A Vow of Revenge (Preview)

Chapter One

California, 1896

“Another second…then I’ll pull the trigger,” Diego muttered to himself, with his eyes trained on the barrel of the gun. He was aiming for the perfect shot, he just had to be patient and wait for the right moment.

Almost there.

He held his breath as that time neared. The cow ambled slowly through the gate. As soon as its tail had passed the fence line, Diego fired the gun. The sound ricocheted through the air, and the cow mooed in protest at the sound, but it was only momentary. The bullet hit the wood of the gate. For a second, the gate swung on its hinges, then it closed sharply, and trapped the cow in.

“Perfect shot.” Diego lowered the gun and laughed to himself.

“Only you would shoot for fun, Diego.” The soft tones of his wife earned his attention. Diego spun around, kicking up the dirt from the ground to see Zelda standing on the veranda of the ranch house, with her dark auburn hair wild in the wind, the curls dancing around her face.

“I have to keep my skills up, don’t I?” Diego twisted the gun in his hand and blew on the end, playfully boasting in a way that had her laughing.

“You’re known for being a good shot. No practice needed.” She beckoned him with the curl of her hand. “Come on in. Hugo is desperate to eat, and if he doesn’t get food soon, I think he’ll climb on the table.”

“I’m coming.” Diego checked the fence was shut properly and stepped back, surveying his ranch lands. They’d grown in the last seven years since he’d come to town, seeking out his future. He now owned a vast strip of land and a large herd of cows, with two particularly troublesome bulls. He kept his distance from the main part of town, preferring the rural life out here, with mountains on one side of the ranch and a forest of sycamores and grey pines on the other.

Hurrying back to the house, he leaped up the front steps and reached Zelda’s side, quickly passing a hand around her waist. She smiled sweetly up at him as he moved in for a kiss. The sweetness of her lips on his was always intoxicating to him. He lingered there for a few seconds, knowing that since he had come to town, he had found a better future, but he didn’t have to thank his lands for that, only Zelda. Had it not been for meeting her on his first day in town, and quickly falling in love with her, he would not be as happy as he was now.

“Eww!” a complaint sounded from the doorway to the house. They pulled apart, though Diego’s arm was still looped around his wife’s waist as she giggled.

“Hugo, love, it is quite natural for parents to kiss.”

“It’s still yuck.” The little boy jutted his bottom lip out. “Can we eat yet?” He changed tact, looking abruptly excited.

“Ha! Course we can.” Diego hurried to his son’s side and patted the dark black hair on his head. The boy was very like him in many ways, with the same black hair, the rich brown eyes, and the tanned skin. The Spanish blood in him was strong, but when Diego looked hard at Hugo’s face, he could see Zelda in the boy too. The shapes of his eyes were hers, as were the smaller mouth and the high cheek bones. “You will eat us out of house and home at this rate.”

“I’m hungry!” Hugo complained. Diego tried to reach for his son, to pick him up, but the boy darted back in through the door, hurrying to the kitchen. “I’ll eat it all before you.”

“Mischievous rascal,” Diego murmured and walked inside, with Zelda following behind him.

Sitting down at his kitchen table, Diego lost himself in the food and company of his family. Frequently, he leaned over to help Diego with his food. The boy was merely five years old, and sometimes struggled with cutting his meat. Diego chopped it up for him and urged his son to sit straighter.

“Careful, Son.” Diego leaned toward him as his boy veered so far over his plate, the neck of his shirt was in his dinner. “Here, sit a little taller, and you won’t have this problem.” He tucked the collar of his son’s shirt back and showed him how to sit tall. Zelda added more of the stew to Diego’s bowl as he worked, the scent of the beef and rich herbs filling the air around them.

“Don’t understand why I have to sit straight. It’s like a poker in my spine,” Hugo complained, wincing.

“He has your humor already,” Zelda pointed out to Diego with a giggle. “Hugo, look at Ma. See how strange I look if I lean over my bowl.” She mimicked her son’s stance and leaned across her bowl, hunching her shoulders. The necklace she always wore hung down low, the pendant dropping into the stew.

“Ha!” The boy laughed and pointed at Zelda’s necklace. “You have stew on you now.”

“Exactly. Try to sit straight,” she said softly, sitting up again and taking off her necklace. Diego took it from her, offering to clean it.

As they finished and Zelda took Hugo upstairs to bed, Diego washed the plates in a bucket of water in the kitchen. He paused, holding onto Zelda’s necklace in the palm of his hand. It was a mirror image of the one he wore. Each leather strap bore a wolf’s tooth, two black beads, and a stone with a loop through the middle. If he were to put Zelda’s necklace against his own, the two stones would slide together perfectly, showing they had been one whole rock once.

