The Outlaw's Redemption Online - Renee Ryan

Chapter One

Denver, Colorado, 1890

Hunter Mitchell was a free man. After two years of hard labor and endless nights of soul-searching, he’d paid his debt to society. His life was once again his own. Countless possibilities awaited him.

And yet, here he stood but a stone’s throw away from where his downward spiral had first begun.

Long before the judge had sentenced him to prison, Hunter had vowed never to return to this house of sin owned by the notorious Mattie Silks. Two years ago he’d made an exception, to take another man’s life.

So much regret. So much hurt.

Just when he thought the worst was behind him, and would stay that way, his past had caught up with him again.

Lips pressed into a hard, flat line, Hunter rolled his shoulders and considered his next move. The most obvious course of action would be to storm through those ridiculously ornate doors and demand what was his. Take what was his.

He had the right. No one would argue that. But Hunter had learned to be a cautious man.

Mattie could have lied to him in her letter. She’d done so before. For no other reason than to see how far she could push a man. What the surly madam didn’t realize was that Hunter was no longer susceptible to her games. He knew Mattie’s well-guarded secret, a secret he wouldn’t hesitate to use against her if she tried to toy with him.

Red-hot determination coiled in his gut. Hunter would get the truth out of the woman tonight.

No mistakes.

No loss of control.

Calm. Cool. Careful.

Melting into the shadows, he blew into his cupped palms. The air had taken on a cold, nasty bite. Hunter couldn’t help but feel he was being watched, a remnant of his former life when he had to look over his shoulder wherever he went. But those days were over, the members of his former gang either dead or living in Mexico.

His breath formed a fine mist around his head, adding a sinister feel to what he’d come here to do.

And yet, and yet, he felt a sliver of hope building inside him. Hope for the future, hope that he could become the godly man he’d once been. And maybe capture some stability along the way.

He lowered his hands and stepped in the direction of the brothel’s threshold. The physical act of moving brought the rest of the world into focus. Sights, sounds, the smells of stale liquor and wet horse flooded his senses.

Music drifted out of the brothel’s open windows. The bawdy songs suited the raucous laughter and coarse shouts. Golden light called to Hunter, the soft glow promising warmth from the cold and a momentary respite from the constant loneliness that plagued him.

An illusion. Nothing but pain and regret followed a night with one of Mattie’s girls.

And Hunter had stalled long enough.

With single-minded focus, he shoved away his dark thoughts, then took the steps two at a time. As he shouldered into the vine-covered building, a sickening dread crept through his stomach.

Nothing had changed. Not the hideous decor. Not the musky odor of cigar smoke mingled with cheap perfume. Not the seedy clientele. The brothel wasn’t as bad as he remembered. It was much worse.

Mattie Silks was nothing if not obvious.

The gaudy red velvet furniture stood in stark contrast to the gold filigree wallpaper. Tasteless rugs with bold, floral prints covered the wood flooring. Vulgar paintings hung on the walls. Their vivid colors and shocking themes gave Hunter a new perspective on past sins.

Only recently back in the habit of praying, he lifted up a silent request.

Forgive me, Lord.

A simple prayer, born from a lifetime of bad choices and wrong living. Shaking free of the thought, Hunter stepped deeper into the brothel and caught sight of Mattie’s right-hand man striding toward him, a scowl on his mean, ugly face.

“Jack.” Hunter took in the big brute’s broad shoulders, flat nose and bad attitude. “Still the ever faithful servant, I see.”

Jack smiled in response, not a real smile, more a baring of teeth. “You were told to come by tomorrow.”

“Yeah, well.” Hunter stuffed his hands in his pockets and rocked back on his heels. “I’m here now.”

“Nevertheless.” Jack crossed his arms over his massive chest. “Miss Silks isn’t expecting you.”

“I say we let Mattie decide if she’ll see me tonight.”

Eyes locked with his, the big man dug in his heels. “She won’t like that you’ve come during business hours.”

Of course she wouldn’t like it. Neither did Hunter. But he wanted answers more than he wanted