Book Excerpt

"The Lawman's Vow"

by Elizabeth Lane

Excerpt from "The Lawman's Vow"

Northern California Coast, March 1858
The storm had slammed in from nowhere, howling with the fury of a banshee gone amuck. Lightning cracked across the dark night sky. Thunder echoed like mortar fire through the blackness. Lashed by a screaming wind, waves crashed over the fifteen-foot sailboat, threatening to crush its fragile hull.

Wrestling with the tiller, San Francisco Police detective Flynn O’Rourke swore into the storm. He cursed the wind and the sea and the hell-damned boat. And he cursed himself for thinking he could sail up the coast to Aaron Cragun’s cliff top hideaway and catch the murdering little weasel unaware. As a sailor he was competent enough; but he was no match for a storm like this one. The sails were gone, clawed away by the wind. Worse, in the swirling darkness, with no stars to guide him, he had lost all sense of direction.

A lightning flash illuminated the sapphire signet ring on the middle finger of his left hand. The ring was the one thing Flynn had inherited from his father - the younger son of Irish nobility, who’d died penniless in the New World, leaving his son and daughter to make their own way. Both had managed well enough. Flynn had recently made the rank of lieutenant in San Francisco’s police department. His sister had used her voice and her beauty to become a music hall star.

Now his sister was dead, strangled in a filthy dark alley after a performance. A shabbily dressed man had been seen crouching over her body, pocketing her jewelry. Witnesses had identified him as Aaron Cragun, a human vulture who collected and sold salvage from shipwrecks up the coast.

Cragun was nowhere to be found. But a police informant had drawn Flynn a map of the coast, showing the remote cliffside aerie where the man lived. When the storm struck, Flynn had been on his way there, bent on dragging the bastard to the gallows or gunning him down on the spot.
Now he found himself fighting for his life.

The hull was filling with water. Abandoning the tiller, Flynn grabbed a bucket and began bailing like a madman. But it was no use. Anytime now, if it didn’t capsize first, the sloop would founder and sink.

Flynn was a strong swimmer. If the storm hadn’t carried him too far out, he might have a chance of getting to shore. But in the howling blackness, he had no idea which way to go. He could just as easily swim out to sea and drown. Until he could see land, he’d be better off staying with the boat. But as a precaution, he unbuckled his gun belt from around his hips and stowed the .36 Navy Colt in the bow compartment with his store of powder, caps and balls. If he ended up in the water, the added weight could be enough to drag him down.

Sea spray battered his face, the taste of it as salty as tears. His sister had been young and beautiful, eager to laugh and too quick to love. But he couldn’t allow himself to mourn her until he’d avenged her murder.

A blinding flash interrupted his thoughts. Stunned by the ear-splitting boom of thunder, Flynn could only be half sure of what he’d glimpsed yards ahead. It had looked like a sheer cliff, towering above rocks that jutted out of the water. Now, high in the darkness, he could make out the faintest flicker of light.

That light was the last thing he saw before the boat shattered against a rock, flinging him over the side. Something struck his head, and the world imploded into darkness.

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