Mercy was running through the desert. Running faster than she could ever imagine. How was that possible? Then everything went black. Just empty, soulless, darkness surrounded her. She felt like she was choking. Like she could not breathe.
She came awake suddenly. Sitting straight up in the large, ornate, and over-stuffed chair next to the man’s bed. There hadn’t been anywhere else for her to sleep. Cassies McBride was on the couch in the other room. The bleeding had slowed, just as Anna had said it would. The woman had come around just enough to eat some of the soup she had made for Ignacio. She still could not call the man her father.
As she expected, he had not done well since Consuela left. But he had been deteriorating quickly all week. She knew that the end was near. Hopefully, the others came for them before that.
Mercy shivered and swallowed back the back nausea as she thought about what she had discovered earlier. She had known that her brother’s wife was mad, but she had no idea the depths of it until she stepped into that room.
All of it was a deck of cards, and the slightest breeze would knock it down around them. Now she was isolated from her only support system. She did not even know where Will was or if he was still alive even. Though something told her she would know if anything happened to him.
And on top of that, she had the added responsibility of the McBrides. That weighed heavily on her heart, especially Callie. Grace. She wanted to help the girl. Tell her that none of this was her fault. But how could she? When she had never forgiven herself for what happened to Mama?
Mama? Where was she now? She had so little information. All Bebe could tell her was that Ryan and his cousin had brought a team to rescue them. But how many? It would take an army at this point between the Garcia and Dominguez cartels’ combined fighting forces.
She glanced towards the window. It was a new moon, which meant there was almost no light streaming in. But that would be good, right? It would make it easier for them to escape? But how? Sure, she and Grace could make it out. But Cassie could not walk. It might be days before she could.
She had no idea what time it was. But it was unlikely she could get back to sleep. She did not want to disturb Grace and her mother. So, there was nothing to do but sit here in the dark next to the man who was her father and think. She did not dare turn on the bedside lamp to write in her notebooks or read. She would sneak out of the house and walk around a bit, but that was not an option. She might end up shoot. Or at the very least found and taken to her brother.
Her brothers? She had written Diego off from the beginning. But some part of her had held out hope that Roberto was different from the rest of his family. That was gone now. Between the things that Will had told her and Bebe, she knew Roberto was no different from his brother.
She looked towards the man in the bed. Mercy could barely make out the shadow in the darkness. She tried to reconcile it all in her mind. What had her mother ever seen in the man? He was over fifteen years older, and Mama had been barely legal when they met.
Maybe it was his looks? Roberto said that he looked like their father, and he could grace the cover of the trashiest romance. Perhaps it was desperation? Mama did not talk about it much. But they all knew how she felt about her parents and the god they represented. Had it all been some teenage rebellion like Grace? But a drug dealer? A married one? It just did not seem like the woman she knew and loved.
“Cara Mia.” The words were the first clear ones the man had spoken in all the weeks she had been here. But who was Ignacio talking to? Was he dreaming? “Lo siento. I never meant to hurt you.”
Mercy stepped away from the window. She did not want him to wake the others. Cassie needed to rest. “It’s okay. Just go back to sleep.”
“No. Please, Anastacia, just listen. I’m so sorry. You were just so young, so innocent, so beautiful. I could not resist. I was weak. She always told me I was a weak man. And when it came to you, she was right.”
“I thought it would be different. I hoped that I could break away from them, from Consuela and General Sanchez. That I could take you far from that place. That we could start over someplace new. Remember, I told you, we’d go to Hollywood. You were so beautiful. You should have been a movie star.”
Mercy sat on the side of the bed. The old man thought she was her mother. Was it the darkness? All of the Reynolds women had a strong resemblance to each other. But that did not explain it. His illness, perhaps? He spoke to her as if it were just yesterday.
She lifted his gnarled, cold hand. Did she try to explain that she was his daughter? The one he had never known. Or did she allow him to hold onto that warped reality? She did not dare upset him. He might be old and frail, but he was stronger than he looked. And more than once these past weeks, he had hit, bitten, or thrown things at her. They had lost two more nurses. Not even Diego’s money and threats could keep the women.
“It’s okay. Just be quiet, Iggy.” She used the name that her mother had for the man.
“I love you, Anastacia. From the moment I saw you in that diner. And god forgive me, I had to have you. I know that was selfish. But my marriage to Consuela had never been good. I only married her to get ahead. So the old man would notice me.”
