And so we present the final part of our exclusive eBook previews.
Joe Kettle possessed the grit and fighting blood of his father,
and his father before him. And he needed it, for Wilshaw
Broome – once a loyal foreman of the Standing K ranch – was
using hired gunmen in his effort to seize the Kettle domain.
Supported by an ageing Hector Chaf and Ben McGovren,
Joe sets out to win back his birthright. But each of the three
men had his own special reason for going up against overwhelming
opposition, and it wasn’t all to do with property
To overcome Broome’s force, they would play a waiting
game, take advantage of the hidden trails and scrub thickets
along the Rio Bonito. Then, when the time was right, they
would not hesitate to meet force with force and guns with
The overpowering heat of the New Mexico sun pressed
down. It pierced prickly pear and chaparral thickets, made
the water simmer in the Rio Bonito. At the eastern end of
Hoope Kettle’s land, the rays seemed to be concentrating
off one corner of the big corral where two boys had been
engaged in a ham-fisted, but passionate fist fight.
One, the younger by two years, was the taller by inches,
and he had longer arms. His adversary on the other hand
was more stockily built. He was by far the strongest, and
when his punches landed, they stung the most.
‘Your pa would be givin’ you a fat ear for comin’ home
after a scrap like that,’ Ben McGovren said with an understanding
smile. ‘If he ever found out, that is.’
‘Judd was spoilin’ for a fight. A larrupin’ from Pa would
be worth it,’ Jasper answered back.
‘Why were you fightin’?’ Ben asked.
‘He called me a little raggedy-assed foot-soldier. He said
I ought to be inside bakin’ biscuits.’
Ben nodded. ‘It is kind o’ peculiar not totin’ your own
saddle, Jasper,’ he returned understandingly. ‘We ought to
see about gettin’ you some sort o’ cow pony. Meantime, get
cleaned up, ’cause your pa’s comin’.’
‘Them boys o’ mine been fightin’ again?’ Hoope Kettle
asked of his ’puncher.
‘Yeah. I guess young Jasper can only stand so much
raggin’,’ Ben answered. ‘But in that, he kind o’ reminds me
o’ someone,’ he added, after a little thought.
‘Seems to me the boy’s got a dose o’ snake bile in him,’
another voice chimed in. It was Wilshaw Broome the foreman
who had closed in behind Kettle.
Another of Kettle’s cowboys called Hector Chaf,
unfolded his long legs. He eased himself down and stood
alongside the high pole fence of the corral. ‘The snakes
around here only anger when you disturb ’em,’ he replied.
‘An’ they rattle before they bite you,’
Broome smiled thinly and shook his head. ‘Jasper
smacked Judd on the nose. An’ that was Judd strikin’ back
at the funny side of it.’
Ben hopped down from where he’d been sitting beside
Hector. ‘Judd’s been ridin’ his little brother for many
moons,’ he told him. ‘I don’t reckon he figured on Jasper
yet havin’ the sand to hit back.’
‘It’s mostly what young uns do,’ Kettle said, goodnaturedly.
‘It’s a way o’ gettin’ their range. This ain’t
Philadelphia, ain’t even Oklahoma City. There’ll be a
proper time for ’em to learn etiquettes an’ the like.’
‘Let’s get you lazy roosters goin’,’ Broome addressed Ben
and Hector. ‘Get down to the stock, like Mr Kettle wants, or
he’ll be watchin’ me kick the bejasus out o’ you two.’
‘Listen, Broome,’ Hector snapped back, ‘if the boss
wants me an’ Ben to do somethin’, he’ll say. We don’t rise
to your bark, an’ we never will.’
Broome cast a sharp glance at Hoope Kettle. But there
was no support, and with a dark scowl he started to walk
‘Hey, Broome,’ Hector said quietly, striding after him.
‘Are you ridin’ into Lemmon tonight?’
The foreman paused and looked doubtfully at the tall
cowboy. ‘Why? What’s it to you?’
‘I’m curious o’ the company you been keepin’ there,’
Hector said. ‘Sounds like it might be where you got
acquainted with that bile you mentioned.’
Anger distorted Broome’s harsh face. He thought of
retaliating, but the look of challenge in Hector’s eyes
checked him. He turned away but Hector continued to bait
‘I know for some devious reason you’ve been makin’ up
to Judd,’ he said. ‘But neither of ’em are much more’n
weaners, so don’t go usin’ ’em to score points off. An’ don’t
try to divi ’em up. I’m watchin’ you real close, mister.’
Close by, Hoope Kettle shook his head as he looked his
boys up and down. ‘How the both o’ you were bred from the
same stock, is one o’ them marvels o’ nature,’ he grated.
‘I’m thinkin’ if I put you both out to pasture, maybe you’ll
come back more forbearin’, not with an outright likin’ for
‘Is pasture your way o’ sayin’ school, Pa?’ Jasper asked
‘It might be one way. We’ll talk on it at supper,’ Kettle
That evening, Judd didn’t eat with the family. He took a
bowl of stew up to his room, stayed there sullen and morose.
The only feeling he had for his parents was callow resentment,
like he’d held for some time. As a consequence, he
missed the talk that decided he’d be leaving the safety of the
ranch for some learning years in Gallup. Shortly after that,
Hoope Kettle also arranged for Jasper to attend school in
Albuquerque for his share of an education. One hundred
and fifty miles between his constantly squabbling boys was
more than adequate, Kettle considered wryly.
Two months later, the big headquarters was a strangely
quiet place after they’d gone, but the stern rancher never
let out that he missed them, not even to his wife.
Furthermore, the man’s loyalty prevented him from admitting
that maybe he missed one more than the other.
One day he suggested tellingly to Ben McGovren that a
straight saplin’ was most likely to make a straight tree.
‘Yeah,’ Ben replied. ‘It’ll grow the longest too.’