Caught in a Murderer’s Trap (Preview)

Chapter One

The Man

The sun beat relentlessly on the man down below.

The air was hot and dry. Flies buzzed over his unconscious body.

The heat rose from the ground in waves, making everything blurry where the sky met the earth in the distance. Buzzards circled overhead, drawn by the sight of the man lying on the ground but cautious over whether he was dead or alive.

One finally worked up the courage to land, hopping over to the still figure. The scent of blood filled its nostrils, and it screeched its approval. Other buzzards also started landing, still cautious over their dinner, but keeping an eye on the first bird.

The buzzard finally worked up enough of an appetite to climb on top of the fallen man, but before it was able to peck at his face, he swiped at it with a flailing arm.

With a screech of disapproval, the bird took off, sending a wave of dust over the entire area. It was immediately joined by the other angry buzzards, all raising a ruckus over the fact they weren’t about to enjoy a meal after all.

The man groaned, flailing the same arm in the air without opening his eyes. All he felt was pain. The sun was too bright, the air too hot.

He was dreadfully thirsty and extremely disoriented.

His mind was blank. All he saw was darkness. No clear thought allowed itself to form in his brain. All he could do was keep his arm moving as a sign of his consciousness. Perhaps he hoped to scare away any other scavengers that might try to make an easy meal out of him.

Perhaps, he was hoping he might signal to someone passing by who might be willing to offer him some help.

Whatever the reason, he soon found himself drained of energy and let his arm fall back to the ground. It hit the dust with a dull thud, and he groaned as it sent waves of pain throughout his entire body.

This wasn’t the first time in his life he’d been beaten. But it was the first time he’d ever been beaten nearly to death. In fact, with how weak he felt and how little he could think, the man wondered how it was possible he was still alive.

Slowly, he forced one eye open. The other was too swollen for him to open even though he tried. Both were bleary with tears. He tasted blood and smelled sickly-sweet as he was covered in it. And, as he regained more consciousness, and with an agonized groan, he forced himself to sit up.

The man looked around. He was in the middle of a dry prairie. Tumbleweeds rose from the dust and patches of grass grew sporadically, but for the most part, the land remained flat, hot, and dry.

Jagged, rocky outcroppings rose from hills that stood scattered about. But there was no sign of the one thing the man wanted more than anything.

Water.

Looking around, he tried to make sense of the scene before him.

There was dried blood on the front of his shirt and his arms were bruised. The entire area looked torn up, as though there had been a massive struggle. All evidence pointed to the fact the man had been in some sort of fight.

But he didn’t remember anything.

His mind was entirely blank. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know why he had been in a fight. He didn’t know where he was going.

He didn’t even know who he was.

Worse of all, not matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t even remember his own name.

Two trails of tracks indicated horses had been nearby, but the trail headed east—and they were together. Whoever he had been fighting had evidently taken his horse and run. The man didn’t have to speculate much to determine this person thought he would die—and left him to his fate.

There had to be a reason. He thought it strange that he would be the kind of person who would be in this situation. He hurt all over, and all he could think about was the fact he wanted to have a long, ice-cold drink of water and simply lie down for a very, very long time.

But if he stayed there, he would die.

The sun was unmerciful, and without water, he didn’t have a lot of time. He didn’t know if there was enough strength left in his legs to carry him, but he had to try. The sun indicated it was late in the afternoon. If he wanted to reach shelter before dark, he had to get moving.

He endured several more hours of the hellish heat, and his body felt every second of it. Sweat mixed with the blood that had dried on his skin, causing it to ooze. And the more he moved, the more he sweat.

It was becoming the perfect cycle of doom.

The flies swarmed him once more, and the man swatted at them as they tried to land on his face and arms. This couldn’t go on. If he was to survive, he had to get up and he had to get going. And he had to do it right now.

He pushed himself to his feet, rising shakily from his sitting position.

There was a fallen tree nearby, and with what little strength he had, the man staggered his way over. Several branches lay scattered about, and he was thankful to find one that was nearly the perfect size to use as a walking stick. It wasn’t what he would have chosen had he the strength to break off another branch, but it would serve its purpose while he made his way toward civilization.

At least, that was the plan as he set off, following the trail of horse tracks.

