Tuesday Teaser: Wolf’s Prize
Yikes! My apologies. This is getting out late today. This is an excerpt from Book Five in the After the Crash series. Taye’s cousin Ellie and her husband moved south into Kansas. The husband died and after Ellie had repeatedly declined to marry his employer, the man sold her to traders, who were taking her and a couple other women to Ellsworth to sell to be prizes in a Bride Fight.
“It’s too dangerous,” Ellie protested.
Sara snorted. “You act like an old granny. You’re not that old.”
“I’m twenty-four,” Ellie murmured. At this time, one short year ago, she had been a happy twenty-three year old wife and mother. Now, she was a widow who felt twice that, at least. Maybe three times that, with her little boy kept behind in the house of the man who had sold her like a cow. “I’m old enough to know what could happen to two women alone.”
“We have to do something! I don’t want to be married to some guy I don’t even know.”
Neither did Ellie. “But even if we did manage to get away, where could we go that would be safe?”
“We can do it. We’ll go to my uncle and my cousins in Omaha. They’ll take care of us.”
“I have a cousin, too.”
Ellie felt a wave of longing for Taye, her big, strong and over-protective older cousin. Taye had tried to talk her husband out of taking her so far away to live. When Neal had died, she had written to Taye, asking him to come and collect her and little Connor. She had written several times in the five months since Neal had died, but no answer ever came. She hadn’t understood why until this morning when Mr. Moore had traded her for gold. All the letters she had given him to post had gone into the fire instead of the mail pouch. Taye probably didn’t even know Neal was dead. If he did, he would have come for her right away. An idea struck her.
“Sara, wait here. I’m going to talk to Mr. Thomas.”
Sara perked up. “What about?”
“I think I have a way for us for us to not become prizes in a Bride Fight.” Ellie climbed over the back of the wagon. “Wish me luck.”
“Good luck. But if it doesn’t work, we’re running away.”
“Hm,” said Ellie, noncommittal.
Rye was still reclining by the coals of the fire, and Tim, Jeremy, and Paul were there, too, drinking coffee and talking in quiet voices. They broke off when she came to Rye.
He looked up at her, his face mildly surprised. “It’ll be a long drive tomorrow. You might want to get some sleep.”
“I’d like to talk to you for a few minutes, if you don’t mind.” She wiped her wet palms on her pants. “It’s business related.”
“Always glad to talk business.” Rye waved his hand at Tim, and the blond man moved a couple feet to the side so she could sit. He waited in silence for her to speak. It took her a second to find the right words.
“I have a cousin who loves me. He’s pretty well off. He would pay you twice what the men of Ellsworth would if you brought me to him.”
Rye’s brows rose until they almost disappeared under his limp curls. “Twice? That would be 200 gold.”
Ellie’s heart stuttered at the sheer amount of money. Did Taye have that much? “I don’t think that will be a problem for Taye” she lied. “He dotes on me.”
“And what about Miss Nelson?”
“He will pay for her, too.”
“Four hundred gold?” Rye whistled. “Your cousin must be loaded.”
Loaded with gold, no. Loaded with sharp teeth and a wolf’s aggression, yes. Not to mention an entire pack of men who all felt like he did. Ellie forced her hands to relax in her lap.
“Taye feels strongly about the safety of the women in his family. Actually, all women. He would be grateful to you if you bring me to him.”
Should she mention that Taye would want her son Connor brought to him, too? No, better not. Once she was safe with Taye, they would retrieve Connor from Mr. Moore. With a stab of vindictiveness, Ellie wanted to see the look on his face when Taye showed up at the Moore place to collect Connor. She doubted Mr. Moore would live through the retrieval process.
“That’s a lot of money,” Rye said thoughtfully. “But we have a contract with the men of Ellsworth. If we start breaking contracts, who will trust us to deliver our goods? Besides, we got one more girl to pick up tomorrow. Sorry, Mrs. Overdahl. When you get settled in Ellsworth you can write your cousin a letter.”
Ellie steeled herself to deliver a gentle threat. “Taye Wolfe is not a man you want to make an enemy of, Mr. Thomas.”
Next to her, Tim jerked in an audible breath. “Taye Wolfe? Where’s he from?”
“My cousin lives near Kearney, Nebraska.”
“Shee-it,” muttered Tim. “We’re in trouble, boss.”