The tension was high as the four men stared at each other. Narrowing his eyes, Jarrod clenched his jaw and tapped his finger on his thigh. He knew the other three men all too well, and they were all not to be trusted. Morrison, a small and nimble man, had an unforgettable face as long as he didn’t catch you with those twinkling green eyes. They always held mischief in them. He had sticky fingers, and Jarrod wouldn’t put it past the man to be hiding one or more cards up his sleeves. Fox was an unforgettably handsome bastard, but he was currently hiding under the wide-brim shadow of his hat. He was a master at staying in the shadows, and he always had a glass of whisky blocking his face or had his face turned.
The saloon around them rumbled with the usual noise. The table to the left cheered and glasses clanked as they toasted whatever good fortune had befallen them. Jarrod thought he heard the words bride and wedding mixed in, but that couldn’t be right. Who would be toasting a wedding?
The voices at the bar grew louder and louder as they all tried to outdo the other in hopes of getting the attention of the older girl sweeping the floor. She kept her eyes to the floor and ignored them, which only seemed to egg them on even more.
An argument next to the door grew increasingly louder. Any minute now, one would probably slam their glass over the other’s head and a bar brawl would break out, but Jarrod didn’t pay any attention to them. He was more than aware of it because that’s what he did. He was always aware of the things going on around him, but if they weren’t important, he could tuck it away.
Right now, the only important thing was the four men at the table with him and the cards in their hands.
It was a good reason he was paying attention because the other two men at the table would have both Morrison and Fox arrested if they knew who they were really dealing with. That impending fight by the door would pale in comparison. Morrison and Fox would both rather die than be captured, and the two marshals would be looking at promotions if they knew who Morrison and Fox were.
Although Thatcher and James polished their pretty little U.S. Marshal badges, Jarrod knew that those badges were more than a little tarnished. He trusted them about as much as he trusted the outlaw and thief.
“Time for you fellows to cry like the little boys you are,” Jarrod announced as he laid down his cards. They all groaned when they saw the flush. Chuckling to himself, Jarrod leaned forward to collect the money on the table.
“It’s like playing with a rock,” Thatcher complained as he threw his cards on the table. “You are impossible to read.”
“Not all that impossible,” Fox drawled. “But he’s always got just a little bit of luck on his side.”
“Luck’s going to run out one of these days,” James grunted. “I think that’s it for us. We’ve still got some things to work out with the sheriff.”
“Briggs.” Thatcher nodded to him and cocked his head to stare at Fox and Morrison. “Briggs’ interesting friends. Enjoy the rest of your evening.”
As the two men exited the saloon, Morrison threw back his head and laughed. “Did you hear that, Briggs? He called us your friends. Makes you feel all kinds of warm and fuzzy inside, now doesn’t it?”
Jarrod didn’t take offence at the sarcastic tone of the thief as he scooped the coins into his bag. “He can call you two whatever he wants as long as he puts his money on the table, although no one in their right mind would be friends with the two of you.”
“Those pretty marshals of yours are going to be mighty unhappy when they realise that their card playing friends are on their most wanted posters.” Fox frowned. “You put our lives in danger by inviting them to the table.”
Jarrod fixed a steely glare on Fox. “You know what I do. Marshals generally pay a pretty penny for men like you. And I like pretty pennies, so I like to hunt for them. Don’t worry, Fox. They’re still not offering enough money for me to hunt you.”
“You couldn’t if you tried,” the outlaw grunted.
Jarrod lifted an eyebrow. “You care to test that theory?”
They both knew that Jarrod had a knack for finding men who didn’t want to be found. There was a time when he wanted to put that talent to good use and carry one of those shiny badges like Thatcher and James, but he learned a long time ago that justice didn’t mean much in the big scheme of things.
“Not today, Briggs.” Fox stood and flashed him a quick grin. “If you turned me in, where would you get all your information?”
“What am I, chopped liver?” Morrison complained as he stood. “You act like I don’t have any cards to put on the table?”
Fox suddenly wrenched Morrison’s arm behind his back and slammed him against the table. The saloon fell quiet, and the bartender reached under the counter. Jarrod held his hand up to the man. He didn’t want to get into a gunfight tonight. His streak was just too good.
“You’re a two-bit thief, Morrison.” Fox reached into the man’s coat pocket and pulled out two Ace cards. “If you didn’t bring something to the table, you’d be long dead by now.”
Jarrod laughed as the outlaw released the thief. Morrison growled and rubbed his wrists. “Believe me, I don’t cheat with the two of you. Those marshals, though? You get me at a table alone with them, and I make no promises.”
