Once A Gunslinger
When Tristan Kane chose to fight for the Confederacy, he never dreamed he’
d face his twin brother on the battlefield, or that his brother would die by his
hand. Haunted by guilt and grief, he leaves the girl he loves behind and
travels west to make his living with his guns.

But when he meets Savannah McKenzie again, a decade later, she sees past
the hardened gunslinger he’s become, remembering the tender young man
she fell in love with. Will her secrets give him the hope he needs, or destroy
him forever?
Excerpt - Chapter One
Summer, 1871 - Colorado Territory

Tristan Kane hated to kill a man before breakfast. It ruined the whole damned day.

The first tendrils of daylight were streaking across the eastern horizon when he strode out the front door of the seedy
hotel where he’d spent the night. Despite the early hour, a crowd had gathered along the wide, dusty street that ran
through the center of town.

Tristan let his gaze drift over the ragged group of cowboys and shopkeepers, willing them to feel his contempt. Christ,
didn’t they have anything better to do at this time of day than watch him put another unwanted notch on his gun?

A duel at dawn. He’d never been involved in anything so ridiculous, unless he counted the war. He was a gun for hire,
not a dime novel villain. Why had he agreed to this?

Last night’s lunacy could only be attributed to an overabundance of whiskey and rage. The last thing he needed was
another ghost to haunt him.

“Kane.” The crowd parted and Johnny Muldoon stepped off the wooden boardwalk in front of the elaborate, false-
fronted mercantile. “I’m surprised you decided to show.”

Tristan sighed, then inhaled the clean, crisp scent of pine, borne on a cool breeze from the wooded slopes behind him.
He’d played out this scene before, in countless dusty Kansas railway towns, but for some reason he’d thought things
would be different in Colorado. He’d hoped to outrun his reputation, escape the scent of death that clung to him like the
dark clothes he wore.

He should have known it would take more than a change of scenery.

“Surprised?” Tristan questioned. “I’d say you’re scared shitless.”

The crowd tittered. Johnny’s face blanched parchment white, making his freckles more prominent. “You’re talking to the
man who’s going to send you to hell, Kane. You’d best mind your manners.”

“Man?” Tristan taunted. “All I see is a scared little boy.” Johnny was perhaps twenty years old, but looked even younger.
The kid wanted to make a name for himself, but beneath the bravado his terror was obvious. He still feared death, which
was why it would be so easy for Tristan to kill him.

The man who won a gunfight was usually the one who didn’t give a damn whether he lived or died.

“I ain’t afraid of you.” Johnny’s voice held steady, but his gaze veered left, to a dark-haired girl on the sidelines. Tears
streaked her pale face, and her mouth moved soundlessly, as though she chanted a prayer.

Was she his wife? His sweetheart? He cursed beneath his breath, wishing he hadn’t seen her. How could he gun this
boy down while the woman who loved him watched?

He let his attention slide from his opponent to the tidy shop fronts and well-kept homes lining the quiet, dusty street. He’d
give anything to belong here, to have a chance at the kind of peaceful, everyday life the war had stolen from him, the
kind of life these people took for granted.

But Johnny had proven that was never going to happen. It didn’t matter how fast or how far he ran, he could never
shake his past.

Perhaps I should let the kid win.

The thought took hold and tumbled through his mind. All he had to do was let that moment, the one when he knew the
kid was going to draw, pass by. Then it would be over. At last his nightmarish existence would end.

Could he do it? Did he have the guts?

He’d come to Colorado to find his brother’s best friend, Joel McKenzie. Joel was a doctor and had been with Michael until
the end. He’d planned to ask Joel about Michael’s last few moments of life, desperate to know if his brother had forgiven
him, but maybe he wasn’t ready. He didn’t want to know. Not really.

He walked out into the middle of the street, letting his hand fall away from his gun. “Go ahead, Johnny. Let’s see how
brave you are.”

It would have been so simple. Johnny’s face was easier to read than a grade school primer. He saw the moment of
resolution, knew the exact second Johnny decided to kill him.

His hand twitched reflexively, but he didn’t go for his weapon. Instead, he waited for death to take him.

