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Far-off sirens sounded.

Thank God.

“What’s your name?” she asked again.

“Tony,” he said through gritted teeth.

Tony Schroeder?

“Are you Kaden’s dad?”

Surprise flared in his eyes, and Ava took that as a yes.

“Why were you fighting with Reuben Braswell?”

His eyes clenched shut, and he groaned. “That fucker.”

“Did he shoot your son?”

Tony’s eyes startled open. “You knew?” He shuddered, and his face contorted in agony.

“We suspected. Why’d he do it?”

“I hadn’t gotten him his money yet,” Tony slurred, his voice heavy with pain.

“Money for what?”

The man screwed his eyes closed as his legs convulsed. “Guns.”

Ava remembered the stash of weapons under Kaden’s bed. Reuben killed a boy because of his father’s debt?

“How’d you find Reuben?”

“My cabin,” Tony forced out between clenched teeth. “Loaned it to him a few times. Thought he might hide here.”

Mercy’s SUV stopped a few feet away from Tony’s head. She leaped out and dashed to the rear, where she grabbed a large kit. Dropping to her knees beside Ava, she lifted the windbreaker and peered at the wound. Blood seeped steadily from the small hole but didn’t spurt.

“Exit wound?” she asked.

Ava indicated the back side of his shoulder. Mercy took a quick look. “Shit,” she murmured, “I called 911. Told them about the Mustang and asked for an ambulance.” She turned to dig in her kit, and Ava watched her work. Mercy had field talents that no other agents had. She had been raised in a survivalist and prepper family, and there wasn’t much that Mercy didn’t know how to do. Emergency medical care was the tip of the iceberg.

Mercy ripped open a silver package to reveal a large syringe that appeared to be full of small tablets. “Roll him to his side.” Ava supported him as Mercy pushed the wide tip into the exit wound and pressed the plunger.

Tony screamed.

“What is that?” Ava asked.

“Sterile sponges made from crustacean shells. They’ll expand and clot.”

“I’ve heard of that,” Ava said. Mercy layered gauze packs over the wound and secured it with tape. Then she ripped open another and did the same thing on the entrance wound.

The sirens were nearly on top of them. Two vehicles came to a rapid stop, and car doors slammed.

“The Mustang?” Ava asked as one of the deputies slipped on vinyl gloves and then checked Mercy’s dressing. Ava sat hard on the ground, out of the deputy’s way, her adrenaline rush gone.

“Two other units en route. They’ll intercept him at the other end of the road.”

“Good.” Drenched in sweat, she wiped her forehead on her shoulder, and something on the ground far to her left caught her eye. Blood, a lot of blood.

She looked at Tony, trying to understand how his blood had landed five feet away.

It’s Jayne’s.

“Mercy.” Ava pointed at the blood, unable to speak. Mercy scowled at it, and then her face cleared.

“That has to be Jayne’s blood.”

“She’s pregnant,” Ava whispered, her adrenaline spiking again.

Sympathy flowed from Mercy’s gaze. “I know. Don’t worry. We’ll find her in time.”

I hope so.


Mason was ten minutes from The Dalles exit off the highway when Ava called.

“We found Jayne.” Ava’s speech was high and fast. “But Reuben got away with her. He shot her, Mason. I don’t know how bad, but she left a lot of blood behind.”

“Slow down,” Mason ordered. “What happened?”

Ava’s story made his jaw drop several times.

“They haven’t caught up with him yet?”

“They lost him.” Anger rang in her voice. “They’ve got every Wasco County deputy hunting for the Mustang, and I’m searching on the highway west of The Dalles. Jayne didn’t look good, Mason. He’d tied her hands together, and she had a big cut on her face, and now who knows how bad she’s wounded?”

“I’m so sorry, Ava. I’m sure they’ll spot him.” He crossed his fingers in the hope that Jayne wasn’t badly hurt. He didn’t know how Ava would handle it if Jayne was killed when she had been so close to getting her twin away from Reuben.

Ava would blame herself.

“Reuben killed Kaden,” she said. “Tony owed him money for guns. I assume the ones you found.”

