They struck in a pack, in the dead of night. They crept in like thieves, like the cowards they were…but it wasn’t robbery they had in mind.
It was something much darker.
Smoke Jensen was buying cattle a hundred miles away from his Colorado ranch when he got the news. Drawing two horses from the remunda, he saddled up, rode off…and didn’t stop until he reached his wife’s side. She had been shot three times and lay close to death.
Smoke Jensen knew the outlaws had come to kill him and he wasn’t going to give them a second chance. He was going after them.
And he wasn’t taking any prisoners.
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TRAIL OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN REVENGE OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN
By WILLIAM W. JOHNSTONE
Kensington Publishing Corp.Copyright © 2007 Kensington Publishing Corp.
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAs gold strikes go, this particular strike was nothing to really shout about. Oh, a lot of the precious metal was dug out, chipped free, and blasted from the earth and rock, but the mines would play out in just over a year. The town of Fontana would wither and fade from the Western scene a couple of years later.
But with the discovery of gold, a great many lives would be forever changed. Livelihoods and relationships were altered; fortunes were made and lost; lives were snuffed out and families split, with the only motive greed.
Thus Fontana was conceived only to die an unnatural death.
Dawn was breaking as the man stepped out of the cabin. He held a steaming cup of coffee in one large, callused hand. He was tall, with wide shoulders and the lean hips of the horseman. His hair was ash-blond, cropped short, and his eyes were a cold brown, rarely giving away any inner thought.
The cabin had been built well, of stone and logs. The floor was wood. The windows held real glass. The cabin had been built to last, with a hand pump in the kitchen to bring up the water. There were curtains on the windows. The table and chairs and benches were handmade and carved; done with patience and love.
And all about the house, inside and out, were the signs of a woman's touch.
Flowers and blooming shrubswere in colored profusion. The area around the house was trimmed and swept. Neat.
It was a high-up and lonely place, many miles from the nearest town. Below the cabin lay a valley, five miles wide and as many miles long. The land was filed on and claimed and legal with the Government. It belonged to the man and his wife.
They had lived here for three years, hacking a home out of the high, lonesome wilderness. Building a future. In another year they planned on building a family. If all stayed according to plan, that is.
The man and wife had a couple hundred head of cattle, a respectable herd of horses. They worked a large garden, canning much of what they raised for the hard winters that lashed the high country.
The man and woman stayed to themselves, socializing very little. When they did visit, it was not to the home of the kingpin who claimed to run the entire area, Tilden Franklin. Rather it was to the small farmers and ranchers who dotted the country that lay beneath the high lonesome where the man and woman lived.
There was a no-name town that was exclusively owned by Tilden Franklin. The town held a large general store, two saloons, a livery stable, and a gunsmith.
But all that was about to change.
This was a land of towering mountains and lush, green valleys, sparsely populated, and it took a special breed of men and women to endure.
Many could not cope with the harshness, and they either moved on or went back to where they came from.
Those that stayed were the hardy breed.
Like Matt and Sally.
Matt was not his real name. He had not been called by his real name for so many years he never thought of it. There were those who could look at him and tell what he had once been; but this was the West, and what a man had once been did not matter. What mattered was what he was now. And all who knew Matt knew him to be a man you could ride the river with.
He had been a gunfighter. But now he rarely buckled on a short gun. Matt was not yet thirty years old and could not tell you how many men he had killed. Fifty, seventy-five, a hundred. He didn't know. And neither did anyone else.
He had been a gunfighter, and yet had never hired out his gun. Had never killed for pleasure. His reputation had come to him as naturally as his snake-like swiftness with a short gun.
He had come West with his father, and they had teamed up with an old Mountain Man named Preacher. And the Mountain Man had taken the boy in tow and begun teaching him the way of the mountains: how to survive, how to be a man, how to live where others would die.
Preacher had been present when the boy killed his first man during an Indian attack. The old Mountain Man had seen to the boy after the boy's dying father had left his son in his care. Preacher had seen to the boy's last formative years. And the old Mountain Man had known that he rode with a natural gunslick.
It was Preacher who gave the boy the name that would become legend throughout the West; the name that would be whispered around ten thousand campfires and spoken of in a thousand saloons; the name that would be spoken with the same awe as that of Bat Masterson, Ben Thompson, the Earp boys, Curly Bill.
Smoke's first wife had been raped and murdered, their baby son killed. Smoke had killed them all, then ridden into the town owned by the men who had sent the outlaws out and killed those men and wiped the town from the face of Idaho history.
Smoke Jensen then did two things, one of them voluntarily. He became the most feared man in all the West, and he dropped out of sight. And then, shortly after dropping out of sight, he married Sally.
But his disappearance did nothing to slow the rumors about him; indeed, if anything, the rumors built in flavor and fever.
