Read Train From Marietta Online

Authors: Dorothy Garlock

Tags: #Fiction, #Romance, #General, #FIC027000

Train From Marietta (23 page)

BOOK: Train From Marietta
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“Give me that,” Tate said.

“You can’t hold it with your bad arm.”

Tate called to the boy and spoke rapidly. The boy came back and took hold of Kate’s arm and tried to pull her around to the other side of the travois and up a bank to a large tree.

“Go with him,” Tate shouted. “Let him help you up the tree.”

Kate jerked loose and came back to the travois. “I’m not going to leave you. I’ll handle the rifle. You’ve got the pistol.”

It was then she saw the steer. He seemed calm and moved toward them with a swing stride that caused his dewlap to sway like the pendulum on a clock. The steer’s tailbone was a peak in the rear, and deep hollows showed between his ribs and hipbone. He picked his way down toward them. The longhorn’s coat was not merely shaggy, but rough, patchy. He was still shedding his winter hair. It was the color of sandstone and limestone with highlights and shadows of spotted moss. He was fierce-looking and alert to them. Then he stopped and stood still. His big head sagged far out ahead of his narrow hump. When his back legs spread, Tate shouted a warning to Kate.

Suddenly, so fast it was hard to believe what was happening, the beast charged. The frightened horse reared, almost throwing Tate to the ground. The hooves of the enraged beast pounded on the hard ground as he sped down the hill toward them.

“Go,” Tate shouted at Kate.

Chapter 21

K
ATE S EYES WERE FASTENED ON THE FIERCE-LOOKING
animal coming toward them. She knelt down next to the travois and lifted the rifle. The end of the gun shook slightly, but she tried to hold it steady.

“Give me the gun and go!” Tate commanded.

Kate was so intent on the steer that she didn’t hear his words. All of her senses were fixed on the steer. Everything seemed to be happening in slow motion. The animal drew so close that she could see its red-rimmed eyes.

Suddenly the steer stopped within a dozen yards of them. Massive hooves pawed at the rocky ground, sending small clouds of dust into the air. It looked confused, uncertain. Long strands of spittle hung from its mouth. The horns on each side of its head seemed to be a yard wide. Kate had only seen animals this large in a zoo. It seemed even more ferocious than the wildcat they had watched prowl the ledge across from their camp. The steer remained still for a moment, then spun and headed for a gully at the other side of the trail. Kate kept her eyes on the animal, not daring to believe that it was going to leave.

“Now run,” Tate hissed.

“I’m not leaving you here,” she shouted. “So shut up!”

The animal turned slowly toward them again. For a moment, Kate feared that it had been attracted to the sound of their arguing voices. She gasped and realized that she had been holding her breath.
Oh Lord, what if it charges and the horse bolts? Tate could be dragged along behind and killed!
To lose Tate now would be more than she could endure.

The beast turned so that it was facing them. Kate spoke in low tones to Tate. “Where is the best place to hit him?”

“Between the eyes,” Tate answered. “If you get a second chance, aim between its front legs, just below the neck.”

Kate pulled the rifle up and sighted on the steer’s head. She was wondering how close she should let the animal get when, out of the corner of her eye, she saw Luke run past her toward the steer.

“Stay back, you crazy kid!” Tate shouted.

Luke ignored him, moved close to the steer, and then darted away from it. He ran a short distance up a low hill, pulled the red cloth from around his head, and began to wave his arms and shout, trying to draw the steer’s attention away from them. It appeared at first that his ploy would work; the steer turned its massive body and began to move toward him. Then, even as the boy’s yelling increased, the animal lost interest, moving back down into the draw. Once again, its attention centered on the horse pulling the travois.

“It’s not going to go away, is it?” Kate asked.

“No.”

“Will it charge?”

“Don’t get panicked,” Tate said calmly. “Stay steady. You may only get one good shot, so don’t shoot until you’re sure.”

Kate’s hands tightened on the rifle, and she tried to remember everything that her father had taught her about using a gun. She wiped a stray strand of hair from her sweaty brow and drew a deep breath. Calmly she sighted down the barrel, her hands no longer shaking.

It went against her principles to take the life of any living thing, unless she was protecting herself or the man that she loved. She had shot Hayden without a second thought.

