Click on image to enlarge.
by Lauryn Hale
Description: Dean and Kristian both bear scars from their past--Dean's on the outside, and Kristian's on the inside. They learn to look past these imperfections, and we are treated to the process.
eBook Publisher: Awe-Struck E-Books, 2001
eBookwise Release Date: May 2002
14 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [422 KB]
Reading time: 272-382 min.
"..the characters are very lovable and real. Reggie, Kristian's daughter, occasionally slipped into comic relief, but more often she was viewed as a victim of circumstance or a possession. This was the only flaw in an otherwise excellent novel. The setting was magnificent, and the supporting cast as colorful as befits a tale of the Wild West. This book made me tear up on several different occasions, and is definitely a superior read! I hope to have the opportunity to read more from this author!"--Kara Wolf, Simegen
PROLOGUE He counted each bill as it hit his palm. The sheriff looked respectable enough, but one could never know for certain in the west. Men were bought and sold with a flick of the wrist.
"Thank you, um, Mr. Undertaker," the sheriff nervously sputtered, handing over the last of the money.
The infamous Undertaker acknowledged the remark with a nod. He turned to face the open doorway, tucking the bounty into his pocket. Standing still for a moment longer, he tested the sheriff's honor with his back. When nothing untoward happened, he bared his teeth in what resembled a smile but fell short, and stepped out of the cramped building.
With the Howard's hunting him down, nothing could be taken for granted. He scrutinized the small town noting every alley, every man, missing nothing. Although he saw nothing that alerted him of his enemies, he stayed wary. It didn't matter that he was hunted, so far he'd been a faster draw.
Until he found her, nothing would matter.
His parched throat led him to the single saloon in town. The half-doors creaked in protest as he pushed past, leaving them swinging in his wake. The smoke filled room resembled any other saloon in the west; tobacco juice littered the rough-hewn floor, half-dressed whores eyed new arrivals with hope of an easy dollar, and men involved with a game of cards. None seemed to take particular notice of him.
Sauntering up to the bar, he ordered a double. The barkeep slapped the requested refreshment into his hand, spilling half the drink onto the dust-strewn bar but he barely noticed. His gaze had traveled around the length of the room, observing each patron, when one in particular froze his roaming eyes.
He couldn't believe his luck.
The filthy rodent sitting at the card table matched the glimpse he'd caught of her husband. Could it be? Could fate smile on him that easily?
Casually strolling to the table, he pulled a chair up and straddled it, crossing his arms over the back. The men already playing glanced around in irritation, but the face of the newcomer discouraged their objections. They averted their eyes and remained silent as the stranger was dealt in.
He fell into the rhythm of the game, allowing himself to lose for several hands. Out of the corner of his eye, he watched the man next to him, hoping for confirmation of his suspicions. It finally came, when another player spoke to the man.
"Buck, them cards ain't treatin' ya well tonight, huh?" The man laughed at the scowl on Buck's face, but the Undertaker merely ground his teeth in satisfaction.
He had him. After all the years of searching, he had him.
He began to win then, methodically divesting everyone of their earnings. Finally, all the men but Buck had folded and left the game. They sat close by to watch, their blue cigar smoke dancing in the flickering light. Buck didn't lose graciously. His face was splotched red with anger. His nose flared with every hand laid on the table. More than once, Buck's hand drifted to the rusty shotgun propped by his leg.
After being stripped of all his money, Buck slammed his fist down, scattering the money and cards.
"Ya lousy son-of-a-bitch, yer cheatin'!"
The Undertaker stood, scraping the chair back against the filthy floor. His hands caressed the cold metal of the pair of Colts at his hips. The room fell silent as all waited for the death of the foolish man called Buck.
"I suggest you watch your mouth, friend. The next time I'll lay you out on the floor with a bullet 'tween your eyes."
Buck paled but his mouth thinned, anger still at the forefront. "I can beat ya, I know I can. Let's raise the stakes."
The Undertaker narrowed his eyes, wondering what the man had in mind. He nodded his head but remained silent, waiting for Buck to throw down his idea.
"My land n'house for yer guns n'all that-there loot."
The Undertaker bared his teeth, pleased. He could afford any number of guns; his bounty on warrants allowed him that freedom. What really got him excited was that he'd learn precisely where she could be found. Buck was her husband; it stood to reason that she would be wherever his land was.
His nose flared slightly as the memory of her smell drifted through his mind. Lavender, she had always liked lavender.
He sank back into his chair, nodding his head for the deal to begin. The dealer, a former player, broke out in sweat, his eyes darting back and forth between the two men.
Buck jerked the cards from his grasp, smiling maliciously. "Ya don't mind if I deal 'em, d'ya?"
The Undertaker shook his head, his expression bland. None of his anticipation showed for the spectators. He'd been around outlaws too long to reveal so much on his face.
Anyone with half an eye would notice Buck dealing from the bottom of the deck. The Undertaker remained quiet. Either way, he would find her. She would answer as to why she'd married this fool.
His hand was good. A sigh escaped his lips and Buck took it as defeat, laying his cards down with flourish. Success flashed in his eyes when he saw Buck's hand, but it lasted only seconds before he tamped it down. One by one he laid down his cards, until the last lay face up, for all to see.
The men in the saloon hollered with astonishment and congratulations to the stranger. The noise died down as the spectators wondered off to the bar or a private table, to discuss, over their whiskey, the big game of cards that night.
Buck still glowered with hatred. He had no intention of handing over the deed. It may be needed for another bet some night. He'd skipped out on signing it over before. Tonight would be no different. A slice of pleasure wedged into his brain as he decided to have a little fun with this over confident man first. A good beating put many men back in their place in life. He didn't expect one of the pistols the stranger wore to be raised and aimed squarely at his head.
"If one of your friends move, I'll blow you to hell."
Buck's face drained of color and he nodded in understanding.
"Send someone for the sheriff. Now!" he hollered out in the saloon. Immediately the half doors swung open, emitting someone into the night. All the patrons sat on the edge of their seats, wary of where this would lead.
When the Sheriff rushed into the saloon moments later, the scene hadn't altered; the colt .45 was still aimed at Buck's forehead.
"What's all this 'bout?" the Sheriff asked, his tone authoritative. When he recognized the Undertaker holding the gun, the sheriff visibly relaxed. His expression changed to one of obvious respect.
"I need you to witness the signing over of the property this man owes me." His gaze stayed on Buck. He had no intention of releasing Buck from his sights until the deed had been signed and he knew where to find her.
Buck piped up then, a smug smile on his face. "I can't write."
"The Sheriff can write it for you. You can make your mark. We have enough witnesses to know you did it."
Reluctantly, he released the hammer on the Colt. Another full minute passed before the gun was lowered and replaced into its holster.
The transaction took place, with Buck signing an "X" in place of his name. The Undertaker eyed the document, recognizing the area the land was located at. It was legal. It was all his. The land and the woman. Finally, he would find her.
His eyes cast down, the Sheriff spoke quietly, "Mr. Undertaker, would you mind leaving with me. These parts can't be trusted for fair fights."
The meaning was clear to all in the room. Before the bounty hunter acquiesced, he bent down close to Buck and whispered into his ear.
"If I ever see you again, you bastard, I'll kill you on the spot. Stay away from Kristian!" A grin slid onto his face when Buck gasped with shock.
With that parting shot he left, straddled his horse and headed for his new home. Nestled somewhere in the Colorado Rockies she waited for him. His vision blurred with images of wild chestnut hair and flashing emerald eyes.
She didn't know it yet, but he was her savior.