Meet the Texans--rough-hewn heroes as bold and rugged as the Lone Star State itself--in a sweeping new series only Georgina Gentry could bring to heart-pounding, hard-riding life. . . Diablo They call him "Devil," and with good reason. The half-breed Santee Sioux bears the twisted scars that made him the fastest, deadliest gunfighter in Texas. Diablo will never forget the kind cattleman who once took him in, but it is his torturer who haunts his every thought. And when some powerful Wyoming ranchers come looking to hire ruthless men for a wicked job, Diablo seizes the opportunity to settle a score. . . Her name is Sunny, and she more than lives up to it. She's a dazzling ray of light--and the bride-to-be of Hurd Kruger, the man who scarred Diablo. What better way to destroy Kruger than to capture, dishonor, and dump his greatest prize? It's a perfect plan, except for the one thing Diablo never counted on. . .the only thing that could turn him away from the dark side, the angel who could save his bedeviled soul. . . "Gentry brings the West and her characters to life and give her fans hours of tru reading pleasure."--- Romantic Times
Release date: April 6, 2010
Publisher: Zebra Books
Print pages: 351
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Diablo paused between the swaying cars, looking through the door to see who was inside before he entered. No gunfighter worth his bullets would enter an area without checking out the lay of the land, especially since this car was full of Texas gunfighters, all hired killers like himself.
He had come a long way since Trace Durango had found him fifteen years ago when he was a Santee slave known as He Not Worthy of a Name. Well, he had earned a name now, and when men heard it, they turned pale and backed down from the big, half-breed gunfighter with the scarred face. He dressed all in black, from his Stetson down to his soft, knee-high moccasins. The superstitious peasants along the Rio Grande had given him the name: Diablo, the devil. It suited him just fine.
Now finally he was headed north to take care of unfinished business. He had waited a long, long time for this, and all these years he had been planning and perfecting his aim. Though the Wyoming Stock Grower’s Association was paying exorbitant money to bring this trainload of killers north, the money did not interest Diablo. What interested him was vengeance, and now, finally, he would have it. He was no longer the small and weak half-breed slave. No, now he had a name and was respected and feared throughout the West. Diablo had gained a reputation as a fast, deadly gunman.
Trace Durango had done well in teaching him to use a Colt, and he had used it time and time again in range wars and saloon showdowns. His gun was for hire, and he had fought side by side with men like Billy the Kid. Billy had been dead more than ten years now. Many of the others were dead too, before they reached middle age. In the end, that would probably be his fate, but for now, all that mattered was finishing his business with four men. His biggest fear was that they might now be dead and no longer able to face a showdown.
Diablo swung open the door and stood there watching the others inside. The shades had been ordered drawn, and the light in the swaying car was dim. Most of the men turned to stare at him, unsmiling, cigar smoke swirling above their heads. They did not nod a welcome, and he had expected none. These were hired pistoleros like himself, Texas gunfighters, on a special train to Wyoming where a range war was about to start. An hombre named Frank Canton had come down to hire twenty-five of the best, offering great pay and bonuses for every rustler and nester killed.
The train swayed, and the tracks made a rhythmic click-clack as conversation in the car ceased. All the men were looking at him, but he stared only at the men in the first row of seats. Diablo liked to have his back against the wall. The two men withered under his frown and hurriedly got up and retreated down the car. Diablo took the space they had vacated as if it were his right.
“Who in the hell is that half-breed?” The growling voice drifted toward him.
“Shh! Be quiet, Buck; that’s Diablo. You don’t want to make him mad.”
“The Diablo?” Now he sounded impressed.
“There’s only one,” said the other.
“He don’t look like so much.”
“You challenge him, you’ll find out.”
“Maybe I’ll just do that when we hit Wyoming.”
Diablo sighed, pulled his black Stetson down over his eyes, and leaned back against the scarlet horsehair cushions, then opened the shade, stared out the window at the passing landscape. Quickly he averted his eyes, not wanting to see the reflection of his scarred face, and closed the shade again.
He probably didn’t look like much to the others, who sported noisy, big spurs, fancy silver conchos and pistols, and boots of the best leathers in bright colors. Diablo dressed in the color of the night, and he wore moccasins, the better to move silently against an enemy without them knowing he was coming. Silver conchos and pistols had a way of reflecting light that an enemy could see for a long way. He not only moved silently, but his appearance was as black as a thunderstorm, with no bit of reflected light to give him away.
