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According to Hoyle

Abigail Roux

  Riptide Publishing

  PO Box 6652

  Hillsborough, NJ 08844

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

  According to Hoyle

  Copyright © 2014 by Abigail Roux

  Cover art: Simoné,

  Editors: Gretchen Stull, Carole-ann Galloway

  Layout: L.C. Chase,

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system without the written permission of the publisher, and where permitted by law. Reviewers may quote brief passages in a review. To request permission and all other inquiries, contact Riptide Publishing at the mailing address above, at, or at [email protected].

  ISBN: 978-1-62649-214-1

  Second edition

  December, 2014

  Also available in paperback:

  ISBN: 978-1-62649-215-8


  We thank you kindly for purchasing this title. Your nonrefundable purchase legally allows you to replicate this file for your own personal reading only, on your own personal computer or device. Unlike paperback books, sharing ebooks is the same as stealing them. Please do not violate the author’s copyright and harm their livelihood by sharing or distributing this book, in part or whole, for a fee or free, without the prior written permission of both the publisher and the copyright owner. We love that you love to share the things you love, but sharing ebooks—whether with joyous or malicious intent—steals royalties from authors’ pockets and makes it difficult, if not impossible, for them to be able to afford to keep writing the stories you love. Piracy has sent more than one beloved series the way of the dodo. We appreciate your honesty and support.

  By the close of 1882 in the American West, the line between heroes and villains is narrow. Total chaos is staved off only by the few who take the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren’t always played according to Hoyle.

  US Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington—longtime friends and colleagues—are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there’s more than outlawry to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known as Cage. As the two prisoners form an unlikely partnership, the marshals can’t help but look closer at their own.

  When forces beyond the marshals’ control converge on the paddle wheeler they’ve hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost, or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.

  (This title is a revised and edited second edition, with minor new additions, of According to Hoyle, originally published elsewhere.)

  For ALR, TMW, and MDT. You make a good posse. Or outlaw band, whatever.

  ACCORDING TO HOYLE: In accord with the prescribed rules or regulations.

  Edmond Hoyle (1672–1769) was an English barrister and writer who authored several books on the rules and play of card games. His rule books soon became the authority on all things cards, and the phrase “according to Hoyle” entered the language due to the perceived absolute rightness of the rules Hoyle set forth. The phrase soon took on a more general meaning, referring to any situation in which someone wished to refer to the rules of a higher authority.

  It is a similar statement to say we are doing something “by the book,” wherein this statement “the book” is often perceived to be the Bible. From the late eighteenth century to the turn of the twentieth century, the phrases “by the book” and “according to Hoyle” were both in common usage. They meant the same thing, only the former venerated the Bible as the highest authority, while the latter deferred to the whims of a deck of cards.

  About According to Hoyle

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  Chapter 17

  Dear Reader


  Also by Abigail Roux

  About the Author

  Enjoy this Book?

  November 1882

  Denver, Colorado

  Three men gathered around a linen-covered table in the expansive dining room of the Windsor Hotel in Denver. The great clock on the mantel read well past midnight and candles were all that lit the room, throwing their faces into deep, flickering shadow.

  Just two months prior to their meeting, Agent John C. Baird had been in New York, watching as the city’s elite unveiled the Pearl Street Power Station and the magic of electricity had lit up the city. He missed that civilized place, and he looked on overgrown mining and cow towns like Denver with disdain he could not and did not try to conceal. There were a few buildings in Denver that had electricity, but the Windsor Hotel was not yet numbered among them, no matter how elegantly appointed it was otherwise.

  It didn’t matter how uncomfortable the trip was for him, though. He was here on orders, and everything being asked of him hinged on this meeting. It would be worth the trip to this trumped-up little silver town to make certain this mission was done properly.

  The room was all but empty, save for a sparse number of diners and the hotel’s staff lingering to wait on them. One thing Baird found he did like about the western towns was that people knew how to mind their own affairs. They were in no danger of being disturbed.

  “You were late,” Baird said to the man just settling into the seat to his right.

  “This is a fancy place,” the newcomer said in a husky voice. He wore thin leather gloves, but they didn’t conceal the fact that one of the fingers on his left hand was missing. His range clothes were dusty, and his hat had left an impression in his black hair when he’d taken it off. It appeared to Baird that he’d just made the trip to Colorado from Texas on the back of a bison rather than in a rail car. The Texan nodded to the grand lobby and the doorman who still stood watching him in distaste. “They weren’t going to let me in.”

  The man opposite Baird gave that a quiet snort. He was handsome and dressed as quite the dandy, in clear contrast to the large Texan. Wiry and of average height, he carried himself with an insolent ease that Baird found both annoying and striking. He certainly wouldn’t have been refused entrance to the Windsor Hotel, or any other hotel on the continent. They hadn’t let his scruffy little puppy in with him, though, and the beast sat by the window, devotedly watching its master through the speckled glass.

