No-one can outride or outrun fate. Though nightmares and bullet wounds still haunt Preston Diamond, he strives to bury those demon shadows, those grisly remnants of a long and bloody vengeance trail. He finds that life is full of wonder. An insatiable curiosity, a yearning for knowledge, prevents him from drowning in the horrors of his past. For a time, Diamond's guns are quiet. A mortal goddess enters Preston's life and first love sweeps the young couple to the highest pinnacles of passion. Beautiful Dominique's love is not without entanglement; her uncle, Serge Ravenelle, boss of the Paris underground, has ordered Preston Diamond's death. Ravenelle and Les Apaches have crossed the Atlantic and are taking control of Washington's crime network. They only have two obstacles to overcome: Tang martial arts master Xi-ping Chiang and his disciple... Preston Diamond.
The Brannigan sisters, Lily and Amy, were, respectively, a year older and a year younger than Preston Diamond. Diamond had met the young ladies about the time of his fourteenth birthday and, through a combination of difficult events, they had become close friends. Preston had saved the life of their brother, Davy; Lily's care and willpower had kept Preston among the living when he had taken a bullet through his right thigh. The Civil War had inflicted it cruel toll upon both the Diamond and the Brannigan families. Having suffered the loss of their parents prior to the conflict, the Brannigan siblings lost one brother and nearly lost Davy when he was wounded. Preston's parents were murder victims in a heinous conspiracy of traitors. That was two long, or maybe two short years past, depending if you are living in the moment, or reliving a nightmare. It was springtime, 1867.
Early in the morning on this clear, and mild day, Preston had left his home in Washington, DC to cross the Patowmack River and renew acquaintance with the Brannigans at their farm northwest of Alexandria. He intended to head back north from there, passing through the town of Conception en route to the farm he co-owned with his friend, a black man named Rufus Tweed.
Brannigan Farm came into view as Preston topped a tall knoll about a mile from the buildings. He paused to study the countryside. His horse, a tough five year old gelding, pranced and tossed his head; Rascal knew, but did not appreciate, the meaning of “whoa.” It had been on this hill that a couple of thieves had held up Preston Diamond and Lily Brannigan; Preston now wondered how the highwayman, who received two bullet wounds in the altercation, had fared. The small acreage below looked abandoned though Diamond could recognize a few changes.
Nearing, he knew the place had come a long way from its derelict position at the end of the war. Davy Brannigan, the oldest surviving member of the family, had a keen business mind and, after healing from a musket ball to the shoulder, had taken a contract cutting timber in the Virginia Wilderness. In a few months, Davy had hired several former slaves and soon had a thriving business. Next step: he bought the sawmill (Preston Diamond had assisted with financing) from the contractor who hired him in the first place. In another six months, Davy had paid his debt to Preston and established a steady market supplying lumber to the housing boom in Washington. To facilitate transport of his goods across the Patowmack, Brannigan bought the ferry boat at Conception Landing. Preston Diamond was given a lifetime free pass.
Davy's sisters had stayed on the farm and, for the first time in their lives, they were enjoying a lifestyle above the poverty line. In a letter to Preston, Lily had gone on at length describing the new home Davy intended to build for the family. But, at the moment, the old house still stood in the same place next to the broken corrals and weathered barn. The first time Diamond had ridden into this yard, he had been received by a pretty lass standing at a washtub and a hidden person looking down a gun barrel. Today there was neither, but, in response to Preston's “Halloo”, Lily came round from the back of the house. She had a dirt smudge on her brow and dirt on her hands. She blushed when she saw who had come to visit. “I was just digging in the garden, Preston,” she apologized. “Please, hop down and come in. I'll make a pot of tea and fix you something to eat.”
Lily Brannigan had matured since Preston's last visit. She was a well formed young woman now and he had to force himself to keep from ogling. Lily was the first girl Preston had ever noticed from a male perspective. She had given him a kiss once and he had given her a kiss on another occasion. He would like to kiss her now.
She scrubbed the marks from her face and hands then set to work fixing lunch. “Amy has gone to town for supplies. Davy is up at the mill.” She turned to her visitor. “Life is so much better now than when you first rode in here, Preston. The war was on, Amy and I were afraid to step outside without one of us holding a rifle. Back then, I didn't think we would ever live in a civilized world again. Sometimes I didn't think we would live to see another day.”