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Authors: Patricia; Potter

Diablo

BOOK: Diablo
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PRAISE FOR THE WRITING OF PATRICIA POTTER

“Patricia Potter is a master storyteller, a powerful weaver of romantic tales.” —Mary Jo Putney,
New York Times
–bestselling author

“One of the romance genre's finest talents.” —
Romantic Times

“Patricia Potter will thrill lovers of the suspense genre as well as those who enjoy a good romance.”
—Booklist

“Potter proves herself a gifted writer as artisan, creating a rich fabric of strong characters whose wit and intellect will enthrall even as their adventures entertain.” —
BookPage

“When a historical romance [gets] the Potter treatment, the story line is pure action and excitement, and the characters are wonderful.”
—BookBrowse

“Potter has an expert ability to invest in fully realized characters and a strong sense of place without losing momentum in the details, making this novel a pure pleasure.” —
Publishers Weekly
, starred review of
Beloved Warrior

“[Potter] proves that she's adept at penning both enthralling historicals and captivating contemporary novels.”
—Booklist
, starred review of
Dancing with a Rogue

Diablo

Patricia Potter

Chapter One

Texas, 1867

It was not so much the prospect of dying as the way in which he would die in two days that kept Kane O'Brien awake.

The cell was small and stifling in the July heat. The sun baked the prison during the day with smothering intensity, permeating the rock and stone and iron so that its disappearance at night did little to cool the interior. Kane had taken off his sweat-soaked shirt. That gave insignificant relief, but at least it no longer clung to his body.

Maybe dying wouldn't be so bad, even at the end of a rope.

The walls closed in on him. He'd never wanted to see the inside of a prison again, not after the year he spent in a Union prison camp. His hand went to his cheek, to the scar running down the side of his face. A devil's face, one of his enemies had called it. Diablo.

And Diablo he had become.

He sat on the stone slab they called a bed, facing an iron door fixed into a wall of stone. Only a minimum of light crept inside. David Carson was somewhere within this cellblock. Davy, his best friend for the past twenty-five years, was to die with him. That's what Kane regretted the most—that his own anger and impulsiveness were leading not only to his own death, but to Davy's. It was damned unfair. Still, they'd given the bastards a good chase.

He paced the small cell, wishing for a breath of sweet air, but the cells for the condemned were underground.

Condemned! It was ironic that he'd survived four years of war to die this way. The trial had been short, the verdict a foregone conclusion. Even he couldn't deny his guilt, some of it, anyway.

Footsteps echoed in the corridor. It wasn't time yet for the slop they called food. Kane took the few steps to the cell door, peering out of the small grated opening. He couldn't see much, but the sound of boots and spurs against the rock floors grew louder.

Momentary hope surfaced as he made out a tall figure, a marshal's badge pinned on the leather vest he was wearing. He stepped back, unwilling to allow anyone, much less his enemies, to see his fear and anxiety.

A key grated harshly in the door, the sound of metal against metal echoing in the corridor. Then the door was pushed open, and the man entered, limping slightly. He was tall, rangy, and just a touch familiar. Kane studied him, insolently, as the law officer did the same to him. The visitor's gaze was sharp, his eyes missing little. For a moment he focused on the scar distinguishing Kane's face.

“Captain O'Brien,” the man finally said.

Kane bowed mockingly. “I haven't been a captain for a long time. I am, though, at your service, but not particularly from choice.”

The lawman smiled slightly. “You don't remember me. Well, there's no particular reason you should. I, on the other hand, have a very good reason to remember you.”

Kane was intrigued despite himself. There was no anger in the man's voice or expression, only interest. The marshal turned around and with a gesture of his head dismissed the guard.

The key turned again. Kane was once more locked in, but this time he had a hostage. Too bad the marshal didn't have a gun in his holster.

“Don't even think about it, O'Brien,” the visitor said. “They have orders. They won't let you go, even if you threaten my life, and I think I'm probably in better shape right now than you.”

Kane shrugged. “They can't kill me twice. I wouldn't mind taking another Yank with me.”

“Even one whose life you saved three years ago?” The question came unexpectedly, and was uttered with little feeling.

Kane's eyes narrowed as he studied the officer more closely. “If I saved a Yank's life, it was a mistake.”

