The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Page 57)

The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #5)(57)
Author: Cora Seton

“Is it Cab?”

“I don’t know,” Rose said again. “I’ve got to go make sure Fila is all right. She’ll bolt if he scares her.” And what if it wasn’t Cab at all? What if it was someone else?

Hannah looked the other way. “I’ve got to go after Gladys. I can’t let her get away.”

Rose nodded. “Once I figure out what’s going on I’ll come back to help.” She dashed away through the woods toward the tree house as fast as she could, which wasn’t fast at all given that Hannah had her flashlight. When she finally reached it some minutes later she paused, listening for the man’s voice. She heard nothing.

Up above her the tree house was perfectly still.

“Fila,” she hissed. “It’s just me. I’m coming up.”

She climbed the ladder, still craning her head to try to spot the man she’d heard. Was he hiding somewhere in the thick shadows? Why had he cried out? At the top of the ladder, she eased open the door and squinted at the darkness. “Fila? Are you in here?”

A slight rustle in the corner told her she was. Rose climbed into the house and shut the door quietly behind her. She felt in front of her as she crawled across the floor, her fingers encountering sleeping bags and blankets, a pillow, and finally a more solid form.

“Are you all right?”

“Who is out there?” Rose saw Fila’s eyes reflecting starlight, huge and afraid.

“I’m not sure. Hannah’s still going after her bison. I don’t know who shouted.”

“Wahid,” Fila breathed. “It’s Wahid. He’s found me.”

Another chill traced up Rose’s spine. “One of the men who’s after you?” Fila nodded. Rose thought fast. Could a foreigner really trace her all the way here? It seemed unlikely. On the other hand, it had seemed unlikely that anyone could steal a plane and crash it into a skyscraper, either. “If that’s true, we’re not safe here.”

“No,” Fila said.

A number of plans sped through Rose’s mind. They could stay where they were, but if this Wahid and his men found them, they’d be cornered. They could make a break for Carl’s house, but they’d have to cover a lot of open ground between the woods and the mansion—they could easily be spotted. They could run for the road and Rose’s truck, but Rose’s intuition told her the man—whoever he was—lay between it and them. Or they could move deeper into the woods. Hannah was back there, anyhow.

So was the bison.

“We’d better find Hannah,” she said.

Fila nodded, looking grim.

The two women slipped down the ladder as silently as they could, took a moment to listen to the quiet forest, and then Rose led the way back toward where she’d left Hannah. This time the journey seemed to take forever, and shivers crept up and down her spine as she thought about the presence of a man in the forest with them. Not to mention the bison.

Had Hannah caught up to Gladys again? She pressed on, straining to hear Hannah’s voice or the heavy footsteps of the beast. She was terrified she might walk right into the bison in this thick darkness.

There. Starlight revealed something man-made among the trees. A part of the corral Hannah had built for Gladys. She raced to it, hearing Fila’s light footsteps behind her, and began to follow its perimeter. “Hannah?” she whispered, hoping she was near. “Hannah?”

Behind them gunfire rang out through the woods. Several shots in close succession.

Rose dropped to the ground instinctively, the air in her lungs whooshing out on impact. Fila dropped beside her. The gunfire stopped as abruptly as it had started. She exchanged a shocked look with the other woman. She’d never heard a sound like that. Not in person. Growing up in a Montana ranch town meant Rose had heard a shotgun blast or two, and knew a rifle shot when she heard one. This was different. This was… automatic.

“It’s Wahid,” Fila confirmed in a whisper. “He’s here. For me.”

“We’ve got to get out of here.” But as soon as she said it, Rose knew she couldn’t leave until she knew Hannah was safe, too. She gripped Fila’s hand. “We find Hannah and then we leave.”

Fila nodded again.

Rose scrambled to her knees and ducked under the split rail fence, then held a hand out to Fila to join her. Once they were both inside the corral, she straightened and followed the fence around. It made sense to search the corral first to see if Hannah was here.

Or did it? She stopped short and Fila bumped into her. What would Hannah’s reaction to the gunfire be? Would she think the same thing Rose had—that first she had to find her friends before she could flee?

If so, she would turn around and head back to the tree house. Rose frowned.

“Hannah,” she hissed again, moving more quickly now, determined to finish her circuit of the corral.

As she took another step forward, however, Rose had the uncanny sensation she and Fila weren’t alone here. Prickles of fear traced up and down her spine and she stiffened, holding her breath. A snort of air some twenty feet in front of her alerted her to the beast’s presence.

Hannah’s bison.

In the corral with them. Eating something. Hannah’s corn on the cob?

She put a hand out behind her and clutched the fabric of Fila’s sleeve. She could dimly make out its shape now, a black hulking bulk by the far fence. Rose took a step back, trying to remember how far she’d ventured into the pen. Fila moved back too, guided by her. The beast snorted again. She saw motion dimly, heard a sound like a hoof scraping the ground.

“Fila, the bison’s in here with us,” she said in a voice just barely louder than a breath. “Stay behind me and back slowly to the fence. Once you’re there, either go under it or over it.” She took another step back. Another. Struggled to keep from turning tail and dashing away. Fila moved in tandem with her, silently gliding over the ground behind her. Another snort. Was the bison closer to them? She squinted at it, unable to tell.

Sliding her foot over the ground, she moved back farther. Another few steps should do it, but if she wasn’t mistaken, the bison was moving, too. In fact, that scraping sound and the snort of its breath told her…

An enormous shape charged toward her. Rose shrieked and ran for it. Fila flitted before her, reached the fence, dropped down and rolled under the bottom rung. She was on her feet in an instant and disappeared into the gloom before Rose even made it to the split rails. Running full tilt, she crashed into them, grabbed the highest railing reflexively and scrambled to climb it.