He could only assume that whoever had beaten him like that  had wanted to find shelter and water himself after the fight, and he likely headed toward the nearest town. It was a gamble, the man knew that, but it was a gamble he was willing to make.

He didn’t have the time or strength left to try to find another town anyway. If this was merely leading out into the wilderness, he’d have to accept his fate. But if there was a chance that it led to people, he would be able to find some help.

And perhaps some answers too.

It was frustrating having no idea who he was, but it was even worse not knowing a thing about where he was going or what he was doing.

He was searching for answers, but more than that, he was fighting for his life. He summoned what strength he had left and pushed it into all the resolve he could manage, struggling to stay on his feet as he made his way along the trail.

The buzzards continued to circle over his head, only adding to his determination to stay on his feet.

He refused to fall. He refused to be food for the birds. He would make it to the next town, and he would survive. He didn’t have any answers beyond that. He didn’t know where he’d go from there or what he would do, but that didn’t matter right now.

All that mattered was his survival.

And all he had on his side was the will to live.

Chapter Two

Talia

It was another long day sitting at her father’s barbershop, and Talia was lost in her book.

She and her father only had each other in the world, and she was proud to be able to help him with the business. Her mother had died before Talia was a year old, and though at eighteen, the girl didn’t remember her mother herself, her father had kept the woman alive in the girl’s mind.

She knew so much about her ma that it was as though she had been raised by both parents. Her father often pointed out that her personality was so much like her mother’s Talia was proud to be herself.

She was strong-willed and feisty, a hard worker, and though she didn’t know if she agreed, there were many in town who insisted she was very beautiful. She didn’t often let herself be discouraged over anything, and she was always eager to be of service to another. Talia was her father’s pride and joy, and she felt the need to live up to that standard.

Even when she and her father didn’t agree, Talia was careful never to disrespect him nor to go against what he wanted. She would argue with him and reason with him, but she never disobeyed.

She had gone to school for long enough to learn how to read and do some of her arithmetic, but she’d stopped going as soon as she was old enough to help her father with the shop.

He’d tried to tell her she would have more opportunities in life if she stuck with schooling, but Talia wasn’t to be dissuaded.

“You are my life, Papa,” she’d told him with a smile. “Mama wouldn’t want you to have to work so hard to take care of us both. Let me help you with the shop.”

“But what about when you are grown? What about when you want to fall in love and have a family of your own?” he’d asked.

“I’ll still take care of you,” she insisted. “But I won’t meet my husband in school, Papa. I’ll meet a man who likes that I know how to take care of a shop!”

It had taken her over a year to convince her father to let her stay and watch the barbershop while he was out, but when he finally did give in to her wishes, he made her promise she would also keep up with her reading and her mathematics while she was there.

He didn’t want her to lose the skills she’d learned, and he often let her be the one to handle the cash register when customers were finished with their haircuts.

She was also responsible for keeping the shop clean and free of loose hair or dust, as well as speaking to any of the clients who came in for service.

Though her duties were light, she still did what she could to surprise her father. Including purchasing a barber pole for the front door.

He had been so happy when it arrived, he was speechless.

“It’ll help bring in people who are passing through town,” she had told him. “They’ll see the pole and know what you do without having to hear it from someone else.”

“You are so smart.” He had beamed. “Thank you, Talia. Perhaps I was right in letting you stay home from school after all. If you are a shrewd businesswoman, you might make it possible for us to last through the winter.”

“Oh, Papa, you know we’ll be fine,” she insisted.

“You are so much like your ma,” her father often told her. “You want to see the good in people, and the positive in situations. You remind me of her when you put your neighbor first, and it makes my heart glad to see you making sure those around you are happy.”

He also told her she had her mother’s gift of empathy, and Talia took that very seriously. She wanted to make her mother proud, even if she didn’t remember her mother herself.

It had been a busy morning, but that afternoon not a single person had come into the business. Her father had grown restless waiting for the day to come to a close, and when it seemed they wouldn’t be serving anyone else, he turned to his daughter.

“I thought I would ride out to the Jensen farm and see how the boy’s arm is healing,” he said. “Do you mind watching the shop while I’m gone?”