Now he stuck a slender cigarillo between his lips, but he did not light it. He never lit them. The flash of a match or the slightest scent of tobacco smoke would also give a man away, and he had learned from the Santee Sioux that he must move as silently as a spirit—kill and be gone. No wonder the Mexicans averted their eyes and crossed themselves as he rode past.
Hours later, Diablo decided he would have a drink and moved toward the club car. Balancing lightly in his moccasins as the train rumbled and click-clacked along the rails, he was acutely aware of each man he passed, sensing whether each was a threat or not. One or two eyed him, hands fidgeting nervously, as if thinking of being the one who killed the infamous Diablo, but each seemed to think twice and let him pass unchallenged.
In the club car, five men hunched over a table playing cards. Diablo paused in the doorway, looking them over. Then slowly the conversation ceased as each turned to look at him.
“Good God, look at his face!” the big, unshaven one muttered. He had red hair, and freckles showed through the balding spots.
“Be quiet, Buck,” warned a pudgy one with missing teeth, and a greasy ponytail of brown hair. “You want to die before you ever get to Wyoming?”
“But he looks like a monster.”
Nobody else said anything, waiting to see if the newcomer would take offense, but Diablo pretended he had not heard the remark. If he killed or challenged everyone who commented on his scarred face, his six gun would never be in its holster. Instead, he walked softly to the small bar and addressed the black waiter. “Beer.”
He felt the gaze of the others on his back, but he ignored them.
“Hey,” the one called Buck asked, “you got a big rattlesnake hatband and rattles on that Stetson. You kill it yourself ?”
Diablo nodded as he took his beer and moved across the scarlet carpet to a comfortable chair with its back against a wall and sat down. Play at the poker table seemed suspended.
“Hell,” snorted a short man in a derby hat, “it ain’t no big thing to kill a giant rattler. Anyone can shoot them.”
Diablo drilled him with his hard stare. “I didn’t shoot it. When it struck at me, I put my foot on its head and killed it with my knife.”
The man with the ponytail raised his bushy eyebrows, and the light reflected off the silver conchos on his leather vest. “Man has to be fast as greased lightnin’ to kill a snake that way.”
Diablo didn’t answer, and he knew they all stared at his rattler hatband with the dozen rattles still attached. Now he took out a fresh cigarillo, stuck it in his mouth, and gazed out the window.
“Hey, half-breed, you need a light?” The one called Buck half rose from his chair, his voice challenging. He wore big spurs, and when he moved, they rattled like the tin pans on a peddler’s cart.
The others tried to shush him.
Diablo was in no mood to kill someone today. He merely looked at the challenger, dark eyes glowering, and the man sat down suddenly.
“Well, boys,” Buck huffed, his dirty, freckled hands as nervous as his unshaven face, “let’s get this game goin’, shall we?”
Diablo watched the country gliding past the train windows for a long moment. They were only hours from Wyoming, and he was weary of the long trip. He reached for a newspaper on the nearby table. Cimarron Durango had taught him to read, and that made up for his loneliness. The others raised their heads and watched him as if astounded that a gunfighter was reading, then returned to their poker game.
Sunny sat between her father and Hurd Kruger as Hurd drove the buggy along the dusty road toward the train station in the town of Casper. Early spring flowers now bloomed along the way and in the fields where hundreds of cattle grazed.
“Thank you, Mr. Kruger, for inviting me along,” she said politely, looking up at him. He was a big, beefy man with yellow teeth that he sucked constantly. His hair and mustache were coal black, and when he sweated, little drops of dye ran down the sides of his ruddy face.
“Now, Sunny, dear, you ought to at least call me Hurd. I’m not really your uncle.”
The way he looked at her made her feel uneasy. He’d been looking at her that way ever since she’d gone into her teens, and now that she was eighteen, he looked at her that way more and more often. She brushed a blond wisp back under her pale blue bonnet. “All right,” she agreed and looked over at her father. Swen Sorrenson did not look pleased.
“Hurd, I still don’t think much of this idea,” he said, his Danish accent still strong after all these years.
“Now, Swen, we’ve been through this before, and anyway, we shouldn’t discuss this in front of our Sunny, should we?”
It upset her that her father seemed uneasy. Her mother had died giving birth to her, and Sunny felt obliged and guilty about Dad’s loss. If it hadn’t been for his obligations in raising a daughter in this rough land, he might have remarried or even returned to Denmark. He had always seemed frail and ill suited to this wild wilderness.
