A Deadly Chase in Desert Valley (Preview)

Prologue

Fin Tyson ran one hand through his dark hair, sweeping his gaze from one side of his front lawn to the other. Other than the large circle of dirt for buggies and wagons that curved in front of the porch, the grass looked greener than ever this year. Last year, it was just okay. When Fin bought the property in King’s Mountain, Nevada, the year before, there had been only patches.

He sat in the iron deck chair with a glass of lemonade in one hand and a large cigar in the other. He liked the scent of the little curling puff of smoke that rose from its lit end. He only drew on it to keep it burning. He wasn’t a particular fan of smoking, but he did like that smell.

Fin thought about his solitary life. The only reason he was giving it any thought at all was because Christopher was coming to see him. Chris Hitchcock was one of the orphans at the home where Fin had grown up. Well, from the age of ten to eighteen anyway. When Fin left the orphanage, they vowed to keep in touch. Many of the other orphans had told Fin they would write to him, but Chris was among the few who actually had. Of all his friends, Chris had written the most.

He took a sip of the lemonade, keeping his eyes on the road in the distance. Soon a wagon or a buggy or maybe just a horse with Chris in the saddle would turn onto his path. A visit from a friend would give him some much-needed relief.

It wasn’t that Fin was lonely. He didn’t mind being alone, having lived a successful decade with no one by his side after leaving the orphanage. But two years ago, he’d decided he’d made a wrong turn somewhere. He’d worked as a hired gun for five of the last ten years, after an initial dip into petty crime.

Fin had been given a job in King’s Mountain and came across the farmhouse he now owned while hunting for his human prey. Something about it had grabbed his attention. It stuck in his brain so much that he couldn’t shake the feeling that he needed to go there, to be there, to live there …

He’d taken his entire eight-year-savings, which was substantial since he didn’t lead a life of debauchery when he wasn’t working and used it to buy his home in conjunction with a bid as part of the Homestead Act. He’d gotten the land through the Act and bought the house with his own money, moving the current occupants out, which they were willing to do when they saw how much he was offering.

Fin smiled, remembering their faces when he’d told them. Upon arrival, he could tell they were angry with him, afraid he would kick them out of their home because the government had given him the land they lived on. But he’d settled their fears immediately, treating them kindly and with respect from the moment he stepped out of his buggy. The family had consisted of a husband, wife, and three children. When they saw the amount Fin was willing to pay, their fear had turned to security, their anger to joy. They weren’t emotionally attached to the land, they told him. He was more than welcome to it.

So he’d paid to have the family moved to the house they bought in a town nearby and began filling the home with things he wanted to keep until he was old and gray.

Two years later, there was still only a minimal amount of furniture in the place. A few paintings he’d been given hung on the walls, often crooked. His kitchen was filled with food, and he had a stocked cellar because he was also an avid hunter of animals.

Last year, he’d been bitten by a bug. Not a literal bug. More like an aging bug. He wasn’t getting any younger. How long would he be a gun for hire? He’d always wanted to marry and have a family of his own.

Fin saw a horse and rider turning onto his path. Finally, something to break his depressing thoughts. Still, his mind wouldn’t let it go. He sat waiting as the rider drew closer, not about to fool himself by thinking it was something he’d always wanted. It was more like a sudden punch in the gut. He woke up one morning and thought the big farmhouse was a waste of space for a man who lived alone and rarely even had a friend over.

It was time for a family. It was time to settle down and bring some little ones into the world.

How he was going to go about that, he didn’t know. He didn’t even know any women. The girls at the orphanage had been like sisters to him. None in his age range were interested in him, and vice versa.

He wasn’t about to go to King’s Mountain Inn and talk to the ladies there. Yes, they were unmarried, but they weren’t really marriage material, which was why they were unmarried and worked at the inn.

Where was he supposed to meet a good woman? Church?

He snorted. He hadn’t been to church in … ever. Those ladies would spot him for who he was without hesitation. Then he’d just look like a fool.

Chris was close enough for Fin to see the big smile on his face. They both waved simultaneously, and Fin pushed himself to his feet, a tingle of excitement at seeing his old friend running through him. It was about time they got together again.

A second tingle ran through Fin when Chris was close enough to pull on the reins and bring his horse to a halt. The man was wearing the garb of a preacher.

His friend was a man of God. While he was … what was he? A man who took money to kill his fellow man.

His heart squeezed in his chest as he held up his hand, smiled, and called to his old friend.

Chapter One

Frank Fairbanks stuffed the chicken leg in his mouth and ripped the meat off like a savage. He took everything else along with the meat so that when he was done, there was nothing but a small bone left. Joanna was a little sick to her stomach from watching him and hearing the sounds he made with his mouth as he bit and chewed. He was disgusting. She felt nauseous, keeping her eyes away from him, staring down at her plate as she ate.