“As entertaining as this night has been, I feel like celebrating with your money tonight. If you two will excuse me.” He held up his glass to the barkeep, and the man nodded and pulled out a bottle of whisky.
“You chasing that Joshua King?” Fox asked quietly. “I hear that they’re upping the bounty on him.”
Jarrod didn’t know Joshua King personally, but most of the town knew of him. Devil’s Pass wasn’t Jarrod’s home, but it was a favourite meet for Thatcher and James, so he travelled through several times a month. He usually only stayed a couple of nights before he left for the next job. In the last few passes that Jarrod had made, all that the town could talk about was Joshua King, the fresh-faced kid barely in his twenties who had murdered his parents for their ranch and fortune.
“You know me,” Jarrod said with a shrug. “I don’t like to do business in the same town where I drink.”
“You drink in every town,” Fox pointed out.
“True, but I’d be a little put out if I got banned from this fine establishment here. I’m rather fond of it, and my jobs can get a little messy sometimes.”
Morrison opened his mouth to no doubt make another snarky comment, but Fox interrupted him. “Fine. I think it might be good if you stayed out of this one. And I think it might be good if you stayed out of Devil’s Pass for a while.”
Jarrod felt that familiar churning in his gut letting him know that something was wrong. Fox usually didn’t care where Jarrod was, and he certainly didn’t dispense advice. “You planning on a job here, Fox?”
“I’m like you. I don’t like to work in the same town where I drink. You just seem a little edgy. Edgier than usual. Might do you some good to travel for a bit.”
Jarrod wanted to interrogate the outlaw further, but before he could, Diana interrupted them. The pretty girl was young enough to still be courted properly and find herself a good home, but her eyes held the aches and pains of her life. No one was really sure what happened to her before she ended up at Devil’s Pass a few years ago, but Gideon, the saloon owner, took her in. She helped keep the saloon clean and served drinks, and it was no secret that she made a little money on the side in the privacy of her room. Sometimes the men got a little rowdy as they vied for her attention, but Gideon used the butt of his gun to make things very clear. Diana was under his protection, and Gideon was a large and scary man. Few went up against him.
“Hi, boys,” Diana said shyly. “You’re not leaving so soon, are you?”
Morrison started inching back towards the chair. “I’m more than happy to stick around.” Before the thief started drooling, Fox grabbed Morrison by the collar.
“Ma’am,” he greeted her respectfully before he hauled Morrison away and out of the saloon.
“Card game not go so well for them?” she asked as she put the new drink down in front of Jarrod.
“Can I get you some supper, Jarrod?” Her gaze lingered on him a little too long, and she blushed.
“I wouldn’t say no to some pot roast and potatoes.”
“Coming right up.”
Tipping his glass back, Jarrod drank deeply as he watched Diana walk away. The first time she’d laid eyes on him, she’d made it clear that she was interested in him and wouldn’t even charge, but Jarrod gently turned her down. It wasn’t that he didn’t find her attractive. The problem was that her gentle smile reminded him of someone that Jarrod long wished he could forget.
Jarrod was sixteen the first time he saw Amelia, and it was love at first sight. By the time he’d introduced himself to her, he’d already planned out the rest of their lives. He didn’t have much money, but he planned on being a marshal. He was going to help clean up the town, and he could keep Amelia safe. He’d woo her like she deserved, and then he’d make her his wife.
She was sweet and innocent and full of love. After a few weeks of courting her, Jarrod knew that she was the perfect woman for him. Under the clear open skies, he placed a chaste kiss on her cheek and told her that he was going to ask her father’s permission to marry her, and she told him that nothing would make her happier.
Two days later, she was gone.
The memory of her screams still kept Jarrod up at night. He knew who was to blame. A spoiled and rich kid in town had made some advances that Amelia spurned. Jarrod was on his way to see her when he heard her screams, and he raced after her just in time to see Amelia falling into the river. He’d jumped in after her, but he couldn’t save her. Just as he pulled himself up to the bank, he saw the knowing smile of Calvin Donahue watching them and knew that Calvin had killed her.
Unfortunately, he’d been wounded when trying to save her and fell victim of a nasty fever when the wound got infected, and it was weeks before he was well enough to tell anyone the truth. Once again, he’d been too late. His hoarse accusations fell on deaf ears, and the sheriff all but ran him out of town for spreading slanderous lies.
That’s when Jarrod let go of his dreams to be a marshal. That’s when he stopped believing in justice.
Picking up the whisky glass, he drained the rest of it and settled back in the chair. Fox’s interest in Joshua King intrigued him. The outlaw had plenty of blood on his hands. It wasn’t like him to take an interest in a rich kid even if he had killed his parents. So why was Fox trying to run him out of town?
