The Redeemer’s Path (Preview)

Prologue

Jason Atlas crouched behind a big shelf of books, gripping a large canvas bag filled to the top with as much cash as he’d been able to stuff in it. His deep-set brown eyes peeked around the corner of the shelf, watching for Lorne, his partner.

Lorne had likely run off. He was never really the bad guy type. Just because he came up with the bank robbery idea didn’t mean he was really cut out to pull it off. He’d hightailed it and run off, Jason was sure of it. Leaving him to take the rap for the whole scheme.

Then again, if he got away from the law, he wouldn’t have to share the bag of cash he’d taken from the clerks. It was all his to do what he wanted with.

Jason wasn’t like the other men in the gang he’d just left. They woke up every morning intent on causing trouble and pain for other people. They were miserable in their lives and always had been. All they wanted was to spread their misery all around so they wouldn’t be lonely.

He wasn’t like that. He tried to think positive.

This would be the last time he would call himself a thief. He was tired of that life. He wanted out. He was too smart for all of it.

His heart nearly came out of his chest when he heard a gun cock very near him. A lawman was standing on the other side of the shelves he was hiding behind.

He held his breath, not daring to move. If the man came around the shelves, he would have to kill him.

Jason had never killed anyone in his life. He wasn’t prone to violence. He’d only joined the gang because they gave him something to eat when he was starving. It was strange that an act of kindness could lead him down such a devastating and criminal road.

He found a small window in a back room of the bank. With his heart pounding with fear, Jason squeezed through the window and pulled himself, and the canvas bag, out on the other side by grabbing branches from the bush directly outside. The row of bushes along the exterior of the building was meant to protect the windows. Now they were protecting him.

He pushed through the branches and came out slowly, looking both ways and out through the meadow in front of him. He was fairly certain every law man was probably inside the bank or out front. Looking for him.

If he didn’t hurry, he would be seen. The safest place was the patch of woods to his left so he hopped out into the clearing and dashed toward the trees as fast as he could.

No sooner was he on the other side than he had to duck behind a tree. He jerked his head behind him to see if he was in any way hidden from the bank. Satisfied he was hidden from the law, he turned back and peeked around the tree trunk to watch what happened to Lorne. His partner was in the hands of an evil man. Jason had no doubt Lorne would die.

He wasn’t sure he wanted to watch. But there was always a chance Lorne might get away, wasn’t there?

Another peek around the tree made Jason question that he would. Lorne was on his knees, and it looked like Kurt and his men had already had a good time beating on him. His face was covered in blood, his shoulders slumped in a defeated way. He was done for.

Kurt Fallon was the ringleader of a violent gang named the Broadville Boys. They had formed in Broadville, Texas and ravaged their way up to Utah then down through Arizona and all the surrounding territories. The first few years, they’d mainly stuck to Texas. The last three or four had been in other states. A few months ago, Jason had heard they’d returned to their native state, causing even more crime and turmoil than the first years.

Jason was also fully aware Kurt had been up in arms about the leader of a rival gang he thought was moving in on his territory. Jason didn’t want anything to do with a war with the Broadville Boys. That was suicide. He was done with that life anyway. It was on his twenty-fifth birthday when he and Lorne left the gang, trying to make it on their own. A mere six months later he was in it all over again. Just not with a leader. He and Lorne were partners.

It was hard for Lorne to leave that life behind. Jason was a little surprised Lorne wasn’t begging Kurt to join his gang. It only took a moment for him to understand why he wasn’t.

“I’ve never seen anything more cowardly in my life.”

Peeking again, Jason saw Kurt had crouched in front of Lorne, whose hands were behind his back, his head hanging, his eyes closed. Kurt was holding a gun, which he was waving in the air between his legs.

“When your partner comes out, we’re gonna do the same to him,” Kurt said, making Jason’s breath catch in his throat. His heart sped up even more and he felt a bit dizzy.

