In a land of legends The Loner has nothing to prove. That’s usually when violence finds its way to him…
Vengeance Will Be Mine
For a posse chasing a murderous band of outlaws, a quiet kid with a lightning fast gun is good company. And when the outlaws turn around and attack the posse, The Loner doesn’t have a choice: he’s now caught up in a running gun battle across West Texas. The Loner knows the men he’s fighting are bad to the bone—led by a merciless killer named Warren Latch. But what about the guys on his side? As men on both sides of the fight bite the dust, the Loner has fewer allies and no way out. That’s when a beautiful bounty hunter appears on the scene—to lead the way into another vendetta, another betrayal, and one final, bloody fight to the death…
Dusk was settling down over the West Texas town of Fire Hill as Vint Reilly walked home from the stage station.
The day had been blistering hot, as usual, but now that the sun was down the dry air was beginning to cool. The faint breeze felt good on his face as he glanced toward the knob west of town.
The founder of Fire Hill, old Marcus Burton, had come to these parts forty years earlier, not long before the Civil War, to start a ranch. He’d figured he wanted a town as well, to supply the needs of that ranch. The spot on the stream that came to be known as Burton Creek had been a good choice for the settlement.
According to legend, Marcus Burton had stood at that spot and looked toward the knob just as the sun was setting behind it. The red glare made it look like a giant fire was burning on top of the hill.
It had impressed Burton a lot, so he’d dubbed the
new town Fire Hill, Texas.
The citizens still knew it by that name.
Old Marcus was still around. His MB Connected ranch was the largest in that part of the state.
Reilly had a lot on his mind because of Marcus Burton. The old man had had a sizable amount of cash shipped in. Since the closest railroad station was sixtyfive miles south of Fire Hill, the money had arrived on the threetimesweekly stage.
Reilly had been running the stage station for five years. The satchel full of bound bundles of greenbacks was now locked in the safe in his office. It was the most money he’d ever had in that old safe.
It made him nervous. He didn’t know why in blazes Burton couldn’t have had somebody meet the stage and take the cash back out to the ranch.
Reilly had asked Burton that question when he came into town to arrange the shipment.
“I do things in my own time,” the crotchety old cattleman had insisted. “My men are busy, can’t just take off to run around willynilly. I’ll have somebody here to pick it up in three or four days.”
In the meantime Reilly was stuck with the responsibility of making sure the money stayed safe. Burton didn’t seem to understand that . . . or more likely, just didn’t care.
Reilly had hired Tom Rodman and Peter Dona hue to stand guard over the money at night.
Donahue was young but pretty tough, a parttime deputy for town marshal Alonzo Hyde. Rodman was getting up in years, but had worked for the stage line as a shotgun guard for a long time before the bouncing of those Concord coaches had gotten to be too much for his aching bones. Reilly had confidence in both men.
But he still wished that money was somewhere else besides his safe.
He would walk back down to the office after supper and check on the guards, he decided. His wife Delores was fixing pot roast—one of his favorites—and he wasn’t going to miss out on it because of some stubborn old man.
Turning in at the gate in the fence around his front yard, he could already smell the delicious aroma of the meat drifting from his house. A smile tugged at his mouth.
He glanced again at the hill that had given the settlement its name. For some reason he couldn’t fathom, his smile disappeared and a worried frown creased his forehead.
Damn Marcus Burton anyway, Vint Reilly thought.
On top of the hill overlooking the town sat forty men on horseback. Their leader, Warren Latch, was at the edge of the slope, slightly in front of the other men.
He was hatless, and the wind stirred his long
brown hair. The jutting beard he wore was the same shade. A Mexican serape rested on his shoulders and draped down over his chest and back. Under it were crossed bandoliers of 7.63mm ammunition for the matched pair of Mauser C96 semiautomatic pistols he wore in flap holsters at his waist.
He had ordered the pistols ’specially from Germany. Being able to kill swiftly and efficiently was very important to Warren Latch, and the Mausers gave him a deadly edge that not many men possessed.
One of the other men edged his horse up alongside Latch’s mount. “It’s getting to be along toward time, Warren.”
