January, 2016

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Issue #76

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Read this month's Tales and vote for your favorite.
They'll appear in upcoming print volumes of The Best of Frontier Tales Anthologies!

Wrath Rides a Dappled Gray
by Ruth Weeks
Consumed with wrath, Zane vows to ride through the fires of hell to rescue her mother kidnapped by an unknown outlaw. Only a stallion charred by Hades' smoke and brimstone can carry her there. No such horse walks the earth. Heaven, on the other hand, is an entirely different matter.

* * *

Nothing but the Best
by Robert McKee
Stark despised the cold, and Wyoming in February was not where he wanted to be. He had a chore to do, however, and it was his plan to kill John Randolf and return to Texas by the end of the week. Seemed Randolf, though, had a plan of his own.

* * *

The Troubled Stranger
by Marguerite Doecke
Cade Garrett was a troubled stranger seeking redemption in the Wild West. There he encountered a beautiful distraction, Sarah Livingstone, but his past soon caught up with him, together with the notorious Sheriff Jesse Black. Can Sarah forgive Cade, or is he destined only to be the troubled stranger?

* * *

Betrayal, Part 1 of 2
by Jesse J Elliot
Bobby and Alonzo had been friends forever. Now both were involved in a life and death struggle over prize horses, as well as surviving the blizzard that caught them all in its deadly wake. Luckily, Sheriff Jones and her deputy Cruz arrive, but are they too late?

* * *

O'Grady's Last Stand
by John Hansen
Gus O'Grady was a soldier's soldier when he was sober but thirteen years of fighting and killing had taken its toll on him. His past accomplishments made no difference to Lieutenant Welch, a by-the-book officer. Gus had a gut full of Welch. It was time to act.

* * *

The Miners of Lightning Spruce
by Brian Biswas
When Stu murdered Sam's mining partner, Sam vowed not to rest until justice was done. Justice brought him to Fisher's Bar where Alice, Stu's girlfriend, realized the law was the last thing on Sam's mind. An hour later a body lay on the floor. But who thrust the knife?

* * *

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All the Tales

The Troubled Stranger
by Marguerite Doecke

Cade Garrett walked into the old mercantile with a distinctive presence. His flawlessly polished boots made a deep echoing sound on the dusty timber floor as his tall, straight posture carried him towards the petite young woman behind the counter. He took a moment to study her and when she turned to greet him, he drew in a sharp breath. She was so much like her, yet completely different. Her striking beauty was pleasantly unexpected and her violet eyes caused Cade to swallow a deep knot that had lodged in his throat; those eyes had haunted him for the past two years. God, she was beautiful and she was going to hate him when he told her.

"Good morning, may I help you?" She asked in a pleasant tone. Her smile was shy but genuine and Cade steeled himself. It had taken him so long to get to this point, to get the courage to do what he should have done when it happened, but time and drink and guilt had been his able companions until now.

"Lodging," Cade spoke in a gruff voice that he didn't recognise as his own. He forced his dark eyes to meet hers and noticed her reserve.

"Is that a question or a statement, sir?" her response was unexpected and caught him off guard.

He smirked. "I'm looking for lodging. Excuse my manners. I'd be obliged, Miss . . . "

"Livingstone. Sarah," came the confident reply. "Mrs Hanthorn has lodging right next door. She's reasonable and cooks well too. I'm sure she can help you."

"Cade Garrett," Cade replied and tipped his Stetson. "Nice to make your acquaintance, Miss Livingstone. I'm sure we'll cross paths again." His dark eyes held hers as he spoke. She returned his gaze, unflinching. He was unsettling and dangerously handsome.

The ring of the doorbell disturbed them and Cade saw the colour drain from Sarah's rosy complexion when she acknowledged the man who appeared before them.

"Sarah." He was tall and solid. The tarnished star on his tattered vest identified him immediately. He looked at Cade with cold eyes and then to Sarah. She stared at the counter and started to wipe it vigorously.

"Sherriff Jesse Black," he reluctantly outstretched his hand. "I see you've met Miss Livingstone, my fiancée." His emphasis on the last word sounded a direct warning.

"Cade Garrett." Cade returned the firm handshake. "Looking for lodging. Miss Livingstone was just assisting me with my enquiries." He turned to acknowledge her, but noticed she had gone.

