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Authors: Jake Logan

Slocum 428

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No biting!

He would not abide a man who bit another man. That was child's play, not proper fighting. His fist connected hard with the man's cheek and nose, made a crunching, snapping sound as it hit. Slocum felt the nose smear sideways under his knuckle, and it felt good, considering the nonsense these jackals had doled out, and all without knowing him.

The man continued to snap his stumpy teeth, squirm, and now gurgle on his own blood, but he didn't stop his thrashing attack. He was frenzied, so Slocum gave him another hard drive to the face. This one landed above the man's cheekbone. Slocum had had enough experience in the manly art of pugilism to know that his punch had delivered the ingredients of a black eye to the rascal. He'd wake up tomorrow with a throbbing blue, purple, and yellow shiner.

That blow slowed the man's writhing to a random but weakened struggle. Soon, and with a little more help from Slocum's tightening arm, the man's thrashing all but stopped.

“I . . . gaaah!”

“What?” said Slocum through clenched teeth.

“I . . . giiiive!”

“Damn right you do!”

DON'T MISS THESE ALL-ACTION WESTERN SERIES FROM THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

THE GUNSMITH by J. R. Roberts

Clint Adams was a legend among lawmen, outlaws, and ladies. They called him . . . the Gunsmith.

LONGARM by Tabor Evans

The popular long-running series about Deputy U.S. Marshal Custis Long—his life, his loves, his fight for justice.

SLOCUM by Jake Logan

Today's longest-running action Western. John Slocum rides a deadly trail of hot blood and cold steel.

BUSHWHACKERS by B. J. Lanagan

An action-packed series by the creators of Longarm! The rousing adventures of the most brutal gang of cutthroats ever assembled—Quantrill's Raiders.

DIAMONDBACK by Guy Brewer

Dex Yancey is Diamondback, a Southern gentleman turned con man when his brother cheats him out of the family fortune. Ladies love him. Gamblers hate him. But nobody pulls one over on Dex . . .

WILDGUN by Jack Hanson

The blazing adventures of mountain man Will Barlow—from the creators of Longarm!

TEXAS TRACKER by Tom Calhoun

J.T. Law: the most relentless—and dangerous—manhunter in all Texas. Where sheriffs and posses fail, he's the best man to bring in the most vicious outlaws—for a price.

THE BERKLEY PUBLISHING GROUP

Published by the Penguin Group

Penguin Group (USA) LLC

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014

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penguin.com

A Penguin Random House Company

SLOCUM AND THE BIG TIMBER TERROR

A Jove Book / published by arrangement with the author

Copyright © 2014 by Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

Penguin supports copyright. Copyright fuels creativity, encourages diverse voices, promotes free speech, and creates a vibrant culture. Thank you for buying an authorized edition of this book and for complying with copyright laws by not reproducing, scanning, or distributing any part of it in any form without permission. You are supporting writers and allowing Penguin to continue to publish books for every reader.

JOVE® is a registered trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

The “J” design is a trademark of Penguin Group (USA) LLC.

For information, address: The Berkley Publishing Group,

a division of Penguin Group (USA) LLC,

375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014.

eBook ISBN: 978-0-698-14505-4

PUBLISHING HISTORY

Jove mass-market edition / October 2014

Cover illustration by Sergio Giovine.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Version_1

Contents

All-Action Western Series

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Chapter 32

1

Pellets of snow drove at John Slocum's bearded face as he reined the Appaloosa to a halt. Squinting from under the low-pulled brim of his snow-caked fawn hat, he searched the darkening gloom for shelter of any sort. The grainy snow had built up over the past hour until the horse, normally a steadfast beast, had slowed his pace to a walk. The thick, dense snow had risen above the horse's knees, and Slocum knew they had to stop before the elements claimed them.

Off to their right, Slocum spied a dark-shadowed stand of pines. It would have to do. He tugged the reins and tapped heels to the tired horse's barrel, urging it toward the dark copse. They'd made it halfway from the narrow mountain road to the trees when a haunting, piercing howl from somewhere ahead halted them, tensing man and horse as if a snow-caked statue.

