Mercy was feeding Cassie McBride more soup when the first shot rang out. She had spent the whole day feeding the woman and forcing her to drink more of that nasty tea stuff. Rose needed to be as strong as possible if they were to get out of here. Whether that was Ryan and the others coming for them or Roberto actually keeping his promise. He had managed to keep that woman from here all day. That was something, at least.
Her eyes drifted to the closed door. Just the idea of a dead man on the other side freaked her out a bit. Which was why she was so glad for the distraction of Callie and Cassie. They also kept her too busy to wonder about Will. Especially with the sound of a gunshot. Was that him? Had Diego executed him? Had Roberto pulled the trigger?
She practically dropped the bowl of soup when more shots rang out in the dark. Mercy raced to the window. But with no moonlight, she could not see much other than the soft glow of lights from the main house. It looked like her mother’s last birthday cake. “What the fuck?” She turned to Rose, “Sorry.”
The woman shook her head and stood. Grace was by her mother’s side in an instant. Mercy frowned at how slowly they moved. She had to remind herself that this was better than the woman had been yesterday. But still, how far would they get if they had to escape on foot?
“I can’t see anything.”
“Me, either. How about I sneak closer and see what’s up?”
Rose shook her head, “No, Grace. We stay here.” She turned to Mercy, “Or you get her out of here?”
“No, we all go together.”
“You know I’m in no shape to travel. I’d just slow you down. Take my daughter and send back help.”
The front door opened, and Roberto rushed inside, closing it behind him. “What’s happening?” They all seemed to ask at once.
The man shook his head. His eyes were wide, and he looked more like a little boy than the killer Mercy knew he was. “I don’t know. Mama, Anna, and Connie left the party. Mama said the women needed time to talk alone. They went into the library. While Diego and Rafael talked. I was drinking with some of the men when someone cried for help.”
“Diego and some of our men went to see what was wrong. Then Rafael and some of his followed. I didn’t hear anything for a couple of minutes. So I thought it must not be anything big. Then there was a single shot. The men around me all went to see what was happening.”
“Why didn’t you go too?” You had to love smart-mouthed teens for having the courage to ask the obvious question when the adults were too frightened.
“I’ll go back once I get you all out of here. I didn’t plan this, but it might be our best chance.”
“How? How are we to get out of here, Roberto? Did you think about that? Cassie can’t walk very far.”
He ran his fingers through his hair and looked around wild-eyed, “Is Bebe here?”
“No, I haven’t seen her since your mother sent her back to the village yesterday.”
“Damn, I wanted to get you all out together. But if she didn’t make it back today…”
The shake of his head said more than words could. “Okay, there’s no way a vehicle can get in or out now. The guards at the gate will be on full alert. But Diego keeps horses near here.”
He looked to Rose, “I’m sorry. I know you don’t believe that, but I never meant for any of this to happen. It was supposed to be such a simple thing that two teenage boys could plan it. I certainly never meant for you or the girl to be hurt.”
Rose just nodded her head as he continued, “Do you think you can ride a horse? Just for a bit? There’s this old house on the edge of the property. If I can get you all there, I’ll see what is happening and come for you later. Try to bring Bebe and Will,” he offered Mercy a smile, but it was so weak she saw through it.
Still, if they could get out of this place, away from the gunshots and a dead man in the other room, at least they would have a chance of finding the others. Mercy turned to Rose, “Can you make it? The barn is about fifty yards or so.”
The woman smiled and gripped her daughter’s hand tighter, “I’ll make it.” Mercy knew that look. It seemed to come with motherhood. A determination to do whatever is necessary for your child.
“It’ll be easier and faster if I carry you. Will you let me, Cassie?”
Mercy saw the war that raged in the woman’s mind. The man who had betrayed her and her daughter, caused her to lose her baby, now wanted to help them. Wanted to touch her?
