Heads turn when Jonah Durrell rides into Motherlode. Some people see him as a handsome, vain and charming man. Others know of his reputation as a smart, successful manhunter, as good with his fists as with his matched guns.
Jonah just wants to enjoy himself at Miss Jenny’s parlour house but his visit is interrupted by the brutal murder of one of the girls. Someone is trying to get Miss Jenny out of town but she won’t be pushed around. Jonah can never resist helping a damsel in distress. But at what cost?<BR>
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
By Gillian F. Taylor
Robert Hale LimitedCopyright © 2006 Gillian F. Taylor
All rights reserved.
Another flurry of late snow blew across the San Juan mountains of south west Colorado. A mist of white flakes danced along Cement Creek, 11,000 feet up under the grey, clouded sky. The dark forests of white-frosted pine were thinner up here, the trees huddling together in clumps, or growing at mad angles from the bare, red rocks. The snow hit two riders, crouched deep into their saddles as their horses plodded steadily along the frozen trail. The taller rider took the buffeting stoically, but his companion shuddered and reined his horse in. It stopped willingly, breathing heavily in the thin, pure air.
'Durrell!' he yelled, his breath clouding out through the folds of his muffler. 'Durrell, stop, damn you!'
Jonah Durrell turned his horse, a fine dapple grey that blended so perfectly with the snow and clouds that it seemed a creature of the air itself.
'Let's quit this foolishness and go back to Silverton,' McReadie said, banging one hand against his thigh to try and restore circulation.
Durrell frowned; between his red muffler and the black hat, pulled down low, about the only parts of his face visible were his liquid, dark eyes. 'I came out to get Spencer, and I intend to do so,' he replied, his clipped, New England accent clear even through his muffler.
'Aw, hell,' McReadie protested. 'Let's quit and get someplace warm.'
'He beat Red Pearl almost to death,' Durrell answered, his eyes glinting with disgust. 'I aim to track him down and bring him back to pay for it.'
McReadie shrugged, the movement almost hidden under his wolf-skin coat. 'She's a whore; it happens to them.'
'Whore or not, there's no call to beat a woman,' Durrell said fiercely. 'No man worth his salt lays hands on a woman.'
Another gust of fat snowflakes blasted against them, coating men and horses.
'Well, I ain't riding out to the Lucky Dog in this weather for a half share of forty dollars,' McReadie answered. 'You act like some fool knight in armour iffen you wish; I'm turning back.' He reined his horse around and set off without waiting to see what the other man was doing.
Durrell dismounted, landing in fresh snow that was already four inches deep. He opened a saddlebag, his hands clumsy with cold and the thick gloves, and took out a ball of grease wrapped in paper. Removing his right glove, he took a penknife from his pocket and began inspecting his horse's hoofs, clearing out the packed snow and smearing thick layers of grease into the sole of each foot. The grey stood with its head lowered, white snow settling in its white mane, as Jonah Durrell worked. By the time he finished, his right hand was red and stinging with cold. Durrell rapidly packed his things away, then pushed his right hand under the woollen saddle-blanket to warm it against his horse for a minute. McReadie was already out of sight by the time Jonah remounted and set off to find Spencer on his own.
The weather was crisp and bright the next morning, as Jonah Durrell rode up to the Lucky Dog mine. He took a moment to glance away from the drab, snow-covered mine buildings, to the sun-lit peaks of the mountains around him. Even after a couple of years living in Colorado, Jonah was still amazed by the clear air, and the way even the most distant, snow-glittering peaks were as clear to be seen as the nearest. Only the black smoke from the mine spoilt the purity of the landscape. The Lucky Dog was one of the few mines that kept working through the hard winter. The ore was dug and crushed, then stockpiled until the trails cleared enough for the trains of mules and burros to ship it south to Silverton. The mill itself was staggered in four storeys down the side of the mountain, a little way above the trail. An aerial tramway of ore cars connected it to the mine entrance, almost 500 feet higher up. The pounding of the stamp mills within the vast building was so loud Jonah could barely hear the hiss and rustle of snow as his horse walked.
Jonah had spent the night at the boarding-house of a smaller mine, four miles away. He had been thinking ahead, as usual. It had been dark when he'd arrived in the area, and there was no way he could return to Silverton with Spencer the same night. Neither did Jonah like the idea of spending the night guarding his prisoner before escorting him back in the morning. Instead, he chose to arrive at the Lucky Dog fresh, and unexpectedly, with a full day of travel ahead.
After leaving his horse in the warmth of the stables, Jonah trudged through the snow to the two-storey boarding-house. He let himself in, finding himself in the main hall, and stopped to stamp the packed snow off his black boots. The air smelt warmly of coffee, beans and bacon as the men ate breakfast at long, wooden tables. Jonah's arrival caused a murmur of talk over the sounds of cutlery scraping tin plates. He ignored them for the moment, removing gloves, muffler and overcoat, hanging them from a peg on the wall. He automatically checked the set of his guns, and walked towards the tables, looking for Spencer.
