A Hunter’s Unseen Shadow (Preview)

Chapter One

Lucas “Lucky” Malone took a sip from his almost empty canteen and gazed out over the grasslands that stretched out before him. He had chosen a small enclave at the top of a high heel to set up camp for the night. The weather had been unpredictable of late, and although the day was scorching hot, some clouds were gathering in the West.

A sudden gust of wind swept past Lucas, causing his fire to crackle in protest. Not wanting it to go out, he added a handful of small branches to the flames and watched as they settled. His skin felt clammy from the heat and humidity, and his chestnut brown hair clung to his neck. Running his hand through his tangled web of locks, Lucas turned his attention back to the task at hand. He was done skinning the rabbit he had caught earlier, so he quickly cleaned the meat as best he could, skewered it with a thin, long branch, and placed it over the flames.

“You’re gonna give us some of that?” a raucous voice bellowed from a few feet away, causing Lucas to look in the direction of his captives.

Three bound men hung like grim trophies from his horses. Lucas didn’t answer; he made it a rule not to talk to his bounties unless absolutely necessary.

“What? You’re just going to ignore us? Pretend we’re not here?” the voice came again.

“I might shoot you if you don’t shut up,” Lucas offered in exchange, his voice even though his muscles felt tense. He was tired and needed a filling meal and a good night’s sleep, both of which were a scarcity for him.

The man was quiet after that. He already had one bullet hole in his leg and probably knew better than to test Lucas’s patience. He preferred taking in his bounties alive, but didn’t have a problem using his beloved Colt if they put up too much of a fuss.

Not wanting to look at the men any longer, Lucas removed his meat from the flames and moved a few feet away from the fire, turning his back to them. On the distant horizon, he could make out the shape of a town. He’d never been there before. He preferred to keep moving, but tomorrow he would make his way to the sheriff’s office and claim his hard-earned rewards.

“You just gonna let us starve to death?” the outlaw asked, mockingly reminding him of his perilous trade. These men were dangerous criminals who needed to be brought to justice, and he had no time to waste bickering with them.

Rising to his feet, Lucas removed his gun from its holster and pointed it at the outlaw. The last traces of day had disappeared, and the only light came from the dwindling fire and the stars in the night sky. If Lucas took the shot, he could easily bed him down, but that wasn’t his objective.

“All right, I’ll shut it,” the scrawny man conceded, turning his face away from Lucas. He was wanted for murder, and for a second Lucas wondered if he’d talked his victim to death.

Taking a deep breath, Lucas tore his piercing blue eyes away from the three criminals and holstered his gun. The day was long and all he wanted to do was to forget for a while, so without saying a word, he lay down on the hard ground and closed his eyes. The bedroll he carried with him didn’t do much for comfort, and he definitely didn’t need the heat it supplied.

Lucas tried to focus on the sound of the chirping crickets and the distant hoot of an owl as he lay beneath the night sky, wishing for sleep to come. After hours of tossing and turning, a deep slumber filled with nightmares finally claimed him, offering no respite.

Memories of horrible confrontations, ending in lives lost, combined with flights of imagination had Lucas jerking awake in a cold sweat. His heart was racing at such a pace that it felt like it was going to rip right out of his chest as he gasped for air, trying to catch his breath.

“Didn’t sleep well?” the emaciated scoundrel snickered, his shrill voice dripping with disdain.

With the images from his nightmare still vivid in his mind, Lucas got to his feet and stalked over to the captive man who was still chuckling. His inner demons were mocking him alongside the criminal, and he simply couldn’t take it any longer. His Colt hung heavy on his hip, reminding Lucas how easy it would be to eliminate the man completely. With a loud roar, Lucas struck the outlaw, his fist connecting with the back of the man’s skull.

The blow was decisive, silencing the taunting voice, but not the demons in Lucas’s head. Turning his back on the unconscious man, Lucas made his way back to the dying embers of his fire. His shirt clung to his lean but muscular chest as he sat down and stacked a few dry branches on the fire. Once satisfied with its size, he retrieved a cigar from his gunny sack and lit it with a small, fiery branch. Inhaling deeply, Lucas closed his eyes, finding a moment of comfort in a desolate wasteland.

