The hot sun beat down upon him making the air appear to shimmer before him as it glared off the plains. He sighed heavily, tipping his hat back to wipe the sweat from his brow with the back of his hand.
He pulled his horse to a stop, reaching behind him to retrieve his canteen. Unscrewing the top, he took a long drink, his thirst barely quenched with the warm water. Hooking his canteen on his saddle once more, he urged his horse on, anxious to reach the next town before sundown.
He was on a mission, one that he was determined to see through to the bitter end...whatever that end may be.
Glancing up at the sky, he noticed vultures circling overhead, seeking out a meal. His stomach suddenly rumbled then, reminding him that he hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday. Thankfully, the town he was heading for was already beginning to become a small blur on the distant horizon.
Dismounting from his horse, his boots hit the ground creating a small cloud of dust to form around him. He carefully studied his unfamiliar surroundings, finding the streets to be all but deserted save for him. The sun was just beginning its descent behind the mountains, casting a warm golden glow over the quiet town.
His hand fell to the silver-handled revolver resting in its holster at his hip, making sure it was ready when needed. And it would be needed if he had his way. He had only one thing on his mind as he glanced up and down the street – revenge.
“Can I stable your horse for you, sir?”
He turned to find a red-headed boy standing behind him, a wide smile on his freckled face. “I don’t know,” he thought long and hard for a moment, his gaze narrowing as he studied the boy. “I’m not sure if you’re someone that can be trusted with my horse.”
The boy fidgeted under the man’s scrutinizing gaze, lightly scuffing his boots back and forth in the dirt. “You can trust me, sir…promise,” he nervously replied, his hands clutched behind his back. “My father runs the stables in town.”
“What’s your name?”
“Renn, sir,” he politely stated.
“Well, Renn, I’m Richard,” he told him. “I will give you a coin now and another one later if you promise to take very good care of my horse for me.”
Renn’s face suddenly lit up with his words. “Yes, sir!” the boy beamed. “I’ll take very good care of your horse, sir.”
“Call me Richard,” he told him with a smile.
“Alright, Richard,” Renn said. “I’ll take care of him myself, make sure he’s fed and watered.”
Taking his pack from his saddle, Richard pulled a coin from his pocket, flipping it to the boy before turning to leave. He suddenly stopped; turning back towards the boy who was taking the reins of his horse.
“Renn, where is the best place to get a room and a hot meal in this town?”
“Oh, well, that would be the Keeper’s Inn and Saloon. It’s just down the street on the left,” Renn indicated with a nod of his head.
“Thank you,” the man lightly tipped his cowboy hat to the boy in gratitude.
Slinging his pack over his shoulder, Richard made his way down the street, his heart beginning to pound a little harder in anxious anticipation. It had taken some time to find who he was looking for, but he was finally here.
Despite his anticipation, he felt a sense of foreboding settling over him. There was something dark and sinister about this town. He was going to have to be on guard against everyone he came in contact with until he knew for sure whose side they were on.
His raptor gaze darted from one side of the street to the other, carefully taking in everything that he could. He was not about to let anything get in his way or stop him from getting what he wanted.
Catching movement out of the corner of his eye, Richard turned to see a tall man with broad shoulders coming out of one of the buildings. Well built and imposing, he was an impressive looking man, one that Richard hoped wouldn’t cause him any trouble as he approached.
“Hello there, stranger,” the man pleasantly greeted him. “I don’t believe I’ve ever seen you around these parts before.”
“I just arrived in town. My name is Richard,” he politely said, his muscles coiled tight and ready to react if necessary. He didn’t want any trouble. He only had trouble planned for one person in particular.
“Well then welcome to the town of D’Hara,” the man smiled broadly. “My name is Chase. I’m the sheriff in this town. What brings you here?”
“I’m looking for someone,” he hesitantly replied.
“Anyone in particular I can help you find?”
“No…thank you,” he quickly said, not wanting to give away too much information just yet. He didn’t know if the sheriff was someone he could trust or not. He hoped so, though. He found that he immediately liked the man.
Chase suddenly slapped Richard’s back, flashing him another smile. “Well, you need anything at all, you can usually find me right over there,” Chase told him, pointing a thumb over his shoulder to the building behind him. “I must warn you, though. D’Hara can be a very dangerous town. Watch yourself. I’d hate for anything to happen to you while you’re here.”
“Thank you, I will, Sheriff,” Richard found himself smiling in return despite himself.
“Please, call me Chase,” he insisted as he began to walk away. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“I will, Chase,” he said, instantly feeling relaxed in the sheriff’s presence.
Making his way towards his destination, Richard could begin to hear music and laughter pouring out onto the street. He could see light coming from a large building at the end of the road, spilling out in to evening’s growing dimness. A large sign hung above, swinging gently in the humid evening air.
He paused outside the saloon doors, fighting back the anger that still burned like liquid flames in his heart. Losing control would not bring him the satisfaction that he had been seeking for months now.
