The horse shifted hooves a few times, giving a silent plea for its rider to move or get off, but all the rider did was reach down and pats its neck, dust flying off with each pat. The horse shook its head and snorted and its rider just smiled to herself and patted the neck a few more times. She lifted herself in the stirrups to readjust her seat in the saddle. The setting sun cast red shadows over the dusty, barren land - nothing but sharp rock formations and scattered patches of dried, desert grass. The air was getting cool, warning the rider than the winter months were on their way and it would be harsh. She shivered, shook out her long coat and started buttoning the front of it.
"What are ya doin' out here?"
The rider turned and peeked at the other as he rode up from the corner of her eye. She had heard him coming for some time. It was hard to escape notice without anything else out there but rocks, grass and an occasional lizard or two. The open land echoed and horses hooves coming hard and fast were not necessarily quiet.
"I'm just watchin," she turned toward the horizon and played with the reigns of her horse a little bit. A small smile formed on her lips, the kind a girl would wear staring at an older man she might admire.
"Watchin' what? The sunset? Jeez, girl, it happens all the time. Everyday in fact," he came up beside her, their horses nudging each other a bit. The nudge took her away from her other world and she rolled her eyes.
"Yeah, but it's always different. Just 'cause you're unobservant doesn't mean I have to be," She reached out and pushed his shoulder. His horse danced to the side as he laughed at her. "I like it out here," she smiled. Her coat caught a bit in the wind and she pulled on the sleeves.
"Is that my coat?" He shimmied his horse over to her and picked at the coat sleeve.
She shook him off. "You weren't usin' it or nothing." With a gloved hand, she smoothed out the spot where he'd pinch at it.
"An' that's my extra set of clothes? Girl, what are ya doin' dressed like that?" He grabbed her wrist and lifted her arm up to get a better look at her outfit. "That's my best set, Jessie."
"Oh, don't get your knickers in a bunch," Jessie pulled her arm away roughly. "I'll wash them. I always wash them."
"You're a girl. You're supposed- You ain't supposed to be riding like that. What would Pa say?" He watched her and shook his head like a father at her. It wasn't like he was one to talk with his patchwork pants and his coat that had seen better days. Jessie had tried to get him to change it, but he was just stubborn.
"He wouldn't say anything. He likes me," Jessie beamed and looked back toward the sunset. Her chest rose and fell in a large sigh and she spread her arms wide to her sides. She made sure that her right hand smacked her brother in the chest. He grabbed her hand, throwing it down away from him. Jessie laughed. "You've got to appreciate things in life, James."
"I do. Just-" He was cut off by the sound of a nearby gun shot. Both he and Jessie snapped their heads around toward the East. The horses jumped and danced, their riders struggling to keep them still. Over the echo of the shot, the sound of horses riding hard reached their ears. The hooves were heading for Jessie and James.
"James." Jessie whispered. Her whole body, her tiny frame tensed. She looked to the older man for guidance and he just glanced back at her. He took his hat and tossed it to her. She stuffed the hat on her head and pushed up the stray strand of hairs into the brim.
"Get off," he instructed.
"What?" Jessie couldn't believe her ears. Her grip tightened on her reigns. "I'm not-"
"Don't argue with me, girl. Get off. Those ain't good men." James pointed in the direction of the gunshot. A dust cloud was forming from the oncoming horses.
"How do you know?" Jessie turned her horse about, checking every direction. "I'm not goin' to let them take Strider." She patted her horse's neck.
"Jessie." James rolled his head. When she just stared at him, he blew out a breath. "They'll find their way home. Now, get off."
The sound of hooves on dried sand was getting closer. Jessie slipped from her saddle, hanging onto the reigns of her horse. James dismounted, then smacked his horse's behind, setting it off on a run toward their ranch a few miles back to the West. He came around and found Jessie hanging tightly to the leather straps and pried her fingers away. She whimpered and fought until James dug his fingers into the tender spot on her wrist and she let go with a yelp. The horse took off in the dust tracks of the other. Jessie stood there watching the horses go until James grabbed her shoulders and pulled her away toward the lone tree a few yards to their left. It didn't conceal them, but it was all they had. The group of men had come up too fast on the duo, cutting them off from their scamper to the tree.
