Preacher and Jamie MacCallister search for a hidden fortune that might be just a legend—but the bandits, bullets, and bloodshed they find are all too real . . .
Jamie MacCallister remembers the Alamo—especially one brave frontiersman who died fighting there. Now the fallen veteran's granddaughter needs Jamie's help. She's found a letter written by her grandfather with a map to the spot where Alamo legend Jim Bowie supposedly hid a fortune in silver and gold. Jamie never believed the story. Countless treasure hunters had scoured the area and come up empty handed. But his friend's granddaughter is convinced it's hidden where no one has ever dared to search—deep in the heart of Comanche country . . .
There's no way Jamie will let this nice young lady venture into such hostile territory—not without his help. But they're going to need backup. Enter Preacher: easily the toughest mountain man in the West and, luckily, Jamie MacCallister's loyal friend. Together, they begin their journey at Fort Belknap, the farthest outpost of civilization—and the gateway to the barbaric Comancheria. In that deadly, untamed land the three will seek their fortune. But what they find is a cutthroat gang of outlaws, a bloodthirsty group of deserters, and a powerful tribe of Comanche warriors—who kill all trespassers on sight . . .
Release date: June 27, 2023
Publisher: Pinnacle Books
Print pages: 320
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William W. Johnstone
“Put your eyes back in your head, boy,” Jamie Ian MacCallister said to his teenage son Falcon. “It’s not polite to stare at a woman that way.”
“Even one as pretty as her?” Falcon responded in an awed tone of voice.
“Even one as pretty as her,” Jamie said.
But he could understand why Falcon was so interested in the woman who had just climbed out of the red-and-yellow Concord coach parked in front of the stage station.
She was easy on the eyes. Mighty easy on the eyes.
Tall, well-built, with ample curves, strong shoulders, and broad hips, she looked like she could work all day and still give a man all the loving he could handle at night. He could think such things because he was an old married man, Jamie told himself, and was, in fact, hitched to a woman just like that.
Kate was waiting for him out at the ranch, though, so all he could do was think . . . which was fine with him. They’d gotten married when they were both young, and honestly, he had never wanted anyone else.
“Now you’re starin’ at her, Pa,” Falcon said with a mocking tone in his voice.
“No such thing,” Jamie said as he turned away and swung a hand at the youngster’s head in a light cuffing motion that deliberately missed. “Just naturally curious every time a stranger shows up in these parts.”
He did have a proprietary feeling about the valley and this settlement, which was also called MacCallister. He and Kate had been the first white settlers around here. The town and the other ranches in the valley had grown up because Jamie and Kate MacCallister had dared to be pioneers. That daring was in their blood. They came from people who always pushed out into the unknown, ahead of the more cautious ones.
He and Falcon had brought the wagon into town today to pick up some supplies. Jamie put his hand on the strapping blond teenager’s shoulder and steered him across the high front porch that also served the store as a loading dock.
Just before they reached the door, though, Jamie looked back over his shoulder and across the street to see that the new arrival had lifted her arms to take a couple of carpetbags from the coach’s shotgun guard, who was handing down luggage from the vehicle’s roof. The bags appeared to be somewhat heavy, but she handled them without much trouble as she turned away from the coach.
A man who’d been loafing in front of the stage line office, apparently waiting for the coach to roll into town, stepped up to her and spoke. At this distance, Jamie couldn’t make out what he said.
Whatever it was, the woman replied and shook her head. The man said something else. He wore a long duster that had seen better days and a battered old hat and hadn’t made the acquaintance of a razor in quite a while. Jamie was just guessing, but he figured the hombre wasn’t on regular speaking terms with soap and water, either.
The woman said something and tried to step around him. The man moved to block her path and reached for the carpetbags. She jerked back away from him.
Jamie said quietly, “Falcon, you go on in the store and wait for me there.”
“Do what I told you.”
Jamie moved toward the steps at the end of the porch without looking back to see if his son was following his orders.
“I said, I’m perfectly capable of handling my own bags, thank you.”
