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When Mason caught sight of the beautiful woman with honey-brown hair and violet eyes, he could think of only one thing...revenge. For three longs years during the War Between the States, he was forced to wait to learn who had murdered his brother. The wait was over. He would take everything from the man; his wealth, his power...his daughter.
Annabelle was getting as far away from Vulture City, Arizona and her step-father as she could, even if she had to marry the boring banker’s son to do it. On the morning she planned to elope, a handsome stranger shows up claiming her step-father lost her in a poker game and she was now his. She will fight him tooth and nail every step of the trail even as his punishments get harsher and more creative.
Ride Hard Series – Three Soldiers, One Single Purpose.
Three soldiers who don’t give a damn about the War Between the States or that they were on the losing side. All they care about is it’s over...they can finally seek their revenge.
Contains anal play, domestic discipline, and creative cowboy-style punishments.
Vulture City, Arizona
His only warning was a muffled feminine screech followed by the high-pitched sound of shattering glass. A large shiny object fell at his feet. Reaching down, Mason picked up the brush. It was sterling silver with an ornate floral patterned silver back and polished ivory handle.
There was the sound of a window sash being raised, then an indignant voice called out, “That is my brush!”
Mason raised gunmetal gray eyes to clash with irate cornflower blue ones.
Large blue eyes framed by a heart-shaped face with a pert little chin stared back. Her lush pink lips were topped by a small, round-tip nose. Thick ringlets of honey-brown hair fell unbound over her shoulders.
Tilting his Stetson back, to catch a better look, Mason drawled, “Not to be contrary, miss, but I believe it is now my brush. I did just find it here in the dust.”
Her pretty eyes flashed with anger as she pounded on the wooden window ledge with the heel of her hand. “I’m the one that threw it! It’s mine!”
Giving a low whistle as he twirled the brush by its smooth handle, Mason responded, “There again, miss. A thinkin man would say when a pretty lady throws a brush through a window, she no longer wants to possess it.”
The woman was leaning out the carelessly broken window of a massive three-story home with brightly painted wood and quarry stone. Its sheer size and purely ornamental garden in stark contrast to the clapboard, ramshackle cabins with their small, withered vegetable gardens lining Main Street and beyond. Only the bank and saloon could rival it in splendor. The mayor’s house…and this must be the mayor’s daughter.
Her comely looks were going to make his revenge that much sweeter.
“Listen, you gray back cow punch! I want my brush!”
He would also enjoy putting that naughty mouth of hers to better use.
Mason Weiser rolled his shoulders, adjusting the weight of the heavy leather saddlebags. Dressed in a navy, spun-wool shirt with leather vest and red bandanna. Buckskin California pants, hugging his waist and falling loosely over a scuffed pair of Cavalry boots and a thick black leather belt secured with a tarnished brass buckle emblazoned with a capital “CS”. He wasn’t exactly hiding the fact he was a cowboy making his way in the world after bearing the brunt of being on the losing side of the War Between the States. The holstered Colt 1860 Army revolver and coiled cow whip hung low on his belt let everyone know he wasn’t keen to talk about it.
At over six feet, there were few men who could look Mason in the eye, which suited him just fine. He preferred to keep folks at arm’s length. Unfortunately, the same could not be said of women of marriageable age…and some well beyond. Sharp handsome features, piercing gray eyes, coffee brown hair the wrong side of church-proper length and a scruffy jaw that had only had a passing acquaintance with a razor was a dog whistle to any woman looking to tame and civilize a man. Mason wasn’t interested. Give him a willing painted lady, a few coins and a decent shot of rotgut without too much turpentine and he was content. After what he lived through in the war, his expectations from life and society as a whole were low.
Until he received the letter.
The letter telling him his brother had been murdered.
Life took on a different, singular, intense purpose. Revenge.
“Do you know who my father is?” snapped the bit-o-honey from the window.
Mason lowered his head, shielding his expression.
“Why yes, miss, I do. Soon, he’ll know me,” he cryptically intoned before stashing her brush in his saddlebag. Ignoring her shriek of fury, Mason strolled the rough-hewed boards down Main Street towards the bathhouse. He had a plan to put into action.
Annabelle was so shocked at the rude stranger’s action she raised her shoulders to shout one last time at his retreating back. The motion caused her to crack her skull on the windowsill. The sudden shock of pain not improving her already foul mood. Pulling her body back into the safety of her bedroom, Annabelle gave a large shard of broken glass from the window a kick, sending it sliding across the polished wood floor before tangling with the thick fringe of her bedroom carpet.
