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The horse was spooked, and so was he. Something, or someone, was out there. He knew that even in darkness, death wouldn’t give up its chase.
He looked around, straining to see past what little light the campfire offered. As he palmed the grip of his gun, he studied every shadow. He looked for any hint of what had made his horse skittish. The only sound he could hear was the crackling of the wood as it surrendered to the flames. His senses heightened, and his finger threaded around the trigger. His mind raced as he fought back the fear.
“Is this it?” he thought to himself. “Is this how it ends?” It was hell living with a bounty on your head.
Suddenly, a small pocket mouse ran from behind a nearby bush, desperately seeking refuge from the open air. Jake watched as the anxious rat burrowed under a rock. Any other man would’ve shot the nasty little prowler, but Jacob McCain wasn’t any other man. This rat would live to die another day.
“Lucky you,” he muttered while holstering his gun. Pax snorted, frustrated at the intrusion.
“Easy girl.” He stood and stroked the mare’s neck. “Just a desert rat. No need to fret.”
As if understanding his every word, the coal-black mare raised her head and nudged his shoulder, causing him to smile. She was his only friend, as he was hers.
Settling back on his bed roll, he willed his body to relax. Had he stayed in the last town he passed through, he might have bought himself the company of a woman. At least then he’d be sleeping sated on a decent bed instead of dirt. Then again, probably not. He’d never paid for a night of pleasure before, and he damn sure didn’t want to start now. Such pride didn’t change the fact that he knew how good it would feel to be wrapped in the legs of a primed and eager whore. It had been too long since he’d nestled himself inside a woman and he grew frustrated thinking it’d be a long time before he would again. He had a killer to catch. Pleasure would have to wait. Believing he‘d never earn the love of a decent and proper woman, he decided then that once this hunt was over, he’d make up for these lonely nights even if he did have to pay.
Tomorrow, if he made good time, he’d reach the next town before noon. Maybe someone there could give him information he could use, if they didn‘t take aim at him instead. He tried not to think that he’d never find the one responsible for Ellie’s death, or that the trail had grown too cold. She may have been nothing more than a nickel whore who’d ripped his heart to shreds, but he never wanted her dead. Cyrus Barnes did. For now, the law blamed him instead, and until he could find the bastard who killed her, he knew he’d be held accountable for putting a bullet through her head. He’d be the one to swing with no one giving a second thought that they might be hanging the wrong man.
“Somebody would have to give a damn,” he mumbled as his fingers traced the leather patch that never left his scarred face, a permanent reminder of the day Cyrus sliced through his left eye with a blade aimed for his throat. But Jake knew no one did, not even the sweet young nurse who had given him a reason to live; the same determined healer who was now headed towards the same sullied town as Jacob Eli McCain.