He couldn’t stay where he was. He would eventually be seen by someone, and it sounded like Kurt was planning to wait until they saw him. Lorne was, in essence, giving him time to escape. He wasn’t one to look a gift horse in the mouth.

As Jason sprinted away, making sure he was hidden behind bushes and fat tree trunks, he wished Lorne good luck. He wasn’t really a partner. Or even a friend, really.

Still, when the gunshot rang out and he knew Lorne was dead, even without seeing it happen, he felt bad. He couldn’t have saved Lorne. Kurt was surrounded by six of his henchmen. Any one of them would have shot him dead if they’d seen him and certainly would have the moment he showed his face in defense of Lorne.

He felt sorrow in his chest as he ran with the bag of money in his hand. This was the last time. The very last time.

Chapter One

There was so much action on the street. Elizabeth Williams gazed out at the men, the women, the children playing. In many ways, she felt apart from them… different. She was. But she didn’t want to be. After all, it was the year 1871. Things had changed a lot since the war ended.

Liza watched as two little boys and a girl ran after a hoop as it rolled down the road. They were screaming with excitement and the boys were shoving each other as they ran. She jerked when one of the boys toppled over and rolled about two feet. Worry filled her for only a split second because the boy was back on his feet in no time, now chasing the boy who had shoved him over and both the boys were laughing.

She settled back in the comfort of the carriage seat, which had just been re-cushioned the month before. Across from her sat her best friend Jan’s mother, Ethel. She was commonly their companion, their chaperone. Jan was on the side where Liza sat, looking out the other window.

“Look at the wagon train, getting ready to leave,” Jan said, pointing to the front of the carriage on her side. Liza leaned over and looked. She could see the line of wagons, without horse or oxen, in a row in front of the shops.

“What’s that?” she asked. She’d never seen anything like it. That must be why there were so many families in town, so much action.

Jan looked at her like she’d lost her mind. “You don’t know what a wagon train is? How can you be twenty-six years old and not know what a wagon train is?”

“I think you both know the answer to that question,” Ethel said in her huffy way. Liza liked Jan’s mother well enough. She was kind in her own way, stern most of the time but always looking out for the best interests of the two girls. She worked for Liza’s parents as a seamstress. Jan was a maid but mostly catered to Liza’s needs. They had a little cottage on the property, away from the main mansion. Liza and Jan had formed their own trail through the meadow from the big house to the little house, which was what they’d called it when they discovered they were very good friends, as well as employer/employee.

Liza had never had much of a snobbish attitude and never walked with her nose in the air like some of her relatives. She and Jan ended up becoming best friends, despite the difference in their social status. As she was growing up, Liza’s friends had been surprisingly willing to accept Jan at the festivals and parties they’d attended. There were a few who kept their distance, but Jan had always said she appreciated their honesty. At least they didn’t pretend to be her friend and laugh at her behind her back.

“What is the answer then, Mother?” Jan asked, tilting her head to the side. Liza could see a slight smile playing at her friend’s lips. Her mother often said wise things in a dull sort of way but always made a good point. Liza had come to appreciate Ethel, despite her dry personality.

“She has been sheltered her entire life. Of course she wouldn’t know about the wagon train.”

“Well, I’m interested now!” Liza murmured energetically. She scooted on the seat, so she was closer to Jan’s side, peering through the window, both hands perched on the sill.

“Why don’t you just get out and get a better look?” Jan said. Liza couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not. It sounded like it. But Jan wasn’t often sarcastic unless she was being humorous.

Despite this logic, Liza took her suggestion and pushed down the door handle, opening it and stepping onto the one stair provided to help them get out.

She heard Jan gasp behind her. “Liza, I didn’t mean you really should. You might get hurt out there. You have to be careful.”

Liza didn’t want to be careful. She was tired of being careful. For nearly a year, she’d been feeling the pull of travel. Her mother and father didn’t want her to take a year to travel, doing some self-analyzation, finding her actual place in this world.

