Texas Redemption(133)

By: Linda Broday

His lady did a damn sight better than merely light up dark corners of a moth-eaten soul. She built a bonfire.

The right choice meant he wouldn’t be alone anymore.

Or filled with haunting coldness a flame couldn’t touch.

He was anxious to give marriage a whirl. Had to get the begettin’ started soon. Eight little ones posed quite a chore.

First he’d have to talk Laurel into having him. A fellow with nothing but a reputation and a six-gun to back it up would have a devil of a time.

Running from every name-seeking fast gun between here and San Francisco wasn’t much to ask a woman to share.

Unless… Thoughts of losing Laurel froze his blood.

He bent over the flying mane, leaving the road to cut through the pines.

* * *

Though Taft had confiscated Ollie’s pistol, Laurel took comfort in her weighted pocket. She focused on the two men. Taft stood nearest, therefore was the logical target. She shortened the space until Vallens’s black gaze met hers in silent warning.

At least she hadn’t revealed the knife.

Taft grabbed a handful of Adeline’s hair and yanked, pulling her off his back. He held her tightly in a vise. Laurel winced at the girl’s cry.

“Leave her alone. She’s merely a child.”

“You were too once. Or has it been so long you forgot? This sassy one’s gold hair an’ face of an angel will make me the envy of everyone.” Lust glittered in Taft’s gaze. “And I can’t tell what treats are in store for your sweet sister. She’ll take to whoring. Just like you.” He spoke to Vallens. “Load Sis in the wagon and I’ll be along directly.”

Something human crossed the angel of death’s features. “I agreed to locate the two thieves who parted you from your money. The one in the grave ain’t no fault of mine. I’m done.”

Vallens with a sliver of conscience?

How absurd to think he’d become an ally. Balking could buy him an extra favor or two from the good Lord, however.

“I have a .45 that says different,” Taft snapped.

The two swapped glares. Taft shifted his weight back and forth. The clock ticked loudly. Vallens didn’t back down.

“Threatening women is easier than threatening a grown man. I’m walking out of here, so I reckon you gotta do what you hafta.”

Hope plummeted when Vallens moved to leave.

She met the horror in Adeline’s blues and nodded slightly, flicking her head toward the dining room. If the girl understood, she’d run the second Laurel made her move.

“I’ll pay a bonus, you low-down swindler.”

“It takes one to know one. You don’t have the kind of money to buy me.” The man in funeral attire opened the door. Wolf-dog bounded in. “Dog, I told you to guard outside.”

To see Hannibal in good health brought a moment’s joy from the dread that was pulling her into a deep, dark sinkhole. Brief compassion might not overcome the animal’s wild instincts that Vallens encouraged.

Silver flecks in Hannibal’s stare bore no sign of recognition when the dog looked at her. One didn’t have to possess keen insight to know that bared fangs and the bristled neck weren’t shows of affection. Sorrow rippled inside her.

Wolf-dog kept his stance, ignoring the order to retreat.

Vallens continued toward the pitch-black night.

She must make her move. With a deep breath to calm her, she gripped the wooden handle and jerked the knife high.

Hurtling it in Taft’s direction, she aimed for any part of the hated enemy. A person would think defending those they loved made it easier to bury the tip into a body. And yet, nothing prepared her for the sight of a six-inch blade plunged to the hilt in Taft’s arm.

Or the smell of blood swimming up her nostrils.

“You stinking harlot!”

A flash of fleeing nightgown reassured her of Adeline’s safety for the moment. It was the last she saw before Will Taft flung her to the floor and straddled her stomach. She knew the sickening crack of bone. Murder filled Taft’s eyes.

Fury in the raised fist told her the man would not stop this time. She closed her eyes and waited for the coming pain.

The blows never had a chance to destroy delicate tissue.

Hannibal sprang with a feral growl, more vicious than anything Laurel had ever heard. The animal ripped into the uplifted arm, tossing his head from side to side.