Hannah Craigson tried to stay out of the reach of the man who had offered to take her bags. Her nose wrinkled at the smell coming off him. She couldn’t control the reaction.
“Now, dadgummit, a purty lady like you hadn’t ought to be luggin’ heavy bags around in this heat,” the man insisted. “Ain’t no need for you to act stuck-up. I’m just tryin’ to help you. Gimme them carpetbags and I’ll take ’em right on down to Miss Annie’s—”
A look of surprise appeared on the man’s grimy, bearded face. “Why, Miss Annie’s. It’s the best cathouse in town. I figured that’s where a gal who looks as fine as you would be workin’.”
He reached for the bags again, and again, Hannah avoided him. But then she set the bags on the ground at her feet and said, “Wait just a moment, sir.”
Now the man looked confused and stood there for a couple of seconds with his mouth hanging open before he said, “Huh?”
“You believe that I’m here to work in a house of ill repute?”
“Well, as nice-lookin’ as you are, you could make a heap of dinero—”
She stepped forward and slapped him, her right hand flashing up to crack solidly against his whiskery cheek and jerk his head to the side. “How dare you make such an improper assumption?”
Ever since this man had accosted her, she’d expected the stagecoach’s driver or guard or one of the hostlers to come to her assistance. Or even one of the townspeople loitering nearby. However, it appeared she was going to be forced to take matters into her own hands, and to Hannah, once an idea had formed in her mind, it was meant to be put into action.
So she’d slapped him as he so richly deserved.
Now, surely, he would leave her alone.
Instead, his features twisted in sudden anger, and he lunged forward, reaching out with both hands to grab her arms.
“I ain’t lettin’ no soiled dove haul off and wallop me like that,” he said as he jerked her toward him. “Just for that, I reckon you owe me a little somethin’—”
The words broke off in a startled yowl that also ended abruptly as a huge figure loomed up behind the man and clamped both hands around his neck. He let go of her arms as the man who had him by the throat lifted him off his feet. His legs kicked futilely as he hung suspended in midair some six inches off the ground.
Then the giant who had taken hold of her scruffy, odiferous, insulting tormentor turned and flung him away, like a child discarding a no longer cherished doll. The bearded man landed in the street and momentum rolled him over several times before he came to a stop facedown. He tried to lift his head, groaned, and gave up, letting his face sag back down against the hard-packed dirt.
Hannah stared up at her rescuer in awe. His towering height, solid build, and wide shoulders made her think of a tree. He wore canvas trousers, a buckskin shirt, and a wide-brimmed brown hat with a tall crown that was slightly pinched. The butt of a heavy-looking revolver stuck up from the holster on his right hip. A bone handle protruding from a fringed sheath on his left hip told her that he carried a long-bladed knife there.
His face was rugged, deeply tanned, and weathered enough to indicate that he wasn’t a young man, despite the almost overpowering air of vitality he gave off. The gray in his mustache and the thick brown hair under his hat told the same story.
He reached up with his left hand, pinched the brim of that hat as he nodded to her, and said in a deep, powerful, yet somehow gentle voice, “My apologies for the rude welcome you’ve received in our town, ma’am. Or is it miss?”
“It . . . it’s miss,” Hannah heard herself say. “Miss Han—”
Loud, angry voices interrupted her. They shouted curses that made Hannah’s ears start to warm with embarrassment. The big man looked around at the four men who hurried along the street toward them. From the looks of it, they had just emerged from the saloon behind them.
The man who had accosted Hannah found the strength to raise his head again. Weakly, he waved a hand and called, “Get that . . . big hombre . . . fellas!”
The four newcomers, who looked to be cut from the same cloth as their friend, yelled more curses and charged even harder.
Hannah’s rescuer started to turn toward them, saying as he did so, “Pardon me, miss. You, uh, might want to step up on the boardwalk out of harm’s way . . .”
Jamie wasn’t surprised that the varmint who’d been bothering the young woman had friends. Coyotes tended to run in packs, after all.
