FOR THE JENSEN FAMILY, DANGER IS MERELY ANOTHER HOLIDAY TRADITION.
At the Sugarloaf Ranch, Smoke and Sally Jensen prepare to welcome Preacher home for the holidays—unaware that their friend is trailed by a storm full of trouble.
On a mission of vengeance, an old trapper is rescued by Ace and Chance Jensen from ruthless outlaws—and wanted by a driven bounty hunter named Luke Jensen.
And, just released from prison, a criminal mastermind assembles a vicious gang of cutthroats to extract his final revenge against his enemy—the sheriff of Big Rock, Colorado . . .
With a snowstorm brewing, a community in jeopardy, and a showdown ready to explode, these courageous pioneers are brought together by fate and fury to forge peace on earth. But they’re going to have to fight for it. With guns. With grit. With glory. Because this Christmas, the greatest gift of all is . . . staying alive.
RAVE FOR A ROCKY MOUNTAIN CHRISTMAS!
“An absorbing tale of Christmas with a side of magic . . . An exciting visit to the old west of gunfights and cattle drives. Four stars!”
— RT Book Reviews
Live Free. Read Hard.
|Product dimensions:||4.10(w) x 6.70(h) x 1.20(d)|
About the Author
William W. Johnstone is the USA Today and New York Times bestselling author of over 300 books, including PREACHER, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN; LUKE JENSEN BOUNTY HUNTER; FLINTLOCK; SAVAGE TEXAS; MATT JENSEN, THE LAST MOUNTAIN MAN; THE FAMILY JENSEN; SIDEWINDERS; and SHAWN O’BRIEN TOWN TAMER. His thrillers include Phoenix Rising, Home Invasion, The Blood of Patriots, The Bleeding Edge, and Suicide Mission. Visit his website at www.williamjohnstone.net or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Being the all-around assistant, typist, researcher, and fact checker to one of the most popular western authors of all time, J.A. Johnstone learned from the master, Uncle William W. Johnstone.
He began tutoring J.A. at an early age. After-school hours were often spent retyping manuscripts or researching his massive American Western history library as well as the more modern wars and conflicts. J.A. worked hard—and learned.
“Every day with Bill was an adventure story in itself. Bill taught me all he could about the art of storytelling. ‘Keep the historical facts accurate,’ he would say. ‘Remember the readers, and as your grandfather once told me, I am telling you now: be the best J.A. Johnstone you can be.’”
Read an Excerpt
A Colorado Christmas
By William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone
All rights reserved.
Sugarloaf Ranch, Colorado December 1886
"What do you think, Smoke?" Sally Jensen turned slowly in front of the fireplace, holding out her arms to give her husband a good view of the new dress she wore.
"I think you're asking the wrong fella," Smoke Jensen replied with a grin as he sat back in the armchair, stretched his legs out in front of him, and crossed them at the ankles. "You're so beautiful you look good in everything you wear, Sally. I even think you look good when you're not wearing anything at all."
The dark-haired young woman blushed, which if anything just made her more lovely. "I was asking for your honest opinion, not flattery. Somebody might come in. Besides, you shouldn't be talking like that at this time of year. It'll be Christmas soon."
"Seems to me there's nothing wrong with a man loving his wife no matter what time of year it is."
"Well, no, there's not," Sally agreed.
Smoke leaned forward as if to stand up. "So, maybe you could take that dress off —"
"And put my apron on and get back to baking," Sally interrupted him. "That's a really good idea. Since we're spending Christmas at home for a change, and since we'll be going to the big Christmas Eve celebration in Big Rock, we'll need lots of cakes and pies —"
"And bear sign," Smoke put in. "Don't forget the bear sign."
"I wouldn't dare," Sally said with a laugh. "Pearlie and Cal would never forgive me if I did."
"I'm not sure I would, either."
"Seriously, though, Smoke" — she ran her hands down over her belly and onto her thighs, smoothing the blue fabric of the dress — "you think this will be all right for the Christmas Eve party?"
"I think it'll be fine," Smoke assured her. He stood up, moved over to her, put his arms around her waist, and kissed her on the forehead.
Folks said they made a handsome couple, and that was certainly the truth. Smoke was tall and muscular, with extremely broad shoulders, and his face was ruggedly attractive under close-cropped ash blond hair. Like Sally, he had the vigor of youth about him.