 

Long after finishing his cigar, Lucas was still awake. He tried to fall asleep again, even going so far as to unfold his bedroll in the suffocating heat, but still sleep remained elusive. Staring into the flickering flames, he finally gave up trying to fight the memories that haunted his every moment. He wished he could forget, but at the same time, he never wanted to. It was a constant internal battle, and by the time the sun peeked over the distant hills, his head was pounding from both lack of sleep and the constant images of death and destruction that flashed through his mind.

Chapter Two

The sun beat down on Lucas as he rolled up his bedroll and tied it to his horse. It was still early, but each day seemed hotter than the day before out in the wilderness. His canteen was empty and so was the gunny sack he kept his food in. He’d been out in the badlands for too long and needed to replenish his supplies.

Once done packing up, Lucas got onto his horse and slowly started making his way toward the distant town. Behind him, his other horses followed, tied together with rope. He didn’t go fast; the sun was hot and there were no streams in sight for him or the horses to quench their thirst.

Out of his three prisoners, only the one he was tempted to shoot the previous night was badly boogered up.  Although he was going to need a doctor, Lucas was sure the man would survive. That was the least of his worries, though. As long as they weren’t walking around freely, hurting people, he was satisfied.

“If you let me go, I’ll pay you double my bounty,” the emaciated murderer called, still trying to somehow get out of his predicament. Lucas didn’t answer him. He was tired of the man’s constant talking and simply couldn’t wait to be rid of him. They still had a good couple of hours traveling through the dry grassland together before they would reach the town, though. Maybe the horses would be all right if they went a little faster.

“Come on! Just let me go!” The man was now thrashing around, trying to get loose.

“You’re barkin’ at a knot,” Lucas informed him, shaking his head. “Those knots are infallible.”

It took a while before he finally settled down, but eventually the thrashing stopped and Lucas was able to hear his own thoughts again. Not that he was sure that was any better.

It was just after noon when they finally arrived at the town. A big, faded sign read “Welcome to Dustwood,” but Lucas didn’t really feel welcome at all. He never did. The dirt roads were dusty, and the wind was particularly unpleasant, causing little dust storms to rise up out of nowhere. If nothing else, the town’s name was fitting.

The streets weren’t particularly busy, but as Lucas made his way down the main road, he passed a few riders and even a couple of wagons. There were people about, doing shopping and heading in different directions, and like in most towns he visited, he received many questioning stares. People tended to get suspicious when they saw a new face, especially if he was accompanied by three tied-up men.

Taking in his surroundings, Lucas noticed a general store, butcher, and dairy on one side of the road. The smell of meat had drawn his attention to the rows of beef decorating the window. His stomach rumbled, and he promised himself that as soon as he had turned in his prisoners, he would treat himself to a decent meal. Peeling his eyes away from the butcher, Lucas noticed a hardware shop on the other side of the road.

Keeping his eyes out for the sheriff’s office, Lucas slowed down and took a right turn, passing the bank, before finally reaching his destination. The sheriff’s office was an ordinary wood structure, but the man inside wasn’t exactly who Lucas expected.

“Sheriff Jacob Dalton,” a middle-aged man wearing a tailored black suit and obsidian-black hat greeted him as he stepped inside. “How can I help you?”

“I’ve got something outside you might be interested in,” Lucas replied, pointing toward the door.

“Outside?” Sheriff Dalton asked, tilting his head to the side.

“Yeah, they’re a little tied up,” Lucas chuckled as the sheriff followed him outside and came to a sudden stop. He didn’t even crack a smile, but he did look impressed as he surveyed the bounty with raised brows.

“What’s your name?” he asked, turning toward Lucas.

“Lucas ‘Lucky’ Malone.”

Taking a step closer, Sheriff Dalton held his hand out. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he said confidently, his polished badge glistening in the sun.

Lucas wasn’t really one for pleasantries but shook the man’s hand nonetheless. He wanted his reward and saw no reason to be rude.

“You’re some kind of bounty hunter?”

“I sure am,” Lucas replied, as he followed the sheriff back inside where he quickly called a couple of his men.

