Cassie (Chapter Three, page 1 of 8)

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Cassie cooked rabbit and dumplings for supper that evening. She was spoiling the men, but her decision to start home from Ashley was going to leave them in the lurch. They would find someone to drive the wagon back across the desert. They could do their own cooking, even though it wouldn't be as nice. Still, leaving them wasn't going to be easy for her either. She dreaded telling them.

She filled her plate and sat down cross-legged between Pete and Davis. It was a hot evening and they were well back from the fire. Fritz and Royce were squatted close to the fire, not wanting to get far from the food.

"Bordeaux," Fritz broke the silence, placing his empty plate on the ground. He rolled a cigarette as he spoke. "How did you get to be so experienced at handling women?"

"Yeah," Royce licked his fingers noisily and tossed a rabbit bone in the fire. "I ain't seen her take the whip to you once."

Bordeaux was stretched on the sand outside the firelight, leaning on one elbow while he ate. If they all hadn't been so close, she would have thought he didn't hear the question.

Fritz plucked a stick from the fire and lit his cigarette. The end glowed as he inhaled.

"Fritz," Bordeaux finally spoke in a soft voice. "I heard once that an Indian can smell cigarette smoke for six miles."

Both Fritz and Royce laughed, but Davis and Pete glanced sharply at Bordeaux.

"Well," Bordeaux conceded, sliding his plate away. "I always figured that was an exaggeration. But I know for a fact that the glowing end of a cigarette butt can be seen as far away as an arrow can be shot accurately."

Fritz snatched the cigarette from his mouth and stepped away from the fire, glancing around nervously into the darkness.

Royce scooted back from the fire and laughed nervously.

"Don't pay any attention to him, Fritz, he's just tryin' to scare us."

Pete frowned. "Did you see something today that we should know about, Bordeaux?"

"Tracks. Nothing else." Bordeaux stood and moved around the fire, careful to keep outside the circle of light.

Cassie glanced up at him as he moved by her, but he paid her no mind. Feeling a little hurt by his apparent disinterest, she picked up her plate and started cleaning up the camp.

She had been flirting with him and enjoying his clever side steps for the last few days, but she was tiring of the game. She was confused and a little annoyed by a growing desire for a more serious relationship. The confusion was partly due to the fact that everything was happening so fast and partly because she had never responded to a man that way before. She was annoyed because she feared it would lead to unhappiness. Not that any of it actually mattered. In a few more days they would all part company anyway. Getting involved would only complicate things. Now that they were all together, it would be a good time to tell them. She scraped bones from a plate into a hole she had dug in the sand.

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