Cowboys of the Old West Series
The Bounty Hunter – (a novella)
Rena East is a woman wanted dead or alive. She risks her life to save her brother from the gallows, and in the process steals a bounty hunter’s horse – getting more than she bargained for.
Can she convince bounty hunter, Killian McCree to set her free before he sends her to the gallows? Sometimes, you can’t put a price on love.
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Excerpt from The Bounty Hunter:
The gallows creaked under the weight of Killian Chadwick McCree as he made his way up the rickety stairs toward the hangman’s tree. It was a good day for a hanging in the Montana Territory, there was no doubt about that. And the people in this little town of Rocky Springs seemed to be looking forward to it much more than Killian was right now.
The sun beat down atop his wide brimmed, black hat, and he was glad to feel the heat on his back and the see the light of day. In a few moments, the convicted man sentenced to death wasn’t going to feel so lucky, and it was all because of him.
“McCree, high-tail it off that three-legged mare unless you plan on pullin’ the lever,” shouted Sheriff Gilderoy Tammis from the ground, warning him to exit the gallows. A crowd was gathering in the streets, as everyone came to watch the event. The excitement emanating from them made Killian almost wish he hadn’t brought in Benjamin East two days ago.
But bounty hunting was his job, and he couldn’t have doubts about delivering a road agent like East into the hands of the law. He never felt any remorse for bringing in criminals to face their punishment. Or at least not until he’d caught Benjamin a mile out of town, and the boy had pleaded for his life. He was young. Not more than twenty years of age, and didn’t look nor act like the normal bandits Killian caught and turned in for reward money. Something about this boy’s blue eyes haunted him. He supposed it was the innocence along with the desperation – something he’d never seen in any killer’s eyes before.
“Where’s the executioner?” growled the sheriff. “Let’s get this hanging underway, I’ve got a lot to do today.”
Killian noticed the executioner across the street going into the stables. The man’s black cloak covered his head and flowed in the breeze behind him.
“I’ll get him,” Killian offered, his boot heels clomping on the stairs and his spurs jingling as he made his way across the rugged dirt street and to the blacksmith’s stables. His long brown duster fanned out behind him as he walked. He had a rifle attached to a sling over his left shoulder. His gunbelt rode low on his hips, holding not one, but two Colt revolvers. As a bounty hunter, he had to always be well prepared.
He thought it odd the executioner hadn’t been to the sheriff’s office yet today, as he saw the man come into town late last night. He was a big, ugly bastard – but then again, hangmen usually were.
“Executioner,” he called out, walking into the empty stables. Everyone in town was already securing their place in the street to view the hanging. He saw the man’s notebook opened on a bench with the list of people he’d executed, as well as their height and weight written down. Next to it was a worn-out tape measure used to figure out how much rope was needed for each criminal, to be sure their neck would snap and they wouldn’t be hanging for hours in strangulation.
He heard a noise outside the stables and looked up to see the executioner coming out from behind a pile of hay, fixing his black long cloak around him. His head was covered and the hood hung down low, putting his face in shadow. He hurried past, and Killian swore he smelled smoke on his clothes, and figured the man had needed a cigarette before doing his job. Killian couldn’t blame him. He felt as if he wanted to roll a smoke himself.
“Wait,” said Killian, and the man stopped and looked back slowly, still not showing his face. “You forgot your book and tape measure.”
“Don’t need it,” the man said softly.
“Don’t you need to know the height of the criminal and the size of his neck?”
“I already know it.”
Killian followed the hangman across the street, and took up his position at the side of the gallows, right where his horse was tethered next to another one. He made his way over to his saddlebag to find himself some tobacco and his dreambook – pack of papers to roll with. That’s when he noticed a boy fiddling with the reins of his horse on the hitching post.
“What are you doing by my horse?” he asked, surprising the boy who looked up for a split second before turning his eyes quickly to the ground and hiding under the brim of his hat. He age looked to be somewhere between hay and grass. Not a boy, but not yet a man either. He was short and thin-boned and had no stubble at all upon his face. His dark hair fell part way down to his shoulders in an odd sort of twist, and his face was smudged with lots of dirt. His clothes were also two sizes too big for his body. He definitely had to be a guttersnipe – homeless and sleeping in the streets.
“I’m sorry, I must have the wrong horse,” the boy said in a high voice, leading Killian to believe he was younger than he’d first thought. Then the boy lowered his voice an octave and continued to talk. “I’ve been paid to brush down the horse next to yours.”
“It’s an honest mistake, I guess,” said Killian reaching into his saddlebag quickly, rolling a smoke and sticking the end into his mouth. He struck a match on the bottom of his boot and lit it, all the while his eyes staying narrowed as he watched the boy. The boy just looked the other way. “Aren’t you going to watch the hanging like everyone else?”
“No,” the boy said, his voice quavering a little, if Killian wasn’t mistaken.
“What’s the matter?” Killian lit the cigarette and waved out the match, then threw the burnt stick to the ground. Then he took a drag of his rolled quirley and blew smoke into the air. He heard the sound of footsteps behind him of the prisoner being led up to the gallows by the executioner. “You seem a little squeamish about the execution, but don’t worry, you’ll get numb to it after you’ve seen a few dozen. Everyone does.”
“He doesn’t deserve to die,” he heard the boy say softly.
“Oh, I assure you, he does.” Killian blew smoke from the side of his mouth. “That boy not only robbed a stagecoach, but he killed the driver and his companions.”
“Maybe he didn’t,” the boy spat. “Maybe they’ve got the wrong pig by the tail this time.”
“No. He did it,” Killian protested with a shake of his head. “It’s no mistake. I saw the wanted poster and never forget a face. You see, I’m the bounty hunter who brought him in.”
“You’re the bounty hunter?” The boy’s eyes flashed upward and met his for the first time. Although Killian was about to take another puff of his cigarette, his hand stilled. There, staring at him were the same innocent blue eyes filled with desperation that he’d seen from Benjamin East.
“Who are you?” asked Killian curiously, throwing the last of his smoke to the ground and smashing it into the dirt with the toe of his boot. His spurs jingled as he moved his foot back and forth. “Tell me your name, boy.”
The boy never answered, because just then a shout was heard from near the stables. “Fire,” called a man’s voice, and Killian turned around to see a man moving liked greased lightning through the crowd coming straight from the hay pile he’d been at earlier. He also recognized the face of the man as none other than the executioner he’d seen come into town last night.
“What’s going on here?” Killian said aloud, grabbing his rifle from his side and hurrying over to the gallows. People were shouting and pushing in a frenzy, scattering everywhere. Women pulled their children by the hands along with them, and men hurried to the watering troughs and rain barrels with empty buckets to scoop water and make a chained line of people to put out the fire before it consumed the town.
“Executioner, hold off on the hemping,” he heard the sheriff shout. “Get the prisoner back to the jail at once.”
“He’s not the executioner, he’s a fake,” Killian called out, raising his rifle and aiming it right toward the imposter’s heart. He didn’t have a chance to shoot, as he was nearly knocked over by a spooked horse heading toward the gallows. The man posing as the executioner removed the noose from around the prisoner’s neck quickly, and ripped a knife out from under his robe. In one swipe he cut the ropes that held Benjamin’s hands behind his back, and set the boy free.
Benjamin pulled off the black deathman’s hood that covered his head and face, and ran to the end of the platform. He dove onto the horse as it passed, turning it a full circle waiting for his accomplice. The man posing as the executioner ripped off his robe and jumped onto the horse behind him.