Mose answered the punch with one of his own that was aimed at the same spot on Clint's body. Unlike Clint's punch, however, this one caused Clint to double over and let out a pained grunt. Before Clint had a chance to straighten up and suck in another breath, Mose dropped his other hand straight down like a hammer to smash into Clint's shoulder.
Gritting his teeth as his bones rattled under his skin, Clint threaded his fingers together and swung both hands like he was swinging an ax. The powerful blow caught Mose in the middle of his torso, just beneath his rib cage. Even though the impact sent the big man back a step or two, Mose was quick to come straight at Clint once again.
First, Mose took a swing at Clint as if he meant to knock his head off. When Clint ducked under the punch, Mose slapped his hand onto Clint's shoulder to hold him down as he brought his knee up.
Clint didn't see the knee coming and he barely felt it land. All of a sudden, a loud thump filled his ears and his feet were out from under him. Clint's body went numb and he didn't even know he'd been off the ground until he dropped back onto it.
Straining to clear his vision, Clint pulled in a few breaths and tried to get his bearings. He realized he'd landed within a few feet of his pistol, so Clint tried to get to the Colt before Mose squashed him like a bug.
“Go on and shoot me, murderer!” Mose shouted.
Clint pounded his fist against the ground and pulled himself up. When he got to his feet, he left the Colt where it had landed. “I didn't murder your brother! He fell off . . . if you don't know that by now, I'm not going to waste any more breath on the subject.”
Mose stood like one of the trees behind him. His chest swelled like a set of bellows as he sucked in some wind and he propped both bloody fists on his hips. “Yeah,” he wheezed. “I know he fell.”
“You do?” Clint asked. “Then why go through all of this?”
It took a few seconds for Mose to catch his breath, but finally he replied, “I kind of got caught up. It weren't until I had a chance to clear my head that I could see things clearer.”
“And when did that happen?”
Licking the corner of his mouth that either Clint or Acklund had bloodied, Mose grinned and said, “About a minute or two ago.”
Clint narrowed his eyes and watched the big man carefully. “So what about settling this?”
“Far as I'm concerned, it's settled. Hell, this is how me and my brothers settle just about everything.”
At that time, Acklund stirred and let out a pained groan. He got to his feet, saw Clint, and immediately said, “Don't neither one of you move!”
Mose walked over to his brother and helped him steady himself. “Don't fret, little brother. Me and Clint settled things.”
Acklund looked over at Clint. Apparently, the sight of Clint's battered face told him all he needed to know. “You finally going to let this rest?”
Mose nodded. “Dave wasn't even shot, so I guess it could've been an accident. Ma always said he'd get himself killed anyhow.”
“Jesus.” Acklund sighed. “You're a real piece of work.”
Clint picked up his gun and dropped it into his holster. Eclipse was trotting over to him, but he walked over to the two brothers before the stallion arrived. Once he had both men's attention, Clint said, “I'm sorry about your brother.”
There was plenty more he could say, especially when it came to laying blame about who attacked whom or how many shots had been fired, but Clint knew that wouldn't do anyone any good. The two brothers knew it as well and they simply nodded.
“You still want to set this right?” Clint asked.
“I want to put this to rest,” Acklund replied.
“Good. Then come along with me.”
When Clint rode up to the Ranger Hotel, Hank stormed out like he was about to raise some hell. “What the hell was the meaning of that?” the old man snarled as he looked at Clint as though Acklund and Mose weren't right beside him. “We were supposed to work together! You weren't supposed to go off on yer own like a damned fool!”
“Sorry,” Clint said. “Things got settled without you.”
Finally, Hank looked at the two men riding with Clint. Scowling at Mose, he asked, “Is that the other one that shot up my place?”
“Yes,” Clint replied. “I brought him back to answer for what he did. If you want to hand him over to the law, that's your call.”
Mose shifted in his saddle and glanced over to find Deputy Cale looking at him as he walked out of the hotel's restaurant.
Before Hank could say another word, Ellie rushed outside. “Acklund! You're back!”
“I ought to hand both of you over to the law,” Hank groused.
Pulling in a surprised breath, Ellie ran to stand between Acklund and her father as if she were shielding the younger man from a bullet. “No! I love him!”
Mose chuckled, while Clint rolled his eyes.
“What're your intentions toward my girl?” Hank asked.
Acklund met the old man's glare and said, “I love her, too, sir.”
“So is this settled?” Clint asked.
Mose rubbed his nose and grunted, “I just want a drink.”
“Then buy me one, too,” Hank snapped. “And fix the window you shot. After that, we're settled.”
Clint looked between the men and saw all of them nodding to seal the deal. “Good. It's settled.”
Digging in his pockets, Hank grumbled, “Speaking of that, I owe you for the rest of that flower picture.”
“Keep it,” Clint replied. “Consider it my wedding gift. It'll be delivered to you shortly.”
“Wedding?” Acklund gasped as the color drained from his face.
“Can you stay for a while longer, Clint?” Ellie asked. “Please?”
“I don't think so,” Clint told her. “Just do me a favor. On your wedding night, remember to lock your door.”
novel in the exciting GUNSMITH series
Coming in January!