Texas Redemption(134)

By: Linda Broday

“Zeke, damn you! Get this beast off.”

Laurel scrambled into a corner and huddled.

Vallens turned. “I warned you about the animal, Taft.”

“Call him off! Name your price.”

“Said I won’t be bought.”

“I’m pleading. Please.”

“Just gonna get Dog off. Nothing else.”

Wolf-dog avoided the boot, sidling in Laurel’s direction. She wanted to pound both men into everlasting hell. But she hugged her most unlikely protector, vowing to feed him the biggest piece of meat she could find. Sorrow ebbed back from the gray eyes.

But the danger wasn’t over. A mangled limb didn’t stop Taft. In considerable agony, he rose slowly, pulled out a Colt, and stood over her.

“I’ve had a gut full of you and this mangy wolf.”

The cold barrel touched her forehead. Laurel clenched her teeth. Ollie had better get ready for visitors.

“Cain’t let you do that, Will.”

Laurel’s eyes flew open. She held her breath. Vallens had pressed his Colt to Taft’s left ear, knocking the six-gun from his boss’s grip.

“Get outta my way, you chicken-hearted bastard.”

Vallens held fast. “I ain’t gonna let you ruin more innocent lives. Your flesh trade stops right here, right now.”

“Since when did you suddenly get religion?”

Vallens met Laurel’s gaze. “I’ve watched you, even tested you for signs of weakness. Why would someone work so hard when you could line your pockets with riches? It seemed farfetched. But I came to admire your courage.” Then he addressed Taft. “Then, I got word you killed my daughter to keep me in line. You shouldn’t have done that.”

“Spare me the hymns,” Taft spat.

“You’re for real, Laurel James. I do believe you’d fight to the death to protect everything you stand for.”

Had Ollie reached down to soften the heart of stone?

Though barely audible, her reply held grit. “Make no mistake. I would.”

“This ain’t over, Lil.” Taft measured the distance to the door where a man could disappear into the inky night.

“You’re wrong about that, you sorry slaver. Go ahead, I’d love for you to run.” From the open doorway, a man’s soft suggestion carried the deadly hiss of snake rattles. Laurel whirled to find Brodie blocking the entrance. He held a cocked rifle. “Vallens, put down the Colt or I’ll make you eat the damn thing.”

Laurel wondered if she only imagined the lean figure. Yet, the heat caressing her face appeared beyond the scope of an apparition’s power. Oh Lord, she hoped he hadn’t broken out.

“He’s on our—” She never got to finish.

“Drop it, you two-legged jackal.” The brittle order said Brodie had spied her bruises and he meant to make someone pay dearly. “Take a deep breath because it’ll be your last.”

“Please, it’s not what you think.” She scrambled to defuse his anger. Murder would for sure earn him the gallows.

“Maybe you don’t know that I’m William Taft and this woman rightfully belongs to me.” Taft found his tongue once Zeke Vallens didn’t threaten to fit him for earrings.

Flinty sparks shot from the gray-eyed rebel. “Reason enough to shoot you on the spot. Where I come from, Will Taft is Cajun for skunk piss. And you’re truly misinformed. No one owns Laurel.”

Adeline peeked curiously around Brodie’s bulk.

“I suppose you’d be Yates,” Taft sneered.

“Welcome to Judgment Day, you piece of filth.”

Soldiers swarmed through the back door before anyone could explain the situation, adding more confusion. Laurel threw herself in front of Brodie. Although she hadn’t a clue how to prevent it, she’d not let them take him again.

“Which one is the Confederate spy, Shenandoah?”

Laurel inhaled sharply. Shouldn’t they already know the jail escapee’s appearance?

“Sergeant.” Vallens pushed Taft forward. “He’s your man.”

Air slowly left her lungs. She went limp. “Yes, indeed. He’s Shenandoah. I’ll testify to that.” She leaned into the warmth of Brodie’s broad shoulders a moment to banish the chill before running to Hannah. “He’d have murdered us all. The man bound and gagged my poor sister. I’d appreciate a knife to cut her loose.”