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Joel sat at the bar drinking his sarsaparilla and watching the men at the poker table. Toby, the undertaker, sat next to him.
“Ain’t seen you around much lately.” Toby sipped his beer.
“Nope. Been busy visiting a young lady.”
“Yep. I heered ‘bout that. It’s that copper-headed girl that thinks she’s Injun, right?” He elbowed Joel in the rib.
“Don’t know anything about that, but if you’re referring to the young woman that lives up in the holler near the Bluestone River, that’d be her.”
“Whatcha want with a white girl that ain’t right in the head?”
Joel came off his stool and pulled Toby off of his. “I’ll hear no more of that talk from you or anyone else.” He looked around the room and was met with laughter.
“You’re crazy.” Toby paid his tab and left.
Joel walked to the poker area and stood between the tables. “I’ll brook no slander against the lady. Anybody here got a problem with that?”
Most of the men ignored him, everyone but Kyle Gordon. Kyle stood at six feet, three inches tall, wore bib overalls, a plaid shirt, two weeks of beard growth, and a dusty slouch hat. If he had stood up Joel would have had to strain his neck to look up at the man.
Kyle looked at Joel, nodded toward him, then looked at his cards. He had three aces and two kings, a full house. He studied his opponents briefly. Two of the others had folded. Only T.J. and David were still in the game besides him. T.J. was good at bluffing; David wasn’t. David had raised T.J.’s bet by ten dollars. Kyle called the bet and finished out the hand before he acknowledged Joel.
“Way I hear it,” Kyle began, took a drink of whatever he had on the table, and resumed, “she’s just a decoy. Way I hear it, the senator’s girl is the one you’re really after. So why are you so fired up about that Jackson girl?”
Joel’s eyes narrowed. “Who have you been talking to?”
“Don’t matter who I been talkin’ to. Fact is you’re lyin’ to one of ‘em.” Kyle turned back to the table. David was dealing.
Joel pointed his finger at Kyle’s face. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t I?” Kyle took another swallow of his drink. “You come home a few nights ago strapped to your horse’s back. Saw someone carry you into the roomin’ house, then put your horse in the barn out back.”
Joel backed up two steps, thought better of it, and stepped right next to Kyle’s chair. His face had turned crimson, then paled to ash gray. “What else have you heard?” His voice was barely a whisper.
Kyle turned directly toward Joel. “I hear lots of things. Then I ponder on ‘em and decide if they’re any of my business. So far I ain’t heard nothin’ that affects me, but if I do, you’ll be the first to know.”
Joel could feel the blood pounding in his head, his heart hammering in his chest. Obviously he had not been as careful and discreet as he had thought. How close were things to unraveling? How could he protect himself from whatever was coming?
Jason rode his paint gelding first to the Jackson place, thinking Fawn may have gone back to her barn, a place of familiarity. He dismounted, dropped the reins so Nomad could graze, and opened the barn door. It was dark inside. There was no smell of manure or fresh hay so she obviously had not been there in a while. Midnight Sun came from behind the barn where he had been grazing. He nickered as he approached Nomad and rubbed noses with him.
Jason came out of the barn and rubbed Sun’s neck. He was dirty and had leaves and twigs stuck in his mane. So, if Sun was home, where was Fawn? And why was the halter still hanging from Sun’s neck? It wasn’t like Fawn to leave her horse unattended. His pulse quickened. His heart disquieted.
He walked to the creek to see if there were any fresh hoof prints or footprints. There were none. He scratched his head, perplexed. Where could she be?
The house was nearly finished. All that was needed was the inside walls, doors, windows, and furnishings. Jason smiled as he considered how all of the neighbors were working hard on making new furniture. A couple of the men were even buying paint to make the place homey and appealing once it was done. He and his father were making the kitchen table and chairs.
He reeled his thoughts back to finding Fawn. Where could she be? He prayed. “Lord, You know where she is. Please help me find her,and please let her be okay. Most of all, please show her that You are the answer she’s been looking for all of her life. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
He mucked out Sun’s stall, removed the horse’s halter and hung it on its peg. Then he went back outside and swung his leg up and over the saddle and turned his horse toward the river. “Lord, I’m depending on you to guide me.”