Technically, Jarrod’s job was done here. He’d handed off a known bank robber earlier today, and he’d planned on leaving town in the morning to join the manhunt for a Wyoming man.
But maybe he’d stick around for a few more days and see just what was going on with this Joshua King fellow.
The whistle pierced the air, and Sarah jumped as she clutched her bag. All around her, people bustled as they greeted loved ones and hurried off the train platform. Soon, the train would be filled again, and it would head back east, heading back across that bridge that Sarah had burned.
By now, her good friend Carolyn and Carolyn’s family would have discovered the note that she had cowardly left behind when she snuck out in the early hours of the morning. For months, she’d been agonising over what to do. Society rules allowed her a mourning period when news of her parents’ death had reached Boston, so thankfully she wasn’t forced to attend any parties. Devin, the charming man who’d been courting her, kept his distance, and Carolyn, bless her heart, had made sure that she wanted for nothing while she sobbed.
Then the second message had reached her, and she began to scheme. There wasn’t a bone in her body that believed her brother was capable of killing their parents. For weeks, she waited to hear the news that the real killers were caught, but Joshua was still a wanted man and at large.
Sarah knew her brother. Pride was his biggest sin, and soon his cocky attitude would get him hung. Saving up the funds that were released to her on a weekly basis, Sarah quietly bought a train ticket. She knew the consequences of travelling alone. The scandal would force Devin to drop his suit. Not that it was a bad thing. Truth be told, in the past two years that she’d been in Boston playing socialite, she had several suitors and requests for her hand in marriage, and they were all exactly like Devin. Handsome. Wealthy. Charming. And dull as dirt. Sarah had no intentions of marrying Devin, so losing his support wasn’t all that concerning.
However, Carolyn and her family would be forced to turn their backs on her, and that would hurt. Carolyn’s parents graciously took her in when Sarah’s parents suddenly decided that Sarah would do better in the city than on a ranch, and while Sarah had missed Devil’s Pass, she adored her new friend and her second family.
Even worse, she hadn’t told anyone that she was returning home. There were a number of families that would take her in, if not because they loved her then simply because they felt they owed her parents, but Sarah couldn’t turn to them.
She only had one agenda. She was going to find her brother and do whatever it took to make sure he didn’t find himself hanging from the noose.
Family came first. Joshua might have been an irritating older brother, but Sarah loved him dearly, and she would protect him until her last breath.
Although it had been a couple of years since she’d been home, she feared that any number of people might recognise her, so she’d changed at the last minute into a dress that she’d bought off a servant in Carolyn’s home. She’d wound her hair in a simple bun and kept her head low. No one would look twice at a serving girl travelling alone, but that didn’t mean that it wasn’t dangerous for her to be there.
Turning back, she took one last look at the life that she was leaving behind. The whistle screeched again, and the train groaned and puffed. It would leave soon.
And it would be leaving without her. Taking a deep breath, she gripped her bags and hurried off the platform. Her body ached from the trip, and she yearned for a soft bed, but instead, she struck a path to the outskirts of town. She knew one thing about Joshua. He wouldn’t have gone far. Hiding in Devil’s Pass wasn’t an option, but he would stay close enough to make sure that he knew what was going on. With their parents’ real killer out there, he would want revenge.
In her head, she heard the lullaby that their mother used to sing when they were younger. Humming the notes to herself, she felt a fist squeeze her heart.
“I’m too old for lullabies,” Joshua announced grouchily as he put his arms over his chest. “Lullabies are for babies.”
“And what about Sarah?” Their mother turned just as Sarah tried to sneak into her brother’s room. She loved her mother’s voice, and every night, after her mother finished singing to her and tucking her in, she’d jump out of bed and race to her brother’s room to listen to her sing to him.
Now she’d been caught, but there was no anger on her mother’s face. Just a knowing smile.
“Sarah’s a baby!”
“Am not!” Sarah mimicked her brother’s pose and pouted. “I’m too old for lullabies too!”
Her mother sighed long and loud as she put a hand over her chest. “All right. I suppose I won’t sing anymore.”
Not sing anymore! Instantly, Sarah’s eyes filled with tears. How was she supposed to sleep without a lullaby?
Joshua instantly scrambled to his sister’s side and hugged her close. He knew that she hated to cry. “Maybe you can sing to us for a little bit longer,” he said reassuringly.
All of her fears eased, she quickly perched on her brother’s bed. Even though they had separate rooms, she snuck into her brother’s bed whenever she was scared. Sometimes storms scared her. Sometimes her brother would tell her a scary story before bed. Sometimes she had bad dreams.
