does the same.

I can’t trust that Christian will fire. I plant my feet and hurl the knife, a prayer on my lips that I won’t miss.

FORTY

Mercy saw part of Gabriel’s head disappear in a red haze, and the sound of gunshots bounced off the trees. She screamed as his body twisted and dropped to the ground, the gun still in his hand and his blood sprayed across the snow.

Mercy stared at the limp body, dimly aware of figures rushing at her from several angles. He’d fallen face-up, the handle of her knife sticking out of his chest.

Did I do that?

No. I gave that knife to Salome.

Gabriel had fired a shot before he fell. Am I hit again? She studied her chest and arms. No holes. A knife was still clutched in her grip.

Christian dropped to his knees beside her, and Salome was a split second behind him. “Are you okay?” they both shouted at her.

She pushed away their searching hands. They were touching her leg, pulling at her pants, and shaking her shoulders. But she ignored them, straining to see where Truman had been a brief moment before. Gabriel’s shot hadn’t hit her, but Truman had also been in his line of fire.

Truman?

“Mercy, can you hear me?” Christian grabbed her head and turned her face to him, cutting off her search for Truman.

She snarled, swinging her knife in his direction. He whipped his hands away, tumbling backward into the snow. “Where’s Truman?” she screamed as she flung her body to the right, not caring about the burning pain in her leg, fighting to see where Truman had been standing. “Where’s Truman?” she shrieked again.

“Right here.”

Suddenly he was with her, gathering her into his arms. Hyperventilating, she buried her face in his neck. He’s okay. The fragile hold she’d had on her emotions crumbled, and she sagged against him. More than anything she simply wanted to sleep with his arms around her. He pulled back and shook her. “Stay awake,” he commanded, his eyes deadly serious.

“Get pressure on that,” he ordered Christian. “Help me get my coat on her,” he told Salome. Everyone was silent as they frantically followed his directions.

Too silent.

“It’s bad,” she stated. Truman wouldn’t meet her gaze as he zipped her into his coat.

“You got him,” she whispered to Truman. “I thought he’d hit you.”

“I didn’t shoot him. Someone else shot first.”

Mercy swiveled to look at Christian, and her heart broke at the bleak expression on his face. He wouldn’t look up, focused on her leg. Salome met her gaze and laid a hand on Christian’s shoulder. “You had no choice,” she told him.

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