She remembered how no one touched Mama. She and her sisters could count on their fingers the number of hugs they ever received from Stacey Reynolds. She said she was not the hugging type, but Mercy had always known the truth.
But right now, she did not have time for guilt and regrets. She had responsibilities to these women and her own child. Even if that meant leaving this place without its father. She could only hope, “Have you seen, Will?”
“Not since I dropped him back off in the village with you. I’m sure he’s still there. We’ll go get him and Bebe once I see what is happening. But right now, I need to get the three of you out of here. Cassie?”
The woman was ghostly white and did not meet his stare, but she nodded her head slowly. Roberto did not wait for anything else, scooping her into his arms. “You two stay behind us.”
It was probably less than a minute, but it seemed to take hours to cover the short distance. Roberto sat Cassie McBride on a stack of hay and turned to Mercy, “You take care of her. The girl and I will saddle three horses.”
Grace shook her head, “Two. It’ll be faster and easier if Mama rides with me.” He nodded, and they turned to go into the stalls when another shot rang out. This one was closer than before. A shadow stood in the doorway as her half-brother crumbled to the ground.
“Traitor. Your Mama always said you were weak. That’s why she sent me.” The man raised his gun slowly this time and pointed it directly at Roberto’s head.
Mercy did not even realize what she was doing as she gripped something heavy next to them. The man was just a couple of steps in front of them when she lunged, impaling him on the pitchfork. Another shot rang out, and the horses seemed to go wild. The man fell forward; at least she would not have to see his face or the death mask she had painted on it.
She raced to Roberto’s side. His usually tan skin was pale, and his breathing shallow, “We’ll get help. I’ll send Grace.”
He shook his head, “No, hermana. You need to get them out of here. Now.”
“I can’t just leave you…”
“Yes, yes, you can. It’s the only way, and you know that. Help the girl.”
Tears were running down her cheeks. Mercy’s heart was torn, her mind shattered. She knew he was right. She knew that this man had killed in cold blood. His best friend. She had no doubt he would have killed Will or Cassie if he had to. But he was her brother. Her baby brother. Something she had only dreamed of until coming here. “Go.”
A gentle hand on her shoulder turned her, and Mercy looked into Rose’s soft eyes, “Go help, Grace. I’ll stay with Bobby.” The woman gripped his hand and lifted it. “Remember when you and Stephen got chickenpox, and the school sent you away.”
He nodded, but the movement caused him to wince in pain, “I remember. Since I was sick, I could not travel across the border…”
“So, you stayed with us.”
“And you nursed us both.”
“I made you chicken soup.”
Mercy saw the pain and tears in the woman’s face. “I meant what I said. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. If Stephen and your husband had…”
“Shhh, it doesn’t matter now.” Rose looked up at Mercy, “Go, help Grace. Please.”
She nodded her head and squeezed the man’s shoulder, “We’ll saddle another horse. Take you with us.”
“No, hermana. I would slow you down. It is too late. I would only bleed out quicker. Go, help the girl.”
She wanted to argue, but when she looked up and saw Grace struggling to soothe and calm the animals, she knew they were right. This was their opportunity. They had to take it. And quickly. They had already been discovered once. They could not afford to wait any longer.
Horses were not her thing. While a few of her friends had them, it would have been another mouth for Mama to feed. She wasn’t sure what she could do, but she went to the girl anyway. “What can I do?”
Grace looked over her shoulder at the man who was tightly gripping her mother’s hand. “Is he going to die?”
It was on the tip of her tongue to deny it. Whether that was to protect this girl from reality or herself, Mercy was not sure. But instead, she shrugged, “I don’t know. But his best chance and your mother’s is if we get out of here and find the others. They can send help back for him.”
Grace nodded and smiled tightly at her, “Okay, if you’ll hold Mercury, I’ll saddle up Venus.”
