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Western Hospitality

Harper loped up the clay mountainside with a bloody muzzle and wagging tail. Even under moonlight, the mutt avoided every cactus, burr and stinging insect.

Tess crept out onto a stony perch to see what harm her dog had done to the man. She dropped to her belly and placed her hands on the ledge. The sandy stone that had scalded her feet earlier, felt like a block of ice at night. She blew warm breath on her hands and peered over a sharp drop.

Thirty-or-so-feet down, the Accomplice lay wheezing. His rent throat produced puffs of steam with each attempted breath. He held his neck together, eyes bulging, body rolling side to side. Tess couldn’t spot the gleam of a weapon, not that he could use it well in his state anyhow. The Accomplice didn’t even bring a pack for food and drink.

Tess patted Harper’s shaggy, chocolate-brown head and tied her leash to a marooned hackberry tree, dry and leaning with exposed roots like tentacles. She doubled the rope to insure the mutt wouldn’t venture over the ledge and hang herself.

Tess,” the Accomplice said. He followed with a fit of violent, wet coughing.

Damn you, Wyatt.” Tess spoke coldly. She knelt beside him and pulled ringlets of bloody hair away from gruesome gouges on his neck. Trying to clean the wound made a worse mess. “Why did you follow me?”

You...left me,” the Accomplice said. His voice caught in his throat.

Same as you'd have done if you thought of it first.”

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