“Too bad you don’t have a farm,” Rose mused. “Mom and Dad would have come up with all sorts of grueling work punishments.”

“They sure would have.” Mercy was done thinking about Kaylie for the moment. “How are you feeling these days?”

“Good. Less puking this week.” Rose’s skin glowed and her happiness radiated. Her usual calm seemed more pronounced to Mercy. In fact, Rose had been calm about the pregnancy from day one. At least as far as she shared with her sister. Mercy had been the one with anxiety, but Rose’s attitude had brought it into check.

Kaylie dropped off Mercy’s Americano with heavy cream and two plates with cacao bars. Mercy took an immediate bite of the bar, relishing the bitter taste of the chocolate and the crunch of the almonds. It was her favorite of Kaylie’s recipes—dark, dense, and not too sweet.

Rose took a bite of hers along with a sip of coffee. “The girl has talent.” Bliss filled her face as she chewed.

“She does. And she can pursue it all she wants after she gets a college degree.”

“I think Pearl can handle the café if Kaylie leaves for college,” added Rose. “I hear an excitement in Pearl’s voice when she talks about the café. She hasn’t been excited about anything in a long time.”

“I’ve noticed it too,” Mercy agreed. “Has she not had a job in recent years?”

“No. Rick liked her staying at home with the kids and managing the house. I think Pearl liked it too, but after Charity left home, I think she felt a bit useless. Samuel doesn’t need a lot of parenting. Working here has given her something to look forward to.”

“How’s Rick feel about that?” Mercy had spoken only briefly with Pearl’s husband and son. She saw Pearl’s need to currently keep a wall between Mercy and her immediate family and tried to respect it. But one day she’d get to know her other niece and nephew.

She’d know Owen’s kids too.

Rose held up a palm and tipped it from side to side. “There’ve been some complaints from Rick. I don’t think he likes having to make his own breakfast.” Her lips tightened in mirth.

“It’s good for him,” Mercy said. “And definitely good for Pearl.” She watched her sister behind the café bar. Pearl moved with confidence and threw back her head as she laughed at a comment from a customer. She was definitely happy, and her laughter gave Mercy warm fuzzies.

“I agree. It’s not good to be stuck in a rut.”

Mercy changed the subject. “Do you know the Parker family very well? The young family that lives pretty close to you guys? I met Julia and Steve last night when I went to interview them about the arson at their place.”

“I do know them. Their little Winslet is a doll.” Rose’s nose twitched. “I smelled the smoke from their fire the morning after it happened.”

“Have you heard about anything unusual going on?” Mercy asked, abruptly realizing her sister was an excellent source for gossip and rumor in town. “I mean—”

“I know what you mean. If I’ve listened to talk about the shootings and fires. Who do people think might be responsible, or who has a beef they want to take out on a neighbor? Or who is angry with the police?”

“Exactly.”

“I haven’t heard anything very useful.”

“Then you’ve heard something.”

“Well, of course. It’s all anyone can talk about.”

“What are they saying?” Mercy knew leads could be buried in casual conversations. She hadn’t been in town long enough for the residents to talk openly around her, but everyone talked to Rose.

“Well, until those two deputies were shot, people were up in arms about kids or teenagers starting the fires. They were convinced that someone’s kid had an issue with fire and that the parents needed to pay more attention to what their kids were doing before someone caused a lot of damage.”

“I’d call the Parkers’ situation quite a bit of damage. It could take them a few years to rebuild what they lost.”

“I agree.” Rose nodded. “I heard Mom and Dad say they’d do what they could to help them catch up.”

Pride and sadness warred inside Mercy. Pride that her parents watched out for and helped their own; sadness that she no longer fell beneath their umbrella of concern.

I can’t fix what they’ve torn down.

“But after the deputies were shot, people became nervous. What had first been perceived as kids being stupid suddenly became a threat embedded in the community. When they believed it was kids, their voices were filled with anger and disgust. After the shooting, their voices were quieter and infused with worry. People felt vulnerable.”

“Understandable.” Mercy knew exactly what Rose meant. “What kids did people speculate about to start with?”

“The only names I heard tossed around were the two Eckham boys. But it was just talk based on their previous behaviors, you know?”

“Have they had trouble with fires before?”

“Not that I know of. The two women I heard talking about it seemed to be basing their assumptions on a history of behaviors like smoking and drinking and riding dirt bikes through the middle of town.”

Jason Eckham was one of the young men with Kaylie last night. Mercy took a sip of her drink, remembering how her brothers had been at that age. Stupid behaviors were often par for the course with males of a certain age.

“Do you know Tilda Brass? The owner of the property where the deputies were shot?”

“I’ve met her once or twice. She seemed like a quiet woman. Moved softly and spoke as if she was only partially present.”

“Truman said she has memory issues. Maybe the start of some dementia.”

Understanding crossed Rose’s face. “That would explain my impression. I assume she didn’t have much helpful information?”

“None.”

“Those poor deputies and their families,” Rose whispered. “Are you going to the funerals this evening?”

“Yes. Do you need a ride?”

“No, Pearl already offered.”

She and Rose sat silently as memories of a recent funeral swept over them.

“How is Kaylie holding up?” Rose asked.

“As good as can be expected. I encourage her to keep busy. Keeps her from thinking about Levi too much.”

“Sometimes I simply sit and remember him,” Rose said, her fingers playing with her coffee mug. “It’s important to think about the good times.”

But then you remember that last day.

A pink scar terrifyingly close to Rose’s right eye held Mercy’s gaze, and she let the anger and hatred toward her sister’s attacker out of a locked closet in her mind. He’d murdered her brother and brutalized her sister. She’d wanted to castrate the man for what he’d done to her family. Instead Truman had tried to save his life. To no avail. She didn’t feel guilty for hating the dead man; she fed on the hate, using it to fuel her current search for the cop killer.

“I need to get back to work.” Regret filled her. She’d rather sit and gossip mindlessly with her sister. Talk about baby names and drink too much caffeine.

Rose stood and kissed her good-bye. “Be careful.”

Mercy left the coffee shop after a wave to Pearl and Kaylie, who were filling drink orders for a family of five.

Kaylie was a good kid, and again Mercy hoped that she could continue to guide her, not create a divide between the teen and her other relatives.

Losing all family support was a level of hell Mercy didn’t wish on anyone.

Mercy opened the door to her Tahoe and spotted two men in conversation across the street. Her heart had felt happy after her conversation with Rose, but her carefree attitude vanished at the sight of her brother Owen.

He hates me.

Owen was talking to an overweight man with a thick beard. Mercy didn’t recognize the man but immediately noticed the bulge at his hip under his heavy coat. Their conversation seemed calm, but Owen glanced around several times, as if making certain no one was listening in.

Mercy froze with her boot on the running board. Should I approach him? She’d made some inroads with her mother and Pearl. Maybe it was time to start working on Owen too. I only have one brother left.

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