And Joshua never sent her away.
Leaning down to kiss them both before she started up her song, her mother smiled at them. She was the most beautiful person that Sarah knew. Secured in her brother’s arms and lulled to sleep by her mother’s voice, Sarah was happy.
A lump formed in her throat, and Sarah frantically tried to swallow her sorrow. Now was not the time to fall apart.
Devil’s Pass was a sprawling town in the heart of Texas. Made up mostly of horse and cattle ranches, it was a major stop on the railroad and made up of wealthy landowners, merchants, ranch hands and servants, and the travellers passing through. Her parents had been friends with most of the landowners, and her father spent plenty of time in town as he invested in business owners, so she knew the town and many of the families well.
It was too risky to sneak onto her own ranch and get a horse, and she couldn’t risk buying one and getting recognised, but she’d never get to where she needed to go on foot. Luckily, she knew that the Meyers’ ranch hand, Gabe, was a lazy drunk and wouldn’t notice if one horse was missing. Even more important, Meyer didn’t care as much about the product as he did about the money, so he probably didn’t even know how many horses he owned.
In the distance, the massive pale yellow house loomed over the hills. Meyers had over a dozen barns and pastures on his land, and, in her dirtied dress, it wasn’t hard for her to walk the dusty path and not make a scene. To be on the safe side, she clung to the outer edges and didn’t make eye contact with any of the workers.
It was nearing noon, and the sun was high in the sky. As Texas eased into its version of fall, the air was a little crisper, but the midday heat was still enough to make her sweat. Humidity still clung to the air, and her dress grew sticky against her skin, but she knew that this was her best chance. Gabe would be breaking for his midday meal and half a bottle of whisky. While he was upstairs in his room, she snuck into the barn closest to the edge of the property.
Taking a stallion was risky, so she focused her energy on looking for a mare. A snort caught her attention, and she stopped and peered into the stall. Happily munching on some hay was the perfect candidate. The mare’s coat was rough and greying. She obviously hadn’t been brushed in a while. She was too old to breed, and Gabe had obviously dismissed her as a horse not worthy of his attention.
“Hi, sweetheart,” Sarah said softly. “I’m just going to call you Sweetheart because I don’t know your name. I’ve got a job for you if you’re up for it.”
Sweetheart’s ears pricked up, and Sarah grinned. Unlocking the stall, she led the mare out and grabbed an old and worn saddle. Sweetheart didn’t seem at all bothered as Sarah quietly positioned the saddle on her and led the horse out of the barn. Most everyone had abandoned the pastures for lunch, and Sarah had no problems as she snuck Sweetheart off the property.
“Wonderful,” she muttered to herself as she mounted the mare. “My brother is wanted for murder. I’ve been in town for less than a day, and now I’m stealing a horse. Come on Sweetheart. We’ve got a brother to find.”
When she and her Joshua were kids, Joshua used to goad her into going ever deeper into the woods near their property. Eventually, they’d gotten to the point where they evaded their nurse and spent the whole day exploring. That’s when they found the small abandoned building near the creek.
At one point, it had looked like the building had been a small storage shelter. There had been a number of silos that had been abandoned when a series of tornadoes had destroyed the area. Eventually, the woods and the river retook the land, but one building had survived.
She and Joshua made a pact never to tell anyone about it, and as far as she knew, even when she and Joshua were too old to explore, he’d kept his word, and so had she. No one knew about it, and it was the perfect hiding place for Joshua.
The deeper she urged Sweetheart into the forest, the thicker it became. The mare didn’t seem to mind as it plodded slowly through. Sarah tried to duck under the branches, but it was impossible to miss them all. Soon, the trees had pulled her neatly pinned bun free, and her hair hung limp around her face. Brush from the forest stuck to her dress, but she tried not to let her own vanity get to her.
It was dusk by the time she reached the shelter. The air had cooled a little, and she pulled the horse to a stop.
“Joshua,” she called out. “Joshua, don’t shoot. It’s me, and I’m alone.”
Tensing, she waited for an answer, but when she didn’t hear one, she grew concerned. Had she made a mistake thinking that her brother would be here?
Dismounting, she walked the horse to the back of the ramshackle building and frowned. The trough was full of fresh water, and there was plenty of hay on the side. A small pile of wood was neatly stacked by the door. Someone was staying here.
Tethering Sweetheart to the trough, she gently wiped the mare down. The last few hours had been hard on her, but she’d done well. Once Sarah found Joshua, she would give Sweetheart the proper care that she deserved.