Only his eyes seemed older than his years. They had seen so much death, starting two decades earlier with his mother on the hardscrabble farm in the Ozarks and the death of his father after the war, when the two of them had gone west because there was nothing to hold them in Missouri anymore. The battle with Indians had prompted the old mountain man called Preacher to dub young Kirby Jensen "Smoke" because of his speed with a gun, and countless evil men had fallen to Smoke's guns since then, including those responsible for the murders of his first wife and their child.
Yes, Smoke Jensen had seen enough death for a dozen men his age, but he had never let it destroy his soul like it did some men. He could be hard, with a heart like iron when he needed to be, but decency and humor and love lived within him, as well. He figured that was because he had met Sally at just the right time in his life. She'd been there to help him find the right path after he had avenged the brutal deaths of his first wife Nicole and son little Arthur.
Smoke stood in the parlor of the comfortable home he and Sally shared on their ranch, the Sugarloaf, and thought about what a truly lucky man he was.
Boots clomped loudly on the porch and Sally smiled up at him for a second. "It sounds like we're about to have company."
"I'll bet I know who, too. I think I can hear them squabbling already."
A knock sounded on the door. Smoke let go of Sally, turned toward it, and told the visitors to come in. Two cowboys stepped into the room, the older one in a sheepskin coat, the younger — little more than a boy, really — wearing a short denim jacket.
"See, I told you he'd be here." A former hired gun and outlaw, Pearlie had reformed thanks to Smoke's influence and had been the foreman on the Sugarloaf for several years.
"I never said he wouldn't be." Calvin Woods was a top hand in spite of his youth and also Pearlie's best friend. If there was any trouble around, the two of them could be counted on to find it, but they also watched each other's backs and had helped pull Smoke out of more than one dangerous scrape. "I just thought he might be busy."
"In the middle of the day like this? Busy doin' what?"
Cal looked a little uncomfortable as he said, "Well ..."
Sally cleared her throat. "I think I should beat a hasty retreat right about now."
"Aw, dadgum it!" Pearlie exclaimed. "I'm sorry, Miss Sally. I never meant to embarrass you none —"
"It's all right, Pearlie," Smoke told him. "Actually, we were just talking about bear sign, weren't we, honey?"
"As a matter of fact, we were."
Pearlie's face lit up at the mere mention of the delicacy. "Were you fixin' to cook up a batch up of 'em, ma'am?"
"Well, not right now. But I'm going to make some to take to Big Rock for the Christmas Eve party, along with some pies and cakes."
Pearlie licked his lips. "I can't hardly wait. It's a-gonna be the best Christmas ever, I reckon."
"Well, we'll have to wait and see about that," Smoke cautioned. "Why were you boys looking for me?"
"Oh, yeah." The expression on Pearlie's craggy face grew more solemn as he forced thoughts of baked goods out of his mind. "That panther's back, Smoke. One of the hands found what was left of a cow it drug off last night, over by Melville Peak."
The Sugarloaf filled up most of a long, broad valley bordered by mountains. Melville Peak was about a mile to the north of the ranch headquarters. Smoke frowned as he thought that the big cat was getting a little too close to home.
All fall, the hands had been catching glimpses of an abnormally large panther that came down out of the mountains to raid the herds two or three times a month. A few of them had taken shots at it but missed, and others had tried to track the predator back to its lair. The big cat was elusive, though. He showed up out of nowhere and seemed to vanish the same way.
Not surprisingly, the panther's success had emboldened it, made it more daring. It had been coming closer and closer to headquarters. It had struck again, only a mile away. That bothered Smoke. He didn't want Sally to step outside some morning on her way to the chicken house to gather eggs, only to be confronted by several hundred pounds of snarling, killer beast.
"I reckon we're going to have to do something about this," he said.
"That's just what I was thinkin'," Pearlie agreed. "The three of us'll go up into the mountains, take enough supplies for a few days, and not come back until we've done found that varmint."
"He's got to have a den up there somewhere," Cal added.
Smoke nodded in agreement with that. "The only thing wrong with what you said, Pearlie, is that there'll just be two of us going — me and Cal."
Pearlie looked surprised as he said, "You're gonna leave me here?"
"Somebody's got to keep the ranch running."
"Shoot, at this time of year, there ain't much to that. The place'd be fine for a few days without me."
"I'd like to think so, but you never know when trouble will crop up. I'll just feel better if I know you're here to keep an eye on things."
