Authors: Joni Keever
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
No part of this work may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission of the publisher.
Published by Kindle Press, Seattle, 2015
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For my mother, Nancy. You were my first fan and have always been my rock.
For Robbie, cherished friend and self-proclaimed “biggest” fan. I thank you for many years of being both and for your excellent critique services.
For Joe – for believing in me, for flooding my life with light, for ‘us’.
I love you all more than words can say.
“Go ahead and scream, missy. No one in this place will pay you any mind.” Tiny drained a quarter of the bottle’s contents before setting it on the nearby dresser, then moved one heavy foot toward her.
A whimper escaped Carly’s dry, chapped lips as she pulled hard at the knot securing her wrists to the headboard. The rough rope tore at her flesh as another weighty step brought her tormentor closer. She squeezed her eyes shut, willing herself to wake from this nightmare. She heard her small, shaky voice plead, “No, no, no.”
They’d been riding together since late yesterday, straight through the night because of the full moon. Though the man called himself Tiny, he was anything but. Carly found him utterly repulsive—from his large girth to the patch covering one eye, from his pungent odor to his greedy chuckle. A trapper with some coin in his pocket, the man had been heading to Leavenworth, Kansas, in search of a saloon where he could indulge in whiskey, cards, and women. When he happened upon the opportunity to purchase Carly along the way, he struck a deal.
A bump against the bed brought her gaze unwillingly back to the brute. Heady anticipation gleamed in his single red-rimmed eye. A wide, hungry smile split his face. Carly felt hot tears sting the corners of her eyes, then well and slip down her cheeks. She scrambled as far up the headboard as her constraints allowed. Calloused hands grabbed her legs, pulling Carly down hard onto the mattress.
As Tiny moved atop the bed, his weight threatened the frame’s resolve. The stench of sweat, filth, and stale liquor threatened the resolve of Carly’s stomach. She buried her face into her shoulder, praying. She prayed to her blessed mother. She prayed to her dead father. She prayed to the God who had forsaken her.
With a heavy whump, he fell upon her. And scream she did. The raspy shriek came from deep inside to scrape through Carly’s throat and bounce around the cheap hotel room. She drew a ragged breath to muster another cry but stopped short. Tiny lay still.
For a moment she wondered if he had dropped dead, even hoped that her prayers had been answered and that was indeed the case. But steady, labored breathing indicated the oaf had merely succumbed to the enormous amount of whiskey he’d consumed.
Relief washed over Carly. She inhaled slowly, trying to clear her mind and calm her nerves. He lay across her left leg, pinning her to the mattress. She tried to pull herself free, but neither the leg nor the sleeping log moved. Carefully, so as not to wake him, she braced her right foot on the man’s shoulder and deliberately began extracting her trapped limb.
The push-pull method proved effective until Carly’s foot snagged in Tiny’s shirt. Her chest ached as she waited to exhale.
she reminded herself, but desperation caused her leg to react of its own accord. The extra force stirred the man, but it worked in her favor. The ogre blubbered and rolled, allowing Carly to slip quickly off the bed, twisting and bending at an odd angle as the rope dug deeply into her wrists.
She froze in place. Tiny now lay on his back, head lolling to the side. If he did open his eye, he would be staring right at her. She didn’t move, barely allowed herself to breathe, until a deep, steady snore filled the room. With her teeth, she worked at the knotted rope. After finally freeing herself, Carly grabbed her hat and tiptoed to the door, flinching when the ancient, rusty hinges groaned. The raucous rhythm from the sleeping giant continued. Without a backward glance, she left the room and inched down the creaky old staircase.
Once outside, Carly forced herself to try and think rationally. Pausing briefly to get her bearings, she squinted against the intensity of midday. Although the hat was too big and completely disgusting, it did offer a bit of protection from the elements. Carly tucked her long locks up under the hatband while scanning the dusty street. The sidewalks were scattered with men, and recent days had taught her that the men of this savage land were ruthless and untrustworthy. She decided to search for a church or perhaps some kind-looking women. Carly spotted two nicely dressed ladies farther up the street. One carried a white parasol, angled purposefully against the scorching summer sun.