He didn’t recall ever seeing any of the men rushing at him, but that wasn’t surprising, either. Drifters passed through the settlement pretty frequently. Most were good folks, but some were hardcases like these, usually on the prod for trouble, especially when they’d been drinking.
Jamie was willing and able to give them all the trouble they wanted.
The first man to reach him snarled and swung a fist at his head. Jamie leaned aside and let the punch fly harmlessly past him. He grabbed the man’s extended arm and yanked down hard on it at the same time as he brought his right knee up.
One of the bones in the man’s arm broke with a sharp crack as Jamie snapped the arm over his knee. He didn’t know which bone had broken, but it didn’t really matter. The man screamed in pain and forgot about wanting to fight.
Jamie gave him a hard shove that sent him staggering back in the way of his friends. Two of them ran into him. One tripped and fell as he tried to recover. The other had to pause to push the fella with the busted wing out of his way.
But that left the fourth man with an unimpeded path of attack. He was big, too. Not as big as Jamie, but larger than most men. Not only that, he was also smart enough to have seen how fast Jamie reacted to the first punch thrown at him. So he didn’t rush in but approached more cautiously, hamlike fists raised and moving back and forth a little in front of him.
“You may’ve busted Grover’s arm, mister, but the odds are still three to one,” he rasped.
“Come on,” Jamie said. “I’ve got better things to do than listen to you flap your jaw.”
That deliberate goading worked, at least well enough to prod the man into launching his attack before he was completely ready. His footwork was clumsy as he bored in and tried to feint with his left.
Jamie didn’t bite. Instead, he drove his right fist straight ahead and felt the crunch of cartilage under his knuckles as they slammed into the man’s nose. Blood spurted hotly across the back of his hand. The man’s head rocked back under the blow.
He didn’t go down, though. He swung a right of his own that barely got over Jamie’s left arm. It clipped Jamie on the chin, not a solid punch but with enough force behind it to make Jamie take a step to his right.
His attacker lowered a shoulder and bulled into him. Jamie tried to plant his feet, but the man had too much strength and size. Jamie went over backward and crashed to the ground with the man on top of him.
It took a lot to knock Jamie MacCallister down. This was no ordinary bruiser he was facing, he realized. This hombre might actually be dangerous.
The man tried to ram his knee into Jamie’s groin. Jamie twisted his hips so he took the blow on his left thigh instead. At the same time, the attacker groped for Jamie’s throat with his left hand and hammered a punch into the older man’s face with his right. The blow stunned Jamie just enough so that the man was able to clamp fingers around his throat.
The fella squeezed hard and lifted his fist, poised to come crashing down again. Before that punch could fall, Jamie reached up and clapped both hands as hard as he could against the man’s ears. The man yelled in pain, and his grip on Jamie’s throat loosened. Jamie grabbed the front of his shirt and heaved.
The man flew through the air but throwing him off like that caused Jamie to roll onto his left side. That put his back to the other men, and one of them took advantage of that to land a vicious kick in the small of Jamie’s back. Jamie grimaced in pain, his lips pulling back from his teeth. One of the other men closed in from his front, booted foot raised to stomp down at him.
Jamie flung his hands up, caught hold of the boot that was coming toward his face, and rolled again, which threw the would-be stomper off his feet. The man landed hard on his back and lay there gasping with the wind knocked out of him.
The man whose arm Jamie had broken was the only one actually out of the fight. He lay curled in a ball, cradling the injured limb and whimpering. The one with the breath knocked out of him didn’t pose a threat at the moment, but he would recover, probably pretty quickly. That still left two men upright and ready to do battle.
Not only that, the first man Jamie had grabbed, the one who had accosted the attractive young woman, had caught his breath by now and scrambled to his feet to join the attack. The three of them rushed at Jamie from different directions.
Even with those odds, he was confident that he would emerge triumphant from this clash. He figured he could take more punishment than they could dish out. But it was going to be a pretty rugged battle.