Walking around the property, she kept an eye out for her brother. Maybe he was fishing by the stream or out looking to gather more wood. The property looked worse than she remembered. The windows were coated in dirt and cracked. Vines grew up the wall, and the chimney was missing bricks. Maybe she was seeing it with different eyes knowing that her brother was living here, but she couldn’t help wondering what the inside looked like if the outside was in this bad shape.
Cautiously, she eased open the door. “Joshua? Are you here?”
Stepping inside, she tripped over something and went sprawling on the floor. Tin cans clanked together in alarm, and she gasp and rolled over. Her dress had torn in the fall, and pain shot up her shoulder as she landed on her arm. Swearing in an unladylike fashion, she whirled around and saw that Joshua had managed to construct some sort of alarm in case anyone snuck in.
“Smart, but annoying,” she growled as she stood and brushed herself off. Looking around, she noted the bedroll on the floor and the dishes on the counter. It was grimy and dusty, but certain spots had been haphazardly cleaned. The supper table had been wiped off, and the floor had been lazily swept.
Clothes were stashed in the corner. Gingerly picking them up, she saw that they were ragged servant clothes, but hidden under them was an item that she knew very well.
Picking up the shotgun, she tried not to cry. It was her father’s. Behind her father’s back, her mother had taken her out into the fields and hung targets from a tree. There, she taught Sarah how to shoot. When her father discovered what his wife had done, he was livid, and he made her stop. For a whole year, Sarah was so upset that she stole the gun whenever she and her father argued, and she went out the back to practice.
On her birthday that year, her father gave her a pistol. Sarah had treasured it, but when she was sent to Boston, she had to leave it behind.
In Boston, you’re to be a lady, and ladies don’t carry guns.
Joshua was nearby. Picking up the shotgun, Sarah settled by the window, and she waited.
The late afternoon was busy in Devil’s Pass. The train had pulled in the night before to drop off a whole host of new people. The inn had been a little louder than usual, but Jarrod didn’t mind the noise. He was used to the ruckus. People were lining up outside the post office to get their mail and packages and taking the opportunity to run their other errands.
Jarrod had no one to mail him anything, and he didn’t care about the new people. He’d tossed and turned all night, and his interest was piqued. He wanted more information on Joshua King.
The sheriff’s station was at the end of the strip of buildings along the main dirt pass through town. It was a narrow building with a small porch. The inside opened up into a small waiting area with a desk for the sheriff and two additional workspaces for the deputies. There were four jail cells that took up most of the space.
Leaning against the doorway, Jarrod watched as Thatcher and James and the sheriff lowered their heads in quiet conversation. Sheriff Lyons, always lazy, hadn’t even gotten up from his chair, and the two marshals were perched on the corner of the other desks. They weren’t aware that he was there, and he heard the name King murmured more than once. Knowing he wasn’t going to get any pertinent information eavesdropping, he wandered over to the jail cell.
“Miss my pretty face?” Evans sneered. The bank robber hadn’t been exactly appreciative of Jarrod’s hospitality while they were travelling to Devil’s Pass. It was rude too considering that Jarrod was the reason Evans got to eat at all during those two annoying days.
Jarrod had also provided the whisky. Enough to make sure that his bounty passed out and gave him some peace of mind.
“I heard that you were supposed to be on your way to Nevada this morning,” Jarrod said casually as he eyed the prisoner. Last night, James and Thatcher had been eager to get out of Texas. Here it was, almost dusk, and the marshals were still here.
Wasn’t that interesting?
“Briggs,” James drawled as they exited the office. “I didn’t realise you wanted another word with Evans.”
“I missed his pretty face. Just ask him,” Jarrod commented mildly.
“I thought you were leaving this morning.”
“I thought the same of you. Must be fate that we’re still here.” He turned his head and eyed Lyons as the man followed them out. If there was one thing that Jarrod didn’t like about Devil’s Pass, it was the sheriff. Although the man never gave Briggs any trouble when he needed a jail cell, there was something shifty about him. “Sheriff.”
“Briggs,” Lyons muttered. “There something that you wanted?”
“Just wanted to see Thatcher and James off.”
James cocked his head and worked his jaw back and forth. “Sure. We were just heading to grab some dinner. Why don’t you join us?”
Jarrod nodded. Evans made a few colourful remarks as he walked out, but he ignored it. If there was something that he learned early in this trade, it was not to let the bounty get to him.
The setting sun was casting a hazy golden glow over the dust rising up from the hooves of the horses as they cantered by. Shadows shifted and moved as most of the townspeople headed home to the warm supper waiting for them. The businesses were closing, and soon, only the drunks and the passersby would be left.
