Keeping the West Wild.
Those Jensen boys, Ace and Chance, know how to ride the savage land. But when they agree to lead a wagon full of women across Texas, they’re just asking for trouble—times five . . .
FIVE MAIL-ORDER BRIDES
A prostitute. A virgin. A tomboy. A woman on the run. And a bank robber’s girlfriend. These five brides-to-be are ready to get hitched in San Angelo, Texas—and it’s Ace and Chance’s job to get them to the church on time. But this is no easy walk down the aisle. It’s one hard journey that could get them all killed . . .
ONE WILD RIDE
One of the brides has a crazy ex-husband gunning for her. Another has a secret stash of $50,000, stolen by her outlaw boyfriend. He’s not letting go—of her or the money. Then there’s a creepy, woman-hungry clan of backwoodsmen who want the brides for themselves, not to mention a fierce, deadly band of Comanche kidnappers. But Ace and Chance swear they’ll protect these ladies—till death do they part . . .
About the Author
Being the all-around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western History library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.”
Read an Excerpt
It began with a rattlesnake in a glass jar and Chance Jensen's inability to pass up a bet he believed he could win.
A balding, beefy-faced bartender with curlicue mustaches reached under the bar, came up with the big glass jar, and set it on the hardwood with a solid thump. The top of the jar had a board sitting across it. Somebody had drilled airholes in the board so the fat diamondback rattler coiled inside the jar wouldn't suffocate.
"Five bucks says no man can tap on the glass and hold his finger there when Chauncey here strikes at it," the bartender announced.
A cowboy standing a few feet down the bar with a beer in front of him looked at the jar and its deadly occupant and said, "Step aside, boys! This here is gonna be the easiest five dollars I ever earned!"
The men along the bar shifted so the cowboy could stand in front of the jar. Chance and his brother Ace had to move a little to their left, but they could still see the show.
The cowboy leaned closer and peered through the glass at the snake, which hadn't moved when the bartender set him down. "He's alive, ain't he?"
"Tap on the glass and find out," the bartender said.
The cowboy lifted a hand covered with rope calluses. He held up his index finger and thumped it three times against the glass, lightly.
Inside the jar, the snake's head raised slightly. Its tail began to vibrate, moving so fast that it was just a blur.
The saloon was quiet as everyone looked on, and even through the glass, the men closest to the bar could hear the distinctive buzzing. That sound could strike fear into the stoutest-hearted man in Texas.
"Yeah, uh, he's alive, all right," the cowboy said. "What do I do now?"
"Show me that you actually have five bucks," the bartender said.
The cowboy reached into his pocket, pulled out a five-dollar gold piece, and slapped it down on the hardwood. Grinning, the bartender took an identical coin from the till and set it next to the cowboy's stake.
"All right. Tap on the glass a few more times to get Chauncey stirred up good and proper, and then hold your finger there. Then we wait. Shouldn't be too long."
Another man said, "Chauncey's a boy's name, ain't it?"
"Yeah, I suppose so," the bartender said with a frown.
"What's your point?"
"I was just wonderin' how you know for sure that there snake is a male. Did you check?"
That brought a few hoots of laughter from the crowd.
The bartender glared. "Never you mind about that. If I say he's a boy, then he's a boy. If you want to prove different, you reach in there and show me the evidence."
"No, no," the bystander said, holding his hands up in surrender. "I'm fine with whatever you say, Dugan."
The bartender looked at the cowboy. "Well? You gonna give it a try or not? You were mighty quick to brag about how you could do it. You decide you don't want to back that up with cold, hard cash after all?"
"I'm gonna, I'm gonna," the cowboy said. "Just hang on a minute." He swallowed, then tapped three more times on the glass, harder this time.
"Hold your finger there," Dugan said.
From a few feet away, Chance watched with all his attention focused on the jar and the cowboy who was daring the snake to strike at him. Ace watched Chance and felt a stirring of concern at the expression he saw on his brother's face.