Then, with an angry shout, an ally suddenly appeared. Falcon tackled one of the men from behind. Although still a teenager, he was already a strapping, brawny youngster, and he picked one of the hard cases who was only a little bigger than him. The impact drove both of them off their feet.
That gave Jamie enough room to take a step back, forcing the other two to alter their angles of attack slightly. Jamie ducked under a punch from the largest of the trio, clubbed his hands together, and lifted them in a tremendous two-handed uppercut that caught the man under the chin. The devastating blow was powerful enough that it lifted him completely off his feet. He went over backward, and his legs kicked high in the air as he landed on his upper back and neck.
If he had come down slightly differently, the landing probably would have broken his neck. As it was, he lay there with his arms and legs twitching, so Jamie figured his spine hadn’t snapped.
Jamie was only vaguely aware of that because he still had his hands full with the other man, who happened to be the long-bearded hombre who had started the trouble in the first place by accosting the young woman. He got close enough to pepper several punches into Jamie’s face, but his scrawny form didn’t have enough weight to give the blows any real power. Jamie shrugged them off, grabbed handfuls of the man’s grimy shirt, and once again turned to pitch him through the air.
This time his back struck a nearby hitch rail, and his momentum bent him over backward, almost double. His legs went up and over with the duster flapping around them. He landed in a huddled heap and didn’t move again.
Jamie turned to see how Falcon was doing against his opponent. Falcon had the man on the ground, straddling his chest, pounding rights and lefts into his face. Blood already covered the man’s features, and he wasn’t fighting back anymore. Jamie stepped closer, hooked his hands under Falcon’s arms, and lifted the youngster up and off the man.
“Fight’s over,” Jamie said. “That fella’s done in. You whipped him.” He paused. “And you didn’t stay in the store like I told you to.”
Falcon twisted out of his father’s grip and said, “All right, all right. I’m not goin’ after him again. But Pa, you can’t honestly just expect me to stand there and watch while five varmints are gangin’ up on you.”
“What I expect is for you to do what I tell you, at least until you’re a man full-grown.” Jamie shrugged. “But . . . I reckon I am obliged for your help. I could’ve handled all five of them by myself, but you speeded things up a mite.”
Movement in the corner of his eye made him look around. The hard case who’d had the breath knocked out of him was back on his feet, circling wide around Jamie and Falcon.
He wasn’t trying to sneak up on them, however. When he saw that Jamie had caught sight of him, he quickly held up both hands, palms out, in a gesture of surrender.
“No more, mister,” he said. “Please, no more. I swear, we didn’t set out to look for trouble—”
“You could’ve fooled me,” Jamie snapped.
“Teddy there”—the man nodded toward the one had started everything and wound up flipping over a hitch rail—“he ain’t the smartest fella when it comes to womenfolks. He just plumb forgets how to think straight whenever he’s around a gal who’s pretty enough.”
Jamie glanced at the newcomer, who still stood beside the stagecoach with her carpetbags at her feet. To be fair, Teddy probably wasn’t the only man in these parts who wouldn’t be able to think straight with her around.
“Is that your way of apologizing to the lady?”
“Yes, sir!” The hard case snatched his hat off his head, held it over his chest, and looked at the young woman. “Ma’am, I am so, so sorry our friend caused trouble for you. I give you my word we’ll ride herd on him from here on out and won’t let him come near you, however long you’re here. I . . . I hope you’ll accept my heartfelt apology.”
“What’s your name?” the woman asked coolly.
“It’s Reynolds, ma’am. Walt Reynolds.”
“And your . . . friend there?”
“Teddy Keller, ma’am.” Even though she hadn’t asked him, he quickly supplied the names of the other three who had pitched into battle against Jamie. “Those other boys are Grover Appleton, Billy Bob Moore, and Ox Tankersley.”
“Which one’s arm did I break?” Jamie asked out of idle curiosity.
“That’d be Grover, sir.”
Jamie reached in his pocket, dug out a five-dollar gold piece, and flipped it to Walt Reynolds, who caught it with deft instinct despite holding his hat.
