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“Where were you when all that fighting was going on, I wonder.” Vi made a show of scrutinizing his torso as she stood back to her full height. “Or do I detect a hint of yellow on that belly?”
There were a few scattered gasps from the people gawping on the sidelines. Jeb glowered, then grabbed the top railing to swing up and stand on the edge of the platform. His nose came within inches her face but she held her ground and smirked. What showmanship—in another life, they probably would have been friends.
“Looks like he’s not the only one who needs to learn a thing or about how he addresses people.” He hopped back down to the street and addressed the crowd. “How’s this for a lesson? I believe my friends and I should take this beautiful horse of yours to help you with that education.”
“I didn’t do anything to you,” she retorted. “You don’t have anything even in the same neighborhood as proof that I did.”
His Adam’s apple bobbed. “I don’t see as that matters much anymore. The bottom line is that I like that horse and I don’t like your attitude. So, I’m taking him.”
Vi’s fingers found the knot of Smithy’s lead rope and tightened around it. “You can’t do that!”
“I can,” Jeb replied and pulled out a shiny six-shooter. “And I will.”
Several members of the audience took a step back and ducked out from the fringes, their errands suddenly much more important than they’d first thought. A few sympathetic folks met Vi’s eye, but nobody seemed willing to do anything to help her. Not that she expected much in the way of help; prudence had made her work rigorously not to make much of an impression on anyone for some time.
An idea sprang to mind and before she could do anything about it, it sprang to mouth as well. She raised her voice and called over the din. “You want proof it wasn’t me?”
The bandit turned back to face her with a wry smile. “Sure. Try me.”
“You think my horse is too tired to race? Let’s see if you’re right.” She made her way through the nearest break in the railing and over to Jeb’s side, her hands raised up to her shoulders to show she offered no threat. “I say I’ve been here all day and Smithy is fresh as a daisy. So, let’s settle this. If you win, I won’t even put up a fight when you take him, but you’ve got to give me a chance to show you that you’ve made a mistake.”
The outlaw nodded smugly and put his gun back into its holster. “I’m sure that can be arranged. But I’ve got to warn you, Clementine is the fastest horse I’ve ever seen. This probably isn’t really a fair competition even if your horse really were fresh.”
Vi returned a shrug and a lopsided grin. “I guess that’s a risk I’m willing to take.”
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