I want to apologize to all the readers of this series who were waiting for the book. I missed my deadline because of some very unforeseen circumstances, the biggest of those being an unexpected move. My husband took a job working in Yellowstone National Park, and we had to pack up and move within a ten-day span. If you know me through my other books, you know that living in Yellowstone is a dream come true for me! However, everything under the sun went wrong in other areas of my life during that short time we had to pack and leave, and I couldn't get the book finished in time ..... But! It's finally done, and Amazon should publish it within the next few days!
Here is the first chapter! (And don't you just love this cover?)
“I thought I made it clear to you not to show your face around here anymore. What’s it gonna take to get rid of you for good, boy?”
Dark eyes devoid of emotion glowered like the predatory stare of a wolf hovering over a kill. Vin Kincaid stood his ground, his eyes unflinching as he glared back. A slow grin spread over his face.
“Just stopped for a visit to wish you farewell, Uncle Jack.” He intoned the word “uncle” with disgust. “Can’t wait to see you leave and make the poor folks’ lives in Montana miserable, like you made the lives of everyone here in Texas a living hell.”
The older man’s brows rose, then he laughed. He held his hand over his heart. The fingers in Vin’s left hand twitched, but he kept it well away from the holster at his side.
“I’m touched that your first stop after they let you out of prison would be a visit to me.” Jack’s eyes darted to the six-shooter resting against Vin’s thigh while his voice dripped with false sweetness. “But you shouldn’t have bothered, after all the trouble you’ve caused me.” His glare intensified along with his tone. “You try anything, and I’ve got ten men ready to take you out.”
Vin smirked. “I haven’t sunk as low as you, and I never will. Killing you would only be a waste of a good bullet.” He gritted his teeth, staring at the cold, calculating eyes of his uncle. Jack’s icy glare didn’t hold even a flicker of similarity to Vin’s father. “Someday, you’ll get what’s comin’ to you. Too bad I probably won’t be around to see it.”
Jack moved across the room. He turned his back to Vin, and laid a hand on the shoulder of a youth who stood near the door. The kid’s face was impassive and hardened, as if he’d witnessed too much in his young life already. Vin scoffed. If Jack had anything to say about it, the boy probably had seen and done much more than he should have at his age.
“Your cousin is a prime example of what I’ve been trying to teach you, Son.” Jack’s voice lost some of the cold edge when he directed his words to his only child. “Weak people without gumption get squashed. If you’re cowardly, you get crushed like a cockroach by someone who’s stronger and not afraid. The same goes for showing emotion. It’s a sign of weakness.” He spun back around to face Vin. “Letting matters of the heart rule your head makes you feeble. It’s what happened to my dear brother.”
Vin’s hand clenched at his side. Every inch of him fought to remain rooted to the spot rather than rushing up to Jack and smashing his fist into the man’s face. Jack laughed again, a triumphant laugh.
“My father was a decent man. He didn’t have a black heart like you.” Vin stared into the man’s soulless eyes.
Jack took several steps away from the youth and closed the distance across the room to face Vin.
“Your father was a coward, Vincent,” he scoffed. “I tried to take you under my wing. I thought I could make something out of you, turn you into someone with a spine, unlike your father. Jonathan never had the backbone to run a successful cattle business. He disgraced the family name when he married that waif of a woman.”
“That . . . waif was my mother,” Vin hissed. “My father didn’t want any part of the Kincaid business. There are more important things than money and power. No matter what you think, people ain’t just disposable. Maybe if you’d paid more attention to your wife, she’d still be alive today.”
Vin smiled at the twitch in Jack’s eyes. A brief, pained expression filled his features, but it quickly vanished. The older man ran his fingers through his mustache. His white teeth gleamed with his sneer.
“Jonathan was always weak, and clearly his blood got passed down to you. Despite his bringing shame to the Kincaid name, I gave you a place on this ranch after your folks’ unfortunate deaths. Without me, you would have starved on the streets. I gave you a roof over your head and a job.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed, his stare becoming even colder. “Too bad I couldn’t teach you how to make something of yourself. All the things I did for you, and you chose to stoop to the level of becoming a petty thief and embarrassing me.” His voice rose in anger.
Vin held his ground. He wasn’t going to cower in front of the man he hated. Jack had made it perfectly clear over the years that, even though Vin shared the Kincaid name, he certainly wasn’t considered family.
