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ECHO OF THE PLAINS is a short story featuring Eli Ryan, the son of Matt and Molly from THE WREN, and his search for an elusive stallion called Echo. But Cassie Callahan's stubborn protection of the horse just might steer him off course. Available from Amazon Kindle http://www.amazon.com/Echo-of-the-Pl...3330471&sr=1-1
Three days later Eli was back at the spot where he nearly ran over Miss Callahan and he himself was felled. As the mid-afternoon sun blazed in the cloudless sky, frustration filled him. He hadn’t seen Echo’s tracks anywhere all morning.
Cassie’s expressive face flashed through his mind for the hundredth time and Eli thought it would be nice to run into her again. His sister, Katie, would love to know he was sweet on a girl, so he wisely kept his thoughts to himself while offhandedly telling his folks and sisters at dinner that C.C. Callahan had returned. His ma suggested inviting her for a visit, and Eli made a mental note to hang around the ranch the day that happened.
Movement caught his eye.
Eli frowned. Jeb Hardy.
Horse and rider honed in quickly to Eli’s position.
“Lost?” Jeb asked, bridling his horse with more than necessary force. Hardy’s fair complexion and light-colored hair were hidden by splotchy skin and a black hat that Eli suspected hadn’t been cleaned since Jeb suckled at his mama’s breast. “Want me to show you how to get home?”
Eli held his tongue, an ability that had taken several years of practice to acquire. Jeb was an obnoxious loud-mouth, had been since they were boys, and Eli would’ve liked nothing better than to put him in his place. But his ma’s displeasure over another fistfight was enough to make Eli resist the temptation to pummel the asswipe.
“You get thrown again?” Eli asked in a casual tone.
Jeb muttered under his breath.
“There can only be one knot head between a horse and his rider, and it sure don’t look like your horse,” Eli said.
So much for him holding his tongue.
“Josie still alive?” Jeb shifted a wad of tobacco to the other cheek and leaned to the side of his horse to spit.
“Go to hell.”
“Are all Ryan women so stupid? She practically walked right into that mountain lion.”
Eli’s hand twitched. If he shot Jeb, would anyone really miss him?
“Wait a minute.” Jeb laughed. “You’re lookin’ for the spook, aren’t ya?”
Eli didn’t respond.
“Well, I ain’t seen him. What a strange horse he is.” Jeb went silent in an obvious bid to put weight into his words. “You’re wastin’ your time, Eli. You’ll never catch him. No one can, not unless they got a pistol in their hand. And then that horse wouldn’t be worth ridin’.” Jeb made a sound of enlightenment and Eli hardly believed it. “Maybe I’ll try to catch him.” He turned his horse. “If I put my mind to it, I’m sure I could outwit you. So stay outta my way.”
Eli swore under his breath as Hardy disappeared around an outcropping. Complete asswipe.
He wondered where Echo’s hideout could be. In the past few weeks of looking, he never found it, or any wild mares. Wouldn’t Echo have a flock of females he protected and dallied with?
Eli spent the remainder of the afternoon conducting a crisscross search pattern. Upon finding nothing, and about to return home, circling vultures drew his attention. He set out to find the dead animal that attracted them.
He tied off his horse then crept up a hillside to have a better look, using a juniper tree as cover. At the bottom of a small washbasin, a petite figure leaned over a bloody horse carcass. Simultaneously, he felt relief and concern as he realized the horse wasn’t Echo and that the person was Cassie.
Eli pulled his gun and scanned the boundary of trees and brush that encircled the basin. She shouldn’t be here. He moved toward her while maintaining focus on the surroundings.
Cassie started at the sight of him.
When Eli met her gaze he knew what she thought—he carried a gun and the horse beside her was shot.
“It wasn’t me,” he said quietly. “But whoever did it could still be out there.”
Her haunted eyes shifted only slightly. “She’s dead.” She could barely utter the words.
“Then we need to go. The vultures will take care of her.” Eli stepped forward with the intention of taking Cassie’s arm.
“No, I can’t leave.” She stood and moved away from him.
“You shouldn’t stay, and I’m not leavin’ you here alone. If there’s somethin’ wrong at home and you don’t want to go there, you can come to the Rocking Wren. My folks’ll be happy to put you up.”
“What makes you think I don’t want to go home?”
“There was always talk about why your pa left all those years ago. If things are tough, let me help. But right now, it’s too dangerous to be roaming these hills alone.”
Cassie glanced down at the dead mare, tears welling up in her eyes. The sight of the horse’s ribs, bloodied and blown apart by a shotgun, sickened Eli and he knew he was more equipped to handle such a sight than Cassie. His instinct to comfort her, to protect her, came swiftly. He reached out and took her hand, warming her cold fingers.
“My ma believes the land is a living, breathing thing, that the Great Spirit encompasses both sides of this life,” he said. “The mare is in good hands, Cassie.” Eli took a breath, disturbed by the sight of the horse. “And my grandmother would say ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.’“
“This is evil.” Cassie’s voice trembled.
Eli silently agreed.