“What in the hell . . .” A low growl leaked out between Slocum's snow-crusted lips, a wisp of smoky breath pluming into the stormy sky. Didn't sound like a wolf, definitely not a coyote or a mountain lion. This was big, bellowing, throaty . . . like he imagined that giant ape would sound, the one that had been painted on the traveling circus banner he'd seen back in the flatlands of Wyoming the previous summer.

The sound echoed again, louder this time, and closer, now off to the left. Two of them? He held the Appy still, both man and horse nosing the chill air, scanning as far as they could see. The sounds dissipated into the freezing air, then no more noise came. They resumed their plodding walk to the stand of pines.

Sometime later, Slocum sat hunched in his sheepskin-lined mackinaw, stinging snow hurtling in all directions just beyond his campfire's struggling flames, pushed and pulled with every errant gust. Despite the stormy night, Slocum knew the crazy, every-which-way blasts could be much worse, were much worse, just a few feet beyond the mouth of his hastily constructed safe haven in the pines.

Deeper into the thicket of low-hung branches, laden with insulating, wind-blocking snow, the Appaloosa stallion seemed content to stand hipshot and head lowered, well out of the wind, his back still steaming from the last few hours of hard-put effort spent in getting them that far into the mountains.

Slocum had cleared a spot in the snow for the horse, and tied on a nose bag and let the horse eat while he cleared his own space and nursed a fire into something he might cook on. Despite the weather, and because of his somewhat decent campsite, he had increasing thoughts of making a warm meal, something he'd not indulged in for the past five days on the trail. The weather had been uncooperative and he'd been just tired—or lazy—enough at the end of the day that he didn't want to put in the extra effort cooking required.

But tonight, he had lip-licking thoughts of flapjacks, or maybe he'd fry up some bread, heat up some frijoles in a can until they bubbled, followed by a few cups of scalding black coffee. Nothing like it. He even had a couple of apples left over from their last visit to a mercantile. He'd split one with the horse as an after-dinner treat.

He set about heating the small, much-used enamel fry pan he carried with him, along with the much-battered coffeepot. These were motions he'd run through an untold number of times before, so much so that he suspected he could prepare a simple campfire meal without much thinking about it. For some reason, this journey found him in an increasingly ruminative mood.

As the storm whistled and waged, piling up then blasting away drifts of pearly, granular snow, Slocum bent to the task at hand of preparing the ingredients of his simple hot meal, secreted in this grotto-like spot in the trees. And as he did, he fell to musing about the course of events that had led him to this place, high in the Cascade Range in Oregon.

It had all begun with that thick-rumped stable girl outside Flintrock, Colorado. Darla had been her name—not an easy young woman to forget, she'd been more than a handful in every way. One of the less-than-ideal traits of being a longtime wanted man—for a crime that he shouldn't have been persecuted for—was that he had to always keep on the move, had to always keep one eye open, sleep with his trusty Colt Navy revolver close at hand.

Worst of all, he always had to move on just when he'd gotten to know interesting people. At most he had become reasonably assured over the years that he could take on ranch jobs for a season. And he liked signing on to a trail drive. The work was tough—long days eating dust, long hours in the saddle, and drinks and women few and far between. But the pay was decent if he signed on with the right outfit, and it most often kept him well away from the usual assortment of busybodies, bounty men, and boneheads he was likely to find in a town. Which suited Slocum to a T, as towns, except for the various conveniences they offered, had throughout his life offered little in the way of appeal. He'd rather camp in a blizzard, with high-country snow stacking up, than spend a week in a town in a soft bed. Well, most of the time.

But on this night in the mountains, he had fallen to thinking about Darla, the stable girl. He'd never learned her last name, only that she had inherited the stable from her husband, dead of a mule kick to the head a year or more by the time Slocum had wandered on into Flintrock, trail sore and looking for news about work.

