Authors: Leigh Curtis
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
The Hanging Bride
This book is dedicated to my mother, Wanda Curtis. It was she who taught me to read and then made it her mission to make sure that I always had access to great books. A fan of the 1960s Gothic romances
as well as any murder mystery she could get her hands on, she made i
t possible for this small town, Midwestern girl to have
that only a good novel can supply
It thrilled me to no end when
she told me that this book was her favorite of all my novels.
hanks Mom. I love you and miss you every day.
Whispering Pines, South Dakota September, 1893
"I'm going to kill you, Jared Greene."
The noise of the saloon evaporated to stone silence. Through the thick haze of lamplight and tobacco smoke, Cole
held his pistol steady. The two men who'd been playing cards with Greene exchanged quick, nervous glances. In an instant, they pushed away from the table, clearing out of the line of fire.
"That a fact?" Greene carefully set his cards on the table. Slowly, he pushed the chair back and, standing up, faced Cole eye to eye.
Tense seconds passed while the two stared at each other. Cole had memorized this face
the wide brow and single jagged scar that ran the length of the man's right cheek and disappeared into his pale, blond whiskers.
"You can try, sodbuster." A lazy smile spread across Greene's face.
"I'll do more than try." Cole said in a low voice.
The hushed silence of the room exploded with the sounds of scraping chairs and feet scurrying across the hardwood floor as the patrons ran to the relative safety of the street outside. Only a few brave souls dared to watch, their face pressed against the saloon's grimy
"Let me tell you what's about to happen, sodbuster," Greene said in an oily tone. "You're
reach for that iron on your hip and, before you can touch your hand to the trigger, I'll be holding my Colt and
' you full of lead."
"Just like you did six months ago, in Illinois?"
Greene's eyes narrowed, and he drew in a sharp breath. "Well, I'll be damned. You're that fella from the camp we raided. I thought you was dead."
"I stayed alive for only one purpose--to send you to hell where you belong."
Greene shrugged. "You think so? You can try, but even if you did, you wouldn't walk away from here alive. My Pa's a Texas Ranger. He'll hunt your sorry ass to the very ends of the earth." Greene leaned forward, leering.
"If you want to keep from dancing on the end of a rope, you'd best put that gun down and just walk away. Seems to me, you were one lucky son of a bitch to escape dying the first time I shot you."
"You should have made sure I was dead when you had the chance."
Greene laughed and suddenly sprang forward. Throwing his fist in a wide arc, he connected with Cole's jaw. Cole retaliated with his own sharp punch, catching Greene in the abdomen. The outlaw grabbed Cole's shirtfront, pulling him sideways.
Furniture crashed as they plowed through the chairs and tables. Half-empty glasses flew to the floor, shattering and raining stale beer and whisky. Cole managed three quick punches, dazing his opponent for a few seconds. Greene staggered backwards, nearly falling as he lurched sideways. The man's sharp blue stare cut right through Cole. It was the expression of a wild animal about to devour its prey.
Throwing himself forward, Greene knocked Cole into the bar. He attempted to twist out of the way, but the gunfighter used his weight to knock them off balance. Cole fell backwards and sprawled across the sawdust floor with his opponent landing on top of him. Greene wasted no time in pulling his gun from his holster. He slammed the butt against Cole's jaw.
Dazed only for a second, Cole twisted sideways and, in a moment, was back on his feet. Greene was just as fast. He, too, gained his stance and pressed forward. In seconds, the gunfighter held his peacemaker high and steady, the barrel only inches from Cole's face.
"You just won't stay down, will
, boy?" He cocked the pistol.
Cole didn't answer, but leapt at his opponent. Crashing into Greene, they both fell and in the process, trapped the Colt .45 between them. The men struggled, rolling right and then left, with Cole barely managing to stay on top.
Suddenly the room split with the crack of a gunshot. Both men froze, neither one even daring to breathe. When Cole pulled back, he looked down.
His shirt was covered with blood.
