A five dollar gold piece and a ticket out of town was all Gabriel had left after a woman's greed and lies left him nearly dead in the street, branded a rapist and murderer.
Gabe reached for his shirt, neatly pressed the same as the suit, looked up at Hedges and saw that Hedges' eyes were locked onto the fresh scar on his side. He knew Hedges had to have seen the scar marring the smoothness of his back shoulder, too.
"Well?" he demanded with hostility, that flash of rage building.
"Well what, boy?" Hedges said, raising his eyes to meet Gabe's.
"Aren't you going to ask me how I got them?" he demanded.
"Nope, ain't none of my never-mind, but I can sure see why you're tuckered out. Bad place to catch a slug. Sure you ought to be traveling so soon?"
The throbbing behind Gabe's temples eased off. He shrugged and said, "Wasn't anything else to do."
"Riders coming. Must be the Rocking M hands," Hedges said, pulling the team to a halt in front of the well-constructed gate of the homestead yard. "Don't see Little Sam, though."
Gabe didn't see anyone particularly little. The average bunch of cowhands had a share of smaller than average men in it, but this one didn't. The leader in front of the five men was bigger than most men, mean-looking on top of it, dark and swarthy with the look of a brawler. He was the one Gabe watched. The man looked mad clear through.
Riding down hard on them, he got so close to Hedges' team that they pranced and fought the traces when he jerked his mount to a halt not three paces from their heads.
He hit the ground running and didn't stop until he had Gabe by the front of the coat, jerking him off the wagon to his knees. "Give me that deed," the man shouted as he jerked Gabe up and threw him into the gate.
"What the hell are you doing, Pierce?" Hedges yelled. He fought to keep his team under control, but when he saw Gabe being dragged to his feet and Pierce's fist cocked and ready to drive into Gabe's face, he forgot about them and jumped off the wagon.
Gabe didn't see the fist. He didn't see much of anything but a red haze. He let the man lift him far enough to get his feet on the ground, then he drove himself up with both legs, his one strong arm swinging.
A counter-attack was the last thing the bully called Steven Pierce expected. The knuckles caught him across the nose, making a noise that let everyone know without a doubt that his nose was broken. His eyes watered so fast, he was blind and helpless to protect himself as the first punch was followed by another, then another and another until the other riders could get off their horses to help him.
Pierce rolled off to the side and held his nose until the others managed to get Gabe pressed up against a fence post to hold him and Hedges was dragged back out of the way. One man each held one of Gabe's arms along the fence rail and one crawled through the fence to hold Gabe to the post with both hands by the collar. One man held Hedges back with an arm around his neck.
"You're gonna pay for that," Pierce promised with a twisted grin, closing in to repay some of those blows. He was stopped painfully short of his goal by Gabe's foot in the middle of his gut. "Hold him, damn it," he gasped."Get a rope."
"I want to know who
"Don't suppose he's rightly either. Man cain't be an angel and be human, girl," he told her with an obvious inability to look her in the eye. "Men make mistakes in their lives. You aiming to give him a bad time over that deed?"
"He said he'd give it to me. When I told him I wouldn't take it without paying for it, he accused me of being in cahoots with you," she retorted.
"You've talked to him?" he asked eagerly. "Did he apologize?"
"Yes, for all it was worth. He apologized for saying it, not for believing it. He seems to have a poor opinion of women."
"Ah, now, Gabe don't think that about you. It's something else."
"Damn it, tell me who he is."
Hedges chewed his lip, considering it before he
said quietly, "Gabriel 'Angel'
"Oh, Hedges, you fool. What's wrong with you, wanting a man like that to stay here? We don't need—"
"You just hold on, young lady. You ain't got the right of that story, or you wouldn't say that. Gabe's a good boy."
"He's responsible for nine killings."