It hadn't been difficult to find the livery stable—Darla's had been the only one in town. In fact, the town didn't have much to offer other than a collection of one of each. Slocum had joked with himself that the place should have been called One-ville. There had been one hotel—a run-down rattletrap of a place—one saloon, one mercantile . . . one one one. The saloon had even had one narrow-eyed, too-thin woman who Slocum thought had looked more like a schoolmarm than a soiled dove.

He had arrived there a couple of weeks before, during an unusually warm stretch of weather that everyone knew was odd and due to change soon. But they had all, Slocum included, enjoyed the late Indian summer sort of weather.

Darla had been impressed with his Appaloosa when he'd ridden into Flintrock that day. And Slocum had been impressed with her. Specifically with how she handled the horse. The Appy was prone at times to being ornery around strangers, and wasn't usually fond of women getting too close to him—not a trait that Slocum shared with his horse, thankfully. But the rugged girl, dressed in men's denims and a too-large flannel shirt that had seen much in the way of mending—all patches on the shirt and trousers had been done by a neat, precise hand—was a different sort of woman in most every way, once he got to chatting with her. After he saw her work, Slocum realized that was just Darla's way. For a big girl, she was tidy and seemed precise in all she did.

Little did he know, however, that not everything she did was careful and measured. Later that first night, not finding the hotel much to his liking, Slocum had asked her if she would mind if he bedded down in the empty stall beside his horse, the livery being less than full. Had it ever been full? he wondered.

“Not a problem,” she'd said. By that time she had knocked off work for the day and he'd found her out back, sitting in a wooden chair with her boots off and her feet up, sipping a tall glass of well water and shielding her eyes as she watched the day's last rays of sun shrink down below the western skyline.

“Join me if you'd like, Mr. Slocum.” She smiled then, a wide, honest, cheek-bunching smile, and patted the arm of a second wooden chair. “I can't offer much more than a cool glass of water, but the views are heartwarming enough, don't you think?” She'd looked at him without guile and winked, actually winked, but not in a lascivious way. In keeping with the attitude he'd seen earlier, the wink was that of one friend letting another in on a secret joke.

“With this weather, a cool glass of water and a fine view are just about right, I'd say,” said Slocum as he sat down in the vacant chair and stretched out his legs.

She wagged her bare feet atop the rickety old sawhorse she'd propped them atop. “Kick off your boots, rest your feet. Plenty of room!” She giggled then and Slocum did the same as he shucked his boots and let his feet join hers atop the sawhorse. It swayed and wobbled, but held.

As the sun inched down below the ragged ridgeline far to the west, the coming night brought chill air down off the mountains. Darla stood and stretched, her flannel shirt tight against her ample breasts, her nipples poking the fabric like little fingers. Slocum caught all this in a glance, looked away lest she see him peeking, but it was too late.

To his surprise, she smiled and, staring right at him, rubbed her arms. “I sure could use some heat.”

Slocum stood, returning her bold eye-locking stare. “I'll get you a blanket, if you'd like.”

“Only if you're made of wool, Mr. Slocum.”

He didn't need any more hint than that.

She stepped forward. He wrapped his arms about her, and ran his hands briskly up and down her back, feeling the firm muscles beneath. She was no spring flower, but a full-bodied workingwoman. And one of her working hands made its way around the back of his neck and pulled his head down to hers. She mashed her lips to his, then her breath, surprisingly cold, as if the coolness of the well water had remained lingering in her mouth, rose from her throat. But it was quickly chased down by a coiling heat that tasted to him of a musky sort of cinnamon. And he liked it. Like the mulled wine he'd once had at a Christmas celebration at a ranch in Idaho, sweet and spicy, and after a few glasses, you wondered what you ever did without it before then.