There was a degree of envy in the way some of the men looked at him, for Jonah Durrell was an outstandingly handsome man. He stood a little over six foot tall, with broad shoulders and a slim waist. Black-haired and brown-eyed, he had a vivid presence and the gift of looking well-dressed in whatever he wore, though for preference, his clothes were of the finest quality. Jonah was disarmingly vain about his good looks, and fully aware of the different effects he had on men and women.
Jonah saw someone who matched the description he had, and moved around the tables, walking lightly and gracefully. Spencer had been described as having ears like a set of jug handles, and the brawny, fair man by the window certainly met that picture. Heads turned to watch and conversation died away as Jonah approached.
'Are you German Spencer?' Jonah asked, standing to one side of the seated man. The fair man swallowed a mouthful of beans and nodded. 'What do you want?'
'I'm taking you back to Silverton to face charges of assaulting Red Pearl,' Jonah answered calmly.
Spencer scowled. 'Damn whore wouldn't do like I wanted. She deserved it.'
Anger lit up Jonah's eyes. He had attended three years of medical college in New York before heading out West, and he'd been called in to see to the beaten woman's injuries. 'You beat her hard enough to crack her ribs and cause internal bleeding,' Jonah answered, his voice rising a little. 'Near on half her body was bruised.'
'A whore knows she's gonna get hit iffen she don't do like the man wants,' Spencer retorted. 'Hell, I'm payin' her; I kin do what I like with her, and it ain't no one else's business. So quit riding me and go back where you crawled from.' He spat a wad of brown saliva at the floor beside Jonah's boots, and turned back to the table. The crop-haired man sitting next to him laughed.
Jonah Durrell grabbed the grubby collar of Spencer's shirt and hauled him backwards, spilling him from his chair to the floor. He backed off a pace and waited for the cursing man to start rising. 'I'm taking you to Silverton,' he said firmly.
Spencer gathered his feet under himself and started to stand up. He was partway up when he suddenly lunged forward, aiming to headbutt Jonah in the stomach. Jonah was expecting some such move, and side-stepped, hooking his leg between Spencer's to trip him up. Spencer sprawled onto the wooden floor for a second time.
Breakfast was forgotten as the other men watched the fight. Some miners climbed onto their table for a better view, yelling encouragement. Someone grabbed his tin coffee cup and started banging it on the table as he bellowed his support for Spencer. Spencer's crop-haired friend, Green, decided to show his support in a more practical way. As Jonah turned to face Spencer, Green seized Spencer's chair and threw it. The chair hit Jonah on the back, staggering him forwards. He caught his balance in time to meet Green, who was following up with a two-fisted attack. Jonah dodged one blow and knocked the other aside.
Spencer had regained his feet and was moving in to attack too. Thinking fast, Jonah stepped back a pace from Green, turned and swung into a high, powerful kick that caught Spencer in the stomach. Spencer gasped and folded onto his knees, clasping his stomach. Green closed in on Jonah, throwing wild, strong punches. Jonah turned again, dodged one and took the other on his shoulder. His thick winter clothing cushioned the impact. The two men faced one another and exchanged blows, with Jonah coming off best. Behind them, Spencer scrambled up again, cursing breathlessly. He was in pain, and bitterly aware of being humiliated in front of his friends. Glaring at Jonah, he drew the hunting knife he wore on his belt, and rushed forward.
Jonah didn't know who was yelling, or who the warning was aimed at, but he heard the sudden clatter of boots behind him. He whirled around, his jacket flying open with the motion, and drew a gun, all in one smooth action. Spencer lunged, slashing the knife at Jonah's chest. Jonah twisted frantically, and fired at point-blank range as the knife tore into the shoulder of his jacket. Spencer gave a harsh cry, stumbling past and tumbling from the force of the shot. He landed face-down, the back of his shirt torn open and bloody.
Jonah switched the aim of his gun to Green. 'Don't move,' he commanded.
Green slowly wiped a smear of blood from his nose and raised his hands. His gaze flickered back and forth between Jonah and Spencer's body. A black-haired miner moved closer cautiously.
'Let me see him,' he requested, indicating Spencer, who wasn't moving.
'Go ahead.' Jonah studied Green's face for a moment, then reholstered his fancy revolver.
Green lowered his hands and watched with the gathering crowd as the black-haired miner and Jonah Durrell rolled Spencer's body over and examined it.
'Pretty near clean through the heart,' the miner commented. The cloth around the bullet wound was scorched and grained with gunpowder from the close shot.
'I'll pack him back to Silverton,' Jonah said, standing up.
No one made any objection. For one thing, the men had all seen the speed with which Jonah had drawn his gun, and also that he wore a matched pair. Fancy his Smith & Wessons might be, with pearl handles and engraved scrollwork, but they killed as well as a plain gun. Besides, not even Spencer's friend, Green, could deny Jonah's claim to have shot in self-defence.