The cowboy rested his fingertip against the glass. Inside the jar, the snake's head was still up, its tiny forked tongue flickering as it darted in and out of his mouth. The buzzing from the rattles on the tip of its tail steadily grew louder.
Then, faster than the eye could follow, the snake uncoiled and struck at the glass where the cowboy's finger was pressed.
"Yeeeowww!" the cowboy yelled as he jumped back. The rattler's sudden movement startled half a dozen other people in the Lucky Panther Saloon into shouting, too.
For a couple seconds, the cowboy stared wide-eyed at the jar, where the snake had coiled up again, and then looked down at his hand. The index finger still stuck straight out, but it was nowhere near the glass anymore. Obviously disgusted, he said, "Well, hell."
Grinning, Dugan scooped up both five-dollar gold pieces and dropped them into the till. "Told you. Nobody can do it. It just ain't natural for a man to be able to hold still when a rattler's fangs are comin' at him, whether there's glass in between or not."
Ace tried to catch Chance's eye and shake his head, but it was too late. Chance stepped closer to the spot on the bar where the jar rested and said, "I can do it."
People looked around to see who had made that bold declaration. If not for what happened next, they would have seen a handsome, sandy-haired man in his early twenties, well dressed in a brown tweed suit, white shirt, and a dark brown cravat and hat.
But all their attention turned to the man who shouldered Chance aside, said, "Outta my way, kid," and stepped up to the bar. "I've never been afraid of a rattler in my life, and sure as hell not one penned up in a jar." He was tall and lean, dressed in black from head to foot, and probably ten years older than Chance and Ace, who were fraternal twins. His smile had a cocky arrogance to it.
Ace was more interested in the gun holstered on the man's hip. In keeping with the rest of his outfit, that holster was black. The revolver was the only thing flashy about him. It was nickel plated and had ivory grips.
However, the gun wasn't just for show. Those grips showed the marks of a great deal of use. Maybe the man just practiced with it a lot — or maybe he actually was the gunslinger he obviously fancied himself to be.
The man in black held the edge of a coin against the bar and gave it a spin. It whirled there for a long moment, so fast it was just a blur, but finally ran out of momentum and clattered on the hardwood. "I reckon my money's good, Dugan?"
"Sure, Shelby," the bartender said. "You're welcome to give it a try."
A spade-bearded man in a frock coat stepped up. He hooked his thumbs in the gold-brocaded vest he wore and said, "I have fifty dollars that says Lew can do it."
That wager was too rich for the blood of most of the patrons in that particular saloon in Fort Worth's notorious Hell's Half Acre, but the tinhorn gambler got a couple takers. Coins and greenbacks were put on the bar for Dugan to hold while Shelby made his try.
Ace nudged a bearded old-timer who stood next to him and asked, "Who are those two?"
"The gun-hung feller in black is Lew Shelby," the codger replied. "The one in the fancy vest is Henry Baylor."
"He looks like a card sharp."
"Good reason for that. He is. Or at least the rumor has it so. Nobody's ever caught him cheatin', though, as far as I know. If they have, they've had sense enough not to call him on it." The old-timer licked his lips, his tongue emerging from the shaggy white whiskers for a second. "Baylor might be even slicker at handlin' shootin' irons than he is at cards. Him and Shelby is two of a kind, and they run with a bunch just about as bad."
Ace nodded. Chance didn't look happy about Shelby pushing in ahead of him, but for the moment at least, he was keeping his annoyance under control. Ace would say something to him if necessary, to keep him calmed down. They didn't need a gunfight in the middle of the saloon — or anywhere else, for that matter. The Jensen brothers were peaceable sorts.
That was what Ace aspired to, anyway. Oftentimes fate seemed to be plotting against them, however.
Lew Shelby stood in front of the bar, feet planted solidly, hands held out in front of him and slightly spread. He rubbed his thumbs over his fingertips and took deep breaths, as if he were working himself up to slap leather against the snake, not hold his finger against a glass jar.
The crowd began to stir restlessly.