“Not yet,” Latch said. “I want it to be good and dark before we go down there. In the time those pathetic fools have left, I want them to shiver in fear of the horrors that descend on man out of the endless night. I want to be their worst nightmare, Duval, the kind that sends them screaming out of sleep . . . and out of this life!”
Slim Duval shrugged. He didn’t care about any of that. He only cared about the big pile of Marcus Burton’s money sitting in that stage station’s crackerbox safe.
Fortunately, Latch cared about that, too, no matter how much he liked to rant about other things. In the end, he would see to it they got the
money and everything else they could loot from the town of Fire Hill. That was all that mattered.
As his name implied, Slim Duval was a slender man. He was something of a dandy as well, always dapperly dressed in a black suit and Stetson, with a diamond stickpin holding down his silk cravat. He was a Cajun, though he’d long since lost the accent.
He’d been a gambler in New Orleans and on the Mississippi riverboats before those halcyon days had drawn to a close. When they did, he had drifted west and fallen in with Warren Latch, discovering he was equally talented as a desperado as he was with a deck of cards.
Duval had been Latch’s secondincommand for a while, the only member of the gang who was close to the longhaired boss outlaw. “You sure the money’s there?”
Latch jerked his head sharply toward his lieutenant. “If it’s not, Jed Miller will die slowly and very painfully for lying to me.”
Miller was the clerk who worked in the railroad shipping office and fed information to Latch about the best targets for the gang’s robberies.
“Miller might not have lied,” Duval pointed out. “But he could have made a mistake.”
“Then he’ll die for making a mistake,” Latch snapped. “But whether the money’s there or not, by morning the town will be nothing more than smoldering heaps of rubble.”
“Fine,” Duval said under his breath. He knew good and well that Latch was loco. The man lived for death and destruction.
But riding with him sure paid well.
As the last of the light from the sunset faded out of the sky, Latch peered down hungrily at the settlement. To himself as much to anyone else, he said, “Soon. Very soon.”
Vint Reilly stood up and went around the table to rest his hands on the shoulders of his pretty, oliveskinned wife. Delores turned her head to smile up at him. “Good?”
“Muy bueno,” he told her in the language of her people.
She laughed. “You don’t have to speak Spanish to me. You know that, Vint.”
“I like to. The words are beautiful. You’re beautiful. And it’s a beautiful evening.”
“Which you’re going to spoil by going back down to the station to sit there with Tom and Peter when you could be spending time here with your loving wife.”
Reilly groaned. “You’re tormenting me, woman. It’s not like I’d rather be there. I’m just worried about that money.”
“Why should you be?” Delores asked. “Obviously, Marcus Burton isn’t, or he would have had
some of his men in town to pick it up when the stage came in.”
“I told him the same thing,” Reilly said, “but you know how he is.”
Delores sniffed. “Stubborn as an old mule?”
“That’s about the size of it.” Reilly smiled. He leaned over farther, rubbed his cheek against his wife’s velvety cheek, and kissed the glossy black curls on her head. “I won’t be gone long. Once I’ve seen for myself that Tom and Pete have everything under control, I’msure my nerves will settle down, and then I’ll come on home.”
“Those nerves of yours had better not take too long.” Passionate lights twinkled in Delores’s dark eyes. “If they do, I’m liable to be asleep when you get back.”
“Wouldn’t want that.” Reilly chuckled as he straightened.
He went to the front door as Delores got up and started clearing the table. Reilly took down the Winchester hanging on the wall and snagged his flatcrowned hat from its hook. He settled it on his tightly curled brown hair and smiled at his wife. “See you later.”
“Don’t be long,” she warned again as she carried empty plates into the kitchen.
Reilly sighed as he left the house. He had taken reasonable precautions to protect Marcus Burton’s money. Most men would have said the hell with it.
If anything happened, it would be Burton’s fault, not his.
The rancher wouldn’t see it that way, though, and likely Reilly’s employers at the stage line wouldn’t, either. He tucked the Winchester under his arm, opened the gate, and headed for the station.
It was too dark now to see the hill west of town.