Western Heritage and Spur award-winning author Dusty Richards tells the thrilling saga of Chet Byrnes, a man who brought the spirit of Texas into Arizona Territory—and the guns to back it up…
Have Gun, Will Battle
Chet Byrnes has built a ranching empire from the ground up. And he’s defended it with his sweat, blood and a ragtag band of ranch-hand fighters. Now a beautiful young Spanish widow comes into Chet’s life, just as he starts off in search of a lost cattle drive. The search leads into the eye of a sprawling, violent storm.
Chet, and his men—and his seductive new woman—end up on a wild ride through Nebraska, Colorado and Kansas, where authorities want to confiscate the beeves for trespassing. With Indians, outlaws and an oppressive government crossing their path, Chet is on a cowboy’s honeymoon: fighting and shooting all the way back home.
“Dusty Richards writes…with the flavor of the real West.” —Elmer Kelton
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By Dusty Richards
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2015 Dusty Richards
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Two months later, Chet held a meeting with his various ranch foremen and, afterward, they left him in the living room to prop up his handmade Hyer boots and get ready for a new page in his life. Everyone came to talk about their plans for each of their operations. He took notes on all the things that mattered, ranch by ranch. He sure needed to hire an accountant. His late wife, Marge, and the Verde River Ranch foreman's wife, Millie, had kept the books, paid the bills, and handled all those chores. While he knew Millie was sincere, she had three children to raise, and it had been Marge's leadership that ran that end of the business.
Maybe his banker, Andrew Tanner, might know someone he could get. Millie said when Chet had to be away and until he found someone, with Tom's aid she'd keep the books up to date and pay the bills. Tom ran the widespread Camp Verde Ranch over the mountain in the Verde River Valley. Lucy took care of the books on the North Rim Ranch out by Hackberry. His sister, Susie, cared for a newborn son, Erwin, and with her husband, Sarge, ran the Windmill over northeast—where each month they gathered the cattle to deliver to the various Navajo agencies over around Gallup, New Mexico.
Up on the rim, Robert and his new bride, Betty, ran the ranch's log operation, hauling logs to the big steam-powered sawmill. Leroy and Betty Lou Sipes operated the fruit farm in Oak Creek Canyon. His late brother's wife, May, and her husband, Hampt Tate, ran the recently expanded outfit that he called East Verde Ranch. She had two near-teenage stepsons, her own daughter, Donna, plus they had a new baby boy, Miles. The home ranch in Preskitt Valley was run by Chet's very strong foreman, Raphael, and his vaqueros. His other nephew, JD, ran Rancho Diablo, in the southern desert. His wife, Bonnie, waited in Preskitt for them to complete her new house down there so she could join him.
When Chet first arrived, Bonnie's mother, Jenn, who ran a café in town, befriended him, and she'd found him much of his help to start with. Later on, he brought her daughter, Bonnie, back from white slavers in Mexico, trading some valuable horses from his golden Barbarossa stallion for her to an influential hacienda owner in Sonora. She'd proved well worth it. Cole Emerson, who rode with him, was married to Valerie, who the three men, JD, Cole, and Chet also rescued in Tombstone and sent to Preskitt to help Jenn and Bonnie run the café.
Going over it all in his mind, he chuckled at the thought that he actually carried all their names in his logbook, so he didn't leave anyone out.
His son's teenage nanny, Rhea Obregon, interrupted his thoughts when she brought Adam in the living room for him to hold.
"Rhea, sit down. You were Marge's choice to care for our son. I want you to continue to stay here and do that. Monica will help you."
Her tan face beamed at his words. "Gracias, he is like my own son."
"I know that. He needs to learn English. But he also must learn Spanish. Please talk to him in both languages."
"Marge told me that, and I do it."
He gently bounced Adam on his leg. "The goat's milk works well?"
"Oh, he never cries. He is growing so fast."
"I know he is. You're a good mother. The next three years will be important. If a baby can live beyond that, he should make it to being an adult. As long as you want one, you will always have a job here. Don't worry about him growing up, 'cause you'll never be out of work. You'll be very important to him. But he must mind you. You savvy that?"
"Yes. Monica and I talk a lot. I appreciate your trust in me. It will be a very hard job, but I will learn to read so I can teach him. I am not so good at numbers, but when he needs numbers, I will know them well when he counts."
"We'll hire a tutor for you."
"Oh, that would be very good."
He spoke to his infant son lying on his legs. "Adam, your mother, Rhea, is going to educate you to run an empire." He kissed the good baby and handed him back. "I don't care if he goes to your church with you, but I want him to learn Marge's religion, too."
"I can do that. I have been in your wife's church. Can I have him christened in my church?"
"Good, I have worried much about that."
"He will grow and become a good person under your guidance."
She crossed herself. "Oh, I am so relieved to have this talk with you."
"Rhea, you can always talk to me. I'm just Chet."
She nodded. "When you are away, I will have Monica write to you about him until I learn how."
"Time for his nap."
"Good-bye, Adam. Via con Dios."
