"Hello at the fire." Quinn called out.
"Who goes there?" came the guarded greeting from the camp.
"Are ya willing to share your fire? I come in friendly," Quinn responded, checking the knife at his belt.
"That's two in one day. Come on in."
Quinn rode closer to the camp wondering at the comment, dismounting at the firelight's ring. "Smells right inviting." He nodded at the woman and the plate of beans in her hand.
"When she ain't burnin' it or dumpin' it on ya." The old timer turned his attention to the woman. "Get the man the rest of 'em vittles."
Quinn watched her. She glanced longingly at the beans and then handed him the plate. He noticed a look of angry annoyance replace that of hunger on her features as he took the plate he observed that her hands were tethered. A length of rope kept her within the ring of firelight.
"Have a sit. Move woman or ya'll get no blanket tonight."
The woman eyed her captor, an inkling of hunger mixing with the vengeful glare. She moved away from him as far as her tether would allow.
Quinn nodded his thanks and hesitantly took her seat on a comfortable rock. He spooned a healthy bite into his mouth. They tasted awful. What had she done to them? The old timer took his place on a ratty stool and resumed his meal, seemingly unaware of the offensive taste.
"Betcha are wondrun' 'bout this." The old man traced the tether in the air with his spoon.
Quinn nodded in a nonchalant manner taking a smaller bite of beans.
"Ungrateful wretch. Saved 'er life, I did. An' this 'eres the result."
"She volunteered to be your slave, did she?" Quinn knew better, but wanted to hear the old timer's version of the story. Nothing made it right to tether a woman like this, especially one that seemed rather unhappy about it. If she were a cattle rustler, it might be different. The old timer definitely wasn't a cattleman.
"Jus' opposite. Old Curly saves her life an' she weren't even appreciable. Ya ever heard of that?"
"I said 'thanks'," the woman snapped.
Curly yanked hard on the rope causing her to fall. Quinn considered the rope, following it with his eyes to find it anchored to a large rock near Curly.
Anger boiled in Quinn's throat. You couldn't force someone to be thankful and if anything Curly had heaped the wrath of the woman on himself. He managed to hide his feelings. Could Curly be reasoned with? Was Curly the type of man to seek revenge if Quinn stepped in? Would he have to outright kill Curly to set the woman free? Quinn considered the woman in the firelight. She was slender, the manly clothing doing nothing to hide her feminine curves even if she looked rather dirty and unkempt. He harbored little doubt about Curly's warped motive.
"Women," Quinn drawled. "Seems they're more trouble than they're worth. Are you a gambling man, Curly?"