Andi was held against the wall by a big, burly man. "What were you doing out there! What did you hear?" he fairly screamed.
"You . . . you . . .” Andi sputtered. "How could you ever do something like that to my brother!"
The man's eyes opened wide. "Get me some rope, Jake," he commanded. The smaller man complied. Before Andi had time to react, she was trussed up tight and being carried down to a damp, dirty cellar. The big man set her down and lit a candle. He held it up to his scowling face.
"You are staying here until we have time to carry out our plans. Then, we'll let you go." And he laughed that deep, raspy growl. The dim candlelight reflected off his yellow teeth.
Andi was shaking with rage and fright. "You can't do this! My brothers will find you out!"
"Oh, can't we? We'll see about that."
"Justin won't come if I’m missing!" she flung back at him.
"Hmmm. That could be a problem." He fell silent.
"Ah, Hal, we need not face that problem!" exclaimed the little man suddenly. His face glowed with a diabolical gleam. "Ha, ha, come, I will tell you upstairs." They both disappeared at the top of the rickety stairs, and Andi was left alone in the dark.
The door reopened after a few horrible, silent minutes for Andi. The big man, Hal, clattered down the steps.
"Well, gal, we're ready to make you an agreement. You can go home. But if you love that dirty brother of yours, you will not say a peep about anything you have heard, or let on that anything is wrong. We might let your brother go, if he agrees not to say anything in the upcoming case. But remember . . ." He reached in his pocket, pulled out a big revolver, and shoved it in her face. Andi shrank back. He chuckled.
"Know what this is? Good. Now, your other choice is to not promise anything, and stay here until we feel it's time to let you go. What's it gonna be?"
Andi's eyes flashed, and she was about to say a flat NO, when she stopped to consider. If she refused, she wouldn't have any chance to save Justin. She had a much better chance by promising. Maybe she could play sick or something, so Justin would stay home! Yes, that would be better. So she straightened up and said, "Yes. I promise."
"I knew you'd give in. But just remember . . .” He patted his pocket.
He chuckled and untied her. Then he led her to the door, shoved her out, and slammed it in her face.
"Andi Carter! Where on earth have you been? I’ve looked all over for you." Justin grabbed her and sat her down in the buggy next to him. "Answer me." He was not playing around.
"I bought Melinda's thread. I guess I got a little distracted." That was true. She had totally forgotten about the thread in her pocket. "Sorry, Justin. I won't dawdle next time." That was certain. She felt weak.
"Andi?" He looked hard at her. "You look pale. Are you okay?"
"I'm fine." Andi was trying to reassure herself more than Justin. "I guess I do feel a little weak," she admitted.
"Let's go home." He slapped the reins, and Pal started off at a trot. Andi found it hard to keep from throwing her arms around her brother and sobbing out the whole story. But, she reasoned, this is for his good. She knew it would be better to find some other way. So she just sat, staring out over the fields and trying to think of some way to stop Justin from going to the meeting.
At supper, Andi was miserable. Everyone acted worried over her. "Andi, are you feeling okay?" Melinda asked.
Justin kept glancing her way with a questioning look. Andi hoped, for his sake, that he didn't figure it out this time. "Would you like more beef, Andrea?"
Andi shook her head. "May I go to bed?”
Mother looked at her strangely before giving her permission. "You'll feel better after a good night's sleep. Good night."
Andi tossed and turned once she got in bed. This was Tuesday night. She had to find something to do. At least they were worried over her. Maybe Justin would sense something wrong without her telling and he would cancel . . . But that was doubtful. She prayed, but it didn't seem to help.
After a long time, she fell into a restless sleep.
The next day, Andi asked if she could stay home from school. Mother didn't want to let her, but Andi looked so sick, she finally relented. Andi was relieved. Now I can come up with a plan, she thought. Hmmmm. Lame Justin's horse? No, he'd just leave Thunderbolt and take another horse. Take his riding boots? No, he would wear another pair.
Her head buzzed with ideas, most of them stupid. Play sick? Arrange an important last-minute meeting with the sheriff? Accuse Justin of theft and get him put in jail?
"Lord," she prayed, "Please help me think of something!" She sat on her bed, feeling like she was going loco. I could tell Chad to follow him! But that would be letting on . . .
Andi spent her morning worrying. She was torn. She couldn't think of anything rational by lunchtime. Her mother was on the verge of sending her back to bed, but Andi knew Justin wouldn't cancel such an important meeting unless she was very sick. She wandered out to the barn and started brushing Taffy, but nothing came to her. At first, that is.
"Wait, I know!" she said aloud to Taffy. "I'll follow him myself. I just have to stop him, Taffy. Or those men will . . . no. Not if I can do anything, they won't. Just wait and see, Taffy.
But as suppertime neared, Andi wasn't so sure. She'd have to pretend to be in bed. Oh, but what could she do against all those men? She couldn't just run up and free Justin. She knew he wouldn't agree to keep silent during the court case. And—
"Andi! Suppertime!" she heard Mitch calling. The sun was setting. She hurried to the supper table. Justin was in a hurry to be off. Andi could hardly choke down any supper.
"Are you getting sick, Andrea?" Mother queried.
"No, I'll be fine after I get a good night's sleep." She was trying hard to look tired. Mitch and Chad looked at each other, and then at Andi.
"Yeah, you get some sleep, sis," Mitch said.Andi mumbled a "good night" and went slowly upstairs. But as soon as her bedroom door shut behind her, she changed her tune. She put on her riding gear and looked out over the balcony. Justin was leading Thunderbolt out of the barn. It was dark.
She waited until he was going out the lane, then she crept out on the balcony and slid down a post to the ground. No one saw or heard her. So far, so good. She ran to the barn and saddled Taffy as fast as she could. She swung up on her back and urged her forward.
Justin was almost the whole way down the long lane. She followed at a distance, keeping him in sight. He wasn't poking around. Thunderbolt was going at a fast trot.
Andi was glad, because that meant there was less chance of him hearing her. She glanced back at the house, but saw no one. So she hurried faster. She had to keep Justin in sight.
An hour later, a tiny cabin became visible in a clump of trees by the roadside. Andi began to get scared. She felt helpless. Justin was already dismounting Thunderbolt! She stopped a short distance back. The moon was hidden by clouds. Justin knocked on the door, and a man whom Andi recognized as "Jake" let him in and shut the door behind them.
Andi panicked. Should she take their horses so they couldn't escape? She should have told Justin! Maybe they could have caught the men. "Oh, God, help me do something!" she prayed. She slid off Taffy and turned toward the cabin.
Suddenly, a rough hand clapped over her mouth, and she was jerked to the ground. At the same time, a low voice growled, "Don't you make a sound!"