A Deadly Chase in Desert Valley – Extended Epilogue

Two years passed quickly, bringing new life and prosperity to the house in King’s Mountain where Fin and Joanna made their lives.

Joanna thought about this as she hung laundry outside their home. She didn’t have to do the laundry. The money she’d been left by her grandfather made her wealthy enough to have servants, a big home, all the luxuries.

But she simply wasn’t a materialistic woman and enjoyed the simple things in life. It was enough for her to know if she ever needed or wanted anything, she had the means to get it.

She’d given birth to their first child in December. The six-month-old was asleep in the basket surrounded by blankets as his mother hung up the wet clothes. She hummed a tune, glancing down at him. He was asleep. He was often asleep, a quiet baby from the beginning that gave his parents no trouble. He cried out when he was hungry or had just soiled himself, but other than that, little Steven was docile and sweet. If he wasn’t sleeping, he was usually found staring out at the world around him in wonder.

Joanna lifted a pair of trousers and clipped one side. She moved one step to the right to do the other side when she spotted a buggy coming up the path to their house. She froze, staring at it. She’d never seen it before, which was strange. There weren’t that many in King’s Mountain. She knew the owners of all of them. They had one, as well, but it wasn’t theirs.

She dropped the clip she was holding and hurried to scoop up Steven in his basket. She couldn’t see the front of the house anymore as she darted around the clothesline and headed for the side door of the house.

The door led into a pantry area, cool and a bit damp. She went through the house until she was in Fin’s study. He was standing up but concentrating on some papers on his desk, a puzzled look on his face.

His eyes snapped up to her face when she rushed into the room.

“Darling,” he said, “what’s wrong?” He came quickly around the desk, his worried gaze dropping to the baby in the basket. He reached in, brushing Steven’s cheek softly. “Hello, my boy,” he murmured to the child, pride on his face and voice.

Joanna’s heart sang when the baby smiled brightly at his father. It made her smile, too, even though she was concerned about who was coming to the house. In the last two years, she’d heard nothing from or about her father. At her request, Fin had abandoned his plan to keep tabs on the man through Pastor Chris. She told him she didn’t want the pastor caught up in their family drama. Fin had ultimately agreed, and as far as she knew, never followed through with any of it. He wasn’t the kind of man to do things behind her back or against her will.

Unfortunately for Joanna, asking Fin not to check up on her father left her feeling anxious about him the entire two years since. Every day she woke up wondering if the man would find her and what he would do to her and her sister if he did.

“He looks fine,” Fin cooed, glancing up at Joanna. “Why are you looking so haggard? What’s happened?”

“There’s someone here. A stranger. I saw a buggy pulling up into the path and its coming toward the house.”

Fin’s face turned hard, his eyes focusing on her. “You didn’t recognize the buggy?”

“No,” Joanna replied, shaking her head. “That’s why I said it’s a stranger. I was thinking … maybe it’s my father.”

Fin grunted. “Or someone from my past,” he remarked coldly.

Joanna knew about Fin’s past. She had forgiven his reluctance to tell her he’d been working as a gun-for-hire instantly because she loved him more than she’d ever expected to love a man. Especially after the role model she’d grown up with. It was a wonder she didn’t hate all men just for being men.

If anyone could have taught Joanna that all men were not the same, it was Fin. He was a kind, intelligent gentleman in every way. She had yet to find a flaw in him that made a difference to her feelings for him.

Fin rested one hand on her shoulder and turned her toward the door. He squeezed softly before letting go. “Take the boy to Hazel and Nick. Meet me at the front door.”

Joanna nodded. “Should I bring my gun?”

“You might want to, just in case,” Fin replied with a nod.

Joanna hurried out the door, heading down the back hallway to the other side of the house where her sister and Derek’s son were eating and resting. The two were nearly inseparable now. Hazel had found out it was much more beneficial to her that she was not actually Derek’s daughter. Especially after she fell in love with his son.

She held the basket on her hip long enough to turn the knob and open the door to the game room where her sister and her fiancé were. They both looked up from their backgammon table, their eyes wide at the sudden intrusion.