“Untie the three men outside and bring them in,” he instructed, and Lucas watched as the men jumped into action. A couple of minutes later, all three of the prisoners were locked up securely behind bars, and Lucas’s reward was burning a hole in his pocket.

“Are you staying for a while?” Sheriff Dalton asked, just as Lucas was about to leave.

Lucas shook his head. “No, just passing through.” He might have a meal and something to quench his thirst—hell, he might even spend the night—but Lucas had no intention of staying.

“That’s a shame,” Dalton stated with a frown. “There might be more opportunities for a man like you around here. You should consider staying for a while.”

“I’ll think about it,” Lucas lied as he made his escape. There were always more opportunities, but sticking around in one place wasn’t something he did. Quenching his thirst at the saloon, however, was something that he enjoyed doing, so without looking back, Lucas grabbed a hold of his horse’s reins and led him to the saloon. The other three following behind as they were all still tied together. He had seen the weathered building as he entered the dusty town and was hoping that they served decent alcohol.

Once his horses had something to drink, he tied them to a hitching post and made his way inside. The doors were old and creaked as he pushed them open, announcing his arrival.

Not wanting any unnecessary attention, Lucas chose a corner table where he could blend into the shadows and hopefully go unnoticed. He’d much rather be an observer than be observed.

His stomach was empty, so Lucas ordered some potatoes and meat and settled in to enjoy his whiskey as he watched the patrons become increasingly raucous. Hours had passed since he first arrived and, in an establishment where alcohol flowed freely, there was bound to be some entertainment.

The gamblers playing poker at the tables that lined the back wall were getting louder with every game. The sound of laughter and booming voices echoed through the building, and every now and then a heated brawl threatened to break out. A couple of cowboys got into a fistfight with some high rollers wearing tailored suits and later, two farmers had a full-on brawl.

It was complete chaos, a mixture of drunken laughter and anger. Lucas did not interfere. He simply watched as he nursed his whisky. The bitter taste soothed his taste buds and helped to relax his tense muscles.

From across the room, Lucas noticed an old man making his way through the crowd toward him. His skin was wrinkled, and his hair was more white than gray. It was obvious that the man had lived a difficult life, just like many of the other patrons. Surviving in a small town like Dustwood wasn’t an easy feat. Life was hard and with the number of bandits running around wreaking havoc, things were just getting crazier.

“May I sit here?” the old man asked when he reached him, pulling out the chair across from him. The man had an unsettling air that surrounded him, making Lucas feel uncomfortable. He wanted to say no, but nodded his head in agreement instead.

“You look very familiar,” the old man croaked, scratching his temple as he regarded Lucas with thin eyes.

“I’ve never been here before,” Lucas pointed out as he took a sip of his whiskey. The old man must have been delusional, or maybe he suffered from some form of dementia.

“Oh, I know, I never forget a face,” the man replied with a crooked smile. “Where’s my manners? The name is Earl Bennett.”

Lucas wasn’t looking for company, but offered his name in return. “Lucas ‘Lucky’ Malone.”

“Well, you look just like a man I used to know. Name was Silas,” Earl continued as his small dark eyes lingered on Lucas as if he was trying to see right through him. “Silas was taller though, had bigger muscles too.”

Lucas wasn’t sure what Earl’s objective was, but if he was looking to make a friend, he was going about it the wrong way.

“What’s your point?” Lucas asked with a frown.

“No point.” Earl shrugged, not looking bothered by Lucas’s hostility. “I just thought I’d share his story with you.”

“Sure, tell me about this man who is taller and stronger than me,” Lucas replied, his voice dripping with sarcasm. If the old man picked up on it, he didn’t let it show.

“Silas had the same determined look in his eyes as you. A piercing gaze, almost like he saw things that other people couldn’t. He was a good man, a promising lawman. People respected him, listened when he spoke.” Earl wiped his brow and closed his eyes for a second as if to remember. “Poor guy lost his mind though, and he was so young still.”

Earl went quiet and an eerie silence filled the air surrounding them. “What do you mean?” Lucas asked, the story having caught his attention.