Rubbing the back of her head, she stomped over to the small upholstered stool in front of her mirrored vanity. Sitting down with a humph, she stared at her reflection in the polished glass. The encounter with that outrageous cowboy had given her cheeks a high rosy glow. The soft pink contrasted nicely with her porcelain skin. She took care to never step a foot out of the house without a bonnet and parasol to preserve her milky-white complexion. Cocking her head at an angle, she admired how a stray sunbeam made her unique violet eyes sparkle and her pale tawny hair appear almost golden. Instinctively she reached for her brush, intending to brush the lush locks to a burnished gold. Clenching her fists in anger, she pounded on the small table. Damn that cowboy!
Annabelle didn’t really care about the brush. She would simply buy another but there was a problem. It was part of a mirror and comb set gifted to her by her step-father. Every one of the servants in the large household were his personal spies. Reporting on Annabelle’s every movement. Her fit of anger and loss of the brush would surely get back to him. Even if her own maid did not betray her, as she was wont to do, her step-father was bound to notice the jagged hole in one of the house’s front windows!
There was no point in concocting a lie. He knew why she was upset.
Ever since the death of her mother two years past, her step-father had increased his attentions towards Annabelle. At nineteen, she was well-past marriageable age and yet he had refused every offer she had received. The latest from the rather handsome and very rich banker’s son. This time he didn’t even bother to come up with an excuse. There wasn’t much he could say about her suitor’s respectable family and their wealth. Sure the son was a bit boring with the personality of old dishwater but that wasn’t his problem, it would be hers as his wife. Annabelle couldn’t give a fig about being entertained by a potential husband. She would have his money to buy pretty gowns and jewelry and her own personal coach to travel to bigger cities where they had fancy restaurants and theaters! Entertained by a husband, indeed!
Over breakfast this morning, her step-father had the audacity to hint at forcing her to become his wife. The very idea was outrageous! Even though they didn’t share blood, he had raised her since she was a little girl. They had never been close but that was far from the point. Surely it would be breaking one of God’s laws?
What sent a chill up her spine was he just may succeed with the awful plan. As the mayor and wealthiest resident of Vulture City, he practically owned the entire town. No one stood up to Jacob Waltze. His German ancestry made him a stubborn force to be reckoned with under any circumstance. She might not have a choice. Her step-father had all the money and power. She wasn’t like those frontier women she saw coming into town for supplies. Eking out a living in the wild territories. Having to make do with home-spun cloth and boiled soap!
Annabelle ran a hand down the bodice of her sapphire blue princess cut dress. Sweeping her hair into a loose chignon at the back of her neck, she held it in place with a pearl encrusted comb. No, she couldn’t possibly run away and risk winding up in some shack making her own food and being forced to wash in some creek. She would just have to come up with another plan.
Perhaps she could convince that dumb banker’s son to elope and run away to San Francisco?
Placing his hat over his still damp hair, Mason stepped into the dusty street. Having stowed his gear at a nearby boarding house, he enjoyed a quick scrub at the local bathhouse. Time to head to the saloon.
In the nearing dusk, it was easy to spot. A bright glow from the multiple chandeliers shone through the large windows. Since Vulture City was a prosperous gold boom town, the saloon matched Mason’s expectations; big, gaudy and loud.
Grimacing at the overpowering scent of attar of roses, unwashed bodies and stale liquor, Mason waived away the saloon girl who approached as he made his way to the large bar.
Unbuckling his holster, he wrapped the thick leather belt around his Colt before tossing it on the bar. Like most wild boom towns, Vulture City made you turn your gun in at the local saloon. It was the only way to keep the violence at bay. Mason couldn’t care less. He didn’t need his gun for this particular brand of revenge.
Taking in the expensive mirrors, oil paintings of half-naked women, expensive kerosene globe lamps and mahogany bar with brass fittings, Mason knew he might have a chance at getting a shot of actual whiskey. The town saloons had real money and reputations to worry about so they usually brought their liquor in from the East on the new railroad lines. It was the tented saloons of the backwater mining towns where you had to worry about them blending turpentine with some old tobacco and rotten wood and serving it up as whiskey.
“Bar-dog. Two shots of coffin varnish,” groused Mason as he threw a silver 50 cent coin on the bar.
Watching carefully as the bartender poured two generous shots from what looked like a reputable bottle, Mason grabbed the first glass and downed it. Palming the second, he turned to face the saloon patrons. The place was filled with the usual mix of misfits and respectable people. Landowners, cattle barons, fur trappers, cowboys, miners and of course the saloon girls peddling liquor and heavy card playing shoulder to shoulder with the prostitutes peddling their bodies.
He didn’t give a damn about any of them.