Tentative at first, she headed in their direction. Building hope quickened her pace, but she’d made it no farther than halfway when Tiny came charging out of the hotel doors. He spotted her immediately, bellowed obscenities, and gave chase. Fear and the possibility of freedom afforded her trembling, exhausted body the speed and agility she needed to flee.
Once again, fate intervened, clipping tremulous wings as Carly turned into a dead-end alley. She spun, searching frantically for a door or window. But the only way out was the way she’d come in, and Tiny’s barrel-shaped silhouette loomed in her path.
Muddy shadows draped the passageway between the two plank-board buildings. Nonetheless, she could see the angry gleam in the man’s eye as he approached her, a leather quirt in one hand, a near-empty bottle in the other. Cringing, she sank back against a stack of rough wooden crates.
“You little whore,” he growled. “I should think you’d know a good thing when you got it. I should think you’d choose me over this whip. But maybe you like it rough, eh?”
His tongue darted out to lick his thick lips. Carly looked around desperately, praying for an avenue of escape, indeed, a miracle.
“Well, once I get you back to the hotel, I’ll finish what I started earlier, and rough it will be.”
He chuckled. A trail of saliva clung to his coarse whiskers. Revulsion churned in the pit of her stomach. Shrinking, hoping to completely disappear, she envisioned what this ogre would do to her.
Blast it all!
Was she doomed to continue forever on this dark and dangerous road her life had taken a few short days ago?
Tears threatened, but there was no time for crying. Her tormentor walked deliberately toward her, flipping the quirt against his leg. Ducking her head, she tried in vain to hide beneath the wide brim of the dirty old hat.
“So, you thought you could run away from ol’ Tiny, eh? I reckon not. I paid a tidy sum for you, and I aim to get my money’s worth, including what I just paid that weasel of a desk clerk for letting me know you took off. But first I’ll have to make sure you don’t ever try to get away from me again.”
He raised the whip as he reached her. Carly attempted to dart past him but tripped over his outstretched boot. Falling hard to the ground, she received a stinging slice from the rawhide strips for her effort. He chuckled as he brought the leather down again and again. Wrapping her arms around her head, Carly rolled in the dirt, trying to dodge the cruel lashes. Angry red whelps formed on her hands and wrists. Blood stained her torn shirt.
Finally, worn-out and quite drunk, Tiny stopped, unsteady after such exertion. As if he just remembered the bottle he held in his left hand, he turned it up and guzzled its contents. Cowering against the wooden crates, Carly stole upward glances from beneath her hat brim and tried not to whimper aloud. Fiery paths screamed across her back and arms. She didn’t know which to fear more—continued abuse from the quirt or what surely awaited her back in the hotel room.
After Tiny downed the last amber drop, he looked at the bottle disbelievingly. Suddenly he threw the flask to the ground near her huddled form, cursing loudly. Shards of glass showered Carly’s legs. Towering above her, he raised a mighty arm as if to punish her for his empty bottle. Just as quickly, he dropped the heavy limb against his side. Slumping now, he seemed spent from his emotional and physical tirade.
“Get up!” he bellowed.
Carly staggered to her feet. Her quivering legs threatened to buckle even under her slight weight. Tiny’s thick hand closed painfully around her slender arm, jerking her back toward the main thoroughfare. She concentrated her efforts on keeping pace with him, knowing he’d just as soon drag as lead her.
Once on the street, she scanned the area to see if anyone had witnessed the humiliating experience. They were near the edge of town, and the lashing had apparently gone unnoticed.
But people noticed now though none intervened. They stopped and stared as the angry brute pulled Carly up the street back to the hotel. Everyone, including the desk clerk. Beady black eyes glared defensively from the pasty-white face as her captor dragged her across the lobby. She gave the traitor her fiercest scowl until her shin slammed against the staircase. Carly turned to look up into Tiny’s hungry, stained, and snaggle-toothed smile.
A pair of dark eyes narrowed with rage as they peered from the shadows across the street. Kade Roberts had noticed the fragile figure dart into the alleyway, but what caught and held his attention was the bulk of man in pursuit.
A square-shaped head sat directly on a frame as wide as it was tall. Atop that head blazed a wild array of vivid red hair, salted with gray. A shaggy beard and mustache of the same bright hue hid most of the man’s face. Thick legs supported a potbelly and barrel chest. Even from this distance, the bully appeared filthy, drunk, and as angry as a bear rousted from his winter sleep.