No Mercy (Mercy Gunderson Series #1) [NOOK Book]

Overview

From award-winning author Lori Armstrong comes a gripping tale of brutal murder, as former army sniper Mercy Gunderson learns anew when she returns to the family ranch that, for the weak, the western plains of South Dakota hold . . .

NO MERCY The body of a teenage Indian boy found on land belonging to the Gunderson ranch is just the beginning. When a second teen is killed, the crime moves even closer to home for Mercy. The Iraq veteran is no ...
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No Mercy (Mercy Gunderson Series #1)

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Overview

From award-winning author Lori Armstrong comes a gripping tale of brutal murder, as former army sniper Mercy Gunderson learns anew when she returns to the family ranch that, for the weak, the western plains of South Dakota hold . . .

NO MERCY The body of a teenage Indian boy found on land belonging to the Gunderson ranch is just the beginning. When a second teen is killed, the crime moves even closer to home for Mercy. The Iraq veteran is no stranger to death, but these murders are deeply personal, recalling all too clearly a childhood marred by violence and tragedy. The local sheriff seems strangely apathetic, so Mercy throws herself into an investigation that is driven by a desire for justice . . . and retribution. But as she digs up the truth behind the shocking crimes, she uncovers dark and dangerous secrets involving those she loves. Now she must race to stop a killer before everything she’s fought for is destroyed forever.

Winner of the 2011 Shamus Award for Best Novel

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This compelling if prosaically plotted saga of dysfunctional family life, racial tension and liberated-woman romance, the first in a new series from Shamus-finalist Armstrong (Blood Ties), introduces Mercy Gunderson, a U.S. army sniper who's one-quarter Minneconjou Sioux. The discovery of a dead Indian boy on Mercy's late father's South Dakota ranch complicates her return home on medical leave. (Retinal detachment threatens her military career, while wet-work mission flashbacks disturb her sleep.) Then there's Sheriff Dawson, who, as Mercy admits after he snags her nephew for burglary, “raised my hackles and my interest like no other man I'd crossed paths with in the last decade.” Mercy is as tough as an old army boot, with a vocabulary and weapons proficiency to prove it, but she's always had it bad for cowboys. This soft spot, along with her racial identity crisis and a piled-on assortment of family-related guilt trips, leads to a contrived gee-whiz conclusion. (Jan.)
Kirkus Reviews
A war-hardened daughter returns home to find small-town South Dakota life as perilous as her tour of Iraq. The Army grants medical leave to sharpshooter Mercy Gunderson, but she just misses her father's passing. And that's not the only chip on this tough gal's shoulder. Her flaky sister Hope is on the latest in a string of good-for-nothing boyfriends, her surly nephew is determined to get into trouble and people keep going and getting themselves killed on her land. When cocky acting sheriff Dawson, the successor to Mercy's father, refuses to get involved, she has no other choice than to lead her own informal investigation. The more she finds out, the more trouble she gets into, as she uncovers a group of Native-American teens from the local reservation whose silence seems to be her biggest clue. She knows she must be on the right path when people start turning up dead, but her search heats up as it becomes increasingly clear that she's next on the list. Things get more personal as Mercy has to face her past in order to get the help she needs. The more determined she is that she won't let herself and her family down, the more deeply she gets invested in her hometown. Something for everyone in this tale of two cultures in collision. The mystery is mostly solid, the climax suitably complex, and there's enough blood and guts for those so inclined.
From the Publisher
"Within just a few pages of No Mercy I was gripped.... Lori Armstrong is the real deal, and so are the setting and the characters in this novel, which by turns is tough, sassy, sexy, and unique. As gritty, haunting, and authentic as South Dakota itself, No Mercy is a terrific series debut." — C. J. Box, Edgar Award-winning author of Below Zero

"Mercy Gunderson shoots straight onto the list of my favorite heroines. A master of snappy dialogue and twisting plots, Lori Armstrong proves again why she is an award-winning author. No Mercy is a thrilling mystery, a hard-edged, fast-paced, no-holds-barred roller-coaster ride." — Allison Brennan, author of Original Sin and Fatal Secrets

