Coming soon... Diamond in the Dust - Book 3 in the Second Chances Time Travel Romance Series.
Today I am posting the first chapter. Release date will be announced later this week.
“Got any last words you wanna say before you meet your maker, McFarlain?”
Gabe McFarlain forced his chin away from his chest and lifted his throbbing head upward a fraction of an inch. He blinked slowly in an effort to bring the fuzzy images in front of him into focus. Pain seared through his head and cheek muscles at the slightest movement. His right eye pulsed, the eyelid hopelessly swollen shut. He sucked in a hiss when the horse beneath him shifted its legs.
“Go to hell, Ian,” Gabe rasped. His mouth and throat burned from lack of water.
Despite the pain in his jaw and the split in his lip, he widened his mouth into a grin. He welcomed the discomfort. His miserable life would be over in a few minutes, and then there would be no more agony. He sure as hell wasn’t about to act like a coward. If Ian or his men were hoping he would beg for mercy, they could think again.
He sat up straighter in the saddle, adjusting his shoulders that were pulled back in an unnatural position. The leather straps that bound his hands behind his back had rubbed the skin along his wrists raw several hours ago. Searing pain ripped through his gut, and dark spots swirled before his good eye.
The man who stood next to the horse on which Gabe sat smirked. He blew cigarette smoke from his mouth in a long, drawn-out breath before he spoke. “There’s a special place in hell for men like you, McFarlain. Right alongside every other no-account horse thief.”
“I didn’t steal any horses,” Gabe retorted drily.
He wasn’t a horse thief, but Ian Frasier was right. No doubt there was a special place in hell for men like him. Gabe wasn’t worried. He’d lived in hell for the better part of his life already.
“Killing horses is worse than stealing,” the other man hissed. His voice rose in anger, and his hand shot up. For a split second, he looked as if he was going to pull Gabe from the saddle.
Gabe gritted his teeth and lifted his head higher. The rope around his neck tightened slightly. Why the hell didn’t Ian just get it over with? All night long he’d been reminded that he would hang at dawn. The first rays of sunlight poked over the hills in the eastern sky already. Gabe was ready to die. It would be a welcome reprieve to his miserable existence.
“Your horses dying was an unfortunate accident,” Gabe whispered. “I never planned for that to happen.”
Why was he trying to defend himself? It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. Some odd feeling coursed through him. Remorse? He shrugged it off, and his smile widened.
He’d finished what he’d set out to do when he came to this part of Montana Territory a little over a year ago. His plan to bring his brother to his knees had been successful. Maybe it hadn’t worked out quite the way he’d envisioned, but Tyler Monroe would be as miserable for the rest of his life as Gabe had been for most of his twenty-five years.
Tyler had lived a content and happy life, wanting for nothing, including the love and acceptance of a father. He, on the other hand, had grown up in a whorehouse, always scraping and begging for his next meal, staying out of the way of his mother’s customers for fear of getting a beating. At least now, he could die a happy man. He smirked.
“I still don’t understand why you wanted to ruin Tyler, McFarlain. The two of you got along right from the start, when you first came to Landry. He made you his foreman not a month after he hired you on. You’re as good a horseman as he is.”
Frasier looked genuinely interested in the answer. Not that he was gonna get one. Ian didn’t need to know anything.
“My business with Tyler is none of your concern, Frasier. I’ve told you that all night. Letting your men beat the tar outta me didn’t make me want to talk. What makes you think I’m gonna talk now, with a rope around my neck?”
Ian Frasier took another long drag on his cigarette, then dropped the butt and crushed it underneath his boot.
“I just want to understand why a man like you has such hatred for his boss. You were no more than a drifter a year ago, yet you were handed the reins to the most prosperous horse ranch in this part of Montana Territory. What you did is one hell of a way to repay Tyler’s kindness.” He stared up at Gabe, his eyes twitching in the corners.
