The midday sun blazed like hot coals against Tate’s skin. He teetered to a stop and slammed into the spikes of a saguaro cactus. They felt like feathers compared to the fire all around him.
He took a long swig from his canteen, and the water boiled against his throat. He squinted off toward the north, the way he had come. The horizon was clear. No one was following him.
Tate had never expected to be making a getaway on foot, but then he hadn’t expected there to be a posse waiting for him in Tusk Ridge the night before, either. Lucky for him, they’d been loud enough that he heard them before they saw him.
But that left him without a horse and just a few minutes to put some distance between himself and a violent death.
The only real choice had been to veer off the road, into the desert, and hope they wouldn’t follow.
Only now, Tate was out of water, and he might be lost. If he could just find a touch of shade, his addled brain might cool down enough for him to figure out what to do.
As if in answer to an unspoken prayer, a black shadow swallowed up the cactus, and Tate with it.
“I’ve been waiting for you.”
The voice was broken, raspy, but Tate recognized it right away.
“Yep, figured you would be.”
Tate turned to face Slade Patterson. The man stood in dark silhouette, blocking out the world. But the hole Tate had blown in his belly ten years before was still there, and the sky burned red beyond.
“I come to move you on.”
Tate nodded again.
The two men turned and walked side by side into the hellfire of the desert.