“I’m on Rose’s phone.”

“What’s happened?” Every cell in her body tensed, and her finger hovered over the start button to the rental vehicle.

“Someone threw rocks and mud at Rose today. And they called her a whore.”

Mercy couldn’t breathe. She hit the button and fired up her vehicle. “Where are you?”

“We’re home now, but we were in Eagle’s Nest. I was in the post office while Rose went to Hackett’s store.”

“I’m on my way. Is she hurt?” I will make someone wish they were dead if she is injured.

“Not really. Just some small cuts from the rocks, but she’s very shaken.”

“Assholes. I’ll be there as soon as I can.”

Mercy parked at her parents’ house and slammed the door to the Ford rental, fury racing through her veins. She took the stairs two at a time and pounded on the front door. “Mom?” she hollered, wanting to throw open the door and walk right in. Instead she forced herself to stand and wait.

I will find out who did this.

Footsteps sounded behind the door, and her mother opened it. Her face was lined and drawn, and Mercy didn’t like the fear in her eyes. She stepped back. “Rose is in the kitchen.”

Mercy started to pass by, but she stopped and placed a hand on her mother’s shoulder. “It’s going to be okay. I called Truman and told him Rose needed to file a police report.”

“We don’t want to—”

“It’s assault. There needs to be a record.”

Dismay wrinkled her mother’s forehead. “I don’t think—”

“Do it for me . . . Hell, it’s not for me. Do it for Rose. Don’t look the other way and let this happen unnoticed, Mom.”

“I’m not looking the other way! I just don’t want to make a fuss.”

“Make a fuss! People need to learn that his sort of behavior is not okay.”

“Mercy?” Rose’s voice sounded from the kitchen, and Mercy locked eyes with her mother.

“It’s the right thing to do.”

Her mother broke eye contact and disappointment stung. At least she didn’t refuse.

“I’m coming, Rose.” Mercy left her mother at the door and passed through the living room area to where Rose sat at the kitchen table with a plastic bag of ice against her cheekbone. Her hair was damp.

She showered to wash off the mud.

Tears burned in Mercy’s eyes, and she forced the worry out of her voice. “Hey. Let me take a look at that.” She sat in the chair next to Rose and placed a hand over Rose’s fingers holding the pack in place.

“It’s not so bad,” Rose said, but Mercy noticed she was slow to pull the ice away.

Rose’s perfect cheekbone now sported a gouge surrounded by fresh bruising. Two tiny cuts graced her forehead.

Mercy wanted to hurt someone. Most of Rose’s facial slashes had healed, and now this had happened.

“Truman is sending someone to take a police report,” Mercy said as she took stock of her sister, visually inspecting her for any other problems.

“That’s not—”

“Humor me,” Mercy ordered. What is with the women in my family? A knock sounded at the door and her mother opened it. The sound of Truman’s greeting made Mercy relax a few degrees, pleased that he’d come instead of sending someone else. A moment later his hand squeezed her shoulder as he greeted Rose. He pulled out another chair.

“You don’t know how angry this makes me,” Truman started.

“Get in line,” snapped Mercy, glancing at him, looking for understanding of her temper. She found it in his calm brown eyes.

“Tell me what happened,” said Truman as he clicked the button on top of his pen and opened his notebook.

Mercy clenched her hands in her lap as she listened to Rose’s story.

“There were two men,” began Rose. “One had tailed me for about twenty feet. I heard him walking behind me as I walked down the sidewalk to Hackett’s store. His steps sped up, and as he got closer he started saying horrible things in a low voice behind me.”

“Like what?” asked Truman.

“He said I was having the baby of Satan and that I was a whore. Basically these were repeated several different ways with some of the nastiest language I’d ever heard.”

Mercy sat very still, feeling as if she would shatter if she breathed too deep.

“Then I heard a truck pull up at the curb. His steps changed and I heard him open the door. There was an exchange between him and the person I assume was the driver that I couldn’t quite hear.” She sucked in a deep breath and raised her chin. “Then he called my name and I stopped and turned around . . . I shouldn’t have stopped! I should have kept going!”

Mercy’s mother stopped behind Rose and bent over to wrap her arms around her shoulders, burying her face in her daughter’s hair.

“That’s when I felt the rock.” Rose indicated the gash. “And then softer blows hit me. It was mud.” Rage filled her voice. “He continued to call me a whore. I heard a second voice echoing his words. Probably the driver. Then the truck door slammed and his tires squealed as he took off.”

Mercy held her breath. Her fingers felt like ice, and she didn’t know if she could speak without bursting into tears.

“Did you recognize either voice?” Truman asked. He struck the perfect tone of caring and calm.

Be like Truman.

“No.”

“You know everyone around here,” Truman pointed out.

“I do. I don’t think they were from around here.”

“But they knew your name,” said Truman. “Have there been other incidents about the baby I haven’t heard about?” He looked at Mercy’s mother.

Baby. Mercy stared at Rose’s still-flat stomach as her sister shook her head. She’d forgotten, even though the assailant’s words had referred to Rose’s pregnancy. Rose isn’t the only innocent victim here. “They knew she was pregnant, and it sounds like they know how she got pregnant,” Mercy pointed out.

“Word travels,” said Truman.

“Who would do such a thing?” Mercy’s mother asked in a distraught whisper. She continued to cry into Rose’s hair. Rose raised her hand and patted her mother on the arm, her face wearing an expression of a measured calm.

Rose is handling it better than Mom.

Rose had always been the stoic sibling, and Mercy wondered if it was truly her nature or if she’d adopted it for self-preservation. She could remember incidents that had gotten her brothers up in arms over someone’s treatment of Rose, but Rose had always been the one to defuse the situation. Rose’s serene face made her wonder if her sister simply buried her emotions to help other people stay calm. Or did she truly feel that peace?

Mercy buried her own fury. If Rose can do it, so can I.

The back door opened and her father walked in. He slammed to a stop and stared at the group at the kitchen table. The tension in the room tripled.

“What happened?” he asked sharply. His gaze rested briefly on Mercy before he nodded at Truman.

Nice to see you too.

“Rose—” Truman started.

“It’s nothing,” Rose interjected. Her hand tightened on her mother’s arm.

“What happened to your face, Rose?” He moved his gaze back to Mercy, and she felt the heat of his penetrating stare.

Rose gave a brief account.

Pain flashed on her father’s face, and his stare continued to move between Rose and Mercy. But when it landed on Rose, it was soft and gentle. On Mercy it burned.

“We’ll handle it from here,” Karl Kilpatrick stated to Truman. He hadn’t moved from his original stance in the kitchen. Boots, jeans, heavy jacket, hat in his hands. Nothing about her father had changed in decades. Just the color of his hair and the lines on his face.

And the way he looks at me.

“And leave the Parker family alone,” her father told her.

She froze.

“Why?” asked Truman. “They were the target of serial arsonists. It bears investigating.”

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