A Note From Your Author: This story is meant for an adult audience. There may be (will be) offensive language and themes.
About: After Zetti Sweetwood’s husband is murdered by the Moraday boys, she sets out to get revenge with the help of her friend, Dove. It isn’t long before she learns there was a bounty out for her husband, and she begins to uncover the truth about his mysterious past.
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The shadow did not speak. Like a dart, it sprang forward. Dove fired the revolver, and Zetti drew Teru’s sword. The bullet missed. The shadow rolled onto the ground and was back on its feet in a blink, charging straight for Zetti.
Her sword sliced the air in an impressive arc, but the shadow dodged the blow. In another swing, Zetti felt the sword strike metal. The stranger had a sword of his own. They leaned into each other for a moment, and she could make out his dark gaze, alight with flames from the fire. Even with deep shadows flickering against his face, she recognized him.
“Teru?” she said.
The man’s mouth split into a mocking, white-toothed grin, and she realized her foolish mistake. This was not Teru. He couldn’t be. Teru was dead, and he would never look at her with such hatred.
They pulled away from one another. He swung his own sword this time, and she deflected the blow clumsily. Each strike rang out in the night and shook her to the core. He looked too much like Teru, fought too much like him. She sensed that the man could be his brother, but it simply did not make sense. Why would he be there, in the desert, trying to run his blade through her?
Caught in a dance of flashing blades, neither noticed Dove taking aim a second time. The barrel of the gun followed them, but she did not shoot. Not at first. Every time the stranger moved, Zetti moved. Finally, they locked swords again, and Dove lined the revolver up with his head.
“Dove! No!” shouted Zetti, making her jump. The bullet ripped through the air.
The man reeled back, his hand against his ear. Blood dripped from his fingers. The bullet had grazed the side of his head. Disoriented, he lifted the sword and stumbled toward Zetti, but before he could reach her, he collapsed with a sickening thump. Behind him stood Jesse, a rock in hand.
At Zetti’s wide-eyed stare, Jesse said, “Relax. Didn’t hit him that hard.”
“Do ya know him?” Dove asked, stepping toward the fallen man. It wouldn’t matter if the Devil himself fell in a heap of blood before her. She would help just about anyone, even the man she nearly shot. She crouched down beside him as Zetti answered.
“No.” Her voice sounded hollow, as if she had seen a ghost. She certainly felt like she had.
Despite the thoughts welling up in her head, she said nothing more. She sheathed Teru’s sword and picked up the stranger’s. It had fallen against a clump of sage. As she wrapped her hand around the hilt, her suspicions grew. It looked identical to her sword, though a bit heavier and less balanced.
“I think he knows somethin’ about Teru,” she said. “Did Jesse kill him?”
“No. He’ll be alright,” said Dove, backing away from the unconscious man. “I’m gonna stop that bleedin’, though.”
“Told ya I didn’t hit him that hard,” said Jesse. He nudged the stranger with his boot. “He sure does look funny.”
The stranger wore all black in a style that reminded Zetti of Teru. She had no doubt he was Japanese, but she didn’t feel like explaining that to Jesse. She watched as Dove tended to the wound, the sword still held tightly in one hand.
“What are ya thinkin’, Zetti?” asked Dove without looking up.
But Zetti didn’t answer. She paced among the brush, restless and torn. All her plans felt jumbled and meaningless. Before, it had been simple: find the Moraday boys and kill every last one of them. Ever since she took out Cassiday, though, the mention of the bounty had been eating at her. Who would want Teru dead? He had kept to himself for the most part, content to live out his days with her in Little Gulch. He rarely mentioned his life in Japan, but when he did, he looked like something haunted him. She could see it in his eyes.
Now, there was the stranger.
She felt Dove catch hold of her sleeve, and she stopped. “Zetti, what is it?”
All the wild energy that had coursed through Zetti suddenly vanished. She felt oddly defeated and met her friend’s gaze with a confused stare. “He looks like Teru, don’t he?”
“Who’s Teru?” asked Jesse, unable to maintain his silence. The two women glared at him, and it seemed to dawn on him. “Your husband?”
“He was,” said Zetti.
He scratched at his chin. “Well then, we best figure out who this is.”
This matter of fact statement made Zetti feel guilty for wanting to leave Jesse in the dust. She gave a slow nod, though she had a feeling the stranger wouldn’t know a lick of English. Getting information out of him would be about as easy as asking a rock where to find water.
Jesse fetched some rope from one of the saddle bags. “I’ll get him tied up so he don’t wander off, and you ladies can rest easy.”
Neither said a word as he bound the stranger’s hands and feet. They sat beside each other once again, and Zetti stared into the fire.
Zetti hardly slept. When she did drift off, she dreamed of Teru but not Teru. She could see him at the edge of her vision, but whenever she turned or reached for him, he would vanish. Then, she would wake and stare at the stranger, half expecting him to move or disappear himself. This went on until she hardly knew whether or not the stranger was real.
By morning, her eyes felt heavy, and she ached from all the tossing and turning. She rose first and went out into the brush, her face turned toward the first light of day. The coolness of night lingered, and she stood with her hands tucked beneath her arms. The world stretched out wide and silent. Only the occasional clip or buzz of insect wings broke through the quiet.
She heard soft footsteps behind her. Thinking it was Dove, she turned. Her eyebrows rose. “Jesse?” she said, surprised that he could be so light footed.
He tilted his hat. “Zetti.”
“What do ya want?”
“Come to tell ya that our new friend just woke up.”
A storm of emotions swept through her, and she wondered if it showed because something akin to pity filled Jesse’s eyes. With a little sniff, she said, “Well, let’s see what he has to say.”
They returned to camp where Dove sat facing the stranger, revolver in hand. As soon as Zetti was in sight, his gaze darkened and followed her. She glared right back.
“Who are you?” she asked, standing over him with her arms crossed.
The stranger stayed silent, though. She thought back to the small amount of Japanese she had learned from Teru. But those words never rolled off the tongue quite right.
Still, she cleared her throat and tried one. “Ko… nnichiwa?”
This made the man smirk, but he kept his mouth shut all the same.
With a snarl, she crouched down and grabbed a hold of his shirt, pulling him close to her face. “Ya best say somethin’ if you don’t want to be left out here to die. So, I’m gonna ask ya again. Who are you?”
She flung him back on the ground and stood up. “We’re leavin’ him here,” she said. “Come on.”
The stranger at last spoke up. “Wait.”
Zetti held back a smirk. “So ya do speak English.”
His accent clung heavily to his words, and he spoke slowly. “I only want katana.”
This had her laughing. “You chased me all the way out here for this sword? You off your rocker?”
Of course, half of what she said probably sounded like nonsense. The stranger simply repeated what he said before.
“Why?” Zetti asked. Rather than an answer, she received a hard stare. “Suit yourself, then.”
Neither Dove nor Jesse argued when she said she wanted to head out. They saddled the horses, and Zetti felt the stranger’s eyes on her the whole time. Whoever he was, she would be glad to never see him again. She didn’t care if he knew Teru once. Teru was gone, and she was going after the men who killed him.
Once they mounted the horses, she looked down at the stranger one last time and spat at his feet. “Sayonara.”
He grinned up at her the same way he had the night before and said, “I will see you again.”
She laughed. “In hell maybe.”
Chapter eight will be released Tuesday, November 5.
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