An excerpt from my book soon to be out on Kindle
Early evening shadows sent long, dark fingers across the alley at the back of Stirman’s Mercantile. Rachel crouched behind a stack of wooden crates, breath catching in her throat.
If Doaks found her he would drag her back to that filthy shack to cook and clean and God knows what else. She covered her mouth, held her breath against a threatened cry. Tears of anger, sorrow, and raw fear flooded her cheeks.
He was coming, him and those drunken friends, making no effort to silence their approach.
“Come out of there, ye dirty heathen savage. Come out and maybe I’ll not beat ye half to death.”
The worst he’d ever done to her was fling her across the shack when she displeased him, but that whip he carried coiled at his hip frightened her into thinking he might do worse. She cringed and tried to make herself smaller.
Doaks kicked aside the crates, crashed through them with a splintering of wood, and grabbed her up by the back of her shirt like a kitten. She kicked and clawed, but he only laughed and held her out of harm’s way.
“Mangy little wildcat. Spit and claw all ye want. And then settle yourself down. Paid good money for you, ain’t letting you loose, so you might as well stop fighting me.”
The hot stench of his sour whiskey breath washed over her and she gagged and went limp. He was a huge man and could do a lot more to her if he took a notion. There’d be other chances to get away.
She let him drag her from the alley like a gunny sack filled with feed. Even though she had quietened, he kept her at arm’s length and stayed out of her reach. Recollecting her earlier escape probably made him more wary, for he carried the bloody marks of her nails along one cheek.
From out on the street, someone hollered, “Sic her, you old drunk.” Another voice answered, “Ain’t gonna let that skinny Injun get away, are ye?”
The crack of a distant shot cut through the crisp spring evening.
Roaring in victory, Doaks hauled his prize into the street, bellowing curses.
Grim and silent she hunkered on hands and knees and glared at him. The men who had gathered to watch only laughed and continued their sport, stomping the packed earth and egging on the trapper in his game.
If he came too close she’d bite his dirty ear off. The chance didn’t come, for he was too quick and kept her out of reach of his vital parts. And so she waited, bided her time, and glanced up and down the street drenched in early twilight.
Surrounded by the rowdy men, Rachel and her captor squared off, he almost too drunk to stand upright, but still much the stronger. He laid a hand on the whip, flicked the long leather tail out across the hard packed earth of the street. His bleary eyes gleamed. She hunched her shoulders, covered her head with both arms, and waited for the first sizzling lash of the burning whip. She would grab it and choke him to death.
“Don’t you kill her now, you old fool,” someone shouted with glee. “Even red Injuns is good for something, ‘specially female ‘uns.”
“Hear that, Injun,” Doaks snarled. “They don’t want me to kill ye. What do you think?”
She wanted to cry out that she was as white as she was red. White like her father. It would mean nothing to these men. To them it only took a drop of her mother’s blood to make her a filthy Injun. Instead she steeled herself to take her punishment from Doaks. This time she had gone too far and he would probably beat her. But not much, because he enjoyed her waiting on him hand and foot. She would get back at him sooner or later. The chance would come, he would have to sleep. When he did she would cut off his privates and feed them to him for breakfast. Fried.
Doaks grumbled and flicked the whip so that the end popped above her. “That brother of yours is counting his money, I would ‘spect, while I’m dealing with a crazy savage. Ought to have knowed myself better than to dicker with ’em. Red bastard sold me a lazy, good for nothin’ runaway. Ain’t even purty.” He leaned down, jerked up her chin.
Choked by the sour whiskey on his breath, she gulped down bile and kept her eyes closed tightly. She loved her brother with all her heart. He had kept her alive, carried her at times till his feet were bloody during the removal. What had happened to him brought her great sorrow. One day perhaps she would understand why he had sold her to this terrible man. But she knew for sure, Eagle must have had no choice.
Doaks squeezed at her jaw until her ears rang. “You know that, gal? You ain’t even purty. And what do I have to show for my trouble? Paid good honest money and what do I have? Nothin’ but trouble, that’s what. I git through with you, you’ll damn well know how to pleasure a man.”
He staggered backward on the slope of the street, feet tangling. His grip loosened. She doubled both knees into her chest, kicked out, and caught him hard in the stomach.
He let out a tremendous whoosh and doubled over.
She bounded away, drinking in fresh air. Free.
Behind her he retched, the others whooped and hollered. She chose a route that would take her up the hill onto the square and raced through the dusky dark. Rounding a sharp curve in the road, she caught a second wind and took off, only to slam broadside into the haunches of a plodding horse. With a gasp she bounced off and landed flat on her backside. Momentarily breathless, she managed to roll over and scramble to her hands and knees. In another instant she had vaulted once more to her feet.
