THE GREATEST WESTERN WRITERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
From America’s most popular Western storytellers comes another adventure in the treacherous life of Breckenridge Wallace, a man as wild as the frontier he tries to conquer.
DEATH STALKS THE FRONTIERSMAN,
NO MATTER HOW FAR HE ROAMS.
Exiled from the Smoky Mountains for gunning down a man in self-defense, Breck Wallace tries to make a new home in St. Louis, even tries his hand at romance, but some men are too wild to settle down. Breck is soon back on the trail, where a vicious gang of trappers, after his goods, picks up his scent and begins to dog his every step, until Breck’s only choice is to bed down for the winter with a tribe of friendly Indians. In the frigid, brutal cold of a Rocky Mountain winter, he hopes to find peace . . . but death is not done with Breck Wallace. When the trappers ambush the Indians and leave Breck for dead, the frontiersman must ride deeper into the mountains than he has ever gone before. Peace be damned. The blood will flow t until vengeance is his alone . . .
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About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of over 300 books, including PREACHER, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN, LUKE JENSEN BOUNTY HUNTER, FLINTLOCK, SAVAGE TEXAS, MATT JENSEN, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN; THE FAMILY JENSEN, SIDEWINDERS, and SHAWN O’BRIEN TOWN TAMER. His thrillers include Phoenix Rising, Home Invasion, The Blood of Patriots, The Bleeding Edge, and Suicide Mission. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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
Breckinridge Wallace had no doubt that the men following him intended to rob him. Probably planned on killing him, to boot. Breck figured he'd have something to say about that.
A cloudy day had given way to a starless night, so the darkness was thick around Breckinridge as he walked along a St. Louis street toward Red Mike's tavern. Enough of a chill lingered from the recently departed winter to make the air dank this close to the river. The Mississippi lay like a giant serpent gliding past the settlement.
Breckinridge walked through a small patch of light that spilled from a window in one of the buildings he passed. That brief illumination revealed a giant of a man in buckskins, tall, broad shouldered, heavy with muscle. His face, too rugged to be called handsome, was clean-shaven. A wide-brimmed, gray felt hat was shoved down on unruly, shaggy red hair that hung almost to those brawny shoulders. Breck carried a long-barreled flintlock rifle in his left hand. A pair of flintlock pistols were shoved behind the broad leather belt strapped around his waist, as well as a bone-handled, wickedly keen hunting knife in a fringed leather scabbard. Even a glimpse was enough to confirm that he was a dangerous man.
Tonight he was even more dangerous than usual, because he felt like he had nothing left to lose and just didn't give a damn.
He slowed as he passed the light and entered an even thicker patch of shadow, willing the three men behind him to go ahead and catch up. He wanted them to make their move. Whatever happened might prove to be a welcome distraction.
His keen ears picked up the faint scuff of boot leather on cobblestones from the darkness ahead of him. A grim smile tugged at the corners of Breckinridge's wide mouth. The would-be robbers were smarter than he had taken them for at first. One of them had circled around through the alleys and gotten ahead of him.
Either that, or they'd had a confederate laying an ambush for him all along. Three enemies or four — it didn't really matter. Breckinridge didn't care either way. He strode on, to all appearances completely unaware of the threat.
Then he heard a grunt of effort, along with a whisper of sound as something swung through the air, likely a club aimed at his head. He took a quick step to the side and felt the bludgeon brush against the buckskin sleeve on his upper left arm. He dropped the rifle and reached out blindly as the missed blow made his attacker stumble. Breckinridge's big hands closed over the man's shoulders. His long legs drove them toward the wall of a building that was only a few swift steps away. Breck rammed the man against it with such force that his skull shattered. He heard the soggy thud, like a dropped gourd.
Rapid footsteps sounded as Breckinridge let go of the man and stepped back, turning to meet the new threat.
"Get him!" a harsh voice grated. "Kill the son of a bitch!"
