The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Page 58)

The Sheriff Catches a Bride (Cowboys of Chance Creek #5)(58)
Author: Cora Seton

Just as she reached the top, the bison’s head hit the fence just to the left of her. The impact pitched her forward and she spilled to the ground on the other side. As soon as she hit the dirt she scrambled to regain her footing and dash away.

She lit out after Fila, back toward the tree house. With any luck the bison wouldn’t find the gate and come after them.

Wishful thinking.

Where was Hannah? Had the animal found the corncobs by itself, or had Hannah herded it in there, then run away, startled by the gunfire, before she could latch the gate?

Rose careened to a stop. She still hadn’t seen Fila. Where had the girl gone? Back to the tree house? Over toward Carl’s? And what about Hannah? Should she wait for her? Or keep going?

After a moment’s agonized deliberation, she turned and ran toward the tree house again.

Cab hoped like hell Jamie had found the women and gotten them to safety by now. He crouched behind a cross-section of two pine trees, one still standing, the other half-fallen to a forty-five degree angle. They’d lost the element of surprise when he’d slipped on a particularly wet patch of leaves and gone down hard on his knee. The closest terrorist had heard him, spun on his heel, shouted and alerted the others. Everyone had gone to ground.

Still, he knew that the men were still searching for Fila, and he and Ethan had continued to creep after them. This time the men had left a sentry behind them and when Cab and Ethan got to close, he opened fire.

That rat-a-tat of automatic weapon fire set every nerve in Cab on high alert. That wasn’t a sound that belonged in Chance Creek. He and Ethan had holed up and decided to wait for reinforcements. Cab didn’t like it, though. Rose was out there, and if she hadn’t known the men were there before, she’d know now. How would she and Fila react? Would she stay put or would she make a run for it?

“Never thought I’d be in this situation,” Rob said, appearing by his side. He passed Cab a shotgun, shoved a Glock in his own belt and checked the chamber of a Smith & Wesson.

“Neither did I,” Cab said. “If I wanted this kind of action, I’d have joined the army.” In his peripheral vision he saw three more men sift their way through the trees toward them. Rob’s brothers—Jake, Ned and Luke.

“Have you seen the women?” Rob asked.

“No. I hope Jamie got them out of here.”

Rob shook his head. “Met him back at Carl’s house. Jamie was searching it again because he hadn’t found them in the woods. He said to tell you the tree house was empty. If he doesn’t turn up anything he’ll head back into the woods farther in.”

Cab swore under his breath. “Those two could be anywhere by now.”

“Make that three,” Rob said, peering into the dark forest ahead of them. “Hannah Ashton’s truck is parked out by the street. We saw it when we drove past the woods. We planned to park the truck down the road and walk up the driveway.”

“So Hannah’s here, too?” Cab said.

“I’d say so. She had a horse trailer attached to her truck. The gate’s down.”

“She brought a horse?” That made no sense. Why would she ride a horse in the dead of night in Carl’s woods?

Rob shrugged.

Cab reviewed the situation in his head. Three missing women. Three women lost in the middle of a firefight. He thought about the layout of the woods. The strip of trees ran roughly north-south. To the west lay the open land surrounding Carl’s home and garden. To the east was a meadow that belonged to another spread. North lay a rough, wild country with nothing more than horse and ATV trails. On the south, the country road bordered it all. The strip of trees wasn’t very wide, but it was deep. He hoped that if the women weren’t at Carl’s, that they’d head back into the wild country, away from the road and the armed men.

“Take my place.” He pulled back from his position and waited for Rob to fill it. He positioned Jake, Ned and Luke nearby. Ethan held his place to the right. Once the men settled in, all was still.

The silence drew out for long minutes, until Cab began to wonder if the whole thing had been a dream. Maybe the men had slipped away and made a run for it. Maybe they knew they were out-manned, if not out-gunned.

A muffled curse to his left and nearly behind him revealed their opponents’ real plan. “They’re circling around,” he snapped. “Move your positions!”

She’d lost both of them. Rose picked her way as silently through the woods as she could, stopping and listening after every step to hear something—anything. Both women had simply disappeared. As had the tree house. She should have seen it already, but it was nowhere to be found.

The only rational thing to do now was to head for Carl’s as fast as she could. She had seen the floodlights blazing and knew she could find her way there. Maybe she’d find Hannah and Fila waiting there for her.

But somehow she knew that wasn’t the case, and her conscience wouldn’t allow her to run away if they were somewhere in these woods.

“Hannah?” she called softly. “Fila?”

No one answered for a long moment, but just as she decided to give up and head for Carl’s after all, she heard a soft response.

“Rose?”

“Fila?” She felt her way forward and ran into something soft; Fila fumbling her way toward her.

“Thank God,” Rose said. “I thought I’d lost you.”

“Did you find your friend?”

“No,” Rose shook her head. “I don’t know where she is.”

Fila took her hand, her own cold as ice. “We’ll find her. Together.”

They’d only gone a couple of steps before shots fired again.

Rob, Jake and Luke shifted quickly, bringing their line of defense from east-west to north-south. Ethan and Ned kept their weapons pointed toward the road to cover those who remained behind.

“How many of them are on the move?” Rob whispered to him.

“Can’t tell,” Cab said. “Look, we’ve got to…”

A shot rang out and Jake returned fire. Instantly the woods lit up with gunfire from all around them. Cab dropped to the ground, shimmied through the dirt into a better position and aimed for the sources of the fire, although he still couldn’t see any of their assailants.

A few minutes later, Cab was thankful he’d sent the Mathesons to make a wider flank. Gunfire rang out to the northeast, but answering shots assured him the brothers were blocking the terrorists’ way. It took everything he had not to join them as the shots fired concentrated on their position. If all of them shifted that way, they’d leave a hole in the center wide open for the rest of their assailants to slip through.