The group of men on horseback, five in all, rode past, then circled around and surrounded the siblings. Jessie wrapped her coat around her form, attempting to conceal her curves. James protectively kept himself in front of his sister as much as he possibly could surrounded by a circle of rag-tag men. One man slid out of his saddle seat and came toward them. He was dressed like a wealthy rancher, matching jacket and vest, and his boots probably cost as much as Jessie's best dress. James pushed Jessie behind him and she held onto his coat shoulders.
"Look. The little one's shaking like a leaf, boss." One of the men still sitting on his horse, a young one with a gruffy face and angelic blue eyes pointed at her. He sat next to the riderless horse. Jessie moved further behind her brother, burying her face into his shoulder.
The man on the ground, Boss, stopped just an arm and a half length away from the two. He appraised them, taking stock of their clothes and weapons. They were unarmed, which made him laugh to himself. He leaned to peer around at Jessie and she shied away. "Now what have we here, boys?"
"Just a couple of ranch hands, sir." James put his arm back to protect Jessie. She grasped onto it.
"A little far out wouldn't you say?" His grin was lopsided.
"Just retrieving my little brother, sir." James shifted his feet nervously.
"Little brother, huh?" The man raised his eye brows. After a moment he glanced behind himself to the younger man who had spoken. The young man leapt from his horse and came to join his superior. He walked around the two of them like a cat stalking its prey. The men around them sneered and fingered their pistols. He reached out and pulled Jessie away from James. She clutched at James's coat, but the sudden grab had surprised her. James turned and grasped at his sister, but the cock of a gun stopped him.
The young man had Jessie across the chest and around the waist. After a moment, he frowned and shifted his grip. In the darkening sky, he even blushed. Knowing he had to hang onto her somehow, he settled on grabbing her forearms.
"Just let him go. He didn't do nothin'." James was staring down the barrel of a Colt pistol, level with his nose.
"Sawyer isn't hurtin' the little one, boy." The boss reset the hammer and spun the Colt around before re-holstering it. "Tell me, what ranch is this here land?"
"Don't tell him, James," Jessie pulled at her restraints. Sawyer pulled her back to him and shushed her in her ear quietly. She whimpered.
"James, I think it might be wise to do so." Boss nodded toward Sawyer who smirked and pulled out his own gun, he didn't waste any time aiming it at Jessie's temple.
James spun around to see his sister with a gun to her head. He shot an angry glance toward the boss and if he had had a gun, would have shot him dead. "Warren Ranch."
"Warren," the leader raised his eyebrows and looked over his shoulder at his other fellows who whistled and chuckled as they were warrant. The lopsided smile came onto his face. "You're his boys then, I take it? I heard he only had one boy and a little girl."
"Just ranch hands," Jessie's voice was muffled in her shoulder. She had turned her head to try and get as far away from the barrel of the gun as possible.
"Right." The boss nodded. He waved over to another man. "Robert." The man, short and stocky, all but fell from the saddle. When he grinned, he revealed several missing teeth. The boss waited for his lackey to enter into the circle. "You and Steven take our friend James a few miles out North toward those rock cliffs and leave him. Give him some matches for a fire. A bit of jerky and a map."
Robert nodded and grinned, showing off his missing holes. He grabbed James, who just realized what was happening and locked his knees. Steven hopped down from his horse to help his friend out - the two were brothers, matching holes and all.
James kicked and pulled against the two men, desperately calling out for Jessie who mirrored his own movements. Sawyer was strong and held her close to him. The kicking swirled the dust around and the grunts of the two men as they pulled James along drowned out whatever words he was saying to Jessie. She called his name over and over again until the boss nodded.
"Sure, boss." Sawyer let go of one of her arms and Jessie jerked forward, trying to find her footing to run. She didn't get very far. The last thing she saw before the searing pain on the back of her head was her brother reaching out for her and swearing he was going to put a new hole in each of them if they harmed a hair on her head.