He cleaned the stone in the water, when a whinny sounded from outside. Flicking his head toward the window, he looked for the source of the sound. His own horses were far across the ranch, in the stable. They would have to whinny hard to be heard at this distance. No second whinny followed. He was used to checking on such sounds these days. Whether he searched for animal attacks on his cows or anything else, he’d learned that attackers rarely made just one sound. When only silence followed, he judged it to have been in his imagination, he returned to cleaning the necklace, pausing just long enough to light a few candles, now that the light was dropping from the sky and night was creeping in.

“He’ll sleep hard tonight. He’s a tired boy.” Zelda’s voice drew Diego’s attention. She walked into the kitchen with a contented sigh and leaned beside Diego on the workbench. “He’s exhausted himself trying to run around after you all day.”

“The boy has adventure in his soul. I like that.” Diego smiled at the thought of how much his son was like him.

“Adventure? I call it mischief.”

“What’s life without a little mischief, eh?” Diego asked and winked at his wife. She laughed hard and tipped toward him, close enough so that he could kiss her again. Diego smiled into that kiss, feeling just how happy he was. His hand tightened around her necklace, still in his grasp, when that whinny beyond the window reached his ears again. He pulled back from Zelda, turning to the window.

“What is it?” she asked, her voice soft.

“I think someone’s out there.” Diego put the necklace in his pocket, without thinking about it, and shifted to the window. He couldn’t see anything at first, only the dirt basked in moonlight and the fencing nearby, behind which his cows and bulls slept. A shadowy figure darted in front of the window. “Someone’s there. Without a doubt.”

He turned away and snatched up the gun he’d left resting on a sideboard.

“Diego?” Zelda took his arm, holding him back. “You don’t need to shoot first.”

“I have no intention of shooting first, but if there are cattle thieves on my land, I will get rid of them.” He checked there were enough bullets and cocked the gun. Before he could even move to the door, the whinny sounded again and was followed by a voice.

“Hey? Hey!” The second word was drawled out, elongated, and shouted with gusto.

Zelda’s hand tightened through Diego’s arm.

“That voice,” she whispered, her face paling.

“Come out here. Diego Duval. Come out here right now!” The voice demanded, shouting so loudly that Diego’s eyes flicked to the ceiling. His son might be woken by such shouts.

“He’s drunk,” Diego muttered, hurrying for the door.

“Diego, do you not realize who that is?” Zelda raced after him and blocked the door. “It’s him again. It’s Winston.”

Diego froze with his hand on the doorframe.

“I thought we’d seen the last of him,” he whispered. Winston was proving to be a thorn in Diego’s side. He’d once been a childhood friend to Zelda, but that was years ago, long before she had rejected his suit.

“Duval! You come out here right now, or I start shooting at windows.” The order made them both tense.

“He’s got a gun,” Zelda hissed in panic. “What’s he doing with a gun?”

“He’s drunk, can’t you hear it? He’s slurring his words.” Diego reached for the door, and this time, Zelda let him pass. He darted outside and down the veranda, turning back just once to ask Zelda to stay inside.

“Are you kidding me? If he’s got a gun, I can’t stay inside.” She kept a hand on Diego’s arm and followed him across the veranda and down the steps.

When Diego saw Winston again, he pushed his wife back, wishing to protect her, as he always did.

“I was wrong,” Diego whispered. “He isn’t just drunk. He’s senseless with liquor.”

Winston Bowman was staggering back and forth in front of the house, spooking his own horse that backed up, whinnied, and escaped to the fence line in search of safety.

“He doesn’t look like a mayor right now, does he?” Diego asked, marching toward Winston.

Mayor Winston Bowman had been elected to the office a few years before. He’d seemed to think once he achieved that high office, he would get what he’d always wanted.

Zelda.

Diego glanced at Zelda, catching sight of the fear in her eyes in the moonlight. They kept darting between him and Winston.

“I’ll start shooting.” Winston drawled and raised a gun in his hand, pointing it at the upstairs window.

That’s Hugo’s room!

“No more of this.” Diego leaped forward. He pushed against Winston’s hands and knocked the gun away. Winston scrambled to keep hold of it, nearly letting it slip from his fingers.

“Ah, you’re here.” Winston half smiled, half of his face struggling because he was that paralyzed with liquor. “Good evening to you, Zelda.” He bowed flamboyantly in her direction, though she held herself back, not wishing to come any closer to him. She gave no sign of having heard him and just glared, with her hands fidgeting together in front of him.