Smoke had been seen in Northern California. Smoke had gunned down five outlaws in Oregon. Smoke had cleaned up a town in Nevada. Since his disappearance, Smoke, so the rumors went, had done this and that and the other thing.
In reality, Smoke had not fired a gun in anger in three years.
But all that was about to change.
A dark-haired, hazel-eyed, shapely woman stepped out of the cabin to stand by her man's side. Something was troubling him, and she did not know what. But he would tell her in time.
This man and wife kept no secrets from each other. Their lives were shared in all things. No decisions were made by one without consulting the other.
"More coffee?" she asked.
"No, thank you. Trouble coming," he said abruptly. "I feel it in my gut."
A touch of panic washed over her. "Will we have to leave here?"
Smoke tossed the dregs of his coffee to the ground. "When hell freezes over. This is our land, our home. We built it, and we're staying."
"How do the others feel?"
"Haven't talked to them. Think I might do that today. You need anything from town?"
"You want to come along?"
She smiled and shook her head. "I have so much to do around the house. You go."
"It'll be noon tomorrow before I can get back," he reminded her.
"I'll be all right."
He was known as Matt in this part of Colorado, but at home Sally always called him Smoke. "I'll pack you some food, Smoke."
He nodded his head. "I'll saddle up."
He saddled an appaloosa, a tough mountain horse, sired by his old appaloosa, Seven, who now ran wild and free on the range in the valley Smoke and Sally claimed.
Back in the snug cabin, Smoke pulled a trunk out of a closet and opened the lid. He was conscious of Sally's eyes on him as he removed his matched .44s and laid them to one side. He removed the rubbed and oiled gun belts and laid them beside the deadly colts.
"It's come to that, Smoke?" she asked.
He sighed, squatting before the trunk. He removed several boxes of .44 ammo. "I don't know." His words were softly spoken. "But Franklin is throwing a big loop nowadays. And wants it bigger still. I was up on the Cimarron the other day-I didn't tell you 'cause I didn't want you to worry. I made sign with some Indians. Sally, it's gold."
She closed the trunk lid and sat down, facing her husband. "Here? In this area?"
"Yes. Hook Nose, the buck that spoke English, told me that many whites are coming. Like ants toward honey was his words. If it's true, Sally, it's trouble. You know Franklin claims more than a hundred and fifty thousand acres as his own. And he's always wanted this valley of ours. It's surprising to me that he hasn't made a move to take it."
Money did not impress Sally. She was a young, high-spirited woman with wealth of her own. Old money, from back in New Hampshire. In all probability, she could have bought out Tilden Franklin's holdings and still had money.
"You knew about the gold all along, didn't you, Smoke?"
"Yes," he told her. "But I don't think it's a big vein. I found part of the broken vein first year we were here. I don't want it."
"We certainly don't need the money," she reminded him.
Smoke gave her one of his rare smiles, the smile softening his face and mellowing his eyes, taking years from the young man's face. "That's right. I keep forgetting I married me a rich lady."
Together, they laughed.
Her laughter sobered as he began filling the cartridge loops with .44 rounds.
"Does part of it run through our land, Smoke?"
"I'll pack you extra food. I think you're going to be gone longer than you think."
"I think you're probably right. Sally? You know you have nothing to fear from the Indians. They knew Preacher and know he helped raise me. It's the white men you have to be careful of. It would take a very foolish man to bother a woman out here, but it's happened. Stay close to the house. The horses will warn you if anyone's coming. Go armed at all times. Hear me?"
He leaned forward and kissed her mouth. "I taught you to shoot, and know you can. Don't hesitate to do so. The pot is boiling, Sally. We're going to have gold-hunters coming up against Franklin's gunhands. When Franklin learns of the gold, he's going to want it all. Our little no-name town is going to boom. For a time. Trouble is riding our way on a horse out of Hell. You've never seen a boom town, Sally. I have. They're rough and mean and totally violent. They attract the good and the bad. Especially the bad. Gamblers and gunhawks and thieves and whores. We're all going to be in for a rough time of it for a while."
"We've been through some rough times before, Smoke," she said quietly.
"Not like this." He stood up, belted the familiar Colts around his lean waist, and began loading the .44s.
"Matt just died, didn't he?" she asked.
"Yes. I'm afraid so. When Smoke steps out of the shadows, Sally-and it's time, for I'm tired of being someone else-bounty hunters and kids with dreams of being the man who killed Smoke Jensen will be coming in with the rest of the trash and troublemakers. Sally, I've never been ashamed of what I was. I hunted down and destroyed those who ripped my life to shreds. I did what the law could not or would not do. I did what any real man would have done. I'm a Mountain Man, Sally. Perhaps the last of the breed. But that's what I am.
"I'm not running anymore, Sally. I want to live in peace. But if I have to fight to attain that peace ... so be it. And," he said with a sigh, "I might as well level with you. Peyton told me last month that Franklin has made his boast about running us out of this valley."
