With outlaws wrecking havoc left and right, a cow town in Texas is on the brink of becoming a ghost town. That's when it's time to call in Chicago-based Pinkerton agent Ash Tallman and his partner Vivian Valentine. Going undercover as a handsome, charming drifter, Ash is always ready with his gun and popular with the ladies. And the lovely, vivacious Viv plays the role of a fervent evangelist, offering salvation-with the promise of a sweeter reward-to any sinner who can give her clues to the whereabouts of the man so bent on revenge he gladly kills anyone who crosses his path.
But this outlaw has never before encountered the likes of Ash Tallman...
About the Author
MATT BRAUN was a fourth generation Westerner, steeped in the tradition and lore of the frontier era. His books reflect a heritage rich with the truths of that bygone time. Raised among the Cherokee and Osage tribes, Braun learned their traditions and culture, and their philosophy became the foundation of his own beliefs. Like his ancestors, he spent most of his life wandering the mountains and plains of the West. His heritage and his contribution to Western literature resulted in his appointment by the Governor of Oklahoma as a Territorial Marshal.
Braun was the author of forty-seven novels and four nonfiction works, including Black Fox, which was made into a CBS miniseries. Western Writers of America awarded Braun the prestigious Spur Award for his novels Dakota and The Kincaids and the 2004 Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement in Western Literature. Braun passed away in 2016.
Matt Braun was the author of more than four dozen novels, and won the Golden Spur Award from the Western Writers of America for The Kincaids. He described himself as a "true westerner"; born in Oklahoma, he was the descendant of a long line of ranchers. He wrote with a passion for historical accuracy and detail that earned him a reputation as the most authentic portrayer of the American West. Braun passed away in 2016.
Read an Excerpt
The Wages of Sin
By Matt Braun
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 1984 Avon Books
All rights reserved.
Four armed men rode the worn, dusty trail along Sandies Creek. Though it was dark, the land was still hot from the August sun, which had driven the temperature to a hundred and two in the shade during the day. The clear sky, sounds of water burbling, the peaceful rhythmic noise made by the steady trot of the horses, and the bright half-moon made a setting for romance, not for cold-blooded murder.
The three riders moved with determination behind their leader, jabbering about their Civil War exploits or some recent drinking bout. Before the evening was over, each would have two twenty-dollar gold pieces, enough to keep them in popskull whiskey and fifty-cent whores for a week at the outside. And for that they were about to trade a life.
The man who had lured them out on the forty-dollar mission smiled inwardly as he listened to the three drifters. It never ceased to surprise him how easy it was in Reconstruction Texas to line up a few hardcases who'd do anything for a few dollars or to get back at a Yankee. During the War, they'd gone off to maintain the honor of the South and returned to dead and broken families, burnt-out farmhouses, and the corrupt and vicious occupation government. It was a festering sore that still burned in their hearts.
"Buck!" one of the riders shouted at him. He almost failed to answer since he'd made up the name only three days before.
"Yeah," he finally responded.
"How much farther?"
"I figure two or three more miles. House is right where Sandies Creek flows into the Guadalupe."
That satisfied the grubby rider and he went back to jawing with his two sidekicks. Buck had told them that their target was a Yankee sympathizer who had turned his back on the South by selling cattle to the Union Army during the War. He'd lied, and the thought of it caused him to chuckle out loud.
Pitkin Taylor sat down to a late Sunday evening supper, a proud but troubled man. His son, Jim, sat at the other end of the rectangular table and chatted playfully with his mother.
Taylor was pleased with his boy's achievements. Jim had built one of the biggest cattle spreads in DeWitt County. But, as he looked on his wife and son, he cursed under his breath. Things had a way of going sour sooner or later and it was happening again.
Earlier that summer the long-running feud with the Sutton family had been rekindled by the killing of Jake Hawkins, a large DeWitt County landowner, rancher, and brother-in-law to Bill Sutton. The fire had raged out of control ever since.
"Get the steak movin', Daddy," Jim said to his father, noting his momentary aloofness and eyeing the pile of chicken-fried tenderloin in front of the rugged Texan.