“What are you doing here, Winston?” Diego asked, pushing the mayor’s shoulder so he backed up from the house. “Aren’t you needed in town? Come on, the mayor must be needed for some smart drinks event tonight, surely?”

“I haven’t got anywhere to be.” Winston tipped his chin high, adopting a look of pride. With the stench that wafted off him, the whole appearance was nauseating. He raised his free hand and brushed it across his receding hairline. The hair had grown so thin on his head that he was practically bald these days.

“Then why are you here?” Diego demanded to know.

“I came to see…” Winston trailed off, his icy blue eyes turning on Zelda. She flinched as if she had been struck by that gaze.

Never have I seen her so afraid of him before.

Diego stepped to the side, blocking Winston’s view of his wife.

“We are not going over old ground again.” Diego kept his voice low, not wishing to wake his son from his sleep. “Zelda is married to me. She turned your offer down seven years ago. I saw it. She’s not coming back to you now.”

“You don’t know that.” Winston raised a hand to Diego’s shoulder and tried to push past him. The man was so drunk it was easy for Diego to dislodge that grasp and push once into Winston’s shoulder. He staggered on his feet, in danger of falling over.

“You stink, Winston. Scotch is wafting off you.” Diego waved a hand in front of his nose and pushed his gun into his holster. He wouldn’t shoot a drunk mayor, and he’d seen time and time again how Winston liked to cause trouble but hadn’t ever really been dangerous. He made threats but could never act on them. It wouldn’t have surprised Diego to discover that the gun in Winston’s hand was a toy. “Go home. Sober up.” He was used to Winston and didn’t expect him to be a real threat.

“No. No!” Winston barked the latter word and tried to move around Diego again. Easily, Diego blocked his path. “Zelda. Oh, Zelda. You made such a mistake marrying this man instead of me. You and I both know it, but I want you to know, I…I….” He struggled, raising a hand to his temple. From the way he swayed on his feet, Diego judged his world was shifting on its axis.

“Put the gun away, Winston.” Her soft words took command. Winston put the gun in his jacket, no longer appearing like any threat at all.

“I know who is to blame. I know it.” Winston raised a hand and pointed straight at Diego. “He took you away from me. He stole you. He manipulated you.”

Diego looked at the dark heavens above, pleading for help. He’d heard this argument enough times, but never in such drunken words. It was rare to see Winston let go of his inhibitions so much. He must have been lost to his anger tonight, and his desperation.

“Please don’t do this,” Zelda begged. She stepped forward once, but appeared to second guess herself, and moved back again. “You’ll wake my son.”

“Your son! It should have been our son.”

Winston’s insistence disgusted Diego. His eyes narrowed.

“Get over it, Winston. Move on. Good lord, it’s been long enough.” He tried to take Winston’s arm to march him off the ranch.

“Don’t you touch me.” Winston swung around abruptly. The punch came so swiftly through the darkness that Diego couldn’t dodge it in time. Winston’s lack of balance meant the punch landed on Diego’s’ jaw, rather than his nose, with the thud resounding loudly between them.

“Winston? What kind of man have you become?” Zelda complained, her breath hitching in such a way that showed she was fighting tears.

Diego adjusted his jaw. He could feel a bruise developing already, but no bones were broken. Winston stared, shocked at what he had done, with his hand still curled into a fist and his eyes so wide that Diego could see the whites of them.

“Touch me again, and I’ll force you off my land,” Diego threatened, his voice deep.

Winston launched himself forward, his fists flailing. Diego pushed each blow away with ease, for the man was too drunk to even punch straight. Diego tipped Winston onto his back, ending the fight.

“No, no, please.” Zelda cried, with great tears streaking her cheeks. “No more of this, please.”

Diego moved toward her.

“No more, I promise. Winston is leaving now, and he will not be coming back to hurt you again or to demand anything from you. Understand that, Winston? As a mayor, I should think you could understand basic language.” Diego chuckled, enjoying belittling the mayor.

“Diego,” Zelda’s whisper was dark and so quiet, he almost missed it.

“What?” He turned around, catching sight of what had frightened Zelda so much.

Winston scrambled to his feet, his face crimson red with anger as he breathed heavily. He’d snatched the gun from his jacket and was pointing it straight at Diego.

“Don’t move,” Winston warned, his voice strangely formal, despite the situation. It was the tone of the mayor, the persona he so often adopted. Yet it didn’t fit with the raging drunken man Diego saw before him.

“Don’t be a fool,” Diego warned. “You going to shoot me, Winston? What good does that do?”

“If you weren’t here, then she would…” Winston inhaled sharply, his fingers clenching around the pistol. “She would have picked me.”

Diego held his hands out in front of him, feeling the fear spike in his stomach.