"Step aside, cowboys, there's a new star on the horizon and her name's Lori Armstrong. With No Mercy, Armstrong introduces one of the most original heroes to come out of the West in years. Mercy Gunderson is a perfectly flawed woman; a tough-as-nails, take-no-prisoners kind of gal who'd just as soon outshoot or outdrink a man as bed him. Read this book or answer to Mercy." — Reed Farrel Coleman, two-time Edgar nominee and two-time Shamus Award-winning coauthor of Tower

"People always ask me what I read, and I tell them Lori Armstrong. There comes a point when I need to read her like I need a shot of whiskey at the end of a hard day; Lori's writing is like that, unforgiving and deeply satisfying." — Craig Johnson, author of The Cold Dish and The Dark Horse

"Mercy Gunderson, the protagonist in Lori Armstrong's wonderful new series, is everything readers hope for in a lead character: strong, capable, hotheaded, and soft in all the right places. Set in South Dakota ranch country that's so well evoked you'll smell things you wish you didn't, with a compelling cast of supporting characters and a dynamite mystery sure to keep you guessing until the very end, No Mercy is a no-holds-barred, flat-out winner of a series debut." — William Kent Krueger, author of Heaven's Keep and Red Knife

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781416597063
  • Publisher: Touchstone
  • Publication date: 1/12/2010
  • Series: Mercy Gunderson Series , #1
  • Sold by: SIMON & SCHUSTER
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 88,153
  • File size: 2 MB

Meet the Author

Lori Armstrong is the two-time winner of the Shamus Award given by the Private Eye Writers of America and a New York Times bestselling author of romantic fiction, written as Lorelei James. Her books have won the Willa Cather Literary Award and have been nominated for the High Plains Book Award and the Daphne du Maurier Award. She lives in western South Dakota. Visit her website at LoriArmstrong.com.
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Read an Excerpt


PROLOGUE

In the arid summer heat on prairie rangeland, a dead body doesn’t so much rot as it becomes petrified. The blazing sun and dry wind burn the most resilient flesh into dried meat.

What the sun hadn’t cooked the animals had feasted on. A sunken hollow where the stomach had been. Shriveled flaps of skin resembling jerky hung from the jaw and cheekbones. The eye sockets were empty holes. The final indignity? The crotch of the athletic shorts were ripped away to reach the soft meat of the sex organs.

Poor son of a bitch had been emasculated before he’d had a chance to become a man.

A hot breeze swirled chalky dust motes and scents of decay.

Black Air Jordan athletic shoes saved the boy’s toes the fate of his fingers: gnawed off clean down to the bone. Reddish-black hair floated loose around his skull, bits of leaves and insects trapped in the dulled strands. Without lips to hide behind, the crooked teeth stuck out like yellowed piano keys. The body hadn’t been exposed long enough to bleach the bones white, but it’d been out here long enough to disintegrate into just another forgotten animal carcass.

Dust to dust.

Pine-tree-dotted hills and valleys of grayish gumbo made up the barren landscape. Heat mirages shimmered in the distance—a cruel illusion. There’d been no standing water in these parts for years.

The spinal column listed to the left. Like the kid’s neck had been snapped.

Despite the sun beating down, a chill rippled through the air.

So how had Albert Yellow Boy ended up in the middle of nowhere? What were the odds a couple of busy ranch hands would stumble over his body in this remote section of fallow grazing land?

Slim.

Had that been the intention?

More voices buzzed like angry gnats. Whispering. Arguing. Accusing.

Eerily loud caws echoed from the canyon. Bickering ceased, returning focus to tending the rituals of the dead.

© 2010 Lori Armstrong

ONE

One week later

Listening to bawling cows headed for the slaughterhouse is a shitty way to start a day.

I slammed the front window shut and crawled back between the cool cotton sheets. When my father’s phantom voice nagged me for sleeping in, I jerked the quilt over my head.

Go away, Dad. I’m too damn old to feel guilty about not getting up at the crack of dawn to do chores.