Joanna found herself breathless as if she’d just run a marathon.

“I … I need you to watch Steven. Someone is here and … I don’t know who it is.” She kept her eyes on Hazel, knowing her sister would understand her fear. Nick looked between the two of them, his green eyes curious.

“What’s going on? There’s someone here you don’t know?”

Hazel turned her gaze to him, a look of love making her glow when she did so. Joanna was happy to see it. She had such a great love with Fin, it was good to see her sister had also been blessed. The stagecoach journey they’d made two years ago to escape their father’s abuse had changed their lives completely. Not to mention the two hundred thousand dollars they’d inherited.

“She thinks it could be our father,” Hazel told Nick in a hushed voice. “I think so, too. It’s been two years, but I’ll bet he kept looking for us since we took our money out. It probably made him furious.”

“You don’t have anything to worry about,” Nick said firmly, his facial features hardening. “I won’t let anyone hurt you. Ever.”

Hazel took the man’s hand across the table over their backgammon game and squeezed it. “I love you, Nick.”

“I love you, too.” He sounded awkward when he responded, but Joanna thought it was cute and funny that he had to say those words even though he was angry when he said them. He continued, turning his eyes to Joanna. “I’m coming out there, too.” He released his hand from Hazel’s and stood up.

“You don’t have to do that,” Hazel said quickly, also standing up.

Nick shook his head. “I want to meet him. He doesn’t know who I am. Maybe I can keep him calm or talk to him. I’m like my pa. I’ve got the gift of the gab.”

Joanna and Hazel shared a look of amusement. When they’d come from Burlington two years ago, neither lady would have pegged Derek for being someone who had the “gift of the gab.” But since his son’s recovery, they’d seen a completely different man emerge. They found out after the events unfolded and things settled down that he was a salesman who made a very good living at what he did. He was sometimes told he could talk anyone into anything if he really wanted to. He’d gone to Burlington to retrieve the music box from a relative who had taken it after his mother’s death.

Along the way, he’d been attacked by outlaws, ironically not the same ones, and they’d stolen everything he had, including his shoes and the suit he was wearing. He was close enough to his cousin’s house to run there, fleeing from the bandits in just his skivvies.

He’d borrowed the brown suit he’d been wearing, which was why it didn’t fit. The briefcase was all he had on that trip. It was worth more than his life at that point. Which was why he never let it out of his sight.

“Come with me then,” Joanna said.

“You’re going out there?” Hazel hissed, her eyes darting to the doorway as if her father had appeared in it. “You should stay in here with me and let the men handle it.”

Joanna shook her head. “No. It might not be him. If it isn’t, I want to know who it is.”

“I don’t think you should take the chance,” Hazel insisted, her face crumpling in fear.

“Don’t worry, honey,” Joanna replied, equally as stubborn. “I’ll be fine. You stay in here with Steven. He needs to see you strong, though. Don’t let him feel your fear.”

Hazel huffed, pushing out her lips. “I would never …”

Joanna set the basket down near Hazel, and her sister pulled the baby out of it, holding him to her so they were cheek to cheek.

“You won’t let him hurt this little man, will you, mama.” It wasn’t a question. Hazel formed it as a statement. Steven giggled as Hazel put a smattering of kisses all over the babies face. “Love, love, love, love,” she kept repeating.

Joanna couldn’t help laughing softly as she and Nick left the room. She glanced at the young man. “That’s what you have to look forward to,” she said, grinning wide.

“Don’t mind it at all,” he replied, smiling back.

The two hurried down the hallway to the front, where Fin was standing with the door open. His arms were folded across his chest. It wasn’t until she saw him that Joanna remembered she was going to get her gun. She made a sound when she remembered, stopping in her tracks. “I’ve got to get my gun,” she told Nick, turning on her heel.

“Don’t bother,” Fin said, twisting at the waist to look back at them both. From the delighted look on his face, Joanna knew her initial fear that it was her father was wrong. It had to be a friend. From the glow of her husband’s smile, she had a feeling she even knew who it was.