That was plenty to tell Breckinridge his hunch was right. He didn't have to hold back — which was good since he'd already killed a man. He drew both pistols from behind his belt. The weapons were loaded and primed, so all Breck had to do was loop his thumbs around the hammers and pull them back. Then he squeezed the triggers and twin deafening booms filled the street as the guns went off.
Flame shot nearly a foot from the muzzle of each pistol. In that split-second glare, Breckinridge saw one of the heavy lead balls from the right-hand gun tear into the throat of a man charging him. The pistols were double-shotted. The second ball punched into the man's chest. His momentum carried him forward as blood spurted from both wounds.
Breckinridge had aimed at the sound of footsteps, and his accuracy with the left-hand pistol wasn't quite as good. One of the balls missed entirely and skipped off down the street. The other struck the man in the right shoulder, shredding flesh and smashing bone. The impact twisted him halfway around and caused him to stumble. He crashed to the street, hurt badly enough that Breck knew he was out of the fight.
In a matter of a dozen heartbeats, three of the four men who had intended to rob and kill him were down and no longer a threat. That left only one man, who had been slightly behind the two Breckinridge had just shot. Most thieves would have turned and run, since the odds were no longer on their side, but not this one. He let out a furious yell as he continued his charge.
Breckinridge saw a glint of light reflect off a blade as it sliced through the air at his face. He flung up his left hand. The empty pistol it held clashed with the knife. Metal rang against metal. Breck took a quick step back, knowing the attacker would try to catch him on the backswing. For a split second, the man was silhouetted against the patch of light Breck had walked through a minute earlier.
The bastard didn't have a knife, Breckinridge realized during that glimpse.
He had a damn sword!
Probably a former soldier, an officer, judging by the fact he had a saber. Or maybe just a thief who'd taken the weapon off the body of some victim. That was the more likely explanation. Either way, Breckinridge had to keep retreating as the varmint lunged at him, whipping the long, slightly curved blade back and forth.
Then Breckinridge's foot came down on the barrel of the rifle he had dropped. That was enough to throw him off-balance. He tried to right himself, but the rough cobblestones tripped him and he fell over backward.
The attacker leaped in to take advantage of Breckinridge's bad luck. The saber swung high and then flashed down. Breck still had hold of both pistols. He crossed the barrels and shoved them up. The V formed by the pistols caught the saber and stopped it with its edge scant inches from Breck's face.
Breckinridge swung his right leg high in a kick aimed at the man's groin. It missed, but the toe of his boot sunk into the attacker's belly instead, which was almost as effective. The breath whoofed out of the man's lungs as he doubled over. Breck lashed out with his left leg and swept the man's feet from under him.
The thief tumbled to the ground. Breckinridge dropped the empty pistols and yanked his knife from its sheath. He rolled onto his side, powered halfway up, and leaped at the other man, who seemed momentarily stunned.
The varmint managed to angle the saber around in a protective arc. In the poor light, Breckinridge caught sight of it just in time to twist aside. The blade raked across the top of his left shoulder but cut only the buckskin without slicing into the flesh beneath. Breck hooked his knife toward the man's midsection, aiming to rip his guts open. Instead, the man got out of the way somehow, and the knife scraped hard against one of the cobblestones and tore itself out of Breck's grip.
Unarmed now, he didn't take the time to feel around for the knife. Instinct guided him as he grabbed his attacker's right wrist with his left hand. That allowed him to hold the sword off while he sought for the man's throat with his other hand.
As they rolled and wrestled in the street, Breckinridge could tell that the other man was big and muscular as well. It would take daylight to determine which of the two combatants was larger. All that mattered on this dark night was that they were evenly matched. The first one to slip or make a slight mistake would probably die in the next instant.
Something unexpected altered the balance of power. Breckinridge heaved himself up, looming over his opponent for a second. As he did, a heavy blow slammed down on his back.
