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The Reckoning

The Wild Rose Press

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 87,310
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Ike McAlister returns home to Kansas after the Civil War, his soul bruised and empty. Worse, his parents have been killed by Quantrill’s raiders who are still on the loose. No stranger to death and destruction, he vows to run the killers down. A clue leads him to the high plains of Colorado, but when his sister, Sue, disappears from there, his world quickly spins out of control. In the midst of this turmoil, a feisty landlady sparks an attraction, the only good thing in Ike’s life.

Racing against time, he must make a deadly choice. If he continues to pursue the killers, Sue will likely never be found. But if he veers off to find his sister, the killers’ trail will go cold.

Which track to follow? Will the love of family triumph in his broken heart, or will it be the passionate hate of revenge?​

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Southeastern Kansas, Spring 1868

Ike McAlister spurred hard for the two renegades galloping dead ahead. Early spring mud flew from his horse’s hooves as he closed on his prey. He felt the familiar sense of cold fury come over him. His parents’ killers had eluded him for far too long. Ike slapped his reins left and right on Ally’s neck, something he’d rarely ever done, even during the war. He’d catch these murderers like he’d caught the others, or die trying.

The nearest outlaw turned in his saddle, and the setting sun glimmered off the fugitive’s pistol. A shot rang out, and a bullet whistled past Ike’s cheek. Ike yanked Ally’s reins and dove off the horse as she slowed. Tumbling on the ground, he grabbed for his gun. The men ahead also pulled up.

Nobody had ever outrun Ally.

There was no proper cover for miles on the windswept Kansas mesa. Last year’s knee-high brown grasses served as woefully inadequate concealment for both hunter and hunted.

Ike’s brother, Rob, fired his Winchester from behind Ike, then leapt off his horse as well and landed next to his older brother.

One of the fugitives appeared as a dark form backlit against the lowering afternoon sun as he pulled his horse down in front of him. Ike steadied his gun hand with his other arm and drew a bead on him with his long-barreled Colt .44. His first shot missed but came close enough to motivate the outlaw to drop toward the ground, but before the killer disappeared from sight, Ike’s rapid-fire second shot hit him square in the chest. The sharp report of gunfire echoed over the gently rolling hills.

“Damn!” the fallen outlaw howled to his partner hidden nearby. “They got me, Johnny.” Wind carried the wounded man’s plaintive voice over the still landscape.

Moving grasses gave away the other killer’s location as he crawled toward his stricken companion. Rob fired twice into the center of the shifting grass, then knelt down, rifle at the ready. The grasses resumed a gentler movement with the wind.

Ike kept his breathing steady and stayed as still as possible. Rob took short breaths beside him.

One of the bandits pleaded, “Johnny, you okay? Johnny, I’m hurt bad. Johnny!” Then silence.

Ike waited. He held his pistol well out in front of him, pointed in the direction of the men’s last sounds. After a crouching walk, he found them both motionless in the grass, ten feet apart. The one Ike had shot lay curled up, eyes fixed on nothing, a still hand on his chest. As Ike turned to the outlaw Rob hit, the killer swung his six shooter up and fired. The bullet buried itself deep in Ike’s thigh and knocked him to the ground. Before Ike could return fire, Rob pumped three shots into the murderer. Smoke trailed lazily from his rifle barrel, and a breezy quiet reclaimed the land.

Ike struggled to his feet with a hand to his leg and limped to where the shooter lay dead. Imaginary artillery shells boomed all around him, and a cold sweat traveled down his back. Too close a call, but there had been too many close calls in his life. The odds were increasing that one of these would put him down for good. His breathing slowed, and the shells went silent.

Rob shouted from behind, “He’s dead, ain’t he, Ike?”

Ike answered without looking back at his brother. “Well, if not breathin’ qualifies as dead, then he’s dead.”