  Baird would have sooner dealt with the dog than the shootist. His accent was that of an Englishman, and Baird had instantly decided he neither liked nor trusted the man. This was government business. An Englishman had no right to be involved. Baird’s orders were clear, though, and these were the two men he’d been told to contact. Before coming to his current position, Baird had been a Pinkerton agent, and a good one. He knew how to follow orders.

  Baird gave the Texan a critical eye. “Fine,” Baird said. He wasn’t in any mood to deal further with the issue of tardiness. He leaned back in his chair, posture loose and face relaxed, though one hand was on the concealed gun under th
e table.

  The Englishman wasn’t impressed. “I’d prefer it if we expedited this meeting.”

  “If we what?” the Texan asked.

  “Expedite. Hurry it along. Make it faster.”

  “If you mean faster, just say faster.”

  “Gentlemen,” Baird said with a sigh. Both men quieted and turned to him expectantly. Baird inclined his chin and gave them a smile. He looked first at the Englishman and then at the Texan. “You are the men known respectively as Dusty Rose and Bat Stringer, correct?”

  Neither man flinched, though Baird had just spoken the names of two notorious gunmen. If either was surprised or concerned at the other’s presence, they didn’t show it.

  “And if we aren’t who you say?” the Englishman asked. He kept one hand on the table as a show of respect. The other was, no doubt, in his lap wrapped around a revolver just like Baird’s.

  “If you aren’t who I say, then just who might you be?” Baird asked as he slowly moved the gun in his own lap until it was pointing at the man. It was a misconception that it was easier to kill out West, that no one blinked an eye at murder. The crime was still considered heinous, and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. The law, however, didn’t reach too far out here. And Baird didn’t mind committing a heinous act or three.

  Dusty Rose passively returned Baird’s stare. The Texan grunted at them both, as if to show he was still unimpressed.

  Baird turned an eye on him. He wasn’t merely an outlaw and a gunman with a reputation. He was one with something to prove, and that made him even more dangerous.

  Baird didn’t know much about Bat Stringer other than he hadn’t been the first choice for this job. Baird’s contacts were supposed to have tracked down Bat’s second-in-command, a man known as Whistling Jack Kale. Like Stringer, he’d come to the attention of Baird’s superiors after their gang had disappeared from inside a bank under the noses of the very authorities there to capture them.

  Kale, however, was rumored to be the brains of the operation. But he was still in the wind, possibly dead. Which was why Bat Stringer was here now instead of him. If they’d wanted a man like Kale for the job, they were almost as well served with his boss. He was said to be a smart man, if not exactly a mastermind, and a fast draw. And if he really had killed Whistling Jack Kale, his best friend, then he was just ruthless enough to serve Baird’s purposes.

  Dusty Rose sighed softly and glanced away. The Englishman also had a reputation for escaping from the hands of the law. He was famous for his skill at card games, but he was better known as a gunman than a gambler. Clever and charming, he rarely drew the gun he was said to be so adept at handling. He’d also spent a good deal of time with the native tribes, and Baird’s sources implied that Rose had picked up certain knowledge that would be vital to this mission.

  “I’ll get right to the point, gentlemen,” Baird finally said. “You don’t need to know who I am or who I’m working for. I won’t tolerate any questions about either subject.”

  Stringer sat watching him much like a housecat would stalk a canary in a cage, his dark eyes intelligent and patient. Rose, however, was still looking off to the side, shaking his head as if disgusted with himself simply for being there. Baird’s lips twitched into a smile. To lure him to this meeting, he’d made the shootist an offer he couldn’t easily refuse. The man had enough trouble with the law, he didn’t need any more. And Baird had made it clear that he’d make plenty of trouble if Rose didn’t play the game.

  Baird waited until it was apparent that neither man would respond before he continued. “At this very moment, there are soldiers working nearby, searching for an Indian artifact.”

  “Artifact,” Stringer repeated with a frown.

  Rose sat forward. “It’s a trinket, Mr. Stringer. With some sort of inherent value to it, be it regarding history or mankind.”

  “I know what the damn word means.”

  Baird rubbed his eyes. He cleared his throat pointedly and both men once again turned back to him. “This artifact, if found, could be very important.”

  “To?” Rose asked. “Not you.”

  “What is it?” Stringer asked.

  “That is none of your concern, Mr. Stringer.”

  The man didn’t react other than to cock his head and maintain eye contact. It was unnerving. Baird almost preferred Rose’s sarcasm and insolence to being the object of such silent study.

  “If the Army’s already searching for this trinket, why do you need us?” Rose asked, poorly trying to conceal his interest under a hint of nonchalance.

  Baird stared at him.

