The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Page 56)

The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #5)(56)
Author: Cora Seton

He hoped they would head back to their car and drive away, but after a brief huddled conference, they ran down the steps, split up and raced around the mansion.

Straight for Carl’s woods.

Cab swore and began to follow them as quickly as he could, but they had the advantage that they weren’t trying to hide. He was. As they dashed across the lawn, around the house, and toward the woods out back, he had to trace a more difficult path, sticking to the shadows as much as possible, keeping far away from the house’s floodlights. He darted from one ornamental tree to the next across the swath of grass. When he saw the four men enter the woods, he picked up his pace and soon made it to the tree line himself.

He stopped there to catch his breath and get his bearings. With the mansion’s floodlights behind him, the woods in front of him seemed impenetrable. He eased his way between the trees, much slower now, afraid to bump into any lookout they might have left behind.

He’d only made it a few yards in when a stick snapped behind Cab and he whipped around, gun drawn and finger on the trigger.

“Don’t shoot—it’s us!”

He recognized the whisper and lowered the pistol with a breath of relief. Ethan moved through the shadows to join him, a shotgun in his hands. “I’ve got Jamie with me. Rob and his brothers will be here in a minute. What’s going on?”

Cab gestured him on. He didn’t want to give the men that much of a head start. He caught just a glimpse of Jamie slinking through the trees to their right before he turned his attention back to Ethan. “Far as I can tell Rose and this woman she’s got with her—Fila—are sleeping in a tree house Rose built somewhere in these woods.”

“You don’t know where?”

“No. I’ve hardly been in here. But we’ve got to find them before those terrorists do,” he said. “I figure she’d have picked a place back from the road, but not too far.”

“How many men are there?”

“Four.”

Ethan made a face. “At least Rob and the boys will be here soon. That oughta help things.” Jamie, seeing them huddled together, came to join them. He, too, carried a shotgun. Cab hurriedly filled them in on what he’d seen at the house.

“There’s a stocky one, looks like a bulldog. He’s in charge. Three others. I saw three sub-machine guns. I’m not sure what the other one’s carrying.”

“Well, shit,” Jamie said. “What’s the plan?”

“We’ve got to spread out,” Ethan said.

Cab agreed, but he didn’t like it. “They don’t know about the tree house and I don’t think they know about Rose. They’ll be looking for their girl to be hiding in here somewhere. They headed this way.” He pointed to the section of woods closest to the road. “Jamie, you head farther back into the woods and see if you can find the tree house. If you do, get Rose and Fila back to Carl’s.”

Jamie nodded and slipped away.

“We’ll trail these assholes and hope like hell the tree house isn’t this way,” Cab told Ethan.

Rose stumbled after Hannah in the dark, cursing at her friend’s tender heart. As they walked, Hannah explained how Cody had dragged her to the ranch where he planned to go bison hunting and she’d been appalled to find there was only one animal there. Kept in a small, heavily fenced pen, the bison was obviously in distress. While Cody finalized his plans with the owner of the ranch, she’d slipped off to talk to some of the hands and was lucky enough to find one as disgusted as she was with the whole matter.

“Gladys was hand-raised,” she sputtered to Rose. “Bottle-fed and everything. Her original owner dreamed of raising a herd, but didn’t have enough land. In the end, he had to get rid of her. The way her new owner kept her was cruel, and to die by being hunted in a corral? That’s just sick!”

Rose trailed after her, understanding her anger, but still not convinced it was realistic to think the two of them could round it up. They’d left Fila huddled in the tree house. Rose gave Hannah a quick rundown of the young woman’s history and Hannah promised not to tell anyone her whereabouts.

“I still think we should at least wait until daylight,” Rose said.

“We can’t,” Hannah said. “Can you imagine if she wanders out on the road? Someone could come around a turn and crash into her. They could be killed.” She looked back at Rose. “I’ll understand if you don’t want to do this. Gladys is practically tame, but she’s still a bison. It could get pretty dicey.”

That was an understatement if Rose had ever heard one. “I don’t know anything about herding bison.”

“We won’t herd her,” Hannah said. “We’ll lure her.” She shook the bag of corn cobs. “She adores them. That’s how I got her into the trailer. Hold on, I think I heard something.”

Rose heard it, too. A snuff of breath, like a horse would make. “Is that her?”

Hannah peered into the darkness. “I think so. I don’t think she likes all these trees.” She quickly undid the ties on her bag of corncobs, reached in and held one out. “Here, Gladys, come and get it. I’ve got some tasty corn for you.”

The beast snuffled again and Rose thought it came a little closer, although she couldn’t make out anything in the murky light. Hannah was deliberately pointing her flashlight away from the direction of the beast. Rose moved nearer to Hannah. This seemed like a very bad idea.

“That’s right,” Hannah crooned to the animal. “Come to Mama. You love corn, don’t you?”

Had Hannah lost her mind? Crooning to a fifteen hundred pound animal like it was a baby? The bison walked a few more steps their way. Hannah’s flashlight picked out the shaggy fur on the animal’s muscular back, but she kept the beam out of the animal’s eyes.

This was insane.

Rose fought the urge to hold Hannah in front of her like a human shield, and prepared to jump away if the animal charged them. Instead, it walked up slowly to Hannah, a couple of lumbering steps at a time. Hannah put the corncob down on the ground and the bison bent its head to nibble it.

A man’s shout startled all of them. Rose and Hannah whipped around toward the direction it came from. Gladys shied away, backstepped, then wheeled around and galloped off.

“Damn it!” Hannah said. “Who the hell is that?”

“I don’t know,” Rose said, a chill shimmering up her spine. “It sounded close to the tree house, though.”