THE GREATEST WESTERN WRITERS OF THE 21ST CENTURY
Bestselling authors William W. Johnstone and J.A. Johnstone have thrilled readers with the epic struggles and hard-fought triumphs of the pioneering Jensen family. Now this great American saga continues—with the next generation of Jensens . . .
JENSEN PROUD. JENSEN TOUGH.
It’s the dawn of a new century. But on the vast Sugarloaf Ranch not much has changed since legendary gunfighter Smoke Jensen and his wife Sally tamed the land two decades ago. Raising cattle is still a dangerous business—and just as deadly as ever. When Smoke is injured swapping bullets with some cow thieves, Sally puts out a call for help to Matt, Ace, and the rest of the Jensen clan. But time is running out. The bloodthirsty rustlers are ready to strike again—and there are lots more of them. And the Sugarloaf’s last defense is Smoke and Sally’s next of kin . . .
Enter the Jensen twins. Denise and her brother Louis have just returned home from their schooling in Europe. Louis is studying to be a lawyer and is too sickly to defend the ranch. But Denise is to the manor born—she can ride like a man, shoot like her daddy, and face down the deadliest outlaws like nobody’s business. And there’ll be plenty opportunity to prove she’s got Jensen blood in her veins—cold, deadly, and playing for keeps . . .
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of over 300 books, including the series THE MOUNTAIN MAN; PREACHER, THE FIRST MOUNTAIN MAN; MACCALLISTER; LUKE JENSEN, BOUNTY HUNTER; FLINTLOCK; THOSE JENSEN BOYS; THE FRONTIERSMAN; SAVAGE TEXAS; THE KERRIGANS; and WILL TANNER: DEPUTY U.S. MARSHAL. His thrillers include BLACK FRIDAY, TYRANNY, and STAND YOUR GROUND. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net.
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
The Jensen Brand
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2017 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
The Sugarloaf Ranch, Colorado, 1901
A thin sliver of moon hung over the mountains bordering the valley, casting such a feeble amount of light that it did little to relieve the pitch blackness cloaking much of the landscape.
A rustlers' moon, Smoke Jensen thought.
"Are they there?" Calvin Woods whispered next to Smoke. "I can't see a blasted thing!"
"They're there," Smoke told his foreman. He raised the Winchester he held in both hands but didn't bring it to his shoulder just yet. A shot would spook the men who had been stealing his cattle, and he didn't want them to take off for the tall and uncut before he had a chance to nab them. "Hold your fire ..."
Hidden in the trees along with Smoke and Cal were half a dozen more Sugarloaf hands, all of them young and eager for action, like frisky colts ready to stretch their legs. One reason cowboys signed on to ride for the Sugarloaf was the prospect of working for Smoke Jensen, quite possibly the most famous gunfighter the West had ever known. They figured just being around Smoke upped the chances for excitement.
That was true. Even though Smoke had put his powder-burning days behind him more than two decades earlier and settled down to be a peace-loving rancher, things hadn't quite worked out that way. Trouble still seemed to find him on a fairly regular basis, despite his intentions.
That was the way it was with Jensens. None of them had ever been plagued with an abundance of peace and quiet.
In recent weeks, for example, Sugarloaf cattle had begun disappearing on a regular basis. Only a few at first, then more and more as the thieves grew bolder. Smoke was in his fifties, and it only made sense to believe that he might have slowed down some. Some might have figured he wasn't the same sort of pure hell on wheels he had been when he was younger.
Those rustlers were about to find out how wrong they were to assume that.
"There to the right," Smoke whispered as he looked out across the broad pasture where a couple hundred cattle were settled down for the night. "Coming out of that stand of trees."
"I see 'em," Cal replied, equally quiet. He had started out as a young cowboy, too, twenty years earlier. Back then, the reformed outlaw known as Pearlie was the Sugarloaf's ramrod, and he and Cal had become fast friends. Pearlie was also a mentor to Cal, who'd learned everything there was to know about running a ranch. When it came time for Pearlie to retire, it was only natural for Cal to move into the foreman's job.
He still looked a little like a kid, though, despite the mustache he had cultivated in an attempt to make himself seem older. However, no one on the crew failed to hop when he gave an order.