It was morning when she opened her eyes. A throbbing pain radiated from the back of her head and she put a hand there to feel a rather large, egg shaped bump. She rolled her head to the side and eventually her entire body followed. Her hand felt the rough, woven matt of an Indian blanket underneath her. Slowly, Jessie pulled herself up into a kneeling position and realized that her dark hair was falling around her shoulders. Her eyes widening, and her head screamed for her to shut them, she reached for her hat once more. No hat. She panicked, her heart thumped wildly in her chest. She needed that hat.
"Don't worry about it, miss," the young man, Sawyer, from the night before sauntered over and handed her back her hat. "They haven't seen, so just shove all that up into that hat somehow."
"I told you, Sawyer, Warren had a boy and a girl," the boss was sitting beside a small fire, a metal bowl in his hand. His feet were crossed in front of him and the Colt pistol on the desert ground by his leg. He saw her eye it and he reached over and picked it up. Jessie tensed, but he just put it back onto his belt and went about eating his breakfast.
"Where's James?" Her voice broke, hoarse from her night on the ground and out in the elements. She looked around her, the large brown hills unfamiliar and the rock wall behind her something she'd never seen before.
"He's probably back home by now. Sawyer, don't just stand there, give the girl some food." The man waved at his comrade to get a bowl and spoon from where the horses were tied. He shoveled a bit of the morning soup and handed it over to Jessie. She crossed her arms and looked away. The man just laughed and motioned for Sawyer to set it down beside her. "Stubborn one isn't she?"
"Why didn't you just take James?" Jessie cocked her head to the side and started braiding her hair, still turned away from them.
"Ah, boys are more work." The man waved his spoon at the group of men scattered around the make shift camp.
"Says who?" She raised her eyebrows, her eyes shifting toward him.
The man narrowed his green eyes at the girl. "Says me."
"And who are you?"
"The name's Samuel and ya better shut your trap and eat your food. We've got a long ride today." Samuel gathered himself up and stood to his feet. Sawyer tossed him a canteen of water which he used to wash out his bowl.
"And what am I going to ride on?" Jessie crossed her arms across her chest once more. She used to do that when her father made her do something she didn't want to do.
"I believe this is yours, miss?" Sawyer smiled smugly at her and handed her the reigns to her horse, Strider. "Seems like he likes you, though I can't see why."
"Don't go insultin' the horse, boy," Samuel cast a look over his shoulder as he put on his own hat. As he walked over to the horses, he kicked the boot of the nearest sleeping man who jumped and reached frantically about for his gun. It was Steven. When the man's eyes focused and saw that it was only his boss, he stopped moving for a moment. "Let's go boys. Sawyer, make sure you tie that boy's reigns to your own."
Sawyer nodded and pulled Jessie up by her elbow. When her feet found ground, she pushed with both palms against the young man. He chuckled a bit and readjusted his hat. Jessie stalked toward her horse as Sawyer tied the reigns onto his saddle. It wasn't like she could ride off into the sunset anyway, where would she go? She didn't even know which way was North.
"Saddle up," Samuel shouted. As he walked by them, he grabbed Jessie's waist and tossed her up into the seat. She scowled down at him as he tipped his hat to her and went about to his own horse, a dark chestnut with black hair. It suited him and his black heart.
"Let's move," Sawyer's voice was gruff and firm. The men sprung into action, putting away blankets, scooping up the last of the breakfast and reloading their guns. Jessie slouched in her seat and bit her lip enough that it started to bleed. All that was in front of her was hill after hill of loose dirt, rocks, still grass and an occasional tree. Not a living soul besides the six of them on horseback. Jessie felt her heart sinking into her chest. Escape wasn't in the equation anymore. Where would she run?
