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CHAPTER ONE


Texas 1870

Peaceful, Texas was the last place on earth Jake Gallagher wanted to be.

The hot, still air of the cantina hung heavy with smoke, the stench of stale tobacco and beer mingling unpleasantly with unwashed bodies. He fingered the damp bandanna at his throat, then tugged his hat lower over his eyes and sank into his chair. A swig of flat, lukewarm beer did little to wash away the taste of trail dust.

Seated in a shadowed corner beneath the stairs, Jake had a good view of the cantina. With his back to the wall and the rear exit close at hand, he held himself apart from the poker game at the next table. Despite his relaxed appearance, his whole body thrummed with the tension in the room.

The men, a mean, hungry-looking bunch, appeared ready to raise hell. Wisely, the cantina's few other patrons and the barkeep quickly found reason to be elsewhere, all but himself and one other man, an easterner by the look of him.

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