Vengeance at Great Cost (Preview)

Chapter One

Donovan Bradley’s faithful paint carried him through the Black Hills, northwest toward Valley City and points beyond. The horse had more than lived up to his name, as he’d proven more than simply suitable to the tasks of a hard-riding bounty hunter.

“Valley City,” Russell Mathers said behind Donovan, his own horse huffing, disinterested in its master’s fate. “Sounds nice enough, don’t it?”

Donovan didn’t answer. There wasn’t any point in it, and the last thing he wanted was to encourage the man to keep talking.

“Lotta towns, ‘specially in the hills—mining towns, all called something mean. Deadwood, Cutthroat, whaddaya make o’ that?”

Without giving it much thought, Donovan said, “Keeps the law away,” without turning around. Suitable kept pushing down the trail, winding through the Cottonwood and the elm trees.

“Keeps the wealthy folks away too, I’d feature. An’ what good’s that to a man with a knife and a bad notion?” Donovan didn’t answer, and Russell was quick to add, “Not that I’m such a man, despite whatever you may reckon.”

“I don’t reckon which way or the other,” Donovan said. “I’m just bringin’ y’in, that’s all.”

“That’s all,” Russell said. From the little grunts and the creak of the leather and the ropes, Donovan knew Russell was trying to escape his bonds, that their conversation was probably little more than a way to disguise his efforts and distract him at the moment of attack.

He was wasting his time. With his wrists tied behind his back and his feet tied into the stirrups, he wasn’t going anywhere. Donovan knew the man was only working his way into an early grave should he make a fateful attempt to overtake his captor.

“How much more’n all is that,” Russell went on, “you come upon a fella in his own camp, not doin’ no harm to nobody, hogtie me like a prize pig—”

“Yer wanted in Bismarck for murder,” Donovan said, “so never mind about Valley City or anywhere else… or anything else.”

“Sure, right,” Russell said, “’cause I ain’t gonna get no fair trial. I’ll be strung up sure! An’ you don’t care, you just go ridin’ on, happy as you please.”

“You’re right on one score,” Donovan said, “I don’t care one whit.”

“No, you don’t care about nothin’! I know’d men like you, like my pa! Hearts of stone, what you got!” His voice got louder, faster, breaking with his rising panic. “You don’t know what I been through, what I seen! But I got a mamma too, and she was good to me! What d’you reckon it’s gonna do to my poor mamma, she hear’d tell I got hung in Bismarck?”

“Before or after she hears you were hanged for murder?”

“But I didn’t do nothin’! I ain’t no killin’ man.” After a few more yards in silence, Russell added, “I’m more a ladies’ man… you take my meanin’? Now, whaddaya reckon you an’ me just put all this warrant nonsense behind us, you untie me, and we turn and head south? Yer a big ‘un, strong, we’ll take our pick and who’s gonna gainsay us?”

“It don’t appeal to me,” Donovan said.

“No? I’m talkin’ ‘bout the very best, young too… farm girls—”

“I said no,” Donovan said, straining to contain his rising ire. A prairie falcon screamed out above them. “One more word and you won’t make it to Bismarck.”

“Oh, okay. I see how it is. Maybe you don’t like girls, s’that it?”

Donovan stopped Suitable and turned to glare at his bound captive. “Maybe I don’t like you.”

He moved to lead the two-horse party, a rope from the prisoner’s horse’s bridle tethering the creature to Donovan’s saddle.

A vague rustling in the white snakeroot around them grabbed Donovan’s attention. Even Suitable seemed alerted, huffing and shaking his head.

Russell asked, “What’s that, d’ya reckon?”

Donovan glanced around, not answering until another slight rustling, on a slope to their right, fueled some grim suspicions. Donovan’s hand drifted toward the Colt pistol in the right holster of his gun belt.

“There it is again,” Russell said. “We ain’t alone out here, I’m tellin’ ya.”

Hairs on the back of Donovan’s neck stood on end, muscles tightening along his back and shoulders and neck. His fingers twitched, ready to go for the gun.

“Look,” Russell said, “you gotta untie me. This ain’t right!”

