The Sparrow

Kristy McCaffrey
Available from Whiskey Creek Press

Three men faced away from him, standing on the sandy banks of the Colorado River. All carelessly held guns in their hands, old revolvers or pistols, and waved them around as they yelled to someone in the water. They weren't particularly fit men, and Nathan knew he could use this to his advantage. They started shooting again, and one of them slowly began to run downstream, his gait awkward, as if the man had only discovered yesterday his legs could perform such a task.

Moving to gain a better view of whom or what might be in the river, Nathan backtracked out of sight to wade across the Paria then approached the Colorado behind the two men remaining. A glance beyond stopped him cold in his tracks.

A woman -- as evidenced by a braid of chestnut hair resting across one shoulder -- sat in a large wooden skiff, rowing frantically, leaning down whenever a bullet flew past her head. A wide-brimmed hat shadowed her face but he had no doubt of her identity.

Miss Emma Hart.

The woman he had been tracking for the last three weeks, a woman he had only seen in a faded photograph, a photograph he'd stared at far too much recently.

Satisfaction mixed with urgency.

Miss Hart was headed down river. Alone.

He didn't have much time. If one of these three idiots didn't shoot her first she would quickly disappear.

Nathan rushed the two men on shore and knocked one out with the butt of his rifle. As the other man swung an arm around in retaliation, Nathan kneed him in the groin then pinned him to the ground with the Winchester lengthwise across his throat. The man began to sputter, his arms flailing in all directions, and Nathan rendered him unconscious with a well-placed blow to the head.

The third man shuffled toward him. Nathan rolled to the side and avoided the bullet discharged from the man's gun. Not wanting to kill his attacker, he pulled a six-shooter from the holster strapped to his right leg and shot him in the shoulder. His target fell to the ground.

"I'm shot! Oh God!" The man cried in agony. "Please don't kill me! Reggie? Hersch? Help me!"

Nathan stood, removed the firearms from the two unconscious men then threw the weapons into the river. As he approached the man writhing in the sand, he felt the heat in his boots and could imagine how uncomfortable it was lying on the ground. Nathan almost felt sorry for him and his buddies; almost, but not quite. A stray bullet could have easily hit Miss Hart.

He swung the man's gun into the water. Glancing down river he saw the woman watching as her boat moved further and further away, her expression and features difficult to discern from the distance.

Nathan moved past the man on the ground, who moaned in short gasps. "You won't die. Make sure you stop the bleeding and clean the wound." He ran along the river's edge, waving his arms above him, and yelled toward the woman. "Stop! Come to shore!" He hoped she had the strength to guide the boat against the current and return to him.

She stared but did nothing, except to occasionally turn her head to check the direction of the skiff.

Nathan climbed over and around a cluster of rocks then ran along a beach before coming to a rocky ledge, unable to follow her downstream any further.

"Miss Hart! Emma Hart! I need to talk to you!"

She took both oars in hand and Nathan breathed a sigh of relief that she had finally come to her senses, only to swear under his breath when she began paddling in the opposite direction. He glanced back to the general location of Black.

A man should never have to choose between a horse and a woman.

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