"Then I suspect you'd best go and see Mrs Hanthorn," the sheriff's tone was unfriendly. "It's a busy town, Mr Garrett."

Cade walked confidently past the sheriff and when he stepped outside the mercantile he let out the shaky breath he'd been holding.

He'd lost his nerve. It was her eyes and her innocent beauty that had struck him worse than a physical blow. The sheriff had complicated matters but Cade knew what he had come to do and there was no turning back now.

Sarah was a mess. The handsome stranger had unnerved her and the unexpected visit from Black had ended badly. She was still shaking the next day when the sound of heavy boots drew her from her worrying thoughts.

"Good morning." It was Cade Garrett. Sarah managed a thin smile. He held his Stetson in one hand and ran the other through his shoulder length hair.

"I need to speak with you about a matter concerning—"

A loud commotion at the front of the store interrupted him, followed by a gunshot and the shattering of glass. Without a thought for himself, Cade jumped the counter and landed on top of the shocked young woman, sending them both crashing to the hard floor.

"Stay down and don't move, whatever happens," Cade shouted. He grabbed his shiny Colt from its holster and moved swiftly towards the trouble ahead. The next gunshot came without warning and Cade slumped to the ground before darkness enveloped him.

He awoke to a throbbing pain in his shoulder and Sarah's wide violet eyes staring intently at him.

"Oh thank goodness," she whispered, fussing over him.

"What happened?" Cade asked hoarsely as Sarah passed him a glass of water. Her attentiveness was undeserved and it embarrassed him.

"You saved my life," Sarah smiled weakly. She looked pale and frightened. He was no hero. That was why he was here, to tell her and seek redemption.

"Doc says the bullet just scraped your shoulder. Looks worse than what it is but you must rest until you're healed."

"Sarah, I have to tell you something," Cade knew that the next moments would change Sarah's pleasantness towards him and the strong attraction they were both fighting. He fought the nausea in his gut and drew in a steadying breath.

"But before I do, tell me about you and the sheriff," he spoke in a gruff tone.

Sarah flushed and looked nervously at her hands.

"I promised my dying father that I would marry Jesse Black. He promised he'd take care of me, especially after Becca died. My father went to his grave thinking I'd be looked after." Tears pooled in her eyes and Cade wanted desperately to wipe them from her pretty face. "Jesse is a jealous man, Cade." The resentment in her voice confirmed Cade's suspicions. He was about to break her fragile heart but there was no choice.

Cade took Sarah's trembling hand and forced his gaze to hers.

"I knew your sister, Sarah," Cade used an even tone when he spoke, "but not in the way you're probably thinking." I came here to tell you about what happened to Becca. When I came upon you in distress, all the memories came flooding back." He closed his eyes as Rebecca's death replayed itself.

He had been waiting by the wagon while his two older brothers had gone into the mercantile for supplies. As the youngest Garrett, Cade's role was to tend to the horses and the wagon, a task he took seriously and with pride. The shouting roused him from his musings before he heard the gunshots. Two burly cowboys rolled out of the saloon, cursing and spitting. Cade smirked when he spied Jack Callahan being tossed out from the saloon yet again. The two men were very aggressive and very drunk. Cade could see all hell breaking loose at any moment and walked swiftly towards the commotion, his hand possessively on his Colt. At that moment, a breathless young woman in a long red dress ran out from the swinging doors and placed her hands on her shapely hips.

"Jack Callahan, you stop that right now!" she yelled in a sassy voice.

"Go inside, Becca," Callahan boomed, spitting a brown stream of tobacco onto the dusty ground, "ain't no place for a lady out here."

By this time, both men had reached for their guns. It was going to end badly. Cade made the decision to intervene and shot a single bullet in the air. The men took aim but before they could fire, Cade shot first. What he hadn't anticipated was the fact that Rebecca, frozen with fear, hadn't moved and was right in the line of fire.