She sat like a sack in her saddle, despite how well she knew how to ride. Sawyer looked sideways at her and bit back a chuckle, making her dip her head down and hide her face with the brim of her hat. She was pouting like a small child, but she didn't care. Jessie was a captive, an unwilling captive and she was going to make it known to this band of smelly outlaws. Her hands folded in front of her, not even holding up the pretense that she was controlling the reins of her horse; she wasn't.
Her horse sensed her discomfort and spooked easier than normal. Samuel sighed and grumbled each time it happened and each time that Sawyer had to slip from his seat and settle her horse, with no help from Jessie. A few times, the older man turned his head, narrowing his eyes at her and setting his lips into a firm line. It didn't phase her a moment and Jessie continued to be a hindrance. The thought never crossed her mind that they might kill her if she didn't start cooperating.
Strider balked when a little lizard daringly shot across their path. He bumped into Sawyer's leg hard, making him grunt in surprise and pain. The horse danced around a bit more, breaking up their careful circle and causing quite a bit of noise and kicking up dust. So much dust that Jessie didn't notice Samuel until he grabbed the belt on her waist and pulled her off the horse. Jessie tumbled in a heap, and held up by his grip on her arms as he caught her.
"We're going to get a few things straight, kid," he grumbled, pulling her with him as he walked away from the horses. Sawyer was right behind him, hand on the butt of his pistol. A shiver of fear ran down her spine.
"A few things?" She squeaked, not meaning to sound so pathetic. He shoved her forward and she stumbled, her legs not used to walking after all the riding.
Samuel looked back over his shoulder and Sawyer pulled out his gun from the holster. Jessie froze to the spot despite the heat. "You will cooperate, or I will have no problem putting a bullet through your lovely, little head. Understand?"
Jessie nodded quickly.
"Good," Samuel nodded in approval and turned to head back toward his horse. When he didn't hear her feet following behind, he stopped and spun around to face her. He pointed to the horse. "Move."
Jessie shook her head weakly. "No. I'm not going to make this easy. I'm not just going to go along with you like you're my friend. You're not. I have my dignity." She looked at Sawyer, standing between them with his gun in plain sight. He was looking at his boss, awaiting instructions.
"Dignity?" Sawyer snorted with a half smirk.
"Get on your horse or I'll..." Samuel's tone was angry and low.
Jessie let her arms hang at her side. "Or you'll what? Kill me? You're going to do it sooner or later."
Samuel squared off to her, no readable expression on his face. The horses shifted behind him, anxious to get out of the heat or at least to keep moving. Jessie felt the same, but she couldn't take back what she'd said.
"What makes you think we're going to kill you?" He sounded rational, controlled.
"You're outlaws. You have guns, ride in a group, kidnapped me in the middle of the night, dumped me brother in the middle of the desert." She started the list, her voice rising after each one until she was yelling. "I'm not stupid. I read the papers."
"The stories," Sawyer corrected her.
"The papers." She shouted back at him, her hands balled into fists.
Samuel laughed a bit, crossing his arms in front of him and shifting his weight. "Seems her need to argue outweighs her fear." His tone was low enough that only the three of them heard how he addressed her. "We're wasting time, an' daylight, kid. The horses are hot, I'm hot and I'm inclined to find a place to camp by sundown and you… You are makin' it mighty hard to do so, standing there in a huff."
Jessie didn't answer, making Sawyer laugh in turn. He didn't seem less imposing when he laughed, like Samuel did. Jessie didn't think Samuel could be anything but imposing.
Samuel pointed toward her horse behind him. "Get on your horse."
She just shook her head in defiance. Her bravery was eluding her, not letting her say anything aloud. The man dressed all in black narrowed his eyes at her and she could see his jaw clenching and unclenching a few times. He turned on his heel, heading back toward his horse. "Sawyer."
The younger man nodded and came toward her. Jessie tensed, fearing the worse, but he just scooped her up and as much as she resisted, Sawyer had practice holding onto squirming women. She did make it difficult to get her back on the horse, Sawyer grunting with the effort and in annoyance at her.
"You get on that horse, or I will tie to up like a sack to my saddle bags and that's how you'll ride." Samuel threatened and Jessie believed him.
