The Law of Moses
Author:Amy Harmon

After that, he kept throwing nasty comments my way, and I could tell Haylee was wishing we would stop fighting. I was bored anyway, so I took off by myself, pleading hunger and the need for taller men. I found myself wandering away from the carnival toward the chutes and the nearby corrals that housed the animals during the three consecutive days of the stampede.


It was dark and there was no one else around, but I wanted to get a better look at the bulls. I’d always wanted to ride one and I was sure I could. I climbed the first rungs of the fence and braced myself against it once I was high enough to look down into the stalls separating man from beast. The arena was still lit and although the corrals were in shadows, I could easily make out the heavily muscled back of the bull Cordell Meecham had ridden just hours before. It had been a 90 point ride. He’d won the night and it had been a picture-perfect performance—knees high, heels digging, back bowed, right arm pointed to the heavens as if reaching for the stars would make him one. And it had made him one tonight. The crowd had screamed. I had screamed. And when the bull named Satan’s Alias finally threw Cordell free, the buzzer had already sounded and the bull had been bested. I smiled at the memory and imagined it was me.


Barrel racing was the only thing cowgirls did, and I loved it. I loved flying down the arena on the home stretch, head low, hands fisted in Sackett’s hair, like I’d caught the current and was letting it take me back to shore. But I wondered sometimes how it would feel to ride an earthquake instead of a wave. Up and down, side to side, bucking, shaking, riding an earthquake.


Satan’s Alias wasn’t interested in me. Neither were the other bulls crowded in the enclosure. The manure was fresh and so was the straw. I breathed in, not minding the smell that had others wrinkling their noses as they passed the livestock. I stayed a moment longer, watching the animals, before I stepped down from my perch on the fence. It was late. I needed to find Haylee and get my butt home. It rankled that I had a curfew at all, and my thoughts were immediately filled with the future when I wouldn’t have to answer to anyone but myself.


When the shadowy figure separated himself from the darkness, I wasn’t scared. Not at all. I’d never had reason to be afraid of a cowboy. Cowboys were the best people in the world. Go to any rodeo, anywhere in America, and you’d get the sense that the men and women who attend them could single-handedly save the universe. Not because they are the smartest, the richest, or the most beautiful people in the world. But because they are good. They love each other. They love their country. They love their families. They sing the anthem and they mean it. They take off their hats when the flag is raised. They live and love with devotion. So, no. I wasn’t nervous. I wasn’t nervous until I was pushed face first into the dirt, freshly churned by the hooves and heels of both men and beasts.


I was stunned for a moment, long enough for my hands to be lashed behind my back like a rodeo calf. The man knew how to wrap and release. I arched and tried to scream. I sucked in a mouth full of manure-flavored muck and knew I was in deep shit. My mind recognized the pun even as I felt hands on the waistband of my jeans. And that’s when I got well and truly pissed, the shock shifting to outrage the moment I felt his hands where they had no place being. I reared up and found his face with the back of my head. He swore and shoved my nose back into the mud, hog-tying my heels to my hands before he turned me over. It was an impossible position, my legs and arms bent beneath me, all my weight on my head and neck, my quadriceps screaming as he pushed mud into my eyes and held his hands over my face as my blinded, grit-filled eyes went wild. My nose was filled with mud and with his hands over my mouth I couldn’t breathe. I gasped and bucked and tried to bite his fingers. The pain in my lungs was worse than my fear, and I thought I was going to die. With a grunt, he tossed me up over his shoulder and turned, as if to run. Then he froze, caught in indecision as a car door slammed close by and somebody called my name.


He dropped me. Just like that. And he was gone. I thought I heard him curse as he ran, the sound of his boots smacking the ground as he bolted. I didn’t recognize his voice. From the moment he stepped out of the shadows to the moment he stepped back in, maybe sixty seconds had passed. Surely another rodeo record.