Hazel, Joanna’s nineteen-year-old sister, sat across from her. The table was small and square with just enough room for one person on each side. They had gotten rid of the grand table a long time ago. When her father wanted to entertain guests, his daughters weren’t there, and he took them to a different room in their large house.

Joanna cleared her throat, reaching for her tea to wash down a dry biscuit. Hazel’s eyes darted up to her as if she expected Joanna to say something, but she could only shake her head. She wasn’t trying to get her father’s attention. She had nothing to say.

“What is it?”

Her heart sank when he started questioning her.

“There’s nothing, Papa,” she said quickly, narrowing her eyes at Hazel. Sometimes the girl just didn’t think before she reacted to things. She was forever getting Joanna into trouble with their father.

“You made a noise, and that means you’ve got something to say,” her father responded harshly. “Out with it! What have you to say?”

Joanna pulled in a deep breath, looked at him, and instantly wished she hadn’t. His mouth, mustache, and beard were smeared with grease from the food he’d shoved in. She dropped her eyes back to her plate, hoping he would think that was a sign of humility or guilt. Whatever he thought, she didn’t care. As long as she didn’t have to look at his repulsive face.

“I was just clearing my throat because it is dry,” she said slowly and quietly. “I wasn’t going to say anything. That’s why I took my drink right after. I don’t have anything to say, Papa.”

How she hated her father. She would do anything to get away from him. At 23, she was edging closer to spinsterhood, and that meant staying in the house with her father until the day he died. She couldn’t let that happen. She might be forced to the gallows if that ever became the case because she would take care of the situation.

Joanna shuddered at the thought. She could never do such a thing and was ashamed it had even crossed her mind. But she had to protect Hazel. That’s why she hadn’t left. Hazel wasn’t as strong as her. She could never leave her younger sister to fend for herself with a father like Frank Fairbanks.

Frank sucked in a sharp breath through his nose and blew it out with as much vehemence. “You two girls. You think you know everything, don’t you? You think you’re entitled to whatever you want. You can do whatever you want, just because I am your father and a wealthy man. Well, I didn’t raise two spoiled little princesses, did I?”

“No, Papa,” Joanna and Hazel answered in unison. Neither girl would look up. Joanna didn’t have to see her sister to know they had both assumed the same position, their hands in their laps, their heads down, their eyes on their plates.

Frank sucked his teeth, sneering at them. Joanna could feel his squinty eyes on her and struggled not to shudder under his scrutiny. He would have seen, and God only knew what reaction that would draw.

He lifted one hand and set it on the table next to his plate, making both girls flinch. Joanna moved her eyes ever-so-slowly to see what he was doing with that hand. If he grabbed the fork or knife and threatened Hazel with it, she would be forced to protect her little sister. It was common. She’d long ago started thinking up strategies to get away before it got too bad. She and Hazel had developed escape plans for nearly every scenario they could imagine.

Every day, though, Joanna saw a new danger. Like this evening, seeing Frank finger the utensils next to his plate. The fork was grimy with food, but the knife was clean.

Joanna’s heart quaked. She would be brave and strong for Hazel. Frank wouldn’t hurt them again because she wouldn’t let it happen.

Frank moved his hand to the plate and grabbed a biscuit, mopping up the sauce left over from the chicken meal. Joanna’s eyes darted to Hazel when her sister resumed eating as well.

It took a little longer for Joanna’s heart to settle down. She couldn’t eat until it did because it made her breathless when her heart went into overdrive. She took up her fork and poked at the peas, her appetite gone.

“I’ve made a decision,” Frank announced as soon as he’d finished his meal and pushed the plate forward for Annie, the housekeeper and cook, to come and collect.

Joanna didn’t like the way he said those words and had to brace herself again. She’d barely been able to eat anything after the small tiff, so she still had a lot of food left on her plate.

“What is it, Papa?” she asked apprehensively.

“I’ve found husbands for both of you.”

Terror split through Joanna. The last person on Earth she wanted to choose a husband for her was her father. She had no doubt he would choose one of his friends or perhaps a businessman to whom he owed money. She could feel the anger rising and knew a fight would come.

Her thoughts went immediately to Hazel, who could never handle the fights like Joanna. Hazel could barely handle someone yelling at her, much less the violence and chaos that came with defending oneself against Frank Fairbanks.

She and her sister shared a horrified look between them.