“Don’t be a fool. You think if you kill me, she’d ever choose you then?” he asked, stepping toward Winston with his hands still outstretched, like he was calming a wild animal. He couldn’t afford to reach for the gun in his holster. If he did, Winston could shoot first, and he’d be dead.

“You’d be gone. You’d be gone!” Winston called out repeatedly. “That’s what matters.”

“Winston, please, don’t do this,” Zelda begged, standing by the veranda, with her hands clutching to the wooden railing around it. She looked at Diego alone, her eyes so full of tears they glistened in the moonlight. “Don’t hurt him. I love him.”

“You love him!?” Winston spluttered. “You’re mad. He’s made you this way. It’s all his fault.” He waved the gun at Diego, that barrel coming closer and closer to Diego’s chest.

“Don’t do this. Don’t be a killer,” Diego warned. His eyes darted to his son’s window. At least there was no face peering through the glass. If he was about to be shot, he didn’t want his son to see it.

Oh, Hugo. My dear son. 

The love he felt for his family and the fear of being lost to them had his heartbeat echoing in his ears.

“You just need to be gone. Then everything will be better again. It will.” Winston worked himself into such a state that spittle hung off his lips.

“It won’t make anything better. She didn’t choose you because she didn’t care for you. Accept it. Get over it,” Diego called, his voice as loud as Winston’s own now. “Put down the gun.”

“No. No, I will not. This ends now. I’ll do something I should have done a long time ago.”

“No!” Zelda screeched. Her high-pitched voice pierced the air moments before the gun went off.

Diego leaped back, though in his heart, he knew he couldn’t escape the bullet in time. Yet no piercing feeling shot through his chest. Instead, Zelda flung herself into his arms.

“Zelda?” Diego whispered, with the gunshot still echoing around the ranch land. Her face paled, and she slumped in his arms.

Chapter Two

“Zelda?” Diego said her name with despair, his voice strained. “Zelda!” She didn’t respond. Her eyes blinked, and her hands clawed at his biceps as she tried to stand straight again, but she couldn’t. Her body was weak, and she fell. “No, no, this can’t be happening.”

He dropped with her to the ground, lowering her down so she was in his lap. He felt it now, with his hand under her back. The wound was instantly bloody.

Winston…he shot her in the back.

Diego’s head jerked up. His eyes flashed with anger as he glared at Winston. The mayor was frozen, with the gun hanging limply from his fingers. He blinked repeatedly.

“Look what you’ve done. Look!” Diego roared. “You shot Zelda. Why didn’t you just shoot me?”

“I was aiming for you,” Winston’s voice was quiet. He ran forward, trying to get to her.

“No. No. Don’t you dare come near her.” Diego held her tightly, warning Winston not to come close again. He snatched up his own gun and pointed it at Winston. “Take another step, and I shoot.”

Winston dropped his gun and backed up, his lip trembling.

“Tell me she’ll live,” he pleaded. “Tell me that.”

Diego looked down, with one arm wrapped tightly around Zelda. He lowered the gun and reached for her cheek, trying to keep her looking at him. Her eyes kept closing.

“Zelda, love, you have to stay awake. I’ll get you to a doctor, and it will all be alright.” He spoke in a rush, but she didn’t respond. Her lips formed the briefest of smiles, that beautiful smile taking up its place again, then it faded. Her lips parted, and she tried to whisper a word.

“Love…” He was sure of it, then her lips changed position. “Hu…”

“Hugo,” he finished for her. “I’ll protect him. I promise.”

She smiled again. Her body convulsed. His hands gripped her, too terrified to let her go.

“You just need to stay awake, please, stay awake.”

Her eyes closed, and her chin tipped back. She was no longer strong enough to hold it up.

“No. No!” Diego roared the words, desperate to keep her awake, but she was gone. Her hands fell from his biceps and dropped to the ground.

The once full-of-life woman that he adored was now lifeless in his arms, with her skin turning cold. His bloodstained palms reached for a pulse. He checked her wrist, her neck, even placed a hand to her chest, but he couldn’t discern even a flutter of a beat.

“You killed her. Murderer. Murderer!” Diego barked, lifting his head to see Winston shaking. He backed up and ran for his horse, grabbing the reins. “No, you don’t get away with this.” Diego shifted Zelda to the ground, kissing her swiftly on the forehead and leaping to his feet. He snatched up his gun, ready to fire at Winston, but the mayor was too fast. He flicked the reins of the horse and took off down the track road, heading toward the trees. “You get back here!” Diego shot wildly but only hit the trees and made an owl dart out from its hiding place in the branches.