Gabe smiled inwardly. Ian had no idea that Tyler wasn’t just his boss, but also his brother. He’d kept that fact well hidden. There was only one person who’d figured it out, and she was gone now. It didn’t matter that he’d finally told Tyler the truth just the other day. If anything, that knowledge might make Tyler see their father in a new light.
Tyler had certainly looked shocked when Gabe told him that they were brothers. For a year, Gabe hadn’t so much as hinted that they were related. He’d come to the Double M Ranch with the pretense of looking for work in order to put his plans in motion to destroy his old man. Even after he found out that Jonas Monroe had hung himself not a year prior, he hadn’t wavered from what he’d come to Landry to do.
After demonstrating his horsemanship skills, Tyler had hired him on immediately. The fact that they had a lot in common hadn’t deterred Gabe from his plans. The hatred that had burned inside him for his father all these years had spilled over to his brother and the ranch the old bastard had built. It had been plain to see right from the start that Tyler loved the ranch as much as their old man. When Tyler had made him foreman after the old foreman died of consumption, Gabe had thanked his lucky stars.
Tyler was likable enough, and they’d gotten along well, but it didn’t matter. Not a day had gone by when Gabe hadn’t reminded himself of his years of growing up, being labeled as a bastard, and the son of a dirty whore. It was all Jonas Monroe’s fault. He’d chosen the son of one whore over another, giving his name and the respect of the territory to Tyler, while discarding Gabe like a stray mongrel.
“The only thing I can figure is that your beef with Tyler is over a woman,” Ian continued, and his eyes narrowed. “Tyler’s wife, to be more specific. You killed her, didn’t you?”
Gabe laughed, then flinched. He gritted his teeth at the heat that seared through his gut. He coughed, straining against his bindings. He leaned forward to ease the discomfort, and spat blood on the ground.
“I have no interest in Tyler’s wife,” he rasped. “That woman most likely went back to where she came from.”
“You were seen with her in town the day she disappeared.” Ian shot him an accusing look.
Gabe cursed silently. He’d been sure that no one had seen him bring Tyler’s wife to town the day she disappeared over a week ago. He mustered a shrug. The effort sent renewed agony through his battered body.
“She asked me to bring her to Landry. What she did after that was none of my concern.” He wasn’t about to divulge that he’d forced the woman into town, and then out of Tyler’s life for good.
He hadn’t killed her. He’d done something much better. No one knew the real story about Tyler’s wife. Not even Tyler. Gabe smiled again. He himself had discovered where she’d really come from by pure luck. If he had known Laney Monroe’s secret when she first arrived in Landry, he wouldn’t have had to resort to bringing a diseased colt onto the Double M. His plan had been to ruin Tyler, not kill horses.
He’d bought the critter from a peddler in Butte who had told him the animal was sick, and that other horses in the shipment from back east had caught the unknown illness, too. Some equine epidemic had been sweeping through the eastern states, crippling commerce there. News about the problem evidently hadn’t reached the territories yet.
The sick horse had fit perfectly into Gabe’s plan to ruin the Double M financially. He hated everything about the ranch, what it stood for, and all its reminders. He’d also wanted Tyler to suffer, to understand what it was like to live a life of misery. His brother’s wife had been his key to that. Judging by the looks of anguish on Tyler’s face after she’d disappeared, Gabe had succeeded.
“The sun’s about to rise, Frasier. Best to get on with the hanging,” Gabe said. It was time to get it over with. He was done talking.
Ian Frasier shook his head. Regret filled his eyes. The man wasn’t gonna go soft on him now, was he?
“You’re a good horseman, McFarlain. A shame you chose this path,” he said. “But what you did needs to be punished.”
Loud murmurs erupted around him, and Gabe glanced from Ian to the wranglers surrounding him. Everyone looked toward the dirt road that led to Ian’s ranch. Gabe’s good eye narrowed, and he squinted. A lone figure walked toward them. His nearly white hair stood out in sharp contrast to his black suit.
“Who called for the preacher?” one of the wranglers asked loudly.