“Interesting that you’d be coming to see us off when you thought that we were already gone,” James commented as they walked across the storefronts. “We’re still here because the sheriff wanted some help on something. So why are you really here?”
“Devil’s Pass is growing on me.”
Thatcher snorted, and Jarrod grinned. It was nice that his associates knew him so well. Jarrod winked at them. “Anything that I can help you boys with?”
“The sheriff hates our presence here. He makes no secret about it, but he wants Joshua King more. Last night, he asked for our help. There is a reward for his capture, but this is personal, Briggs. The Kings were well loved in this town. Everyone wants to see justice.”
Jarrod shot the pair a sour look. Clearly they didn’t know him as well as he thought. “Are you asking me to take a personal interest in the King case?”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to take an interest in something,” James shot back. “For God’s sake man, you’re a cold bastard. The only time I see you smile is when you’re taking all of my money.”
“I’m good at my job, and I don’t have to take an interest in something to be good at my job. Give me the basics.”
“Joshua King is twenty-two years old. Two servants at the house found him standing over his parents’ bodies with a gun in his hand. The sheriff took him in for questioning, and he insisted that he didn’t kill his parents. He claimed he heard gunshots, ran and got his own gun, and followed the sound. He swears that he saw someone leaving out the window.”
“His story doesn’t seem implausible.”
“No, but the Kings are wealthy. There are servants crawling over every inch of that place, and the two witnesses said that they didn’t see anyone escaping out the window, and they claimed that the shots rang out just seconds before they entered the room. There was no time for Joshua to retrieve a gun and run in from another part of the house.”
With a grunt, Jarrod mulled over the information. “And the boy escaped custody and has been in hiding ever since?”
“It’s definitely embarrassing for Lyons,” Thatcher admitted. “Even worse that the sheriff hasn’t been able to find him. He assumed that Joshua has fled north. He has a sister in Boston. He wants marshals to watch the sister and see if he approaches her. The girl has access to money, and as far as we know, Joshua didn’t have anything on him when he fled.”
Jarrod frowned. It did sound like Joshua was guilty, and it wasn’t the first time he’d chased down a killer. It still didn’t explain Fox’s interest.
Unless Fox was the reason that Joshua hadn’t been found.
It was possible for a man with no money to stow himself on a train, but he wouldn’t get far in a city like Boston without funds. “He and his sister close?”
“Sheriff said that they were very close before the parents shipped Sarah off to Boston a couple of years ago to find herself a wealthy husband.”
If Joshua and Sarah were close, it didn’t make sense that he’d go to her for help. If Jarrod had a sister and was running from the law, he’d do his best to keep his sister out of it. “Joshua and his parents get along?”
Suddenly, Thatcher grabbed his arm and whirled him around slamming him against the wall of the tailor’s. “Briggs. The first time we gave you a job, you told us that you didn’t care if the bounty was guilty or not. So why don’t you explain why you’re looking for motive?”
“You told me to take a personal interest.” Jarrod inhaled sharply when he felt Thatcher’s forearm pressing against his throat. “Ease up, pal. Joshua isn’t my usual bounty. I’m used to going after career criminals. Joshua is a young man raised on a wealthy ranch with no discernible criminal contacts. I’m just trying to get into the kid’s head and figure out where he might go.”
The pressure eased, and Jarrod rubbed his throat and glared at Thatcher. “Case has you a little irritated, does it?”
“A wealthy kid killing his parents is abhorrent. You may not care about justice, but we do,” James said quietly. “If you can find him, the reward is yours.”
“Oh, I’ll find him.” Jarrod grinned. “Definitely before the two of you do.”
“Care to make a wager on that?”
“Nah. As you’ve pointed out, I’ve already taken too much of your money. Now if you’ll excuse me, I already have plans this evening.”
“You? Socialising with someone? I find that hard to believe,” Morrison muttered.
“I’ll try not to take that personally.” Clapping the two men on the back, he headed in the opposite direction of the restaurant to the saloon. If he was lucky, he’d catch Morrison before the man left town.
Sure enough, he found Morrison and Fox arguing heatedly over two pints of ale at the corner table. With a deliberate gait, he let his boots hit the wood floor heavily, and Fox looked up sharply. Their eyes betrayed nothing as he pulled out the chair and plopped down. “Gentlemen, any news in the criminal world that you’d like to share?”
Morrison looked less than pleased to see Jarrod. “Briggs. What are you doing here? Normally you can’t leave town fast enough.”
Pulling a coin out of his pocket, Jarrod started tossing it up in the air casually. The dim light of the saloon glinted off the silver as it flipped through the air. He caught it easily and tossed it up again. “Been thinking of giving up the bounty business. Thought maybe I’d settle down. Devil’s Pass seems like a nice place.”
