A Merciful Truth
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She understood those elements. It was part of what drew them to each other. They recognized parts of themselves in the other person. He was everything she strove to be. Strong, loyal, honorable. And she admired him for carrying those qualities without any ego. He was unlike any man she’d ever met.
He’d silently hooked her when she wasn’t looking. One minute she had been searching for a killer and the next minute wondering how she’d lost her heart along the way.
Truman Daly wasn’t the most handsome man she’d ever seen, but she loved everything about his face. The small scar in his chin and the thick five o’clock shadow that’d left burns on her cheeks and breasts in the past. It was if he’d been made for her. Everything about him formed a harmony with her needs. Her heart still jumped at the sight of his stunning smile, and his natural energy boosted hers when she started to lag. Simply put, she felt better when she was around him. So much better that she’d put in for a transfer and moved. An impulse decision. She didn’t make impulse decisions; she preferred to analyze and ponder before making up her mind.
So far it’d been the best decision of her life.
She ran her fingers through his hair. He needed it cut. No doubt he’d been too busy to take ten minutes out of his day to sit in the barber’s chair.
He’s had a hell of a day.
Tomorrow they’d jump back into the investigation with both feet. But tonight he needed to rest. Stubborn man. He would have pushed himself until he fell asleep at his desk.
A feeling she knew all too well.
She stood and stretched. Kaylie had gone to bed an hour ago, and now it was her turn. She looked down at the sleeping man on her couch. He was too tall; his feet were propped up on one arm of the couch, but he didn’t seem to mind. Her heart overflowed and she wiped her eyes.
“What the hell?” she muttered, grabbing a Kleenex. Where did those tears come from? She preferred her emotions firmly under her control. She was pretty good at keeping them in check, but the knowledge that Truman might have been killed last night was making her crumble and shake inside. “I’m tired,” she stated out loud, but she couldn’t pull her gaze away from his black eyelashes lying against his cheeks. She reached out and touched his face, feeling his stubble grab at her fingertips. More tears flowed and she sniffed, rubbing a hand under her nose.
What would I have done if he died at that fire?
She refused to answer. It hadn’t happened. It wasn’t relevant.
Or was it?
Instantly awake, Truman flew off the couch and stumbled against a coffee table as his heart tried to pound its way out of his chest. He leaned one hand against a wall and tried to find his balance in the dark. The back of his neck burned in pain and he gently touched the gauze bandages as he peered around, searching for something familiar.
Understanding flowed through him. He’d driven to her place, desperate to see her, and then he’d fallen asleep. He stood in the dark, taking deep breaths for a few seconds before he strode to the windows and pulled open the curtains. A soft light from the parking lot spilled into the room. It was pitch-black outside. How long did I sleep?
The soft click-click of the clock above the fireplace mantel caught his attention. It was nearly 4:00 a.m.
Not long enough.
He couldn’t remember what had happened after he’d hugged her at the door. His boots were off, but he was still dressed, and he could smell the smoke that had permeated his clothing and skin.
The events of his day flooded over him. Fire. Explosion. The hole in Ralph’s face. His heart started to speed up again. He strode into Mercy’s kitchen and got a glass of water, drinking it at the sink, his swallows sounding unnaturally loud in the dark.
Sweat started on his temples, and he bent over the sink, splashing water on his face.
I’m fine. I made it through the fire.
But others had not. He scrubbed at his face and neck with the dish towel hanging from the oven handle. The rough towel brushed one of his covered burns and he hissed but welcomed the distracting pain. He wasn’t going back to sleep. That much was apparent to him.
Should I go home?
Thoughts of Mercy in her bed guided him down the hall to the small master bedroom he’d come to know quite well. An outdoor light from the open window spilled over the bed, and he could make out her face. Her mouth was slightly open in sleep, and one of her hands was propped under her chin. The room was freezing as usual. She loved it cold.
He touched her arm. “Mercy?” Guilt racked him for waking her, but it was suddenly important that he hear her voice.
She woke instantly and sat up. “Truman? Are you okay? Do you need more pain medication?” She pushed off her covers and started to swing her legs out of bed.
“No, I’m fine,” he lied, putting a hand on her shoulder to stop her. “I just needed to talk to you.”
The exterior light caught her profile as she looked at him. He couldn’t see her eyes, but he could feel her gaze on him. His heartbeat finally slowed. “Nothing. Everything. It’s been a trying two weeks . . . and yesterday . . .”
She was silent, and he felt her gaze probing him in the dark. “What is it?”
He lowered himself to sit next to her on the bed. “I should have been there sooner.”
“Last night? At the fire? What would have been different if you’d gotten there earlier?”
“I might have stopped him.”
She caught her breath. “You think you could have stopped the shooter.”
“Maybe. And then those two men wouldn’t be dead.” His words were thick and heavy as he finally said out loud what he’d been thinking all day. If I’d been where I was supposed to be . . .
“If you had been first, you might be dead,” she said firmly. “And I’m not okay with that.”
“But . . .”
“No buts. You can’t play this what-if game with yourself, Truman. You’ll make yourself sick. What’s done is done. You can’t bring those officers back.”
He faced her in the dim light. “I should have arrived a good ten minutes earlier. It might have made all the difference.”
“Are you saying there’s a reason you didn’t? You can’t tell me there was heavy traffic at that time of night.”
“I wasn’t at home.”
There was a long moment of silence. “Where were you?” Dread filled her voice.
“I slept at your cabin.”
She exhaled and her spine relaxed. “How come?”
“I slept there the last few nights. The fire at the prepper shed made me worry that maybe more prepper properties might be targeted.”
She wrapped an arm around him and rested her head on his shoulder. “You were protecting my work. Is it weird that I think that’s the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me?” she asked softly with a catch in her voice.
He didn’t answer. He hadn’t done it to be nice; he’d done it because he cared. Besides representing years of hard work, he knew the rural cabin and its contents were part of Mercy’s core. They kept her sane and balanced. He didn’t think sleeping there for a few nights was any big deal. Before her trip they’d been working to transfer some of the stores from his uncle’s old home. Upon his death, Truman’s uncle Jefferson had left him a wealth of supplies, but he and Mercy had agreed her location was better. Remote and off the grid.
The average home had enough food for a week. Mercy’s cabin could keep them fed and warm for months.
Beans, bullets, and Band-Aids.
The three Bs of prepping.
But there was more to Mercy. She also believed in charity, helping those who were less fortunate. Many of his uncle’s supplies had gone to families in town. Mercy could mend a fence, build a shed, and even do some engine repair. Her cabin was stuffed with books that taught medical skills, electronics, tactical skills . . . subjects he assumed could always be looked up on the web. But what if the web was gone?
He even kept a GOOD bag in his truck now. Get Out of Dodge.
“You couldn’t have stopped the shooter, Truman. Don’t drive yourself crazy imagining what you would have done differently. I know you totally exposed yourself to check on those two men. You went above and beyond what is expected of anyone.”