It took me a while to get back to sleep. When I did drift off, the scorching summer afternoon from thirty years past came rushing back, dreamlike, except it hadn’t been a dream:

“Momma had a baby and its head popped off.” I sited my target and pulled the trigger.

Crack.

An immediate pain-filled screech morphed into prairie silence.

My heart thumped. I held the Remington tight even after the recoil pad bit into my shoulder. Heard the hollow click as the spent brass cartridge ejected out the side and chinked on the rocky ground.

Bluish smoke eddied around me. Gravel dug into my forearms. Powdery gray dirt coated my sunburned skin even as gnats buzzed around my ears and inside my nose.

I didn’t care.

Exhilarated, I eyed the headless body through the scope and surveyed the bloody chunks of meat spread across the soil in the ultimate buzzard’s buffet.

“Got ya dead-on, ya dirty bastard,” I whispered to the decimated prairie dog, my tone reminiscent of Eastwood in The Outlaw Josey Wales.

Dad chuckled, shifting his position on the slope. “Your mom’d have a conniption fit if she heard you talkin’ like that.”

“Then it’s a good thing she’s not here.”

“Yeah.” He squinted at me, finding something on my face that made the laughter bleed out of his eyes. “Real good thing.”

A clement breeze stirred the smell of sage, skunkweed, and hot dirt. Scents I’d forevermore associate with death.

He eased back on his haunches and stood, wincing. The lack of circulation in his legs was getting worse, though he tried to be a tough guy and hide it from me. I let him. When he held out his big hand to help me up, I let him do that, too.

“Come on, sport. Let’s see what damage you done. You ain’t a bad shot—”

“For a girl,” I supplied.

He spit a stream of tobacco juice next to my ropers. Just like my hero, Josey. He looked me dead in the eye. “Anyone who ever says that to you, Mercy Gunderson, is a fool.”

I woke with a start. At least the combat flashbacks had tapered off, but I couldn’t remember the last time I’d had a decent night’s sleep. Maybe I should fill that prescription for Ambien next time I was at the VA.

After I’d finished my yoga practice, I wandered outside. The thermometer read 87 degrees. In the shade. I snagged a Crystalyx feed cap off the hook by the door and detoured to the activity by the barn.

The semitruck was backed up to the loading gate. Flies buzzed everywhere. Familiar, pungent smells of dirt and manure hung in the dry air. Most people gagged at the odors, but I’d gotten used to them again, the scents of home. I hoisted myself atop the fence and watched the action unfold.

Our two hired men, TJ and Luke, were on horseback, herding the animals. The ranch foreman, Jake, culled the ones he wanted and sent the others out of the penning area with a slap on the flank.

One stubborn cow refused to move.

Jake bent down and spoke directly into the floppy ear.

The tail swished and then the cow slowly got in line.

I laughed. How cool. We had our very own cow whisperer. I would’ve zapped it with a cattle prod until it bellered and trotted up the ramp like a good little doggie.

Another obvious difference between Jake and me.

After the metal door to the chute banged shut, and the semi rattled down the rutted driveway, the foreman ambled toward me.

Jake Red Leaf had run my father’s ranch for the last twenty-odd years. Jake wasn’t a grizzled old Indian rancher, but fairly young, around forty-five. Despite spending years outside in the harsh elements, he’d aged well and was a good-looking man, so it surprised me he was still single.

What didn’t surprise me, or anyone else, was that Jake knew the day-to-day operations of the Gunderson Ranch better than I did. Better than I’d ever wanted to.

I shifted my position atop the rickety fence. The wooden slats scraped my palms. I’d probably spend half the damn night digging slivers out.

“Nice to see you out in the fresh air and sunshine.”

“Yeah, ’cause I so don’t get enough of it being stationed in the world’s biggest sandbox.”

Ignoring my barb, Jake tipped back his battered Resistol and wiped the sweat from his forehead with the heel of his hand. His eyes caught mine. “How’s Hope today?”

“Your grandma says she checked on her at seven and Hope was still in bed.”

“Was Levi around?”