On the other side of the pasture, several riders moved out of the trees and rode slowly toward the cattle. It was too dark to make out any details about them or even to be sure of how many there were. But they didn't belong and there was only one reason for them to be there.
Calling out softly, slapping coiled lassos against their thighs, they started moving a jag of about a hundred head along the valley, toward the north end.
"I've seen all I need to see," Cal said. "Let's blast 'em outta their saddles."
"I'd rather round up a few of them if we can," Smoke said. "I'd like to know if they started this wide-looping on their own or if they're working for somebody."
"You got suspicions?"
"No ... but if there's a head to this snake, I'd just as soon know about it so I can cut it off." Smoke leaned his head to indicate they should pull back, although it was doubtful Cal saw the gesture in the thick shadows. "Let's drift on back to the horses."
"If we go chargin' out there, we'll scatter those cows all over kingdom come," Cal warned.
Smoke chuckled. "They can be rounded up again."
Silently, the men moved through the trees until they reached the spot where they had left their horses and swung up into the saddles. Over the years of his adventurous life, Smoke had learned to trust his gut. He'd had a hunch the rustlers might strike again that night, so he, Cal, and some of the hands had gone out to a likely spot for more villainy where they could stand watch and maybe catch the cattle thieves in the act.
"Are you gonna give those varmints a chance to surrender, Smoke?" Cal sounded like he hoped the answer would be no.
"Yes ... but not much of one. They'd better throw down their guns and get their hands in the air in a hurry. Other wise ..." Smoke didn't have to elaborate.
All the cowboys would be checking their guns before they rode out into the pasture.
He gave instructions. "We'll swing around and come up behind them. I'll hail them. If they start the ball, you fellas do what you have to. Like I said, it would be nice to take some of them alive, but I'd much rather all of you boys come through this with whole hides. Now let's go."
With Smoke and Cal in the lead, the men rode slowly through the trees until they reached the edge of the growth. The dark mass of the cattle was to the left, moving away as the rustlers pushed the reluctant animals along. Smoke and his companions moved out into the open and started after them, still not hurrying but moving fast enough to catch up to the plodding cattle.
The sounds made by the cattle and the hooves of the rustlers' horses were enough to muffle the advance of Smoke and his men. At least Smoke hoped that was the case. The rustlers hadn't panicked yet, at least.
The group from the Sugarloaf closed in.
Smoke had his Winchester in his right hand and the reins in his left. He looped the reins around the saddle horn, knowing he could control the rangy gray gelding with his knees. With both hands gripping the rifle, he shouted, "You're caught! Throw down your guns!"
Instead of surrendering, the rustlers yanked their horses around. Spurts of gun flame bloomed in the darkness like crimson flowers as they opened fire.
In one smooth motion, Smoke brought the rifle to his shoulder, aimed at one of the spurts of orange, and squeezed the trigger. The Winchester cracked. He barely felt the weapon's recoil. Working the lever to throw another round in the chamber, he shifted his aim, and swiftly fired a second shot then kneed his horse into motion and charged toward the rustlers.
Around him, Cal and the other Sugarloaf hands galloped forward, yelling and shooting.
The thieves scattered in all directions, abandoning the cows they were trying to steal.
Although it was difficult to see much, Smoke and his allies continued aiming at the muzzle flashes of their enemies. Of course, the rustlers were doing the same thing. The air was filled with flying lead.
Smoke always hoped his men would come through such encounters unscathed, but knew better than to expect it.
He made out one of the fleeing rustlers and closed in on the man, who twisted in the saddle and flung a shot back at him. Smoke felt as much as heard the slug rip through the air not far from his ear. That was good shooting from the back of a running horse. He leaned forward to make himself a smaller target and urged his mount to greater speed.
As he drew close to his quarry, the rustler turned to try another shot, but Smoke lashed out with the barrel of the Winchester. It thudded against the rustler's head and swept him out of the saddle. Both horses galloped on for a few strides before Smoke was able to swing his mount around. Elsewhere in the big pasture, gunfire still crackled.
He swung down from the saddle and let the reins drop, knowing the horse was trained not to go anywhere. Keeping his rifle pointed at the dim figure on the ground, Smoke approached him. The fallen rustler didn't move.