“Reuben murdered Kaden because of a few guns?” Mason nearly steered into another car.

“I know. It’s horrible. Tony said he’s lent this cabin to Reuben before and decided to check if he was hiding here. I think these men were originally friends.”

“That’s a twisted friendship when you murder your friend’s son over a debt.”

“There has to be more to it than that. Reuben returned to the scene of the original crime when he killed Kaden. He had to have a powerful motivation to do that.”

“Maybe Kaden knew something about the courthouse shooting,” Mason said.

“That seems most likely.”

His phone beeped. “I’ve got another call. I’ll see you in ten minutes or so.”

“Love you.”

“Love you too.” Mason switched over to the other call. “Callahan.”

“Detective Callahan?” a female voice whispered.

He frowned. “Yes. Who’s this?”

“Veronica Lloyd.”

Mason’s pulse stuttered. Reuben’s sister.

Moaning and sobbing sounded in the call’s background.

“What happened?”

“Reuben’s not dead.” Her voice cracked. “He just showed up at my house, and he’s got a gun.” Terror filled her tone. “I don’t know what he’s going to do.”

“I just passed your exit!” Mason slowed on the busy four-lane highway. A concrete divider kept him from pulling a U-turn, and The Dalles was the next exit, which was miles away. “Did you call 911?”

“Yes, we’re covered by the county sheriff’s department here. Sometimes it can take twenty minutes for them to arrive.” Her voice quivered. “He brought a woman with him and she’s hurt. She’s bleeding all over the place.” More moans rumbled.


“Are your kids there?” An image of Veronica’s two young girls popped into his head.

“Yes. I shut them in the playroom and ordered them not to open the door. They’re petrified. Reuben thinks they’re at a friend’s.”

Ahead, Mason spotted a gap in the concrete divider, probably for police and emergency services to reverse direction. He pulled onto the shoulder and steered through the gap, his speed far too high for safety. He merged onto the highway, stomped on his accelerator, and received an angry horn blast from a semi.

“I’m headed back your way. Where is Reuben now?”

“He’s upstairs grabbing towels. This woman is really bleeding. I think he shot her!” she exclaimed in a hushed voice.

“Are you in danger? Did he threaten you?” His knuckles turned white as he gripped the steering wheel.

“I don’t know. He said he needs my minivan, but he’s trying to stop her bleeding first.”

“She’s inside your house?”

“On the floor in the kitchen. I’m putting pressure on her thigh. She looks really bad—there’s blood everywhere.” Veronica gasped. “Are you pregnant?” she asked in a surprised voice.

Mason couldn’t hear Jayne’s answer. He took the Mosier exit, thankful there wasn’t a light or stop sign to deal with. How badly is Jayne injured?

“He’s coming back!”

The call ended, but Mason was less than a half mile from Veronica’s house. Long seconds later he slowly drove by the home. A burgundy minivan was parked under the attached carport on the east side of the home, and once he’d passed the home, he spotted the tail end of the Mustang behind the house. It’d been driven over the grass and around to the back.

Reuben is still here.

Mason turned around and parked at the curb across the street. He sent Ava a text with an update and Veronica’s address. He took a picture of the home and sent that too.

The return text was three letters.


On my way.

If Ava was already on the highway, she might arrive sooner than the Wasco County deputies.

How long can Jayne wait?

“Dammit!” He stepped out of his vehicle, dashed across the street, and ducked behind a large rhododendron outside the white picket fence. Jayne was in the kitchen, so Reuben must be too. He tried to remember the layout of the home. The kitchen was in the back with large windows overlooking the yard.

Wait for backup.

He checked his weapon. “What if she’s bleeding out?” he muttered. No sirens could be heard; backup might be crucial minutes away. He was on his own for now.

Staying low, he followed the white fence until he was closer to the home. He awkwardly stepped over the fence and was jabbed in the thigh by its pointed pickets. Darting to the west wall of the home, he kept his head down, avoiding the few windows. He guessed they were bedrooms since the kitchen and main living area were on the other end of the house, but he wasn’t taking any chances. His goal was the back side of the house, where he hoped to find a protected view of the kitchen.