“I doubt it. Why? Was he supposed to be working today?”

“Yep. Promised to help me load cattle.”

Levi was my younger sister’s fifteen-year-old son. As much as I’d adored him as a baby, his wide-eyed wonder, his drooly smiles, his gurgling coos of contentment whenever I held him, these days he steered clear of me. If his recent behavior was any indication, the kid was about half a step from ending up in the juvenile court system.

Hope blamed Levi’s bad behavior on Levi’s daddy dying in a trucking accident when the boy was six. I blamed Levi’s bad behavior on Levi. Other kids had lost a parent at a young age—Hope and myself included. Hope believed in giving Levi free reign. My mind-set? If Jake or one of the other ranch hands took a horse rein to him, he’d straighten up in a helluva hurry.

However, my opinion held no weight. I’d been an absent aunt most of Levi’s life, as well as an absent sister. Add in the fact I’ve never given birth? Well, I’d be better off talking to a fence post.

“You act surprised he didn’t show,” I said.

“Not really. He’s been runnin’ with a rough crowd from the rez lately. Chet said he saw Levi and a buncha boys in the back of a pickup headed up toward that abandoned mine a coupla weeks back.” Jake placed a worn Tony Lama on the bottom rung and propped his muscled forearms on the fence.

“Who were the boys?”

“Dunno. Some punks. Someone oughta talk to him about it. Especially in light of the fact we found his buddy Albert chewed up as coyote food in our pasture last week.”

“Count me out for initiating that conversation. Hope has never listened to me, and she’s completely blind where that kid is concerned.”

“Funny. Your dad used to say the same thing. Of course, Wyatt wore those same rose-colored glasses when it came to his only grandson.”

A black veil dropped over me as if a hail cloud covered the sun. I released a slow breath. “Don’t know if I’ll ever get used to hearing Dad referred to in the past tense. Maybe—”

“Stop beatin’ yourself up. Nothin’ you coulda done.”

“I can’t believe I wasn’t here.”

“He wouldn’t have known if you had been.”

“That doesn’t make me feel less guilty, Jake.”

He cocked his head and looked up at me. “You talked to anybody about it?”

“Like who?”

“Like one of them doctors at the VA hospital. Unci says you been goin’ there since you got back from Iraq, eh?”

Damn Sophie Red Leaf and her big mouth. Had she ever considered maybe I didn’t want everyone to know about my health problems? Especially her grandson?

I didn’t respond. Instead, I tipped my face to the heavens. My eyes traced a long white vapor trail bisecting the vivid blue sky. I half wished I was on that plane, gazing wistfully at the patchwork of fields and farms from thirty thousand feet.

“Mercy? You okay?”

“Yeah. I’ll see you later.” I’d rather be skinned alive than talk about my feelings and failings, with Jake of all people.

I hopped off the fence. A cloud of ginger-colored dirt puffed around my bare ankles as I crossed the expanse of gravel and weeds known as the “yard” on my way to the house.

Our farmhouse was built in the 1930s, one of those “kit” houses sold by Sears Roebuck, where everything from the roof trusses to the oak trim was shipped out on railcars, transferred to flatbed trucks, and then the house was assembled onsite. Ours wasn’t a typical one-level ranch bungalow, but a big two-story Victorian/craftsman–style hybrid. Five bedrooms and a bathroom upstairs, plus an enormous attic that ran the entire length of the house. The main floor boasted a good-sized kitchen, a formal dining room and living room, plus a full bathroom complete with a claw-foot bathtub, a parlor restyled as an office, and a sun porch used as a storage/laundry room.

Over the years, the Gundersons installed numerous updates. The last, when we’d added a handicapped-accessible bedroom and bathroom on the bottom floor, along with a separate entrance with a wheelchair ramp for my dad. Luckily the doorways downstairs were already wide enough to accommodate his wheelchair. For some reason that hadn’t made Dad happy.

I’d always found it strange the front door faced the road, but the covered porch with the entrance to the back door was the main entrance. Very rarely did we—or any friends visiting us—use the front door.

