Nightwalker

Prologue

Nevada, 1876

Smoke from a dozen cigars and cigarillos filled the saloon, creating a gray mist that hung over the patrons’ heads. George Turner, a man with a curious mix of races running through his blood, was playing the piano. Milly Taylor, a soprano who survived by prostitution in this godforsaken hellhole, was singing about being in a gilded cage. The desert dust, which never seemed to really settle, joined with the miasma of smoke, and it was only the fact that the fiery red ball of the sun was finally settling that made it bearable to sit at the poker table.

John Wolf was holding a flush, aces high. He leaned back easily in his chair. There was a fair amount of money on the table, but if he appeared casual, it wasn’t just his customary stoicism that made him so.

He didn’t give a damn about the money at stake. He’d just returned from a trip that could change the lives of everyone around him. Now he was waiting for Mariah.

“I’ll see your dollar, breed,” Mark Davison said.

John didn’t bat an eye. He knew Davison was trying to rile him with the remark. The man should have known better. If there was anything John had learned from being raised between two worlds in this lawless sandpit, it was to control any outward display of emotion.

“I’ll raise you two,” Davison continued.

Davison was an ass, a would-be gunslinger.

He’d come from the East, with family money and an attitude. Whether he won or lost, he tipped the bartenders and the girls, so that, at least, was good. But he’d taken up with Frank Varny and his crowd, and that was bad.

“Two bucks,” Davison repeated. There was color in his cheeks.

“Two bucks,” John said, smoothly sliding the sum onto the pile.

He could tell by Davison’s expression that the other man had expected him to fold.

“This is a friendly poker game, fellows,” Grant Percy, the so-called sheriff said, fidgeting uneasily in his seat and folding his cards. He might wear a badge, but the truth was, Frank Varny owned the town.

He had muscled his way in, and he had kept his power in the usual way: by intimidation. You joined him—or you went out into the desert with your mule and pickax, and only the mule and pickax came back.

But today, John Wolf knew, things were going to change. Mariah would come, and whatever happened to him after that wouldn’t matter. She was the one good, honest human being he’d come across in his life, and he was going to give her the information she needed to ensure that the people here—not just the tribe but all the people in this town who’d suffered for too long under Varny’s corrupt rule—found life worth living again.

“I’m out, so lay down your cards,” Ringo Murphy, the fourth and last man at the table, said. Murphy was a wild card himself. He’d been an opinionated rancher down in Missouri, so the story went. Just a kid when his world had gone to hell. He’d become a sharpshooter during the War Between the States, and now that it was over, he was chasing a dream of wealth and comfort. He was gaunt but well toned, a fellow with a devil-may-care attitude, and he wasn’t quick to bend to any man’s brutal tactics. He leaned back in his chair with his guns visible, nestled into the shoulder holsters he wore. Names were etched on the barrels: Lola and Lilly. “Come on, Davison,” Ringo said impatiently. “I’d like to get back into this game.”

Davison was a lean man, as skinny as a string