"I have some lunch for both of you," Monica announced.
"Put mine in the oven. I am going to lay him down," Rhea said.
Monica nodded and when Rhea was upstairs she said, "What did you tell her? She sounded like she was in charge."
"I told her so. We need a tutor for Rhea. Can you hire her one?"
"When she learns how to read and do sums, she'll teach Adam."
"Very good; your wife would have done that for her."
"You two are my wives here—now."
He shook his head at her. "You must run this ranch, answer Raphael's needs, and decide things when I am gone."
"Alright. She and I can do that."
"I trust you two."
"You must feel like you should go to the south again?"
"The Force and Rancho Diablo need me to look them over."
"Did JD take Bonnie down there last week when they went home?"
"Yes, her house is nearly finished. I think they wanted to be together. I know if I was a newlywed, I'd want my wife down there."
"I didn't know if that marriage would work," Monica said, using a towel for a potholder to bring his plate from the oven.
He looked over his beef-cheese enchiladas and nodded his approval. "Best I can tell, seeing them together, they're very close."
"I think he grew up and she did, too."
"I hope so. Two lost souls before that."
"Will that be a great ranch someday?" Monica asked.
"I think so."
"But like the rest, they cost a lot to get them productive."
"Well, we're large. Markets like the one with the Navajos had to be developed. In ten years, we should have rails here in the north. But economic conditions in the U.S. keep bouncing in and out of good and bad. To survive until then will be hard."
"Oh, you will figure it out. Your wife always told me that a hundred times."
He nodded and went to eating his lunch. "I plan to go down south. Jesus and Cole will meet me for the stage tomorrow. Remember, Tom or Hampt can be here in a few hours. If you or Raphael need them, they'll come on the run."
"Yes, I know that. I am so glad you take Jesus and Cole wherever you go. They have really grown up, riding with you."
"I'm glad to have them at my back."
"Will you keep doing the Force down there?"
"It's funded by the federal courts. Who knows what they will do and for how long?"
"Be careful. You are the one who holds us all together."
"Thank you, Monica."
The next day, under cold stars, the three men drove two buckboards to the Black Canyon stage office on the east side of Preskitt, where they loaded their saddles and war bags into the back of the stage. They were well dressed against the cold and had wool blankets to wrap in. The taller of his two men, Cole Emerson, was in his mid-twenties, and, Jesus, the young Mexican who held up his part of the team, was twenty. They covered Chet's back, and he trusted and listened to their thoughts and judgment.
The coach left at midnight and rocked its way off the mountains to Hayden's Mill and Ferry on the Rio Salado to arrive on schedule about mid-day. Then they took the next stage south to Papago Wells and then to Tucson. The Tucson–Nogales Stage driver would let them off at the Morales Ranch gate below the village of Tubac. Chet would be glad to get there and join his Force, who'd been busy trying to end the banditry in southern Arizona.
He'd had many things on his mind since Marge's funeral. Had he been home that day when she took her spill from the horse, he couldn't have saved her. Jumping horses was her passion in life. She stopped riding them to carry their son, because she had never before carried a child full term. While the coach swept from the mountains to the desert, and owls flew the starry sky in search of prey, her death weighed on his mind. He sure missed her. At times, the sadness about overwhelmed him, but he had responsibilities to handle and he couldn't let go.
Inside the coach, the wool blanket turned away a lot of the chill, and he managed to go in and out of sleep. At the Bumble Bee Station, where they changed horses, he stepped off the coach to stretch his stiffness away. Deep in the canyons under the Bradshaw Mountains, he knew they'd soon be down on the much warmer greasewood flats that reeked of creosote and where the giant saguaros towered in the valley of the Salt River.
Finally, the next night under the stars, he and his men reached the Morales Brothers Ranch below Tubac, and the driver set off their saddles and war bags, then lashed the cover back down.
Chet tipped him a silver dollar and the man saluted him. "Good to have you back. I always feel safe when you're down here, Señor Byrnes."
The dogs heard them and barked and a light went on at the first small adobe house. Maria, Ortega Morales's wife, came on the run and hugged him.
"So good to have you back, señor. We all cried because we could not attend your wife's funeral."
"I understood. She would have, too. Is everyone alright?"
"Oh, si, no problems. They have finished JD's house and are working on mine." She beamed in the light of the candle lamp.
"Did you know JD's wife joined him? Have you met her?"
"No, but I will when I move over there. Are you hungry?"
"No, don't worry about us. We'll see you at breakfast." He kissed Maria's forehead and sent her back to the house. He considered her an angel. She cared so much for his outfit, fed them well, made sure they were all healthy, plus knew as much as any man about the land there and the people.
He turned to his men. "I don't know about you two, but I'm ready for bed."
"I feel beat up and beat down," Cole said.
"Me, too," Jesus agreed.
They went to sleep in hammocks and Chet woke in the predawn to the sounds of Maria cooking. Dressed, he joined her in the kitchen.
"Roamer coming back soon?" he asked.
"Three of them are just checking on things. It has really been quiet down here."