Smoke ordered, "Put your hands in the air!" but there was no response. Wary of a trick, he lowered the rifle and drew the Colt on his right hip. The revolver was better for close work. Almost supernaturally fast with it, he was confident he could put a bullet in the varmint before he had a chance to try anything.
"On your feet if you can, and keep your hands where I can see 'em!"
The rustler remained motionless. He appeared to be lying facedown. Smoke hooked a boot toe under his shoulder and rolled him onto his back.
The loose-limbed way the man flopped over spoke volumes. The fall from the running horse had either busted the rustler's head open or broken his neck, more likely the latter. Either way, he sure looked dead.
Or he was mighty good at playing possum.
Smoke backed off and holstered the Colt. He'd return later and check on the rustler. At the moment, his men needed his help elsewhere.
He mounted up quickly and rode toward the sound of the guns, which had become intermittent. The shots died out completely as Smoke approached several dark shapes that turned into men on horseback as he got closer.
He had his rifle ready, but he recognized the voice that called, "Smoke? Is that you?"
"Yeah, Cal, it's me. Are you all right?"
"Fine as frog hair. How about you?"
"A few of those bullets came close enough for me to hear, but that's all. How about the other fellas?"
"Don't know. Randy and Josh are with me and they're all right, but I can't say about the rest."
"And the rustlers?"
"We downed a couple. Don't know about the rest of them, either."
Smoke said, "The fight seems to be over. Let's see if we can round up the rest of our bunch."
"Then we can round up those cows," Cal said. "They scattered hell-west and crosswise, just like I figured they would."
"But they're still on Sugarloaf range," Smoke pointed out. "Those rustlers didn't succeed in driving them off."
"They sure didn't!"
Smoke drew his Colt and fired three shots into the air, the signal for his riders to regroup. Over the next few minutes they came in. One man had a bullet burn on his arm, but the others were unhurt ... until the last two horses plodded up. One man rode in front, leading the other horse.
Smoke could make out a shape draped over the second horse's saddle, and the sight made his jaw tighten in anger. "Who's that?" he snapped.
"I'm Jimmy Holt, Mr. Jensen." With a catch in his voice, the young cowboy said, "That's Sid MacDowell behind me. He ... he cashed in his chips. One of those damn rustlers drilled him right through the brisket. I ain't sure Sid had time to know what happened."
"Might be better that way," Smoke muttered. "What about the rustlers? Did any of them get away?"
"I think one of them did," another cowboy reported. "I'm pretty sure he was hit, but he managed to stay on his horse. Do you want us to see if we can trail him, Mr. Jensen?"
"The best tracker in the world couldn't follow a trail on a night like this, and I've known a few who could lay claim to that title." Smoke shook his head. "No, we might see if we can find any tracks in the morning, but right now, some of you boys start gathering those cows and the rest of you come with me and Cal. I want to see if any of the rustlers are still alive."
For the next half hour, Smoke, Cal, and a couple other men rode around the pasture, hunting for the bodies of the rustlers. Smoke hoped to find at least one of them only wounded and still able to talk, but as thief after thief turned up dead, that hope began to fade.
Finally they rode over to the man Smoke had knocked out of his saddle. Smoke knelt beside him, struck a lucifer, and saw by its flaring light that the rustler's wide, staring eyes were sightless. The unnatural twist of his head told that his neck was broken. Smoke had tried to take him alive, but fate had had other ideas.
Smoke straightened and told Cal, "You can bring a wagon out here in the morning and collect the bodies ... if the wolves haven't dragged them off by then. Haul 'em into Big Rock to the undertaker. I'll pay to have them put in the ground if they don't have enough money on them to cover the cost."
Cal nodded. "Should I get Sheriff Carson to take a look at them?"
"Wouldn't hurt. Chances are some of them are wanted. You fellas might have some reward money coming to you."
Cal rubbed his chin. "I'm not sure I'd want to take blood money. On the other hand, the world's probably better off without these varmints, and that's worth something, I guess."
"Up to you." Smoke wouldn't be taking any reward money. Between the Sugarloaf's success and the lucrative gold claim he had found many years earlier, he was one of the wealthiest men in Colorado, although no one would ever know it to look at him. He still dressed like a common cowhand.
