Kara turned back to the trees. She needed to go back and tell the others what she’d found. Hoping Lea hadn’t wandered, she crossed the creek at a jog, sliding to a stop when two men stepped out from behind some of the trees. Kara’s heart jumped into her throat and she choked on her scream. She didn’t recognize them as any of Ian’s men, but they didn’t look friendly either way.

“What are you doing here?” the first man asked. His hair was dark brown, but the roots were growing in gray. His face was wrinkled with age, his skin sun-darkened and freckled.

The other man crossed his arms, waiting for her response. He was much younger, thirties Kara guessed, and had lighter brown hair, short and spiked. There was only a slight resemblance between them, in their matching scowls. “Well?”

“I was just exploring. I was going home,” Kara sputtered. She was still recovering from the shock of them appearing.

“You look familiar. Were you in town today?” the young one asked.

“They haven’t hidden the deed yet, if that’s what you’re looking for. The town won’t accept a cheater,” the older one sneered.

“I’m not. I wasn’t. I mean, I just got here. We were just taking a ride.” Kara noticed then that the older one was holding a bow and arrow. He saw her looking at it and made a feeble attempt to hide it. Kara narrowed her eyes. “What are you both doing out here?”

“We’re just checking on the herd. Need to have protection, you know. We’ve run across the occasional cougar out here. You shouldn’t be out here alone.”

“I’m not. I came with others. They’re waiting just out there.” Kara pointed behind them. The men exchanged a glance. The older one nodded his head towards Kara.

“Alright, girl. Get going! Don’t come out here again. It’s too dangerous.” The younger one sent her away with an irritated wave. Kara didn’t hesitate. She took off at a run, constantly checking over her shoulder until she made it back to where she had left Lea.

Who, of course, wasn’t there.

“Lea!” she hissed, afraid to yell. She followed the Minitail back up the hill and spotted Lea in the shade of the trees, grazing happily. She hurried to the black horse and was about to mount when a voice stopped her, one that made her blood run cold.

“Hello, Miss Springs.”