“Uncle Hurd, I mean Hurd, why are we going to town?” she asked.
“Business. The Stock Growers Association business. You know I am the president. But don’t you worry your pretty little head about that, Sunny—you can go shoppin’ while your dad and I tend to it.”
That didn’t account for the unhappy look in Swen’s pale blue eyes, but she decided not to ask any more questions. A trip to a big town was a rare treat for a ranch girl.
They were approaching the town, and her excitement built. In the distance, she heard the distinctive wail of a train whistle. “Oh, a train! Who do you suppose is coming in?”
Her father started to say something, then closed his mouth.
“Some men,” Hurd said, sucking his teeth, “part of the cattlemen’s business.”
They came into town on the main road and headed toward the train station. Others were gathering, too. The arrival of a train in this small, isolated town was big news.
They pulled into the station, and Hurd got down and tied the horse to the hitching rail. Then he came around to help Sunny out of the buggy, but her father got there first.
Hurd frowned. “Now, Sunny, dear, you go along and shop. Your dad and I and some of the other members will meet the train.”
“But it’s so exciting!” she protested, shaking the dust from her pale blue cotton dress and readjusting her skewered bonnet, “I want to see who’s getting off.”
“Next year,” Swen said to her with a smile, “maybe you will ride the train to Boston and go to college.”
Hurd frowned. “Aw, don’t put such high-falutin’ ideas in her head, Swen. Maybe she’ll want to get married instead. There ain’t much need for a ranch wife to get an education.”
Swen looked like he might disagree, but instead, pulled his Stetson down over his sparse hair as pale as Sunny’s and turned toward the station.
The crowd of curious onlookers was growing on the platform as the trio joined them. In the distance, Sunny could see the smoke from the engine and hear the whistle as it chugged toward the town.
“Casper! Coming into Casper!” The conductor walked up and down the aisle and into the next car, “Casper next stop!”
On the sidewalk near the station, Sunny Sorrenson smiled at her father. “Oh, Dad, I never saw a train up close!”
“Yes, dear,” Swen smiled back at her with eyes as blue as hers. “Hurd’s been expecting it.”
“Yep, this is a special train.” Hurd walked toward them, smiling. “Now we’ll get some action.”
“What’s going on?” Sunny smiled up at him. She was petite next to the big man.
“Now, sweetheart, never mind,” Hurd paused in sucking his yellow teeth and nodded. “It’s just cattle business—nothing to worry your pretty little head about.”
“All right, Uncle Hurd.” She saw a slight look of worry pass over her father’s tanned face. He didn’t often disagree with Hurd Kruger, their neighbor from the big K Bar ranch, especially since Hurd held the mortgage on their small spread and had been extra nice to them.
The train pulled into the station, puffing and blowing acrid smoke. People started gathering on the platform. The train arrival was always a big event in town. The three of them walked to the station in time to see the conductor step down and begin unloading baggage. After a moment, the passengers began to disembark. They were all men—tough-looking, weathered men, all wearing gun belts. The newcomers looked over the crowd, not smiling, then strode to the stock car, started unloading horses.
Sunny shielded her pale eyes from the sun. “Look at all those cowboys. Do you think they’ll be able to find work here? I thought there were plenty in the area.”
“Uh,” her father cleared his throat, “Hurd brought them in.”
“Be quiet, Swen,” the other man snapped; then he smiled at her and said, “Now, Sunny, dear, why don’t you run along and do some shopping? We men have things to discuss.”
There was something wrong here, but she wasn’t quite sure what it was. There must be almost twenty-five or thirty of these tough-looking cowboys milling about on the platform, gathering up their carpetbags and unloading their horses.
A tall, straight man with a mustache got off the train and strode over to them, smiling. “Well, Mr. Kruger, I brought them. Handpicked them, too, twenty-five or so of the best from Texas.”
“Shut up, Canton,” Hurd said, glancing at her. “We’ll talk later.”
She felt the men were withholding something because of her, but she was always obedient, as was expected of a young lady, so she walked away down the platform as Canton, Dad, and Hurd went to meet some of those men. They gathered and began to talk as she looked up at the train.
