I don't own the characters of Laramie. However, I can take imaginary rides with them or wander through their heads putting my thoughts behind their actions.


A N. A bit of a backtrack.


Horse's reins in hand and deep in thought, she wandered up the hill, past the old well and up a ways on the trail. She daren't let her horse stray far. She couldn't lose the one sure thing she had that would help her stay alive.

She'd been looking at the landscape, looking at the sky, looking everywhere with far-seeing eyes but with a mind that was also wandering. A small stumble on the uneven ground brought her mind and body back together.

Huh. Surprised at how far she'd wandered, she knew she'd have to be more careful. She couldn't afford to let her mind drift, unless she was in a well-chosen and secure place. Otherwise, she could well find herself in an untenable situation.

The horse, who had grown restive without any good graze to distract him and irritated by the biting flies, was anxious to move. She gathered the reins, climbed aboard, and headed towards the shack.


The Loreley

Chapter nine

As she closed the distance to the ramshackle building, her hackles rose. Her focus narrowed to the immediate environs. Background sounds faded away, muffled as if snow blanketed the area. Just the clop of her horse's hoofs hitting the iron-hard ground, his breathing, the faint creak of leather, and the jingle of bit registered to her ear.

Suddenly, a whinny. She reined in sharply. Her mount, snorting a protest, reluctantly complied. Heart beating rapidly, she scanned the area, trying to get a fix on the sound. She saw nothing. Head up, ears twitching, her horse appeared as if he, too, were searching.

Another nicker. This time her horse responded with one of his own.

Maybe he'd seen the stranger. She leaned down close to his head to follow his line of sight. Nope, nothing. She couldn't even conjure up a horse shape from the rocks and scrub brush.

Where the devil was that horse? Then, light dawning, she realized they must be upwind of it. A quick, wry smile crossed her face as she mentally chided herself for being slow on the uptake. Though there wasn't a lot of wind, it must have been enough to carry their scent, and their sound to the other horse. She adjusted her seat and looked to one side of the building.

Ah, there! Just visible on the far side of that shack, and nearly hidden in the chaparral was a large, brown thing. Animal, she reckoned. Obscured as it was, she couldn't tell definite. Equine, bovine? Or some other large animal.

Silly. That was no moo, or bugle, or bellow she'd heard. Only horses whinnied or nickered. Well, no time like the present to get a little closer, but ease up carefully, she reminded herself.

She hoped it was no Diamond D mount. The way to Mexico passed through unfriendly territory, so Arnold might have brought a few reinforcements with him. Men who would guard Arnold's back trail. Men who still lingered. Men who might have comeuppance on their minds. Comeuppance due her.

Why? Well, she couldn't imagine, but some people were just like that. She'd not ever dallied with any permanent hands from the ranch. However, their loyalty to DeWalt was unquestioned. She knew there was more than one "holier-than-thou-art" sort in the crew. They might take her philandering personal.

That was one big reason she'd been in such a hurry to leave Wyoming once she'd escaped the Diamond D. And now, even though Arnold discarded her, someone might still want to deliver some retribution on his behalf.

Next she considered Rios. She had no idea of how he felt now. Was he still wanting her back as he'd begged earlier? Or was he out to silence her permanently, more than just his pride stung after her denunciation of men at the ranch? She had been quite derisive in that declaration. Though Arnold was the primary focus, she included George and Montero in her glares.

She certainly undermined Rios's stature in front of a servant, although it was doubtful if the lady understood more than a few words of English. Maybe Montero's right-hand man, Luis, was nearby. That might be bad. He spoke English as well as Montero, if not better.

Luis would've overheard, understood both the denunciation and why Arnold was an uninvited guest at the hacienda. Luis was as smart as they came and he could put two and two together.

Her and Montero. The trips to the Diamond D. The purchase of blood stock. Then it would follow, Rios's part in abetting and encouraging her journey to Mexico. Not just luring her, but not accompanying her on the trip. That reeked of cowardice. Those actions, or lack thereof, would lessen Rios in the eyes of another man.

His machismo questioned, Montero might want to extract something from her to return to full stature. Perhaps a fatal accident. But really, that was a bit of extravagant speculation on her part, leastways she hoped.

Finally, the most benign reason for a horse being there. Rios's hands patrolling the area. One of them was taking his ease in there, resting. It was the heat of the day, after all.

Stop it! she scolded herself. This was getting her nowhere except more upset than she already was.

Heart in throat, she veered away from the old adobe to advance on the horse with as much stealth as a person on horseback could manage. Hoof struck stone sounding like a thunderclap, so it seemed. She hissed in consternation and halted their progress.

A frustrated sigh and a whispered "damn!" passed her lips. The noise she made staying on horseback, she'd have to accept. She daren't dismount and leave her horse. She might have to make a fast getaway and a person on foot couldn't begin to outrace a man astride.

Further, she couldn't stall too long. The longer she sat here exposed, the more likely someone would see her. A horse and rider made a large target. A person with golden hair, especially worn long as hers was today, made her particularly notable in a land of dark-haired people. Her hair had betrayed her before, when she and Jess had been spotted by the bounty men. "I have got to find a hat, cover my hair," she thought as she leaned down onto her horse's neck to better hide herself as she waited. Though it seemed a lifetime, she waited only seconds.