“Hell must be frozen over if you’re thinking of settling down,” Morrison said dryly. “Honestly. I’ve never even seen you look at a woman twice.”
“Don’t need a woman to settle down,” Jarrod said in annoyance, but he never took his gaze off Fox. “I heard some interesting information today. Apparently, there was a horrible murder that happened here a couple of months ago, and the killer is still at large. You wouldn’t happen to know anything about it, would you?”
“Afraid for your safety?” the outlaw asked with a cocked eyebrow.
“Nothing wrong with making sure the town is free of crime before I buy property.”
“You do realise that Morrison lives here, and I drink rather frequently at this establishment.”
Jarrod blinked. “I’m sorry. Are you trying to suggest that you two are criminals?”
“What do you want, Briggs?”
Fox was tired of the banter, and Jarrod knew that when Fox was irritated, he sometimes let things slip. “Where’s Joshua King?”
“What makes you think that I know?”
“You were awfully chatty about him yesterday.”
“Was I? I had a few too many drinks last night. I don’t really remember what I said.”
“You specifically told me to leave town. I get the feeling that you didn’t want me to take the bounty.”
Then, Fox smiled slow and knowingly. “Seems to me that you did the exactly opposite of what I asked you. I guess that it doesn’t matter what I say, does it?”
Hit by a blinding realisation, Jarrod grunted. He didn’t like to be manipulated, and Fox had done just that. He didn’t want Jarrod to leave. He wanted him chasing after King.
Jarrod was about to demand that Fox be straight with him when a commotion caught their attention. A fight had broken out on the other side of the saloon, and it looked like Diana was caught right in the middle of it. Two men had launched themselves over the table and knocked Diana to the floor, which apparently spurned three other men to jump into the fray.
“I don’t have time for this,” Jarrod hissed as he jumped up. Pushing his way through the fighting men, he leaned down and scooped Diana up. “Are you okay?”
She gave him a small nod, but he saw the fear in her eyes. Even though she wasn’t hurt, something about the fight terrified her. “Enough,” he roared. Immediately, the men stopped and stared at him. “I believe that Gideon has made it more than clear what happens if Diana gets hurt.”
There was a distinctive sound of someone cocking the shotgun. Jarrod didn’t even have to look over his shoulder to know that Gideon was behind the bar and pissed. Slowly, he lowered Diana to the ground. “Apologise.”
“Sorry, ma’am,” they all muttered as they dropped their gaze. Jarrod could see that they were all ashamed, and it amused him no end that Diana commanded that kind of respect in a place like this. He knew part of it was because of the big man with the gun, but most of it was Diana. She might have been a woman of ill repute, but she was kind and sweet, and half of the men in here were in love with her.
“It’s okay. Just settle down for the rest of the evening,” she said as she cleared her throat and wiped the palms of her hands on her dress. “Thank you, Jarrod.”
He nodded his head to her, and when he turned around, he noticed that one table had emptied out in the scuffle.
Morrison and Fox were gone, and Jarrod had a feeling that he wouldn’t be seeing Fox again unless the man was ready to help.
“Forget this,” he growled as he sidled up to the bar and lifted his finger for a shot. Jarrod didn’t know what kind of game that Fox was playing, but Jarrod didn’t care about justice. He didn’t give a shilling about Joshua King or the reason he’d killed his parents. He wanted his bounty, and then he was leaving Devil’s Pass.
Everything else just complicated things.
Jarrod’s dinner and drinks were free that night. He knew it was Gideon’s way of saying thanks. His mood was soured by the whole turn of events, and he lit up a cigar and decided to take a walk before turning in for the night. The fight had made him jumpy, and he was spoiling for some action. Most of the town had quieted. There were a few drunks still stumbling around, but they stayed cleared of Jarrod.
Puffing on his cigar, he growled at nothing. Smoke from the cigar curled into the moonlight as he blew out the smoke. It calmed him. As he surveyed the town, he had to admit that if he were a man looking to settle down, Devil’s Pass wouldn’t be so bad. In general, he didn’t like people, but he didn’t mind these people.
He’d travelled to so many places that the towns all looked the same, but Devil’s Pass was different. Or maybe he was just spending more time there.
Not that it mattered. Jarrod wouldn’t settle down. There was a bullet out there somewhere with his name on it, and he figured he’d meet it sooner rather than later.
A sound caught his attention, and he frowned. At first, he dismissed it as another drunk, but if there was someone making trouble behind the saloon, he wanted to scare him off. He didn’t want Gideon finding more trouble.
