“’Sgone now, right, Callahan?” one of the cowboys asked, his fingers turning white on the handle of an old-fashioned revolver. His face was boyish, but like the older man in front of her, something about his large eyes seemed timeless. Ancient.
“Yeh, won’t be comin’ back,” the older man replied. His gaze remained locked with Gail’s. “Well, miss?”
It was a fight, but Gail managed to get her giggles under control. “Yeah. Um, yes.” Her limbs ached, but the pain felt like a relief in comparison to what she had seen in that instant, that brief moment when the creature overshadowed her. Blackness. Unending blackness. The fading afterimage made her shudder.
“Have a seat now,” Callahan ordered, gesturing to the other end of the table.
The other cowboys scurried to obey his unspoken command, scooping up the other folding chair from the ground near the door and restoring it to its proper position.
Callahan stood and offered his hand like a proper gentleman.
Another snicker blossomed in Gail’s throat. She swallowed it and allowed him to help her off the table and into the chair. She suddenly couldn’t decide if she was in the middle of a horror movie or a spaghetti western. More giggles shook her belly until they burst to the surface. This wasn’t real. It was one of those weird dreams she always got when she ate sushi too late at night. Scary stuff, scary stuff, scary stuff, and then something outlandishly bizarre. This one was certainly following the formula.
Callahan sat back down. The other cowboys gathered behind him. All peered at her with odd expressions.
She struggled to pull herself back under control. “Thank you. So what now?” Snicker. “We going to a rodeo?”
The grizzled cowboy raised one eyebrow.
Her snicker turned into a laugh. “Or… Or are you just going to hogtie me now?” Guffaws. “We gonna git ourselves a roundup?”
The door swung open. Gail turned with a grin, ready to see Calamity Jane or perhaps Yoda walking in.
She choked on the last laugh. Ice spread from her stomach until her entire body felt numb.
His impenetrable gaze shifted from her to the cowpokes.
Callahan shrugged as responding to a question. “Got me. Had one of ‘em razor wraiths show up, try an’ bring her down. Took care of it all right. Them things usually make people go loopy?”
The black gaze returned to her.
It wasn’t a dream. As impossible as it seemed, this was all real.
Gail felt as if she might throw up again.
“You said this place was safe,” Baby Face broke in.
Black Eyes ignored him. He stepped toward Gail, slowly but purposefully.
She cringed, drew back away from him.
His pace didn’t falter. He stopped only inches from her, his gaze locked with her. Reached down. Touched her forehead.
Gail flinched at his touch, but felt herself frozen in place, unable to draw away. What was he doing to her? Or was it her own fear locking her muscles? She squeezed her eyes shut. She just wanted out. Away. She wanted to be drinking cosmos with the Mollies, laughing about the time they snuck into the boys locker room and packed the shower heads with blue koolaid crystals. Or home with Aunt Jane, where she should’ve stayed in the first place. She always got into trouble when she was around the Mollies. The more sensible thing was to stay away.
And just like that, Black Eyes’ touch was gone. He looked at the cowboys and nodded briefly, then walked to their end of the table. Callahan quickly deferred his seat.
Gail let out the breath she hadn’t realized she’d been holding. Took in a shaky new one. Waited.
Black Eyes sat and stared at her.
She fought the urge to fidget, unnerved as always by his piercing, inscrutable gaze. Fine. If that was how he wanted to play…
“All right, I want answers. Now.” She planted both hands on the table, trying to look as intimidating as her small frame could manage. “Who are you people? What was that thing? Who’s trying to hurt me? And why? What would anyone want with me?”
He tilted his head. His expression – or lack thereof – never changed.
“Hold on one cotton-pickin’ minute,” Callahan barked out. “You tellin’ me she don’t know?”
Black Eyes whipped his head around to face Callahan.
The cowboy hesitated, then took a half step back, his mouth closed tightly.
Uncertainties drowned Gail. As out of place they were, she felt like she could trust the cowboys. But could she really trust the man? He’d had saved her from the guy with the knife at the airport, sure. He wanted to stop whoever wanted to hurt her. But she didn’t know anything else about him. For all she knew, he was stopping them so he could have her for his own reasons.
Whatever those might be.
“Please,” she said, feeling herself shrinking in the chair and hating herself for it. “Please, just tell me. What do you want with me?”
Black Eyes lowered his head, his eyes once again locked with hers.