During my teen years, the size of our home embarrassed me. Most of my friends lived in ancient trailers or tiny farm shacks. But Dad claimed since we owned the biggest acreage in the county, it only made sense we lived in the biggest house.

Pebbles shifted beneath my sandals as I passed the abandoned chicken coop. White chunks of paint were peeling off the side panels and around the deformed round-topped door. I’d have to paint the damn thing soon or hire someone else to do it. My focus shifted to the buckled boards on the machine shed, darkened from weathered gray to moldy black. Another project requiring my attention.

Hoo-ray. Life on a ranch was never-ending, backbreaking work, which was why I’d shaken the cowshit off my boots and moved far away as soon as I was legal.

The sun seared my skin. As I gazed across the flat, open area between the hulking house and the half-dozen outbuildings—metal, wood, antique, and new—I reconnected with my eighteen-year-old self and the realization I’d been trapped in a life I hadn’t chosen.

So how was it I’d traveled to all those exotic locales of my youthful daydreams only to find myself back here on the ranch? Facing responsibilities I didn’t want, with a sinking feeling I’d gone no place at all?

A mourning dove cooed. Another answered. I lifted my face to the blazing sky, wishing for a draft of cool air to carry earthy scents of freshly mown hay. But with the dry conditions all I caught was another nose full of dust.

Whining was pointless. I’d made sacrifices for my country; it was time to make them for my family.

I’d reached the house when an Eagle River County sheriff’s car zoomed up the drive. It parked between the Russian olive and the weeping willow, scaring a red squirrel from the bird feeder shaped like a decrepit outhouse. My sister Hope inherited our mother’s quirky taste. I knew Dad hadn’t chosen that kitschy piece to adorn the stalwart tree. It seemed undignified somehow.

A hat appeared out the driver’s side before the body unfolded. The guy raised his head. The stoic face beneath the mirrored shades belonged to the acting sheriff, Dawson.

Despite the fact my father respected Dawson enough to get him appointed temporary sheriff until elections were held, Dawson and I had established a guarded relationship from day one. Maybe because I had abandonment/replacement “daddy” issues on a personal and professional level with him—and wouldn’t the army shrinks have a field day with that? It bugged the crap out of me that Dawson raised my hackles and my interest like no other man I’d crossed paths with in the last decade.

He skirted the front end to open the right rear passenger door. Hauled Levi out. Handcuffed. Dawson growled in Levi’s ear to get him moving. Levi shuffled his big feet, untied shoelaces making curlicues in the gray dirt behind him.

“Miz Gunderson.” Dawson actually tipped his hat to me before he focused on Jake. “Red Leaf.”

I hadn’t heard Jake sneak up behind me. So much for my powers of observation.

“Sheriff. What’s going on?”

“You wanna tell her?” the sheriff prompted Levi.

Levi kept his mouth shut.

Dawson sighed. “Seems your nephew decided to break into old Mr. Pawlowski’s place and help himself to some of Mr. P.’s things while Mr. P. was at Thursday lodge.”

Hope wasn’t around to glare at me, so I didn’t bother to soften my reaction. “Levi, what the hell is wrong with you?”

Levi shrugged. And smirked. The little bastard.

“Who else was with him?”

“He claims no one.”

“What did you take?”

No answer from Klepto Boy.

I directed my questions to Dawson. “What did he take?”

“A couple bottles of booze, a couple bottles of pills.”

“What kind of pills?”

“Viagra.”

Imagining my ninetysomething neighbor with a hard-on was almost enough to make me shut my mouth.

Almost.

“What other kind of pills?”

“Vicodin.”

B&E with a narcotics charge? Levi was screwed. The cynical side of me thought maybe he’d finally done something serious enough to get him to straighten up. “Why did you bring him here?”

Jake sighed.

Guess I’d blown my chance for Aunt of the Year.

“Normally we’d send him off to the Juvenile Corrections Center in Rapid City, but Mr. Pawlowski isn’t pressing charges.”

My mouth dropped open. “Then why did he even call you?”

