Excerpt One: The Benicia Belle

“Shuck the knives,” Clint said simply, throwing a leg over the pommel and slipping from the saddle without turning his back on the man. He unbuckled his gun belt and hung it on the horn, running his own ten-inch knife alongside the Colt’s into its holster.

Blanchard guffawed at this turn of events. “Why, you skinny runt, I believe I knewed the sorry mama goat what gave you naught but the dry hind tit.” Boulders ignored Sancho and squared away with Clint, his hands still at rest on his wide hips. “I hauled her and the rest of her flock from St. Joe to Natchez. I’ll give you this, she was the prettiest of the lot, and she bleated a fine song. But she musta forgot to write … I didn’t know we had us a young’n.”

 

His friends roared in laughter, slapping their thighs. Clint felt the heat rush to his neck and shrugged off the arm Sancho laid on his shoulder.

“This is my problem, amigo,” the vaquero said from behind him.

Clint’s eyes never left the big riverman’s. “It’s mine now, Sancho. Mr. Blanchard here has chosen to personalize it. Just keep the others off us.”

“Others!” Blanchard said, roaring in laughter and throwing his head back again – which proved a mistake as Clint stepped in quick and drove a hard right under his upraised chin. The blow cracked like sledge on rock, snapped his head back, and the man windmilled his arms in surprise and landed on his beefy rump in the sand.

To Clint’s chagrin, as he’d hit him hard enough to rock Clint to his own boots, the man shook his head like a bull poleaxed with a timber, then gazed up and smiled. Clint glanced around. The man’s friends did not seem concerned, and Clint suddenly got even more so. He sailed his flat-brimmed hat away, deciding he had his work cut out for him.

Blanchard shook his head and struggled to his feet. “Why, boy, you butt like your grandpa, and like I did his’n, I’ll eat yer oysters if’n you got any, and you’ll end up mutton an’ tater stew.” He roared with laughter again, and again threw his head back, but this time wisely well out of striking range.

Clint rubbed his bruised knuckles and circled the man. “You make plenty of chin music with that alligator mouth, but do damn little marchin’. Let’s get you river-scum-suckin’ goat lovers whipped. We have important things to do.”

Blanchard’s eyes narrowed, his jaw knotted, and his lips went white and thin. He heated and glowered as if he’d been honed on a whetstone and tempered in hot oil.

Butterflies ticked Clint’s innards as he waited for the charge he knew was coming.

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