“No,” was all Donovan said as they rode on.

“You… you can’t just leave me all trussed up like this, to be shot or scalped by the Sioux.”

They rode onward, Donovan’s attention focused on the disturbance in the woods, getting closer. Not Sioux, not Chippewa, he told himself. They’d have struck by now. We’d both be dead.

Suitable huffed again, a wordless warning that a strike was imminent. And Russell seemed to know it, too. The ropes creaked against each other as he tried to free himself, his breath becoming shallow, quick, and loud.

The big cat screamed, high-pitched and terrible, as it sprang out of the forested hill, a beige blur that landed directly on Russell. The man screamed, too, as the cougar wrapped its front legs around his head and chest, those lethal hind claws tearing into his torso and into the side of his horse.

But the speed and force of the creature’s strike sent Russell’s stricken mount staggering to the side and off the narrow trail. The horse fell off the trail and off its hooves, collapsing to its side in the bushes.

Donovan drew his Colt, took aim, and fired. The cat screamed and flinched, and a second shot sent the animal tumbling away from its prey. The cougar lay bloodied, breathing its last. Russell’s horse struggled to stand, kicking and writhing in the shrubs. Russell lay motionless, still tied into the saddle.

Donovan glanced around and then stepped down. He pulled his hunting knife, stepping around to cut one of Russell’s feet from the horse’s stirrup. Donovan walked around to Russell, whose head was cocked at an odd angle, neck clearly broken from the fall, and bloodied by the cougar’s strike. His eyes stared up, lifeless.

Donovan cut his other foot free and helped the horse back up onto the trail. The animal was riled and injured, hard to calm. But once Donovan had the horse under his control, he loaded up Russell’s mangled corpse, still bound at the wrists, facedown over the saddle.

“Looks like you’ll be going to Valley City after all,” Donovan said as he tied the body in place.

 

Chapter Two

Sheriff Harrison Keller looked the wanted poster over as he led Donovan through the little sheriff’s office. “Russell Mathers,” Harrison said, his brown hair long over the back of his neck. “That’s him all right.”

“Was,” Donovan said.

Harrison nodded and set the poster down. “Warrant does specify that he be brought in alive, Donovan.”

Donovan sighed. “Yeah.”

“Still, glad you brought him in. Keeps you from winding up with a warrant for his murder.” Donovan nodded, hardly needing his business to be explained to him, even by a decent lawman and a good friend. “Drink?”

“Coffee.”

The sheriff nodded and poured a cup of coffee from a metal pot into a tin cup and handed it to Donovan. It was cold and burnt and bitter.

He handed it back to Harrison. “Whiskey.”

Harrison walked over to his desk, both men sitting down on either side before the sheriff pulled a whiskey bottle and two shot glasses from the big lower drawer of his desk. He poured two drinks and Donovan took one.

“Cougar, huh?”

Donovan pulled down the shot, hot in his throat and warm in his gut.

“Just getting through the Black Hills is becoming impossible, eh?”

Donovan didn’t answer, setting the glass down. The sheriff raised the bottle, but Donovan shook his head and held his hand flat over the glass.

Harrison said, “Not like you to bring in a body, ‘less the warrant allowed.”

Donovan knew what his old friend was getting at, and he wasn’t wrong. But it wasn’t something Donovan wanted to think about. His was a profession that allowed only a few good years, and punished the old and the waning with terrible swiftness and cruelty. Once a man was no longer in his prime, he became the hunted and not the hunter.

“Act of God,” Donovan finally said.

“God, yes,” Sheriff Keller said, “it’s always His fault when things go wrong.”

“Odd how that’s the only time He ever seems to show His face.”

The two men shared a bitter little chuckle. “Still,” Harrison said, “you’ve been on the trail a long time, eh? Almost fifteen years, half your life so far.”

“Yeah,” was all Donovan said, staring off into his grim memories. It had been fifteen years of lonely nights, painful slogs, and life-or-death battles, a trail of blood marking his progress across the country and back again.

“And yer good, Donovan. You know I’ve always held you in the highest esteem.”

“Yeah.”