“Do you really think I’ll take you back after you’ve made me the laughingstock in the county with your shenanigans a year ago? I wish that judge had locked you up for good,” Jack continued.
Vin laughed. “I already told you. I have no desire to come back and work for you.” His voice lowered to a menacing growl. “Since you think I’m such a disgrace to the Kincaid name, it don’t matter to me how embarrassed you get by what I do. I was only getting started when I stole that whiskey.” His smile widened. “Next time, I won’t get caught by the law.” Heck, he wouldn’t have gotten caught the first time, either, if he hadn’t tried to help that strange woman, Miss Amber, find her way back home.
The thought of murder gleamed in Jack’s eyes just as sure as if he’d spoken the words. Vin didn’t move. Jack wasn’t going to kill him, at least not in his own house. It wasn’t his style to get his hands dirty. He’d let one of his men do the deed for him.
Vin leaned toward Jack, his voice low so only he could hear. “One day, I’ll prove that you killed my folks, and when I do, not even your money is going to save you. I hope I never have to see you again, unless it’s at your funeral.”
He spun on his heels and headed for the door. He paused when his eyes fell on the youth still standing there as if guarding the exit. Vin’s jaw muscles tightened. He tore his eyes away and stomped from the study, his spurs jingling and the long duster he wore rustling behind him. He headed down the hall of the house and out the front door into the sunshine.
Anger pierced every inch of him. Never before had he wanted to hurt someone as badly as he wanted to hurt Jack Kincaid. The man didn’t have a shred of decency in him.
Vin squinted into the sunlight. His father had died at the hands of that man because he’d chosen to lead a decent and modest life, and not let greed rule him. Vin had barely been ten years old when his parents had been killed, shot in their own home. Robbers, according to Jack and the law. They’d never been caught.
Orphaned and alone, Vin had tried to fit into the Kincaid cattle empire, but like his father, it wasn’t for him. He’d tried to please his uncle, but hard work was clearly not good enough. Vin refused to stoop to killing people in his uncle’s name. Blood, whether the kind he spilled or the kind that bound them as family, was of no importance to the ruthless man.
It didn’t matter that he’d busted his back, working from sun-up to sundown on the ranch every single day since he’d come to live there. Jack’s reason for taking him into the household was merely to pretend in front of the community that he was a man with a good heart.
In reality, Jack had never accepted him as a nephew. He’d been treated worse than a hired hand. They, at least, earned wages, while Jack had told him that offering him a roof over his head and meals was payment enough. In order to get on the payroll, he’d have to stoop to a different level.
From the time he’d come to the ranch as a ten-year old scared kid, Vin had slept in the bunkhouse. He’d learned to grow up fast among the cowhands. Jack’s hired men were required to show their loyalty in ways other than working hard. Jack ruled without mercy over his cattle business, and anyone getting in the way of what he wanted - whether it was more cattle, more land, or more water rights - was dealt with by his men. Money and power were always more important than family.
Vin untied his horse from the hitching rail and swung into the saddle. The leather creaked as he adjusted his seat.
Vin sat up straighter and stopped his horse at the sound of his name as he reined his mount away from the grand Kincaid home. He glanced over his shoulder before turning fully in the saddle to look at his young cousin. He guided his horse back to the house, but didn’t dismount.
“Wish you were coming to Montana with us,” the youth said.
Vin smirked. He leaned forward in the saddle, casually draping his arm over the saddle horn. With his chin, he nudged toward the house. “You heard your daddy in there. I’m clearly not fit to walk on the same dirt as him.”
“He’s only looking out for the family business.”
Vin laughed. His cousin was still wet behind the ears, even if he tried to act tough and could shoot better than the average man. “You’d better be careful. Your papa only cares about one thing in this world, and that’s his cattle and his money. He couldn’t care less about family.”
“Where will you go?” The youth stepped off the porch and stared up at him. While he still looked like a boy, the softness had left his eyes. Vin’s gaze drifted to the gun belt at the boy’s waist. Clearly, in the year Vin had been in jail, the boy had been initiated fully into the family business.
“I’m definitely not heading to Montana with this outfit, that’s for sure. Your father couldn’t be happier to finally be rid of me. I’ve been nothing but a burden and a disgrace to him.”
The boy frowned. His mouth opened slightly as if he wanted to say something, but he closed it again and simply nodded.
Vin leaned over his horse and extended his hand, staring the boy in the eye. “Take care of yourself, and be careful. Jack might be your father, but I’m warning you now. If you cross him, it won’t matter to him that you’re his own son. If you’ve got a lick of sense in you, you’ll get out while you still can.”
