Mercy was just settling her father. Well, Ignacio Garcia, for his afternoon nap when the door to the small house flew open. Her younger brother walked in carrying something large cradled in his arms. At first, she feared it was Bebe until she noticed the red hair.

“Where can I put her?”

She pulled the door to the only bedroom closed, hoping that they did not wake Iggy. The man was especially disturbed by any change in his schedule, and he had not been well these past couple of days. She had not managed to get a single bite of food in him in at least three days. And only a few sips of water. Mercy feared they were running out of time, even before this…

“Cassandra McBride?”

Roberto nodded his head as he laid the woman on the couch. When he stood up, Mercy noticed that he was covered in blood. The woman lay unmoving. She had to look closely just to see the rise and fall of her chest. There was no point in asking what happened. She knew – Diego.

“I’m sorry. I tried to go easy on her, but Diego was watching. And Rafael in the corner, I think. I couldn’t let them think I was weak.”

Mercy fought back the anger at his excuses. Right now, she had far bigger things to worry about than the life choices of her little brother she had never known. “Get me blankets. And don’t let Grace see you. She’s in the garden playing with some damned cat.”

Why did these people think she was some damned doctor or nurse? She was a fucking librarian. Besides the First Aid course that she was forced to take every couple of years to check off some bureaucrat’s boxes, she knew nothing about caring for others. Hell, she was the baby. Everyone always took care of her.

But once again, she called on those skills she had learned but never thought she would need. She began to assess the woman, starting at the top of her head. Her face was swollen on one side, the eye almost closed. But that did not account for this amount of blood. Her arms did not look broken. She remembered to feel along the woman’s sides for any protrusions or sunken areas, but there didn’t seem to be any broken bones.

When she moved lower, it was apparent where the blood was coming from. The woman’s jeans were red, blood red. “Fuck!” She had no idea what to do.

Cassie McBride needed a doctor and a hospital. This much blood? The woman could die. Right? Mercy felt panic rising inside her. Diego would blame her if the woman died. And Grace? She knew what that kind of guilt felt like.

When she felt the hand on her shoulder, she thought it was Roberto. But when she turned, she was shocked to see Anna. Since that day in the garden, they had taken to spending the afternoons talking. She recognized that her brother’s wife was insane, but how could you not be given everything the woman had endured all these years?

“Let me see, Mercedes.” Sometimes she could appear so calm, so rational. Mercy was glad this was one of those times. “Help me take off her pants.”

Mercy started to shake her head, “Roberto is coming back any minute.” She did not want to visit further indignity on the woman.

“Go to the door, send him to my ñaña. Tell him he must cover his face, but I need the bag she keeps in the cupboard. He must bring it, quickly.”

Mercy was confused. Did she dare trust this woman? Was she lucid now? But what choice did she have? Anna seemed to know more about the situation than she did.

Then it happened again. That calm overcame her. And she knew that this was right. She nodded and helped the other woman to remove Cassie’s jeans. It was not easy. The woman was dead weight. She was tempted for a moment to cross herself as she had seen this woman and others do over these past weeks. Instead, she tugged harder until they were down about the woman’s ankles. She lifted her feet and removed her shoes, pulling the jeans off completely.

Anna looked up at her with a tight smile. “If Roberto does not come soon, I will need you to go. But you must be very careful. My ñaña, she has the sickness. I have not told anyone. She went to the city for some herbs. And she got ill a few days later. I am taking care of her.”

Mercy could not afford to dwell on what the woman said, its implications. She barely made it to the door in time to block Roberto’s entry.

“What’s she doing here? I haven’t seen her out of her rooms in days.”

“Anna needs you to bring a bag from her ñaña’s room, Roberto.”

If the situation was not so dire, she would have laughed at the face he made as he crossed himself. “No, no way. I don’t go near that bruja. Besides, Rafael and Diego will wonder what is keeping me so long. I need to get back, sister. Things are…”

The silence said more than words could. Mercy’s hand went to cradle her womb. They had to find a way out of here. Soon. When Roberto finally looked back up, she nodded, “Okay, go. I’ll see what I can do.”

He reached out and took her trembling hand in his. “I swear, I promise you, hermana, I will get you and them out of here. Soon.” But that smile was less confident than it had been.

She knew from Will who Rafael Dominguez was and why they were here. As winsome as this man was, his promises could not be trusted any more than Diego’s. Not when his ambitions warred with whatever modicum of ‘good’ remained in his soul. But right now, she had more pressing matters.

