Delaney started walking again and Gabriel fell back in step
beside her, both of them quiet. They hadn’t gotten twenty
feet down the walk when she stopped again. Her ears
perked. A throaty whistle sang above them. She looked up
and saw three soiled doves hanging over the rail on the
balcony above the saloon. The whistler leaned way over and
displayed her goods, which were tumbling out of her tight
black corset. The young woman’s hair was the color of a
flaming southwestern sunset—a red mass of long unruly
curls highlighted with shades of blonde. Underneath the thick
coat of paint was a young face. Delaney figured she couldn’t
be over twenty, if that.
“Now, that’s what I call good advertising,” she
whispered to Gabriel.
The girl called out to the doctor. He waved and called
back, “Hello, ladies. It’s a lovely afternoon, isn’t it?” They all
“It’d be even lovelier if you came up for a visit, Doc,”
the red-haired goddess purred, as she batted her long
A grin split Gabriel’s mouth and the girls all giggled
“Friends of yours, Doctor?” Delaney asked with a sly
smile as they walked on.
“No. I wouldn’t say that. I don’t know much about any
of them, except they’re career ladies,” he countered with a
hint of the devil. “Much like yourself.”
Before she could fire back a response, she spied a tall,
stocky man at the hitching post outside the gambling parlor
next door. In plain view, he was flogging his horse, and no
one was coming to the animal’s rescue. He smacked the
stallion with a bullwhip as the horse bucked and reared and
tried to escape its ties.
Delaney dropped her bags, hiked up her skirt and shot
off like a rocket. She flung herself onto his back, and the
force of impact against his hard body was like a car colliding
with a brick wall. “Stop beating that horse!” she screamed as
she began pummeling the man’s shoulders.
He spun and flung her away with his beefy arm, then
raised the whip in the air and scowled at her. “What the hell
do you think you’re doin’, woman?” He spat tobacco juice
onto the ground.
She glared into his steel-gray eyes and ran at him
again, attempting to pry the braided leather instrument from
his hand. “I’m stopping you from abusing that innocent
animal, you jackass!”
There wasn’t much of a struggle. The man took hold of
her narrow shoulders with his two powerful hands, gave her
a shove, and slung her like a rag doll, into the dirt. Moaning,
she frowned up at him and rubbed her hip.
“That’s enough, Hooper!” Gabriel raced to Delaney’s
side. He helped her up from the ground for the second time
that day, and then gruffly ordered, “Don’t move.” The firm
grip he placed on her arm and the fierce look in his eye let
her know he was not talking just to hear his own voice. He
meant for her to stay put.
After taking huge strides toward the man, Gabriel
retracted his fist and punched the horse beater in his already
bent nose. Blood spurted.
Rooted right where Gabriel had left her, Delaney
stared in wide-eyed shock. Then, a smile parted her lips as
she watched him take a defensive stance and raise his balled
fists, prepared to do further battle.
“Get him, Doc!” some boys on the street yelled. Other
people began to gather and cheer him on.
Momentarily stunned by the blood gushing from his
nose, the man called Hooper reacted slowly at first. Then, his
eyes boiled with fiery rage.
Gabriel stalked his opponent like a cougar, bouncing
on the balls of his feet. His voice was calm when he said, “I
don’t want to fight you, Warren, but you had no right to hurt
the lady—or that horse. Now, you apologize to Miss
The man was bleeding profusely now. He raked
a rough hand across his lips, staining his knuckles with blood.
He set a menacing look upon Gabriel and murmured, “I’ll
beat the woman, too, if she don’t get outta my sight and
mind her own damn business.” As he raised the whip in the
air again, he spit a thick stream of yellow tobacco juice onto
the street, missing Delaney’s boots by mere inches.
“You’ll find yourself on the reckoning end of that
bullwhip if you dare to lay a hand on her, now or ever,”
Quicker than a cat on a parakeet, Gabriel lunged and
wrenched the whip out of Warren’s fist. With a flick of his
wrist, the whip unrolled and splintered the ground like a
lightning strike. The loud crack caused Delaney to flinch. The
horse nickered, too, and backed up, pulling against the lead
“Sorry, boy,” Gabriel apologized to the horse.
“What the hell’s the matter with you?” Hooper
thundered. Before he could say more, Gabriel aimed the
whip at his legs and let it fly. The braided leather snapped
and coiled around the man’s calves like a cobra, slicing open
the fabric of his pants and biting the skin. Hooper screeched
and crashed onto his side, like a tree falling.
With many bystanders watching—Delaney included—
Gabriel stood over him, casting a long shadow on the
ground, and jerked the whip. As it unwound it dug into the
meat of Hooper’s leg, peeling off a thin layer of skin, causing
him to yelp like a dog.
Gabriel snapped the whip again. “Are you ready to
apologize?” He spoke slowly, with a dead calm, and showed
no signs of fear.
Resentment clouded Warren’s face, but he nodded
once and got to his knees. He stumbled to his feet and
brushed the dirt off his pants. The torn material of his pant
leg flapped like a tiny flag, and blood dripped from the open
calf wound. Staggering over to Delaney, he mumbled, “Sorry
ma'am,” but the apology was far from genuine.
A cheer filtered through the crowd.
She returned a small nod and forced herself to meet the man’s
stone cold eyes. Anger flashed behind them. Under her frontier skirt
and blouse, her body trembled and sweat dripped down her spine.
Hooper stared her down, his mouth open and his
yellowed teeth grinding together. Limping back to Gabriel, he
said, “Satisfied? Now give me my whip.”
Gabriel shook his head. “You’re not getting this back.”
Warren’s lip curled into a snarl before turning toward
his mount. After he untied the lead rope, he stuck his foot in
the stirrup and slung his damaged leg over the saddle.
Gabriel inched near. In a barely audible voice, he said, “If I
ever hear of you beating this horse again, I’ll personally
track you down and show you what this bullwhip can really
do.” With that, he gently patted the horse’s hind end before
Warren reined and trotted the animal down the street.
Delaney walked straight up to Gabriel and couldn’t
hold back her enthusiasm. Adrenaline pumped through her
veins, and she was out of breath with the thrill of it all.
Monday, August 24, 2009
Delaney started walking again and Gabriel fell back in step