A Merciful Truth
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“More than ready.” The teen pulled back her long hair, using a band from her wrist to fasten it in a knot on top of her head. The red stud in her nose twinkled in the sunlight. “I think the coffee shop is going to be okay. Aunt Pearl seems to enjoy it.”
Mercy blew out a breath of relief. The fate of her brother’s Coffee Café in Eagle’s Nest had been the subject of many long conversations among her, Kaylie, Pearl, and Truman. Mercy had assumed they would sell the cute store, but Kaylie’s emotional attachment to her father’s store, where she’d helped since she was ten, had halted those plans. Then had come the discussion of who would run it. Kaylie had insisted she could do it alone, but no one agreed with that plan. Pearl had stepped forward, pointing out that she had spare time.
“She’s finally mastered most of the drinks,” added Kaylie. “And she lets me handle the baking, like she should. She really wanted to do that part, but it’s mine,” Kaylie said emphatically. “I created most of the recipes and designed the bakery menu. I wasn’t about to let her fool with that. I think she enjoys the social part of the café too. She already knew most of the customers, and they like talking with her. That’s important.”
Mercy glanced at her niece, happy to hear the satisfied tone in the girl’s voice. Kaylie had been pessimistic about her aunt’s involvement in her father’s legacy, but it appeared the two of them had worked out a system that gave both what they needed. “Is Samuel much help in the shop?”
Kaylie sighed loudly at the mention of her cousin. “He’s okay. You have to tell him to do everything. He can’t see for himself what needs to be done.”
Is that a boy thing or a teenage thing?
Judging by Mercy’s struggles to get Kaylie to clean up her things around their apartment, it was a teenage thing. Thank goodness Kaylie was a girl. At least Mercy had been one and had an idea of how girls’ brains worked. She would have been clueless about a teenage boy, other than knowing to constantly shove food at him. That much she remembered from having two brothers.
Please don’t let me mess up with Kaylie.
She wanted to get it right for her brother’s sake and for Kaylie. It was a tough world for a teenager without a family. Mercy was determined that Kaylie would never feel the abandonment she’d felt at eighteen when she’d parted ways with her family. At the very least, Kaylie would always know Mercy would be there for her.
Am I exaggerating the benefit of a slightly paranoid, workaholic aunt?
It was better than the complete absence of family she’d experienced.
“I’ll drop you off at the apartment, and then I have to go back to work,” she told the girl. “I haven’t even unpacked my suitcase yet.”
“I heard about the fire and dead officers. That’s horrible. Aunt Pearl said Truman was there too. Is he okay?”
“I talked to him on the phone. He got some small burns from the fire and banged his head, but he’s fine.”
Mercy knew his history with fire and burns. Just over a year ago, he’d been too late to get a fellow officer and a civilian away from a burning car before it exploded. He’d been severely burned in the blast, and the stress of the deaths had nearly made him give up law enforcement. He still had bad dreams. Her heart ached with the need to see him in person. The quick phone calls during the morning had assured her only that he was still upright and functioning. He’s going to crash tonight. Possibly in more than one way.
She’d been away from him for the last two weeks. Their relationship was still in an early stage. She firmly believed in taking things slow . . . tortoise slow. If Truman had had his way, she’d be living with him. Kaylie too. He liked the girl and teased her as if he were a good-natured uncle. But Mercy wasn’t ready for living together. Hell, they’d only known each other two months.
“What?” Kaylie hollered.
Mercy nearly drove off the road as she frantically looked from side to side for what had made her niece shout. “What happened?” she gasped.
“Did you hear that?” Kaylie stared at the Tahoe’s radio. “What the announcer just said?”
“No.” Mercy took a deep breath and focused on slowing her heartbeat. “Please don’t yell when I’m driving.”
“Sorry. But he just said some local idiots are claiming the shooting last night was justified. That the deputies deserved it.”
Mercy’s heart sank. No. Not here. Not in my state.
“That’s asinine.” Kaylie leaned back in her seat, crossing her arms. “People are stupid. Who thinks like that?”
“Sadly, quite a few people.” Mercy knew all too well that there were some residents who would prefer the government stay out of their lives. But usually they didn’t act so violently on their beliefs.
“Do you think they’re the ones who shot the deputies?” Questioning eyes turned toward Mercy. “This is your case, isn’t it? Are you going to find the guys who said that shit?”
“Sorry. It makes me angry.”
“It makes me angry too. And yes, someone will look into it.”
Truman could barely keep his eyes open as he rang Mercy’s doorbell.
He’d been up for nearly twenty-four hours. He’d been burned, hit his head, and nearly died in an explosion, and he hadn’t seen Mercy in two weeks. He didn’t give a shit if Kaylie was here. He needed to feel Mercy against him. His heart and mind were stripped bare, and he felt raw and vulnerable. She would be a balm for his broken parts, and tonight he had a hell of a lot of them.
He swayed as he waited at the door, aching to see the light of her at the end of this very long tunnel of a day.
The door opened and he was in her arms.
He loved her but had never told her. The occasional fear in her eyes made him keep those words to himself. Her anxiety reminded him of a nervous deer. Quivering in front of him, ready to dash away at the slightest wrong move. He kept his movements gentle and slow; he knew he’d win her with time.
He sank against her, loving that she was nearly his height.
“You still smell of smoke,” she whispered against his ear.
“Sorry, I haven’t had time to shower.”
“I don’t care.” She pulled back and studied his face, her green gaze probing and measuring. “You look like shit.”
“I feel like it.”
She pulled him into her living room and pushed him down on the couch. The cushions touched the back of his neck and he hissed at the pain.
“Let me see that.”
He bent forward and dipped his head to expose his neck. “I need a new hat. The blast pretty much ripped it up.”
She gently peeked under one of the bandages. “We’ll get you a hat. Do these hurt?”
“Like Satan is sitting on my neck.”
“I think I’ve got something for that. They’ve barely blistered, so that’s good. You won’t have to deal with a bunch of oozing sores. Hang on.” She vanished down the hall.
Truman sighed, letting go of a dump-truck load of stress, and felt his strength slowly fade away. If she didn’t come back soon, he’d be asleep in less than a minute. She reappeared and sprayed something cool on his neck. It felt as though ice were dissolving his pain, and he wanted to kiss the can.
He settled for kissing her.
A minute later she pulled back and spoke. “That spray is only temporary. Take these.” She shoved two white pills and a glass of water in his hand. He didn’t ask any questions and popped the pills. He was beyond caring. She fluffed a white pillow at the end of the couch and ordered him to lie down.
“Don’t want to sleep here,” he muttered.
“It’s just for a minute. Let me get your boots off.”
He lay down and closed his eyes against the pillowcase. More soothing coolness. He swore he’d never slept on a pillow so comfortable. He felt her lift each of his legs and tug off his boots.
Lips pressed against his forehead, and he felt himself fade into sleep.
Mercy watched Truman sleep. There’d been no way she could have gotten him into her bedroom. He’d nearly fallen over the minute he’d stepped inside her place. How on earth did he drive here?