Shelby sensed that impatience, glanced over his shoulder, and sneered. "Hold your damn horses." Then he reached out and tapped the glass several times, fast and hard. He pressed his finger against the jar as the snake reacted, coiling tighter in preparation to strike.
Everybody in the place knew it was coming. Nobody should have been surprised, least of all Shelby. But when the rattler struck with the same sort of blinding speed as before, Shelby jumped back a step and yelped, "Son of a bitch!"
Several men in the crowd cursed, too. Others laughed, which made Shelby's face flush.
Dugan picked up the gold piece that was all he'd had riding on the bet, but the other men who'd placed wagers moved quickly up to the bar to claim their winnings. Shelby and Baylor looked startled and angry.
That anger deepened as Dugan smirked. "Told you so, boys. No man alive has got icy enough nerves to manage that little trick."
Ace tried to get hold of Chance's coat sleeve and pull him away, but Chance was a little too quick for him. He stepped forward and said, "I told you, I can do it."
Lew Shelby looked at him and scowled. "Run along, sonny. This business is for men, not boys."
Chance's voice held an edge as he said, "I'm full-grown, in case you hadn't noticed." He moved his coat aside a little, revealing a .38 caliber Smith & Wesson Second Model revolver with ivory grips resting in a cross-draw rig on his left hip.
Shelby's dark eyes slitted, giving him a certain resemblance to the snake. "You better walk soft, boy. I don't cotton to being challenged."
Ace stepped up next to his brother. He had been born a few minutes earlier than Chance, and he was slightly taller and heavier, too. Dark hair curled out from under a thumbed-back Stetson. He wore range clothes, denim trousers and a bib-front shirt, and his boots showed plenty of wear. He didn't take the time or trouble to polish them up, the way Chance did his. The walnut-butted Colt .45 Peacemaker leathered on Ace's right hip was strictly functional, too.
"Nobody's challenging anybody." Ace had plenty of experience trying to head off trouble when Chance was in the middle of it.
"That's not true," Chance said. "I'm challenging that rattlesnake, as well as Mr. Dugan here. I can hold my finger on the glass without budging when the snake strikes at it."
"If I can't do it, kid, you sure as hell can't," Shelby snapped.
"The two hundred dollars in my pocket says I can."
Ace bit back a groan. Actually, the two hundred bucks was in his pocket, not Chance's, but they had that much, all right. They had worked for several months on a ranch north of Fort Worth to earn it, and they were ready to take it easy and drift for a while, which was their usual pattern.
They couldn't do that if Chance's reckless stubbornness caused them to lose their stake.
Things had gone too far to stop. Chance had thrown the bet out there.
Henry Baylor stroked his beard. "I'm down a hundred dollars tonight. Winning two hundred from you would allow me to show a profit for the evening, son."
"I'm not your son," Chance said.
In truth, he and Ace didn't know whose sons they were. They had been raised by a drifting gambler named Ennis "Doc" Monday, after their mother died giving birth to them.
Once they were old enough to think about such things, they had speculated about whether Doc Monday was really their father, but there was no proof one way or the other and they had never worked up the nerve to ask him about it, since his health had grown bad over the years and he was living in a sanitarium. A big emotional upset wouldn't be good for him.
"If you actually have the money," Baylor said, "you have a wager."
"I've got it." Chance glanced around at his brother. "Ace?"
With a sigh, Ace dug out the roll of greenbacks and set it on the bar. He said to Dugan, "That's our whole poke. We don't have an extra five dollars to cover the bet with you."
The bartender laughed and waved a hand. "Hell, kid, I'll waive that for the occasion. In fact, I'm so sure your ... brother, is it? ... can't do it that if he does, I'll add a nice new double eagle to your payoff. How's that sound?"
Chance said, "We're obliged to you, Mr. Dugan. But get ready to pay up as soon as this fella"— he nodded toward Baylor —"proves that he can cover the bet."