The bullet whined by, missing him by several feet.

Shit. Disbelief rose in his throat, choking him. Nothing in his life had ever gone the way it was supposed to. Why had he
expected this to be any different?

He unbuckled his gun belt and threw it on the ground, advancing menacingly on his opponent. “Do it,” he snarled. “You
want to be a hero. You want to be the one to take me down. So what are you waiting for? Shoot me!”

Johnny shook his head and stumbled backward in an attempt to escape.

“Coward.” Tristan turned away in disgust and headed back toward the hotel. It had been a long time since he’d been this
ashamed of himself. His life was in shambles, but he didn’t want it to end this way. He didn’t want to die like a dog,
gunned down in the middle of the street.

He’d only taken half a dozen steps when something slammed into his back. The force of it drove him to his knees. He
blinked in confusion, unsure what had happened until he heard Johnny’s triumphant shout.

“I did it. I killed Kane.”

Funny. He’d never taken the kid for a back shooter.

The murmur of shock that rippled through the crowd seemed to come from very far away. He crumpled forward but,
before darkness could claim him, his gaze locked upon a familiar face.

Joel, he thought numbly. He’d finally found Joel.

                                                                            * * * * *

Joel McKenzie wasn’t in the habit of watching men gun each other down in the streets, but today he’d stood frozen on
the sidelines, watching as a ghost from his past attempted to commit suicide.

Tristan Kane.

Of course it was Tristan. It had to be Tristan. But for one heart-stopping moment he’d thought it was Michael.

The shock had kept him from stepping forward, and now Tristan lay broken and bleeding on the ground.

“Do something, Uncle Joel. You’ve got to help him.” Joel’s young nephew, Billy, looked at him imploringly, horror
widening his big, blue eyes.

Joel bit back a curse, wishing Billy wasn’t here to see this. Would he make the connection between this man and his
father who had died so long ago? “Go get my bag. It’s under the seat in the wagon. And find your Uncle Ian. We’ll need
his help.”

“Yeah, sure.” Billy backed away, his gaze glued to Tristan’s inert form, then finally turned and ran.

Pushing through the stunned crowd, Joel knelt in the dirt beside the man who had been his friend since their childhood
in Maryland. A thready pulse beat in Tristan’s throat, and he breathed a sigh of relief.

Tristan wasn’t dead. Not yet, anyway.

The crowd pressed in, their initial shock at Tristan’s insane behavior giving way to morbid curiosity. Joel glanced up
distractedly. “Give me some room here.”

They moved back a few steps, but not nearly enough. He hadn’t practiced medicine in quite some time, and he didn’t
want an audience. Especially now, with this patient.

He eased Tristan onto his side, cursing when he saw the widening crimson pool beneath him. A quick examination
assured him the bullet had lodged in Tristan’s right shoulder. It probably hadn’t hit anything vital, but he was losing far
too much blood.

“Will he live?” Sheriff Patrick Keegan poked Tristan’s inert body with the toe of one expensive black boot. “I don’t want
him bleeding all over my jail.”

Joel glared until Keegan removed the offending foot. “I don’t know if he’ll live, Sheriff. But you’re not taking him to jail. He’
s not wanted for anything.”

Keegan set his jaw in an angry line and tilted the brim of his hat so it threw his wolfish face into shadow. “How the hell
would you know?”

“I’ve kept track. He’s a friend of mine.” Joel glared at the town’s only lawman. He’d never liked the self-righteous son of a

“Oh really, doc?” Keegan gave a mocking smile. “How many other gunfighters do you count among your friends?”

“Just this one,” Joel replied, refusing to be baited. “I’m taking him home with me. If you need him for anything, that’s
where he’ll be.”

Billy returned with Joel’s long unused black medical bag, interrupting the battle of wills. Joel also noticed his older
brother, Ian, pushing through the crowd from the opposite direction. Relieved to have his brother at his side, Joel turned
his back on the sheriff and concentrated on stopping the flow of blood oozing from Tristan’s shoulder.

“Damn you, Tristan,” he whispered. But he knew he was too late. Tristan Kane had been damned a long time ago.

Copyright © 2007 | Cobblestone Press, LLC™