Will sat astride the Duchess, his true love, a Ducati Scrambler 1100. He was not sure what Sherriff Earl Kerr was doing at the Sebida County Library. The man did not seem the book worm type — more a cold-blooded killer and crook.
The man had been on the agency’s radar since right after he retired from the military. If the hinky way that the former sheriff was shot on a hunting trip were not red flag enough, nor the surprise win of his former deputy, then the accusations of murder when a small-time drug dealer’s car blew up would have been. And the man definitely raised suspicions when the local District Attorney who was prosecuting the case was forced to resign due to DUI charges.
But shit, as much as this man seemed to wallow in it, just would not stick to him. Even when Austin appointed a special prosecutor to the case and moved it out of Sebida, Kerr had been acquitted of all the charges, except a misdemeanor. It seemed that witnesses would not show up to testify or changed their testimony on the stand. And with double jeopardy attached, the state had dropped the investigation.
That did not mean the man was innocent. The feds were confident that the Torreon cartel was running their drugs through the town. It was the other allegations, though, that brought Will to Sebida County. It seemed that while drugs might be moving north, east, and west out of the small town, people might be heading south — human trafficking.
That one anonymous tip in Bebe’s file said that dozens of women and girls had disappeared from Houston, Dallas, and Austin over the past few years. And that most of them stopped in Sebida before being shipped south of the border. Prostitution, slavery, and worse. But as with the drugs and murder, Kerr seemed always to be just one step ahead of them.
Of course, that was because there was a leak in the agency. Will was pretty sure he knew who it was too. Or at least a couple of them. One look at Earl Kerr, and he knew that the man was guilty of everything he was accused of – and more.
The discerning of spirits, his grandmother Etta Mae called it. One of the gifts of the holy spirit. If you bought such bullshit. But even before the spray of bullets that left his Grandfather Walt bleeding out on the altar of his church, Will had his doubts. That Saturday, what little faith he had left was killed on that altar with his grandfather.
But whatever it was, Will had given up looking for any logical or scientific explanation for how he just ‘knew’ what was inside the hearts and minds of others. Whatever you called it, there was no doubt that it had been the edge in his law enforcement career that had not only kept him alive through some tough situations but helped him to rise through the ranks of first HPD and then the agency. Being able to know which informants you could and could not trust had made all the difference.
It was also why he had done what he had. He had seen into that young girl’s heart. Hell, in Callie’s case, it almost went deeper. It was as if he could see into her future, or perhaps recognize in her untapped gifts that made her a kindred spirit?
But what had sealed the deal was that for the first time in the two and a half months that he had been guarding the McBrides, he saw some small, infinitesimal, shred of decency in Gerald McBride. Will knew that the man was telling the truth. This was not some attempt to escape justice. No, the man genuinely wanted to make sure that his wife and daughter did not fall prey to the same Fate that his son had.
After all the injustice he had seen, grandfather, Bebe, and finally his grandmother’s death, how could Will deny McBride perhaps his one chance to make something right? He could not. And if it took his life’s blood to protect Callie as he had not been able to Bebe, then it was worth it.
But none of that answered the question of the hour, what the hell was Sherriff Kerr doing at the library? And why had the man parked his police cruiser around back? Why not park on the street and go to the front door? What was the man up to now?
Then she stepped out the back door, marked ‘employees and delivery only,’ and Will’s whole world shifted beneath the wheels of his bike. All he could think was his grandfather’s booming voice, “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby, some have entertained angels unawares.”
Sherriff Earl Kerr was the last person that Mercy wanted to meet in a dark alley, especially with forty grand in cash, a Smith & Wesson handgun, and burner phone in her bag. She had spent the past five years, since the man returned to Sebida, doing every damned thing she could to avoid him.
‘Why now of all days?’ She asked the rhetorical question of the universe. But she knew. Like Mama said, ‘chickens had come home to roost.’ But dammit, it wasn’t gonna be just Reynolds’s chickens if she had anything to say about it.
“Hey, Sherriff, what you doing here?” Mercy smiled and used that same down-home tone she had with Miss Mable.
The man leaned against the back passenger door of his police cruiser. His hand was already on the holster of his gun. The strap was undone too. Mercy was glad that she had not fastened that pocket on the backpack.
“Where you heading, Miss Mercy?” The man took two steps away from his car, and she shifted the pack closer to her chest. First of all, to block the man’s view of her tits. But it also allowed her to slip her fingers into the pocket and take the safety off her gun.
Mercy had never shot a man. Though she always wondered if she could. Mama had taught all of her girls to use a gun by the time they were ten. She knew loads of people would condemn Mama for it. But Mercy, more than anyone else, understood why Mama did it. And if there was ever anyone that she was almost sure she could shoot, the ‘good’ sheriff was that man.
But as much as that part of her called for revenge, she knew that would only complicate things. No, this was one time when talking needed to come before shooting. “I had to close the library early. A bit of a family emergency. I’m sure you heard that Laura had her baby last night?”