“Not at all,” Talia replied with a smile. “I’ll let anyone know you’ve stepped out and will be back directly if you want me to keep them for an appointment.”

“That would be fine,” he said with a nod. “I won’t be long, but I’ll be driven crazy if I just stand here the rest of the day!”

Talia smiled at her father’s need to stay busy, taking over the business when he left. He served as the small town’s physician as best he could. For the most part, he was able to keep the people put together and healthy enough, though he did have to send to the city for a real doctor from time to time.

It was rare, however, for any other doctor to travel to town. They would often wire him with answers as to what he ought to do to care for a patient, then they would leave him to handle it. He mostly dealt with common illnesses and injuries, but there was a time when he had even gone through with a surgery on behalf of an old man’s wife.

The man survived and to this day felt better than ever.

But when the Jensen’s son fell out of a tree he was climbing and broke his arm, her father had been the only option for care. It had been a large injury, the bone breaking through the skin at the elbow.

Still, her father had managed to put the arm back together and cast it in a splint, leaving the boy with explicit directions to use it as little as possible. With the boy being so young, however, her father worried that he wouldn’t be able to keep it still long enough for it to set properly.

So, he had taken the time to ride out to the family’s farm twice a week to check on how the arm was healing.

Talia didn’t mind. She would sit and read in the shop until her father returned, answering any questions that came from the people who walked in, or simply telling them to wait around or come back tomorrow for a haircut.

She sighed as she looked up from her book.

Out the glass storefront, she could see men and women bustling along the street. She wished for someone to come in so she’d have something to do, but she also didn’t mind getting lost in her book all over again as she waited for her father to return.

When a small group of boys ran past shouting to each other, Talia smiled to herself and turned back to her book. They were talking about something they’d seen on the street, but she didn’t concern herself with the details. It didn’t seem she would have anyone else coming in that day.

That is, until the doorbell chimed.

Chapter Three

Ian

The man’s strength was nearly gone. Every time he looked up from the ground, he felt that he hadn’t made any progress at all. It was only when he looked back to see how far he’d come did he realize that he was, in fact, getting somewhere.

Though not quickly, he was moving. That gave him enough hope to keep going, even though his body screamed at him to just sit down.

If he gave in and let himself rest, he would drift into unconsciousness once again, and he didn’t know if he’d wake up. The buzzards were relentlessly following him each step of the way, at times landing along the path he was walking and just watching him.

It left him with an eerie feeling in the pit of his stomach. The thought of those wretched animals feasting on his flesh out here in the middle of nowhere made him sick to his stomach. He wasn’t about to let himself wind up being nothing more than food for the birds.

But each step he made was agony. His body was begging for relief of any kind. Some water. Some rest. Some shade. Anything that would ease the pain running through him. That was all he wanted.

Yet, there was no relief in sight. The sun continued to shine down on him, baking his body within his clothes. At least, that’s how his aching joints felt each time he put his weight on his feet.

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the man spotted what appeared to be a town. It was out in the distance, still a few miles away, but it was a town all the same.

He was filled with such joy at the sight that he nearly broke down in tears. Of course, his body was so depleted from water, he doubted he’d have any tears even if he did cry. But the new resolve that filled him was enough to renew his strength.

He didn’t have much left, but he was able to keep going. It was just one step at a time. As long as he could move; he’d make it. Some moments when he wasn’t able to do more than a shuffle, then other moments when he felt he could make longer strides.

The man wasn’t entirely sure the town he saw in front of him was even real, or if it was a trick his mind was playing on him. After all, he had been wandering for hours out here in the hot sun, each step more agonizing than the last.

His throat was so dry that he could hardly breathe, let alone speak. He felt his tongue stick to the top of his mouth, and though the dust stung his eyes and filled his nose whenever a gust rushed by, he wasn’t able to cough without knocking himself to his knees.

Still, the man pressed on.

Even fearing at times that the town in front of him wasn’t real, he refused to give up. His survival depended on the hope there was someone out there who could help him, and he was certain each step made that town a little bit bigger.

Though it felt like it had taken an eternity for him to get there, he eventually heard the sounds of life he’d been yearning for. There were people talking, horses neighing, wagons jolting along the road.

