Unedited Excerpt from Reaper's Justice

Copyright © Sarah McCarty 2011
All rights reserved




 “Who are you?”


The soft whisper drifted on the wind, unanswered. A howl reverberated out of the night. Chills raced down her spine. The men jerked. Dempsey fired off a wild shot. Manuel crossed himself again.


“Told you kidnapping a woman was bad business,” Billings growled.


“Shut the fuck up. The woman has nothing to do with wolves,” José snapped. “Dempsey, holster that damn gun down before you kill one of us.”


A howl came again. Sparks shot in the air as a log was hastily thrown on the fire. The flare of light reached her corner of hell. It was too much to hope that no one would notice her now-covered state. She rubbed her worry stone harder, praying for invisibility.


“What the hell is that?”


José grabbed a branch from the fire and came over. She shrank back against the tree as he bore down upon her, shadows from the torch flickering around him like snakes. She hated snakes, hated dirt, hated disorder, and she was surrounded by two of the three.


José leaned over, hate and suspicion pouring off him. His eyes were narrowed to slits of evil. His filthy hand reached for her. Behind him the other men loomed, dark menacing shadows. She kicked out, catching José on the knee. He grunted and swore before drawing his foot back. She closed her eyes.


“I wouldn’t do that.”


It was a simple bit of advice, delivered by Billings in no particular tone. A shadow came between her and the light, plunging her into an instant of darkness. A twig snapped. Reddish light burned once again against her inner eyelids. Adelaide opened her eyes. José was looking over his shoulder. A day’s growth of beard darkened his face, giving it a more sinister profile. If that was possible.


“Why not?”


A sulphur flared. The small flame threw Billings’s face into stark relief. He was younger than she’d thought. Maybe in his late twenties. Handsome in the hard-faced way so common to men out here in the Montana Territory.


“Because I’m thinking whoever wanted her warm would take exception to anyone touching her.”


“If whoever wanted her was capable of doing anything, then he’d have taken her rather than leave her.”


Billings shrugged and stepped away. “You go right on thinking that.”


José leaned down and then stopped, his hand inches from her shoulder. “Do you know something we should?”


“Just a bad sign when I see it.”


“And you think this is a bad sign?”


“I think you bought a whole lot of bad signs when you went from bank robbing to woman snatching.”


Around him, men murmured in agreement.


“So you already said.”


Billings took a pull of his smoke. “So I did.”


José snatched the coat off her. For a split second Adelaide was between warm and cold, an impenetrable place where nothing seemed able to touch her, then the wind blew. The men murmured. The coat fell to the ground. And the wolf howled again.


A chill swept over her. If her hands had been free, she would have grabbed for the coat, pulled it up over her shoulders. Her head. She rubbed the stone harder.


“Whoever is out there can do nothing.”




“Do you challenge my leadership?”


“Nah, just your assumptions.”


José motioned two men forward. “Untie her.”


“That’s a mistake.”


“No one asked you.”


Billings stepped back and away. “Nope. That is the truth.”


Another drag on the cigarette. The glow on the tip was very orange. She focused on it, sensing her situation had just gone from bad to worse.


Two men stepped forward immediately. She didn’t have names for them. They hadn’t done anything to stand out. Until now. Now, based on the grins on their faces, she was going to name them Lech and Lecherous. She kicked out. They avoided her feet with disheartening ease. She clenched her fingers over the worry stone as they cut the bonds between her hands. The gloves fell to the ground. They yanked her to her feet. Her arms howled in misery. Tears burned her eyes. She didn’t let a sound pass her lips. She had the ridiculous thought, as they dragged her closer to the fire, that her would-be rescuer would be proud of her.


As soon as she got within five steps of José, the men shoved her forward. Her headlong stumble was stopped by José’s hand under her chin. He lifted her face to his as he took a drink from his flask.


“Not so composed now, eh?”


She blinked the tears away. Her mouth felt stiff. The words sounded disjointed. “Everyone’s composure slips now and then.”


He took another drink, his gaze on the night behind her. “Like maybe the man who gave you the coat is about to?”


“Excuse me?”


Try as she might, she couldn’t get her arms to move. All she could do was stand there as far away as his grip allowed. She couldn’t even get a glare going for the agony shooting down her arms. She hoped she still had the worry stone in her hand. She pretended she did. Working it between her fingers. Two rubs on one side, and then rotate it to the other side, where she did three circles. Making five in all. The magic five. And then she started all over.


José made a tiny motion with his pinky. Just a couple twitches but it snapped every man present to full attention. Even Manuel stopped crossing himself to stare.


“Strip her.”


Oh, Lord in Heaven! The next ten seconds passed in a horror of slowness. The footsteps coming up behind her. The harshness of men breathing in her ear as their hands grabbed the front of her sturdy wool dress. The disgusting anticipation in José’s face as they took a step back and pulled. The tension that spread down her spine as the wooden buttons strained under the pressure. A splatter of brilliant red shot past her  shoulder and splashed over José’s face as his hands fell away. Wetness hit her cheeks. She listed to the side and then the other hands released her, sending her reeling back the other way. She heard two soft thumps and then two loud explosions. Rifle shots, she realized. And those thunks were her attackers falling to the ground. Which meant the wet stuff on her face was . . . blood. Human blood. Horror spread through her. Around her, men shouted and dived for cover.


She stood there, staring at the fallen men, her skin crawling, memories screaming. War cries. A woman’s screams. Her mother’s shout to run. But she couldn’t run. She couldn’t move. She could only stand there and watch them come for her.


No, she thought, holding her memories at bay with sheer determination. No. This is now. Not the same. And the blood was that of the enemy, not her mother’s. The explosions were gunfire. And someone had just saved her from being raped. This time things were going to end differently.


Adelaide spun around, her arms swinging uselessly as she stared into the darkness toward where she thought the reports had originated. Her lips shaped around the words “Thank you.”


Dear God, thank you.



~ sarahmccarty.net ~
home ~ books ~ coming ~ bio ~ diary ~ contest ~ chat ~ more - contact - site/copyright