She nodded and reluctantly turned away.
Mercy glanced over her shoulder at the three men. “We need to find her mother.”
Could she be our killer?
For Morrigan’s sake, she prayed it wasn’t true.
As Mercy left with Morrigan, Truman turned to Bolton. “What’s been done to find the mother?”
“I have someone filling out a request to her cellular provider to get her phone records and last location. No one answers at her number, and the voice mail is full. I also put out a BOLO on her vehicle.”
“What is it?”
“A green Subaru Forester. Eight years old.”
“Morrigan wasn’t any help with location?”
Bolton grimaced. “Sounds like the mother travels quite a bit and leaves her home alone with the grandmother. She doesn’t know where she goes or when she’ll be back.”
“Poor kid. What’s her mother’s name?”
The hair stood up on Truman’s arms. “Salome?” he said softly.
Interest lit in Bolton’s eyes. “Know her?”
“No. Well, maybe . . . It was two decades ago . . . if it’s her. That’s not a name you hear very often.”
“I Googled it,” Bolton said. “It’s a Bible name. Salome demanded the head of John the Baptist and had a reputation for being dangerously seductive. Who names their kid after someone like that?”
“Good question,” Truman muttered. Tiny pricks of pain sparked in the two-month-old burns on his neck and he rubbed them, careful not to scratch. Although the burns from an arsonist’s barn explosion looked healed, he knew from experience they might bug him for a year.
It can’t be the same woman.
But in his lifetime, how many women had he met with that name? One. And he’d met her in Deschutes County.
He’d never known her last name. He’d been nineteen, drunk, and high on adrenaline as he and his friends crashed a party at a farmhouse outside of town. He hadn’t known whose house it was, but the rumor that the owners were out of town for the weekend and the son had a few kegs of beer was enough to bring in partiers from twenty miles away.
Salome had dark, sexy eyes and a voluptuous body that drew the attention of every person in the room—even the girls. But their looks were catty and dismissive, and they turned their backs as Salome walked—no, glided—by. She oozed sex and danger as she prowled the room. She was older, he would learn later. Twenty-one. To him she seemed untouchable and out of his league.
“Stay away from that one,” Mike Bevins had said to Truman in a low voice, but his fierce gaze hung on her every move, claiming he wanted to do the opposite.
“Who is she?” Truman asked, keeping an air of disinterest in his voice, though his gaze was glued to her like Mike’s. Along with every other guy’s.
“That doesn’t tell me anything.”
“The last guy who dated her got in a bad car wreck the night he dumped her.”
“So?” Truman took a sip of beer from his red plastic cup.
“They say you shouldn’t cross her.”
Mike was talking in circles.
“She seeing anyone now?”
“Jesus, Truman. Aren’t you listening?”
“You aren’t making sense. Why should I stay away?”
Mike took a long draw on his beer, wiped his lips, and turned unsteady eyes on Truman. “It’s not good for your health if you make her mad. Sooner or later everyone breaks it off. You want to stay on her good side.”
He’s still talking bullshit.
“You just don’t want me to try,” Truman said. “Afraid I’ll succeed?” He took another drink and searched for her. Heavily lined brown eyes met his. She smiled and heat raced through his veins.
“Keep it in your pants,” ordered Mike. “Really, dude. She’s bad news.” He glanced from side to side and then leaned closer to Truman. “They say she’s a witch. Her mother was a witch and her grandmother was a witch.”
“That’s a bunch of bullshit.” Promises and pleasure filled her eyes. Truman couldn’t look away.
He took a gulp of liquid courage. “I gotta give it shot.” He left Mike protesting in his wake as he crossed the room.
“Truman. Truman.” Bolton stared at him.
Truman focused on the detective. “Sorry. Was trying to remember . . . where I might have met her. I was just a kid,” he hastily added.
“Remember anything useful that could help us find her today?” Bolton looked skeptical.
Truman noticed the Deschutes deputy bent over with his face close to one of the Christmas houses, his finger an inch away from a dangling wreath on the tiny door.
“Don’t touch anything,” ordered Bolton.
The deputy jerked upright. “I wasn’t going to.” Guilt flushed his face. “Anyone else feel light-headed in here? There’s a smell of dried moss or something weird that’s getting to me. It’s like I took a hit off a joint. Or maybe it’s the tight quarters.”
Truman suddenly felt the same. He scanned the childlike homes. What else are they made of?
“I feel it,” said Bolton. “Everyone out.”
Outside the room Truman welcomed the healthy animal scents, and Bolton rubbed his eyes. “Think there’s something hallucinogenic in there?” Bolton asked. “Did you feel that?”
“I felt something. Could just be stale air or maybe an allergy,” suggested Truman.
“Something all of us are allergic to?” Bolton was unconvinced. “Something is in there. I’ll warn the crime scene techs.” He glanced at Truman. “Probably time for you to get back to work. Tell Mercy to head home too. She’s been up all night.”
“She won’t leave until CPS gets here.” Truman spotted her in a pen with Morrigan, who was tying a pink bow around a black goat’s ear. Three tiny goats pushed and shoved one another to reach the handful of feed on Mercy’s palm, delighting her. Her laughter bounced off the dusty rafters.
The sound stripped his soul bare, warming him. He’d burn bridges and trudge across a desert for her. He was blessed to have her in his life. Was it love? Hell yes.
Truman turned back to the detective, who eyed him with a touch of envy.
Outside, the crackle of tires on packed snow announced the arrival of another vehicle.
“Maybe we got lucky and that’ll be the CPS agent,” Bolton stated.
I’ve been lucky for the last four months.
The arriving car had belonged to the CPS agent. Mercy had grilled the pleasant woman before allowing her to take Morrigan. Truman had given props to the agent, who’d smiled all through Mercy’s interrogation. Morrigan liked the woman and was interested in meeting a ten-year-old girl who lived in the home where she’d wait until her mother turned up. After they left, Mercy drove home to shower and nap. Truman went back to work.
“Augustus McGee wants you to meet him at the diner,” Lucas announced as Truman entered the Eagle’s Nest police station.
Truman stopped, his cowboy hat in hand, halfway to its hook. Augustus was a town busybody. “Why doesn’t he come here?”
“You know why.”
“Really? He won’t step foot in the office?”
“It’s a government building. That’s enough reason for the old coot.”
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