She followed Roberto back to the house, listened carefully to his instructions on finding Anna’s private apartment and the old woman that she knew was her sister-in-law’s only link with her past or sanity.

She kept to the shadows, and with so few windows to the outside, there were plenty of those. She did not want Consuela or Diego to find out that she had been in this part of the house. When she finally stood outside the door, she hesitated. What if she got this wrong? What if she were lost? What if she opened the door onto Consuela or…?

Mercy swallowed back her fears. A woman’s life depended on her. Remembering what Anna had said, she pulled her shirt up to cover her nose and mouth. She knew it was hardly the mask they recommended, but if she stayed far enough away from the sick woman, then maybe…

But when she pushed open that door, tears filled her eyes. She choked down the bile. The thin layer of her shirt did nothing to filter that smell. It was overpowering. Why hadn’t anyone else noticed? She dared only a glance at the bloated and purple-bluish tinged figure on the bed.

She would figure this out later. Right now, she needed that bag. Or so the crazy woman said. But her gut instinct told her that in this one thing, Anna could be trusted. And that was her only choice.

She glanced around the sparsely furnished room. There was only the overly large and ornate bed, a small table next to it, a chair on the other side, and a massive wardrobe against the opposite wall. That must be the ‘cupboard.’ Mercy did not dare waste time as she rifled through it.

She found the overly large and heavy brown floral bag on the top shelf. Her brain searched for the term. She had researched such things for a regency romance that she planned to write – someday. If she had any more ‘some days’ left. Carpetbag. That was the word. The damned thing was so heavy it practically fell on her head. She heard the clink of glass jars but did not think any broke.

Mercy was far less cautious as she rushed from that death room. But she was careful to fully close that door. Right now, they could not afford for Anna’s secret to be discovered. She raced across the courtyard to the small house.

How could the woman look perfectly sane? But Anna did. She was calm and focused as she carefully washed the blood off the woman’s legs and thighs. She even smiled serenely as she turned, “Bueno, you have ñaña’s bag. Bring it to me.”

Mercy questioned her own sanity as she followed the woman’s instructions. It only took Anna a moment to find what she was looking for, a dark brown glass bottle with an eyedropper cap. “Next time, we will put the medicine in some tea. But now, she needs it to act quickly.”

Anna placed the dropper in the corner of Cassie’s mouth. A dark brown liquid seeped from the corner, but Anna only pushed it back into her mouth. Cassie coughed. It was the first sign of life since Roberto had brought her in.

“What is it?” Perhaps she should have asked that question sooner but considering these past few weeks, it was good she could think clearly enough to ask at all.

“It will slow the bleeding,” was as close an answer as she got. Anna arranged the towels between the woman’s legs and then covered her with a blanket. Then she pulled another bottle from the bag and administered more…whatever. “That will calm her. Help her to sleep. That is the best medicine now.”

Mercy numbly nodded her head, uncertain what to think or feel about this woman. “She has lost the baby, but the medicine should slow the bleeding. She should be okay in a few days.”

A soft sob escaped Mercy’s lips as her hand went to her own precious cargo. Tears fell from her eyes as the woman continued, “Naña always gives me this when I bleed too much.”

She shook her head, “Bleed too much?”

“Si, sometimes I must purge that man’s evil from my body.”

It took Mercy a moment for Anna’s words to sink in, for their meaning to registered in her scrambled brain. “Do you mean an abortion? But I thought you and Diego wanted children? That you had been trying all these years?”

That wild-eyed look was back, and this time the chill it sent through her soul was even worse. “They expected me to be their broodmare. To bring more murderers into this world. But I showed them.”

Mercy’s hand covered her mouth as she fought back that nausea once more. But when Anna turned around to her, her words spoke of the true depths of the woman’s insanity. “When I go back, I will speak with ñaña, see if there is anything else we can do for the woman.”

Mercy could feel the chill as Anna took her hand in hers, “Do not worry. I won’t let them hurt you. Or anyone ever again. I have waited many years for this, but it is time. They must be stopped.”

Mercy would have pressed her sister-in-law for more information, but the gasp from the doorway halted the conversation. Grace raced to her mother’s side. She lifted one of Cassie’s hands to her lips as she brushed back red-hair that reminded Mercy way too much of her own mother’s.

How much had the girl overheard? How much Spanish did she understand? She had lived most of her life under the heavy burden of her mother’s rape. She had almost suffocated under it – until Will. She could not begin to imagine what this girl would feel…

Mercy had never believed in god or prayer. She left that shit to Elena and Brad. But at the moment, she sent a plea to whatever the fuck was out there, that this child had not heard or understood the conversation.

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