Chapter 3

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"Come with me if you want your friend to live." Lydia jumped slightly, she had not heard the man walk up behind her. A hand reached out grabbing her arm in a firm but not painful grasp. Without a word she instantly allowed herself to be led away from the group and into a cabin. Her heart began to pound so hard she felt like she was going to pass out. She had a pretty good idea what he was going to do to her. She would endure whatever she had to in order to keep her cousin safe.

They made their way to one of the ten or so shacks that formed a rough circle around the center of the camp. From a distance, the grey weathered wood looked like it was ready to blow over with the slightest breeze. But the closer she got, the more sturdy the shack began to look.

Lydia pulled her eyes away from her soon to be jail to look at the man walking with her. He was wearing all black like all the other men but there was something different about him. His hair was a medium shade of brown, cut shorter than the other men, and if she looked closely, she could see tiny laugh lines around the corners of his eyes. He wasn't a big man, he was leaner than some of the other men. He was of an average height, not like the giant that Ellie had been squaring off with. Lydia quickly turned her head just in time to see her cousin being thrown over the giant's shoulder like a sack of potatoes. Her steps faltered but her captor pulled her forward a few more steps then stopped in front of a very solid looking door.

John looked at the woman standing in the middle of his cabin, her entire body trembled with fear. He quickly latched the shutters to the 2 small windows then sighed heavily. "Would you like some coffee or water?"

Lydia looked up at her captor when he spoke, he was placing his hat on the wall peg beside the door, and he must have run his fingers through his hair. There were little trails with tufts of hair sticking up. If they had met under different circumstances, she would have been smitten. He was quite good looking. In fact, he didn't look at all like what she thought a murdering, thieving outlaw should look. "That's not what I was expecting you to say." Thank God her voice at least sounded strong and steady!

"Oh, and what did you expect me to say?"

"I don't know, just not that." Lydia looked away but her eyes landed on the narrow bed in the corner of the tiny cabin. She quickly turned her head in the opposite direction. The last thing she wanted to do was bring attention to the bed.

"Coffee or water?" John asked again, trying hard not to notice just how pretty the woman standing in front of him was. Her hair had fallen, hanging in soft chestnut waves halfway down her back. Even the dark purple smudges under her eyes didn't detract from her looks. Without waiting for her to answer, he poured a cup of water, placed it on the tiny table, and motioned her to sit down. Then John walked over to the door and leaned his shoulder against it. "What's your name and how do you know Ellie Matthews?"

His tone was soft, almost soothing she thought as she swallowed a sip of water and sat the cup back down. "My name is Lydia Matthews, Ellie is my cousin,"

"Shit!" John hadn't realized that he said it out loud until Lydia's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "Sorry ma'am." He had not thought it possible but her eyebrows went even higher when he apologized. "Allow me to introduce myself, I'm U.S. Marshall John Henson."

"A Marshall? Why would a U.S. Marshall be robbing trains and kidnapping innocent women?" She asked, the disbelief was apparent in her tone.

"Well Blake and I, Blake is the man that carried Ellie off, are working together to try and take this gang down. The Governor wants to tame the west so people will continue to move out here."

Lydia sat there for a moment, then her eyes shot back to the Marshall. "How do you know Ellie?"

"I've known Ellie for years. I worked on her Papa's ranch and then her Aunt Faith's ranch before I became a Marshall."

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