He set his sights on one man and one man only. Jacob Waltze. He was told the town’s mayor favored a long mustache and fancy silk vests shipped in from Paris. Waltze also favored a deep poker game. Mason smiled. He certainly hoped so. His plan depended on it.
He received the last letter from his brother John posted at a fort, ten miles from where he was standing. His brother had no interest in protecting the ideas of the South. John avoided the conflict by heading west. Like many before him, he sought adventure and a quick path to riches. In the letter, John said he was close to striking gold with his new partner and urged Mason to come to Arizona. At the time, Mason was in the middle of forcing back McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign against the South. Entrenched side by side with General Johnston preparing for a siege on Yorktown, he couldn’t leave his post or his men. Besides, it wasn’t the first time John had written predicting riches.
Mason just wished he had known it would be the last. The next letter he received was from a doc, telling of John’s death.
After three long years, the war finally ended. Mason retired his commission and headed for Arizona after a short detour running cattle up the Chisolm trail from Texas to Abilene for some ready money. With his pockets full, Mason traveled to the Superstition Mountains, determined to find his brother’s killer.
First, he tracked down the doc who tended to John’s wounds and sent him the letter. Seems John had been found face down near Hackberry Spring. Near dead from a gunshot wound. Doc Walker did all he could but it was no use. The good doctor found a letter from Mason tucked inside John’s bedroll, along with a photo of their mother and a lock of hair from a younger brother who died of consumption when they were lads. John’s real treasures. A peaceful, god-fearing man, the Doc tried to caution Mason against seeking revenge. It did no good. His path was set.
Mason learned the name of John’s gold mining partner, a man named Jacob Waltze. Although back when John knew him, Waltze was called the Dutchman. It was a bastardization of deutsch. A nod to Waltze’s thick German accent. Seems Waltze had a struck of good luck in the weeks following John’s death. Showing up in Vulture City with enough gold to choke a horse. Like many miners, he refused to reveal the location of his mine but no one doubted the gold ore vein Waltze found was deep and long.
Jacob Waltze quickly turned the backward little trade-stop into the prosperous town Vulture City. Waltze’s luck continued when he married a beautiful widow and took in her even more beautiful young daughter. From what Mason had learned the man was not only now mayor of the town but it’s richest, most influential citizen and he wielded his power like a hammer.
Carefully tracking his brother’s last steps, Mason knew beyond a shadow of a doubt Waltze murdered his brother and Mason was going to make him suffer.
Unfortunately with civilization came the law. Vulture City was infamous for hanging its criminals from the Ironwood tree in the center of town for the slightest infraction. Besides, Mason didn’t want to murder the man…that would be too quick. He wanted to break the man. Take away his fortune both in gold and flesh.
From what he had learned, Waltze had two weaknesses. The first was gambling. He fancied himself quite the high-stakes gamer. The second was an almost obsessive interest in his now grown step-daughter, Annabelle, the all horns and rattles’ beauty he encountered earlier, Mason was sure of it.
No, killin was too good for the man.
Mason was going to ruin his daughter.
He sauntered over to the poker tables and put his plan into action.
“Somebody shut that whore up!” shouted Jacob Waltze. “A man can’t think with all that caterwauling!”
The saloon girl with garish red hair who had been belting out a tortured version of “Shenandoah” harrumphed and stormed off the stage. The only sound now was the murmuring of the crowd and the occasional clink of glasses. All eyes were on the back poker table.
Mason watched in disgust as Waltze’s pale thin hand swiped at the sweat running down his brow. It was hard to stomach. This sallow, bony excuse for a man killed his brother. John was as tall as Mason and just as brawny with a quick eye and quicker hand with a gun. Of course, Waltze didn’t take John on man to man. No. He was a cold-booted, son of a bitch who shot John in the back. Mason didn’t need his six shooter stowed behind the bar. He could snap Waltze’s neck with one hand. Signaling to the saloon girl hovering nearby for another shot of whiskey, Mason tried to cool his heated thoughts. He had no intention of getting his neck stretched for this pathetic piece of crow bait. No, he was going to ruin the man’s life…bit by bit.
Mason had already found the Dutchman’s secret gold mine. It had taken close to a year. Following the clues in John’s last letter, he searched under every boulder and around every cottonwood tree for the mine marker’s John left. He finally found it not far from the First Water trail head deep in the wilds of Superstition Mountain.
It was obvious Waltze had mined the ore himself over the years to avoid detection. Mason found a large arrastre, used for solitary mining. Evidence the rough wooden beam and flat stones used for crushing the rocks to get to the gold ore had been replaced for wear more than once lied strewn about the makeshift camp.