It had been over six weeks ago that it had happened and the wound was still so fresh that he could hardly draw a breath at times.
Swallowing his pain, Richard pushed through the swinging doors to find the Inn crowded. Tables were full of men gambling and drinking, smoking and laughing. A think cloud of smoke hung in the air as scantily clad women moved about the room, hanging on male patrons and enticing them with what they had to offer.
As he scanned the room, a hand suddenly touched him, lightly stroking up his arm. He turned to find himself staring into bright green eyes, her hand beginning to caress the back of his neck.
“Hi there, handsome,” she seductively purred, pressing herself up against him. “My name is Cara. What’s yours?”
“I’m not interested,” he tightly replied, keeping his gaze hard like his heart.
“You might not be yet, but I can assure you that you will be before the night is over,” she murmured in his ear, leaning in and caressing the lobe with her tongue.
He turned his head to stare at her for a long hard moment. While beautiful, she was definitely not his type. Besides, he had important business to see to and finding love was not one of them.
“Who do you see about getting a room…alone?” he asked, an edge to his voice.
“Zedd, the man behind the bar over there,” Cara told him as she continued to play with the long strands of hair that rested against his neck. “He’ll be able to get you a room.”
“Thank you,” Richard coolly replied as he began to walk away.
Cara quickly captured his hand, pulling him back and taking him by surprise. “Let me know if you change your mind, handsome. The nights can get a little…chilly…around here. I’d be more than happy to keep you warm.”
Richard watched as she slowly dragged her tongue across her red lips. “I’m sure I’ll survive just fine, but thank you for the offer just the same.”
Cara watched with great disappointment as he made his way around crowded tables towards the bar. Her eyes roamed over his muscular form, the way his pants hugged his posterior.
“Cara, he’s asking you,” a petite brunette came to tell her.
Cara sighed heavily. It would be a long night spent in the company of that beast, but this was her lot in life unless a handsome man swept into her life and rescued her. She ran her fingers through the blond curls that trailed down her bare back before turning and heading towards the man that sat at the back table.
It was going to be a very long, very unpleasant night indeed.
Thankfully no one else seemed to pay him much attention as they gambled and drank, their boisterous laughter and cursing rumbling loudly through the room. A tall man with shoulder length white hair stood behind the bar drying glasses with a dingy looking towel.
He greeted Richard with a warm smile as he neared, immediately setting him at ease. There was something grandfatherly in his demeanor, a genuineness in his smile that reminded Richard of his own grandfather.
“Good evening,” Zedd greeted him cheerfully. “What can I get you to drink this fine evening, friend?”
“Whatever you have that’s cold,” Richard replied. “Also, I’m going to need a room for a couple of nights at least.”
“With or without company?”
“I saw Miss Cara greeting you before you barely got two steps in the door,” Zedd smirked at him.
“Oh no…I’m alone,” he shook his head.
“I see,” Zedd nodded. “Not many men turn down Miss Cara. Have a girl back home?”
“No, there’s no one back home anymore,” he softy admitted.
Seeing his sudden sadness, Zedd quickly changed the subject as he handed him a mug. “So what brings you to D’Hara, ur…what’s your name?”
“Richard and it’s personal business,” he said, taking a sip of his drink.
“Where are you from, Richard?”
“Hartland,” he told him, suddenly lost in his thoughts as he stared at his drink.
“You’re a long way from home, my boy,” Zedd frowned. “Must be pretty important business to bring you over this way.”
Turning his back to the bar, Richard allowed his gaze to slowly sweep across the room, hoping to spot the reason for his trip to D’Hara. “It’s very important.”
Zedd set the glass down that he was drying, leaning forward and keeping his voice very low. “Be very careful around here. You seem like a nice young man. I’d hate to see you getting caught up in any trouble while you’re here.”
Richard kept his gaze on the crowded room before him. “What makes this place so dangerous?” he absentmindedly asked.
“Darken Rahl,” Zedd said, his voice full of ominous warning.
Richard felt the hair immediately prickle on the back of his neck, gooseflesh forming on his arms despite the humid evening air. He did his best to keep his face impassive despite the rage that was suddenly pumping through his veins.
“Who is this Darken Rahl?” he asked, keeping his voice even.
“The devil incarnate,” he sneered.
Richard turned back to face him, witnessing the fear that flashed through the bartender’s eyes. “Why is he the devil?” he asked as he turned back to the raucous scene, his attention unexpectedly captured by someone exiting a room on the second floor.
He watched a beautiful woman as she walked across the second floor balcony, her fingers lightly trailing along the wooden railing. The air suddenly vanished from his lungs as she turned, slowly making her way down the winding staircase.
Her hair was the color of a raven’s wing, curled and pulled up at the sides. She wore a form-fitting crimson dress lined in black lace that accentuated her every curve and allowing a generous view of her creamy breasts. The skirt was hiked up high on one of her thighs revealing her long legs.