As he slipped between the buildings, he stopped short at the corner. There was someone behind the buildings, but they weren’t vandalising it. Instead, someone was digging through the tin can of trash outside the saloon.
Jarrod was about to wave them off as vagrants before the man popped up, and he stilled. The lantern hung outside the building swung ever so slightly, and the light from the flame passed over the man’s face. The wanted posters were all over town, and there was no mistaking Joshua King. He’d grown some sort of stubble on his face, but Jarrod had been doing this job long enough to know a man on the run when he saw one.
Was it really going to be this easy?
Holding his breath, Jarrod debated his next move. The man probably had a gun on him, but he was no match for Jarrod. It would be an easy takedown, but it wouldn’t satisfy Jarrod’s curiosity. Joshua had obviously been sticking close to town, so how had he evaded the sheriff? Lyons was an idiot, but he wasn’t that blind. Even Gideon must have noticed discarded food going missing from the trash.
Joshua didn’t stay long. Within a couple of minutes, the man quietly replaced the lid, grabbed the lantern, and backed slowly into the woods bordering the town. An expert hunter and tracker, Jarrod gave Joshua a head start before he headed into the woods after him.
The man had no horse, but he still left a trail wider than a buffalo as he tromped through the thicket. He wasn’t exactly stealthy either. Hadn’t Lyons looked through the woods? How could he have missed this?
The trail led to the river, and Jarrod discovered Joshua’s secret. The man deftly pushed over a log and created a bridge at the narrowest part of the river. Once he’d crossed, he dragged the log back over onto his side. Anyone tracking him would have assumed that he’d been trapped at the river or tried to swim across.
Except the problem now was that Jarrod didn’t have any way of getting over himself unless he got wet. More than a little annoyed, he walked up and down the bank before he swore and stripped his coat off. Tucking his pistol behind it, he left them both at the bottom of a tree and took a deep breath. The river was narrow enough, and he was a strong swimmer. As long as the current didn’t pull him under, he’d be fine.
“Bounty better be worth it,” he growled as he plunged into the river. The current immediately pulled him to the side, but it wasn’t strong enough to drag him under. Breaking the surface, he gasped for air and swam in even strokes until he reached the edge. He was farther down than he’d anticipated, but adrenaline was pumping through his veins.
Joshua was going to pay for that little swim. Jarrod contemplated pushing the log back over and heading to the other side to retrieve his gun, but he figured he could take Joshua down without the firearm.
It was easy enough to find the path again, and Jarrod picked up the pace. He’d almost caught up with the man when he broke through the clearing. There was a small building in such bad shape that it looked like it was leaning crooked. An old mare whinnied softly and stamped her feet, and Jarrod quickly surveyed the area. There was no one else outside.
“Joshua King,” he growled as he saw the figure slinking towards the door. “Come with me nice and easy, and no one gets hurt.”
Joshua froze. Even in the dark. Jarrod could see the fear in the younger man’s eyes. “You’re not one of Lyons’ men.”
“Name is Jarrod Briggs.”
“The bounty hunter?” There was a hitch in Joshua’s voice. “Look, you don’t have to do this. I didn’t kill my parents.”
Jarrod advanced on him. “The thing about bounty hunters? We don’t really care.”
The door opened suddenly, and Jarrod realised his mistake too late. He assumed that Joshua was alone.
He was wrong.
The shot rang out in the middle of the night, and pain exploded in his calf. Gritting his teeth, he fell to the ground and grunted. Reaching out for his own gun, he remembered that he’d left it on the other side of the river.
He was outnumbered, and he couldn’t run.
“The Bounty Hunter of Her Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Sarah King is living through her darkest moments. Her parents are dead. Her brother is the accused killer. Unwilling to lose the only family she has left, she is ready to sacrifice anything to protect him and clear his name. But when she comes across a dangerous bounty hunter she will have to make some determinant choices. Is he another enemy planning to trap them or can he be a trustworthy ally?
Money is the only thing that matters in this world for Jarodd Briggs. Justice weighs little on his conscious and he deals with the most conniving and manipulative outlaws every day. However, after beautiful and feisty Sarah holds him at gunpoint, he will start reconsidering things. He can use his connections to investigate the Kings killings and help the woman he is so attracted to, but will he be able to overcome his past sins and wounds?
When the line that separates the righteous from the criminals becomes blurred and it’s hard to know who to trust, Sarah and Jarrod will have to decide whether they can rely on each other to overcome the hurdles on their way. Will Sarah manage to rescue her brother and find love and safety by Jarrod’s side or will she lose the people she really cares for and drop any chance for happiness forever?
“The Bounty Hunter of Her Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.