Vin’s young cousin stood with an impassive look on his face. He shook Vin’s hand, then headed back into the house. Vin stared after him for a few seconds, then reined his horse in the opposite direction and rode from the ranch. He let his horse choose the direction. He had no home, no family, and no destination.
* * * * *
Several days later, he passed a couple of small farms on the outskirts of a little town called Heartsbridge. Vin shook his head and smirked. What had led him to come back to this place? It’s where his troubles with the law had started about a year ago.
When Jack had accused a few young men of rustling some of his cattle, Vin had refused to rough them up, so Jack had told him he no longer had a job there, and to pack his things and get off the ranch. It had turned out the cattle had simply wandered off, and these youths had found them and had been herding them back to the ranch. They’d been found dead a few days later, and Jack had justified their deaths by insisting they had stolen the cattle.
Drifting from one town to the next after leaving the Diamond K, Vin had resorted to petty theft to get back at his uncle, not out of necessity. Stealing a whiskey shipment from the saloon owner in Heartsbridge had ultimately been the reason for his jail sentence.
Vin smiled, staring into the flames of his campfire. He held a cup of coffee in his hands. It had been worth it. The Kincaid name had been admired as one of the great cattle empires in this part of Texas. Jack was like royalty, or at least he saw himself as such. Although he dealt in underhanded ways with folks, Jack was always one step above the law.
Tainting the family name by letting folks know there was a Kincaid relative stirring up trouble with the law, had given Vin a small measure of satisfaction against the man who’d never been able to treat him as family.
Vin’s father had been an embarrassment because he’d married a poor woman from the hill country, but since Jonathan had been shunned from the family, Jack had simply disregarded any conversations associated with his brother. Committing minor crimes and becoming a nuisance in the towns he frequented allowed Vin to make the Kincaid name a topic of local gossip and shame.
Vin sipped the last of his coffee as the flames flickered low in his campfire. He moved to his bedroll. Time to catch some sleep. Perhaps he’d visit that crazy woman at the boarding house in Heartsbridge in the morning, the one who’d wanted to send him to a future time a year ago.
He shook his head and chuckled. What a crazy notion. He settled into his blanket. What if it had been true? Perhaps disappearing into some future time was just the thing he needed. Things couldn’t be that much different there than they were now.
The woman who said she’d come from the future, Miss Amber, had worn britches. Vin smiled. There had been something appealing about her. He could certainly deal with women wearing britches. He had no home here. It would be the ultimate fresh start with a clean slate.
An owl hooted in the darkness. Vin pulled his hat over his head and closed his eyes. His horse snorted a short distance away, then moved around, trampling the leaves under its hooves. The gelding snorted again at the same time a twig snapped from the opposite direction.
Vin eased his hand to his gun. Before he had a chance to react, pain seared through his gut as the sharp blade of a knife ripped into him. He fumbled for the gun as his attacker drove the knife into him a second time. Vin raised the weapon and fired at the silhouette hovering over him.
A yell pierced the stillness of the night. Vin slumped back against his saddle, his hand clutching at his stomach as something hot and sticky filled his hands. He fought for air to fill his lungs, and each breath became pure agony.
Seconds ticked by, or was it minutes, or hours? No further attack came. He wouldn’t have been able to fight his attacker off a second time. He’d already dropped his gun and had no strength to reach for it. The sky turned from black to gray, and Vin continued to lie on the ground in his camp, drifting in and out of consciousness.
The faint voice barely registered in his mind. It sounded far away, as if it had come from a deep tunnel. Vin forced his eyes open. The image of a man swam in and out of focus. He looked vaguely familiar. No doubt he’d seen him before, but it was impossible to tell.
“He’s going to bleed to death,” the man said.
“We need to take him to the doc in town, Chris.” The soft voice of a woman was like music to Vin’s ears. He opened his mouth, but no words came. His mother had a soft voice like that. She was dead. Did that mean he was dead, too? The man’s voice interrupted his dream about his mother, whose face he no longer remembered.
“I don’t think the doc in Heartsbridge is going to be able to save him, Francine. No one in this time can, not with those wounds.” There was a slight pause. “Do you remember what happened with Vin last year when Scott and Amber were here?”
“You mean . . . he was supposed to time travel?”
“We need to get him to Cissie Durham.
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© Peggy L Henderson 2017
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