Sally said, "I don't like the idea of you leaving right before Christmas, Smoke."
"It's still a while until the big doings in Big Rock," he said. "We'll be back well before then. In fact, I promise that if we don't find that cat in a couple days, we'll turn around and come back and pick up the hunt again after the holiday."
"Well ... in that case, I suppose I can't complain too much."
"Anyway" — Smoke grinned — "I wouldn't take a chance on depriving Cal of Christmas."
"That's right," Pearlie jumped in. "He's still a growin' boy. I'll bet he plans on hangin' up a stockin' for Santy Claus to fill with goodies."
"Aw, you two," Cal complained. "I'm a full-growed man. I don't believe in Santa Claus no more."
"Question is, does Santy Claus believe in you?" Pearlie asked.
"Just go get your gear ready and saddle a horse," Smoke said. "We'll ride out today. There's still plenty of light left. Who knows, maybe we'll get lucky and be back tomorrow with that panther's pelt."
A little shudder went through Sally. "You be careful, Smoke. If that beast is big enough to drag off cows the way it's been doing, it could do the same to you and Cal."
"No, ma'am." Cal shook his head. "No critter is gonna keep me away from that bear sign of yours, come Christmas Eve."
A short time later, Smoke walked out of the house carrying his Winchester and a bag of grub and supplies that Sally had put together quickly, still wearing the dress she intended to wear to the Christmas Eve party in the settlement. It was a beautiful day, crisp and cool enough for his breath to fog in front of his face as he walked toward the barn where Pearlie and Cal were waiting for him with two saddled horses.
Smoke glanced at the blue sky, dotted here and there with white clouds. There was nothing threatening about it, but some instinct stirred inside him. Like a lot of Westerners, he had a feel for the weather, maybe a better one than most, and it wouldn't surprise him if snow fell sometime in the next few days. Maybe he could smell it in the air.
"You still plan on me stayin' here?" Pearlie asked as Smoke walked up.
"Well, then, I reckon that's what I'll do. I'd rather be goin' with you boys, though."
Cal said, "Of course you would. A few days of huntin' beats stayin' here and working, doesn't it, Smoke?"
"This isn't an excursion," Smoke pointed out. "That cat is dangerous. If we don't put a stop to its prowling, it's liable to come right up to the house before long."
Pearlie nodded. "I kind of figured that's why you wanted to find it. Reckon I'll wish you good huntin'."
Smoke tied the supplies to his saddle, which already had his bedroll lashed behind it. Then he and Cal swung up onto the mounts and headed out.
As they rode away from the ranch headquarters, Smoke frowned slightly and looked around, not seeing anything out of the ordinary, but he had felt something, a slight prickling on the back of his neck. That usually meant he was being watched.
He wondered suddenly if on this trip into the mountains, he was going to be the hunter — or the hunted.CHAPTER 2
Pearlie had passed along to Smoke what the puncher had told him about finding the mangled carcass of a cow near the base of Melville Peak, so he had no trouble locating the grisly remains. He knew every foot of the valley and the surrounding mountains, having explored the area thoroughly in his younger days.
Those days really weren't all that long ago, to be honest, but most of the time it seemed like he and Sally had always been together, had always been in the rugged paradise making a life for themselves.
"Dang," Cal exclaimed as he and Smoke rode up to what was left of the cow. "Looks like that panther had himself a feast."
"Yeah," Smoke said, nodding gravely, "his belly ought to be full, that's for sure. That means he'll head back to his den and sleep for a while. Maybe we can find him before he wakes up."
"You reckon you can follow the sign?" Cal asked, then laughed. "Shoot, that was a dumb question, wasn't it? Of course you can follow the sign. You're Smoke Jensen, the canniest tracker, the boldest fighter, and the fastest gun west of the Mississippi or anywhere else."
Smoke frowned. "You haven't been reading those dime novels again, have you, Cal? I told you, those are all just stories that some scribbler makes up. Wouldn't surprise me if he is drunk while he's doing it, either. I might not be able to stop them from writing about me, but I don't have to read them and neither do you."
"Well, no offense, but I sort of like the ones about Frank Morgan better, anyway," Cal said as he thumbed back his hat. "He's this gunfighter, folks call him the Drifter —"
"I know who Frank Morgan is," Smoke broke in. He couldn't stop a chilly edge from entering his voice. Morgan had a notorious reputation as a gun for hire.
