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Cowboys, Cattle, and Cutthroats by Gini Rifkin

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  • Ochessa is heartbroken when she finds her brother fatally wounded. His dying words are about a childhood puzzle box, missing legal documents, and a drifter named Nicodemus Breedlove. Ochessa vows to find Will’s murderer—and the man Will described.

    No stranger to trouble, Nic's only concerns are his Stetson, his mule Sadie, and a long awaited chance at retribution. After gaining Ochessa’s trust, and taking the job she offers, life gets more complicated.  

    Back on the ranch in Colorado, Ochessa works as hard as any man. Then Nick tempts her into playing even harder as a woman—both are consumed by their growing love for one another.

    Weathering a stampede, a gully washer, and a pack of outlaws, they locate the killer. As Nic’s quest for justice, and Ochessa’s vendetta for Will playout, bullets fly...

    Not everybody’s gonna make it out alive.

    Rating: Spicy
    Page Count: 294
    Word Count: 74450
    978-1-5092-2288-9 Paperback
    978-1-5092-2289-6 Digital

    Excerpt

    Chapter One

    Kansas, late spring 1879

     

    Nic Breedlove made it a practice to ignore heroic impulses. Then again, there were some situations a man couldn’t ride away from and still call himself a man.

    Silently, he watched the figures dressed in black hightail it over the far ridge. The desire to follow burned hot. No matter. He’d found them once, he could find them again. Changing course, he urged his mount toward the cabin. Smoke spiraled up from the small structure.

    Damn, they’d set the place on fire.

    Bent low in the saddle, Nic road at a gallop, hurtling down the narrow wash—trees and rocks a muted blur. At the front door, he reined in hard, and his mount skidded to a halt. Leaping from the saddle, he grabbed a wooden bucket, filled it at the watering trough, and dowsed the flames licking their way up the outside of the west wall.

    Luck prevailed. Wallace County had received a good bit of spring rain, and the damp Kansas sod inspired smoke rather than fire. He glanced around. Where was the homesteader who laid claim to the shack? He knew the men riding out didn’t hang their hats here.

    Tossing the bucket aside, he prowled around to the front of the cabin. The yard was scraggly but clean, and the house small but sturdy. At his touch, the door swung inward. He stepped across the threshold and peered around the dim interior.

    The calico curtains had been torn from the windows, the table overturned, and the chairs smashed to kindling. The pillow and bed ticking, as if slashed by a grizzly bear, spewed feathery innards across the old bed frame and onto the floor.

    A strangled moan rose from the far corner. Nic shoved a small chest of drawers aside and crouched down beside the injured man. For some reason, he’d thought to find an old-timer with weathered skin and a gray beard. The person before him was young, probably in his early twenties. His sandy colored hair matched his sparse chin whiskers. The spark of life barely flickered in light brown eyes—wide with pain.

    Nic’s gaze slid lower, and he clenched his jaw. The sodbuster had been gut shot. Grabbing a curtain, he wadded it up, and pressed the soft fabric to the belly wound. He glanced around for another cloth but didn’t see one within arm’s reach.

    The young man stared up at him and smiled weakly. “I’m as good as dead mister,” he gritted between clenched teeth. “But I thank you for trying to help.”

    “What’s your name?” Nic asked, in an effort to keep the fellow’s thoughts away from his condition. As encouragement, he offered up his own.

    “I’m Will,” came the replied. “Will Starr.”

    “And the men I saw riding off. They did this to you?”

    Will’s cheeks flushed, and his eyes momentarily brightened as if anger overshadowed agony. “They’re dark horsemen,” he explained, “and as black-hearted as the clothes they wear.”

    The young man’s declaration didn’t tell Nic anything new. The stories and reputation of the outlaws dressed in black preceded them. The yarns were gruesome, blood-curdling tales. And their leader had spent years perfecting his cruelty.

    Will snagged the front of Nic’s shirt with one hand—his fingers twisting the fabric. “You could help stop them,” he said, as if privy to his thoughts.

    “What are you talking about?” Nic gently freed himself from the young man’s grip.

    The boy shuddered and slumped back against the floor. His eyelids drooped, and he made a sound in his throat. His face turned white as a goose’s backside, and his hands went cold as a high mountain stream. It looked like Will was about to meet his Maker.

    Nic’s upper lip curled, and his shoulders grew taut. He wanted to crush something with his bare hands. What a lonely way for a man to die—out in the middle of the prairie with only a chance stranger in attendance.

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Cowboys, Cattle, and Cutthroats

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