Steel Coleman sinned in his heart the day he saw fifteen-year-old Riley Spencer. Driven by lust he couldn't acknowledge or control, he encourages his mother to marry Riley's father, joining the two families and creating a living hell for Steel in the process. In an attempt to spare his sanity, he goes for long rides from the family ranch, and he's not home to protect the family when bandits strike. Riley survives but their parents are murdered. Haunted by grief and guilt, Steel flees to catch the men responsible, promising his younger stepbrother he would return.
He never does.
When they meet again ten years later, Riley is a far cry from the boy Steel left behind. And he needs his former stepbrother to pay for the very real sin of abandoning him when he needed Steel the most. But their fateful meeting sends Riley running. Leaving Steel is the hardest thing he's ever done, but Riley understands what Steel knew all along -- it's too dangerous to stay.
Will he be prepared to face the consequences when Steel inevitably catches up with him? Can forgiveness be possible?
When the knock came, Riley realized he'd been waiting. Sitting on the edge of the bed and waiting for the minutes to pass, for the man to come to him or to leave town. He elected not to wear his holster, but he had the gun nearby and clearly visible. He only hoped he wouldn't need it. He still had most of the bottle of whiskey left, and he took a steadying gulp before pulling the door open.
He wore black from head to toe, and an ugly scar divided his face into two uneven parts. He needed a shave and a haircut, and the sharp angles of his body, the gaunt hollows in his face, told Riley that he'd been riding for a very long time. His eyes were a faded shade of gray, washed out by too many years in the unforgiving sun. They seemed like transparent pools, casting Riley's own reflection back.
"I can't believe it's you," he whispered.
"You're still alive," Riley blurted.
"Depends on what stories you hear. There's some that claim I'm a ghost."
"Who were those men? The ones you shot."
"According to who?"
"According to the settlers they robbed and murdered on the road out of town."
Riley scanned his chest, looking for a star. "You the law now?"
"No, but the law pays me to do their job for them. Mind if I come in? I've been riding hard."
"You're alive," Riley repeated.
"Yeah. I hope you're not fixing to change that," Steel said, nodding at the gun. "Do you know how to use that thing?"
"I know how to use it," Riley said softly. "How did you know it was me?"
Steel sat on the edge of the bed and pried his boots off. "Guess the same way you knew me."
"I didn't. I mean, I wasn't sure."
"Why'd you answer the door then? You don't know anybody else here in camp, do you?"
Riley shook his head. How could he explain that he hadn't recognized Steel and yet he'd simply known? He had a hard time finding his voice, and his ears were still ringing from the earlier shoot out -- or rather, massacre. Riley had a feeling that the dead men didn't have a chance to get a shot off before Steel sent them to their maker.
"Mind if I get some shut eye?"
Riley shook his head again. He doubted he'd be able to sleep again any time soon. His mind was too full of questions, racing in circles trying to catch up with all the thoughts tumbling through his skull. It seemed as though God had answered his prayers, delivering Steel to him five years too late.
"Thanks." He unbuttoned his cuffs and removed his holster and belt. Riley absently watched him strip, looking without seeing until Steel was down to nothing but his long underwear.
Riley didn't refuse him -- he never wanted to refuse Steel anything. From the moment he'd met Mrs. Coleman's son, he'd been fascinated. She was such a proper lady, very pious and devout, very generous and kind, the very model of a Christian soul. Steel was an enigma, the son of a man who'd died a hero during the War with over one hundred kills credited to him. There were stories of Steel's father that made him sound like some sort of demon, or an angel of vengeance sent from an angry God, and Steel had clearly relished the stories that vexed and scandalized his poor mother.
Steel wanted to behave as though nothing had changed between them. That in the intervening years, Riley's devotion hadn't soured, his love hadn't curdled and turned into something rancid. He wanted to believe he could pull Riley into his arms and later perhaps he would try to explain himself. Riley would let him try to justify his betrayal. He'd listen to every word and excuse offered, but his heart wouldn't soften. And one way or another, Steel would have to answer for himself and pay his debt to Riley.