She couldn’t be Richard Allen Williams III’s daughter her entire life. She’d grown up in Houston, Texas, where her father had become a wealthy man—doing business in imports/exports with offices scattered up and down the gulf coast. They had settled in Texas as he made his way slowly across the continent. He wouldn’t stop, he said, until he had buildings and employees on the coast of California.

Liza had no doubt her father would make this happen. He had never spent time developing relationships with the people in his family. His children—Liza and her older brother, Kristopher, and younger brother, Mark, would grow up knowing their father was an important man in the business world who didn’t have time to spend with them unless they wanted his business destroyed.

He’d told them that very thing on more than one occasion.

She thought about her longing for travel as she walked toward the line of wagons. There were two men talking on the walkway in front of the third wagon in the line. She didn’t bother them. She walked along the line of wagons, glancing inside to see what she could. Their voices carried to where she was.

“So how soon will they get here?” one of the men asked.

“It’s gonna be another three, maybe four days.”

Liza heard the first man sigh. “That puts us off by two days already. That’s not good.”

“You don’t believe in omens, do you?” The second man seemed to be younger than the other, at least it sounded that way to Liza. His inquiry sounded like a son asking a father a question.

“It’s not that I believe in omens,” the first man replied. “I just like to stay on time. When something goes wrong, something else invariably happens and things snowball. I just want everything to go smoothly on this run. The last two have been smooth. I want to keep up that momentum.”

“I understand. I’ll do whatever I can, Jason. I don’t want things to go wrong any more than you do.”

“I’m sure you don’t.”

Liza had come back around to the street side of the wagons where they were.

“Liza!” Jan screamed her name from the carriage, sounding like a wailing child. Liza physically flinched, her head darting in her friend’s direction. It was just like her to draw attention to the carriage… already an unlikely sight in Texas. Another of her father’s indulgences.

“I’m coming!” She used a much nicer voice when calling back, making it sound like she was singing the words. She knew her face would be blazing red at that point because she could feel the heat in her cheeks. Hurrying away from the wagons and the men, she made sure not to look in their direction. They were most certainly staring at her. Did they know she had been eavesdropping?

It was uncanny that the very question she had in her mind had been answered without her asking it. He had said they wouldn’t be able to leave for at least four more days.

That presented an opportunity for Liza. Could she possibly stow away on one of the wagons? What if she snuck on one in the middle of the night, taking only a bag of money and a few articles of clothing, maybe one bag of personal things? No one would see her, and she could get away from the life of wealth she no longer wanted.

She had her own money—which was really an allowance from her father—which she knew would be cut off if she left the family and turned down a position in the company. She’d been saving since she was eighteen and had quite a stash. She could go anywhere, do anything.

Was the wagon train her chance at escape?

Chapter Two

“Who was that?”

Jason kept his eyes on the woman as she hurried across the street.

“Liza, of course,” he replied.

His assistant, Scott Pearlman, gave him a direct look. “You know her?”

He sounded envious. Jason grinned at him.

“You didn’t hear that other woman holler out Liza? I’m pretty sure her name is Liza.”

Scott grunted with amusement, turning his eyes back to the woman as she climbed back into the carriage. “Liza with a lot of money, it looks like.”

“And domineering servants. Did you see the difference in the dress quality of the woman holding the door open for her?”

“Plainer?” Scott suggested.

“Yeah, I reckon.” Jason had picked up an apple from one of the vendors and took another bite of it, his eyes on the carriage as it pulled away. “Anyway, we gotta get this on the road as fast as we can. You sure the oxen can’t be here for four more days?”

Scott looked regretful. He was holding a clipboard with the message from the suppliers against his chest as if blocking it from view would make it less real.

“At the least. And we need one more wagon to make it worth our while. We could overcharge the last person. Make ‘em pay a couple thousand.”

Jason blanched at the idea and was relieved when Scott chuckled. “I’m kiddin’. I won’t overcharge anyone, Jase. You know that. I appreciate you lettin’ me work with ya. I plan to learn a lot more than I have these last three times. And I like the trip to San Francisco. It’s not too rough and not too long. We can get there in a few months’ time if we don’t have any problems.”

