Authors: Justine Dare Justine Davis
Table of Contents
Heart of the Hawk
Book Two of The Hawk Trilogy
Bell Bridge Books
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons (living or dead), events or locations is entirely coincidental.
Bell Bridge Books
PO BOX 300921
Memphis, TN 38130
Ebook ISBN: 978-1-61194-619-2
Print ISBN: 978-1-61194-621-5
Bell Bridge Books is an Imprint of BelleBooks, Inc.
Copyright © 1996 by Janice Davis Smith
Published in the United States of America.
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.
Mass Market edition published 1996 by Topaz, an imprint of Dutton Signet, a division of Penguin Books USA Inc.
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
For Hal again,
this time for the Gunbiter Song.
You take your inspiration where you find it.
Wyoming Territory, 1878
HE WISHED THEY’D just hang him and get it over with.
Joshua Hawk paced the small cell, rubbing a hand over his unshaven jaw. He stopped at the barred window, looking out at the structure silhouetted by the full moon. For an instant, just a fraction of a moment, he felt a pang of regret, mixed oddly with gratitude. Gratitude that Gramps wasn’t alive to see how the last of the Hawks was going to end.
He stared at the gallows, hoping the hangman they were waiting for was damned good at his job; he didn’t relish the idea of doing a death dance for the fine people of Gambler’s Notch. And all the others who would no doubt make the trek to this godforsaken place once they learned who was going to be hanged. Gambler’s Notch was a stage stop, and if word got out that they were going to hang The Hawk, and given enough time, they’d turn it into a damned party. All the more reason to wish the executioner would get here in a hurry.
Afterward, when they would no doubt display him like some kind of freak, he’d be too dead to care. Not that he liked thinking about it now, just as he hadn’t liked thinking about it when Charlie Curry had died in that fray down in Sweetwater last year. His bullet-riddled body had been displayed in a store window for days after his death, and folks had come for miles to pay a nickel for a peek at the famous gunfighter.
Probably would have kept him there for weeks, if it hadn’t been summer so they couldn’t get enough ice to keep him from smelling up the place,
Josh thought grimly.
He walked away from the window and its ominous view, and sat down on the edge of the narrow iron cot that was a foot too short for his six-foot-four length. No, he amended silently, rubbing at eyes gritty from lack of sleep; the only godforsaken thing in this town was him. And it was his own damned fault. He’d only come here because he’d run out of supplies, and the diet of rabbit and questionable greens—and the lack of coffee—had begun to weary him. So he’d suspended his profitless contemplation of his life and come down out of the mountains he’d been holed up in for nearly a month.
“Hell of a price to pay for a cup of coffee,” he muttered to himself.
He stared at the uneven plank floor beneath his sock-clad feet. No doubt his boots would get sold to the highest bidder after he was dead, someone who would get some gruesome pleasure out of wearing them. And maybe talking about it to men gathered in a smoky saloon. “Sure’s I’m standin’ here, these’re The Hawk’s boots. Got ’em right after they hung him over in Gambler’s Notch.”
Grimacing, he stretched out on the cot, his feet dangling over the end. It was a sad state of affairs, he supposed, that he really had so few matters to put in order. All he’d asked for was a promise from the town marshal that his horse and saddle would go to the kid at the stable who had taken such good care of the rangy buckskin, and his rifle to the blacksmith who had fixed the horse’s off fore shoe for free, simply because he didn’t want to see a fine horse go lame because his owner was tapped out. Beyond that, he had nothing to leave, nor anyone to leave it to.
Not even the book Gramps had told him about, that book about the Hawk family. He hadn’t found it among his grandfather’s things after his death, and Josh wondered where it was, if it even existed. Most likely not; the old man had been half out of his head, and most of his rambling words had sounded like the ravings of a crazy man. The disjointed story had sounded like the Hawk legends Gramps had told him on the long trip west from Missouri, only Gramps had sounded like he thought this book was real. But he’d never told his grandson where to find it, just raved on that when the time came he would find it. That it would come to him as it came to all the last Hawks, the Hawks who were the last of the breed.
His illness, Josh supposed. The book probably wasn’t real, any more than the warriors and wizards Gramps had woven into such entertaining stories were real. But he’d never know for sure. He’d never gotten around to looking for the thing. And now he never would.
