“Please be a bear,” Niki mumbled as she grabbed the rifle, resigned to the fact that her life had deteriorated to the point of hoping for a run-in with a bear at night deep in the mountains as opposed to another human confrontation. “Papa, please don’t try to move, I’ll be just outside the flap and I’m sure Deuce heard the ruckus and is on his way back. Promise me?”

The old man nodded. Niki secured her light to her forehead, but didn’t turn it on. She slipped out of the tent and into the darkness and took cover behind the closest tree. No one would get to her grandfather.

She watched as a light bobbed in and out of the trees and wove through the sheep. She only saw one light, but was certain she could make out the shapes of two horses. Deuce, where are you?

Niki’s finger trembled near the trigger. She wasn’t sure she could kill again, but the riders kept coming. She thought about calling out to the strangers, demanding they identify themselves, but she hated to give her position away or the fact that she was a woman until absolutely necessary.

Fifty feet from the tent, the men pulled their horses to a halt. The night was so still that she could hear the leather of the saddles creak as the men dismounted. Their horses stood between her and the men, so she still couldn’t see their faces and saw no sign of Deuce, nor had either man spoke. She pulled the bolt back and jacked a shell into the chamber, making no effort to be quiet with the action. The men froze and threw their hands up.

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