Some heartbeats later, and still seeing no threat coming out of the shack, she slowly raised herself back up. Patting and cooing quietly to her mount, she allowed him to slowly walk towards the other.

She saw the white face. Recognized it. Froze.

The last she'd seen of that horse, a man was astride chasing her. The man who'd shot Jess.

Oh, God, was he in that shack? Waiting for her? Waiting to take her back to Arnold, claim that reward? Now, wouldn't that be ironic?

She considered. What next? That horse was no plug to have kept up with the Sherman Ranch horses. The man was better than fair to have followed Jess to Mexico. Excellent horse, good tracking skills, quick with a trigger.

A survivor. Likely quite successful in his trade, bounty hunter, therefore would have some money on hand. So, she reasoned, he could be an escort. Help get her out of Mexico, and on her way to a new future. That would be a nice way out of her dilemma.

Now, how to convince him to help her. If he were a typical male, she could employ her feminine wiles to persuade him. Maybe he'd settle for just a little flirting and coy batting of the eyes. She had no desire to do anything more than that. She almost sighed in relief, and started her horse moving, but pulled up quickly as she considered further.

She'd glossed over one of his attributes earlier. He was very good with a rifle. She'd seen him in action. He'd certainly shot Jess. He most likely killed Josh, probably his brother, too, since neither of the brothers made an appearance at the Rios ranch or here at the shack.

So.

He'd be in there alright, his horse was still here, but why and what would he know of her circumstances? Would he know the bounty deal was off, that she was unwanted? What if?

Lots of perhapses, maybes, and what ifs ran through her mind.

Maybe his horse was tired, couldn't go much farther. The man was letting him graze, while he got out of the sun in the shelter of the rundown hovel. It was hot, after all, and the trip had been arduous.

She supposed he'd been in pursuit the whole time she and Jess had been on the run. Somewhat out of the way, this was as good a place as any to rest and recuperate.

But there was little enough for the horse to nibble on from what she could see. The horse was still fully tacked. besides. Surely he would have unsaddled it if he were going to rest awhile and avoid the hottest part of the day.

Perhaps a shootout. She'd thought she'd heard the report of shots as she left the rancho, but they were so faint, so distant, she couldn't be sure. He might be in there yet, since she hadn't seen anyone else in the area. In there but in what shape. Dead? Hurt? Captive? He'd have to be one of those. With Jess involved, if he were out to settle a score, the man wouldn't just be walking free. There would be consequences for shooting Harper, especially from ambush the way he had.

Dead, she fervently hoped. She could deal with dead, she reckoned. The dead couldn't hurt you, just maybe haunt you. And she didn't have enough of an image of the man for him to be haunting her ever.

Perhaps they'd taken him alive. They could have left him tied up in there, while somebody went for the law. He was a murderer, after all. If she had to bet, it would be Slim and Jess riding off to fetch the authorities. More likely, since Rios's headquarters was a lot closer, they'd head there. Let him know a killer was tied up in the shack.

And what if he were hurt? She couldn't imagine that he would have been left free while someone went riding off for help. They might truss him up, but maybe not as securely as if he'd been in one piece.

And meantimes?

He would have heard everything that had been discussed outside the shack. Arnold discarding her, then all the men leaving. He'd know she was alone. Alone with no one expecting her return.

If he managed to free himself by now, he'd be loaded for bear. Sure enough he'd be waiting, gun at the ready, for the next person to come through the door. He'd be one to shoot first and ask questions later. She'd seen him in action. He was an ambush killer in the best of times. No doubt how he'd deal with anyone that came through that door.

Or.

What if he were waiting for her, loose now, but not quite ready to leave. Not without insurance, a hostage. But he'd to know. If he'd overheard the discussion outside, she would not buy him safe passage out of the area as a human shield. There was no one around to care if he shot her. No one to extort a ransom from.

The best he would be able to do was to kidnap her, then sell her to someone. She'd heard tales about people being "shanghaied," men as laborers, women for sex. Oh, dear God, not that. She'd escaped that once, very young. Never again.

Heavens, she was letting her imagination run away with her. She had to settle down. She could wait out here, imagining all kinds of things. But his horse was right here, so he was likely still in the shack, waiting.

She hoped he was well and truly dead, not injured, not tied up, and certainly, not just taking his ease. Her derringer would be of little use if she had to deal with a live "him". Whatever his name was. A man with his skills or his attitude wouldn't be scared in the least of a puny gun like hers. Plus he'd seen her hesitate when he'd shot Jess, so he knew she was a reluctant shot, at best.

Then she remembered, she'd thrown her little gun down earlier in her flight to the Rios Ranch. Well, that's a fine pickle! But she daren't leave without at least seeing if she would have him tailing her. She had to know.

She walked her horse around the shack, checking carefully for any motion or sound. Seeing nothing or hearing no sound, she eased her mount to a window and peered in. Nothing.

She carefully guided her horse to the doorway, but hesitated. A large wet red smear was on the door. Blood. It had to be.

She drew back in consternation. Of all the scenarios she'd imagined, this was not one of them.

What now?


to be continued.