She poured him a cup of coffee. "How is your son, Adam?"
"Growing and fine. Rhea, the young girl raising him when I'm gone, wanted him christened in the Catholic Church. I told her to do that, but he had to be raised to know Marge's religion, too. She understood."
"Good. If you are Catholic, christening is an important event. You must have much faith in her."
"Yes, I do. She was Marge's choice, too."
"What will you do today?"
"Fill out the expense report for the federal court. It has to be turned in shortly. So I'll be busy."
"I can help you. I have been learning all about it."
She topped off his coffee. "This law business has changed our life. We use to fret over a small store bill for food. Now we fret over buying more cows."
"Will you be happy over there?"
"Oh, yes. I like the house he showed me in the sketch. But I will miss the river and the birds here on the Santa Cruz. Near here has been my home all my life. Across the mountains, they are planting citrus trees and lots of palms. Someday, it will be a very nice hacienda."
"I would never have left Texas. Those were my people and my land, but now this is my land, from Reg's ranch on the high country to this place here."
"I hope you someday find someone to fill your life again."
"I'm not looking for anyone today."
Maria nodded that she understood, then said hello to Jesus and Cole joining them. "You are too good a man not to have a woman to share your life. Isn't he, guys?"
"Yes, ma'am," they both chimed in.
After breakfast, he went over the ranch books. As he closed the ledgers, the dogs began to bark. Through the window, he saw a fancy coach and several horses and riders coming into the ranch.
Maria put down her dishtowel, and Cole and Jesus came on the run. The two frowned at this fancy entourage with two teams of horses. Four outriders on Barb horses, in red vests and well armed, rode as the guard. A coachman in tails dismounted the fancy outfit and opened the door.
"Holy shit—" Cole managed at sight of the woman coming through the opened door. "Who in the hell is she?"
The coachman ran over and handed Chet a card. Elizabeth Delarosa Carmel.
Recent widow of Fernando Carmel, Los Indios Springs, Sonora, Mexico.
Chet removed his hat and went to meet her. The woman dressed in black satin was sure not some old woman, she was probably early twenties. Her dark hair hung in long curls to her shoulders. Great silver loops swung from her ears, and a large gold cross on a chain hung around her neck above the rise of her breasts.
"Señora, I am Chet Brynes. To what do I owe the honor of your visit?"
"May we go to your table under the shade? I have some wine I could serve you and your men. Sir, I wish to talk to you, if you have time for me?"
"That will be fine. This is Cole Emerson and Jesus Morales who ride with me. And this lady is Maria Morales. No relation to Jesus, but she is my hostess here."
She gave each her hand and then turned back. "I was headed home for Mexico when I learned you had returned here." She very carefully took his arm and holding her skirt in the other hand they headed for the shaded area.
"I understand you recently lost your wife?"
"Six months ago. Marge was a fine woman, and I miss her."
"I have been a widow myself for three years now. I understand missing someone. Life must go on, but that space they left is still there. They say it can be filled, but I don't think that way. All one can do is keep their faith and strive on."
There was no perfume in the air when they sat, but a scent. She smelled like cinnamon. The coachman set a half dozen wineglasses on the table and two bottles of wine.
She looked at each of them. "This is wine from my hacienda. I want to share it with you three. The señor, I have all day to talk to him, or until he runs me away."
The two men thanked her and Maria joined them. A bottle was uncorked and her man brought Chet a sample to swirl around and taste.
Dry, sweet, but not too sweet. "Very good," he said, and handed his glass back. Thank God for Marge. She'd taught him how to do wine tasting.
The glasses were soon filled. Her man served her and Maria, and then the two men, and Chet last.
They raised their glasses in a toast to her, then sipped the wine.
She looked around. "This ranch is hardly a federale style headquarters."
"We aren't fancy. We simply enforce the law."
"Oh, I know that. Bandits in Mexico respect you and your men. But I expected a military base like the fort south of here."
"We are only a strike force and my men are all cowboys. No generalissimo is here. We are low key, because we can't upset the county law enforcement. The judges in the territory are federal judges. We work for them."
"To your health." She clinked her glass to his and crossed her legs, making herself comfortable on the bench. Behind her façade of regal appearance, there was a little vixen in this handsome woman. Her words betrayed very little accent.
"They tell me you have a large ranch west of here?"
"Very large. You want to ride over it?"
She stopped. "You catch me off guard, señor."
"No, señora, call me Chet. And it was just an offer to show you the place."
Her composure returned. "Yes, Chet. I would love to see all of it—with you. But you are a busy man to do that."
"Those two would handle the packhorses and cooking. You'd have a tent to hide in and we'd see every inch of the Diablo Ranch in a week."
She chewed on her lower lip and smiled. "Now I am the one that is scared. You are really serious. How many more ranches do you have?"
"Five more, maybe six."
"You don't know how many you have?"
"I can find them."
She laughed, then put her hand over her mouth. "How long do I have to answer you?"
Excerpted from Arizona Territory by Dusty Richards. Copyright © 2015 Dusty Richards. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
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