“What are you talking about, Papa?” Joanna almost called him by his Christian name, which would have earned her a slap across the mouth. She thanked God silently that she’d caught it in time. She didn’t think of him as Papa, only calling him that because he insisted and had punished her the few times she slipped up.

When he picked up his napkin beside his plate, Joanna knew it was safe to look at him. At one time, her father had been very handsome. She’d seen the photograph on the mantle. He and mother on their wedding day in 1866. Looking like a fine gentleman and lady.

But her mother was gone, having abandoned the family when she was seven and Hazel was two. Her departure had broken her father’s heart and created the heartless monster he quickly became. Joanna spent her entire childhood raising another child. No woman would stay for long when courting their father, and she knew it wasn’t because of either of them.

The house was big and beautiful. The land surrounding it was lush, the crops fruitful, the cattle many. But the man running the house was a cruel, vile beast and no woman would put themselves through that and have to raise two girls that weren’t hers at the same time.

It had always been too much for those ladies. So Joanna and Hazel had no mother.

In reality, they didn’t have a father, either.

Chapter Two

“Please explain yourself, Papa,” Joanna said, resting her eyes on him as he wiped his mouth with the large napkin. He made a work of it, vigorously scrubbing his facial hair. Joanna thought it would be a lot easier if he didn’t shovel the food in like he hadn’t eaten in a week every time he had a meal.

Frank sat forward, narrowing his eyes at both of them, one by one. He placed his arms on the table on either side of the plate, balling his hands into loose fists. When he spoke, he sounded casual, as if it was no big deal and they should be grateful.

“I’ve decided I don’t want either of you in my house anymore. I want you both married off and out from under my skin. You think you know it all and can do anything anyway. Let’s see how entitled you feel when married to these two fellows.” Frank chuckled, curling his upper lip.

Joanna was repulsed. She’d tried hard to stay her temper, but she couldn’t take it anymore. She’d reached her last straw long ago.

“Let me tell you something, Papa,” she said quickly, her words chopping through the air. She had to get it out while she had the courage. “You aren’t marrying either one of us to anyone you know. You can try, guarantee them, write it all down and sign it, but we’re not marrying anyone you know or choose.”

Frank let out another evil chuckle. “Oh, but you will. And there’s only one way you’ll get out of it. Even if you choose that method, you’ll still be stuck with me here.”

“What method is that?” Hazel asked, eager to put an end to this. Joanna knew how much her sister hated these arguments, being afraid of the potential for violence, too. It was a constant fear for both girls. Frank had fists like hammers at times.

“You know what method I’m talking about, Joanna.” Frank had lost his humorous façade and was now staring at her with cold, dead eyes. How Joanna hated his guts.

“You’re talking about the trust, aren’t you?”

When their mother’s father had died, he’d set up two trusts for the girls, who’d been so small at the time. It had been his way of paying them back for the harm his daughter was doing to them. When he died, he’d left everything to his granddaughters, but they could not inherit the bulk until they were eighteen.

Though both girls had turned eighteen by that point, the trusts remained in the Burlington Savings and Loan. They did not need the money. Not yet. Both planned to spend it on their children sometime in the future.

“How do you propose to get our money, Papa?” she asked boldly. “The people at the Savings and Loan will be very suspicious if you go there and start taking our money out.”

“Yes, they would be,” Frank said in a low voice, “but not if you signed the papers over to me and let me take control of the estate.”

“Then you would spend everything down to our last dollar!” Hazel cried out. Joanna could hear how frightened her sister was, and it made her bristle.

“We’re not signing our fortune over to you, Papa.” Again Joanna used the direct route. For years she’d tried to reason with her father, make him see things from their point of view, or just simply show some compassion.

But Frank wasn’t a compassionate man. He simply wasn’t, and Joanna had come to accept that long ago. He loved no one but himself. The one person he had loved had left him high and dry with two little girls to raise.

“Then you will marry Frederick Barstow and Timothy Crandall in the next month.”

Frank said it in such a final way that Joanna almost believed it herself. She shot to her feet and leaned toward him. “You aren’t marrying us off to men you owe money to, Papa. We aren’t your property to sell.”

“Oh no?” Frank was also on his feet, holding himself up from the table with his fists balled so tightly his knuckles were white. “I beg to differ, little girl. I have all the control. I will put you wherever I want and marry you to whomever I want.”

Joanna glared at him with pure hate pulsing through her.

Hazel broke the stand-off by crying out, jumping to her feet, and running out of the room, wailing as if the end of the world had just been announced.

“Hazel!” Joanna called after her, hurrying to the door that nearly bashed her in the face when Hazel jerked it behind her. She caught it with one hand and swung it back open again, looking out into the large foyer. Hazel was already at the bottom of the staircase, rounding it with one hand on the banister before dashing up. “Hazel, wait! Wait! I want to talk to you.”