Then one final man stepped into the doorway of the railcar, looking about as if checking out the landscape. He caught her attention because he was so different than the others—taller and darker. He was dressed all in black, his Stetson pulled low over his dark face, and he wore moccasins instead of boots. From here, she could see the left side of his face, and he was handsome, with dark eyes and just wisps of very black hair showing beneath his hat. A half-breed, she thought. Unlike the others, he wore no silver conchos or spurs, and his pistol and gun belt were very plain and worn low and tied down. This was no ordinary cowboy, she realized with a sudden interest.
At that point, he turned his face toward her, and she took a deep breath and stepped backward in shock. While the left side of his face was handsome, the right side was scarred and twisted. “Oh, dear Lord,” she whispered, trying not to stare but unable to take her eyes off the stranger.
He seemed to sense her horror, and he winced and turned quickly away so that his right side was hidden again.
Diablo watched her from the car step. He was almost hypnotized by the girl. She was certainly not yet twenty, and small. Her blue dress accentuated her eyes, which were as pale as a Texas sky, and her hair was lighter than corn silk. The tight waist accentuated her tiny body, and she was fragile and delicate, almost too delicate to be in this cold, harsh country. He had never seen anything like her before. He found himself staring at her full, pink lips, and without thinking, he turned his head to get a better look.
Too late he saw her hand go to her mouth and the way she stepped backward in dismay. Diablo turned his face away, too aware that his scarred face had frightened her, and the old anger arose in him. He would always have this effect on women, always. The fact made him angry with the beautiful, petite girl, although he knew it was not her fault.
Two men walked up to join the girl, not looking at Diablo. The older one had wispy hair, almost snow blond, and eyes as pale as the girl’s. The other was middle-aged, perhaps in his forties with a small potbelly, and hair and mustache dyed too black to hide the gray.
Diablo’s hand went to his pistol as the old memories flooded back. Then he forced himself to concentrate and not think of that long-ago day. He would pick the day and time, and this was not it. He grabbed his carpetbag and stepped back into the shadows of the car door so the men would not see him. He stared at the girl again, thinking he had never seen anything so fragile and beautiful. He wanted her as a man wants a woman, but was angry because she had recoiled from him. What could he expect? Didn’t women always shrink back from his ugly face? And yet, he always hoped there would be one who wouldn’t. Sunny, yes, that was what they had called her, and that was a good name for her. This girl was a magnificent princess; she could have any man she wanted, and she would not want him. He sighed and turned his attention again to the men congregating on the platform.
The man called Canton had joined the other two, and everyone’s attention was on the crowd of gunfighters as they gathered around.
Diablo heard the big man say something to the girl about going shopping. She nodded, but Diablo saw that she was still staring back at him in a sort of horrid fascination.
“But Uncle Hurd, what about you and Dad?” the girl asked.
“We’ve got Stock Growers Association business to tend to. Now don’t worry your pretty little head—you just run on, and we’ll meet up with you later in the day. Here,” the big man reached into his pocket, “here’s some extra money to spend.”
The older man objected. “But Hurd, I give her money all ready.”
“So I give her some more. I’ve got plenty to spoil her.”
The girl tried not to accept it. “Oh, Uncle Hurd, it’s too much—”
“Nonsense. Now you run along and buy yourself something nice to wear at the party I might give soon.”
The girl took the money, hugged both the two men, and left. Diablo’s gaze followed her until she disappeared down the brick sidewalk and past the station. Then he watched the two men she had accompanied, and a terrible rage built in him as he remembered something too horrible to be voiced.
After fifteen years, he had returned as he had always promised himself he would. He cared nothing for the cattlemen’s war. Diablo had come to Wyoming for one reason and for one reason only: he had come to torture and kill certain men, and one of them was one of the two men the girl had embraced.
Before dark, Sunny joined her father again at the train station. “Where’s Uncle Hurd?”
Swen helped her and her packages up into the buggy. “He—he and some of the other ranchers rode with the Texans back to the K Bar.”
He climbed in, flicked the little whip at the bay horse, and they started up the road.
“Dad, who were all those men? They looked pretty rough.”
Swen hesitated and kept his eyes on the road ahead. “The Stock Growers Association has been having a lot of trouble with rustlers.”
“I know,” she nodded.
“Well, Hurd, as president, got everyone to pitch in, and they’ve got a pot of about a hundred thousand dollars.”
“So much?” she gasped. “Dad, did you—?”
“No,” he shook his head, “I don’t approve and didn’t have any money anyway.”
A sense of foreboding came over her as they drove along the road. “I take it there’s a connection among these men, the rustling, and the money?”