Sheriff Dawson crossed his arms over his chest and braced his feet wide. “Said he wanted us to ‘be aware of the problem’ but claims no harm was done since he got back his meds and his Lord Calvert.”

“That’s it?”

“No. He rambled about how he’d known the boy’s grandfather for more’n fifty years and remembered how tough it was when he’d lost his own pappy back in ’31.”

It amazed me how the old-timers talked like 1931 was last week, not last century.

Dawson added, “Mr. P. also swore your dad would’ve wanted this sort of thing handled by family.”

Levi glared at me from behind his fall of greasy brown hair. “Yeah? Well, she ain’t my mom.”

“Son, I got no problem taking you back to jail if you’d rather. Count yourself lucky I brought you here since nobody answered the door at your mom’s place.”

Super. In addition to dealing with my delinquent nephew, I had to worry about my delinquent sister.

“Can you keep an eye on him?” the sheriff asked.

Jake stepped up. “No problem, Sheriff. I’ve got lots of bales to unload.”

“Appreciate that.” Sheriff Dawson spun Levi around and unlocked the cuffs.

Levi rubbed his wrists, aiming his sullen face at the ground and trudging behind Jake toward the barn.

“You okay?” Dawson murmured.

My cap didn’t quite shield the sun from my eyes but I glanced up at Dawson anyway. Like my dad, Dawson was a big guy—six feet three inches, built like a Vikings linebacker. He even looked Nordic, with short-cropped blond hair and a broad forehead, razor-sharp cheekbones and a square chin. If the deep laugh and frown lines on his tanned face were any indication, he had a couple of years on me, which put him in his early forties.

I didn’t know much about him since he wasn’t a local, a transplant from “back east.” Most people think that phrase means the East Coast, but in South Dakota, “back east” means any mid-western location east of the Missouri River—in Dawson’s case, Minnesota.

“Just so we’re clear, Sheriff, Mr. Pawlowski had it wrong. My dad would’ve tossed Levi’s dumb butt in jail, family or not.”

“I figured as much. Didn’t seem productive to argue. Besides, I’m still feeling my way around being sheriff. Wyatt Gunderson left some mighty big shoes to fill.”

Sadness descended on me again. “Yeah, I’m sure he did.” I sucked at offering platitudes, so I didn’t bother.

I awaited a response that was a long time coming. Dawson tried to stare me down behind those dark glasses. An exercise in futility for him, because I always won. Always.

Finally he said, “Can I ask you something personal, Miz Gunderson?”

“Sure, if you call me Mercy. ‘Miz Gunderson’ makes me feel like an old maid.”

“Only a fool could set eyes on you and see an old maid.”

Whoo-boy. I’d be lying if I said his flattery rolled off me like water off a duck’s back. I wasn’t an ugly duckling, but I’d never been rodeo-queen material either. Mostly I’d gone out of my way to blend in. Still, it’d been years since I’d fallen for that “aw-shucks, I’m-just-a-good-old-boy” routine.

“Ask away, Sheriff.”

“Seems odd, with a spread this size, that Wyatt didn’t stick to ranching.”

If Dad had handpicked Dawson as his successor, why didn’t Dawson know the story? I hated rehashing personal family history. I leaned my backside against the dirty patrol car.

He followed suit.

“After my mom died, his heart wasn’t in ranching. Wasn’t in anything, really. He didn’t take care of himself. His diabetes got worse. Then he couldn’t do half the chores after they took his leg.”

“With Wyatt being handicapped, it surprised me he wasn’t behind a desk all the time at the sheriff’s office.”

“It was hard enough for him to be in a wheelchair. Strictly desk duty would’ve killed him.”

The diabetes eventually did. The image of my strong father lying weak in a hospital bed made me shudder, not that I’d seen his indignity firsthand.

“So, strapping on a gun and helping the community gave him a purpose?” Dawson asked.

“Yeah. But he couldn’t bear to sell his birthright outright, so he turned over day-to-day ranch operations to Jake. Jake’s cousins, Luke and TJ, work as hired hands.”

“Sounds like Red Leaf has been in charge a long time.”