“Let’s face it, you’ve been lucky, too. Every man needs a good bit of that just to get through the day, am I right?” Harrison chuckled, but Donovan did not. “But… like a gambler at the craps table, sometimes skill and luck just don’t hold out. It’s the smart man who knows when to walk away.”

“Yeah.”

There was little enough argument to make. It was a life Donovan was ready to leave behind. The years had taken their toll, aged him beyond his mere three decades, hardened him, robbed him of years of joy and happiness that other men seemed to find with pretty wives and lovely children.

Family, Donovan thought, and not for the first time, home.

“Can’t,” was all he could think to say.

Harrison sighed and poured Donovan’s glass full once again without waiting for permission. “Donovan, look, what happened to… to your old man, that was… that was rough. And to happen to such a young fella as you were, just fifteen.”

Donovan repeated, “What happened to him?” as if it were a question. “He was murdered, gunned down in cold blood. That’s what happened to him. And the man who did it walks free to this very day!”

“You don’t know that, Donovan. It’s been fifteen years; he could be dead by now. You know personally how hard it is to survive in this country, just in the Dakota Territory. And there’s no saying he’s anywhere near here, if he lives at all. You can’t keep crisscrossing the country looking for a needle in a haystack!”

“He won’t escape justice, Harrison.”

“No, he won’t,” the sheriff was quick to say. “That’s just what I’m saying. He won’t escape justice, Donovan. Somehow, in some way, he’ll get his. But you don’t have to be the one to mete it out, Donovan.”

Donovan didn’t answer, letting the truth of his friend’s words sink in. Harrison went on.

“You’re throwing your life away on this… this obsession, Donovan, and I don’t mean that in some figurative way. Your best years are going by. Maybe you’ve lived this way long enough?”

Donovan drank down the second shot of whiskey. It made his friend’s words seem all the more reasonable. But this was no time for decisions. He’d take a room for the night and enjoy the feeling of a bed beneath him, walls around him, a roof over his head. There was a saloon in town, where he could at least witness other people enjoying some human company and companionship. While Donovan was no stranger to such places, or to the pleasures they offered, those were not the pleasures he sought, nor the place he hungered to be.

But the flood of thoughts and emotions that poured through his brain and his body, his mind and his soul, was instant and powerful, too strong to resist. That same inundation had carried him away many times before, and it threatened to drown him altogether and wash him from the face of the Earth. What he thought of as his ultimate safe harbor, a goal that was good and decent and wholesome, worth pursuing, could yet be a graveyard disguised as a home, bony corpses disguised as family.

Donovan didn’t want to think about it. The dreams had finally ceased, and he was grateful for that. With the death of the dream had come the death of the nightmares.

He was exhausted in every sense. He needed rest, from word and thought and deed. He needed to lay down his guns, at least for a little while. Things would become clearer with some rest, he felt certain.

But what that clarity would reveal was still unknown.


“Vengeance at Great Cost” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Donovan Bradley has been a bounty hunter for half his life but now his only purpose is to avenge his father’s death. In his quest to find the killer, he comes across a young woman named Ygritte and her father, plagued by a mysterious band of marauders. When Ygritte is attacked, Donovan decides to dedicate himself to resolving the conflict and freeing the family. However, when a romance develops between him and Ygritte, her father will reveal other secret plans… As Donovan will try to discover the truth, all hell will break loose.

If only Donovan knew that he might pay the ultimate price for his craving for revenge…

Ygritte Gordon lives a lonely life with her overprotective and stern father on an isolated farm in the Dakota Territory. While she is desperate to leave this life behind, Donovan enters their world and she’s immediately taken by his wild charm. As feelings grow between them, Ygritte will quickly become caught in the escalating tension between the two men she loves the most.

A well-kept secret is about to be revealed…

While Donovan and Ygritte are trying to overcome the gathering storm of revenge and aggression around them, they will both come face to face with a different side of their fathers’ past. Haunted by his ghosts and hatred, will Donovan manage to find a resolution while battling the uneven fight with the truth that shakes his world? Will Ygritte and Donovan’s love win over vengeance?

“Vengeance at Great Cost” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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