Tate’s voice came softly to her ear. “I want you to know that I’m proud to know you. You’re the spunkiest woman I ever met. I wish we could have met under different circumstances.”

“But we have met.” She wanted to turn, to look at him, but didn’t dare. “That’s what’s important.”

The steer’s head moved back and forth. Maybe Luke had only made it angrier. The horse whinnied beside her, and the longhorn fixed its attention on them. This time Kate knew that it was not going to be distracted. As if suddenly making up its mind, it moved toward them, slowly at first, but with each step, it picked up speed.

“Wait,” Tate said calmly as Kate lifted one knee and placed the rifle on it to steady it. Sighting down the barrel, she aimed between the steer’s eyes, let out her breath, and squeezed the trigger. The sound of the rifle echoed loudly off the rocky hills. The bullet missed, grazing the top of the steer’s back. The animal never slowed. Calmly and quickly Kate jacked another bullet into the chamber, aimed, and fired again, this time striking the animal in the neck. It slowed its pace but didn’t stop.

Behind her, she heard Tate cock the pistol but did not see him aim it at the back of her head. The thoughts that filled his mind would certainly have surprised her if she had been privy to them.

Oh God! Can I do it? If I have to, I’ll shoot her first. I can’t let her be gored and die a slow, painful death. I love her enough to do it if it comes to that.

Kate was surprisingly calm. It was up to her to stop the enraged steer. She could hear the longhorn’s hooves striking the ground as it barreled toward them. There wasn’t much time.

She jacked in another bullet and took careful aim. Slowly she squeezed the trigger, and the rifle bucked in her arms. The bullet struck the animal directly between the eyes. Whether it was from pain or surprise, the steer leaped upward as a bellowing noise came from its mouth. It lowered its head, veered away from them, and staggered. Its legs were suddenly unsure. As she watched the animal, Kate’s heart pounded like a jungle drum. Finally the steer fell, its nostrils flaring as it breathed its last. One horn pointed directly toward the sky and the other into the ground.

Cautiously Luke came down from the hillside and approached the longhorn. His eyes were locked on the animal, alert for any sign of life, but the beast lay still in the hot afternoon sun. Looking over the dead animal, Luke grinned at Kate.

“It dead,” he announced.

Tate leaned up in the travois and reached for the rifle but found that it was locked in Kate’s grasp. She stared ahead at the fallen steer as if she expected it to get up and charge them again.

“Kate,” Tate gently prodded. “Kate, give me the rifle.” He firmly took hold of the gun but didn’t try to take it from her. He waited patiently for her to ease her grip.

Slowly, as if awakening from a heavy sleep, she turned to look at him with dazed eyes. Her body began to relax, and the beginning of a smile calmed her face. Finally she let go of the rifle, and Tate placed it on the travois beside him.

“You did good, honey. More than good. You saved our lives.”

“I’ve only shot at bottles and cans. I even refused to go deer hunting with my father.” Her voice faded, and she stared at Tate.

It was amazing to her that the feelings she had for him could be so deep when she had known him for such a short time. Every day that she was with him, every moment, was filled with a joy she had only ever heard about, but never experienced.

Tate tugged on her hand and pulled her down to him. She leaned over the travois to hear his whispered words.

“Kiss me, sweetheart.”

For just the briefest of moments, Kate hesitated. With her right hand, she stroked the side of his face. His whiskers felt rough against the smooth skin of her fingers. His steely blue eyes looked up at her with such strength and confidence that she felt as if she would melt. Gently she bent toward him, careful not to touch any of his hurts, and placed her lips against his.

The kiss was soft, sweet, and filled with happiness.
How have I been so lucky as to have met this man?
The realization of all that had happened began to slowly sink in. A single tear ran down her cheek. They were safe for the time being.

When their lips parted, Kate continued to stare down at him.

“I don’t think that a woman has ever cried from kissing me before.” He winked at her.

“Maybe you’re a terrible kisser,” she retorted, returning the wink.

“You’re an amazing woman, Katherine.”

All that Kate wanted to do was to tell him what an amazing man he was. But as she opened her mouth to speak, a voice from behind her interrupted. “Done with the mushy stuff?” Luke asked.

Embarrassed, Kate got to her feet and brushed the dirt from her skirt. She was not ashamed or embarrassed to have been caught kissing Tate. Not wanting to hear any more teasing, she wandered around to the front of the horse and rubbed its nose.

