Part 7

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Images flashed their way through the mind of Marshal Augustus Poe; not entirely unlike a hungry fox that was hot on the heels of a frightened hare that raced for its life just ahead.

Only he was the hare in search of a hidey-hole with the furious fox fast upon his tail.

The cold image of hard white eyes that glowed with hunger draped by a very feminine curl of red hair, with paled skin and crooked smile of ruby lips faded to the image of an empty leather saddle atop a lone horse.

He blinked only to watch as soft smoke from a fired pistol slowly rose to cover the ugly snarl of anger as yet another man cursed in warning far too late to have done any good.

Time shifted as he watched blood stream uncontrolled from a dead man's neck, his head held hard to one side by pale hands as a geyser of red plumed just above.

As he backed away from the scene in horror, he looked up as a woman in a red dress fell toward him from a rail high above as blood poured from her chest.

Dark eyes appeared to watch him from beneath the brim of a reapers hat that measured him not for a pine box but rather for the life that he'd lead and the people that he'd killed along the way.

"Even the bad ones will cost you." The deep rumble of his graveled voice teased with a crooked smile filled with nothing but broken teeth.

Suddenly the staccato sound of gunfire erupted from nearby while a great flock of birds rose as one into the sky to block out the sun.

He looked down only to discover that the ground had begun to spin erratically at his feet before it leapt up to meet him head on only to flash by as he found himself looking up at a horse with an empty saddle.

Everything seemed to come back to the empty saddle on the damned horse. Something was very wrong, but he just couldn't figure out what it was or why.

Then he realized that it all must have been a dream of some sort.

Something had happened and he'd been left in a gully, barely alive and near death; it was the only explanation that he could come up with that might otherwise explain the images that he'd seen.

To stop this nonsense, he knew he simply needed to wake himself up.

As he fought against the searing grip of the phantoms, coherent memory began to return of a woman and the ambush that she'd set for them.

Here she was now; her red dress elegantly flowing just behind in a subtle gust of wind with a tan shawl wrapped around her shoulders.

Hint of ample cleavage just beneath her bodice and the soft features that he'd seen had proven her well equipped with such charm for attraction.

He realized now that he should have gone directly for the shotgun rather than having been polite.

Somehow, they'd taken Bidwell, which in turn had infuriated Rolleston enough to shoot her with his pistol only to have hit Poe instead.

The monster had appeared to simply whirl around the bullet like smoke, only to attack while Poe's horse had done the rest as it dragged him off to wherever he was now.

He managed to open his eyes and focus on a thin ragged line that crossed a rough plain of white above him.

Like a river, it branched off here and there only to fade off into the sea of ... even more white. It took a moment for him to realize he was looking at a crack across a ceiling.

It almost made him laugh. Gullies didn't have ceilings, let alone those that could become cracked.

The dark skinned face of an angel appeared; framed as she was with pitch-black hair. Amber eyes looked intently into his as he looked back at the soft sculptured beauty of the angel.

Must be an Indian woman that had found him, he figured although he recalled little of any sign of Indians along the trail that they'd followed.

Why was there one looking at him now?

"Who the hell are you?" he managed to ask, his voice far too weak to have come out as anything more than a graveled whisper.

The dark angel turned away for a moment and then returned to apply a cool cloth to his forehead.

He couldn't help but smile as the cloth felt damned good, along with knowing that he was alive and not lying dead in a gully somewhere; well that and he was under a ceiling.

Indians weren't known to have many ceilings.

He just couldn't figure out where the hell he was or why he could move one leg but not the other.

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