Jonah Durrell glanced at the body on the floor, and remembered Red Pearl sobbing with pain, and Spencer's callous remarks. He wasn't sorry to see Spencer dead.CHAPTER 2
Motherlode looked and sounded much like every other town in the San Juans during the spring of 1876. The muddy streets rang to the sounds of hammering and sawing as new buildings were hastened up to cash in on the mining boom. Mining mills loomed on the slopes above the town; the people soon ceased to notice the non-stop rumble of heavy machinery as the precious ore was crushed for shipping. Jonah Durrell knew the sound of the stamp mills and welcomed it. The mills meant money, which bred greed and jealousy, which led to work for men like Jonah.
He guided his grey horse along the main street of Motherlode. Less than two years ago, this site had been a flat-bottomed, grassy valley caught between the towering canyon walls either side of the Animas River, as they closed together. Mule deer had roamed here, while beavers dammed sections of the braided river. Now the wild animals had moved on, the pines and aspen had been chopped down and fed into the sawmill, and a thriving town bestraddled the tumbling river.
This street, Panhandle Street, had the biggest and fanciest buildings in town. Most were genuine two-storeys, and a few, mostly the hotels and boarding-houses, were taller. Panhandle Street itself was busy. Jonah could see four wagons, two buckboards and a handful of other riders, but most noticeable were the burros and mules. Jonah reined in his horse to watch the fun, as twenty loaded burros being driven one way, met a train of two dozen mules being led the other. Burros were always driven loose in herds, not strung together. The mass of woolly animals merged with the mules, setting up a chorus of braying that even the stamp mills couldn't compete with. The muleskinner and the burro driver exchanged vehement curses as their animals milled together. Three mules promptly lay down in the street, while the rest tangled their ropes into a knot. Burros disappeared between the wooden buildings, their long ears flapping comically. Jonah's horse lay back its ears and snorted, apparently in distaste at the ill-manners of its relatives. Jonah gave up and burst out laughing.
He had recovered his composure by the time he reached the Marshal's office. This was a small, false-fronted building sandwiched between a haberdashery store and a restaurant. Two women leaving the haberdashery store looked at Jonah as he was dismounting, then looked again, longer. Jonah smiled at them and raised his hat, then sauntered into the marshal's office. Marshal Tapton looked up from his elderly copy of The Police Gazette as Jonah entered. Tapton was a work-toughened man, starting to spread at the waist as middle age set in. His craggy face was decorated with a flourishing moustache and side-whiskers, intended to draw attention from his impressive nose. Jonah immediately noticed the short-barrelled Civilian Colt the Marshal wore, and the shotguns and Winchesters racked neatly on the wall behind him. Marshal Tapton lowered his newspaper.
'Good afternoon,' Jonah said politely, unfastening his overcoat in the warmth of the overheated office.
The marshal looked him up and down, noting the red and gold brocade vest showing under Jonah's outer clothes and the other man's good looks. 'You'll be Jonah Durrell,' he said disapprovingly. The marshal's own clothes were plain and sober, and less expensive. 'You killed German Spencer a couple months back.'
'He came at me with a knife,' Jonah said simply.
Tapton grunted, accepting the defence. 'You looking for anyone here?' 'Not yet,' Jonah answered. 'I spent the winter in Silverton and took a fancy to seeing somewhere new. I'd like to take a look at your wanted dodgers; catch up with what's happening round here.'
The marshal stood up and crossed the room to a converted wooden box that did service as a filing cabinet. 'What brought you out to Colorado?' he asked, rummaging in the box.
'I trailed up from Texas with an outfit bringing beef, two years ago.' Jonah perched himself on the edge of the desk as he talked. 'I liked the country so I stayed on, hunting game at first, to sell to miners. When more people started coming into the area, I found it paid better to hunt men.'
Marshal Tapton handed him a sheaf of papers. 'You don't talk like you're from Texas.'
'Vermont,' Jonah answered, scanning the top sheet of paper. 'My father's a doctor, and I studied three years at medical college. I couldn't stick any more lectures and dissecting things, so I quit and went to Texas.'
'So now you shoot folks, instead of healing them.'
Jonah looked up. 'I can do some doctor work when I need to. I kept my instruments; I can stitch wounds, set bones and deliver babies. And the only men I shoot are the ones the law gives me the right to shoot.'
'The power of life and death in one man,' the marshal said reflectively. 'That's a heap of power for one man.'
'It's a living,' Jonah said flippantly, his attention on the wanted dodgers. He skimmed through all the sheets, laying half a dozen aside. Those he picked up again and read in more detail.
Marshal Tapton picked up his copy of The Police Gazette and leaned against the wall, unwilling to sit in the chair at his desk while Jonah was still sitting on the desk. The marshal rustled and fluffed his paper into shape, and slowly read a short article. Jonah took no notice, his attention now wholly devoted to the wanted papers. He considered each thoroughly before setting one aside.
'What do you know about this Goff?' he asked, taking a small notepad and silver pencil from the pocket of his fancy waistcoat. He started copying information from the wanted poster.
Excerpted from Two-Gun Trouble by Gillian F. Taylor. Copyright © 2006 Gillian F. Taylor. Excerpted by permission of Robert Hale Limited.
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.