“I didn’t see it for myself, but we all heard the stories,” Earl replied, swallowing hard. “He became violent and then one day he just snapped, brutally murdered his whole family, and then took off to become an outlaw.”

Lucas had heard many such stories before. Every town had one. For some reason, Earl’s words unsettled him though, and brought back flashes of memory he was hoping to wash away for the night.

“Is any of it true?” Lucas asked as he finished his whiskey and called the barkeeper over to order another.

“All of it,” Earl replied as he got up, the legs of the chair screeching in protest against the hardwood floor. “It’s getting late. I’d better get going.”

Lucas watched as the old man walked away, leaving a lingering atmosphere of unease in his wake. Shaking his head, Lucas tried to concentrate on the rowdy patrons but couldn’t get the old man’s story out of his head.

Chapter Three

For the first time in a long time, Lucas slept right through the night. It might have had something to do with the alcohol, but still, he felt a little more rested when he woke up. Sitting up in his bed, Lucas wiped his eyes and looked around the small room as memories of the previous night flooded his mind. Drunken brawls, gamblers, the old man, the story about Silas…

The early morning sun flooded the room as Lucas pulled the curtains aside, causing him to squint and look away. The room was small and sparsely decorated, but the bed was comfortable and served its purpose. It was hot though, and Lucas felt clammy as he put his shirt and boots on.

There was a little washbasin and a container of water in one corner, so Lucas rinsed his face off and ran his wet hands through his tousled hair. He didn’t care much about how he looked, but the water felt great on his damp skin.

Once fully awake, Lucas gathered his belongings and made his way down the wooden stairs, all the while haunted by thoughts of the mysterious lawman turned outlaw.

He wasn’t sure why the old man’s story bothered him so much, but no matter how hard he tried, he couldn’t get it out of his mind. Feeling frustrated, Lucas realized he wasn’t going to be able to rest until he uncovered the truth about what happened, so with newfound determination, he made his way to the sheriff’s office on foot.

Walking down the dirt roads, Lucas recognized some of the men from the saloon, although nobody seemed to recognize him. Stopping at the general store, he decided to buy himself an apple. Fresh fruit wasn’t something he ate regularly, not because he didn’t like it, but because fruit went off pretty fast in the blistering heat while traveling.

The fresh fruit tasted great, but did nothing to calm Lucas’s mind. He had to solve the mystery of the lawman gone bad or it would drive him insane. As soon as the sheriff’s office came into view, Lucas started feeling better. If anybody could shed some clarity on what really happened, it would be Dalton.

The floorboards creaked as he stepped inside the small wooden building, causing Dalton to glance in his direction. The sheriff simply nodded in acknowledgment and then continued his conversation with another much younger man. Not wanting to interrupt, Lucas turned his attention to the post board, a wanted poster catching his eyes immediately.

Taking a step closer, Lucas tore the poster from the wall as he read the caption: Silas ‘Scar’ McCallister. Wanted for murder and robbery. Below the word “wanted” was a drawing of a mysterious-looking man, sporting dark hair and a scar running across one of his cheeks. Putting a name and face to the old man’s story caused Lucas’s heart rate to speed up. Maybe the old man was telling the truth after all.

“I’m glad you decided to come back,” a voice said from behind Lucas, pulling him out of his thoughts.

Turning to the man he wanted to talk to, he held out the poster. “Who is this?” he asked, skipping the formalities as he raised an eyebrow.

“Silas McCallister,” Dalton replied, taking the poster from Lucas. “Or Scar, as we call him. He was once a lawman, and would have made a good deputy or sheriff, but instead, he decided to mastermind a deadly bank robbery.”

“So, the stories are true?” Lucas frowned, wondering how somebody went from wanting to uphold the law to becoming a gang leader.

“Well, there are many stories,” Sheriff Dalton pointed out. “But if you’re talking about the one where a promising lawman turned rogue, murdered his family, and became leader of a notorious gang, then yes, the stories are true.”

It didn’t make sense to Lucas. “But why?”

“Who knows?” Dalton replied, shrugging his shoulders. “What I can tell you is that the robbery resulted in widespread violence. It was a tragic day for all of us. My predecessor and Silas’s mentor was killed in the shootout.”