Even from where he stood, he could tell that her eyes were the brightest shade of blue he’d ever seen, reminding him of the bluest sky. Her lips were painted red, a sad smile gracing her face as she took in the crowd. There was an air of grace and sensuality about her that made his pulse race and yet there was an overwhelming sense of sadness that seemed to encompass her.
She seemed so incongruent to her surroundings, so out of place in this den of wickedness. She was like the beautiful diamond hiding in the dark depths of a filthy coal mine.
Zedd watched his new friend with great amusement, the look of desire that suddenly filled his face putting a smirk on his lips. Even though Miss Cara had struck out, he had a feeling Richard had just found one to his liking.
“That would be Miss Kahlan,” Zedd informed him, leaning on the bar once more, his arms crossed before him.
“Kahlan,” Richard softly murmured her name almost curiously, the picture now complete that he knew her name.
He couldn’t tear his eyes off of her as she moved about the room, capturing the attention of almost every other man in the room who was not otherwise preoccupied with the countless other saloon girls. To him, all the others paled mightily in comparison to her.
As if sensing something, she suddenly paused, looking up to find him staring at her. In that intense moment, Richard felt as if his heart had stopped beating, the entire room and everyone in it suddenly falling away. There was only the two of them in the whole world.
She smiled at him, one that warmed him clear to his toes, his breaths coming faster. She shyly looked away, her gaze falling under his intense scrutiny before finally meeting his gaze once more. They stared at each other for the longest moment, she seemingly as captivated as he.
A petite brunette came to stand beside her, gripping her elbow and breaking the magical moment. Kahlan’s face went pale as the woman whispered something in her ear. She nodded her head to whatever was said to her, her hands nervously smoothing over her dress.
She quickly turned away, clearly frightened about something as she seemed to be swallowed up by the crowds. He tried to follow her with his eyes as she made her way to the other side of the large room, but lost sight of her. He felt his stomach tighten, knowing that she was in some sort of trouble.
“I’d be careful with that one, my friend,” Zedd told him, interrupting Richard’s anxious thoughts.
“What? Why?” he asked, turning his attention back to the barkeep.
“She belongs to Darken Rahl.”
“What do you mean ‘belongs’?” his gaze darkening with fury.
“She’s the new property of Darken Rahl,” Zedd replied. “She just arrived here two days ago, betrothed to be married to Master Rahl.”
“Married?” he gasped.
“Yes, but I’m afraid it’s against that poor girl’s will,” he shook his head in pity. “Her despicable father sold her to Rahl for a very handsome sum then took off out of town to start a new life leaving her behind to be at Rahl’s mercy.”
Richard could scarcely believe what he was hearing, his anger burning hotter by the moment. “Her own father?”
“Afraid so,” he grimly nodded, tisking softly to himself. “Poor thing. Has no say in the matter either. Rahl makes her strut around here in that revealing dress, showing her off like a prize pet to all the men, but no one dares touch her. If anyone even thinks of laying a finger on her, Rahl will have them killed immediately.”
Richard could barely control the rage that trembled through him with what he was hearing, his hand finding his revolver. No wonder she seemed so out of place here. She was like an angel dropped from heaven forced to dwell among heathens.
He frantically scanned the room again, needing to find her, to make sure that she was alright. He couldn’t bear the thought of her being at that horrible monster’s mercy like that or to be ogled at by these filthy men. He needed to help her.
Despite Zedd’s words, Richard couldn’t help but want to know more about her, to meet her. She had so captured his attention that he knew he’d never be free from the sudden hold she had on him. And to tell the truth, he wasn’t sure that he wanted to be free anymore.
Kahlan did her best to keep her hands from trembling, but it was difficult knowing that he was calling for her. Since coming here two days ago, she’d done everything she could think of to keep him at bay, going so far as making him wait until their wedding night to take her to his bed.
He had surprisingly gone along with it much to her great relief, but the vile way he leered at her made her wonder just how long his promise would actually last. She had a terrible feeling that he wouldn’t be waiting until they were married in three days.
Kahlan swallowed back the tears that suddenly burned in her throat as she made her way to his table. She would survive this no matter what. No one could take away who she was on the inside no matter what he took from her body. Despite his numerous thugs that kept a close eye on her, she would one day find a way to escape and when she did, she’d never look back.
Looking out over the room teeming with drunken chaos, she looked for the handsome man who had caught her attention just a few moments ago. She had felt as though someone was watching her. When she had looked up, she had found herself staring into the most arresting warm brown eyes she’d ever seen.
A flutter suddenly erupted in the pit of her stomach all over again as she remembered how he had stared so intently at her, so unlike the way the other men in the saloon ogled her. There was something different about, something so captivating. He had stirred her blood like no one she had ever known before.
While she was desperate to see him again, she knew in her heart that it was pointless. Darken Rahl was to be her husband and no one or nothing could ever change that.