I nodded.

“He must’ve been pretty young to take on such a big responsibility.”

“He was. But he knows what he’s doing. Makes sense when you consider members of the Red Leaf family have worked for us, in some capacity, for over a hundred years. It’s what Jake and Dad both wanted.”

“What about what you and your sister wanted?”

I shrugged. “She was young and I was uninterested.”

The thud of the wooden barn door echoed like a sonic boom. Jake, TJ, and Luke shouted to one another.

“You still ambivalent about running this ranch?”

I shrugged again.

“Are you gonna sell it?”

“Why?” My gaze snapped to his. “You interested in buying?”

“On my salary? You kidding?”

I wasn’t gullible enough to believe his rapid-fire denial.

He said, “I’m just as curious as the rest of the folks around here to know if you’ve lined up potential buyers.”

I scowled. “Don’t these people have anything better to do than gossip about me?”

“Nope. Long as we’re talking about it, lots of folks are plenty interested on what you’d been up to in the army.”

“It’s not that interesting, actually.”

“I hear ya. I was in the marines during Desert Storm.” He paused. “You’ve been in Iraq?”

I nodded.

“Wyatt didn’t talk much about your military duties.”

Because he couldn’t. How I’d earned my keep in service to Uncle Sam was on a need-to-know basis, so Dawson’s interest won him an abrupt subject change. “Why aren’t the locals talking about the Yellow Boy case?”

“They are.”

“Discovered any new info?”

“No.” His demeanor changed from amiable to brusque. “I don’t expect anyone will come forward with any either.”

“Why not?”

Dawson faced me. “Truth is, no one’s surprised that Indian kid ended up dead. He’d run away a half-dozen times before he was reported missing. Spent more time in trouble than he had at home recently.”

I remembered Albert’s parents, Estelle Apple and Paul Yellow Boy, from high school. Evidently neither of them had fallen into that brutal cycle of alcoholism and abuse that affects so many Indians living on the rez, and Albert’s disappearance and death sent shockwaves through the family. Since Levi and Albert were pals, and Levi was a pallbearer, Sophie had dragged me to the funeral. I’d gotten the impression Albert hadn’t been a troubled teen for very long. Then again, eulogies extolled virtues, not faults.

“So his death wasn’t from foul play?” I asked.

“‘Foul play.’ You sound like Wyatt. You really are a chip off the old block aren’t you?”

“That surprises you?”

“No.” He sighed. “I don’t know if it was an accident or something else.”

“That mean you’re done investigating?”

“Not a lot I can do at this point when no one will talk to me.”

He sounded a little whiny. Didn’t he know it’d take years for him to build up the trust my father had been granted?

Then again, maybe Dawson didn’t want that trust. Appeared he’d already written off the death as an accident. Wouldn’t be hard to believe he was another redneck who believed the only good Indian was a dead Indian.

I’d known more than my fair share of people sporting that attitude. I was temped to shoot them and eliminate their racism from further tainting the gene pool. Most days I refrained.

Most, but not all.

The screen door squeaked. My housekeeper/surrogate mother/babysitter/cook/chief meddler and Jake’s beloved grandmother, Sophie Red Leaf, limped down the porch steps. She shielded her eyes with a frayed kitchen towel. “Sheriff? Everything all right, hey?”

“Everything’s fine, Miz Red Leaf.”

“Not exactly fine,” I corrected. “Levi’s in trouble. The sheriff brought him here since Hope wasn’t home.”

“Where’s Levi now?”

“He and Jake are unloading hay bales.”

Sophie’s hard black stare nearly pinned my ears to my head. “Alone?”

Guilt kicked me in the ass; I could’ve been helping. But ranch duties were Jake’s job, not mine. I was JR to his Dusty. “No, TJ and Luke are here. Besides, the sheriff and I were discussing some other things.”

“Out here in this heat? Lord, Mercy, where are your manners?” She flapped the towel at me. “Sheriff, why doan you come on inside where it’s cool? I jus’ made a pitcher of iced tea. Think I can round up some of them gingersnaps you like so much, eh?”