Jason nodded, thinking about the last time they’d gone to San Fran. He liked the city. It was flat and beautiful, and water seemed to be everywhere. Not like in Texas. There didn’t seem to be anything desert-like about San Francisco. He might settle there this time.

The days of his gang life were in the past. He’d met an old wagon master almost immediately after escaping from that last bank robbery. He’d asked to join up and learn the craft and now it had been five years. For the last three, he’d worked on his own, his teacher dying suddenly of a problem with his heart. Apparently, it had decided to stop beating.

After burying his mentor and the man who’d become a good friend, Jason had taken over, helping people migrate west. He was ashamed of his past life of crime and never mentioned it to anyone. It had taken him a year of working with his assistant before he told Scott about it. He’d only done so to warn the young man that if he was ever suddenly caught up in something bad or simply disappeared from sight, there could be any number of dangerous reasons for that and he should just take over the business.

He’d tried hard to teach Scott everything his mentor had taught him. Isaiah had been a wise man. Jason admired and trusted him until the day he died. It hadn’t been a long apprenticeship, but Jason had worked hard every day to learn everything he needed to know. He’d taken notes and filled many books with the knowledge Isaiah had bestowed on him.

“Let’s go to the Dog and Pony and get a drink,” he suggested, clapping a hand on Scott’s shoulder. “I’m parched.”

Scott smacked his lips together, nodding vigorously. “Me, too. That’s a great idea, boss.”

Jason walked in the direction of the carriage, which was slowly moving down the street as the driver avoided the people walking around. He wondered about that. Were those people blind or did they just not care that they could be trampled by a horse at any moment?

“You think we’re gonna find another wagon to join us?” Scott asked, pushing open the swinging door and entering the dark saloon. Jason felt an immediate drop in temperature, a likely result of the humidity in the air. It was going to rain soon. Very soon, he surmised. That had been one of the reasons he suggested getting a drink.

They both walked to the bar to their left and slid onto the stools in a row in front. Jason tapped his finger on the bar a few times, saying, “I’ll have a beer, one for me and one for my friend here.”

The bartender, a man they’d come to know as Lenny, nodded and made the drinks, sliding them across the smoothly sanded wooden counter. Both men caught the drinks and Jason immediately took a drink.

Whenever the temperature dropped, on a day like today when it was rainy and cold for that time of year, the temperature of the beer in the barrels would also drop. Jason liked the taste more when the beer was cold.

He closed his eyes, relishing in the cold liquid sliding over his tongue and down his throat. The humidity outside caused it to feel like it was over a hundred fifty degrees out there. In the cool, dark saloon with a cold glass and cold liquid in his hand, Jason felt intense relief, which made his muscles relax.

Scott, who was five years younger than Jason, was at the age Jason was when he left the gang. He hadn’t led anything like the kind of life Jason had. Scott’s parents were still living. His father had been a medic in the war but had made it through with no injuries and hadn’t lost his wife or any of his children to the effort. It had been years since the end of the war and years since the assassination of President Lincoln, but Scott’s father never forgot and often told his son stories about it. Stories that Scott had no problem repeating to Jason.

Jason felt privileged to hear such vivid accounts of that tragic time, all the while praying he never had to experience them himself. He wasn’t sure he would be as strong as his friend’s father. Then again, this was the kind of thing you didn’t know until you experienced it. War was probably a lot like being in the gang. And just as dangerous, without a doubt.

Another swallow of the cold drink and Jason was beginning to feel much more relaxed. He would find that last wagon and make sure he and his assistant got the profit they needed and wanted from this run. And maybe this time he would stay in San Francisco. Try to find a woman to marry and have a family with.

It was about time he changed up his lifestyle.

“I’ve been thinkin’,” he started to say, jogging Scott’s elbow with his own.

Scott lifted his brown eyebrows, widening his eyes at the same time. The picture he made was too humorous and Jason had to let out a laugh.

