© 2013 by Diane T. Ashley and Aaron McCarver
Print ISBN 978-1-61626-544-1
Adobe Digital Edition (.epub) 978-1-61626-999-9
Kindle and MobiPocket Edition (.prc) 978-1-61626-998-2
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means without written permission of the publisher.
All scripture quotations are taken from the King James Version of the Bible.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual people, organizations, and/or events is purely coincidental.
Cover credit: Studio Gearbox,
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Diane—It is funny how things turn out sometimes. I wrote this dedication to be used in Camellia before deciding to save it for the final novel in the series. It breaks my heart that you died before you ever saw it. Rest in peace, darling, until we are reunited in heaven. For Edward Gene Ashley, April 15, 1952–November 28, 2012:
For Gene—the man who holds my heart. If I had looked the world over, I could not have found a spouse better than you. You enrich my life beyond anything I could have imagined when I was single. It took a long time for God to bring us together, but I cannot regret those years because I know He was molding each of us to become what the other needed. Thanks for forgiving my shortcomings, overlooking my faults, and encouraging me to pursue this dream of writing novels. Each day I get to spend with you is a treasure. We may not always see eye-to-eye, but that does not matter because we love and respect each other. You have taught me so much about patience, peace, and how wonderful love can be between a man and a woman. No one gets me like you do. No one else sees my warts with quite so much clarity. Yet you still love me. You are my hero. If I started today and filled up every hour telling you all the reasons I love being your wife, I would never get to the end of the list. I hope we get to spend many more years loving each other. I love you…more.
Aaron—I honor my friend who fully supported his wife’s writing in a partnership. Thank you, Gene.
We would like to thank Becky Germany, Becky Fish, and the team at Barbour for believing in us and our journeys along the Mississippi River. We also thank our agent and friend, Steve Laube, for helping to make our writing dreams come true. For our support group, the Bards of Faith, God put you in our lives for many reasons beyond writing. Thank you for being His instruments. And for our readers, we thank you so, so, so much. We do it for Him, but we have you in mind always.
ucking behind a horse trough, David Foster pulled out his weapon and aimed it toward the opposite side of the street. A bullet dug a hole in the dirt a bare inch from his foot. David narrowed his eyes against the dust it kicked up and pulled his body in tight. “Put down your weapon and raise your hands.”
He could see Cole Hardy’s face peeking past the curled brim of a hat—a lady’s hat with posies tucked into the headband. The poor woman wearing the incongruous headpiece was an innocent passerby Cole had grabbed when David first tried to arrest him. The outlaw brandished his pistol and laughed. “You’re not going to take me alive, Pinkerton.”
Even though it wasn’t his name, David had grown used to the title in the past weeks. The others employed by the famous private detective agency said it was a part of the job.
David looked around the end of the trough to judge the distance between him and Hardy. “Let the woman go, Cole. She has nothing to do with this.”
“My name’s the Whiskey Kid.” The man’s voice held a plaintive note.
A grin slid across David’s face in spite of the dangerous situation. Criminals could be so childish. As if their development had ended at age five even though their bodies continued to mature. Perhaps by appealing to the outlaw’s ego, he could diffuse the situation. “How did you get that name, Whiskey?”
The woman he held whimpered, a sound combined of fear and pain.
“Shut up,” Cole hissed at his hostage.
From his limited view of the pair, David could see her face pale even further as the outlaw tightened his hold. While he waited for an answer to his question, David considered how to protect her. If he shot at Cole, he might hit her instead. His best option was to get the man talking. “If I’m going to call you something other than the name your ma gave you, I want to know why.”
“It’s because I kin drink more than anyone else around and still keep my wits about me.”
“Is that right?” David wondered if the man was drunk right now. If he was, his aim would be shaky. Of course his temper would be on a short fuse. “And I guess your skill has gotten you a lot of admiration over the years.”
David risked leaning out a few inches farther and studied what he could see of his opponent. The kid looked only fifteen years old, but he was probably about twenty-one, the same age as David. The leader of a local gang of outlaws terrorizing the area, Cole Hardy had shot down the former sheriff and two of his deputies to establish control. He might be young, but he was still a murderer.