The horse seemed to sense her unease and pranced backward, stomping its hooves in the hay. Grace leaned her head against it and ran her hand down its side. The animal quieted. “He should be okay now. I’ll take Mama on him. Venus will be easier to manage. She’ll follow him anywhere.”
“How do you know all this stuff? When did you…”
The girl smiled, and her green eyes danced in the dim light of the barn. “It’s my thing. Don’t ask.”
Mercy nodded as she held the reins of the stallion. The girl was quick, saddling the mare. “Have you ever ridden?”
“Once. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.” She shivered at the memory of being thrown from the horse into the bushes. She had bruises for days. One of the popular girls had taken her under her wings. Mercy should have known better than to trust her. But the photos of her on her butt in those bushes had been all over the school before the next morning.
She had sworn she would never ride a horse again. But this time, she might have to make an exception. Her life depended on it and her babies. This girl’s and her mother’s too. She looked back to where the woman was talking low, holding her brother’s hand, and crying. Perhaps, as she told Grace, maybe even his.
“I’ll talk to Venus. It’ll be okay this time. I promise,” Grace took the reins of the large black stallion and passed her the smaller fawn-colored mare. Mercy nodded her head. “I’ll need your help to get Mama on.”
They took the horses closer to the door. Then turned back to the injured duo. Grace placed her hand on her mother’s shoulder, “We have to go now, Mama.”
The woman was crying, but she nodded her head. “I’m sorry it came to this, Bobby. I forgive you.”
“Thank you.” Roberto looked up at Callie, “It’ll be too easy for you to stay on top of the leader’s board now.”
The girl nodded her head, “Better luck next game, Diablo91. Hope you respawn in a good world.”
He laughed, though it came out more like a choke. “If I had to get my ass kicked by a girl, I’m glad it was you, ElizaThornberry.”
Grace nodded her head and drew Rose up to a standing position. Together the three women managed to get her into the saddle though the stallion was once more dancing nervously. “Do you need help, too?” Grace asked.
“I don’t think so. You go ahead, take your mother. I’m right behind you.”
“No, we’ll wait. But you need to make it quick.”
Mercy nodded as she turned back to the man who had managed to crawl and prop himself against the hay bales where Rose had sat. It was covered in blood. Hers and his. Ignacio Garcia’s death had barely touched her. But despite everything she knew about this man, Mercy felt that she was losing some part of herself.
She knelt by his side, “You need to go, hermana.”
She nodded, “I know, but I just hate…”
“…leaving me here to die all alone.”
She wanted to deny his words, promise that they would send help. But the truth was staring her in the face. Even if they found the others, it would almost certainly be too late for this man.
“Hey, it’s a big sister thing.”
She saw the pain that his forced smile caused, “I never met the others, but you’re pretty cool. I wish…”
Tears blinded her, and Mercy choked down bile as well as the sobs. She understood. The girl was right. Where a child spawned had so much to do with its chances in this life. Some kids got lucky; they had two loving parents. Had this man ever had a chance? Any real choice in what his life became?
She wanted to blame him for what had happened. But she would never know what it felt like to spend your whole life trying to win the approval of the one person that should have loved you unconditionally.
Her mother had sacrificed everything, even her body and soul, for her girls. Would this man have turned out differently if Consuela Garcia had been that kind of mother?
“Please, Mercy, go. Go now. While you can. That’s what you can do for me. And if you can, remember that for all the bad things I did, when the chips were down, I came through for you. Who knows, maybe god or karma or whatever will take that into account when I respawn like the kid says…”
She nodded and laughed through the tears. But she stood up. Mercy forced herself to turn her back and put one foot in front of the other. She used every ounce of fortitude in her to pull herself into that saddle.
And then she dug deeper for a resolve that could come only from the tiny peanut of hope in her belly. For her daughter’s sake, she did not look back as Grace led them from the shadows of that barn. Because she knew if she did, she might turn around and go back. Hold her baby brother’s hand until whatever came next. Game over, as he and Grace would say.