“Everybody look out,” Scott said in a sarcastic joking way.

Jason laughed again, shaking his head. “I’m thinkin’ this might be the last journey I make for a while.”

Scott’s smile disappeared. Concern took prominence in his face. “What do you mean? You hangin’ up your hat?”

“I was thinking of staying in San Francisco and starting a family. You’ve seen how beautiful it is there.”

Scott’s eyes roamed the room as if his mind was in a quandary. Jason didn’t want him to feel anxious. He hurried to add, “I was thinking if you didn’t have enough money or if you didn’t want to quit the game, I’d keep you on as my assistant when I figure out what I want to do with my life, and you can just run the business with me not leaving on the journey. You wouldn’t have to do it yourself. We’d hire another person to run with you.”

Scott visibly relaxed. “You’d do that for me?”

Relief flooded Jason. His business was safe, no matter what he decided to do.

“Yeah, Scott. You bet I would.”

Chapter Three

Two hours later, Liza sat in the sitting room of her parents’ home, her body stiff, her heart the only active thing other than her blood freezing like ice in her veins. She was under the impression this was what horror must feel like. She couldn’t believe her ears.

It was almost funny. Without her permission, her lips pulled back and she smiled.

“See? I knew you would be good about this.” Her mother was mistaken. She wasn’t being good about anything. She was in such disbelief the only response was laughter.

“I… I can’t believe…” She chuckled as she spoke but if they were smart, they’d know it was not a humorous laugh. “I can’t believe what I’m hearing. You want me to what?”

Her father turned from the mantle. The fireplace was lit, a moderate fire burning inside, casting enough heat to make the room comfortable on a rainy March afternoon. It had started raining seemingly moments after Liza, Jen and Ethel returned from town.

The constant patter of water on the window became the sound Liza focused on. She was going into shock, she thought. This had to be what that felt like. Her whole body was numb. She could feel her hair tingling. Was that even possible? She concentrated on breathing.

In… out… in… out.

All this did was encourage her to hammer out a plan to get away. She didn’t want to run away from home. It seemed so childish to think of it that way.

But if her parents sincerely thought she was going to marry a man twenty years her senior because they told her to, they were quite wrong.

“If you didn’t want an independent daughter, why did you bring me up with the understanding that I needed to make my own decisions and think for myself? Now, twenty-six years later, and you’re telling me you’re going to marry me off to someone I barely know and have met once?”

“You need to sacrifice just like everyone else in this family has,” her father said, turning to face her, putting his back to the warmth of the fire. “It’s necessary for you to do your part. You have been reaping the benefits of the hard work I’ve put in since I was sixteen.”

Liza said the last few words with him, switching “I” for “you” so she could describe him. She rolled her eyes and then regretted being so disrespectful. They were trying to marry her off but that didn’t mean she could be rude to them. They were still her parents, weren’t they?

“You want me to sacrifice any chance at happiness I might have by marrying a man much older than me and leaving my home and friends behind to live in Montana?”

“I have a new office opening there. He is taking care of the business there. You will be treated well. You’ll never want for anything just like you haven’t here.”

“You would be able to live the life you want to!” her mother gushed. “Just in a different place with different people. We will still be there for you. Whenever you need us.”

“And how do you plan to do that from thousands of miles away? And what about my friends? My plan for the future? I have dreams and wishes, too, you know. We have the money to make them come true, so why can’t I just stay unmarried for now and when I find the right man…”

“You have already been betrothed to Samuel Conners and that is who you will marry. Our Montana business depends on him staying sharp and focused, which is why he needs to get this part of his life out of the way.”

Liza frowned. “I beg your pardon? I’m a box being checked? What’s next on the list for me? Children? Box checked. I’m just there as part of a business contract. And you expect me to give this man a bunch of children? I’ve seen him, I’m not sure I can make myself dress down for him.”

“Liza!” Her mother gasped, her face turning red.

Liza, feeling shame burning inside her, narrowed her eyes at her mother. Her anger was boiling over and she was just barely holding onto it.