Lew Shelby bristled at that. He tensed and started, "Why, you impudent little bas —"
"That's all right, Lew." Baylor stopped him with an easy but insincere smile. "It's fair enough for the lad to ask for proof, since I did." He took a sheaf of bills from a pocket inside the frock coat, counted out two hundred dollars, and placed the money next to the Jensen brothers' roll. "Satisfied?"
"Yes, sir, I am." Chance turned to the bar and studied the snake in the glass jar. He asked Dugan, "His name's Chauncey, you said?"
"That's what I call him," the bartender replied. "Caught him in the alley out back earlier today. I started to kill him, then realized that maybe I could use him to make some money."
"All right, Chauncey." Chance leaned closer, putting his face almost on the glass as he peered at the rattler. "Get good and mad now, you scaly little varmint."
The snake stared back, as inscrutable as ever. The buzzing from its rattles sounded angry.
Three times, Chance thumped his fingertip against the glass. With the last thump, he left his finger there, pressed hard against the jar. The snake didn't waste any time. It uncoiled and struck furiously, jaws gaping wide to display wicked fangs dripping with venom.
Just like the other two times, several men in the Lucky Panther let out involuntary shouts when the snake's head darted at the glass. One gaudily dressed saloon girl pressed her hands to rouged cheeks and trilled a little scream.
A few seconds of stunned silence ticked past before the place erupted in cheers.
Chance Jensen was still standing in front of the bar with his finger pressed against the glass. He hadn't budged.
He remained where he was in the middle of the excited commotion, other than turning his head and smiling at Henry Baylor. "I believe you owe me two hundred dollars, my friend.
Baylor smiled in return, but his lips were tight and his eyes hooded. "It appears that I do."
A few feet away, the bearded old-timer Ace had been talking to tugged on his sleeve. Ace had to lean down to make out what the old man was saying.
"Better collect your winnin's and get outta here in a hurry, kid! And keep your eyes open! Baylor won't like losin' that money, and Lew Shelby sure as hell will be mad about your brother showin' him up."
Based on the expressions on the faces of Baylor and Shelby, Ace agreed with the old man. He reached out, scooped up their roll from the bar, and shoved the stack of greenbacks from Baylor into his pocket, as well. Dugan grinned ruefully and handed him the double eagle he had promised as an extra payoff.
"Come on, Chance," Ace said. "Time for us to drift."
Chance still hadn't taken his finger away from the glass. He did it leisurely, mockingly, then lifted the finger to his lips and blew across the top of it as if he were blowing away a curl of smoke from a gun muzzle.
"Wait just a damn minute," Shelby rasped.
"Why? You're not going to claim that I cheated, are you? That would have been hard to do with this many people watching me the whole time."
"But were they watching you the whole time?" Shelby turned to the bar. "Dugan! Did you have your eye on this kid? You didn't look away any?"
"I don't think so," the bartender said.
"You didn't even blink when the snake struck?"
"Well ... I was trying to watch pretty close ..."
Shelby glared as he jerked his gaze around the room. "I'll bet everybody in here blinked just then! Nobody was watching the kid the whole time. He could've taken his finger off the glass for a split second, and nobody would have noticed." When nobody spoke up to agree with him, he scowled even more and demanded, "Isn't that right?"
Shelby had a reputation in Fort Worth as a gunman. Nobody wanted to disagree with him. Some men shuffled their feet and looked down at the floor in obvious discomfort. Others edged toward the door, figuring it was better to leave than to wait and see how things played out.
Then one grizzled hombre spoke up. He looked like a successful cattleman, the sort who didn't take any guff from anybody. "I was watching the whole time, and I didn't blink. The kid's finger didn't move."
Emboldened by that blunt declaration, several other men muttered agreement.
"You know I didn't move my finger," Chance said to Shelby. "You're just mad because I was able to do it and you couldn't."
A feral hatred came into Shelby's eyes as he said, "I can do it! By God, double or nothing! I'll show you."
"Lew, I'm not sure that's wise," Baylor cautioned. "We've already lost enough tonight."
Excerpted from "Those Jensen Boys! Ride the Savage Land"
Copyright © 2018 J. A. Johnstone.
Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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