Drawing a shaky breath, he scooted away from his opponent. Cole swallowed, vaguely registering the taste of saliva mixed with blood. He couldn't help staring at the gunfighter.
The man he'd chased over half the country for the last six months now lay unmoving in a growing pool of blood. Jared Greene was finally dead. In his chest was a wound the size of a fist.
Cole breathed in deeply. He didn't take his eyes off Greene for several seconds and didn't hear the people entering the saloon behind him.
"Come on, son," A gruff voice broke into his reverie. Looking up, Cole saw a man leaning over him, and the barrel of a rifle held firmly, inches from his face. The lamplight glinted off the tin star on the sheriff's shirt.
"You want to tell me what happened?"
"I killed him," Cole said.
"That's it? You've got no other explanation?"
Cole didn't answer, returning his gaze to the still form lying
him. The other man sighed.
"Until I know what went on here, I'm placing you under arrest." Cole didn't argue, barely noticing when the sheriff pulled him away from the dead man.
"I killed him, that's all there is to it," he said one final time,
gaze dropping to the floor.
There simply wasn't anything else to say.
"You know you got a fever, son?"
Cole blinked twice and focused in the dim light of the jail cell. Turning on the narrow cot, he looked into the face of a middle aged, balding man.
"Who are you?" Cole asked.
Evans, I'm the doctor in these parts. How you feeling?"
Cole closed his eyes for a second. "Tired."
"When was the last time you slept?"
"I don't remember. A few days ago, I guess. The last town I
in was Deadwood."
"Really? That's about a six-day hard ride from here. Have
eaten since then?"
"I ate some trail jerky along the way."
"You're as thin as a rail and dehydrated to boot. I'm
the Sheriff to make sure he gets some food and water in you."
"I'm not hungry."
"Of course, it's up to you. Nobody can say we tried to starve you. You having any pain?"
Evans gently touched Cole's face, examining his jaw where Greene had struck him with the pistol. Cole winced and pulled away.
"That's a nasty cut you've got there. It doesn't look like your jaw is broken. I imagine it'll be hard chewing for a while. Maybe you should just stick to broth for now. I'll send over something for pain."
"Don't bother. I doubt I'll be here that long." Cole closed his eyes.
"Really? You going somewhere?"
"Only where most men go that commit murder. I bet they're putting up the hanging tree right now."
Evans shook his head. "This isn't the
. You're set to go before the judge in the morning. You'll get a fair trial."
Cole peered up at the man as he exited the cell. "It's not like it'll make a difference," he muttered.
"Let's go son," the sheriff pushed Cole forward into the
building where he'd vanquished his last enemy the night before.
Cole grimaced when he saw where his trial was to be held. The saloon now served as a courtroom.
The uneven hardwood floor had been cleared; the tables stacked against the far wall. Every chair in the place was full, and lines of people were spilling out into the street. Faces were pushed against the front window as the curious onlookers pinched together to watch the proceedings.
"This court will come to order, Judge J.A. Cummings, presiding," the clerk called out.
Cole carefully sized up the lawman. A tall, lean man of middle age, he wore stern, black robes and sat straight back in his chair. Silver hair topped his head, and his eyes were a penetrating blue of a clear afternoon. Clean-shaven, he wore a curious expression as he met Cole's stare eye to eye.
Instantly, the roar of the room quieted to a gentle hum, and then silence as every face turned toward him.
"Go on, Howard, start this thing up." The judge ordered.
The attorney, a short, stout man, Howard Clements, stood up, clearing his throat before beginning.
, the third, is brought before this court on the charge of murder in the first degree."
Judge sat back, crossing his arms. "How does he plead?"
answered. The room fell into a hush around them.
"Son," Judge asked, "Are you sure about that?"
"Yes." Cole didn't flinch when the Judge gave him a tight, suspicious expression.
Cummings directed his question to the attorney, but never once took his eyes off of Cole.
"Who stands as this man's defense?"
"No one, your honor. Mr.
has waived his right to legal representation," Clements shuffled a stack of papers on the table before him.