The man nodded but took a couple more strides until his boot rested on the bottom step. His hand had not left his sidearm, and though she kept smiling and did her best to appear relaxed, this man’s mere presence disturbed her as nothing else could. She swallowed that fear and hatred that went with almost twenty-eight years of memories and self-loathing.
“I’m just going to help out. Seems that Laura’s had a bit of trouble with too much bleeding. Mama’s left the baby with Elena while Laura’s husband ran over to Madison for a couple of things. She wants me to meet him over the county line and pick them up. So, he can head straight to the hospital to meet them.”
She knew she was talking too fast, but she hoped that Kerr thought that was concern for her sister’s health and not fear of him. She would not give the man that satisfaction.
He reached out and grabbed for her arm. She jerked to the side. Her hand remained hidden in the bag, but the man captured the upper part of her other arm instead. She wanted to vomit. She considered screaming, but in this situation, that might cause more trouble than it was worth. His fingers were so tight that Mercy knew there would be bruises.
Not that anyone survived Sebida’s jail long enough to claim police brutality. But she was not going to jail. No matter what. Her life or his, but she would not become this man’s victim as …
‘Stop thinking like that. Do not go there,’ Mercy steeled her nerves. “I didn’t know it was a crime to close the library early, Sherriff.” Her face was going to break from that smile.
“I’m afraid you’re not going anywhere, Miss Reynolds. I’ve already been to your sister’s house. No one is there. And Laura is wanted on a material witness warrant issued by the federal government.”
She frowned and adlibbed, “I’m sure there must be some mistake. Elena must have taken the baby to her house. You know how hard it is for her to find someone to watch her little girl. If you want, I’ll call Mama. I’m sure we can straighten this all out quickly.”
“You can call whoever you want from the county jail. I’m taking you in for obstruction of justice.”
He pulled her down the steps. Mercy pretended to stumble, and when the sheriff turned back to look at her, she pulled the gun from her bag. “I don’t think so. I’m not going anywhere with you, Sherriff.” The way she said that was as if it were a cuss word. “We both know what happens when someone goes to your jail.”
The man dared to laugh even though she stood less than a half dozen steps from him with a gun. “No, darlin’, you have no idea what happens to pretty young things like you when they cross me.”
He reached for his gun and drew it, “But you will.”
Kerr stepped forward and ran the cold steel of his service revolver right down the side of Mercy’s cheek, down her neck, and between her cleavage. “And before you die, you’ll wish like hell you’d never dared to draw a gun on me.”
Her hand shook, but she willed it steady. The cold grey of those eyes was almost inhuman. But Mama had taught her well. Never let him see the fear.
Those eyes dropped to where the end of the gun disappeared into her bra, “Is what they say true? Are you really one of the Sebida’s three Vestal Virgins?”
It was not the first time that Mercy had heard that term. She, Abby Jean, and Lizzie thought it was ironic. For a small town that preached chastity to then ridicule those who were. But right now, the longer she kept Kerr talking, the better her chances of getting out of there. Or so she hoped. “So, what if it is?”
“Damn, I’d sure have loved a piece of you, darlin’. But if that is the case, you are worth far more south of the border with that precious cherry intact. Of course, that still leaves two other holes for me to use.”
She shivered at the man’s words. The thought that she had saved herself for thirty-two years, hoping that one day, someday a real man, and not merely some ‘book boyfriend’ would get her hot enough to overcome her fears, anxieties, and those horrid images that were forever scarred into her brain. And for what? To end up raped. Just like…
No, she would not. She would rather be dead. She lifted her gun. She no longer doubted that she could do it. “No, Sheriff, that’s where you’re wrong. I won’t be any man’s victim.”
“What you gonna do? Shoot me? You ain’t got the guts. No, you, sweetie, are gonna end up so far down the hole that no one will ever find you. If you’re lucky, you’ll end up in some modern-day harem somewhere. And if you cross me again, I’ll make sure that after Diego auctions off that sweet cherry pie, you spend the rest of your very short life in the cheapest bordello in Torreon.”
He reached for her, perhaps too afraid now of damaging such valuable merchandise. But that was his mistake. Mercedes raised the gun and pulled the trigger. But damn the man, he turned in the scuffle, and the bullet only nicked his arm. Those eyes that had been so cold suddenly flamed with anger.
They were both distracted by the sound of a roaring engine. It happened so quickly. The motorcycle threw up dust as it came to a stop right beside them. Without even getting off the bike, the driver’s foot connected squarely with the sheriff’s jaw. Kerr dropped like a sack of cement.
Mercy could not make out much about the driver who still wore his helmet and thick leather gloves. But looking down at the unconscious sheriff, what choice did she have? She hoped on the back, wrapped her arms about the man, she was pretty sure that it was a man.
But what kind of man, what the fuck he was doing hanging out in the alley, why the hell would he help her, and perhaps most importantly, who the fuck was he? Those questions Mercy had no answers to as the man reeved the engine, and they shot off at speeds that well exceeded her thrill-seeking capacity.