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Ike McAlister has finally put the ghosts of his past to rest. He’s found new joy with a spirited wife, a young daughter, and a mountain valley ranch where a man can make something of himself. But a coming railroad through the South Park valley threatens to take his land and tear his hard-won peace apart.
Discovering that the railroad could easily bypass his ranch, he organizes opposition and earns the animus of the formidable foreman. When Ike’s brother Rob, the sheriff, is bushwhacked, Ike sets out on a high stakes quest to get the killer before the killer gets him.
Rating: Non-Romance Adult Content
Page Count: 350
Word Count: 91557
Ike McAlister spied three rustlers ahead as he rounded the rocky ledge. A bullet whistled by his head and pinged off a boulder behind him. He dove off Ally and ducked behind the large granite outcropping, waiting for their next move. Cattle thieves weren’t common in this part of South Park, but they weren’t unheard of either. Some of his stock was missing, and he’d picked up these riders’ trail. His partner, Buster, was on the other side of the Park searching for the same stock, so Ike was alone on the valley floor.
He peeked around the rock, gripping his gun handle. The rustlers were driving five cattle south, away from his ranch. At least they hadn’t gotten either of his bulls. The drag rustler looked back occasionally, but none of them seemed to be in any hurry. Ike considered his options. He could follow and if he was lucky, scatter them with his rifle, then drive the animals back to his spread, or he could turn back now and let the bandits have the cattle.
He never was one to turn back. He’d get his stock one way or another.
He swung his bad leg up gamely on Ally, his warhorse. She bobbed her head as if to say, ‘let’s go.’ Ike nudged her and rode out from behind cover. He’d have to stay farther back than he wanted, as there was little to conceal him on the basin floor. He put a hand to his Winchester in the scabbard by his left leg. Then he drew his Colt .44 and checked the cylinder. He wished the day was a little further along than it was, as the bright sun overhead acted like a spotlight. On them, too, but they didn’t need cover like he did.
He didn’t recognize any of the rustlers—who they were or where they were from. He spent most of his time on his ranch, so he didn’t know many people in the nearby town of Cottonwood. Every day brought enough to do on his spread, including shadowing cattle thieves. These three weren’t hard to follow, as slow as they were riding. He told Ally to keep them in sight.
Just then a lone rider galloped toward the trio from the left.
The rider fired at the rustlers from a distance, and they turned and fired back. Ike spurred Ally and drew the Winchester. He shot in the thieves’ direction but wasn’t likely to hit anything but air, bouncing in the saddle as he was. Soon, the three wheeled their horses away and vamoosed south, leaving the cattle standing blankly in the middle of the large Park basin.
Ike pulled up as he neared Buster. “What were you thinkin’, ridin’ in all alone? Seein’ ain’t your strong suit—couldn’t you tell there was three of them?”
“I just heard a shot and scooted over here. With my eyesight, it looked like there was eight or nine wranglers, so I figured it was gonna be pretty near an even fight.” He tried to hide a smile behind his stubbly beard flecked with gray.
Ike whacked a hat against his jeans. “Don’t know what I’m gonna do with you, Buster. I ain’t payin’ you enough to afford a decent burial, so I guess if you’d got killed just now, I woudda just dug a hole somewhere out here and stuck you in it.”