Bound by blood but separated by years of hatred and mistrust, half-brothers Jonathan and Cooper Dundee are locked in a fierce struggle over their father’s legacy—the Dundee Ranch and the failing transport company. With cruel cunning, Jonathan has launched a ruthless plot to betray his family and to gain control of everything.
But his secret allies become impatient, and loose a campaign of bloody terror that endangers the lives of all the Dundees, as well as the fiercely independent Regan O’Rourke, already tormented by her conflicting desire for both Jonathan and Cooper. All too quickly, the long-simmering rivalry becomes a deadly wave of kidnapping, and murder that threatens the Dundee family, and soon escalates to include the entire Arizona territory.
Old wounds are opened as the brothers square off in the high stakes power struggle for the Dundee dynasty. Compassion has no sway. Forgiveness is forgotten. The Dundees are fighters, and this blood bath has begun!
The still morning air suddenly came alive with the high-pitched shrieks of small children, whose rough-and-tumble antics churned up great clouds of yellow dust from the un-paved street as they raced across the wide thoroughfare to attack Cooper from the rear. His surprise seemed genuine, and soon the man’s rich baritone mingled good-naturedly with the jubilant screams of the youngsters.
Gallantly, Cooper Dundee fought the good fight. He chose to prolong the skirmish, knowing that in the end he would surrender, and he covered his head with both arms in an attempt to suppress the laughter. The troop of young boys piled on top of him and pinned him to the ground. Straddling him—one on each arm and leg, and two more who bounced up and down on his belly and chest—the half-dozen children shouted in one voice, “Say ‘uncle’!”
Cooper convulsed in laughter, bucking away from small, tickling fingers. And then, thoroughly winded, he succumbed. “Uncle!” he breathed. When nothing happened, he repeated the word much louder. “Uncle!” Slowly, cautiously, the motley crew unwound themselves. One by one, they gave up their places, rising to stand in a tight but ragged circle around the man.
He pulled himself erect, stretching to his full six-feet-two, the handsome product of his Scottish father and Indian-Mexican mother. He was a lean man, a year past thirty, his sun-bronzed cheeks contrasting sharply with the amber-flecked green eyes that dominated his face. Dark hair, untouched by the sun, fell across his high forehead, the sweat-damp locks at his neck and ears tightly curled. Swearing softly, he raked his fingers through the unruly mop, and stooped over to pick up his hat.
The flat-crowned, wide-brimmed plainsman hat seemed his only concern now, and he was fastidious in his attention to the numerous dents and creases that pocked the battered felt.
Lovingly, he patted the Stetson back into shape, rotating the hat in a slow circle around his bent elbow as he dried the sweatband on his sleeve. Finally satisfied, he settled the hat squarely on his head, the wide brim shadowing the laughter in his eyes.
The game then resumed when ten-year-old Toby Udall swaggered forward, properly insolent as he played out the charade. An old sombrero hid his thick head of red hair, while his freckled nose and grubby chin were covered with a bright red bandanna. He cocked his head and stared up at Cooper, his eyes narrowed in an expression of unspoken menace.
More threatening than his sneer was the fearsome weapon he was now pointing at Cooper’s belt buckle. In his small boy’s mind, his mother’s discarded broom became a long-barreled Sharps rifle, the stubby straw nub firmly pressed against his right side. He palmed back an imaginary hammer, cocking the piece and poking it at Cooper’s belly with great authority. “Your money or your life, pilgrim,” he growled. The large cinnamon jawbreaker that nested in his fat cheek was now a chaw of tobacco, and he worked it against his jaw until he collected just the right amount of the pungent juice. Forcing a cough, he spit into the dirt between Cooper’s feet. “You heard me, mister,” he drawled. “Your money or your life!” The five similarly armed outlaws at his back echoed his demands.
Outnumbered, Cooper offered no resistance. He began a frantic search of his pockets, his outer vest pocket first and then his trousers. Slowly, he probed the depths of the right front pocket, pulling it inside out to a chorus of whispered dismay. The make-believe road agents moved closer, watching as the man flicked away imaginary pieces of lint in his fruitless search for treasure.
At last, as the band of midget marauders inched closer, he plunged his hand deep inside the remaining pocket and delved to the very bottom. There was the faint jingle of coins, more prolonged hesitation, and then—as he withdrew his hand—the bright flash of copper.
He doled out the coins until each small hand held its own Indian-head penny, and then, aware of an additional pair of eyes beyond the circle, he produced yet another. He tapped Toby’s shoulder and pressed the second coin into his palm. “For your friend,” he smiled, nodding toward the porch.
Michael Patrick O’Rourke stood in the shadows on the wood-plank sidewalk in front of the Dundee Transport Line office, far apart from the others. More than distance separated him from the boys in the street. The distinct eastern cut and style of his factory-tailored suit as well as his unnatural tidiness set him apart.
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