The setting sun signaled the need to make camp, yet Quinn pushed on. There would be time to rest once he reached home. He smiled thinking of Zelda and her warm welcome. Of course she would prefer he get the trail dust off and a shave before he visited her, but her solicitous attentions warmed his thoughts. Yes, she had proven herself well worth the gamble. She was no innocent, but he'd known that from the beginning.
He caught a glimpse of flickering fire light as he rounded the pass. Strange. Settlers didn't know about this pass. From the side these folks must have come, it looked like a box canyon. He knew it was passable on horseback but was careful not to travel this pass from the other side so as to not leave a trail. So far the rustlers had not found this shortcut between the Big Lost and Little Lost valleys. He intended to keep it that way. This pass afforded him the luxury of getting home a whole day early. Others in the valley communities had voiced their wonder about how he could make a living with playing cards, riding an occasional round-up and still get his homestead going. He had his secrets and this one he would keep to himself, not even sharing it with Albert, his brother.
Quinn reined his horse toward the game trail on the south once he cleared the narrow pass. Usually he kept to the stream to cover his tracks. Tonight it was more important to learn who was in this canyon. A canyon most believed had only one way out.
He tied his horse a good distance from the campfire and crept closer on foot, careful to remain out of sight. Crouched behind a fallen log, he watched the old timer, his long coat shielding Quinn's view of the fire. At last the man moved around the fire revealing another more slender figure bending over the fire. He watched long enough to recognize something wasn't right. When the figure stood, he kept his arms tight to his body, his hands together. He didn't even pull the long hair off his face.
The figure had no coat and carried the pot from the fire much too close to his body, pouring the steaming liquid from an awkward angle. The form jumped, a feminine squeal of pain filling the air. The old timer swiped a heavy backhand at the slender form.
Quinn felt the bile of outrage rise in his throat, an old battle reawakened in his gut. Men had died at the hands of outraged youth over the shameful treatment of his kith and kin. To his way of thinking no female, young or old, educated or not, deserved abuse at a man's hand. There were some things a man just should not do. He and his brother had ended a particular abusive situation with their own retribution. They had fled from the warped Tennessee lawman and kept on the move for years with only their horses under them. Hard work kept them fed and card games kept them on the move… until Denver. One night and one card game had changed it all but not the past. The past held bitter secrets, molding the man he'd become. His mother and sister's screams of that night melted to whimpers, whimpers that always brought the same reaction to the surface, his grinding teeth and insatiable need for vengeance. A need from his past that dictated he not allow an old timer to strike a woman.
Quinn worked his way back to his horse, remounted and skirted the camp to approach from the west. He rode in, his back straight, his shoulders broad. He would not run from this fight, if it came to that.