THE DARK RIDERS

About The Dark Riders:

...the villain is deviously evil. With an authentic western setting, it's best not to start this one unless you have time to finish it, because you're not going to want to stop.

Flora, reviewer, paranormal romance list

...lyrical prose reminiscent of Edgar Allan Poe in his darkest writings...You will not be able to put the book down...

Lyn Morgan, Author of Magnolia House

...a marvelous job bringing to life a favorite storyline. With beautiful descriptions, surprising twists and memorable characters, this is not a novel to be missed...

Sharon McGinty, Mystic Visions Reviews

This book has everything any western, vampire or romance lover needs...

Carol Castellanos, Simegen Reviews

Now in trade paperback !
Revised and reset.



Vampire outlaws terrorize the Wild West...

Now in trade paperback !
Revised and reset.

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The Dark Riders


CHAPTER 1


     The sun dripped into the horizon in a blood-colored blaze, bringing death--and Dark Riders.

     Scarlet fire stained the rippling ocean of buffalo grass and mesquite, which spring had recently transformed from miles of topaz plains to emerald graze. Scarlet faded to darkening hues of violet to shady blue. With a glimmer all light vanished and shadows danced, concealing creatures that slithered through the blades with whispers of sound. But it couldn't hide the far more deadly creatures who shunned the daylight and devoured souls.

     The inky maze of night brought an evil to the grassy sea of the Texas Panhandle, an evil inhuman and cruel, calculating and directed. An evil on horseback who had hungered for this moment in the soulless depths of countless nights, dwelling on the time his revenge would begin.

    An evil named Milus Clint.

    Milus Clint sat his horse in a grassy swale, ten men reining to a halt to either side of him. He barely acknowledged their presence, fixated on the elliptical spread of a ranch a mile distant. His cold buzzard eyes surveyed the outbuildings: blacksmith, carpentry and storage sheds; a bunkhouse, flanked by a combination cookhouse and dining hall; scattered corrals and holding pens for branding cattle; a windmill to pump water to gravity pipes within the main house's attic.

     A half-smile touched the remains of Clint's face. Eyes narrowing beneath a battered felt hat, his gaze locked on the main house, a large building of planed boards and brick with a veranda running end to end, shaded by cottonwoods. It was a solid house, fine and befitting a man of Clem Durrin's stature, and Milus Clint was pleased.

     It would make taking it away from the boy so much sweeter.

     Murky sulfur light filtered from a window, swabbing the veranda and lawn with a sickly glow that melded into darkness a few feet farther on. Milus Clint felt a twinge of yearning. It was one of the few forms of light left to the likes of a man such as he: moonlight, firelight, a firefly sparkling in the velvet night, but never sunlight. Never sunlight. And for that the boy would pay dearly.

     Starting tonight.

     Milus Clint laughed, an unnatural, strained sound that crawled up from the place inside where his soul used to be. The other Riders, poised expectantly beside him, awaiting his word to strike, shot glances at one another, knowing the foolish wisdom of disturbing Milus Clint when he took to these moods, when the darkness living inside him played with his thoughts.

     A breeze stirred the grass, moonlight skittering within the blades, and plucked at the scraggly reddish-brown locks that stuck out from beneath his hat. Milus lifted his head, letting the bone-glow of the moon wash over his mottled features. His fingertips drifted over the scarred mass of flesh covering three-quarters of the left side of his face. He traced the gristly peaks and deep depressions. Inside him fury burned at the thought of it. Beneath the lizardy hide studded with clumps of bristle, throbbed the memory, and he swore he still felt the lead embedded within his brains ache. He knew it was impossible, but he felt it all the same. And recollected who had put it there.

     His eyes grew colder, more distant, the hunger-frozen orbs of a creature of prey, devoid of sympathy or remorse or anything else remotely human. For an instant his eyes darkened, a sheet of blackness sliding across them, jagged flashes of blue-black arcing like obsidian lightning within.

     "Milus?" asked Emmet, the Rider closest to him. "Shouldn't we be gettin' on with it? You wanna strike a'fore that kid gets back we best move now."

     "Yeah." Milus nodded, blackness draining from his eyes as his gaze lowered back to the ranch. "Yeah, best we had." He glanced at the others one by one, centering a spell longer on the one named Billy. A thought pricked his mind, a wonder. He could afford no mistakes, and that one, Milus Clint had become increasingly aware, was like to make one.

    His gaze traveled through the rest of the men, strong men, better'n the band he'd rounded up those years back in New Mexico Territory. They were a motley crew of desperadoes, each as vicious and bloodthirsty as the next. All as he, Dark Riders. Not a one had glimpsed the sunlight in years.

     Milus's gaze stopped on the last man, who nodded.

     "Jeters, head for them Injuns--you know what to do." Milus half-grinned.

     "Injun blood always tastes sweeter, 'specially them squaws." Jeters laughed and reined around, spurring his black horse to the left.

    A lonesome howl tore through the night and Milus's head rose. On the horizon the shadowy shapes of coyotes skittered about.

    "Soon, my friends..." he whispered. A scattering of colorless images streaked through his mind and he saw what they saw, heard what they heard: glimpses of two men on horseback, one of them a boy. The link dissolved and the images vanished.

     "Yah!" Milus yelled, gouging his bootheels into the horse's sides and sending the black into a gallop. The rest followed and the sound of thunder boomed over the ghostly quiet of the Plains.

