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Devil in Texas

By:Lady Law & The Gunslinger

Chapter 1

Galveston, Texas

August 1883

Death: the end of the line.

There was a certain poetic justice to the idea here, at the corner of Post Office and 26th streets, where The Wicked plied their trade in sin. Galveston's tenderloin district—better known as The Line—was doing a booming business. Drunkards whizzed on walls. Hooligans rolled dice in alleys. Prostitutes primped, flashing more than smiles in the ruddy light of brothel windows.

As far as the eye could see, no tin-star intruded on the scene, probably because payoff day occurred on the first of the month. Until then, the law never crossed The Line. That meant tonight, no one would interfere.

'No one will even notice,' mused the figure in the itchy, fake beard, who lurked across the street from the Satin Siren Casino and Saloon.

Asrael. The Regulator of God. That was how the figure thought of itself while disguised in the rumpled, linen sack suit that sodbusters favored in town. Like the Angel of Death, the mortal Asrael felt no remorse to orchestrate deeds ordained by the King of Heaven. The Satin Siren was a pestilential den of drunken savages and thieving whores. Behind its deceptively quaint, nautical doors, depravity raged unabated. More to the point, the casino was the lair of the She-devil and her spawn, who'd interfered in Asrael's plans.

For the last time.

Fueled by divine righteousness and a potent dose of contempt, Asrael felt no fear of The Line's shifty-eyed rabble, even as twilight faded over Post Office Street, and night stretched its tentacles toward the slutty redhead on the casino's sign. Asrael imagined the She-devil must look much like that garish, birdlimed mermaid.

Soon that mystery would be solved. At eight o'clock, the stage curtains were scheduled to rise. The "Mermaid Queen" would show her tits to morally bankrupt men for the last time.

As if on cue, the hired gun across the street checked his timepiece. When his eyes locked with Asrael's, the man grinned, tossed aside his smoke, and disappeared into the alley of the brothel.

Asrael's lips carved out a ghoulish smile.

Eight o'clock. Divine justice.

Death at the end of The Line.

Asrael couldn't wait for the show to begin.

* * *

Life was about to get good.

That's what William "Cass" Cassidy thought as he craned back his blond head to gawk at the mostly naked mermaid, who protruded in all the right places from the brothel's sign. When he spied the seagull roosting so happily between the nymph's pumpkin-sized breasts, Cass's grin turned lopsided.

"You see that, Collie?" Cass reined in beside his 17-year-old sidekick and jerked his thumb in the direction of the mermaid. "I'm gonna get me one of those."

Collie shoved back his hat, spilling sun-bleached hair to his shoulders. He frowned up at the mermaid's trident. "Looks like another way to get ventilated, if you ask me."

Cass chuckled. Dismounting, he let his buckskin forge a place at the crowded hitching post. About 11 months ago, Collie had saved Cass's leg—and maybe his life—from the bite of a copperhead. Cass had rescued the Kentucky-born orphan from a life of small-time thievery in an even smaller Appalachian town. Somewhere between Louisville and Longview, they'd learned to tolerate each other. Sort of.

"I told you," Cass said, using his black Stetson to slap the trail dust from his all-black duds. "The Line is the safest place in Sin City for a fella on the run."

"You yak about a lot of things, Snake Bait," Collie grumbled, referring to the copperhead incident. He shooed his pet from his lap so he could swing from the saddle. "But what I really want to know is: why does a state senator want to meet you in a place like this?"

"'Cause Austin's crawling with Rangers."

"Well, that should have been your first clue."

"About what, Mary Sunshine?"

"That your old ranch boss is as crooked as a corkscrew."

"Says the kid who steals pies off windowsills."

"Hey! A fella's gotta eat!" Collie's lean, wolfish cheeks turned as red as his bandanna. "'Sides. I thought you wanted to be a Ranger, not piss one off."

"Depends on the Ranger."

The truth was, Cass was hoping to strike a deal with his old ranch boss. Now that James "Cattle Baron" Westerfield chaired the Senate's Criminal Justice Committee, he had the political clout to fix Cass's troubles with the law—troubles that had started back home, in Pilot Grove, when Cass learned the hard way that tin-stars took a dim view of Good Samaritans, who tried to clean up Texas with their guns.

Thanks to letters of commendation written on Cass's behalf by Kentucky lawmen, Baron learned that Cass wanted to return to Texas. Unfortunately, those same letters had fallen into the hands of Rexford Sterne, Cass's mortal enemy, who somehow got himself appointed Adjutant-General of Texas's elite law-fighting force.

Thanks to Sterne's Rangers, Cass and Collie had been forced to ride for three weeks through bayou country, where they'd seen more water moccasins, alligators, and mosquitoes than two men should have to see in their lives. Collie had wondered where the drought was. And the cattle. And why any sane person would settle in Texas.

Collie hadn't exactly fallen in love with the dive-bombing seagulls of Galveston, either.

Tethering his roan to the hitching post, the boy squinted across the street. "Don't look now," he warned in his gruff, backwoods manner, "but that fella on the porch has been watching you ever since we turned down Post Office."

Cass glanced over his shoulder.

"I told you not to look! It could be a Ranger, for crying out loud!"

"Wearing a bowler and sack suit?" Cass snorted. "You got sawdust for brains to think something so stupid."

"Stupid ain't my affliction," Collie retorted loftily. "I didn't travel a thousand miles to put my neck in a noose."

The kid had a point. Cass hated when that happened.

But Cass hadn't been able to stay in Kentucky any longer. Not the way tensions had been building up inside him over the fiancée of his best friend. After riding with Lynx for 11 years, leaving the Cherokee behind had been the hardest thing Cass had ever done. Even harder than watching Lynx put a ring on Sera's hand.

Cass squared his jaw. Yeah. Leaving Kentucky was the right thing to do.

"All right," he told Collie. "I'm going in."

"It's your funeral."

"And you're going in with me."

"No, thanks. I hear brain rot's contagious—Hey!"

Ignoring the growls of Collie's furry bodyguard, Cass dragged his sidekick through the fancy, nautical doors of the Satin Siren Casino and Saloon. His gunslinger's eyes only blinked once to adjust to the foyer's ambient lighting, which was relatively bright, even for a high-class house of sin.

Releasing Collie's arm, Cass halted on turquoise, shell-shaped tiles. As usual, his hands twitched above his .45s while his gaze hunted for threats. The gaming hall was crowded, despite the early hour. He had the fleeting impression of gilded frescos, crystal chandeliers, and liveried faro dealers.

Then he noticed the stage—or rather, its aqua curtain. Craning back his head, he couldn't help but grin as he drank in every detail of that panorama of lust. The central focus was a galleon, marooned in the middle of a tropical lagoon. Beneath the prow, the captain was wrestling a fantastical, whiskered tiger shark with a woman's breasts. An octopus with unmistakably female eyes was using her tentacles to make naked sailors succumb to lust.

But Cass's favorite part of the tapestry was the army of warrior mermaids, who were herding shackled swabbies into a coral cave. The captives didn't look all that alarmed by the dastardly things the Mermaid Queen was doing to their compadres. Who would have guessed fishtails could be used in such imaginative ways?