“Don’t ask me, dear. The less you know, the better.”
She wanted to ask more, but she had to quell the rebellion she sometimes felt. Then she always felt guilty because she was all her dad had besides a small, mortgaged ranch. “What about that one dressed in black?”
“Uh-huh.” He didn’t seem to be listening, lost in his own thoughts, so she didn’t pursue it. Of course that scarred one was one of the Texas gunmen the ranchers had brought in to deal with the rustlers. That one was the most dangerous, virile man she had ever seen, and it gave her a naughty thrill to picture him staring back at her.
“Dad,” she tried again, “about that one—”
“Sunny, the less you know the better,” Dad said. “And don’t speak of this to Hurd. He wouldn’t think it was fitting that a girl knew too much about the cattlemen’s actions.”
She started to protest, then took a deep breath and hushed. She must not cause her father any more grief than she had already caused him, when her birth resulted in the death of his young wife.
The next night, back at the ranch, Sunny watched her father comb his sparse yellow hair and polish his boots.
“You’re going out?”
“Yes, dear,” he nodded. “Hurd’s decided to throw a barbecue at his place tonight for the uh, new cowboys.”
“Oh.” She blinked. “Aren’t the ladies invited?”
Swen shook his head and frowned. Evidently he did not approve of something, but of course, she never questioned her father about his decisions. “Sunny, these are a rough sort. You saw most of them at the train station.”
She remembered the one who had made the biggest impression. “I know what you mean. That half-breed dressed all in black—”
“Half-breed?” Swen shook his head. “Don’t remember that one.”
Had she imagined the big man with the piercing dark eyes and the scarred face? “Reckon it doesn’t matter.”
“Anyway,” Swen said in his slight accent, “there’s business to be discussed. I’ll take our hands with me. It’d be dull for the ladies.”
“All right. I’ll find something to do, maybe some sewing.”
“That’s my good girl.” He smiled and kissed her cheek as he dressed.
She sighed. Everyone remarked on what a dutiful daughter she was.
“And I’ll keep a close eye on that dun mare for you.”
“Oh, I don’t think she’ll foal for a few more days, but I want to be here when she does. Yes, there’s a lot riding on that fine foal. We can use the money.”
“We’ll never get Hurd Kruger paid off,” she complained. “In fact, we seem to get further behind each year.”
“Now he’s been a good friend to us,” her father chided, “we wouldn’t have made it this long without him.”
“Oh, I wasn’t complaining,” she put in quickly. She tried not to do or say anything that would upset her father, even when she had to grit her teeth to be agreeable.
A few minutes later, she walked her dad out to where he saddled a good chestnut, and nodded to his mounted cowhands waiting for him. They all doffed their hats and smiled.
“Evenin’, Miss Sunny.”
“Good evening, boys,” she nodded.
“Now, Sunny,” Swen said, “Will you be all right here?
“Of course, Dad.” She leaned over and kissed his weathered cheek. “You know I can handle a rifle if any coyotes come around. You just enjoy your barbecue.”
He frowned. “Not likely,” he muttered and mounted up.
She looked up at him. “You don’t approve of whatever Uncle Hurd is up to, do you?”
“I didn’t say that,” he sputtered. “Remember, we’re owing to Hurd for everything he’s done for us. If he hadn’t sold me land at a cheap price and lent me money, too, we couldn’t have made it in this rough country.”
She nodded and waved as Swen turned his horse and all the men rode away. She’d heard her father had a reputation in the county for not being a very good businessman, but they’d managed all right, thanks to Hurd Kruger. She frowned as she returned to the ranch house. She didn’t really like Uncle Hurd. Sometimes, the way he looked at her made her skin crawl.
The sun went down, and she ate a cold supper and settled in to sew. As darkness descended, she got an uneasy feeling and went to check on the prize mare. The mare was in the barn and stamping uneasily. Sunny looked her over. Oh, darn, the mare was going into labor and seemed to be having trouble. There wasn’t a man in the place, and Sunny knew she couldn’t handle this by herself.
She hesitated as she petted the nervous horse. What should she do? Dad had told her ladies were not welcome at the barbecue because of whatever Uncle Hurd was planning. On the other hand, they couldn’t afford to lose this foal, much less the mare.
For a minute, she struggled with her dilemma. Dad might be upset with her, but on the other hand, this was an emergency. She dare not ride astride where a bunch of the neighboring ranchers might see her though. The So. . .
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