“But that didn’t work out. Even after her brother was killed. Consuela was sure that the old man would turn to me. That he would make me his heir. But he found out. Somehow he found out the truth.” Mercy shook her head. What was he saying? Had he had something to do with the man’s death?
“I might have been his son-in-law. The father of his only grandchildren. But he wanted me dead for what she did. So, I ran. She told me to run. She sent money.” Had Consuela sold out her family? Mercy was not that surprised. The woman would do anything for power.
“Until you. Then she said she would not support my whore. But I thought your father would help. You were their only child. We only needed a little bit of money, just a couple of thousand to get set up in a new life.” He sighed heavily, and Mercy thought perhaps Ignacio had gone back to sleep.
Her mind reeled with his words. The idea that this man had ever loved her mother was so foreign to her. Mama hated him, and Mercy and her sisters had followed suit. But he was right; he had been a grown man, and Mama not even out of her teens.
What was the difference between this man and Roberto? Was there really that much difference between fifteen and eighteen? Who drew these stupid lines anyway? Who decided that suddenly it was okay for a thirty-something-year-old man to be with a teenage girl?
“But you got pregnant and ruined it all. How could we make a living in Los Angeles if you were pregnant?”
Mercy felt the anger rise inside of her. Women didn’t get pregnant by themselves. Especially not barely legal ones. She wanted to grab the man by his pajama shirt and shake him. Tell him what a selfish, self-centered bastard he was. But she couldn’t. The others were sleeping in the living room. She could not upset him. Though the thing he said troubled her. “Go to sleep, Ignacio.”
That gnarled hand gripped her arm so tightly that she knew there would be bruises. “Forgive me, Anastacia? Tell me that you forgive me. I can’t… Not without your forgiveness.”
She wanted to scream and rail at Fate. This man did not deserve forgiveness. He had ruined her Mama’s life.
Or had he? By Mama’s own admission, her teens were filled with alcohol and drugs. Until she met this man. Until she got pregnant with Laura. Had Mama ever stood much of a chance? Or had her childhood only made her vulnerable to someone like Ignacio Garcia?
Mercy wanted to believe that Mama could have gotten her life together somehow. Left Sebida behind. Gone to college or had a career. Maybe gotten married and had a real family. But did Fate work like that? How many abused little girls grew up only to find themselves in more abusive relationships?
She felt the tears rolling down her cheeks. How many times had Laura offered to pay for Mama to go back to college, even if only a community one? Hell, she had wanted to buy them a house in Houston where they could be closer to her, but Mama said that was too expensive. That she didn’t like the city. So, instead, Laura had bought them another trailer. In Sebida.
“Why, Mama?” Mercy could only hope that one day, she’d get the chance to ask her mother that question.
For now, though, “I forgive you, Iggy.” Did she say it to quiet the man so the others could sleep? He certainly did that. His hand dropped from her arm onto the rough blanket.
Mercy sat beside him on the bed for a couple of minutes. Just to be sure that he was back asleep. Then she curled back into the chair next to the bed. She knew sleep was impossible. Her mind was like the roadways around Houston, major highways intersecting, leading off in so many different directions. Taking you places that you could not even imagine.
How had they come to this? Her grandparents had never helped them. So why had Mama stayed in Sebida? Why hadn’t she taken them and started a new life somewhere else? If not Houston or Dallas, then at least College Station? Someplace where they weren’t known as bastards. Somewhere that people did not whisper every time they left the room.
She was no better. Hell, Laura had offered to pay for university anywhere. But she instead had gone to A&M. Lived at home with Mama and driven back and forth to school each day. An hour each way. She had said it was because she did not want her sister spending more of her hard-earned money on her.
But was that really the reason? Or was it fear? Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Was that what stopped Mama too? Or did it go deeper? Maybe it was feeling like you did not deserve to be happy?
Mercy knew that feeling. She remembered the exact moment it had entered her little mind. Sitting in that dark hallway, listening to Mama’s muffled sobs. All because of a MilkyWay candy bar? Wanting just a bit of sweetness in her life that they could not afford. That everyone else took for granted.
She was wrong, though. Sleep did come as the final sobs and exhaustion overcame her. She drifted off to sleep just as the horizon began to lighten on a new day. At least for her.