Mason wasted no time.
Placing several sticks of dynamite in the already mined gaps of the rock face, he blew the whole fucking mine to kingdom come. Waltze’s fortune was turned to gold dust, swept away on the wind with the tumbleweeds.
Now Mason sat across from Waltze, putting the second half of his plan into action. Although Waltze didn’t know it, his fortune was gone. Now Mason would take his reputation…and his precious daughter.
Despite his elevated status in the town, Waltze was not well liked. He was mean and crude. Not to mention the long-standing rumor he had shot a man in cold blood to gain access to the secret gold mine that made him so rich. So you would think people of the town would be happy to see him upset and nervous as he faced off with the handsome stranger across the poker table. They weren’t. The stakes were too high. Waltze had crossed a line in their minds.
An hour earlier, the tall stranger of few words had joined in on Waltze’s nightly game. Slowly and methodically, the stranger fleeced each man at the table of all their gold nuggets till it was just him and Mayor Waltze.
“I think I’m finished for the night,” said Mason, as he pushed his chair back to rise. The click of a revolver stopped him. Waltze was pointing a six shooter at his chest.
“You’re done when I say you’re done, stranger,” sneered Waltze. “No man takes a fortune off me and walks away. We are going to keep playing till I get all my gold back.”
Mason hid a smile, that was precisely what he wanted to hear. He wanted the town to witness it was Waltze who pushed the stakes higher and higher. It lowered the chance Mason would have a posse on his heals when he left town with the man’s daughter slung over the back of his horse. People being people, they were more likely to blame and tarnish Waltze’s reputation for treating his daughter like a poker chip in the first place than the man who won her.
Hand after hand, Waltze became more agitated and the more agitated he became the greater risk he took, which brought them to this moment.
Mason placed all his chips in the center of the table. “I raise you the lot, Waltze. Call or fold.”
Waltze took out a frilly lace-edged handkerchief and mopped his brow. His riches did not buy intelligence. He was a vain, arrogant man who never backed down from a fight.
Looking down at his smaller pile, he prevaricated. “Look here, I don’t have enough to cover at this moment but any one of these people could vouch I’m good for the debt.”
“Here and now or fold,” growled Mason.
“Look here you bastard! I tell you I’m good for it.”
Mason leaned in close. “Here and now or fold.”
Waltze looked down at his hand, four kings. He could not lose. Wanting badly to teach this smug stranger not to try and best him in his own town, Waltze looked about the room. “Empty your pockets, I need some ready. Come on now…you know I’m good for it!”
“Nothing doing, Mayor. He cleaned us out.” Spoke up one wiry fellow who had been knocked out of the game early.
“I may be interested in something beyond gold,” observed Mason carefully. This was his only chance. If Waltze didn’t take the bait, he would simply kidnap the girl but it would be far sweeter if Waltze was the one responsible for her disgrace.
“Well, what is it?” asked an impatient Waltze.
The crowd gave out a collected gasp. The poker table now had everyone’s undivided attention. Even in a rowdy mining town like Vulture City, a man did not discuss the decent woman folk in a saloon and you certainly never dared mentioned Annabelle in the mayor’s presence.
“What did you say?”
“You heard me. I want your daughter for one full week,” smirked Mason, his shocking intent clear.
“That’s scandalous!” shouted someone in the crowd.
“Run the son of a bitch out of town!” shouted another.
“String him up on ol’ Ironwood!” yelled a third.
Waltze held up his hand for silence. He once more looked down at his hand. Four Kings. Four Kings! He could not lose. He would take all the stranger’s gold, which was considerable, and not risk a single nugget more of his own.
“You’re on,” sneered Waltze. “I call.” The townspeople were stunned. Apparently, they had forgotten. The only thing Jacob Waltze coveted more than his step-daughter…was gold.
Waltze triumphantly flipped over his four kings. He was so busy pulling all the chips into his greedy embrace, he did not see the stranger, slowly and methodically, flip over a queen, a jack, a ten, a nine and an eight…a straight flush, a winning hand.
Someone whispered in awe, “He cleaned out the mayor…even got his damn daughter.”
Another whistled low, “Didn’t leave him with so much as a tail-feather.”
The scrape of Mason’s chair resonated across the dumbfounded saloon.
“I will be by to collect my winnings…Dutchman,” Mason growled. Walking away from the table, he didn’t even bother to collect the small fortune in chips now trickling from Waltze’s limp hand. He retrieved his gun and stepped out into the cool early morning air.
It was only after Mason left the saloon, Waltze reacted to his words. Dutchman! The mine!