But Hazel didn’t wait. She didn’t even look back at her sister, and Joanna’s heart was breaking.

“Look what you’ve done,” she yelled at her father, spinning around on her heel to face him. “You’ve terrified her. Why would you even think of doing something so inhumane to us? I can understand me, since you hate me so much, but Hazel has never so much as put one toe out of line. She’s the best thing you’ve got, and you’re just going to throw her away?”

Joanna was incensed. How dare her father treat them so shabbily? What had they done to deserve it? Nothing, she thought, absolutely nothing.

Her father scoffed, scrunching his nose as if he smelled something bad. Joanna wished she could look into his eyes and see the father she’d once known, but that man was a distant memory. Joanna didn’t believe she’d ever have him back again.

“The person who’s done the most for me, my dear, is Annie. She cooks, cleans, and doesn’t try to tell me what to do. She rarely even shows emotion. She’s like an automated person.”

“What a wicked, horrible thing for you to say!” Joanna protested, hurt squeezing her heart like a vice.

Frank shrugged, looking careless. It made Joanna even angrier.

“Why are you doing this to us?” Joanna asked. “How could you? You’re our father. Our real father, not some made-up one.”

“You want to know why I’m doing this?” Frank snarled, coming around the table and approaching her. She backed away until she could feel the wall against her shoulder blades. She could go no further. He came within inches of her face, forcing her to close her eyes and turn her head to the side to avoid his bad breath and intense gaze. “I’ll tell you why.”

Joanna was stunned when he slapped both hands against the wall behind her, enclosing her with his body on all sides. Her heart was beating a mile a minute. She felt faint.

Frank was too close for comfort when he continued. His voice was so slimy that it gave Joanna chills.

His breath enveloped her, and she felt sick again.

“You and your sister are the reason my Melanie left. I didn’t want you here. She didn’t want you either. And now I don’t want to even look at your faces in my house anymore. I’ve done my penance for loving her. She left me with you two wretches because she didn’t want you any more than I do. You’re lucky I’ve been so generous to you and your sister all these years. I’m done now. I want out and don’t want to feed you another meal. You two are why Melanie left. And I’ll never forgive you for it.”

Chapter Three

Fin was glad he’d decided to visit Chris at his home in Burlington in the same state as Nevada. The small town was quiet and peaceful. It had one main street and several small streets that formed a quaint little village providing all the necessities a person could want to lead a happy life there. They even had an ice cream parlor. Fin liked the place and told his friend just that when his stay had come to an end.

It was the last day after a four-week vacation to Burlington, completely paid for by his dear friend, the clergyman.

Fin hadn’t told Chris yet what he did for a living. He’d dodged the question many times, finally settling on a vague term to explain himself as an “odd-job man.” Chris spent the week trying to “help him find his way.”

Fin didn’t discourage his friend from doing that. He really did want to find his way.

The door behind him opened and then slammed shut when Chris’s body wasn’t holding it open. He was bringing out two bottles of beer. Fin was over his initial surprise that Chris – as a pastor – imbibed in alcoholic beverages. He took one from his friend with a nod of his head and a quick “thanks.”

Chris dropped into the chair across the small table from Fin and took a swig from the bottle. He smacked his lips afterward exaggeratedly, turning a grin toward Fin. “Shame you gotta leave today. The weather is perfect for a ride through the country.”

“It is, but I’ve got to get back to King’s Mountain. I don’t think I can get my money back for my stagecoach ticket, either. I got things to do back home. But I’m really grateful you let me come out here and take a break from it all.”

“I’m glad you didn’t have any pressing jobs to do.” Chris sounded sympathetic as if he thought Fin only worked the hardest jobs. It wasn’t new for his friend to treat him with a great amount of respect. He’d done that since the orphanage. Fin was a natural leader, and Chris had always taken a back seat to Fin’s outgoing personality. If he really thought about it, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise that Chris became a preacher. He’d taken a permanent back seat to God. It seemed appropriate.

Fin turned his eyes away from his friend, fully aware that his cheeks were red. He couldn’t think of the right words to say. He was ashamed he’d been lying to Chris. He was an honest man. At least, he tried to be. He might kill or threaten people for his money, but he didn’t lie.

When Fin thought that to himself, he followed it up with how incredibly weak that excuse sounded. He sighed heavily, his chest heating up with anxiety.

“Fin? You all right?”

Fin worked his jaw, running his tongue over his teeth. He was going to tell the truth and could feel it. He couldn’t leave without telling Chris what he did for a living and how badly he wanted to stop. He waited a few more moments before rolling his head to his friend, giving him a sheepish look.