She took Nick’s arm to explain to the confused young man what was going on.

“Is it Chris?” she asked Fin.

He nodded, turning his gaze back through the window. He stepped out, indicating Chris had reached the house.

Joanna was excited to see Pastor Chris again. She instinctively squeezed Nick’s arm, and he murmured, “Ouch,” though it was clear it didn’t really hurt. She laughed.

“So sorry, Nick. You can go back and tell Hazel to come on out. This visitor is the pastor from the town we used to live in.”

Nick raised one eyebrow. “Where your father lives? Are you sure this is a good thing?”

Momentary doubt passed through Joanna, but she shook it off. “Oh no. I’m sure he isn’t here to cause us any harm if that’s what you mean. He was never on our father’s side of things. He’s a good man. He might … he might have an update, though.”

Nick nodded. “You think that’s something Hazel should hear from him or from you? She’s kind of soft hearted, and I don’t want her to hear anything that might hurt her.”

Joanna loved the young man for his devotion to her sister. She leaned her head to the side and smiled softly at him. “You can’t protect her from everything, Nick. Sometimes she will have to hear things she doesn’t want to hear. It’s okay, anyway, because Pastor Chris understands how fragile Hazel is. And she’s not really that fragile anymore. She’s grown up a lot. She can handle it.”

The two nodded at each other, Nick turned on his heel and went back down the hall. Joanna wondered if her impassioned speech was more to convince herself than Nick. Either way, he was going to get her and Steven.

She went into the parlor to make sure everything was clean and in its proper place. They rarely used the room, choosing not to give large parties or have anyone over for any real reason. Visitors were welcome but rarely came. Most of the time, the pair went to someone else’s house for dinner or other parties.

She spun around when she heard the approaching men’s voices. Their boots on the floorboards of the wooden porch echoed as they came toward the door.

Pastor Chris removed his black hat when he entered the home, holding it in one, his gaze instantly falling on Joanna, still standing in the parlor doorway.

“Lovely Joanna. You are looking so happy and healthy. Wonderful. So wonderful to see you all.”

“Come in, come in,” Joanna said, holding out both arms toward him. He came close and leaned to give her a kiss on the cheek. She responded with one at the same time and stepped back to let him into the room behind her. “Hazel is coming with my son and her fiancé, Nick.”

Pastor Chris gasped audibly, his eyebrows lifting in delight. “Is that so? A fiancé. Now that is something my dear friend here did not write to me about.”

“They have been together for a year now. It took a while for Nick to recover fully from an injury he sustained before our escape from father,” Joanna explained. “He’s an intelligent boy, and we love him very much.”

“That’s such good news. I’m happy for you.”

The men sat as Joanna offered to get some coffee or tea for their visitor.

“I’d like that, thank you, Joanna.”

Hazel and Nick appeared at the door at that moment, Hazel crying out as if she saw a dear old friend. Joanna didn’t remember her being that close to the pastor, but then again, Hazel had confessed to having spoken to Chris on many occasions Joanna didn’t know about.

Nick was carrying the basket with the baby in it so Hazel was free to run to Chris and throw her arms around him.

After retrieving a tray of mugs and a pitcher of coffee, Joanna settled on the couch next to the pastor and her sister, who were side by side. Pastor Chris held the baby on his lap, gazing down into the boy’s face and cooing like a bird.

He instinctively bounced the baby when he looked up at the rest of them and started talking.

“I came here to give you some news, Joanna. Hazel.” He looked at each of them when he said their names, and Joanna felt a rush of nervousness, making her heart pound briefly.

She leaned toward him, as she was sitting at an angle on the end of the couch with her sister between her and the pastor. She rested one arm on her knee to balance and stared at him in expectation. It had to be about her father. It had to be.

“Go ahead, Pastor,” Hazel said in a weak voice.

“Your father has been taken into custody for the murder of your mother. I’m sorry; I don’t know any other way to put it, but this way. It’s the blunt facts. I am sorry.”