Reluctantly, she let Sawyer throw her up into her saddle and her whole body screamed in pain. Riding all day had taken its toll. Standing had been a welcome relief, but now that she was in her seat again, her body was rebelling, telling her how annoyed it was at having found itself in such a position again. Sawyer patted her leg in what he must have meant as some sort of comforting gesture. It just sent fire up her leg.
They rode until they reached a small, bushed area that followed a shallow river through the rocks and open fields. Jessie knew it well; it cut through her family's lands and then northward into lands that she didn't know. When she was little, it had been a favorite playing spot. Now it was their camp for the night. Samuel liked the cover it would give them and the fresh water to drink for themselves and the horses. Jessie, if she wasn't so stubborn, would have liked it too. Some of the grass around the bank was much more comfortable than the hard rocks she'd spent the night on last night.
Just like Sawyer was the one to put her on the horse, he was the one to take her off. Jessie was too tired to care and fell into his waiting arms like a sack Samuel had threatened to make her. As her feet hit the ground and found their footing, Jessie shoved at Sawyer and she heard Samuel's laughter behind them. The three other men, Robert, Steven and Mark, she had come to learn, were laying out their rolls and the two brothers, Robert and Steven, set out into the brush. Jessie followed them with her eyes while Sawyer left her side and started a small camp fire.
Jessie hugged her brother's coat around her like a blanket and drew up her legs to herself. She kept as far away from Samuel as the warmth of the fire would let her. Sawyer walked around her and held out a square-like object to her. Her gaze when from his hand to his face.
"Soap." He told her simply.
"What?" She wasn't quite sure she heard him right.
Samuel was cleaning one of his knives, already comfortable. "The river. Ya might want to clean up there. It's gonna be a while, kid."
Jessie considered it a long moment before she snatched it from Sawyer's hands and climbed to her sore feet. The faint sound of the river told her where to go.
"No trying anythin'. My boys are out there, they'll see if you try." Samuel's warning was casual, but it still made her shudder and nod.
The tall grass along the edge was a welcome sight. It was nearly up to her waist as she climbed through it to get to the gravel edge. It was shallow, no deeper than her calf for several feet in front of her and she hurriedly took of her boots and socks, wading in. Her pants were rolled up to her knees and she let out a sigh of relief when the water hit her sore legs and feet. Jessie tossed off her brother's coat, his vest and rolled up the sleeves to her elbows. Looking around, she made sure no one was watching, or so she hoped, and unbuttoned several of the top buttons of the shirt. Underneath was her corset cover, a sleeveless, lacy shirt that she hadn't been brave enough to do away with completely in her men's attire. It was nearly like heaven as she washed off her chest, arms and neck. She waited till the end for her face and then scrubbed her hair as clean as it would ever be out in the bush.
Jessie buttoned the shirt and pulled on the vest. She was buttoning the vest and rolling her sleeves back down when she returned to camp, a bit refreshed but just as tired. Her coat became a blanket as she sat in her original seat. Robert and Steven had returned with a rabbit, she could smell it cooking over the fire. The men didn't seem to notice her return, only Samuel who glanced up for only a moment and cut her a portion of their dinner and handed it over on a plate.
She took it tentatively and in her curled position, ate her food. When she had finished, she set the metal plate down and stared into the fire. Mark and Steven argued about who was the better shot and challenged one another to a duel in the morning. Robert had sided with his brother, of course, but it surprised her that Sawyer challenged them both. Mark and Steven almost looked like they wanted to back down. If Jessie hadn't know better, she would have thought that they were a family. A weird family.
Her eyes stung as they welled up. She started to draw patterns in the bit of dirt beside her, blinking as quickly as she could. Jessie sniffled a little, drawing the attention of the men.
"Want a bit more?" Robert held out a plate with the left over bits of the rabbit. He smiled, but she shuddered away. He put the plate down and looked to his boss for direction.
"Hit the sack, boys," Samuel was already lounging. "Sawyer will take first watch. I'll take second, then Mark, Robert and Steven." They all nodded and settled themselves into their blankets. The day must have been just as long, they were snoring within minutes.
