He’d never stalked a woman before.
He didn’t much like it. But there was no other way.
As he sat with his hat pulled low over his eyes and his long legs stretched out beneath a small square table in the Ginger Horse Saloon, the tall, quiet stranger drank whiskey and let the talk swirl around him, talk as thick and heavy as the tobacco smoke that drifted over the baize-topped gaming tables and the gleaming mahogany bar.
The place was like many others he had passed through in Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada. Flocked red-velvet wallpaper, brass chandeliers. A big, crowded room teeming with cowboys and ranchers and townsmen. There were some gamblers and a half dozen red-lipped women in cheap, gaudy dresses and strong perfume—heady floral fragrances that vied for attention with the odors of tobacco, whiskey, and sweat. A piano player pounded at the keys of the instrument in the corner; coins clinked; boots scraped against the floor.
A typical place, the stranger thought, full of colors, sounds, smells.
Talk about Melora Deane.
She was the belle of the town, maybe even the belle of the territory, from the sound of it. Daughter of rancher Craig Deane of the Weeping Willow Ranch, one of the largest spreads around.
He’d already seen the ranch. But not the girl—not yet.
He finished his whiskey, ordered another, and listened some more.
Almost everyone in the Ginger Horse had something to say about her. People talked openly, admiringly. They said she was a handful. A beauty. They said she was every inch her father’s daughter.
And they said she was getting married tomorrow to Wyatt Holden.
The stranger was the only one who knew she wasn’t.
Because tomorrow at this time Melora Deane would have vanished. And the stranger in the gray shirt and sleek black pants, with the silver handled gun belt slung low on his hips and the dark blue neckerchief loosely knotted at his throat, was the only one who would know what had become of her.
He didn’t want her. But he was going to take her anyway.
Because there wasn’t going to be any wedding for this talked-about happy couple; there was only going to be a funeral.
An uproarious burst of laughter erupted from the poker players near the window, followed by someone shouting for another round of drinks.
The stranger paid for his whiskey, glanced neither here nor there, and strode out the double doors into the Wyoming dusk.
It was time.