"Oh, yeah, sure, I reckon you would. Have you ever met him?"
"No, I haven't, and I swear, Cal, if you ask me which one of us I figure is faster on the draw —"
"Heck, there's no doubt in my mind about that," Cal said. "Nobody's faster than Smoke Jensen."
Smoke just grunted and turned his horse to ride around the bloody carcass. "Come on. We've got us a panther to tree."
"You really think he'll be up a tree?" Cal asked as he moved his mount alongside Smoke's.
"That's just an expression. More than likely he'll be in a cave." Smoke sure didn't believe all the dime novel nonsense that had been written about him, but it was a fact that he was a pretty good tracker. Of course, he'd had the best teacher anybody could ever have in the person of the old mountain man Preacher.
He was still kicking, still quite active despite his advanced age, and if he had been there, he could have followed the panther's trail as easily as if there had been signs posted showing the way.
As it was, Smoke had to search some for the paw prints, the broken branches, the overturned rocks, the occasional tuft of hair stuck on a tree trunk or a bush. The panther didn't leave many such signs, but there were enough for Smoke to follow the trail. He just couldn't hurry it, so the progress they made was on the slow side.
The trail led up the pine-covered slope toward the upper reaches of the mountain. The higher they went, the more the vegetation thinned out. The peak itself was above the tree line, gray and forbidding even on a sunny day, and topped with a white cap of snow.
Smoke wondered just how far up the panther's lair was. Cats liked high places, so there was no telling.
They had been making their way up the mountainside for a couple hours when he said, "We'll lose the light in another hour or so, Cal. We'd better start looking for a good place to make camp."
"We won't be gettin' back to headquarters today, will we?" the young man asked.
"Nope. I didn't really figure we would. That would've been just blind luck, if we'd found the varmint that fast. I'll always take good luck when it comes along, but it doesn't pay to expect it."
Before the sun went down, they found a fairly level, open spot among some trees to make their camp. Smoke tended to the horses while Cal hunted up some firewood along with the rocks they would arrange in a circle to contain the blaze. Smoke had spent many a night under the stars, so it wasn't anything new to him. Back in the days when he'd been riding the hoot owl trail with false murder charges hanging over his head, he'd made camp in a lot lonelier places.
They didn't have to cook their supper as Sally had made sandwiches, placing thick slices of roast beef between slabs of sourdough bread. Smoke brewed coffee in the pot he had brought along, and they washed down the bread and meat with tin cups of Arbuckle's. She had put several airtights in the bag of supplies as well, so he used his knife to open a can of peaches and split it with Cal for dessert, letting the young man drink the thick, sweet syrup left in the can.
After they had eaten, they sat next to the fire, enjoying the warmth cast by the merrily dancing flames. Neither looked directly into the fire. They knew doing so would make a man lose his night vision temporarily. With a killer cat loose on the mountainside, neither of them wanted that.
"It'll be good to have you and Miss Sally home for Christmas this year, Smoke," Cal said as he nursed a second cup of coffee. "Are either of your brothers gonna be here?"
"Not that I know of. The last letter I got from Matt, he was out in California and didn't say anything about heading this way. I haven't heard from Luke in a long time." Smoke smiled faintly. "He was never much of one for staying in touch."
That was putting it mildly. For many years, Smoke had believed his older brother was dead, killed in the last days of the Civil War. Luke had been betrayed by men who were supposed to be his friends and comrades — the same men ultimately responsible for the deaths of Smoke's father Emmett, Nicole, and Arthur. Luke had survived that treachery and made a new life for himself, under a new name, as a bounty hunter during the violent days following the great conflict.
Finally, fate had brought the brothers back together. Not surprisingly, that reunion had seen a lot of hot lead flying around, and somehow, gunplay continued to be quite common whenever Smoke and Luke got together. Smoke would have been happy for his older brother to give up his wandering ways and settle down on the Sugarloaf, but he had a hunch that would never happen. Luke was just too fiddle-footed for that.
Excerpted from A Colorado Christmas by William W. Johnstone, J. A. Johnstone. Copyright © 2016 J. A. Johnstone. Excerpted by permission of KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I won this book from Goodreads giveaways. I was not required to give a favorable review. This was a very well written book about a time when a lot of things getting into Colorado by train had to deal with the chance of so much snow. But the people made Christmas special. This was a great story.