Children were playing, and he heard the sound of the school bell ringing, letting out the kids for the day. The man continued to stumble along, trying to find someone, anyone who looked kind enough to give him a hand.

Or, at the very least, someone who would send for a doctor.

He felt as though he looked like one of the monsters from the storybooks he used to read as a boy. He knew he had blood all over him and, unable to open both his eyes, he could only imagine how swollen his face must be.

Some women looked at him with horror etched into their features, too scared to offer help. Then there were men who looked at him and merely shook their heads, leaving him to fend for himself.

He could start shouting for help, begging someone with a kind soul to come to his aid. But with his mouth as dry as it was, he didn’t know if he had it in him to make a sound at all.

It didn’t take him long to feel that this place was indeed heartless. The people here were worried about taking care of themselves and didn’t want a stranger wandering in their midst. Perhaps that was enough to make everyone want to stay away.

He tried not to judge the people in the town and instead understand them, searching along the way for some sign of a church or a doctor. Either would be the most likely place for him to get the help he needed.

When he saw the barber pole, he once again felt he could cry for joy.

The barber and the doctor were often the same person in a small town, so he staggered along the road toward the shop with what little strength he had left. He dropped his walking stick on the boardwalk, ignoring the boys who shouted at him as they ran past him up the road.

He didn’t care what anyone said anymore. The help he was seeking was right on the other side of this glass door. For a moment, the man didn’t know if he’d have the strength to even push it in, but with the last of what he had in him, he did.

The doorbell chimed as he made his way inside, and a young woman with a book in her hand leaped to her feet at the sight of him.

“Oh, my! Sir! Are you okay?” she gasped. Her face paled at the sight of him, and the man felt sorry for her. He hadn’t wanted to put such a pretty little thing in this position, but he had to find help, and she was the only one here.

“I—I need a doctor,” he hoarsely managed. “Can you get me a doctor?”

“He’s out right now,” the girl said. “My name’s Talia, and I’m the doctor’s daughter. He went to check on the broken arm of a boy just out of town, but he’ll be back within the hour, I’m sure. Can I help? Let me get you a drink of water.”

“Thank. You,” he slowly mumbled. There was a pause between the words, and his voice was so raspy, he hardly recognized it himself. But the girl didn’t waste any time. She took his arm and led him over to the barber’s chair.

“You have a seat right here. You look like you might collapse where you stand, you poor thing. I’ll be right back. Let me go get you some water and a cool cloth to put on your face. My Lord! Whatever happened to you?”

The man thought she was talking more to herself than to him, so he said nothing as she helped him to the chair and rushed out of the room. He watched the people walking along the street though he wasn’t much thinking about what they were doing.

His mind was still blank, bringing a fresh wave of frustration over him.

He still didn’t know who he was or where he was, and he didn’t know what he was supposed to be doing. Perhaps the more important thing now was to figure out what he had been doing that put him in this position in the first place.

It was shocking to him that he’d nearly been beaten to death. He wondered who would have done such a thing. And if he had been the one to start the fight. On the other hand, why did the person take the time to beat him like this and not just shoot him dead?

If this mysterious attacker had wanted to leave him for dead out there, then why didn’t he make sure the job was done before he left?

Or was the man himself the one who went on the attack? Perhaps the person who had done this to him had fought him off. Maybe he was the one who had the murderous intent from the beginning.

It wasn’t just foggy in his brain, but the man couldn’t remember a single thing. He didn’t know how he’d bring any of it back, either.

The pretty girl was back in a few moments, a water pail in one hand with a long dipper, and a cool washcloth draped over her other arm.

“I can’t tell where you’re hurt,” she said. “So, I’ll be careful, but please bear with me here.”

“Can I? Water?” the man gasped. “I. Need. Water.”

“Of course! Let’s get you a drink first. There you go,” she said.

She lowered the pail and helped him get water into the dipper, then helped him steady his hands as he lifted it to his lips.

The cool water hit the back of his throat with a jolt, and the man couldn’t get enough into his body fast enough.

“Slow down, you’ll make yourself sick!” the girl warned. “Easy now, you’re dehydrated, but you’ve got to be careful when you put fluids back in. I’ve seen Papa cut off people before, and I don’t know when I should, so please slow down.”

