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Chapter 1


Colorado Territory




Bohannon leaned back in his chair. Swirling the rye whiskey in his glass, he glanced around the saloon. Thick gray smoke hovered near the ceiling. The whirr of the roulette wheel mingled with the clink of glassware, the soft slap of the cards being dealt at a nearby table, the scrape of boot heels on the raw plank floor.


He recognized most of the men and women in the place, which made him think he had stayed in town too long. It was time to move on, before someone recognized him. Not that it was likely in a backwater town like this.


"Hey, Bohannon, you in?"


"Hold your horses, McLoskey." Bohannon checked his cards, then threw a double eagle into the pot.


McLoskey laid his cards on the table, face down. "Too rich for my blood."


"Mine, too." Scowling, Ian Cole tossed in his hand.


Leaning back in his chair, Bohannon stared at the man across the table.


"That just leaves you and me." Jeb Grogan had a quick temper and was possibly the worst poker player Bohannon had ever met. "So, what are you gonna do? Fish, or cut bait?"


Grogan's eyes narrowed. "I think you're bluffin'."


Bohannon shrugged. "Cost you another twenty bucks to find out."


With a shake of his head, Grogan folded.


Bohannon was raking in the pot when Grogan's hand closed over his. "I wanna see your cards."


"Go to hell." 


"I knew it! You dirty half-breed! I…" Grogan shut his mouth abruptly when he found himself staring into the yawning maw of Bohannon's Colt .44. But the gun wasn't half as frightening as the expression glittering in the black eyes of the man holding it.


"What did you call me?" Bohannon asked, his voice deceptively mild.


Grogan swallowed hard. "I didn't mean nothin' by it."




Grogan shook his head. "I swear!" Cold sweat beaded his brow and trickled down the sides of his face.


An air of taut anticipation hung over the saloon as customers waited to see if Bohannon would pull the trigger.


"You still wanna see my cards?" Bohannon's voice was deadly quiet, yet it carried to the far corners of the room.




With a nod, Bohannon eased his gun back into the holster. Rising, he collected his winnings and shoved the greenbacks into the pocket of his trousers.


Still watching Grogan, he turned his cards over, one by one. Four queens and the three of spades.


His gaze swept the saloon. No one moved as he settled his hat on his head and strode toward the door.


A sudden gasp from his right was his only warning. Dropping into a crouch, Bohannon spun around, drawing his Colt as he did so.


The two gunshots came so close together, they sounded like one long rolling report.


When the smoke cleared, Grogan lay sprawled face down on the floor, blood pooling beneath him.


Just as he'd thought, Bohannon mused as he backed out of the saloon, one hand pressed against the bloody bullet wound in his side.

He had stayed in town a mite too long.



 Chapter 2


Carrie Lynn Coulter stared up at the night sky and tried not to cry, but it was no use. Tears burned her eyes and clogged her throat as she endeavored to dig a grave for her father in the hard-packed earth with nothing but her own two hands. She had to bury him. She couldn't leave him lying out here in the middle of the desert to be preyed upon by scavengers. She just couldn't. She fought the urge to scream her frustration when she broke another fingernail. If only she had a shovel. A spade. Anything.


After an hour, she had barely scratched the surface of the hard-packed earth.


Rocking back on her heels, she tried to tamp down the panic that engulfed her, the growing sense of hopelessness. And fear. Fear that she would die out in this forsaken land. There would be no one to bury her, either. She imagined slowly dying of thirst, her body bloated and left to rot in the sun, prey to wolves and coyotes. The morbid thought filled her with revulsion.


Pulling a handkerchief from the pocket of her trousers, she took a deep breath and  dried her eyes. It was full dark now. The distant howl of a coyote sent a shiver down her spine. Staring into the gathering gloom, she wished she had the wherewithal to start a fire to turn away the darkness and scare away the predators.


She glanced over her shoulder, fear spiking through her when she saw a dark shape moving toward her. It was too big for a coyote. Or a wolf.

Carrie scrambled backward, her gaze darting left and right as she sought for a place to hide, but there was nowhere to run, nothing to use for cover, only miles of flat, arid desert.


The coach. It was her only hope. Scrambling to her feet, she ran toward the back of the Concord. Her suitcase lay on the ground, along with her father's, the contents of their luggage scattered by the outlaws.

After climbing into the boot, she closed it behind her, her heart pounding as the muffled sound of hoof beats grew closer. Closer.


Oh, Lord, had one of the men who held up the stagecoach returned? Had they changed their mind about leaving her out here to die and sent someone back to kill the only remaining witness? They had left her out here to watch her father bleed to death. Wasn't that enough?

The hoof beats grew louder, closer, then came to a halt near the front of the stagecoach. Eyes squeezed shut, Carrie pressed a hand over her mouth to stifle the cry of terror that rose in her throat.