The day the town of Sandwich buried their law enforcement officers, a telegram from the local bank president arrived at the Pinkerton National Detective Agency—a plea for help that David had been selected to answer.
“Come on out here, Pinkerton, and I’ll show you my real skills.”
Another bullet struck the ground and made David duck for cover. At least the bullet had missed him again. Sweat trickled down his face, mixing with the dust. He would need a bath when this was over. Wiping his face with his free hand, David pushed his hat back. It was time to see if he couldn’t push Cole a little harder—see if he could get the lady free. “Where I come from, real men don’t hide behind women’s skirts. Why don’t you let her go, and you and I can discuss the matter man-to-man.”
The only response to his taunt was silence. He leaned forward again, hoping Cole wasn’t smart or sober enough to be waiting for his face to show once more.
Something had happened to draw Cole’s attention away from the trough where David hid. He was looking over his shoulder, maintaining the barest grasp on the back of the woman’s neck.
David waved a hand to make sure she could see him and gestured with a jerk of his head to run. Fear entered her eyes, gleaming through a sheen of tears. He smiled for encouragement and received a whisper of a nod from her. He held his breath as she pulled away with a sudden jerk and went running down the street.
Cole Hardy whipped his head back around, cursed, and pointed his weapon at David. In the split second before the outlaw fired, David squeezed his trigger. The other man spun in the opposite direction as the bullet tore through his thigh. His shot went wild. David was up and running toward him as the outlaw hit the dusty road.
“You shot me.” Pain twisted Cole’s face, and he curled up into a ball, his spent weapon forgotten. “It hurts.”
David picked up the gun and shoved it into his belt. He holstered his own weapon, looking to see what had taken Cole’s attention away from his captive in the moments before she had escaped. I
was painted on the plate glass window, but no one stood there.
With a mental shrug, David bent to inspect Cole’s wound. “You’re lucky I didn’t shoot you in the heart. You’ll live to face a judge for the murders you committed.”
A door creaked open, bringing David’s attention back to the bank. Two men, their hands raised high, stepped across the threshold, followed by a grim-faced man who held an ancient-looking shotgun in his hands. “Git on out there so the Pinkerton man can escort all you to jail.”
David stood and settled his bowler on his head more firmly. “I’ll take those men off your hands, but the doctor will have to sew this one up before he gets carted off to jail.” He pointed his pistol at the two uninjured outlaws and marched them toward the end of the main street to the sheriff’s office.
People stepped outside and watched them move past the various businesses of Sandwich. Their faces showed varying degrees of relief, shame, and hope. A young boy dashed past, shouting for his pa to come look. Ladies stood in little groups of two or three, their bonnets shading their faces but not obscuring their admiring glances.
He reached the jailhouse without mishap and herded the two men inside. An empty desk and two barred rooms greeted them. Where was the sheriff? Or whoever represented the law since the sheriff was murdered.
“Both of you can get in that cell.” He closed the door behind them and walked to the desk, opening the drawer and fishing out a ring of keys.
By the time he had them secure, the grim man who had held his shotgun on the two gang members entered the sheriff’s office. He looked different now—more jovial and relaxed. David assumed he was the banker who had sent a wire to the agency.
“Now our law-abiding citizens won’t have to hide themselves anymore.” The man held out his left hand. “I’m Mr. Morton Winthrop at your service. I don’t suppose you’d consider staying here in Sandwich for a spell? We need a new sheriff.”
David waited for Mr. Winthrop to pause before introducing himself. “Where is your sheriff?”
“Dead.” One of the prisoners answered him with a cackle, exposing a number of broken or missing teeth. “Cole done kilt him last week.”
The other gang member, shorter and meaner looking, nodded. “And yer next.”
Mr. Winthrop shook his head. “You can see why we’re having a bit of a problem choosing a new sheriff … but a man like you can handle himself. And Sandwich has a fine collection of pretty young misses, any of whom would make you a good wife.”