“Not that he deserves it, but tell him to use that to pay the doc who tends to him,” Jamie said. “I’m in the habit of covering any damages I cause, even when I’m pushed into it.”
“Grover’ll be much obliged, sir, once he stops hurtin’ enough to know what happened.”
Jamie jerked his head in a curt nod. “All right. Help your friends up, and then all of you get him to the sawbones. Take care not to cross my path again.”
“Yes, sir.” Reynolds clapped his hat on his head again. “I reckon you can count on that.”
Jamie’s own hat had come off during the fight. Falcon picked it up, knocked the dust off it, and handed it to his father. Jamie didn’t put it on yet, but rather held it in front of him as he turned back to the young woman.
“I’m sorry for the rude welcome you got here, miss.”
“Are you the local lawman, or perhaps the mayor?” she asked.
Jamie chuckled and shook his head. “No, ma’am. Just a citizen.”
She looked around and said pointedly, “None of the other citizens seemed moved to come to my assistance.”
“Folks tend to mind their own business,” Jamie said with a shrug. “But some of them would have stepped in to help you once that fella laid hands on you, I can promise you that. We’re not going to stand for things like that around here. I just happened to get there first.”
“And I’m glad that you did. I appreciate your help.”
“You were about to introduce yourself to me,” Jamie reminded her.
“That’s right, I was.” She smiled slightly, which did a lot to dispel the rather severe expression that had been on her face. “My name is Craigson. Hannah Craigson.”
“I’m Falcon,” the youngster spoke up, grinning.
Hannah Craigson nodded to him and said, “Thank you, too, Mr. Falcon.”
“Oh, it ain’t Mr. Falcon. It’s Falcon MacCallister.” Falcon nodded toward Jamie. “Like my pa here.”
“MacCallister?” the young woman repeated as she arched one auburn eyebrow.
“That’s right, Miss Craigson,” Jamie said with a nod. “I’m Jamie MacCallister.”
“Jamie Ian MacCallister?”
“You’ve heard of me?”
“More than that, Mr. MacCallister.” Hannah Craigson’s chin lifted and excitement sparkled in her green eyes. “You’re the very man I came here to Colorado to find!”
Jamie stood there silently for a moment, with a frown creasing his forehead, as he took in what the young woman had just said. He was pretty sure he had never laid eyes on her before. Once a man saw Hannah Craigson, she would be mighty hard to forget. And he couldn’t recall ever meeting anyone named Craigson . . .
Wait, he told himself. Something was familiar about that name. He couldn’t quite come up with the memory, but maybe he had heard it at some time in his life.
“We haven’t met before, have we?” he asked.
“No, we haven’t, but you were acquainted with my grandfather, Tobias Craigson.”
That name was familiar, too, but only vaguely so. Jamie shook his head and said, “I can’t quite place him.”
“You didn’t know each other for very long. It was at the Alamo.”
Jamie stiffened and caught his breath. That one word—Alamo—was enough to bring vivid memories flooding back into his brain. He had spent a brief period of time at the old Spanish mission in San Antonio de Bexar while it was besieged by the vast army of the Mexican dictator Santa Anna. At that point, Texas had not yet won its independence from Mexico; that would come later in the spring of 1836.
Defending the mission and slowing down Santa Anna’s bloody advance through Texas were less than two hundred men, some of them native Texicans but most were valiant fighters who had come from other places to join forces with those battling for freedom. For a short time, Jamie had been one of them, despite being a very young man, until circumstances had led him elsewhere.
The Alamo was where he had made the acquaintance of Tobias Craigson, a rawboned farmer from Missouri who, stirred by reports of what was going on in Texas, had picked up his rifle and gone to fight Santa Anna. Jamie could see the man in his mind’s eye now....
All those thoughts flashed through his brain in a couple of heartbeats after Hannah said the name of the place. Jamie pushed the memories back a little as he looked at her and said, “You’re Tobias Craigson’s granddaughter, you say?”
