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Feeling an outsider when his best friend and partner is reunited with his family, Kyle heads out to repay a debt ignored too long. Instead of what should have been a simple journey to find Jenny, thank her for saving his life, and attempt to repay in her some manner, the search takes him from Kansas to Montana, straight into trouble and a death trap only the Vanders Clan can rescue him from.
She’s dead. She drowned as a child. Go away. Go away before he kills you too,” warned crazy Abigail, Jenny’s sister.
Kyle wasn’t given the chance to heed the warning and leave, not that he would have. He had a twelve-year-old debt to pay. Abbey was right. They did try to kill him. Nearly dead, delirious or crazy, he was certain the woman he saw glowing in the moonlight had to be Jenny. The old man who found him said it was, grown up in the beyond to come back to haunt her father for drowning her in the creek and killing her sister’s man, driving poor Abbey crazy. Believing he wouldn’t live to unravel the mystery, Kyle made one request of George, send word so they won’t wonder what happened to me but don’t tell them anything more than I died.
Word was sent, not that he died, but that he needed help. The call was answered, but can they battle a ghost, a town owned by the killer, and will they even find Kyle still alive?
Barefoot and feet bloody, he fell against the side of the barn. Pants, the only clothes he wore, were ripped to rags, any flesh visible a bloody mass. Staring at the small woman hanging clothes, he fought to stay up. No, not a woman. Really no more than a child, the girl stood tall and straight. Had he not been ready to collapse, he would have appreciated the sight for she was a lovely child, hair the color commonly called strawberry blonde with the sun bouncing off the light auburn coloring. More important than her appearance was the way she turned toward him with no more than an inquisitive expression. With no strength to go any further, if she ran, screaming for assistance, he was as good as dead.
Miss Abby gained respect from Kyle. She had a kind heart. She might be approachable whereas he discarded any idea of going to the town sheriff’s office across the street. Whatever terrified the storekeeper more than likely would either terrified the sheriff as well or whoever caused it owned him.
* * * *
Playing the happy-go-lucky cowhand, Kyle lunged up from where he rested against a porch post when Miss Abby reached her buggy. “Let me give you a hand there, ma’am.”
He plucked her basket from her arm, set it in the back of the buggy, and held out his hand to assist her up. She accepted both with a bright smile. Being waited on and catered to were common for her, another observation Kyle tucked away.
“You sure do have the prettiest blue eyes,” he told her, leaning against the front wheel with the feeling of familiar nagging at him again.
She answered with a light and carefree laugh. “Thank you, but flattery will get you nowhere. My fiancé will be back from driving a herd east in a few weeks and as soon as possible afterward, we’ll be married.”
Kyle hoped how that comment struck him didn’t show on his face. A herd would have to be driven east in the spring, the current time of the year, not the drovers returning. She had it backward. He asked, “No way I could maybe charm you away from him?”
“None at all,” she said with another laugh.
Despite the light banter and his alternative reasons, Kyle felt a pang of disappointment. An attractive woman with a pleasing personality, but he shoved the impressions away and returned to business.
“Then I’ll have to swallow my disappointment,” he said, expressing how he felt more than he cared to admit. He searched for Jenny, which should not include getting involved in any way with a blond-haired beauty. “Could be I could get some information from you instead?”
“What kind of information?”
“I’m looking for a family named Harsboro. Could you tell me where I can find them?”
The merriment in her eyes changed to wariness, and her smile slipped slightly before she caught herself and plastered the forced smile in place. “If you’re looking for work, there won’t be any this time of year. He’ll be laying off those returning from the trail drive, not hiring new.”
Again, her timing was all off, stimulating Kyle’s natural curiosity. In the springtime of year, the ranchers would be gathering cattle for a drive, not laying off for the winter. “The one I’m looking for is Jenny.”
Her smile turned brittle. “He’s watching from inside the store,” she warned and laughed as if he still flirted with her. “Meet me outside of town, but circle around so no one knows we’re going the same way.”
Kyle nodded, his eyes flickering to take in all her features. Different coloring, near white-blonde hair versus light auburn, but a similarity in the shape of her face to Jenny’s explained the sense of recognition he’d gotten the first time he looked at her. “She told me she had a sister—wrote it actually—she couldn’t speak.”
Miss Abigail Harsboro looked as if she might faint. Her body jerked then swayed, and the horse reacted to the erratic pull on its reins, throwing his head and dancing in his traces, fighting to run. Kyle heeled his horse forward, grabbed her horse’s headstall, and jumped off to settle the animal down.
The horse settled faster than Abigail. Pale-faced, she held the buggy’s seat with both hands. “How can you be so cruel?” she asked in a harsh whisper. She went on as he walked up to her. "There were rumors, stories, but-but…”
“You want to tell me how come asking about her scared that storekeeper so bad and made you go ghost white just now?”
Abigail laughed, with a touch of hysteria in the sound. She released her death grip on the seat to cover her face with her hands and shook her head. “Don’t ask questions. Don’t, it’s dangerous.”
The words were muffled, but Kyle understood them. “Why would it be dangerous?” He took a gentle hold of her wrists and lowered her hands. “Why do questions of a child who drowned so long ago cause such a reaction?”
“Go away. Just go away before he kills you, too.”
Whatever he saw shimmered in the dark like moonlight dancing off the top of a lake. The blue-green glow didn’t hurt his eyes, though, the way a sun reflection would, and the form took shape. Kyle closed his eyes, thinking he had to be dreaming, but if he did, how did he know it? Looking again, he drew a deep breath, and every muscle in his chest tightened in protest. The damned horse side-stepped, jerking on his leg, dragging him. Too much pain not to be real, but what he saw—what he thought he saw—couldn’t be.
She did glow. Her hands, her face, her hair worn in twin plaits hanging over her shoulders, even the light-colored buckskin squaw’s dress glowed in a soft light. When she glided nearer, he could see black marks on her cheeks, black tears painted on the stiff white face, and she made a sound like a breeze flowing gently through the trees.
The horse backed away, dragging him until the deadwood trapping it twisted around parallel to him. Kyle would have told her to back away if he hadn’t been so fascinated. She stopped on the opposite side of the log from him, her hand out, palm up to the horse. The soft shushing sounds continued even after the horse—as mesmerized as Kyle—lowered its head to sniff her hand. Her other hand pointed at Kyle and motioned him to move.
Kyle forced himself through the agony of pulling up, fighting off the darkness swimming in his head. He had to hold on long enough to work the high heel of his boot back out of the stirrup the still nervous horse jerked up and down. Bad luck had created the angle for high heel to shove through, and Kyle couldn’t get the right angle to pull back out. Certain if he attempted to stand, not that he thought he could, the horse would run again, he switched to the knife he’d worked out of his pocket earlier, going after the leather ties holding the stirrup to the fender. If he couldn’t get his foot free, at least he could get free of the horse. He didn’t think he’d cut through enough before he passed out again.