Sawyer crept over to her awkwardly. "There's a blanket set for ya." He pointed next to her. There was an extra blanket there too.
Jessie nodded, though the wave of sadness took over and she had to wipe away the tear before it ran down her cheek. She turned her face away from the fire and away from Sawyer. He was not a man to sympathize, she knew that. Sawyer patted her on back, which drew a choked sob from her lips. Jessie ignored him and curled up on the rough blankets, wiggling between them.
"James," she muttered as she cried herself to sleep.
The sunrise woke her up, red behind her eyelids. Jessie groaned, her muscles stiff and an ache in her back. Slowly, she sat up, smelling a bit of soup on the last embers of the campfire, whose heat was almost unbearable in the morning rays. She could only imagine what the day was going to be like. Sawyer passed her a shallow bowl, like yesterday morning and she ate it greedily. Mark laughed a bit at her eating and refilled her bowl. Her second helping she ate much slower. As soon as she was finished, she moved off her blanket to let the boys roll it up and fix it to the saddles. It was a wordless morning, thankfully.
They moved to their horses and Jessie dragged her sore body off the ground and followed to Strider. Samuel was on her heels and instead of Sawyer taking up the reigns, he took up the reigns himself. She watched him, eyes wide and then she looked at her hands. As good as they treated her, she was still a captive.
The boys still joked about their shoot off, though Samuel delayed it until everything was settled, whatever that meant. They teased each other like brothers, even gruff Sawyer enjoying the banter now and again. It was a smooth easy pace throughout the day and several times, Jessie swayed in her saddle. Samuel never let her fall asleep all the way, falling back to poke at her leg or pull on her coat sleeve when she started to drift off. Jessie knew it was the heat and the fitful sleep on the ground.
She jolted to full awareness when they suddenly stopped. They all looked at Samuel. "We'll wait here until dark." She didn't understand. Blinking a few times, she looked ahead and in the far distance she saw a little dot. It was unmistakable on the horizon. While it wasn't the same, it was the shape of a ranch house not to dissimilar from her own.
"McDogal?" She whispered, confused.
"Sundown, boys." Sawyer issued the order and everyone dismounted and moved toward the steep hill off to their right. Jessie didn't move. Samuel grabbed her reigns and steered her and Strider toward the cover the boys had settled in.
"You're gonna rob McDogal. I know him. He's a friend. You…" Her voice was only a whisper, but Samuel looked up at her and then stood, waiting for her to slip into his hands. She did so without much feeling or rebellion. Jessie didn't move where he'd let her stand.
"Get over here," Samuel waved her toward the group of huddled men, but Jessie didn't move. He clenched his jaw, which seemed to be a permanent expression to Jessie and turned toward Robert. His toothless grin greeted her and he grabbed her upper arms, steering over to them. Pressure on her shoulders made her sit.
"But it's McDogal." She protested weakly.
The men looked at her and Samuel grinned in such a way that she'd never seen him grin. It was almost boyish. Jessie cringed away from it. "Exactly. McDogal has it comin' and we're gonna give it to him."
"I'm not helping." Jessie shook her head quickly.
"Of course not," Mark, who was to her left, nudged her with a low, throaty chuckle. Jessie turned red in embarrassment.
"This is an easy grab and go job. Easier than you, boy," Robert, on her right patted her once, hard on the back, making her cough.
Jessie groaned and dropped completely to the ground, legs cross in front of her. There had to be some way to keep them from doing whatever it was that they were doing. She had a hunch, given that McDogal had a son. She hadn't seen the boy for a few years now, so he'd probably be around eleven, twelve years old, but that boy was gold to his father. No way was she going to just sit there and let them snatch the kid away from his ranch to live with them. He'd end up dead and Jessie could never forgive herself if that happened and she did nothing to stop it.
