Determined

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Hannah Williams knew life was hard. This past year had shown her she could never let her guard down, or she’d suffer the consequences. That very guard was firmly in place as she watched a man beaten while she hid in the bushes on the outskirts of Hide Town, Texas.

In this town, the bad guys were in control, and she’d returned to get revenge on the people who’d changed her life forever—to reclaim her good name and kill the man responsible for her misfortune and the woman who’d helped him.

From the shadows, she watched the madam’s three goons beat the man who hung limply between them, no longer fighting. His face was bloodied, his eyes already swelling shut, his lip cracked and bleeding.

Oh, how she wanted to scurry away, leave him and the goons, and mind her own business. But what if Ruby hadn’t rescued her? What if six months ago she’d ridden away, leaving Hannah behind?

How could she walk away from someone in need?

“Enough,” one of the men said. “I think he’s damn near dead.”

“Let’s go,” the ringleader said. “It’s getting close to dark, and I’ve got things to do besides beat a stupid man.”

“What about the girl?”

Hannah sank back deeper into the shadows. What girl were they talking about? While she’d returned to town seeking retribution, she wasn’t ready to show herself just yet.

“She’s not here. He must have gotten her out of town.”

“Damn, she was a pretty one. I was looking forward to getting me a piece of that young’un.”

Alarm spiraled through Hannah, yet she wasn’t afraid. Her resolve strengthened, and she reached down and felt the gun at her side. Lovingly, she touched the revolver, knowing she didn’t fear using it on any man who would harm her.

“If you think she’s so gorgeous, you chase her into a town where the sheriff doesn’t look the other way. You’ll be looking down her father’s rifle in no time with a village full of people ready to string you up for hurting one of their own.”

Another young girl must have been captured, and they’d tried to force her into prostitution.

Dropping the man’s arms, they let him fall to the ground. “Let’s leave him for the coyotes.”

One of the men gave the senseless man a swift kick in the ribs. The body on the ground moved but didn’t make a sound. She wondered if he was dead.

The outlaws climbed on their horses. Hannah watched as they spurred them and rode off in the semi-darkness. Now what did she do?

Creeping out of the shadows, she hurried to the man on the ground and rolled him over. He groaned, letting her know he lived. There was little time in case the goons returned. The beaten man had one chance to get on her horse, or she was leaving him behind.

She shook him. Slowly, he opened his swollen eyelids and tried to gaze at her.

“Do you want to live?” she asked, knowing they needed to get out of here before the outlaws circled back to finish the job they’d started and found them both.

He groaned.

“If you want to live, you’ve got to help me get you on my horse. I can’t do this alone.”

There was no way she could get him in the saddle without his help, and there was no way he could walk. And there was no way she was staying here on the prairie tonight without a fire.

“Leave me. Let me die,” he groaned. “I’ll be in a better place.”

Shaking her head, she started to walk away and then went back, unable to do as he requested. “Better hope the coyotes don’t find you before you die. Because there are a lot of those critters around here, and they’re hungry. They like to play with their food for a while before they rip into the carcass. You’ll taste pretty yummy to them.”

“All right, you made your point.”

She watched as the man crawled to his knees, shaking his head. Rushing to his side, she helped him to his feet. Placing her arms beneath his armpits, she supported him as he hobbled to her horse. “What did you do that angered the madam’s goons?”

“You’re in danger,” he managed to mumble between swollen lips. “Leave me.”

“I live with danger,” she spat out. She had only one goal left worth living for. After that, she didn’t care what happened to her. But she wasn’t dying until her revenge was complete. If it took her fighting from the pit of hell, she’d settle the score for losing her innocence and the killing of her mother.

Helping him crawl up on her horse, she climbed up behind him. He leaned forward, hugging the animal’s neck, barely able to ride, and she feared he would fall before they could reach the abandoned shack she’d claimed as her own.

“What’s your name?” she asked.

“Jackson Colster,” he muttered through swollen lips.

At the name, anger rushed through her like a strong wind. This ugly man was the damn preacher who had turned his back on her when she’d tried to escape, the very man who her mother had gone to and told she feared her husband. His only response was to tell her that marriage was forever.

This preacher man? Hannah hadn’t cared whether he lived or died so why was she now helping him to live?

The urge to push him off her horse and leave him behind was strong, but Hannah was not going to be a hypocrite like the one she had riding on her horse. She’d give him shelter, doctor his wounds, and send him on his way.

While she prepared for the coming battle.