     The wind whipped at Milus Clint, tearing back the folds of his duster and for a fleeting moment he felt almost human again. Almost. A luxury, that feeling, one in which he seldom indulged. But tonight, with the taste of revenge so sweet on his tongue, he savored it.

     A sudden veering off of one of the men shattered his mood and vinegar rose in his veins. He yanked on the reins, bringing the huge black to a stop, the other Riders charging on ahead before jerking up short, circling back.

     "What's a'matter?" the Rider called Hascan asked.

     Milus spat and made a disgusted grunt, nudging his head to the side as he watched the break-away Rider bolt into the night.

     "What's that damn fool up to?" Milus's cold buzzard eyes narrowed to a squint. For an instant, their color blackened, glitters of blue-black sparkling within.

     "Goddamn Billy again!" Hascan snorted. "Think he's headin' for them longhorns bunched yonder?"

     Milus paused, fury riding him, the thought flashing in his mind that Billy would have to be reprimanded for runnin' off that way.

     "Shoulda left him in Fort Sumner that night." Milus peered at Hascan. "Go get 'im. Make sure he's with us when we finish with the old bastard."

     Hascan jerked a nod and swung his horse around, riding off in the direction Billy had taken.

     "Any of the rest of you got a notion to go steer chasin'?" Milus asked without humor, peering at each man, who shook his head to signify he did not. "Good. I ain't like to take much more from the scalawag. I got a limit to my patience and it ain't a goddamn big one." The men remained stone-faced and when Milus uttered a chopped laugh at his own joke they let loose with whoops of their own.

     With shouts, the Riders set their mounts in motion, nine outlaws arrowing towards the cattle ranch, now less than a mile away.

     They passed the outer corrals and men angled off in different directions, the largest group descending upon the lighted bunkhouse. One man headed towards a corral filled with horses, while two others set about damaging the fences and outbuildings. Milus and two men stayed on course towards the sprawling main house.

     The lone Rider reached the corral, leaping from his mount and scrambling to the gate. He flung it wide, screeching and hissing at the startled horses within. The animals neighed in fright, stamped about, began to rear.

     The Dark Rider scurried away from the opening as the terrified horses bolted en masse from the corral in a tumult of beating hooves and billowing dust. The Rider hissed, lips curling back from razored incisors. He leaped straight up, balancing on a corral rail and flung himself into space. He timed the move perfectly, catching the last horse, a sorrel, as it went towards the opening. The sorrel jerked to a halt, humping its back and springing up like a let-go spring, trying to throw the parasitic creature clinging to its neck.

     The Rider uttered a high-pitched giggle, sensing the beast's terror, savoring it, leeching it. He could smell its rushing blood and drool slithered from the corner of his mouth.

     His fingers dug into the animal's silky coat and rippling slabs of muscle. The sorrel, unable to shake him, grew more panicked. It bleated a pathetic tortured sound as the Rider plunged his fangs deep into the huge vein throbbing along its neck.

     At the bunkhouse, four Riders reined up, dismounting and charging for the door. A man in long johns, obviously attracted by the commotion, froze in the doorway, paralyzed at the sight of the four outlaws coming towards him. He broke the shock almost instantly, jumping backwards in a herky-jerky motion.

     The four men stamped across the porch and filled the doorway.

    Within the bunkhouse, seven men sat around a long table, on which silver dollars and greenbacks were piled high, each clutching what he thought was the winning hand. Their gazes jumped to the door. Their faces waxed from looks of wonder to sudden fear. The lead Rider grabbed the long johns-clad man's face and yanked him close. The Rider's mouth opened, saliva-smeared fangs glinting with lantern light. Dull hazel eyes faded to shiny black arcing with blue-black streaks. The cowhand gasped, mouthing silent pleas.

     The Rider hissed, twisting the cowhand's face up and sideways, and sank his fangs deep into the man's neck. The cowhand struggled frantically, vainly, flailing his arms and beating at the Rider's head, kicking at the Rider's knees.

     The blows had no effect.

     The Rider held him fast, grinning, blood dripping from his mouth. He plunged his fangs into the cowhand's neck again, drinking, draining. The man's struggles weakened, ceased.

     At the table, the seven cowhands sat spellbound in terror. Their eyes locked first on the Rider, then on the broken body of their companion. In unison they sprang from their chairs, cards flying from their hands, scattering across the tabletop and fluttering to the floor. Some raced for their gunbelts hanging over bunkends, while others bolted for the windows.

    The Riders swarmed into the room, two attacking the men lunging for weapons. One cowhand made it to his gunbelt, pulling a Colt .45 from its holster and swinging it around. He jerked the trigger. A shot blasted and a flash of flame and blue smoke turned the air acrid. The shot, hurried and ill-aimed, went wide, lead plowing into a wall. The Rider leaped at him. Dark eyes glittering, the outlaw wrenched the Colt from the ranchhand's grip and flung it. With a flash of gouging teeth, the Rider tore away the man's throat.

     The remaining cowhands fell quickly. Ones scrambling to the windows were hauled back, hurled about like ragdolls, one thrown so hard he rebounded from the wall leaving a splatter of crimson where his skull had caved under the impact.

     Then it was over. Four Riders fell upon the five cowhands remaining. The sounds of screams and tearing flesh stained the night, dying as the Riders fed.

* * *

The Dark Riders is copyright 1996, 2000 , 2007 by Howard Hopkins. No parts may be used without express written permission of the author except in the case of brief excerpts for review purposes.

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