Gabe cursed under his breath. What the hell was Reverend Johnson doing here? The man could ruin everything for him. Fear sliced through him for the first time since Ian had forcibly taken him away from the Double M last evening. Fear that his plans had failed, after all. There was only one man who knew the whereabouts of Tyler’s wife, and he was heading this way. Gabe had gambled last week that the preacher wouldn’t divulge anything. Hell, he himself had only vague notions of what had happened to Mrs. Monroe, but she’d disappeared just like the reverend said she would.
“When you wake up, you will be back where you came from.”
A decidedly uneasy feeling had swept over Gabe when he’d stood in that church and watched Laney Monroe accept a cup, although reluctantly, with some sort of drink the reverend had offered to her. He’d threatened to shoot the old man if she didn’t tell the preacher to send her back to where she’d come from. Could he have followed through with his threat if she hadn’t complied? He’d never shot anyone before in his life, nor had he ever done harm to a horse, at least not until recently.
Standing in that church nearly a week ago, the reverend had stared at Gabe with his steely blue eyes, and even told him that he’d been expecting to see him someday. Gabe shuddered atop the horse. It was as if the old man had seen right into him, and known exactly what he’d been thinking.
“Reverend, what brings you all the way out here?” Ian called, and headed the old man off before he’d completely reached the lynch mob.
“I heard about your plans to hang Mr. McFarlain,” the reverend said in a calm and composed manner. He stared straight at Gabe as he spoke.
Gabe held the old man’s gaze. There was something odd and otherworldly about the preacher. Surely the reverend wouldn’t divulge to Ian that Gabe had demanded that the old man send Mrs. Monroe back to where she’d come from.
Gabe mentally shook his head. If the reverend told these men about his part in the disappearance of Laney Monroe, it would uncover his own secrets, something the old man surely didn’t want anyone to know about. There was much more to Reverend Johnson than anyone could imagine. The man harbored secrets that were too unreal for Gabe to contemplate, even if he believed they were true.
Renewed dread washed over him. Had Tyler sent for the reverend? Tyler had come to see him last night when Ian and his men had him tied up in their bunkhouse.
“I’m gonna see to it that you don’t hang, Gabe, whether you want me to or not.”
Tyler’s words rang in his ears. After everything he’d done, why would Tyler want to help him now?
“I refuse to believe that you’re rotten to the core,” Tyler had said, then offered him some water. Gabe scoffed at the memory. Tyler was such a noble soul. He glanced up and looked toward the road. There was no sign of his brother.
“I just need a few words with Mr. McFarlain.” The reverend’s calm words reached Gabe. Ian blocked the old man’s path, preventing him from coming any closer.
“You can’t stop this hanging, Reverend,” Ian said firmly. “This man killed a dozen or more of my horses.”
Reverend Johnson regarded Frasier with an indulgent eye. “I won’t stop the hanging.” He smiled, then stepped around Ian and walked calmly up to the horse that prevented Gabe from swinging from the tree branch overhead. Ian’s wranglers stepped out of the way.
“Mr. McFarlain,” the reverend addressed him, looking up. His hand reached up and settled on Gabe’s arm.
“Reverend,” Gabe grumbled. He cursed under his breath. What the hell did the old man want?
“You’ve been lost and on the wrong path for a long time, Mr. McFarlain,” the reverend said softly. “I hope that you will find some peace and happiness in your new life. You and I will meet again soon.”
Gabe sneered. What was the old man babbling on about?
“I highly doubt that you’ll want to go where I’m headed, Reverend,” Gabe smirked.
The reverend simply smiled at him.
He’d had enough. With the last ounce of strength he possessed, Gabe lifted his legs away from the horse’s sides, and kicked his heels into the animal’s belly. Startled, the horse lunged forward. The rope tightened around Gabe’s neck, and yanked him from the saddle. His head snapped upward, and the noose cut off all of his air. Gasping and struggling for a few seconds, a sudden calm enveloped him. Gabe relaxed his body, giving himself over to the peace that flowed through him as darkness descended over him.