Dawn was streaking the sky, pale pink to the east, fading to indigo over the mountains, and somewhere close by an early rising meadowlark was pouring out a song when he heard the raspy voice of the marshal calling his name. He wondered if the hangman had arrived and this was it, if this was his last morning. Too bad he’d never appreciated the soft colors of the waking sky before. Or the sweet sound of the little yellow-chested bird. Then he nearly laughed aloud; had there ever been a man looking at his own death who hadn’t thought the same thing?
This time the call was punctuated by the sound of booted footsteps. He rose slowly, watching the approach of the round-bellied man who was tugging at his long, curling mustache in a gesture that had become familiar. Caleb Pike was a jovial fellow, but Josh hadn’t been fooled. Anyone who failed to see the steely glint in the man’s blue eyes, or let the apparent softness of his body blind them to the unusual quickness of his movements, deserved what they got. He had a feeling he would have liked the man, had the circumstances been different. He had the look of a man to ride the river with.
Pike came to a halt outside the cell door.
“Mornin’, Marshal,” Josh said, crossing his arms over his chest as he leaned a shoulder against the bars. “You’re up early. Hope it’s not in my honor.”
“As it happens,” Marshal Pike answered, “it is.”
Despite his inner certainty that he was resigned to his fate, Josh felt a knot form in his stomach. He glanced upward.
I’m sorry, Gramps,
I know I was a disappointment to you
At least where I’m going, we won’t be seeing each other. You won’t have to know.
“Hangman got here, then?” was all he said. At least he could try and die with some pride.
Pike blinked. “What?” Then, smiling so widely the tips of his mustache quivered, “Hell, no, boy. In fact, I got good news.”
“If he’s going to be delayed long enough for half the territory to gather, I’d rather you did it yourself, now,” he didn’t have the stomach to ask if there had been invitations to this string party sent out; it was a common enough practice that he didn’t doubt it. Except that Pike didn’t seem the type.
Pike shook his head. “You’re sure eager to die, aren’t you?”
“It beats being a sideshow.”
The marshal looked him up and down, and for a moment Josh had the feeling the man was also wishing they had met under other circumstances.
“No chance of that, son. Not now.”
He unlocked the door and it swung open with a screech. Josh lifted a brow in query. Pike tugged a revolver from his belt, holding it up so Josh could see it. An old, neglected Dragoon Colt, he noticed. Very neglected. He wondered if the thing would fire. Then wondered why he cared.
Pike waited, as if expecting Josh to speak. When he didn’t, the marshal did.
“We found it,” he said, as if that simple statement explained it all.
Still Josh said nothing, wondering what the man was getting at. Pike obviously thought this was important to him, and until he found out why, Josh decided he’d be better off staying quiet.
“Out in back of the saloon,” the marshal elaborated finally. “Right where Arly Dixon jumped you. It was just like you said, he was armed, after all. I’ve already sent off a wire to Judge Edgerton. That hangman won’t be hangin’ anybody this morning, so we’ll just feed him a good meal and send him on his way.”
Josh stared at the man. “You found this—” he gestured at the battered old weapon he suspected hadn’t been cleaned since it had been made—“in the alley behind the saloon? Where I shot Dixon?”
“Yep. It was wedged in behind the rain barrel. That’s why we missed it in the dark. Must have landed there when Arly fell. Luke, the kid from the stable, he found it.”
Josh drew back, studying Pike intently. True, he had thought Dixon was armed when he’d loomed up out of the shadows that night, but only because he assumed nobody would be fool enough to sneak up on him like that without a weapon of some kind. His reaction had been swift, reflexive . . . and lethal. Only when the man lay dead had he discovered he’d been apparently unarmed.
And not a soul in this town had believed any different. No one believed Arly Dixon had been armed. He didn’t have to be around this town, they’d said at the trial; his sheer size and cantankerous disposition made people keep their distance. And the absence of any weapon found where Dixon had died had put the noose around Joshua Hawk’s neck.
“I thought you didn’t believe me,” Josh said slowly.
“Well, what with your reputation as a fast shootist and all, and people looking to make a name for themselves comin’ after you all the time, I figured you might be one to shoot first and look later.”
Josh winced inwardly at the accuracy of the assessment, but he kept his outward expression even. And his mouth shut.
“But,” Pike went on, “Arly was no prize when it came to holding his temper, either. Especially if he thought you were messin’ with his wife. He was plumb unreasonable about that girl.”
