Cowboy Paladin (part 3)
Devlin had to give his companion credit for not giving into a fit of the vapors. Considering everything that had just happened, most of the women he’d ever known would have been in hysterics by now. For sure they wouldn’t have been quietly doing their best to keep up with the fast pace he’d set. He was equally surprised she hadn’t planted her feet and demanded answers to the questions that had to be ripping through her mind about now. Maybe she couldn’t catch her breath long enough to spit them out. It was too much to hope that she’d never get around to asking them, because he had no good answers for her.
When they reached the top of the next rise, he slowed to a stop, partly to make sure the woman hadn’t been hurt and partly to see if the Others had picked up their trail.
The inquisition started. “Who are those men?”
Jethro glanced down at the woman as he cast about for an answer she’d believe and that wouldn’t force him to break his vow of secrecy. Her eyes were wide with fear, but she was still holding up better than he’d expected. He settled for the one truth neither of them could deny.
“They’re coldblooded killers.”
She moved closer, still keeping her voice to a whisper. “They have such strange accents, and I’ve never seen anything thing like those outfits they’re wearing.”
Another simple truth. “I’m not surprised. They’re not from anywhere around here.”
“But you’ve seen their kind before.”
That one wasn’t a question but a statement of the truth as she saw it. Her hand came to rest on his arm, gripping it tightly enough to make it clear that she expected him to stop dodging the issue and lay it all out in plain terms. “There was something else weird about them. They weren’t carrying guns as far as I could tell. Nothing but swords. Different from yours.”
Jethro tried another tactic. “What’s your name?”
She blinked as if the question surprised her. “Patience Kort. That’s my farm down there. Well, mine and my father’s.”
Jethro jerked his arm free of her grasp. “Is he still down there?”
Because if he was, most likely he was dead by now.
“No, he didn’t come home, not yet anyway. I can’t imagine what’s keeping him.” She shifted back farther into the shadows. “But I expect him any minute.”
Jethro recognized the lie for what it was. She was a woman alone with a man she didn’t know at all. Patience might give him the benefit of the doubt because he’d rescued her, but they both knew she had no reason to trust him.
Jethro turned to face her directly. “My name is Jethro Bane. I’m a lawman,”—sort of, anyway— “and I figure we’ll both do better by keeping things honest between us. I’m guessing your father isn’t coming home anytime soon, that is if he even exists.”
All right, that put a bit if fire in her dark eyes. “He exists, Mr. Bane, but you’re right. He went into town with the intention of playing poker with his friends. Depending on his luck, it could be days before I see him again.”
What kind of man left a woman alone to fend for herself? Jethro wanted to hunt the fool down and pound some sense into him. Granted, the man had no way of knowing that a new bit of barrier would open up near his family farm, but there were enough purely human villains running loose in the area.
“We’d better get moving again. I left my horse tied up just past that next ridge. He’s already put in a long day, but he’ll be up to carrying the two of us long enough to put some distance between us and them back there.”
She was already shaking her head. “I can’t abandon my home. I’ve got animals to care for. Chores to do.”
Stubborn woman! Right now, he was too tired to play nice. “You won’t do those animals a damn bit of good if you’re dead. And I can tell you right now, you won’t die easy at their hands.”
He regretted the words as soon as they left his mouth, especially when her knees buckled sending her sinking right down to the ground. He caught Patience before she landed, pulling her back up to her feet. “Look, I’m sorry. I hate that I scared you, but right now scared is better than reckless. Come sunrise, those bastards will go to ground, probably in those caves back there. Then it should be safe enough for us to circle back to the farm to look after your livestock.”
Her eyes were shiny with tears. “But why—”
Jethro cut her off before she could finish the question, another one he couldn’t answer without giving away too much about the Others. “We need to keep moving.”
Then he started down the far side of the ridge, dragging her along in his wake. Maybe if he kept her breathless, she’d quit talking so much. Somehow he doubted it, though, but at least the delay might give him a chance to thinking of some plausible lies that would placate her curiosity. After all, Patience might believe one human male might have sensitivity to sunlight, but a mob of them?
It was maybe ten minutes later that they reached his small camp. His horse stood right where he’d left it, and the campfire had burned itself out completely. That was the good news, but there was plenty of bad go along with it. If he wasn’t mistaken, their pursuers were about to catch up with them.
Of course, he could be wrong about that. It could be a whole different band of the pale-eyed bastards prowling the woods. He drew his gun. Bullets would keep them at a safe distance. Safer, anyway. But if they attacked in any number, he’d run out of ammunition, and sooner rather than later. Then it would be just him and his sword standing between Patience and death.