“It probably was—for you. You were taken prisoner because of it,” the marshal said, forcing Kane to remember.

It came back in flashes. The wounded man in blue calling for water—a captain, his face bearded, his light-colored hair dark with blood. As hardened to battle, to cries and screams, as Kane had been, something that day had stopped him, made him pause and look back. Some of his men lay in that killing field, too, but they were still.

As he watched the rest of his troop disappear into the woods ahead, he retraced his steps. He took his canteen from his belt, helped the Yank drink, and then tied a tourniquet around his leg. He turned to leave, and suddenly he'd been surrounded.

It had been the most damn fool thing he'd done during the war, and it had cost him a year of his life, a year of freezing cold and near starvation. He hadn't really hated until then, but he hated after that. He'd experienced cruelty for cruelty's sake. There had been no honor, no humanity, in the prison at Elmira.

“You shouldn't have reminded me,” he told the marshal. “Unless, of course, you're here to return the favor.”

“I wish I could,” the lawman said. He held out his hand. “Ben Masters.”

Kane refused it. “I suppose there's a reason for this visit?”

Masters looked at his outstretched hand, then dropped it. He seemed to take no particular offense, though. “There is. I can't save you myself, but others can. I have a proposition for you.”

A thread of hope stirred within Kane. He tried not to show it. “What kind of proposition?” Suspicion hardened his voice.

“Have you ever heard of the Sanctuary?”

“No,” Kane said. “But it sounds like a good place at the moment.”

“A lot of outlaws think so.” Masters hesitated. “It's a hideout. Expensive. Well-protected. Lawmen in four territories have been trying to find it for years.” He paused. “Your … reputation might get you inside.”

“To spy for you?” Kane's mind was racing ahead. The law must be desperate to take a chance with him. He'd been wanted for two years. At one time, he thought the whole U.S. Army was after him. The fact that they were ready to use him explained real well how much they wanted Sanctuary.

Masters must have heard the derision in his voice. His mouth grew grim. “Yes.”

“And what do I get in return?”

“You get us a location, and we find the hideout, you'll have a pardon.”

Kane turned away from him. “Go to hell. I don't like spies. I don't like your government.”

“You'd rather hang?”

“Than to spy for you against my own kind? Yes.”

“What about your friend?”

Kane turned around slowly. He stared at Masters. He tried to keep his face from revealing anything. “Davy goes too? Have you talked to him?”

“No,” Masters replied. “He stays here. But if you do the job, he won't hang.”

“That's not good enough,” Kane said. “A pardon. A full pardon for him?”

Masters shook his head. “I can't guarantee that. Just that he won't hang. It took all my persuasion to get the governor to agree to pardon you.”

“Why me?”

“You have a reputation no one can question. We can't manufacture that kind of past.”

Kane hadn't survived the war and two years as an outlaw without sensing danger. “How many men have you sent looking for this place?”

Masters considered his answer long enough for Kane's instincts to go on alert. “Two,” the lawman finally said.

“How many came back?”

“Neither.”

“Trying to save Texas the hangman's fee?”

“I would think a bullet would be preferable to a rope.” For the first time, Masters's gaze left Kane's and seemed to focus on a particular rock in the wall.

“Where is this place? Texas?”

“That's the hell of it. It could be in any of four jurisdictions—Indian Territory, Colorado Territory, Texas, New Mexico. Outlaws just seem to disappear when lawmen start to close in. We keep hearing rumors about this place, but no one has any idea where it is. My territory is southern Colorado, but we're cooperating with Texas and the marshals in the Indian and New Mexico territories.” Masters's gaze now bored into Kane. “When I heard about Diablo, that Kane O'Brien was Diablo and that you had been condemned, I suggested a deal. Texas authorities were reluctant, but—”

“I bet they were,” Kane interrupted.

Masters ignored him. “I thought you might be willing to make a trade.”

“You thought wrong. You're asking me to betray my own kind to save my skin.”

“Those
kind wouldn't have stopped to save an enemy soldier,” Masters pointed out.

“A grand moment of idiocy,” Kane said bitterly. “It cost me a year of life. It's a mistake I won't make again. You sure as hell weren't worth it.” He allowed a second to go by, then muttered in disgust, “A lawman, by God.”

BOOK: Diablo
5.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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