"We'll make sure none of those cattle ran too far when they spooked, then head back to the bunkhouse," Cal said. "How about you?"
Smoke had already turned his horse. He said over his shoulder, "I'm headed home."CHAPTER 2
The small ranch house that Smoke had built when he and Sally first settled on the Sugarloaf had been added onto many times over the years, until it was a big, sprawling, two-story structure surrounded by cottonwoods and oaks. He always felt good when he rode up to it. He couldn't help but think about all the fine times he and his wife and their children had had. More often than not, the house had rung with laughter.
As he approached the house, he saw that a lamp still burned in the parlor despite the late hour. The glow in the window was dim enough he knew the flame was turned low. More than likely, Sally had waited up for him. That came as no surprise.
Movement on the porch caught his eye. Out of habit — one that had saved his life on occasion — his hand was close to the butt of his revolver. He relaxed, though, as he recognized Pearlie's tall, lanky figure.
"Thought I heard shots up yonderways a while back," the retired foreman said as he came down the steps from the porch. "You must've had a run-in with those wide-loopers."
"We did." Smoke dismounted. "They figured on chasing off a hundred head. We changed their minds."
Pearlie reached for the reins of Smoke's horse. "I'll take care of that for you. I ain't forgot how to wrangle a cayuse. How's the kid?"
Even though Cal wasn't that far from being middle-aged, he would always be a kid to Pearlie. The two of them had shared many adventures, had been through tragedy and triumph together, and were fast friends.
"Cal's fine," Smoke assured him. "We lost one man. Sid MacDowell."
"Blast it! I didn't really know the younker — Cal hired him, not me — but he deserved better 'n a damn rustler's bullet."
"That's the truth. We tried to even the score for him, though. Five carcasses are still out there for Cal to haul into town in the morning."
"Didn't manage to take any of 'em alive?"
Smoke shook his head. "Nope. And one got away, although he might've been wounded. We'll do some tracking in the morning and see if we can turn up another body."
"Even if you don't, killin' five out of six practically wipes out the gang," Pearlie said.
"Only if there were just half a dozen of them to start with," Smoke pointed out.
"No reason to think otherwise, is there?"
"Not really," Smoke admitted. "If the rustling stops now, I reckon we can assume that was all. But if they were just part of a bigger gang —"
"We'll probably know that soon enough, too," Pearlie said in a gloomy voice. He started toward the barn, leading Smoke's horse, and added over his shoulder, "Miss Sally's waitin' up in the parlor."
Even though Smoke was tired and the smell of gun smoke clung to him, he was smiling as he stepped into the house.
Wearing a soft robe, Sally was sitting in one of the rocking chairs beside the table where the lamp burned. She was reading a book, but she set it aside on the table and looked up with a smile as he stepped into the parlor.
She was on her feet by the time he reached her. Her arms went around his neck and his arms encircled her trim waist. Their mouths met in a passionate kiss that had lost none of its urgency despite the time they had been together.
He lifted his lips from hers and said, "You ought to be in bed getting your beauty sleep ... not that you need it."
That was certainly true. There might be a few more small lines on Sally's face, and if you looked hard enough you could find a strand of gray here and there in her thick, lustrously dark hair, but to Smoke she was every bit as beautiful as when he had first laid eyes on her in the town of Bury, Idaho, all those years ago.
Smoke knew he hadn't changed much, either. If there was gray in his hair, its natural ash blond color made that sign of age hard to see. Most men on the far side of fifty were past the prime of life, but not Smoke Jensen. He was still as vital as ever, his muscular, broad-shouldered frame near to bursting with strength. He attributed that to fresh air, sunshine, clean living, and being married to the prettiest girl alive.
"I didn't see any bloodstains on your clothes when you came in," Sally said, "so I assume you're all right."
"How do you know there was even any trouble?"
"You went out looking for it, didn't you? If there's one thing Smoke Jensen is good at, it's finding trouble."
He chuckled. "I'd like to think I'm good for more than one thing."
"Well, we might find out about that in a little while, but first, tell me what happened."
Excerpted from The Jensen Brand by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. 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.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
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