Endless Trails(5)

By: Bonnie R. Paulson

Chapter 3


The small child’s soft hair wisped around his fine features and his mouth worked around the green pacifier the woman put between his small lips.

Creases on the sides of her eyes when he’d first seen her had softened as she relaxed into the truck. The rig was old but the air conditioning worked fine and while Ryland rarely used it, that day was an exception even without the child and woman inside.

Dark marks where perspiration had worked its way through her shirt started to fade. They’d been on the road for a few miles before Ryland felt comfortable breaking the ice. “I didn’t expect the baby.” He adjusted his hat by the crown and glanced at her with a sardonic smile.

“Neither did I.” She looked at the boy with mock shock and opened her mouth in a circle. Putting her hand over her mouth, she said, “Do you think he bites?”

Ryland chuckled, careful to keep his volume low as he took in her playful side. “He’s probably the most dangerous one in the rig.” The softest scent of cherry blossoms assailed his senses when he laughed with her.

Her vulnerability reminded him of his cousin Ruby a long time ago. She’d been so many things – sweet, innocent, desperate for affection. Ryland and his cousins had done so much to stick up for her, protect her. They’d failed. He’d had a soft spot for women in trouble ever since, like maybe he could save someone else, change their situation.

Soft blonde curls framed Amy’s face and fell around her shoulders. They had the look of burnished gold and under highlights of copper. Her tan skin and dark brown eyes confused Ryland on just what he was going to say.

“So, where are you going?” Ryland shifted on his seat. The truck was comfortable but danged if it didn’t get worn in spots when he drove in it for a while.

She shrugged, the rounded curve of her shoulder barely moving as she stared at the road. “I guess wherever I can get the furthest from Dillon.”

“You don’t care where it is?” Ryland tried not to seem too worried or interested. Women like Amy were skittish. They sensed danger before they sensed heat or cold. The innate ability to survive had nothing to do with talent and everything to do with necessity.

She looked at him and then at the freeway stretched before them and behind.” Honestly? If I could choose, we’d already be off the interstate.” She picked at her cuticle and tried to keep her calm as she spoke.

“If I didn’t have to head north, I’d get you off the highway as fast as possible. I understand not feeling safe.” He snagged her gaze and narrowed his eyes. “You’re safe, okay? I know only murderers say that, but I’m not a killer. I can’t even put animals down when they need it.” His rueful smile was more at himself than anything.

She glanced at him, then at her hands, and then back at him. “Thanks. I don’t know if I believe in safe anymore.”

“Who are you running from?” Ryland didn’t know how legal it would be for him to take her and her child across the state, if she was married. There were all kinds of custodial laws that he didn’t want to violate, but he would, if she were in danger. Something about her brought out the protective side he’d never really tapped into before.

“My ex... boyfriend. I lived with him because I always knew something was wrong... but...” She offered a lopsided smile. “He’s really mean.” She wiped at tears under her eyes and finished in a whisper. “He promised if I ever left or tried to leave, I’d never see Cody alive again.”

“Wow. I’m sorry. That sounds like a horrible ordeal.” He shook his head. He didn’t have anything to offer her, but a ride far away from there. Too bad, it wasn’t far enough.

His phone buzzed. “Excuse me.” Ryland pulled out his phone and answered. “Hey, Damon.”

“Yeah, just heard from Cyan. She said Nate’s taken on a job in Godfrey headed toward Polson. I’m not sure if it’s temporary, but he’s been there a couple days. Sounds like he’s just doing odd jobs at the Bess Ranch there, outside of town. Go check it out, and let me know what you find.” Damon sounded tired, like he had more on his plate than finding their leader. Ryland didn’t want to ask.

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