The man ignored her, however, and drank as much water as he felt he could hold. He knew it could make him sick to his stomach, but once he started, it was impossible for him to stop. Every part of his being was screaming for the cool, refreshing liquid.

And he was relieved to have it.

“Okay, okay, let’s put this on your head,” Talia said. “What’s your name?”

“I don’t know,” the man replied.

“What?” She stopped wiping his forehead and looked at him with surprise.

“I said I don’t know. I woke up out in the middle of nowhere and have no idea who I am or how I got there.”

“Were you kidnapped?” she asked, the shock still in her tone. “You poor thing!”

The man shook his head. “I don’t know what happened. I was unconscious. I think whoever did this to me thought I was dead. Or close enough to being dead that they could leave and not have to worry about me again.”

“Are you a sheriff?” she asked.

“I don’t know!” the man cried. His voice was harsh enough to make the girl jump with fright. He felt bad to have startled her and tried to apologize, but she brushed it off.

“I shouldn’t be asking you so many questions,” she said. “It’s really not any of my business anyway. I just want to be able to tell my father as much as I can when he gets here so you don’t have to try to talk. You look like you’re in a great deal of pain.”

The man nodded. He felt terrible for being so rude to the one person who had been willing to help him, but he was starting to panic inside.

What if he couldn’t remember who he was? What if he had a family back home that was waiting for him? What if he had been kidnapped?

He wanted to say that didn’t sound very likely, but then, none of this sounded very likely. How had he wound up in the middle of nowhere on foot and beaten nearly to death? That didn’t sound like something that would ever happen to him, either.

On the other hand, how could he say what sounded like it would or wouldn’t happen to him? He could be anyone, and he could be just as much after someone as he was the victim of being kidnapped by someone. Anything was possible at this point, and he hated that he had absolutely nothing to go on.

He looked down at his blood-soaked shirt.

He didn’t have a sheriff’s star, nor was he wearing a holster. That told him enough that he didn’t think it likely he was a sheriff. It wouldn’t surprise him if he’d had his gun stolen, but it would be extremely unlikely for whoever had done this to him to have also taken his holster.

And his star?

He didn’t think that would be likely at all.

He winced and Talia quickly apologized.

“You’ve got quite a bit of dried blood right here against this cut. I hoped I’d be able to clean it a bit more before Papa got back, but it might be better just to leave it be.” She sighed.

The man nodded drearily. Now that he was safe in this shop, sitting in this chair with some water in his body, he felt drowsy. His open eye felt heavy and nearly impossible to keep open, and his head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds.

“Here, let me move you this way,” Talia said. She kept her hand on his arm, helping the man lie back in the chair. He sighed, everything in his body still aching, but for the first time since he regained consciousness, he felt as though he could relax.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

“Of course. You get some rest right here. I’ll put the sign up saying the shop is closed, and I’ll bring Papa in here as soon as he gets back. Don’t you worry, honey, you’re safe now.”

He wanted to thank her again, but his body refused to obey anything his mind told it to do. His limbs felt heavy as lead, and he couldn’t get his eye back open. His throat wasn’t dry anymore, but he was still grateful when Talia left the bucket of water on the table next to him.

He wanted sleep, but his body wouldn’t allow for that. He was slipping back into unconsciousness.

But right now, that felt okay.

At least, it would stop everything from hurting.


“Caught in a Murderer’s Trap” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the middle of nowhere, a beaten man wakes up unable to recall even his own name. All he has in his possession are a few things in his pocket, including a poster of one of the most wanted men in the West. In order to solve this mystery, he needs to make it through the deadly desert first…

There is only one thing he knows: he must survive.

When Talia finds a man with no memory of who he is, it is her mission to bring him back to health. In an attempt to make him feel at home, she names him Ian. The even greater enigma, though, unfolds when a bloodthirsty criminal seems to be connected to him…

Can a small-town girl face such a tremendous scheme?

As Ian and Talia get closer to finding answers, they start questioning everything and everyone around them -even their own sanity. As they face a plot of terror, it’s time to shoot their way to the truth before it’s too late! Will they make it through this ordeal alive and unscathed?

“Caught in a Murderer’s Trap” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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