"The meat's gettin' cold, Daddy. Move it on if you ain't gonna have any."
"Oh ... yeah," the elder Taylor grunted as he stabbed at a piece of the rare, tender beef with his fork and then passed the platter.
The two had argued for two hours before dinner over what course of action they should take. The feud was on the verge of becoming a county war.
"Like I told you before supper. Don't worry none about them Suttons. We'll soon be ending this matter once and for all if my plan works out."
The old man cocked his head back without taking his eyes off his son and then reached around and kneaded his leathery neck. He didn't have his son's enthusiasm for a fight. He knew the price would be too high. The feud had its roots in the War between the States and Pitkin Taylor had been one of the principal hotheads. But the War had been over for more than six years and he was tired of the killing, cattle rustling, and barn burning. Though his hatred for Bill Sutton remained hard and fast in his gut, he saw that the recent renewal of the family vendetta could only lead to disaster. The productivity of their cattle operations was declining, their families were being killed off, their property was being destroyed, and the bankers wouldn't remain understanding forever.
"I'm tellin' you not to worry none, Daddy! Cousin John Wesley and the Clements boys are comin' in this week. I wired them two weeks back."
The table fell silent. It was the first anyone had heard about the arrival of Hardin and the Clements. The elder Taylor fixed his eyes on his son. "I ain't none too pleased to hear that, son."
"Goddamn it, Daddy! This ain't no church picnic we're involved in here. We've put headstones on three of our kin this summer!"
"Jimmy!" his mother snapped. "You'll not be usin' God's name in vain at my table!"
"Don't know, son," Pitkin said calmly, showing no recognition of his wife's reprimand. "Hardin and the Clements brothers. Almost guaranteed to court trouble. Hell, Wes is wanted, ain't he?"
Jim set his eyes in two thin slits as if squinting into a bright afternoon sun and looked hard at his father. "This here business with them murderin' Suttons has become pretty rough, Pa. Trouble is what they been courtin'."
The elder Taylor nodded his head, his sun-baked features showing that he understood his son's position. But his eyes seemed to transmit a sense of sadness, dull and fatalistic.
With a look that would have diverted a tornado, Mary Taylor halted the dinner table talk. When she had their attention, she said gently, "Now there's got to be something better to talk about than this godforsaken feudin'."
Father and son looked at each other, smiled sheepishly, and attacked their dinner. Mary Taylor had a way about her.
The man called Buck hauled his three men up under a stand of live oaks on the northwest side of the well-lit ranch house and proceeded to outline his plan. Once he was sure that they understood, he sent off the dumbest of the trio with a jar of paint and a brush. He had the others circle the house and take up a position in the cornrows on the edge of the large garden. Buck moved in on foot, carefully making his way toward the barn and breeding pens. He heard what he was looking for and made his way toward the sound. After dashing twenty yards, he climbed over the rail fence, unsheathed his knife and cut the leather collar which secured the brass bell to the placid cow.
Pitkin had just carved off a chunk of red meat when he heard the bell and the faint crunching sound.
"Damn," he muttered as he thunked his silverware on the table. "Sounds like one of them cows has got loose again. I'd better fetch her before she tears up the garden."
"I'll tend to it, Daddy," Jim said. "Stay put."
Pitkin put up his hand, palm toward his son. "I'll just be a minute. You and Florence don't get to dinner that often. Sit still and enjoy your Mamma's cookin'." Jim didn't argue. Pitkin Taylor was small but no man to argue with.
When he stepped into the humid night air, he heard the commotion in the cornrows of the family vegetable garden to his left. "Damn," he grunted as he stepped off the porch and paced toward the dull sound of the bell and the noise of the breaking cornstalks.