"Hold him, Gordie!" a man shouted. "I'll bash his brains out!" The thief Breckinridge had shot in the shoulder must have overcome the pain and loss of blood enough to find the dropped club and get back in the fight. That surprised Breck. He had figured the man would bleed to death or at least pass out. As it was, he now had two of the bastards to deal with.
Hearing the wounded man scrambling to get in position for another blow, Breckinridge let go of the man with the sword and rolled aside. The man with the club grunted as it swept down and hit the cobblestones. Breck could make out the man's dim shape. He kicked the fellow in the chest and sent him sprawling backward. The club clattered away. The man tried to get up, then sighed and fell back, his injury finally catching up with him.
Breckinridge leaped to his feet. He heard someone running away. The man with the saber had given up and decided it was best to escape while he could. The better part of valor, somebody had called it once, Breck recalled. To him, it was just turning tail, something he would never do.
But actually, he had done exactly that, one time not that long ago. The thought stabbed into him sharper than any saber ever could.
He shoved it away and took stock. He was barely breathing hard, even after all the desperate exertion. His big hands slapped over his body. No blood. He hadn't thought he'd been stabbed or cut, but it was good to make sure. Sometimes a man could be hurt and not feel it in the heat of battle.
A low groan came from somewhere not far off. That would be the wounded man. Breckinridge listened, heard a faint rattle. A death rattle. Loss of blood had finally done the bastard in.
So he was standing in the street with three dead men, Breckinridge thought. So far, no one had come to investigate the gunshots, but a constable might show up sooner or later. This close to the waterfront, the authorities in St. Louis expected violence. The men who worked the riverboats were a hardy, proddy breed. So were the fur trappers and mountain men who used the settlement as the jumping-off point for their expeditions to the Rocky Mountains. Bloody clashes were inevitable.
Despite that, there had to be some semblance of law and order, Breckinridge knew. This was just about the farthest western outpost of civilization, but the folks who lived here still considered it civilized and would tolerate only so many corpses in the streets. It would be better, Breck thought, if he wasn't anywhere around when these particular carcasses were found.
Besides, the letter he had gotten from his friend Morgan Baxter said that Morgan would be waiting for him every evening in Red Mike's until he showed up. So Breckinridge searched in the street until he found his rifle, his knife, and the two pistols, then turned his steps in that direction again.
Red Mike's was one of the most notorious taverns in a settlement known for them. Its big, redheaded, hard-fisted Irish proprietor kept trouble from breaking out most of the time, but whenever a brawl did erupt, it was always a spectacular, furniture-shattering, blood-spilling brouhaha.
Other ruckuses went on in the street and alleys just outside the tavern night and day. Mountain men gravitated toward the place, and so did riverboaters. That was a recipe for trouble, often with booming guns and the flash of blades.
Tonight, however, the tavern was so blamed peaceful that Mike had to stifle a yawn as he stood behind the bar. He straightened from his casual pose, though, when he saw the big fella come in.
He recognized Breckinridge Wallace, of course. It was impossible to miss somebody that tall and massive. The hair on Breck's head was a distinctive flaming red, brighter than Mike's own shaggy, rust-colored thatch.
Breck looked a little disheveled tonight, as if he'd recently run into trouble.
It would be a lot more surprising if Breckinridge Wallace hadn't gotten into a scrape. The youngster attracted folks trying to kill him like a lodestone drew iron filings.
Maybe this would liven up the evening, Mike thought. He just hoped the tavern would still be standing when Breckinridge left.
Red Mike wasn't the only one who immediately took note of Breckinridge's entrance. At one of the tables in a rear corner, a young man in high-topped boots, whipcord trousers, and a corduroy jacket over a woolen shirt stood up and lifted a hand to catch Breck's attention. A grin stretched across his face. Brown-haired and well-built — although he would appear small next to Breck — he was the big redhead's best friend and trapping partner, Morgan Baxter.