"I killed her," Cade forced the words from his tight throat as he opened his eyes and looked into Sarah's wide, violet eyes. "It was the bullet from my gun that killed your sister." He winced as the revelation registered Sarah's shocked disbelief. "I came to find you to confess my crime. The guilt's been so bad, nothing helps. Hell, I've drunk so much but the pain keeps coming back, eating at me. This is not the man I am meant to be, Sarah, I need your forgiveness. I wish I could take it all back, all of it." Sarah looked into the eyes of a haunted young man, shallow with grief and remorse. She couldn't hate him, but could she forgive him?

"You were in the wrong place at the wrong time, Cade Garrett," Sarah replied, her voice shaking. "We've all seen too much fighting, too much death. My sister chose a dangerous life. When she left we never spoke again. You're not the only one chasing the ghosts from your past." A single tear trailed down Sarah's cheek. This time Cade didn't hesitate to wipe it with his calloused thumb and Sarah didn't flinch at his touch.

"You're not to blame yourself for what happened to her." Sarah's voice was interrupted by the sound of heavy boots entering the doorway.

"The hell he is," came a familiar, snarling voice behind them, "because he's under arrest for murder."

* * *

Cade woke again to the dull throbbing in his shoulder and a feeling that his head was going to split in two. A quick glance at his surroundings confirmed his circumstances as he stared through the bars of his cramped cell. So much for redemption, he thought, as he held his aching head in his cuffed hands; his fate would be sealed at the end of the noose at first light. He'd fought his demons and lost. Muffled voices disturbed Cade's misery and as he slowly raised his heavy head he locked eyes with Sarah.

"I shouldn't be here but I had to come," she whispered shakily. "If Jesse finds out . . . "

"Don't risk your safety for me," Cade replied hoarsely. The regret in his eyes was clearly evident, despite his best efforts to appear calm.

"You don't understand," Sarah swallowed, "you won't hang tomorrow. I've made sure you will be released, unharmed."

Cade stared at Sarah in disbelief. "How?" The palpitations in his chest thumped louder and he felt nausea churning in his gut.

Sheriff Black's familiar voice echoed from the doorway. "In the morning Sarah will marry me, you'll be on your way and we'll forget this little . . . " he waved his hands in the air as he spoke, "incident ever happened."

Sarah looked as though she was going to faint. Her violet eyes looked pleadingly at Cade.

"Is this what you want?" he asked in a whisper.

"It's for the best . . . Your life for mine," Sarah's eyes betrayed her. "I forgive you for Becca's death, Cade." The tears ran freely as Sarah gave Cade one final glance before running from the stifling room.

Black sauntered over to Cade's cell, a look of triumph in his eyes.

"I knew Becca too, very well. I was coming to ask her to marry me when you stepped in, playing the hero. When she died, I vowed to find the next best thing to her, which was her sister." The look of triumph faded and was replaced by a shadow of sadness. The ghosts of Black's past were chasing him too.

"Sarah isn't Becca," Cade said slowly, "you know what kind of woman Becca was and Sarah has different values. She's innocent and deserves a life you can't give her."

Black sighed audibly; the pain in his eyes evident. "Becca was the only woman I ever loved. Problem was, half the town cowboys loved her too. I've seen the way you look at Sarah and how she looks at you. It's the way I looked at Becca." Black continued. "I was watering my horse the day you played the hero. It should have been me who rescued her from those brawling cowboys; I am the sheriff of this county, for God's sake. I've blamed myself ever since, but your arrival made it easier to unburden some of the guilt." Cade thought he was hallucinating from the pain of his injury. He breathed slowly to calm his nerves.

"Two wrongs don't make a right," Black sighed heavily. "You didn't kill Becca, you were just being what a man should be, protecting a vulnerable woman. I can't charge you for that and I certainly can't live with your death on my conscience; it's heavy enough with guilt as it is. Hell, I need a drink." The sheriff unlocked Cade's handcuffs and a look of understanding passed between the two men. "Think I need to meet me another saloon girl." Black smiled sadly and walked somberly from the cell.

Cade took a moment to gather his thoughts and entered the mercantile with a lighter step. Sarah looked at him in shocked disbelief when she saw he was alone.

"Good morning," Cade said in a husky voice and her heart thumped in her chest. "I know a lovely ranch not too far from here that could do with a woman's touch . . . "

"Is that a question or a statement, Mr Garrett?" Sarah replied, smiling.

Cade returned her smile and thought of the possibilities ahead of them.

The End

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