Chapter One

90.9K 3.6K 441
                                    

Will’s breath burned in his lungs as he gasped down the frigid December air desperately. His legs ached and his side cramped but still he ran; he had no other choice but to run.

 Run or die… or worse.. Run or be captured and taken back to that place and those people.

He would rather be dead.

So he ran. He ran until he could no longer hear men shouting in the distance and then ran further. Will thanked God for the blinding snow, the howling wind and the darkness as all three worked together to keep him hidden and keep his pursuers from pursuing him too determinately.

However those three things could also very well be what led him freezing to death out here in the night.

Still Will ran. He had no real idea what lay out here in the mountains outside that  town he’d been held in. Thompson hadn’t been too eager to let him out of that room he’d been held in. Will had been the brothel’s dirty little secret. A man for the men who liked laying with men.

It hadn’t mattered that he’d not joined that brothel by choice or that he’d been unwilling to bed those men. The day that Will had met Thompson Caudill he had sold his soul to the devil without the slightest idea he’d made such a terrible mistake.

And now Will was going to have to die to gain back his freedom.

Thompson had taken advantage of Will’s love of poker and given him a job as a dealer in his saloon only to frame him as a cheater little over a month later. Thompson had then paid the lawmen to spare his life and let Will know that he was then owned.

For six long months Will had been at that brothel but no more. A man had to die with a shred of dignity still intact… even if that death came in a snow bank.

Will pressed on, his thoughts becoming jumbled and incoherent as he struggled to simply hang on to consciousness. His footsteps were now little more than stumbling movements of one foot in front of the other. His body had been neglected, malnourished and drugged for six long months and this punishment was clearly more than it could stand.

The glow of lantern light through the trees ahead was all that spurred Will onward. If he could reach a home he might just stand a chance of surviving the night and seeing his first sunrise as a free man in half a year.

Will’s vision began to blur. His arms and legs were beginning to go numb and feel impossibly heavy. The cabin was in sight but he wasn’t going to reach it. With a cry of despair, Will slipped and fell onto the snow covered ground, feeling no more pain as the world went black.

***

Turner was just about to turn down the lamps and crawl into bed when his black and tan coonhound, Beaux, stood quickly and went to the door with his head cocked.

Turner knew the dog must have heard something very out of the ordinary to get six year old hound to move away from the warmth of the fireplace on such a cold December night.

“What’s out there, Beaux?” he asked quietly.

Beaux whimpered and scratched at the door. Turner quickly pulled on his coat and grabbed his rifle. He opened the door and winced at the cold air and snow that blasted against his face. Beaux darted past him and out into the howling wind. The hound’s deep braying bark filled the night.

Turner snatched the lantern from the porch and chased after the dog, wondering what had transformed the creature from lazing pooch to braying running machine.

When Turner caught up to Beaux the animal was staring at a snowdrift. Turner followed his gaze and cursed when he saw the body in the snow. It was a man but the snow and wind burning Turner’s eyes kept him from seeing any details. The lack of a coat made it clear however that the man hadn’t been well prepared for trekking through a blizzard like the one they were currently experiencing.

Turner put his hand under the man’s nose and felt warm air blow against his fingers. He sighed. As much as he loved to be alone and hated company he couldn’t just let a man die out here.

“Here, Beaux,” Turner put the lantern handle in the hound’s mouth and Beaux held his head high. Turner put his rifle sling over his shoulder and then hefted the freezing man into his arms. His long, lean legs worked hard as he powered through the growing drift with Beaux bounding along beside him.

Once inside his tiny one room cabin, Turner tossed the unconscious man onto the sofa and went about building up the fire. Beaux whimpered and Turner whirled around to see his hound standing beside the man. The man was shaking violently and his lips were blue.

“Damn.” Turner couldn’t let the fella die. Quickly his big hands pulled off the man’s threadbare clothes and wrapped his naked body in a warm blanket before shoving the sofa closer to the warmth of the roaring fire.

“Beaux, watch him,” Turner grumbled, not happy that his sanctuary up here in the mountains had been disturbed. He was even less happy to realize that he was fairly certain he recognized the man on that sofa… and he wasn’t any man that Turner wanted around him.

With one final irritated growl, Turner turned off the lamps and crawled into his bed, pulling the thick wool covers over his head and willing sleep to come--though just like most nights for the last three years, Turner knew he would probably do little more than spend the night praying for the daylight.

Snowed In(manxman)Where stories live. Discover now