Joanna’s skin lit up with tingles. Her throat constricted, and she was surprised to be blinking away automatic tears. She wasn’t crying for her father. Not in any way. She cried because she’d never known what happened to her mother. All those years, and she’d never even suspected.

Hazel turned from facing the pastor to facing Joanna. Her eyes had widened and a blank look came to her face. “What is he saying, Jo Jo?” she asked.

Joanna knew instantly that Hazel was having trouble processing what she’d just heard. She only used that nickname when she was under a lot of stress. An enormous amount of stress.

Joanna reached out and grabbed her hand, holding it between both of hers. She switched her gaze to the pastor. “He’s saying Frank killed our mother and forged a card from her after to make it look like she was still alive. I can’t believe I never questioned his story. How could I have believed him after all the things he put us through?”

She felt sick to her stomach.

“How … how did he do it?” She wasn’t sure she wanted to know, but the question came out before she could stop it. “It’s been so many years, how … how do they even know? She must be … bones by now …” Fin hurried to her and knelt by her side, putting his hands over hers and Hazel’s. Nick was already behind the couch, one hand on Hazel’s shoulder.

The pastor’s voice softened. Tears came to Joanna’s eyes as the man spoke the words as gently as he could.

“There was a witness. There were actually several witnesses. Over the years, they have died under suspicious circumstances. They’ve all been attributed to Frank. He has gotten rid of all of them but one. And that one finally came out. He has everything, all the proof they need.”

“But … how did he do it?” Joanna asked. “Do they know?”

“He strangled her, according to the witness, and threw her body down an old well. She has been recovered. The dampness sustained her, and she was identifiable.”

Joanna didn’t know what to say or how to think. She looked at Fin. “Shouldn’t I feel something?” she whispered. “Am I cold and heartless? I should be sad.”

Fin lifted to put his hand around her head and pulled her forehead to his lips. He pressed his own forehead against hers and muttered, “No, Joanna. None of this is your fault or about you. It’s just something that happened. You don’t have to let it affect you now.”

“I won’t either,” Hazel said in a determined voice, though it was a bit wobbly at the same time.

“We know the truth now,” Joanna said, leaving her head against her husband’s. “At last, we know the truth.”


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33 thoughts on “A Deadly Chase in Desert Valley – Extended Epilogue”

    1. I did enjoy this book. As always there was lots of action and plot changes. I suspected the father had done away with the wife. I have driven teams for steak fry rides so that Scene with the lady driving was exciting for me.
      Keep them coming. I enjoy them.

    1. Great book, I was sad when it was over. I’d like a follow up on their adventures. Please write a part 2 and even a part 3! Fin and Jo were a good couple.Story was exciting the whole way through . I see big things in their future!

  1. I really enjoyed this book and the story was great. I also liked that it had no fowl language it made it much better as far as I’m concerned and you still kept the story interesting. Very well done! I have enjoyed a lot of your books and will continue reading them. Thanks !

  2. This is great book, the characters felt so real. I really enjoyed this book, this is the first of your books that I’ve read, I’m looking forward to reading more of your work. Thank you!

  3. Another awesome clean book by Johnnie Burns. Lots of action to keep you turning pages until the end. Enjoyed the epilogue that explained the mother’s death. Keep up the great stories and will be looking for the next book

  4. Loved this.book and the strong characters. The girls had quite a life with their father and a great adventure when they ran away. Hard to put down to see how it ended

  5. Johnnie, this was a fantastic book, one of your best yet. I felt most of the way through that the mother had been killed. It is rare for a mom to leave daughters.

  6. A wonderful cliff hanging book. Just the type I like to read and the type you’re known for writing. GOOD JOB!!

  7. Suspense and intrigue wrapped in an exciting Western. A malfunctioning home, a non-loving parent…villians, good guys and dreams for happiness. Awesome story and all with no bad words. Thankyou.

  8. This book was very engaging and I found it difficult to put it down. I never guessed what was in Derek’s briefcase. I really expected Frank to find out where his daughters had gone and to come after them. Thanks for keeping me guessing.

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