"His wife told me, Smoke."
The young man with the hard eyes smiled. "I might have known."
She drew herself up on tiptoes and kissed him. "See you in two or three days, Smoke."
Chapter Two"Word is out, boss," Tilden's foreman said. "It's gold, all right. And lots of it."
Tilden leaned back in his chair and looked at his foreman. "Is it fact or rumor, Clint?"
"Fact, boss. The assay office says it's rich. Real rich." "The Sugarloaf?"
Clint shrugged his heavy shoulders. "It's a broken vein, boss. Juts out all over the place, so I was told. Spotty. But one thing's for sure: all them piss-ant nesters and small spreads around the Sugarloaf is gonna have some gold on the land."
The Sugarloaf was Smoke's valley.
Tilden nodded his handsome head. "Send some of the crew into town, start stakin' out lots. Folks gonna be foggin' in here pretty quick."
"What are you gonna call the town, boss?"
"I knew me a Mex gal years back, down along the Animas. Her last name was Fontana. I always did like that name. We'll call 'er Fontana."
Tilden Franklin sat alone in his office, making plans. Grand plans, for Tilden never thought small. A big bear of a man, Tilden stood well over six feet and weighed a good two hundred and forty pounds, little of it fat. He was forty years old and in the peak of health.
He had come into this part of Colorado when he was twenty-five years old. He had carved his empire out of the wilderness. He had fought Indians and outlaws and the elements ... and won.
And he thought of himself as king.
He had fifty hands on his spread, many of them hired as much for their ability with a gun as with a rope. And he paid his men well, both in greenbacks and in a comfortable style of living. His men rode for the brand, doing anything that Tilden asked of them, or they got out. It was that simple.
His brand was the Circle TF.
Tilden rose from his chair and paced the study of his fine home-the finest in all the area. When that Matt What's-His-Name had ridden into this part of the country-back three or four years ago-Tilden had taken an immediate dislike to the young man.
And he didn't believe Matt was the man's name. But Tilden didn't hold that against anyone. Man had a right to change his own name.
Still, Tilden had always had the ability to bully and intimidate other men. He had always bulled and bullied his way through any situation. Men respected and feared him.
All but that damned Matt.
Tilden remembered the first day he'd come face to face with Matt. The young man had looked at him through the coldest eyes Tilden had ever seen-a rattler's. And even though the young man had not been wearing a short gun, there had been no backup in him. None at all. He had looked right at Tilden, nodded his head, and walked on.
Tilden Franklin had had the uncomfortable and unaccustomed sensation that he had just been graded and found wanting. That, and the feeling that he had just been summarily dismissed.
By a goddamned saddle-bum, of all people!
No, Tilden corrected himself, not a saddle-bum. Matt might be many things, but he was no saddle-bum. He had to have access to money, for he had bought that whole damned valley free and clear. Bought most of it, filed on the rest of it.
And that woman of his, Sally. Just thinking of her caused Tilden to breathe short. He knew from the first day he'd seen her that he had to have her. One way or the other-and she was never far from his thoughts.
She was far and above any other woman in the area. She was a woman fit to be a king's queen. And since Tilden thought of himself as a king, it was only natural he possess a woman with queen-like qualities.
And possess her he would. It was just a matter of time. Whether she liked it, or not. He feelings were not important.
Three hours after leaving his cabin, Smoke rode up to the Colby spread. He halloed the house from the gate and Colby stepped out, giving him a friendly wave to come on in.
Colby's spread was a combination cattle ranch and farm, something purists in the cattle business frowned on. Colby and his family were just more of them "goddamned nesters" as far as the bigger spreads in the area were concerned. Colby had moved into the area a couple of years before Smoke and Sally, with his wife Belle, and their three kids, a girl and two boys. From Missouri, Colby was a hardworking man in his early forties. A veteran of the War Between the States, he was no stranger to guns, but was not a gunhand.
"Matt," he greeted the rider. His eyes narrowed at the sight of the twin Colts belted around Smoke's waist and tied down. "First time I ever seen you wearin' a pistol, much less two of them."
"Times change, Colby. You heard the gold news?"
"Last week. People already movin' in. You wanna come in and talk?"
"Let's do it out here. You ever seen a boom town, Colby?"
"Can't say as I have, Matt." The man was having a difficult time keeping his eyes off the twin Colts. "Why do you ask?"
"There's gold running through this area. Not much of it-a lot of it is iron and copper pyrites-but there's enough gold to bring out the worst in men."
"I ain't no miner, Matt. What's them pyrites you said?"
Excerpted from TRAIL OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN REVENGE OF THE MOUNTAIN MAN by WILLIAM W. JOHNSTONE Copyright © 2007 by Kensington Publishing Corp. . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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