Sloan strode across to the door, set his hand at his waist over his gun, and yanked the door open.
No one there.
He looked out at the far stretches of his property. Sparse trees grew here and there, low and scraggly. His land stretched out in back until it came to a row of foothills that skirted the mesa where Lily was situated. To the left, he saw the stables and the paddocks, and all seemed quiet. A light burned upstairs in Johnny Bearclaw’s apartment. He heard one of the horses whinny.
He had ten acres—a big enough spread if someone wanted to hide there.
He walked out to the stables, turning on lights as he entered. Kanga and Roo whinnied again as he approached their stalls, stepping up to the gates to receive attention. Sloan patted the horses, speaking to them softly. Kanga was almost twenty, and she was as friendly as a dog and loved human interaction. Roo was “the young un,” at twelve. He was Kanga’s only offspring, bred from Fierce Fire, an award-winning running quarter. Sloan wasn’t much on rodeos, but occasionally he brought Roo out to show. He didn’t enter competitions, but Roo could turn on a dime, and Sloan liked to let him strut his stuff now and then.
The horses didn’t seem skittish. Then again, they did like human contact and Sloan had enough visitors out here that they wouldn’t be skittish if they’d heard someone walking around the yard.
Maybe the cat had seen demons that haunted his feline mind.
As he stood by the stalls, his cell phone rang. He answered it quickly.
“Hey, you down there?” Johnny Bearclaw asked.
“Yeah, it’s me, Johnny.”
“You been there awhile?”
“No, I just came out. The cat was freaking out over some noise or other,” Sloan said.
“I was about to come down,” Johnny announced.
“You heard something?”
“It sounded as if the horses were a little restless. I’ll be right there.”
Sixty seconds didn’t pass before Johnny came hurrying down the steps from the overhead apartment. He wasn’t a tall man; he stood maybe five-ten, but he was barrel chested and had broad shoulders and huge hands. Johnny could tenderly serve a dying man soup—or tackle the meanest bronco. His dark eyes were narrowed as he said, “Oddest thing. I just had the feeling someone was around. Strange as hell. Then heard Kanga there neighing and stomping. I saw the light spill out over the paddocks and called you. Does anything seem to be amiss?”
Sloan shook his head. “Let’s take a look around for the hell of it, though.”
“Could’ve been a coyote who thought better of it. ’Course, we don’t have any chickens around here, anyway. A coyote would have figured that out pretty fast,” Johnny said.
“We’ll split up. I’ll go east, and you take the west,” Sloan told him.
Some brush on either side separated Sloan’s property from his neighbors, but like him, his neighbors had paddocks and stables; they all put up picket fences in front of their homes, but they didn’t bother with gates. No one cared if someone rode over someone else’s land.
That meant there wasn’t far to go and not many places to look.
Sloan met Johnny at the rear of the stables. “If someone was snooping around, they’re not here now,” Johnny said. “My money is on a coyote.”
“You’re probably right.” Sloan looked off into the night. Behind them, the foothills were purple in the moonlight.
“’Course, if anyone was around here and they knew the place and wanted to disappear...” Johnny began.
“They could just head out back behind the hills,” Sloan finished.
“Not much there now but desolation,” Johnny said. “The old mine entrances were blown out with dynamite years ago.”
“Coyote,” Sloan said. “Thanks, Johnny. Get some sleep.”
“Yeah, you, too, Sloan. Everything going all right?”
“That artist come in?”
“She any good?”
“Yes, very good. Well, see you tomorrow, Johnny.”
“Hey, bring her on out. The horses could use some more exercise.”
“Yeah, maybe,” Sloan agreed.
He waved good-night to Johnny and returned to the house. He seldom set the alarm, but he did that night.
When he lay down to sleep, he felt a thump at the foot of the bed. He smiled. There was nothing unearthly about that thump; it was Cougar, settling down for the night.
He wondered why he still felt so disturbed. He’d probably had a hunch from the beginning that the skull might have belonged to Sage McCormick. The story had seemed off to him—women might leave their husbands, but from what he’d read about Sage, she wasn’t the type to walk out on a child.
Still, she had been dead for a hundred years.
But, like Henri, he was concerned. Why had the skull shown up now? Where had it been?
And where was the rest of Sage McCormick?
He thought that when he slept he might be plagued with dreams of the late 1800s—dreams in which outlaws rode down Main Street in a cloud of dust and flying sagebrush. Or that he’d dream of the Gilded Lily, a dream in which Sage McCormick took the stage, belted out a musical number...and then demanded that he find the rest of her body.
He didn’t dream anything of the kind.
Instead, he saw Longman seated cross-legged on the top of a sand-swept dune. Jane Everett stood next to him. She wasn’t in her bureau suit; she wore a long white gown that might’ve been appropriate in the late 1800s or in a show...like The Perils of Poor Little Paulina. Her hair was flowing around her face and shoulders, caught in the same breeze that swept the white gown around her body. She was listening intently to Longman. Sloan wanted to tell her that Longman wasn’t real, that he was a ghost or a figment of his—Sloan’s—imagination. He was a small portion of all that had made up Sloan’s past, a man he’d heard about from his family, one who was wise and careful and ready to face the world with his slow wisdom, whatever the world might bring.
Jane didn’t know that, couldn’t know it, and yet her features were both troubled and animated as the two conversed. She needed to find something out, and it seemed she believed Longman would help her.
She continued to stand next to Longman, heedless of herself, of her environment.
Sloan was mounted on Kanga, far below them, and as he watched, a shadow composed of desert sand began to sweep out of the earth and form a barrier between him and the other two, Jane and Longman. It grew darker as it rose in a frenzy—and it seemed to form the image of a man as it whirled closer and closer to where Longman sat and Jane stood. He shouted out in warning but they didn’t hear him. He spurred Kanga, but no matter how hard he rode, the danger moved ahead of him. He had to reach them before the swirling dark shadow enveloped them....
He woke with a start. He was sweating as he lay there, as if his physical exertion had been real.
Sloan looked around his darkened room. Nothing had changed. The cat, curled at his feet, stared at him with his wide eyes.
Sloan glanced at the clock on his bedside table and saw that only minutes had passed since he’d gone to bed. Wonderful—he was dreaming about a woman who’d come to town for a few days. Granted,