“I can’t believe you are doing this to me, Mother. I really can’t. I just don’t even want to see or talk to either of you right now!” She stood up, grabbing the skirt of her dress and hurrying to the door of the room. She turned back, twisting at the waist and glaring at her parents. Her father was just standing there, shaking his head, pushing his pipe in his mouth, and leaning on the mantlepiece with one hand, his elbow locked. He was essentially turning his back on her, even though technically it was his side. He hung his head as if ashamed, himself.

That made Liza feel even worse. She’d never experienced any kind of malice from either of her parents, but she wasn’t particularly close to either of them either.

“How long do I have as a free woman?” she asked in a breathy tone. She wasn’t going to cry. She wouldn’t let herself cry.

It was her mother that answered in a tone that showed she was not emotionally connected to this in any way. “The wedding will take place three weeks from this Saturday.”

Liza was a little surprised by the sense of relief that swept through her. She had much longer than she’d been expecting. She could easily make a plan in three weeks.

Not that she was waiting that long.

She left the room, going up to her bedroom, taking the steps up slowly. Liza ran her hand along the smooth edges of the railing as she went up, her eyes on the wood under her fingers but her mind was elsewhere.

She’d been thinking about that wagon train since seeing it. It was her chance at freedom. She wouldn’t go alone. She would get Jan to go with her. Maybe even Ethel. The woman had been their companion every time they went out. She would tell Jan what she wanted to do and get her advice.

Would she be able to trust Ethel with what she wanted to do? As housekeeper, the woman had experienced the behavior and icy personalities of Richard and Linda Williams. Liza’s older brother, Kristopher, didn’t live at home. He had a small home of his own and he liked it that way. His parents wanted him to marry, but he wasn’t interested in it. He was interested in the business, though, and focused all his attention on that. It had satisfied his parents enough to keep them off his back.

Her younger brother wasn’t put off by the thought of marriage, but at twenty, he was still in school, learning some aspects to the family business that required a lot of study and learning. His time would come.

And he’d likely marry a woman he loved and wanted.

Liza entered her room to see Jan putting away folded underclothes in an open drawer. She looked up. When she didn’t smile, Liza knew she was knowledgeable of what her parents had just informed her.

“I’m sorry, Liza,” Jan said, pressing the folded clothes in the drawer and closing it. “I know this isn’t the adventure you wanted.”

“I’m not marrying Samuel Conners,” Liza said in a confident voice.

Jan blinked at her. “You aren’t?”

“No,” she replied. “We’re leaving. You and me. And your mother. We’re going on the wagon train.”

Jan raised an eyebrow. “What are you talking about, Liza?”

Liza grinned.


“The Redeemer’s Path” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the dusty trails of the Texas frontier, Jason Atlas rides hard from the shadows of his former life. Once a notorious gang member, he’s reinvented himself using the proceeds of a daring robbery, now steering a wagon train business across the rugged landscape. But the ghosts of his past are everywhere—old comrades from the gang and the vengeful outlaw Kurt Fallon are on his trail, and the noose of the law tightens with every mile he covers. As he guides homesteaders to new beginnings, one question burns in the arid wind.

Will his former life catch up to him and destroy the future he’s working so hard to build?

Onboard a wagon bound for the unknown, Elizabeth Williams seeks more than just a new horizon. Fleeing from the gilded cage of an arranged marriage, she casts her lot with the caravan, finding an unexpected refuge in the dusty trails of the frontier. As the arid plains give way to the rugged outposts of the West, Elizabeth’s resolve is tempered in the crucible of the wilderness…

Could all this be too much for a city girl?

As the journey draws them deeper into the wild, Jason and Elizabeth confront a relentless barrage of challenges—savage landscapes, ruthless bandits, and a law that never forgets. Hot on their trail is a specter from Jason’s past, whose dark designs threaten to tear apart their fledgling hopes. The question remains: Can they survive the merciless realities of the West?

“The Redeemer’s Path” 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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