The rider, a big man dressed in buckskins, dismounted agilely and headed for her. “Here now, what’s your hurry?”
A quick glance over her shoulder told her that the drunken crowd was fast approaching.
The man’s silver eyes glittered, he breathed the stench of whiskey over her. Was there nowhere to go, no escape from such men?
He had a hold on her and she jerked to get away. “Let me go, you pale-eyed snake.” Switching to Cherokee she spat quick, insulting words at him, but he wouldn’t turn loose.
Daniel held onto the ragged Indian girl while he eyed the passel of men charging up the hill. Didn’t seem like too fair a fight, all those men against one scrawny girl, even if she did act wild as some cornered mountain cat.
The worst of the lot shouted, “She belongs to me, mister. Grab her ‘fore she runs off.” Wrapped in a badly cured fur skin and stinking like a skunk, the man lurched forward, knocked Daniel aside, and grabbed the girl.
Dispirited by the entire episode and not too steady on his own feet, Daniel raked his glance down past her flashing eyes to her unsightly garb, men’s pants hitched up with a piece of rope and a ragged linsey shirt. He let her go, turned his back on the foray, and walked off. This sort of nonsense was exactly why he stayed away from towns, from gatherings of humans. None of his damned business what happened.
He’d drunk too much, should have stayed in the wagon, gone to sleep. Let this go on without him seeing it. Wouldn’t know the difference then. He ground his teeth, shut his eyes. Girls died. Innocents died every damned day, and he couldn’t do a thing about it.
The whip cracked behind him, the girl screamed, and he hunched his shoulders against the vivid images that engulfed him. A dead girl’s head lolling over his arm, her long black hair matted in blood hanging down into the mud. The stench of gunpowder and fear, and screams, dear God, the screams. Tearing at his gut, rendering him nearly helpless. The burning Mexican village, children running and crying, soldiers scooping up the women and riding off with them. Screaming, screaming, killing, killing.
With a roar he suppressed the memories and swung around. He yanked a long-bladed Bowie from his belt and leaped on the fur-clad man before he could swing the whip again. He sank the weapon deep into the enormous dirty thigh.
The man bellowed like a raging bull, but the knife buried to the hilt in his flesh didn’t slow him down much, it just turned his attention toward Daniel. Smelling blood, the other men closed ranks. Daniel sent a quick glance toward the girl, who knelt in the dirt, a bloody slit across the back of her shirt. He damn well ought to have stayed out of this, but with the trapper lunging at him, it was way too late.
“Run, girl, run,” Daniel shouted, and took the brunt of the man’s attack. The two of them went down in the dirt, the trapper’s thumbs locked into Daniel’s throat, his bulky, stinking weight smothering him.
Daniel gasped, grunted, freed his hands, and popped the man smartly on the ears with the heels of both palms. The thumbs buried in his gullet loosened momentarily, and Daniel grappled for the handle of the knife sticking out of the man’s leg just below his hip.
Darkness closed in as he ran out of air to breathe past the choking fingers. He grabbed the Bowie and yanked with all his might, twisting the blade as he did so. It was too much for the wounded trapper. He turned loose of Daniel’s throat to paw at the leg and shriek.
With a final jerk Daniel freed the knife. Blood spurted from the wound, the man rolled away, eyes glazed. Daniel came to his feet, gesturing with the bloody blade.
The deadly calm of his voice caught the bleeding man’s attention. “Leave her be, sir. Leave her be.”
Daniel shot another quick look over his shoulder, hoping to see the Indian girl gone. She remained there in the street, both hands over her mouth, shoulders heaving.
He waved an arm at her. “Git to hell and gone, I said.” But she didn’t move, just blinked and stared.
One of the men in the crowd spoke up. “He ain’t gonna do no more harm, mister. Not tonight, he’s done for fer the time being. But was I you, I’d look to my back when he heals. Ain’t no one wants to make an enemy out of Jasper Doaks, not unless he’s looking to meet his maker.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Daniel said, and bending over, wiped the gory knife blade on Doaks’s disgusting fur wrap, reversed it, and cleaned the other side.
Doaks muttered “Bastid,” and spit, but that took the remainder of his energy and his eyes rolled up in his head as he sprawled backward.
The girl remained in one spot, entranced. She had the eyes of a frightened doe who knows it should bolt but can’t move.
Daniel gestured at her. “Git. Git on out. He won’t come after you now. Go on, git home.” He started toward his piebald mare. Up the street a ways the animal waited patiently, reins twined on the ground.