Dusk came quickly and Jessie had sat and waited and listened to the whole conversation. It was a simple grab and go. Samuel and Sawyer, the fittest of them, would sneak into the ranch home and grab the boy, while Robert and Steven waited with a stolen horse and the other two horses, then they'd ride back and gather herself and Mark, who was her guard. Jessie didn't like it. Mark was a big man, nearly twice her size, and looked like he belonged on a farm and not a horse.
She waited until the four others were nearly at the house before she made her attempt. Jessie leapt up from her seat and bolted to Strider's side. Mark was behind her in an instant, tripping her up and spooking her horse. He danced out of her way and around the other horses. "Traitor," she muttered aloud to the beast. Jessie scrambled to her feet and decided to just run to the ranch. She was quick and Mark, well, he was big, she figured the odds to be in her favor.
She got only about five long, sprinted paces before her stomach met the hard ground. Jessie grunted and curled around to see what it was that had tripped her up. Unfortunately, it was Mark who had tripped her and was now hauling her off the dirt by her waist. Jessie opened her mouth to scream, but a big hand stopped the sound. She bit down on it and he tossed her to the ground in a heap.
Her feet found the ground once again, but she was facing the wrong direction. A gunshot from the ranch made her jump and her heart sped up a bit more. She spun around and collided with Mark. He scooped her up and Jessie fought until she heard another gunshot, a little too close for comfort.
"Get him on the horse," Samuel's bark came and Jessie was carried over to Strider and thrown up into the saddle. She squirmed a bit, trying to break free from the usual rope, but she found herself staring down the barrel of a pistol and froze. "Not tonight. Let's go men."
Sawyer took up her leash and they rode westward away from the ranch. John McDogal, brown hair wild from sleep, followed after them with a grin on his face. Jessie had to look back twice to make sure she saw correctly.
"He was more cooperative than you," Sawyer informed her. "He wanted to come."
"What?" Jessie looked over her shoulder again, then snapped her head around. Her jaw muscles tightened. She crossed her arms in front of her and didn't look back; she didn't want to see John happy to be captured by outlaw men whose hygiene needed work. He should have been a comrade in arms to escape, but one look at him and Jessie knew that wasn't even in the realm of possibilities. She was alone.
It was well into the midnight hours when they stopped and as angry as Jessie was as John, Samuel and the others, she was exhausted. Her little escape attempt has bruised something on her side and added a few shallow cuts to her palms that were starting to sting. Her bath was all for not, given how covered in dust she was, matching Mark, who'd done his job and kept her with them.
Like a routine, Sawyer was there to catch her from the saddle and half dragged her to the slightly larger circle. John happily started laying out blankets, eager to please like Jessie had always known him to be. Mark tossed her blankets at her roughly, the kind treatment over. Jessie narrowed her eyes and started to set up her sleeping space away from the others.
"I wouldn't do that," Samuel warned, laying out his own. "Don't know what's out there to get ya."
"I'll be fine," she grumbled and continued where she was. It wasn't as if she hadn't slept out in the open before with her brother.
"Don't worry, boss," Sawyer patted his leader on the shoulder. "She won't be trouble."
Samuel snorted, already starting to doze off. "Not yet." He tipped his hat down, covering his face.
"Don't talk to me," Jessie warned, turning her back to the men and pulling the blanket up around her in a little cocoon. She didn't want to talk to anyone, she just wanted everything the way it was several days ago. Beside her, John flicked at a few rocks before she got bored of that and just started throwing them.
"Jessie," someone whispered her name.
She craned her head to look up. It was John, who was pulling up his blankets to lay beside her. "What?"
He didn't even flinch at her clipped tone. "Isn't this amazing? Like those penny papers. They'll write stories about us, won't they Jessie?"
"No, they won't." Jessie wasn't going to pretend to make it exciting. She found nothing about the adventure exciting at all.
"Why not?" It was his child-like innocent shining through.
"This isn't like some story, Johnny," she remembered calling him that when he was a toddler, "this is life and we're in trouble. They are bad men, who will kill people. This isn't good."
"You're wrong," he waved her off and settled in for the night. "You'll see. Just like the papers, Jessie."