There was a strange silence after the horse left. Other than the hoot of the owl and Diego’s heavy breathing, there was nothing else. He put his gun back in this holster and rushed to Zelda’s side. He searched for a pulse again but found none. The lifelessness of her body made his heart ache. Tears prickled his eyes, and he made no effort to stop them. He pulled his wife back into his arms and embraced her tightly, letting those tears fall.

“I’m so sorry, Zelda, I’m so sorry. I should have stayed inside as you asked. Oh, God’s snakes, what have I done?” He held her to his chest and roared at the sky. “How can this be right? How can this happen!?”

Yet God didn’t answer him. The clouds drew over the moon, increasing the darkness. In the distance, lightning flashed, showing a storm was coming.

Bending his head over his wife, he kissed her forehead and cheeks repeatedly.

“I am sorry. You will be avenged for this, Zelda. I promise you that. There will be justice. Winston…He will pay for this.” At his kisses and words, she didn’t once stir. Her lack of an answer made him ache all the more.

He didn’t know how long he held onto her, just pleading with her to wake and promising her vengeance, but a sound from inside the house drew his attention and brought him back to himself.

Hugo.

Diego stood and became resolved, quiet in manner. The tears rolled down his cheeks, but he could no longer do nothing and cry. He had to do something. He lifted Zelda’s body and rested her in a rocking chair on the veranda. When the cries reached his ears, he darted into the house, finding Hugo standing on the bottom step, his cheeks streaked with tears.

“Pa?” he asked, stammering between his panting breaths. “What’s…wh-what’s happening? Where’s Ma?”

His simple question brought fresh tears to Diego. He dropped to his feet and embraced his son. For one so young, he wouldn’t understand it, even if Diego could have summoned the words. Yet he knew something was wrong, for he cried harder in Diego’s embrace, and those small hands clutched so tightly at Diego’s shirt, he almost tore the material.

“Listen to me, Hugo,” Diego managed after some minutes; his own words stuttered. “We have to get out of here. You have to come with me now. We have to take Ma somewhere, alright?”

“Can I see her?”

“No,” Diego managed in a small voice. “I need you to stay here for me now, just for a minute.”

Hugo sat on the bottom step with his arms tightened around his legs. Diego left the house as the rain began, and he prepared a horse and a cart. Repeatedly, as he worked, he looked at his poor wife on the veranda, thinking of how differently this night could have turned out, if anything had happened in any other way. His mind just kept coming back to one thing alone.

He did this. Winston murdered her.

Once the cart was prepared, he collected his wife and laid her down in the back, as gently as he could. He kissed her cheek again and then softly placed a blanket over her, trying to keep her covered from the rain.

Rushing back into the house, he found his son still crying on the step.

“Who was shouting, Pa?” Hugo asked, with his voice quiet.

“All will make sense someday. I’ll tell you everything in time.” Yet he couldn’t find the words now. He picked up a jacket and threaded his son’s arms into it, then put boots on his son’s feet and carried him off the porch. Hugo looked around, his small face searching for his mother. “Please, Hugo, don’t look,” he begged, aware that there was blood in the dirt that was being washed away by the rain.

He placed Hugo in the driver’s seat beside him and kept an arm wrapped around his boy’s shoulders as he flicked the reins.

“Where are we going?” Hugo asked, pulling on Diego’s arm. “Pa?”

“To see the sheriff. I’m sorry, Son, but everything’s changed now.”

***


“A Vow of Revenge” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Diego’s world crumbles as he watches his wife being murdered and his son taken away from him. Framed for the crime, he’s trapped in a cell with only one hope: to escape and seek revenge on the man who destroyed his family. However, when he finally breaks free, he is not alone. Julian, a helpless clerk, becomes an unexpected ally on his journey to vengeance…

What secrets does Julian hold, and how will they impact Diego’s quest?

Diego and Julian embark on a perilous journey through the treacherous Wild West, constantly on the run from the law and facing impossible odds. Despite Julian’s inexperience and vulnerability, Diego senses a deeper connection between them. They share the same hometown and a common foe: Mayor Winston Bowman who has played a pivotal role in destroying both their lives. As they traverse the unforgiving terrain, they discover a dark and twisted web of corruption, deceit, and betrayal. What sacrifices will they need to make along the way?

Only time will tell if they” emerge from their harrowing journey unscathed…

Diego’s thirst for revenge collides with Julian’s desperate bid for redemption, forcing them both to confront their deepest fears. With the relentless sheriff hot on their trail, Diego and Julian must fight for a future they thought was lost forever. Will they triumph over their enemy and find the closure they seek, or will their journey end in tragedy?

“A Vow of Revenge” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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