“I got a confession to make,” he said in a low voice.

Chris’s eyebrows shot up. “Oh?” he asked. “I’m here to listen to anything you need to tell me.”

Fin pressed his lips between his teeth and sucked his front teeth while he drew a deep breath of preparation.

He looked in front of them again, out into the street. “I don’t do odd jobs around town.” He stopped. It took only a moment for him to continue, and Chris didn’t press him in the meantime. When he did speak, he returned his gaze to his friend.

“I’m a gun for hire.” He left it at that. Chris lifted his chin in a single nod and looked like he was expecting more.

Chris blinked. “That’s all? Not to say that isn’t surprising and not the best job in the world, but there’s nothing more? Have you killed women and children?”

“No,” Fin answered both questions with a resounding no, recoiling at the second one. He shook his head vigorously. “No women and children. I’m actually lookin’ for a way to get out of this job. Problem is my reputation in those parts is well-known, and they all talk. They tell their friends who need someone and then call me. Some of them are willin’ to pay a whole lotta money. Hard to turn down four figures, ya know.”

Chris’s eyebrow shot up again. “Yes, I can see how that would be difficult to do. That’s a lot of money to sniff at.”

“I try to be selective, though. I don’t like killing anyone with a family, like a wife and kids. No other family members, not settin’ houses on fire. I kill men who’ve done other people wrong, most of the time, and it’s after they’ve done everything they can to avoid taking that step. I’ll even help them and suggest how to fix somethin’ before I go takin’ their lives.”

Chris nodded at him, which was a good sign that he believed what Fin was saying. It was the truth, but Fin felt he was trying to justify his job to himself as much as he was Chris.

“I even try to make sure there ain’t anyone around. I’m not keen on witnesses anyway, but I’m not gonna shoot someone who’s in the middle of the street while I’m hidden in a nearby window. You want that kind of killin’, I know a couple of fellers you could go to.”

Fin lifted the beer to his lips and took a long drink. It made his gut warm, and a light fog began to lift in his mind, making him care less about his problems. Keeping his eyes in front of him, Fin continued, “I hope that doesn’t make you think bad of me, Chris. We’ve been friends for so long. I’d like to keep being your friend.”

Chris sounded surprised when he answered, so Fin looked over to see the emotion confirmed on his friend’s face. “I haven’t lost any respect for you, Fin. I know what kind of boy you were, so I’m pretty sure you haven’t changed too much as a man. We all have our roles to play in this world, and just because I chose a peaceful route and you chose the route of a warrior, that doesn’t mean we can’t exist in the same place and be friends. I’ll always be your friend, Fin, as long as you want me to be.”

Fin’s chest tightened with affection. He dropped his chin as he sat forward, reaching up to pinch the bridge of his nose between his finger and thumb. He was immensely relieved not to be lying to Chris anymore. He wished he hadn’t waited until the end of the week to tell him.

Chris chuckled. “You all right?”

Fin looked over at him, smiling. He held out one hand, and Chris grasped it in a firm handshake.

“Thanks for understanding, Chris. I wish I hadn’t lied to you. Forgive me?”

Chris let go of his hand and tapped his collar. “I kind of have to. A job requirement.”

Both men laughed.

“But I would anyway, Fin. Like I said, I know you. I have no doubt you will get out of this job as soon as you can. Just have to figure out what you want to do. Which direction you want to go. And be careful on this trip back. Thieves about, you know.”

Fin nodded, having read the paper that morning. One stagecoach robbery per week in nearby areas for the last month.

“I’ll be watchful,” he replied, patting the gun in the holster sitting on the table next to him. “I’ve got my girl right by my side.”


“A Deadly Chase in Desert Valley” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When her father tells her she must marry a man she doesn’t love, Joanna Fairbanks knows it’s time to put her escape plan into action. With her sister in town, she sets out for Burlington, Nevada, where her grandfather left some money for her. In the midst of their stagecoach attack by bandits, though, this city girl will discover the rough face of the West firsthand!

Joanna must protect her sister at all costs…

Fin Tyson has been working as a gun for hire for far too long. Determined to atone for his past sins, he starts by deciding to protect Joanne and her sister. He’s gonna use his excellent gun skills to rescue them, but this feisty lady has no need for a hero…

What if the roles of protector and victim are about to reverse?

Joanna and Fin manage to escape the savage bandits once, only to be pursued by them again and again. Will they escape safe, alive and in love? Or will their time together be cut short at the hands of the merciless thieves who won’t stop until someone is dead?

“A Deadly Chase in Desert Valley” 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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