Andi swallowed her scream and closed her eyes in despair. No one knew where she was. No one would ever know why she suddenly disappeared. She tried to breathe normally, but it was no use. Her breath came in little gasps.
“Please . . .” she whispered desperately, but Henderson dug the small pistol deeper into her cheek. She winced.
“Not a word,” he ordered, then motioned the others. “Let’s get out of here. Quickly! Into that warehouse.” He dragged Andi along with him, until they were safely hidden from any stragglers wandering the alleyways.
Henderson lowered the gun an inch and studied his captive. “What in the world am I to do with you?” he mumbled in annoyance.
Andi stared back, wide-eyed and trembling. Now she knew what a trapped baby animal felt like—helpless and terrified.
“Where did you come from?” Henderson broke the ominous silence.
“I . . . I was j-just playing a g-game, and . . . Oh, please! Let me go. I won’t tell anybody.”
“I can’t let you go. That would be very foolish of me.” Henderson smiled slightly. “You’ve seen me. You’ve seen my men. You’ve—”
“She called the lawyer by name, boss,” Gordon cut in.
“Did she now? Very interesting.” Henderson lowered his pistol but kept a firm hold on Andi’s arm.
“I want to go home,” Andi whispered, trying to peel Henderson’s fingers away from her arm. “You’re hurting me.”
“What’s your name?”
Andi didn’t answer. Instead, she jerked away from Henderson with a sudden move that surprised him. He recovered quickly, though, and aimed a quick slap across Andi’s face. It was not intended to hurt her, merely to get her attention.
It got her attention, all right.
Andi gasped and brought her hand up to her cheek.
“What’s your name?” Henderson repeated angrily.
“Never mind,” one of the cowhands broke in. He came nearer and smirked. “I know who she is. She’s one of the Carters. And she’s trouble, Mr. Henderson. Big trouble if she disappears.”
Henderson drew in a sharp breath. “A Carter? You’re sure, Sandy?”
“’Course I’m sure. I was working for ’em up ’til a month ago,” Sandy replied, catching Andi’s surprised look.
She tried to place the man, but it was useless. Chad had so many ranch hands at any given time, she couldn’t keep track of any but the regulars.
Sandy shook his head at Andi’s look. “I’m hurt you don’t recognize me, Miss Andrea Carter. I surely do recognize you. Always riding around on that fancy horse of yours, lookin’ like you own the world—just like the rest of your high-and-mighty—”
“Chad must’ve fired you,” Andi broke in.
“It was mutual,” Sandy said. “Mr. Henderson pays better, and the working conditions are much more to my liking.” He pulled out a knife and opened it.
Andi swallowed nervously as she followed the shiny blade.
“Oh, put that away, Sandy,” Henderson commanded. He turned back to Andi. “Your family certainly seems to pop up all over the place. Always sticking their noses in where they don’t belong.” He regarded her thoughtfully, folding his arms across his chest and stroking at his chin.
Finally, it appeared as if he had come to a decision. “Well, Andrea Carter, it is unfortunate that you blundered into our plans today. However, I cannot possibly allow you to disappear, at least not so close to the killing of Barnes.” He shook his head. “It would cause too many people to notice. People like the Carters don’t disappear without somebody taking notice. So . . .”
He reached out and gripped Andi’s chin. “Look at me when I’m speaking to you!” He smiled as she met his gaze. “That’s better. As I was saying . . . For now, I am graciously allowing you a chance to live. Would you like that?”
Andi nodded as best she could with the huge hand gripping her chin.
“Boss!” Gordon protested. “I could stash her away somewhere so nobody’d find her. Mexico? San Francisco? The Barbary Coast. I—”
“Shut up, Gordon.” Henderson turned to look at his hired help. Then he returned his attention to Andi. “You said earlier that you wouldn’t tell a soul about this, right?”
“Yes,” Andi whispered.
“Well, I think I’ll take you up on your offer.”
Andi caught her breath in a grateful sob.
“I want you to remember that you’ve seen nothing here today, absolutely nothing. It’s as simple as that. And in order to assure myself that you will continue to be a good little girl and keep your mouth shut, my friends here”—he motioned to the three men standing around grinning—“will be watching you. There won’t be a place you can hide if you open that pretty little mouth of yours.”
Henderson let go of Andi’s chin. “By the way, you will not be the only one under our scrutiny.” He smiled. “I assume you love your brother? The lawyer?”
“Yes,” Andi whispered, lowering her head. She felt sick.
“As I expected.” He chuckled. “As you can see, I have it in for lawyers” He indicated the alley where Mr. Barnes lay. “Mr. Justin Carter could easily become next on my list if I find out you’ve breathed even one word of this to him or to the sheriff. Do you understand me?”
Henderson squeezed Andi’s chin and glared at her. “I certainly hope you do understand. You’re a very pretty little girl, and it would be unfortunate if you failed to follow your instructions.”
“I said I understood,” Andi whispered. “You don’t need to keep saying it.”
“Excellent. Behave yourself, or I’ll be forced to kill your brother and send you on a one-way trip to the waterfront.” His eyes turned dark. “I’m not bluffing. I can’t get away with making you disappear right now, but later . . .” He shrugged and let go of her chin.
Andi nodded. She understood.
“You’re free to go.” Henderson nodded, and Gordon released his prisoner.
Andi stared at the despicable man, who held her life—and Justin’s—in the palm of his hand. “I won’t tell anyone. I promise.”
“I’m sure you won’t.”
Gordon watched the girl disappear. “She’s gonna go straight to the sheriff, boss.”
Henderson shook his head. “I don’t think so. She had a look about her. She was scared.”
“So? What about in a couple of weeks? Will she still be scared?”
“Assuredly, Gordon. That’s your job.” He pointed to the others. “And yours, Rod, and Sandy. Sandy, you know your way around the Carter spread, don’t you?”
“Enough to do whatever you want, boss.”
“Excellent. I may need you out there later on.”
“And if she ends up telling her brother or the sheriff?” Gordon persisted. “We could all hang for Barnes’ murder, you know.”
“If she does that,” Henderson decided, a threat in his voice, “I shall kill her myself—Carter or not.”
Read CHAPTER 7
Read CHAPTER 7