Sophie knew Dawson’s cookie preferences?

“Hate to say no to those tasty sweets, Miz Red Leaf, but I have to get back to the station.”

“Lucky for you I’m bringin’ a fresh batch to the community center tomorrow night. But I’ll only share if a handsome young man such as yourself promises to save a dance for a gimped-up old wigopa like me.”

My head whipped to Sophie. Did she just bat her eyelashes? God help me, was my seventy-nine-year-old housekeeper… flirting with him?

“Gimped up? You? Hah. You’ll be dancin’ circles around me, for sure.” Dawson angled his head at me. “You goin’?”

Before I could scream no way Sophie clucked her tongue.

“Course Mercy will be there. Mebbe you’d better save her a dance, too, eh?”

“Be my pleasure.” The sheriff pushed away from the patrol car, brushing the dirt off his butt as he rounded the front end. He paused before climbing in. “When Hope turns up, tell her to call me at the sheriff’s department as soon as possible. Remind her she doesn’t want me to come lookin’ for her again.”

Again?

Puzzled, I watched dust devils engulf his car. When I turned around to ask Sophie what he’d meant, I found myself staring at her gingham apron strings as the screen door slammed behind her.

© 2010 Lori Armstrong

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 31 )
Rating Distribution

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 32 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 9, 2010

    Very fitting to the main character.

    This was a well written and interesting subject for the area she was writing about. It shows how close knit people in small towns are even when a home town person is gone for long periods of time. She was very good at holding your attention for continious reading. This is a very close to reality story for this area.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 23, 2012

    Good book

    This was a prety good read. If you have read the Julie Collins series you will recognize a familiar trend.

    if you liked the Julie Collins series you will like this as well.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 16, 2012

    Lori Armstrong delivers another must read and new character.

    Enjoyable read and 'No Mercy' introduces a new character but still the same 'take no prisoners' woman of action.

    I have read Lori Armstrong's four Julie Collins PI books and also the second book 'Mercy Kill' with the Mercy Gunderson character. Can't wait for 'Dark Mercy' to be written and released.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 29, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    4.5 stars Reviewed by FRANCESCA & posted at Under the Covers

    4.5 stars
    Reviewed by FRANCESCA & posted at Under the Covers Book Blog

    This book is original and engaging. The storyline kept me on my toes, and surprised me as well.” ~Under the Covers

    I’ve been wanting to read Lori Armstrong for a while. Mainly because this is the mystery alter ego of one of my favorite authors, the talented Lorelei James. I’ve always loved a good mystery book to begin with and this sounded right up my alley.

    I couldn’t have been more impressed. This book is original and engaging. The storyline kept me on my toes, and surprised me as well. Just when I thought I knew how things would happen, something would go a different way.

    And then there’s Mercy. She’s the driving force in this book, at least for me. She could quickly become one of my favorite heroines. She’s damaged by everything she’s been through in the military. She has to stay strong against the rest of the town who doesn’t think she can come back and take over her father’s ranch. She has to be strong for her family. But she’s so vulnerable. I love that side of a strong woman.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 8, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    It was alright!?!?

    I had such high expectations for reading this book because I'm such a fan of Lori G Armstrong's previous books "the Jullie Collins PI books". Mercy is a tough as nails character, but I felt the plot was to predictable (I had it figured out right away). I felt as though since she was an Army sniper she should have been a little more self reliant, it was as if she kept getting saved by someone, for example Dawson and Hope. Also, I felt the flow was taken away due to all the editing errors, it was very distracting. All in all would I read it again over and over, as I did with the previous books, ehh, no. But, it was a nice quick read when your stuck in on a snowy day.

    1 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 9, 2014

    Great series

    Wonderful story. Believable characters. Mercy is a strong, independent woman.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted March 6, 2014

    Great read. The entire series is great. Can't wait for the nex

    Great read. The entire series is great. Can't wait for the next book. Please hurry.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 22, 2012

    FABULOUS

    Gut wrenchingly good read. I couldn't put it down.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted February 14, 2012

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