Breckinridge spotted Morgan and started through the room toward the table. He ignored the glances of recognition — and sometimes resentment and dislike — directed at him by the tavern's other patrons.
Breckinridge had made some enemies in the past, but he didn't waste time worrying about that. No sense in dwelling on what had already happened when he never had to wait long for some new problem to crop up right in front of him.
Trouble had dogged Breckinridge's trail for a couple of years now. He had grown to manhood on a farm near Knoxville, Tennessee, in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains, where he had spent most of his time hunting and fishing, to the great annoyance of his pa, who figured Breck should be plowing and planting, instead.
Things might have continued like that indefinitely if Breckinridge hadn't fallen in love with the wrong woman. That had led to violence and tragedy and forced Breck to leave home as a fugitive.
He had headed west, thinking that he might like to see the Rockies, but along the way he had encountered plenty more danger. He had made some friends, though, the best of whom was Morgan Baxter. An easterner from a wealthy family, Morgan had put that behind him to live the life of a fur trapper, in partnership with Breck.
A threat from Breckinridge's past had followed him west, though, and another beautiful woman had complicated things even more. Breck figured on marrying her, but first he had to return home to settle things at last with an old enemy.
He had taken his intended bride with him so she could meet his family. The plan was that they would rendezvous with Morgan in St. Louis in the spring and then head up the Missouri River again, bound for the bright and shining mountains that Breck now considered his true home. Morgan came out from behind the table to throw his arms around Breckinridge and repeatedly slap his old friend on the back.
"Damn it, you big galoot," he said, "if you're not a sight for sore eyes! I sort of expected you before now."
Breckinridge pounded Morgan on the back, too, then had to catch him to keep him from being knocked to the floor by the exuberant greeting. Breck took hold of Morgan's shoulders and set him upright, then said, "I ran into a little fracas on the way here tonight."
"Well, that doesn't surprise me, but I didn't mean tonight in particular. I just thought you and Dulcy might reach St. Louis before now." Morgan frowned slightly and leaned to the side to peer around Breckinridge's looming form. "Where is Dulcy? Did you leave her at a hotel or a boardinghouse? I wouldn't blame you. Red Mike's is hardly the sort of place you'd want to bring a woman you plan on marrying!" The grin that had appeared on Breckinridge's rugged face as he and Morgan exchanged greetings vanished in an instant.
"She ain't with me," he said.
Morgan's frown deepened. "What? She's all right, isn't she? That bullet wound she got —"
Breckinridge shook his head. "That healed up just fine. Last time I saw her, she was hale and hearty. It's just that her and me ... well, we ain't gettin' married after all."
"Not getting married? Breck, what the hell? You love that girl, and I'm pretty sure she loves you, too."
"Maybe so, but that ain't all there is to it." Breckinridge pulled out one of the chairs at the table. "I don't plan on talkin' about it, Morgan, and I'd sure appreciate it if we could just leave things at that."
"Well ... well, sure, Breck." Morgan was visibly flustered, but he shook his head and went on, "We're partners, and if that's the way you want it, that's the way it'll be." He went back to his chair. "We're still heading for the mountains, though, aren't we?"
"Derned right we are. You got an outfit put together for us?"
"I sure do. Two fine canoes that we can bring back down the river in the fall stacked high with pelts. I have plenty of supplies for us, too."
Breckinridge sat down and reached for the jug that sat on the table. "I sure appreciate you doin' all that. I reckon you probably had to pay more than your fair share for all of it, since I didn't have a whole heap of money to leave with you when I headed back to Tennessee."
Morgan waved a hand and said, "Don't worry about that. The money I inherited from my father would last us a long time even if we weren't making more trapping. But we had a decent season last year, and I'm sure this season will be even better. If we keep it up, you'll be a rich man one of these days, Breck."
Excerpted from "The Frontiersman The Darkest Winter"
Copyright © 2017 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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