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Chance Cahill returned to Deadwood, South Dakota, with another body tied to the dead man's horse. The jail had been among the first structures rebuilt after the May floods, brick and mortar this time, but much of the rest of the town was in shambles. Still, rebuilding was underway.
Chance glanced toward the saloon where his sister, Leanna, dealt cards, half expecting her to come out to greet him as she often did. She didn't like the sight of blood and disapproved of Chance's current profession, although why she thought killing murderers was beneath him, he had no idea. The pay was good, real good, and shooting was the one thing that Chance did well.
The new Deadwood Dick, Richard Bullock, stepped into the street to meet him. The man had the kind of toughness necessary for a lawman out here and did not hesitate to flip back the stained oiled canvas.
"Another head shot?"
The hole where Chance's bullet had exited the back of Meyler's head seemed to speak to that question.
"Find they spend less time escaping that way."
Bullock gave a snort that might have been a laugh.
"Looks like he saw you coming. You do know that you don't have to give outlaws a chance to draw, don't you?"
He knew. But he always gave a man a chance, not out of some sense of fair play but with the hope that one day he'd meet someone faster. He was dead inside already, but somehow he remained aboveground. Meyler had been too damn slow and so Chance was here collecting another bounty.
"Come in and I'll fill out the paperwork. What's the pay on this one?"
"Only five hundred dollars. Give it to Annie. I'll bring him over to Hannon." The undertaker paid Chance twenty-five dollars for the body and then charged folks a dime to see the outlaws Chance brought in.
"Yeah, about that."
Chance's gaze flicked to Bullock and read his expression. Something had happened to Leanna. Cold terror washed over him. He knew it, knew that working in a bar was no place for her, but damned if he could talk her out of it.
"What happened to her?"
"Nothing. Well, something, I imagine, but I'm not privy to it. She left a letter for you with Mrs. Jameston, her landlady."
Chance glanced back at the saloon and then narrowed his eyes on Bullock. "What's going on?"
"All I know is that she pulled out, lock, stock and barrel. Took the girls with her and that baby, too."
Chance pushed back his gray Stetson, trying to sort out what was happening. Leanna wouldn't just go without telling him. Something had happened. Something bad.
"Home, she said. Texas. That where you're from?"
Chance's stomach flipped. Leanna had said she'd never go back there and he'd sworn the same. Nothing on this earth could compel him. If she expected him to trail after her again, she was dead wrong. He had followed her to Deadwood, but that was where it ended. Chance stared bleakly across the street knowing that he'd lost the last thing on earth he cared about. Leanna had left him.
Why would she ever go back there? And then it hit him like hot lead in his guts. Something had happened to his brothers. Bowie came to mind first. Had his position as the new town marshal of Cahill Crossing placed him in harm's way? Chance's knees buckled and he sat hard on the stoop. But Quin worked with stock and all beeves were stupid and unpredictable. Were they dead, too?
"Cahill?" said Bullock. "You okay?"
"My brothers? Are they alive?"
Bullock peered down at him. "Didn't know you had brothers. Damn, man, you look white as a bedsheet. Come out of the sun."
Bullock swung into the office and Chance followed, spotting Mrs. Jameston, Leanna's landlady, clutching a pristine white envelope before her in gloved hands.
Chance glanced to Bullock.
"Called her when we saw you coming."
She scowled up at him, or rather at his battered gray Stetson. He dragged it off belatedly, holding it before him.
"Welcome back, Mr. Cahill. I trust you are well?"
"Your sister left me with this letter for you. I promised that I would put it in your hands personally upon your return." She did just that.
"Thank you, ma'am."
"Least I can do. You're still cleaning up the territory single-handedly, I see." She waved a hand at the pig-eyed appaloosa holding the remains of Meyler before shifting her gaze to him again. "Did that young man find your sister?"
"Well dressed, extremely handsome and charming, oh, my. Cleve Holden was his name. Said he was a friend of your sister. I told him she headed home to Cahill Crossing in Texas and he lit out after her."
Chance scowled. He didn't know the man and thought it likely that Leanna didn't, either. Who was he and what did he want? Chance had that bad feeling. The one he got before gunplay.
"Why, what is it, Mr. Cahill?"
"Did it occur to you, Mrs. Jameston, that he might not be a friend and that telling him exactly where to find Annie might have put her in danger?"
"Well, he seemed such a gentleman."
"Not everyone in this world is what they seem, ma'am."
"My gracious. I would be positively beside myself if difficulty befell her on my account. Mercy, I shall write her this very day. Please do come by for supper, Mr. Cahill. You need filling up." With that Mrs. Jameston scurried off, looking like a fast-moving lumpy sofa.
He replaced his hat and accepted the chair Bullock offered. Seated, he spun the envelope in a circle, knowing he didn't want to see what was in there. Leanna had written his name on the front with a blue fountain pen, her looping handwriting as familiar to him as his own.
Chance tapped the envelope to send the letter in the other direction and then tore the side seam, reached into the gap and pulled out a page and a telegram, both neatly folded in two. He knew that Annie and Bowie were in touch, that she had let him know where they had landed after the fight that had broken the family apart.
So Bowie was alive. Chance found he could breathe again. But what about Quin? His oldest brother, the boy he'd wanted to become, the man who he'd grown to hate.
Chance flipped open the telegram and read the words carefully printed on the form.
WESTERN UNION TELEGRAM COMPANY
Sent by: JM
Rec'd by: NH
Dated: August 3, 1882
Received at: 1:08 p.m.
To: Leanna Cahill, Deadwood, SD
Parents' death no accident.
Chance rose like a phoenix. For two years he'd blamed himself for the deaths of his parents. Two years of hell on earth, trying to find his way in the dark, blaming himself for a mistake he could never set right, knowing that if he'd driven that wagon to Wolf Grove he never would have lost control of that team. But if it hadn't been an accident.. A tiny pinprick of light appeared, a reason to go on.
He scanned the words again. Parents' death not accident. Murder, that was what Quin meant. His parents had been murdered.
Chance dearly hoped they hadn't caught him yet, because he needed to be there to put a bullet in the man who had taken his parents from them.
Chance read the next line againan order, how typical of Quin to issue an edict. The remarkable thing was that Annie had done as he had demanded.
He wondered if Quin would be surprised to see him. One thing was sure. Chance wouldn't be welcomed back with open arms, not after leaving the family ranch, not after turning his back on them all.
Chance flicked open Annie's letter.
August 4, 1882
I hope that when you read this you will forgive my haste.
I am leaving for Cahill Crossing to help our brothers discover who is responsible and see they are brought to justice.
Your loving sister, Annie
He checked the dates. Leanna had written this the day after she'd received the telegram. What day was it now, September 26 or the 27? She had nearly two months' head start. Bullock said she'd taken the girls along with that baby she'd decided to raise. She'd gone by rail, would have had to, of course.
Chance slipped the letter into the breast pocket of his black oiled duster and turned to Bullock.
"You leaving?" asked Bullock.
"Money will be here in a day or two," said the sheriff.
"Can't wait." He turned to Bullock. "Will you wire it to Cahill Crossing, Texas, care of Leanna Cahill?" His gaze turned icy. "I'm not your errand boy."
"Keep it, then."
Bullock's scowl deepened, dragging down the corners of his bushy mustache. "I'll send it."
"I'm obliged." Chance left the office, untied the appaloosa holding his bounty, leaving the body on Bullock's doorstep. Then he swung up into his saddle, lifted his reins and pointed Rip south, back to the land of his birth. Back to a town named after his folks, a town he had never expected to see again.