From the Author
Cassie dusted off a can of apricots and restacked it on the shelf. "Why do I even bother?" she muttered as she picked up the next can.
Another week had come and gone,but her days were always the same. Get up at dawn, sweep out the store, dust off the cans, and . . . wait. Her few customers strolled in on Saturday and Sunday afternoons to buy odds and ends, but nearly everyone bought their bulk goods at the general store in Baxter. Townsfolk came here only when they wanted something quick--or on credit.
The bell above the door jangled,but she didn't bother to turn around. "That you, Luke? You're up early. I bet you haven't seen this side of ten o'clock in--"
She glanced over her shoulder and shrieked. The can of apricots slipped from her hand and rolled across the floor.
A stranger covered in blood leaned against the doorjamb.
She rushed to his side. "Who are you? What happened?"
The man locked his blue eyes onto hers. "Help me."
He held a battered leather satchel out to her. "Hide this," he said, then collapsed forward.
Cassie caught him around the waist and eased him to the plank floor. Was he dead? She felt the side of his sweaty neck. His heart was beating, but he looked like hell. His clothes were coated in blood and dirt, and his face had a sickly white hue to it. He was lucky to be alive. Someone had shot him full of holes.
Where had he come from? Holloway was in the middle of nowhere with no railroad connection, and it wasn't on the stagecoach line. She hadn't heard a horse out front, and he couldn't have walked here from Baxter, could he? That would be suicide.
Wild ideas raced through her mind as she stared down at him. Maybe he was a fugitive or a bank robber. Decent people didn't get themselves shot for no reason. Whoever shot him could've been following him, looking to finish him off.
Her gaze settled on the satchel.What was in it? Money? Gold? The deed to a silver mine? Why did he want her to hide it?
Cassie brushed her hair away from her face and frowned. What the hell was she supposed to do with him? Why had he wandered into her store, of all places? The last thing she needed was a half-dead stranger complicating her life. His being here would only stir up trouble--and she already had more than she needed.
Maybe she could-- With a start,she realized he hadn't moved. She shook his bloodied left shoulder. The man remained motionless. "Damn it to hell." She yanked the satchel from his grip, then ran behind the counter and stuffed it in the bottom drawer. There wasn't time to look inside and see what the stranger was hiding. Whoever he was, he needed help--fast.