She slammed the door and crossed the street before she could talk herself out of it. Both men glanced in her direction, and Owen did a double take, his shoulders straightening as he recognized her. His face hardened and he plunged his hands into the pockets of his coat as he looked away. He pivoted, turning his back to her.

Keep going.

Mercy stepped up onto the curb and stopped before the two men. The bearded man gave her a curious look and touched the brim of his cowboy hat. His eyes were a dark brown, and two red spots burned high on his cheeks. He was even bigger up close, his girth rivaling that of a giant pine near her cabin. The lines around his eyes told her he was older than she’d first assumed from a distance. Now she estimated him to be in his late fifties.

“Hey, Owen,” she said. “I just had coffee with Rose.” Owen glanced at her and looked away. She held out her hand to the other man. “I’m Mercy Kilpatrick. Owen’s sister.”

Comprehension washed over the other man’s face and he blinked several times. He took her hand, giving it a weak shake. The type a man gives when he’s afraid to crush a woman’s hand. “Tom McDonald. I’ve heard of you.” His beard and mustache needed a trim. Hairs curled under his lip and covered half of his teeth as he spoke.

Owen looked miserable. “All good, I hope,” she said with a wink at the bearded man. She didn’t recognize his name, but he felt familiar even though she couldn’t recall any men of his size from her youth.

Tom smirked at Owen, and Mercy kept her gaze locked on his eyes, startling Tom when he turned his focus back to her.

Great. Owen’s friend is a jerk.

Tom excused himself and headed toward a big Chevy king cab with three rifles in the rear window gun rack. Two other men in jeans and heavy coats leaned against the fender, clearly waiting for Tom to join them. The three of them got in the truck and left.

“Pleasant guy,” Mercy said, mentally filing away the license plate number of the Chevy.

Owen glared at her and started to walk away.

“Owen, wait!” She sped after him, speaking to his back. “I want us to be able to talk to each other. You don’t have to like me, but let’s at least get to the point where we can be in the same room. We’ve got a new niece or nephew coming in seven months. I’d like to welcome the baby without feeling like I’m hated at family gatherings.”

He whirled around, making her halt, anger shining in his eyes. He looks like Dad when he’s mad.

“You killed Levi. It’s your fault he’s dead. Don’t talk to me about family.”

Mercy couldn’t move. Her lungs crashed to the sidewalk and her vision narrowed on his face. Whatever she’d been expecting, it hadn’t been that.

“What?” she finally croaked.

“You cops stuck your nose in everything. Levi would still be alive if you hadn’t come to town.”

“Craig Rafferty shot Levi! You can’t blame me for that. Craig was your friend. Didn’t you ever see how unhinged he was? He killed Pearl’s best friend.” A high-pitched buzz started in her ears.

“You shot Craig before he could prove his innocence.” Owen spit the words. “It’s impossible for a dead man to defend himself. That’s the cops’ solution for everything.”

“You’re making excuses for the man who murdered your brother,” she whispered. Does Owen truly believe what he’s saying?

“The real problem is at the core of our society,” Owen continued, his eyes fierce. “Law and order need to be back in the hands of the people . . . They should govern themselves.”

“Who do you think makes our laws?” she snapped at him. “Cats? Aliens?”

“Laws are made by bureaucrats who sit on velvet chairs in mansions somewhere. They’re totally out of touch with the common man. We need to have a say.”

“You do have a say. Everyone does. It’s called voting.”

“Our process has gone haywire. It’s time to return the power back to the average guy. He’s the one who understands what life is truly like.” Passion burned in his voice. “People sitting in Washington . . . hell, the people sitting in Salem don’t understand what life over here is like. Why are they the ones telling us what to do?”

Are we really arguing about politics?

“You cops are a by-product of the problem.”

A red haze started at the edges of her vision. “Excuse me?”

“Levi and Craig shouldn’t be dead,” he hissed at her. “You and your cop boyfriend are just tools. Tools of the assholes running this country. We don’t need you. We can take care of ourselves.”

Mercy opened her mouth to argue and then shut it, studying the anger in his expression. He’s not in the mood to listen. “What’s happened to you, Owen?”

“I’ve wised up. I’m tired of bending over and taking it up the ass. Levi was the last straw.”

“I miss him too.”

“You don’t miss him. You don’t even know who he was.” The hatred in his tone tore at her heart.

“He was my brother,” she whispered.

“Well, you didn’t act like much of a sister.”

“I’m here now. I want—”

“Leave it, Mercy.” He cut her words off with a jerk of his hand. “Do whatever you think you need to do. Just keep it away from me. You slunk into town and won over Kaylie and Rose, but don’t you dare come near my kids.”

She couldn’t speak.

He spun on his heel and strode away.

Mercy watched him walk, seeing echoes of their father in his stance and stride.

I tried. She firmly set aside the anger and sorrow he’d ripped out of her heart and replayed his words in her brain. Tools. Bureaucrats. Take care of ourselves.

She didn’t like where his mind was spending its time.

TEN

Truman’s dress uniform felt unnatural on his body, as if he’d borrowed someone else’s clothes. He’d worn it three times since he’d taken the job as chief of police. Once for his swearing-in and the other two times for special events. Today was an event, but it wasn’t a good one. It was a necessity that he passionately wished didn’t exist.

Two law enforcement officers would be put in the ground today. He’d spent half the day trying to get his stomach under control. Waves of nausea struck him at random times, bringing memories of the night the men had died.

It could have been me.

Twice he’d escaped death where other officers had died.

In their entire career, most officers would never have to fire their weapon, let alone nearly die twice. Why did he feel as if his luck was about to run out? By the odds, he should be safe for the rest of his life. Instead he was antsy and anxious, as if death were waiting for him just around the corner, angry that it’d missed him twice.

Beside him in the Tahoe, Mercy was silent, looking authoritative in her elegant navy suit and heavy coat. Kaylie sat silently in the back seat. Earlier in the day, Mercy had questioned the teen, uncertain she’d want to attend a funeral so soon after her father’s, but Kaylie had been firm. She wanted to honor the officers who’d died in the line of duty.

Glancing in the rearview mirror, Truman noticed Kaylie’s face was pale, but determination shone in her eyes and her posture. She looked like a younger version of Mercy. Lighter hair and a few inches shorter, but just as stubborn and tough.

He was proud of her.

He parked, and the three of them walked across the lot toward the small crowd as it moved into the county civic center. Satellite news trucks filled the far end of the parking lot. Cameras and reporters stood behind a rope, their lenses silently pointed in the direction of the mourners. A few county deputies stood in a sparse line, facing the cameras, enforcing the distance between the watchers and the attendees. Truman spotted two national cable news network trucks and heard Mercy quietly swear under her breath. He squeezed her hand. He had taken hold of it as she got out of the truck and wasn’t about to let go. Kaylie paused as her gaze found the cameras, and he wrapped his arm around her shoulders.

“Ignore them,” he told her.

“It’s CNN,” she muttered. “Why are they here?”

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