Somewhere between the stable's open back door and the sweet-hay-scented stall they collapsed into, Darla had lost her shirt, and managed to peel Slocum's denims down past his backside, which she kneaded with her work-hardened hands as if he were bread dough. He vaguely wondered what she might do to other parts of him, but he was too distracted shuttling her backward while he fought to keep up with her darting tongue and searching lips, her breath ragged.

She collapsed on her back into the mounded hay with a grunt, followed by a throaty giggle. She lay there for but a moment, looking up into his eyes, then drew him down to her. She wiggled and squirmed beneath him, and he realized she was not trying to free herself but to work her way out of her denims.

For all her power—and it was substantial—John Slocum, a man well north of six feet tall and with a physique as if he had been formed out of river rocks, did all he could just to keep up with her. But it was worth every second.

Rarely had he spent time with such a frantic, but genuinely excited woman. And he appreciated every little yip and shriek and giggle as she positioned herself beneath him. He plunged in with a full, thick thrust, and she appeared to enjoy every gliding stroke. And then she gripped his bare shoulders, rolled quickly to her left, and before Slocum knew what was happening, she was on top of him, emitting a low, satisfied growl close to his face in the waning light. And then she proceeded to ride him hard for ten relentless minutes.

He kept up, but there were a few points when he was sure he was about to collapse and whimper “uncle.” Then she rolled off him and they lay side by side panting in the chilly air, in the near dark on the sweet hay.

Her voice broke the silence. “Thank you, Mr. Slocum. I haven't had anything like that since my husband died.”

“Glad I could . . . help.”

“Oh, you did, sir. But I'm afraid I'm not quite finished. Not just yet.”

He was about to protest when he felt her hand working him, coaxing him back to rigid life. She giggled and worked her way down his body, kissing, until she stopped and brought him to full life once more . . .

•   •   •

A few weeks later and Slocum now found himself in the midst of a high-country blizzard, smiling at the memory of that long, exhausting, but excellent evening, and wondering why on earth he hadn't just stayed on for a few more days in that otherwise unremarkable little town of Flintrock. He grasped the hot handle of the little fry pan in a gloved hand and slid it away from flame and onto a rock, snow and bacon grease spattering and sizzling together.

“Because she likely would have been the end of you, Slocum.” He said this aloud to no one other than the still-munching Appaloosa and the howling, dark, stormy night. The warm memory of that earlier night carried his smile right on through supper. And did not wane until he was on his second cup of piping hot coffee, too full for the apple, though he still considered fetching it for the horse. Then he heard the noise that he'd thought he'd imagined earlier. This time, however, it was all too real, and closer than ever.

As Slocum looked beyond the small fire's light toward the close darkness, what he saw there in the dark, above man height, chilled the blood in his veins. Hovering a good eight feet off the ground were two green glowing eyes, a good hand's length apart and angled inward, as if whoever it was were filled with a seething rage.

And just as quickly as they appeared—moments after the too-close guttural screeching howl, bearing elements of rusted steel grinding on rusted steel, of the horrific terror of a live animal being peeled apart, of a sadness and rage balled together and expressed by someone who doesn't know how to speak, of the foul offspring of a mountain lion and a grizzly bear gagging out its anger in the sounds—Slocum watched as the eye lights faded backward into the buffeting night's storm. Then the sounds, too, abated, as if whatever had made them had come to some decision. And that was when he noticed the smell—just a whiff of something powerful, slaughterous, and raw and hot, like spilled blood and hair and rank old meat and more—then the wind shifted and it was gone.

But the Appaloosa had smelled it, too. The horse surprised Slocum by standing stock-still, looking almost comical despite the situation, as he stared out over the nose bag.

And that was what worried Slocum. He'd seen and heard, felt, smelled things too strange for words in his time, and this was something like all those times but completely different, too. After a few minutes of standing still, too stunned to move, the horse began to fidget and nicker, to shake and stamp its feet. Slocum calmed the Appaloosa with soothing sounds and a fresh rubdown. It seemed to help, but not enough to wipe away the nervousness and fear he still saw in the great beast's liquid brown eyes.

BOOK: Slocum 428
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