He hadn't taken ten steps from the porch steps when he saw the flash. A fraction of a second elapsed before he felt the blow. It was as if he'd been kicked in the side by an angry bull. Instinctively he tried to dive for the ground as the air suddenly became permeated with the staccato thumping of rapid-fire gunshots. But he was spinning from a second slug in his shoulder. Then his legs were knocked from beneath him as if he had taken a full-swing blow from an ax handle. The gunfire stopped as quickly as it had started and the damp air was perfectly silent. One leg folded under his body, the old man felt oddly peaceful as he stared at the haze around the moon. Blood seeped from his side, his shoulder, and the gaping rip in his lower leg.
Jim Taylor bolted through the door, nearly unhinging it. His long- barrel Colt .45 drawn, he stopped momentarily and then bounded off the porch in one step and ran to the heap in the earth next to the cornrows. The others streamed out behind him as men began to pour from the bunkhouse.
"God in Heaven!" Jim's mother said as she reached her husband and dropped to her knees. "Why! Why!" she moaned as she looked into his glassy eyes and saw him silently pleading for help.
"What happened?" Jim commanded as he fell to one knee after holstering his Colt.
The old man moved his lips but nothing came out.
"God's sake, son! Get a wagon so we can get him to Cuero."
He jumped up and headed for the barn. It was then that he saw four fast-moving riders cresting the ridge to the northwest. He stopped and shouted at two half-dressed hands who'd run up to him, "There!" He pointed. "Ride those bastards into the earth and bring them back to me." His mother's sobbing caused him to lurch again into a run toward the barn. When he reached the big door he saw the crudely painted sign which sloped downward. The dripping, childlike red letters sent him into a rage.
AN EYE FOR AN EYE. W.S.
"I'll wash my hands in old Bill Sutton's blood!" he snarled as he violently swung the door aside.CHAPTER 2
In a rented carriage, Vivian Valentine and Ashley Tallman headed northwest on the Plumb Creek Road. They could have been a banker and his wife out for a morning ride. But they weren't. They were two of Allan Pinkerton's best undercover agents. And they were in Lockhart, Texas, on business.
The morning air was cooler than usual for the last week in August. Violent thunderstorms had moved through during the night, leaving dry, cool air in their wake. Puffy white clouds scooted across the deep blue sky on a stiff breeze. It was almost noon and yet it was only eighty-five in the shade.
Tallman pulled up the single horse when he saw the abandoned settler's cabin two hundred yards to his right. "Looks like the place," he said to Vivian. "Some squatter's dream gone to hell."
Vivian raised her eyebrows at his blatant cynicism but added nothing.
Tallman snapped the reins and turned the dappled gray toward the ramshackle building which seemed to lean toward Plumb Creek as if drawn to the rushing water.
After he'd climbed down and secured reins to a fence post which supported a single broken rail, he helped his partner down. Her scent, her soft hand and long fingers, and his intimate knowledge of what was under her teal blue dress stirred his desire. Vivian was truly one of the most fascinating women he had ever met. As his eye caught the beauty of her flowing auburn hair he sighed and shook his head slowly from side to side.
"What?" she asked, her hazel eyes glistening under the bright sun.
He faked a harsh look and got a chuckle out of her. They both knew what. There was an uncommon bond between the two detectives, though it was nothing that resembled the usual man-woman relationship. Truth be known, both were dedicated to personal independence with an intensity that most might have considered a form of madness. But that didn't mean that they would shy from a turn in the hay whenever the occasion arose. Both considered the pleasures of the flesh to be one of Mother Nature's finest inventions. But they understood the boundaries of their personal involvement. And they both had the utmost professional respect for each other.
Tallman had been with Pinkerton since the early days of the Civil War, when he had operated as an undercover agent for the Union Army. Vivian had only joined the agency earlier that spring after Tallman discovered her to be part of a con game he'd been investigating. It was only Tallman's mercy, to hear him tell it, that saved her from a long sentence in the New York State Women's Prison. The truth was, and they both knew it, he was fascinated with her approach to life and her fierce independence, not to mention her beauty, grace, elegance, and voracious appetite for sexual pleasure.
"Pretty spot," she said as she started toward the rain-swollen creek. "I wonder what happened to the settlers who built the little house."