  “Because you’re not Army,” Rose concluded with a slow nod. He looked away again and sighed heavily, as if just realizing how much trouble he might be in if he didn’t feel like cooperating. Good. That was how Baird wanted him: scared and backed into a corner.

  “The Army is a redundant, stupid beast,” Baird said after a moment. “This item cannot be trusted in their hands. It must be taken from them and safeguarded properly. But as you have probably gathered, we cannot have one government agency blatantly stealing from another, and it’s best to keep this away from any official avenues.”

  Rose laughed out loud. He shook his head at Stringer, seeking an ally, but Stringer wasn’t laughing. Upon seeing that, Rose cleared his throat and schooled his features into a more serious expression. Baird wasn’t amused by his antics.

  “You want us to steal this artifact from the Army for you,” Stringer said. “So your hands stay clean.”

  “That’s precisely right.”

  “You want the two of us to attack a battalion of soldiers in the middle of Nebraska, steal an Indian artifact from them in the middle of Indian Territory, and ride off into the sunset without anyone the wiser?” Rose’s voice was flat and sarcastic. He leaned forward and put a finger on the table. “Are you insane, or are you just as stupid as you look?”

  Baird’s shoulders stiffened. “I assure you I am neither,” He realized belatedly, as Rose’s lips curved into a smile, the trap in the words. His cheeks flushed. He gritted his teeth. “The plan is more complex than that.”

  “I certainly hope so.”

  “What is the plan?” Stringer asked. He did not appear amused by Rose or impressed with what Baird was saying.

  “You will be informed of the details when we come to an agreement on your services.”

  “On that note, why are my services even required here?” Rose asked. “I am no thief, nor am I a soldier of any description.”

  “So you say. But you have spent time with the natives.”


  “I believe you have specific information from them about this artifact, whether you are aware of it or not.”

  “Is that so?” Rose asked, completely unperturbed by the extent of Baird’s knowledge about his activities.

  “That is so. Your particular services would be required after the initial acquirement of the artifact.”


  “You will be informed of those details when the time comes,” Baird answered. “And you have a reputation.”

  “Yes. For playing cards.”

  “Playing cards,” Stringer repeated, incredulous. He stared at Rose, and Rose returned it warily, as if trying to gauge the threat from the big man. “If you’re a gambler, then I’m a seamstress.”

  Rose scratched at his chin as he contemplated Stringer, then pointed one elegant finger at the man and narrowed his eyes. “Do you darn socks?”

  Baird rubbed at the spot between his eyes, feeling an ache in his head coming on. “Gentlemen,” he said before the conversation could digress further.

  Rose looked back at him sharply, all trace of sarcasm or humor gone. “I believe I made it quite clear in my initial answer to your man a fortnight ago that I am not for hire.” His black eyes seemed to glint in the candlelight as he leaned back in his chair and mirrored Baird’s stance. “You can threaten me all you please, Mr. Baird, promise you’ll
make my life hell. It won’t change the fact that theft is not my area of expertise and I do not intend to help you rob the Army or the natives.”

  Baird was no fool. He knew what sort of men he was dealing with. He sat unflinching, returning the intense gaze. “We plan to pay you in solid gold, Mr. Rose. Surely that must pique your interest?”

  “No. You know what gold is good for? Weighing you down when you try to run. I have enough trouble on my own. I don’t need to go begging it from the Army, the natives, or whatever agency of the government you may be representing. My curiosity into such matters can only lead me so far before my better instincts prevail.” He sat forward and put a finger to the tip of his nose. “You smell of trouble I neither want nor need, Mr. Baird.”

  Baird raised one eyebrow and turned to look at Stringer, who sat watching them silently. “And you?”

  “Well, I don’t often need to run, so gold being heavy don’t bother me. But I’ll need to hear your plans before I give my answer.”

  “As I said, you and I will discuss the finer points of the plan and the vast sums of money you’ll be receiving later. And since Mr. Rose doesn’t appear interested, I’ll consider your offer for employment accepted right after you’ve taken care of the Desert Flower here.”

  Rose pushed his chair back and lunged to his feet. Stringer did the same, reaching for the gun concealed under his arm. He didn’t draw it, though, perhaps still considering Baird’s offer. China crashed at a table on the far side of the room as the handful of late diners dove for cover. Several of the other patrons screamed or shouted.

  “Gun!” one of the waiters called out.

  Baird sat back, a small smile on his face. There were people all over the country who’d pay good money to see a showdown like this. And he had a front row seat.

  Rose hesitated, not drawing his weapon for some reason Baird couldn’t fathom. Perhaps he thought he could still convince Stringer not to take Baird’s deal. Stringer, though, seemed to make up his mind and slid his gun from its holster with practiced ease.

  Suddenly, the floor beneath them began to roll and shudder. The candles shivered and some of them blew out as a terrible rattling and creaking shook the very foundations of the hotel.