At his brother’s words, Teddy’s eyes grew even wider. His attention focused on Dela. I glanced over her shoulder and spied her pendant, still on the counter in the bathroom.
She didn’t sound or look like the gnarled old tracker Teddy had watched down there in the kitchen. He wasn’t smart enough to figure what was going on, but he knew something wasn’t right. He reached to his waist and drew a pistol.
“What the hell is going on here?” he rasped.
Laird would be no less harsh than Stern.
No such thing as a fair fight, that’s what Tappitt taught in hand-to-hand drill. I stepped close and shoved Teddy’s gun hand away from us, toward the wall. The pistol discharged and I heard glass shatter behind me.
I stepped even closer and buried my knee in Teddy’s groin. The blow knocked the wind from him and he dropped to his knees. I hammered at his head with my fist, caught him hard across his temple. The pistol was beneath him when he hit the floor and it discharged. A bright arterial flow sprayed from his neck.
“God’s Blood!” Garrick stuttered, from the door. “You’ve shot Teddy. Pa will make you pay for that!”
He turned away and scampered down the hall.
“Now you’ve done it, boy,” Eken whispered. “You’ve really gone and done it.”
I didn’t need to tell Dela what to do. She scurried into the bathroom, scooped up her pendant, gathered her scattershot, saddlebags and blankets from the bed. She had the window sash up with one leg over the sill, by the time I collected my own gear.
The night smelled green. Little Moon hung a hands-breadth above the east horizon, providing just enough light for us to make our way across the tile. We made it to the edge of the roof before we heard hurried footsteps on the stairs inside. We jumped together. Dela grunted as she bounced back to her feet.
“You opened up the wound, didn’t you?” I rasped.
“Shut up,” she replied. “Just keep running.”
Seconds later, we slipped bridles into place, leaped onto our rented horses and raced bareback from the stables. As we cleared the gate, Laird and a fistful of his men came running. One of them fired a shot after us.
“Stow that,” I heard Laird shout. “I want those two alive.”
Five years since I had ridden without a saddle, but things come back when you have a need. We rattled through the silvered moonlight side by side, working to stay in place, juggling the gear we carried.
“You figure they’ll chase us?” I asked.
“Wouldn’t you?” There was a sweetness and a reckless banter to Dela’s voice that excited me.
“Go on, joke about it,” Eken whispered. “The storekeeper in Windswept won’t laugh when he finds you left his tack behind.”
“How much do you expect that merchantman will charge us for his lost saddles?” I asked Dela.
She laughed. “You think to grab the gold?”
Dela grinned, not looking at all like the geezer I’d first met in that Safe Harbor tavern. “Whatever he asks,” she said. “Don’t you figure it’s worth it to slip Laird and his ropes?”
Little Moon had set, the eastern sky had brightened before we slowed to hunt for shelter. It had been more than a day since we had slept. At last, Dela pointed to a dark patch on the sandy bluffs we had reached.
“If that’s a cave,” she said. “If it’s big enough, I say we lay low there until dark.”
It was a cave. More than large enough for the horses, too, once we goaded the animals up and through the cleft. The rocky floor of the arroyo hid our tracks and a few minutes work with brush hide the opening from passersby.
We hobbled and blindfolded the horses to keep them quiet, then shared the jerky Dela had stashed in a pocket of her vest. She rolled her eyes when she passed me a hunk. “I keep this for that damned mutt in Edgerton,” she said.
“The dog hasn’t chewed on it, has he?” I asked.
Dela guffawed, and then coughed to keep from choking on the bite of jerky in her mouth.
She slipped to the stone floor across from me. As we ate, we huddled close to a shuttered everlight from her saddlebags, our folded knees touching.
“Whether they come by here or not,” I said. “They’re going to go on to Windswept.”
Dela nodded. “Laird don’t seem the sort to give up easy.”
She chewed for a time, resting her free hand on my leg as she ate. The heat from her fingers was like a wrapped coal on a cold night, not over-hot but warm enough to remind me what its direct touch would do.
“We make a good team,” she said.
I nodded. “What are we going to do?”
“Wait ‘til dark, then head back for the skitter. Once I have my girl, they’ll never catch us, even if they’re dumb enough to try to run the Furnace.”
“You know that’s not what I mean.”
“Careful what you do and say, Wayfarer,” Eken whispered. “You’re being judged right now.”
“The old man’s talking to you, ain’t he?” Dela asked. “He’s whispering his wisdom in your ear.”
“Captain Stern and Mr. Soon are here,” Eken whispered.
“Yes, he’s talking to me.”
“The Captain offers one last chance,” Eken said. “Renounce this woman, return the gold to its proper place and accept the rancher’s punishment. Soon will take to the wire and soften it the best he can.”
He paused and then relayed the threat I had expected. “If you don’t, your name will be blotted from the records of the Brotherhood.”
“He wants you to give me up,” Dela said.
“What do you want to do?”
“I don’t give a damn for what he want. I want to stay with you.”
Dela slid away from me then, rolled onto the blankets she’d taken from the ranch-house bed. She kicked off her boots and shimmied out of her buckskin trousers. She stretched out, her back against the rock and held up one corner of the blanket, as invitation.
“Come here,” she said.
“Last chance, boy,” Eken whispered. “Renounce her now or go your way without our blessing.”
“Don’t threaten me, old man,” I said.
I crawled across the cave and stretched out next to Dela, sliding my arm under her shoulders. She snuggled against me, grunting in discomfort as she pressed her side to me.
“Take care,” she murmured.
“I will.” I nuzzled her ear, breathing in the scent of her hair and skin.
“You’ve been a fool from the beginning, boy,” Eken hissed. “You’re being stupid now. Someday you’ll regret all this.”
Dela must have felt me wince.
“Tell the old pervert to close his eyes and keep his mouth shut,” she said. “And you have a care with my ribs.”
Eken sighed. “You showed such promise,” he whispered, and then I felt him fade away.
Next: Escape by Straw and Dung