"Are we early?" she asked as she swept away hair that the stiff breeze had blown in her face.
"A few minutes."
"Do you know much about him?"
"Just that he's the governor of Texas. The first elected since the end of the war."
"I wonder when the Yankees will leave the South to the southerners again?" she asked aloud. Her Virginia heritage made her a partisan of sorts, though she generally wrote off politics as the lowest form of human skulduggery. She had often noted that politics was the art of robbery through deception. "Sherman's troops have been here for more than six years now."
"Probably be here for another six."
"Did Trowbridge go with the South?"
"Don't know," Tallman said as he jammed a thin cigar into the corner of his mouth and went fishing in his vest pocket for a match. "They'll probably stay until the greedy carpetbaggers have sucked the state dry."
Vivian laughed when she saw what Tallman had pulled from his pocket. He fell into a throaty chuckle as he held the one-inch sphere aloft like a magician about to make something disappear.
Their laughter stemmed from a demonstration they'd been given two weeks back by the inventor of the deadly device. Aaron Wagner, Tallman's Chicago gunsmith, had prepared the tiny device with the hope of selling it to the military. It was designed to startle and wound its victim. When tossed against a hard surface, the little ball would erupt in a blast of fire, smoke and metal shards.
"Don't drop that. Remember what happened to Aaron's paper target," Vivian said, pointing toward Tallman's crotch. The target had taken a metal sliver right where the family jewels would normally rest.
Tallman allowed a wry smile, put the dull silver ball away, and pulled out a cheroot.
Vivian watched him fire up his cigar and begin pacing. Her mind soon became cluttered with a desire to strip him naked and ravage his lean, muscular body under the bright sun. No man had ever responded to her unabashed longing for the pleasures of the flesh as had the six-foot- tall, sandy-haired man pacing the creek bank. Though she held the word love to be meaningless when employed in its common usage, she had begun to wonder what word might describe her feelings about the man who had crashed in on her bank scam in New York. Whatever it was, it felt good, good for the soul and good for the flesh. She brushed aside the reddish-blond hair the wind had swept in her face and smiled at her own impish designs as she walked toward the cabin.
"This must have been a quaint little home at one time," she said as she stood in the crooked doorway. "But nothing ever stays the same, does it?"
"Nope," Tallman grunted from behind. "One of life's several guarantees."
Vivian walked to the window on the other side of the room and looked out toward the stream.
Tallman caught a whiff of her scent and watched her move across the room. He knew what lay beneath her petticoat and the mere thought of her form sent a surging warmth through his manhood. He groaned to himself as he approached her.
"I love the sound of rushing water," she said as she turned to face her partner. She reached out and put her hands on his hips.
Tallman smiled, acutely aware of her presence. There was something about the setting that could turn a person's mind toward sex. And he could read Vivian like a book. Her thoughts had taken the same turn.
Her eyes fixed on his, she moved her hands from his waist to the buttons on his trousers. In an instant, her long fingers had found his meaty cock. Her touch made Tallman's member as stiff as a wagon wheel spoke. It always did.
"I don't think the governor expects to meet with us in the nude," Tallman said as Vivian gently fingered the moist tip of his cock.
"Too late now, Ash," she said, almost moaning as she pulled his meat from his fly. "You've got to do something about this," she explained as she bent forward and put the head of his hot member in her mouth. His warmth in her mouth, she felt a tightness in her groin. Ever since her first encounter with a boy, she'd barely been able to satisfy her voracious appetite for sex. Once the feeling began, she had to have her release.
Tallman's knees began to weaken as she sucked at his tip. He reached around, hiked up her skirt and petticoat and worked his hand between her soft thighs. Without hesitation Vivian spread her feet to give Tallman access to her moist cunt. When his fingers found their mark, she shuddered and began pumping his prick at a quickening pace. And when Tallman found her swollen clitoris, he began to circle the hard button with his slick finger.
Excerpted from The Wages of Sin by Matt Braun. Copyright © 1984 Avon Books. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Love western books about the old west without all the sexual encounters