West (Chapter Three, page 1 of 1)

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A man of few words and rare emotions, Sheriff Taylor Hansen twisted to catch the woman before she tumbled off his horse to the ground. All but dragging her in front of him, he shook his head when one of his companions, a seasoned Choctaw named Running Bear, asked if he needed help.

There's nothing you can do for this one, he replied silently. Unlike Josie Jackson, he understood why she seemed to magically appear in the prairielands near the natives' village.

"We shall not speak of the latest starman," Running Bear said, referring to the word the natives used to describe the people who came from the sky in a bolt of lightning. "That makes six, including you, brother."

"Five too many," Taylor grunted.

He jostled her until he was somewhat comfortable and balanced. He guided the horse with his legs and found himself once more looking down into her face.

Josie Jackson was flawless with large blue eyes and soaked blonde hair framing a heart-shaped face. Clearly lost, she was nonetheless a potential danger, one that he alone understood. He didn't believe her shell-shocked story about how she got to be in the middle of the grasslands. He knew better than to trust any word she ever told him, and hoped she came to her senses before it was too late, like it had been for many others.

Trained to observe first and act quickly to protect the natural course of history, his duty was to wait and see why she was there before he determined the course of action required.

"Let's get her home," he said.

"Again?" Running Bear asked with quiet humor. "Can you not tell your starmen to stop sending Josie Jacksons?"

"If I had any way of doing so, I would," Taylor said, eyes lingering on the beauty in his arms. "I can't keep buying coats like this."

"Our niece can make you one. Better than the white man's stitching."

"Blue Stream is growing up too fast." Taylor smiled at the thought of the thirteen-year-old girl. The first of six to fall from the skies, and the sole traveler with Choctaw blood, he had been found wandering a nearby field and adopted by the mother of Running Bear. His adopted brother taught him everything he knew about hunting and tracking. Ten years older than him, Running Bear remained his confidante and friend, a solid bridge between the often-tricky relations between the settlers in the area and the natives inhabiting Indian Territory.

The distant growl of thunder drew his attention to the woman in his arms once more, and unease replaced his amusement.

She may not have been the first Josie Jackson to magically appear out of the sky, but if he had anything to do about it, she would be the last.

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