The steel beast floated just above the wooden tracks.
When the engine started, it sounded more like the bellow of a monster than the hiss of steam. The hull of the beast was coated with a three-inch layer of dark gray soot and had long ago lost its luster, the once-brilliant shade of red now completely obscured. Black windows kept onlookers from seeing who was riding the locomotive, no view from within or without.
That suited Damian Junter just fine.
“Are you coming aboard, sir?” The shrill voice of the conductor was enough to make Damian’s skin crawl. It seemed to Damian as if the conductor was trying to burrow straight through his Italian leather trench coat with those beady eyes. He eyed Damian suspiciously in an attempt to figure out Damian’s past, present, and future—all in a single glance.
Apparently the conductor had never seen a Bringer before. If he had, he wouldn’t be so skeptical of the hulking man boarding the train. Compared to the thin and lanky conductor, Damian was Herculean. Ripped in hard muscle from head to toe, Damian was a force to be reckoned with to anyone unlucky enough to be placed on his hit list.
The black leather, itself coated in a black dust similar to the soot coating the train, strained over Damian’s broad chest. His massive forearms bulged from beneath the tight sleeves, undulating with each movement he made. His thick thighs threatened to burst from the skin-tight pants.
“Yes.” He handed the scrawny man his ticket.
“Traveling far?” the conductor asked.
“Yes.” Damian was going to the outermost reaches of the west, to the Pacific coast, farther than he’d ever traveled. But he only gave single-word answers to strangers. It was better that way. The less they knew about his travels, the safer they’d be.
The conductor looked disgruntled by the lack of information but let Damian pass. With a paying fare, there wasn’t much the man could do. Refusing him passage would be tantamount to theft. Not that Bringers punished average eastern folks, even if they violated the law.
A Bringer’s purpose was far loftier.
Damian climbed aboard the steel ship. If he were wearing anything but black, the soot would have left a permanent mark. But black hid everything.
And not just dirt. Even though Damian’s clothes were stretched over his massive frame, they nevertheless obscured the weapons fastened to his thighs and ankles. Most Bringers hid the tools of their trade in their luggage when they traveled. Not Damian. He was too brash, too confident for that.
Damian was not like most Bringers. He considered himself to be the Bringer. The best.
Damian had exacted more justice and taken down more outlaws in his time on the force than all other Bringers. Combined. He’d been on the front line since he was old enough to hold a gun straight and fire.
How long had it been? Two decades? Three? He’d lost track. Days melted into months that melted into years. One job after another. Bringing justice to the world, one outlaw at a time.
Being a Bringer was a job Damian loved. Hell, he cherished it. In Damian’s eyes, he did more for the country than any of the politicians of the east. Officials passed laws, spoke on boxes, made promises. But Damian made the world a safer place. Only justice could do that.
And Damian relished bringing justice.
He moved quickly down the row of seats. His long, black trench coat whipped the sides of his legs with each step he took. His knee-length, metal-heeled leather boots clinked against the steel floor of the train. Passengers, already seated and ready for the beast to fly, looked toward him with fear in their eyes.
Unlike the conductor, these people knew a Bringer when they saw one. Even men who’d never made a mistake in their lives feared Bringers. They’d quake in their polished, patent leather shoes and wet themselves at the slightest hint that a Bringer might be coming their way.
The aura of dread that accompanied the presence of a Bringer was one of the key elements of their success. No one dared disobey the ones who doled out justice, lest they find themselves on the wrong end of a Bringer’s gun.
The metal monster roared to life, and spires of dark gray steam billowed through the air. Damian’s body lurched when the engine jutted forward. He grabbed the side of one of the seats to keep from falling over.
The woman next to him gasped and looked at him with her big, blue eyes. “Pardon me, my dear sir.”
“Sorry, ma’am.” He tilted his leather Stetson in her direction. He might be able to make a grown man cry, but Damian was still a gentleman.
She batted her eyes. “Would you like to join me?” The look of fear she’d shared with the other passengers just moments before melted away and was replaced by a look of lust.
Women always reacted to Damian that way. The combination of the panic he prompted and the power he exuded was more than the female mentality could withstand, especially when confronted with his ruggedly handsome good looks.
Every woman Damian had ever been with had commented on his long black hair and how they liked the way it smoothed over their skin when he fucked them. They would remark about his green eyes, often referring to their emerald appearance. They swooned over his muscular build.
Not that he cared. He’d never found a woman yet that caught his fancy. He fucked them, but he didn’t much enjoy it.
“Thank you.” He took the seat next to the window and stared at the countryside as it shifted slowly by. Dirty, black buildings gave way to green-grassed landscapes. The gray sky was replaced by blue. Soon, even the beauty of the eastern outlands would be gone, only brown rock and dirt in its place.
The metal beast glided easily over the rugged land, guided by the rails several feet below the unnecessary wheels. But the train did not move quickly enough for Damian’s tastes. He wanted nothing more than to get to the badlands and start his next assignment. The urge to bring justice was nearly overwhelming. He cursed under his breath.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw his seatmate flash him a smile. “Can I help you, ma’am?”
“Just admirin’ your outfit. Are you an outlander?”
“No.” His sharp tone made her eyes blink.
An outlander? The word disgusted Damian. Especially the way she made it sound sexy, like a forbidden fruit waiting to be tasted. In his dictionary, outlanders were nothing more than outlaws. And outlaws were lawbreakers. Lawbreakers had to die.
When he saw her mouth part again, he decided to shut her up for good. “I kill outlanders.”
She gasped and looked in the other direction. If she’d had a doubt before, she knew now, with absolute certainty, that he was a Bringer. She wouldn’t bother him again.
If Damian were keen on conversation, he could have told her a thing or two about outlanders. About how they killed the innocent for fun. Robbed, stole, and cheated. About how they were lawless monsters that consistently brought destruction to the wild western lands. For decades, progress had been slowed in the west because of their presence. Outlanders held a stronghold in the farthest reaches of the west, making it impossible for the eastern aristocracy to bring modern comforts and civilization.
Damian’s job was to stop them. To keep the peace. To bring justice to those that had broken the law. At all cost.
Including the cost of life.
Not that outlander life meant much to him.
The smoke from the ship was soon engulfed by darkness. Nights in the west were like black holes in which no ounce of light could escape. Damian liked the night. It was his preferred hunting ground.