Josh shook his head ruefully. He barely even remembered the encounter outside the mercantile, picking up a fallen package for a tall, plain, brown woman in a baggy dress. He’d accepted her hurried, whispered thanks, barely noticing that her voice held a hint of Southern softness, reminding him of things long forgotten and better left that way. He had touched the brim of his hat, and gone past her toward the saloon, his mind already on finding a poker game to give himself a stake. He wouldn’t have remembered the chance meeting at all, except that it had come out at the trial.
She’d been there, too, but so swathed in black mourning veils that he couldn’t even be certain it was the same woman. He’d felt remorse then, that he’d deprived this woman of her husband, the owner of the store he’d seen her in front of. He supposed that was when he’d decided to just give in; he’d killed an unarmed man by sheer gut reaction, and he was tired of living that way. Maybe he was just plain tired of living. He’d thought the township of Gambler’s Notch was going to solve that problem for him. And now here he was, free again, and with no idea who to thank. Or even if thanks were in order.
“I barely even spoke to her,” he said yet again, as he had several times at the trial.
“That’s all it’d take, for Arly,” Pike said. “He was a mighty possessive man. And a good-looking hombre like yourself, well . . . Anyway, when I found out he took this old piece with him that night, it put a whole different light on things. Makes it self-defense, I’d say. I’m sure the judge will agree.”
Josh swallowed tightly. “Just how did you . . . find out he was armed?”
“Well, that’s how I knew it had to be the truth, see? Person who told me had no reason to lie, and every reason to want to see you hang.”
Josh straightened up. He knew nobody in this town, and certainly nobody who’d want to help him. “Who told you?”
Josh blinked. “What?”
Pike nodded. “Yep. Arly’s widow.”
HIS BOOTS BACK on, his hat in his hand, and his gunbelt slung over his shoulder, Josh sipped at the coffee the marshal had poured for him, thinking the man should use some of the powerful brew to grease that noisy cell door he’d been listening to the entire two weeks he’d spent here, waiting for the judge to arrive and then through the trial.
“Let me make sure I got this right,” he said as he sat on the edge of the marshal’s battered old desk. “The widow of the man I killed told you he’d been carrying a weapon after all, that night?”
Marshal Pike nodded. “She said she found it was missing when she was packing away his things last night. She sent word to me right away.”
“Generous of her,” Josh muttered skeptically.
“She’s a generous sort of woman. Said she couldn’t bear to see an innocent person punished any longer.”
Innocent. It had been a damned long time since anyone had used that word about him. And a damned sight longer since it had been true.
“Very generous,” Josh muttered, suspicion biting deep. Why the hell would the woman he’d made a widow want to help him?
“After I found out, I sent Luke over to look around. You know how boys are, he was excited as all get out to be lookin’ for evidence. Done a real good job, too.”
“Thanks to the widow.” Josh’s mouth tightened. This made no sense to him. “I’d like to . . . thank her personally,” he said to Pike at last. “Where does she live?”
“Well, now, I’m not sure—”
“I’m not going to bother the woman, Marshal.”
“It wouldn’t be smart of you. Folks around here didn’t like Arly much, but that girl’s a different matter. She’s been mighty good to a lot of folks around here.”
“Including me, apparently. I just want to express my . . . appreciation.” His mouth twisted wryly. “It couldn’t have been easy for her to do what she did.”
Pike muttered something that sounded like “You might be surprised,” but that didn’t make any sense either, Josh thought. After a moment the marshal went on. “She lives over the mercantile. Arly liked to be close enough to stand guard over his store. Kept a shotgun handy to do it, too. He wasn’t the trustin’ sort.”
Including of his wife
, Josh added to himself ruefully.
What the hell would Dixon have done to a man who had genuinely paid attention to the woman?
“Thanks,” Josh said. “Want to come along, make sure I don’t scare the good widow?”
Pike looked him up and down. The long mustache quivered as the marshal’s mouth lifted at one corner. “I don’t reckon you scare many women, son.”
“Don’t forget I killed this one’s husband,” he pointed out dryly.
“Fair fight,” Pike said with a wave of his hand.
Josh suppressed the grimace that threatened. He didn’t want to think about that, not now. He set down the tin cup and stood up.
“I’ll be on my way to the mercantile, then.”