“Kid,” Tate said with a chuckle, “you’ve got terrible timing.”

“What I do?”

“Don’t try to play the dumb Indian with me,” Tate said, and began to laugh.

With the threat from the longhorn steer ended, the group continued its journey across the Texas wilderness toward Muddy Creek. Before they left the gulch, Kate marveled at the skill of the boys cutting large chunks of flesh from the dead animal. At first, the sight shocked her, but she quickly understood that the steer was a source of food they could not allow to go to waste. When the boys finished, they traveled on much as before, with the Indians spread out around the horse and Kate walking beside Tate.

The sun was high in the sky and blazing hot. Kate was thirsty but didn’t want to take any of the water should Tate need it later. She watched anxiously for any sign that he was feverish. For most of the afternoon, even with the bumpy ride of the horse-drawn travois, Tate lay with his eyes closed. The memory of his calling her “sweetheart” and asking her to kiss him kept Kate from thinking about the heat and her weariness.

After a couple of hours, Luke brought the group to a stop next to a stand of scrub oaks. Tate opened his eyes when Luke came and crouched down next to him.

“We eat now. Horse tired.”

The three Indian boys appeared, untied the travois, and moved the horse out from under it. One of the boys led the horse away while the rest positioned the travois under the shade of a tall oak tree. Luke built a small fire. In answer to Tate’s questioning eyes, Luke said, “Small creek not dry.”

“Tate needs more water,” Kate said. She took the canteen that Luke had removed from the saddle, uncapped it, and lifted Tate’s head. His eyes protested, but once the liquid met his lips, he drank thirstily.

“Now you,” he said after he had finished.

Kate took a swallow of water. Nothing had ever tasted so good. It amazed her how many things she’d taken for granted in her life in New York City: that she would always have something to drink, somewhere to sleep, and clothes to protect her body. The last couple of days had shown her how easy her life had been compared to Tate’s and Luke’s.

“Kate needs to eat,” Tate said.

“I’m fine,” Kate protested. “You’re the one who needs to eat something.”

“Don’t try to play tough with me, lady. You’re the one walking. I’m just along for the ride.”

“Some ride,” Kate scoffed.

Luke took a packet out of the saddlebag and placed it on the travois beside Tate. “Both eat.”

Tate unwrapped the food pack and gave a folded tortilla to Kate before taking one for himself. Handing the package back to Luke, he said, “Whose kitchen were you in while you were in town?”

“I not tell.”

“What will I tell your mother?”

Ignoring Tate’s ribbing, Luke joined the other boys, and the four of them spoke in their native tongue. Kate thought that it was a beautiful language, one that contrasted with Luke’s halting English. Yet again, she was reminded of the many differences between their two worlds.

After she had finished her food, Kate bent down, unbuttoned Tate’s shirt, and inspected his wounds. No fresh blood had seeped onto the bandages. Gently lifting them, she examined the cuts. They didn’t look like they had improved, but they didn’t look any worse either.

“How much farther do we have to go?” she asked.

“Not far. Shouldn’t take but another couple of hours.”

“How do you feel?”

“I’ve come this far.” He smiled weakly. “I’ll make it.”

“I know you will.”

After they had all eaten and the horse had been watered, they moved out. A bank of clouds had rolled in from the west, and the sun soon disappeared behind them. The cooler air was a welcome relief. Though she was dog tired, Kate concentrated on putting one foot in front of the other. Her mind drifted ahead to the phone call that she would make to her father. It would be hard to tell him everything that had happened, but she knew that she must. He would be surprised to know that his partner, William Jacobs, had played a role in her kidnapping. She would have liked to forget about Edwin’s part in the whole sordid affair, but she couldn’t. No matter what he told her back in the cabin, he had still gone along with his uncle’s plan and was just as guilty.

Finally, after what had seemed an endless afternoon, the group topped a hill and paused, looking down into a small valley. There, in the scant light of the setting sun, was a town. Wood-framed buildings lined the lone street that split the town in half. A couple of red dirt roads branched out from the main street. They were lined with small houses. Behind each house was a shed or barn, many with a cow staked nearby. What caught Kate’s eye was a white church steeple poking skyward on the far side of the town. It seemed out of place in this rough setting.

BOOK: Train From Marietta
11.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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