Dominique returned after a few hours, beating Santi to camp. Maite got back on her horse and waved goodbye.
“It was good seeing you Kepa,” she said. “If I get another day off, I’ll try to come back.”
“I’d like that,” said Kepa as he gave an overly dramatic kiss to the back of her hand.
Dominique chuckled. “Oh, young love.”
Maite and Kepa both looked at Dominique in surprise.
“Who said anything about love?” asked Maite.
“You didn’t have to,” replied Dominique with a wink.
He spurred his horse down the hill. Maite followed. She turned one last time to see Kepa standing near the wagon, watching her. He waved as she turned. She waved back, almost falling off her horse.
The trek back to town and the boarding house was uneventful. They didn’t encounter any other riders, for which Maite was thankful. She remembered their encounter with Donny McCowen and shuddered at the thought. She didn’t expect Dominique could be all that useful in any altercation, though the older man did carry a rifle strapped to his saddle.
“Have you ever had to use that?” asked Maite.
“Zer?” asked Dominique.
“Oh, yeah. A few times, hunting rabbits when I got sick of lamb. And there have been a few rattlesnakes I had to get off the trail.”
“What about another man?”
A dark look crossed Dominique’s face. “I’ve been lucky,” he said. “I keep to mine, and they keep to theirs. I tell my herders to keep their sheep off of cattle land. But, there was one time, when I was a herder myself, before I knew much better. I didn’t even speak any English, back then, at least not much. Some cowboys came up to me and threatened to burn my camp and shoot my sheep. They did shoot a few of them. But, I just stood my ground, pointing my gun at them when they got closer to the camp. Eventually, they backed off. I guess they didn’t think their lives were worth taking a chance, at least that day.”
Maite shook her head. “I can’t imagine,” she said. “That must have been terrifying.”
Dominique turned to look at Maite, a sparkle in his eye. “You betcha, it was. I almost shit myself. Especially since I’d forgotten to load the gun.”
Maite’s eyes went wide. “It was unloaded?”
Dominique chuckled. “Yep. If only those cowboys knew. I’m sure I’d be dead if they had.”
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