“That’s right. You do remember him, don’t you, Mr. MacCallister? He spoke highly of you.”
Jamie nodded. “Yeah, I remember—” He broke off as he frowned again. “Wait a minute. You said he spoke highly of me? How’s that possible? He died at the Alamo, along with Bowie and Crockett and the others. Didn’t he?”
Hannah sighed and replied, “Yes, he did. But before that dreadful tragedy happened, he wrote a letter to my grandmother and was able to get it out of there with some of the men who left before the old mission fell. It took a long time, but eventually that letter made its way to her.”
Still frowning in thought, Jamie rubbed his chin, feeling the graying stubble scrape against his fingertips. What she said sounded reasonable enough, he thought, but he wanted to know more . . . especially about one particular thing.
“You said you came to Colorado looking for me?”
“And I reckon it has to do with something your grandfather said about me in that letter?” he guessed.
“Yes, it does. We should talk more. If you can direct me to a decent hotel, I’ll engage a room, and then perhaps we can sit in the lobby . . .”
Her voice trailed off as Jamie shook his head. He pointed at Hannah’s carpetbags and said, “Falcon, get the lady’s bags and put ’em in the back of the wagon.”
“Sure, Pa.” Falcon stepped forward hurriedly.
Hannah held up a hand to stop him. “Mr. MacCallister, this isn’t necessary.”
“As far as I’m concerned it is, Miss Craigson. If you came all this way to see me, then the least I can do is offer you the hospitality of my ranch house.” Jamie smiled slightly. “Believe me, my wife wouldn’t be happy with me if I didn’t ask you to stay with us.”
“You don’t even know what I’ve come here to discuss.”
“It doesn’t matter. You’ll do it as our guest.”
Falcon said, “You’re wastin’ your breath arguin’ with him, miss. I know that better than anybody. And like my pa says, my ma will be even more set on being hospitable.”
“Well, then . . . I suppose I should say thank you.” She nodded. “I accept your kind offer, Mr. MacCallister.”
Jamie said again, “Get the bags, son,” and this time Hannah didn’t stop Falcon from doing so.
Jamie put his hat on and offered Hannah his arm. She took it, and he led her across the street.
“We came to town for supplies, so it’ll be just a little bit before we start back out to the ranch,” he said. “I hope you don’t mind waiting.”
“Not at all. In fact, I’m just glad to be out of that stagecoach. It bounced and jolted so much, I swear I thought my teeth might come out of my head!”
Jamie chuckled. “Hate to say it, but that wagon ride you’re looking forward to won’t be much smoother.”
“Perhaps not, but at least we’ll be out in the open air. The atmosphere got a bit close in the stagecoach.”
Jamie could well imagine that was true. Stagecoaches weren’t his favorite means of transportation, either.
As they walked toward the store, he glanced around. He didn’t see any sign of the men he and Falcon had fought with a short time earlier. He supposed they had taken their broken-armed compadre to get his injury tended to. And after that, more than likely they would head for one of the saloons to soothe their wounded pride, not to mention their bumps and bruises, with plenty of whiskey.
Jamie didn’t care one way or the other what they did . . . as long as they stayed out of his way.
“I ain’t never hurt this bad in my life,” Grover Appleton moaned. He had to shift his right arm a little as he reached with his left hand for the glass on the table in front of him. It was half full of amber liquid. Grover tossed it back and licked his lips, then set the empty glass on the table and said, “Somebody pour me another.”
“We ain’t waitin’ on you hand and foot just ’cause you got a busted wing,” Teddy Keller growled. “You shouldn’t’ve got close enough to that big hombre for him to grab you like that.”
Grover scowled and said, “I noticed he was tossin’ you around pretty good. Sort of like a rag doll, in fact.”
Teddy’s lips peeled back from his teeth as he leaned forward to glare across the table at Grover. “The son of a buck took me by surprise, that’s all. I never got a chance to put up a real fight, or things’d’ve been different.”
Ox Tankersley laughed, a low, rumbling sound. “Fr. . .
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