“So not only did he murder his family, but his actions also led to the death of his mentor.” It wasn’t really a question, more of a statement, but Sheriff Dalton replied anyway.

“It’s sad, actually, how one so young and full of potential can throw his life away like that.” Dalton slipped past Lucas and pinned the poster back on the board. “His actions have caused an outrage among the townspeople, especially the wealthy businessmen and the mayor.”

Knowing what had happened still didn’t give Lucas any peace of mind. Silas’s story didn’t make sense to him. How was it possible to go from a justice-seeking lawman to a murdering gang leader? Shaking his head, Lucas tried to think clearly. Silas was clearly a dangerous man who had to be brought to justice, not only for what he had done to his family but also for the death of his mentor and the chaos it created in Dustwood.

“You think you can bring him in for us?” Sheriff Dalton asked, his face devoid of any emotion as he looked at Lucas with his dark, almost black eyes.

Turning his back on the sheriff, Lucas looked at the poster again as he grappled with the decision of whether to pursue the elusive outlaw or not. Usually, he didn’t have to think twice about going after a bounty, but Silas’s tale had captured his thoughts, and he felt a strange need to uncover the truth behind it.

“Has anybody ever tried?” Lucas asked, focusing his attention on Dalton again.

“Only a few have been brave enough. None of them have succeeded.”

Taking a deep breath, Lucas wrestled with his decision as he contemplated the perilous road ahead if he accepted. Capturing Silas clearly wasn’t going to be easy, but he was always up for a challenge, and from what he had heard, the man shouldn’t be roaming the streets anywhere. It was Lucas’s duty to capture men like him so that they could be brought to justice for their actions.

A thick silence hung between the two men as Sheriff Dalton waited for an answer and Lucas tried to come to a decision.

“All right, I’ll do it,” Lucas finally replied, his voice raspy and his mouth dry.

“That’s what I wanted to hear!” Dalton exclaimed, as he took a step closer and placed his hand on Lucas’s shoulder. “I knew you were the right man for the job as soon as I laid eyes on you.” It was the first time Lucas saw Dalton smiling, but it did nothing to calm his racing heart.

“Reynolds!” Sheriff Dalton called over his shoulder. A moment later a young man came crashing through one of the office doors. He was at least a foot shorter than Lucas, sternly built, and had short, well-kept, light blond hair.

“Yes sir,” the man Lucas now knew as Reynolds said enthusiastically.

“Reynolds, this is Lucas ‘Lucky’ Malone,” Dalton introduced them. “Lucky, this is Deputy Martin Reynolds. I suggest that he accompany you in the hunt for Scar.”

Deputy Reynolds’s eyes grew big as Dalton spoke the name of one of the most infamous criminals their little town had ever seen. “You’re going after Silas?” he asked, looking at Lucas with wide eyes.

Lucas nodded his head, not entirely happy with the new development.

“I’d be happy to come along and help in any way I can,” Deputy Reynolds agreed, accepting the offer eagerly.

Looking between the two men in front of him, Lucas hesitated for a moment. He’d never had a partner before, and honestly, he preferred it that way. Trust didn’t come easily to him, and on top of that, he didn’t like being responsible for somebody else’s safety.

“I can see you’re not sure about the idea,” Dalton stated, clearly having picked up on Lucas’s hesitation. “But I can assure you that you are going to need all the help you can get if you want to capture Silas, and Deputy Reynolds is one of the best I’ve come across in a long time.”

Feeling frustrated and conflicted, Lucas ran his hand through his tangled locks and then rested it on his holster, always feeling better with his hand resting on his faithful Colt. “All right, you can come,” Lucas agreed, knowing that Sheriff Dalton was right. Catching a man like Silas wasn’t going to be easy, and having Deputy Reynolds around may be useful.

Chapter Four

Lucas spent the night at Deputy Reynolds’s house, which was a modest one-bedroom cabin, but he didn’t have to pay, and the couch was comfortable, so he didn’t complain. Reynolds even went out of his way to make them a hearty dinner, surprising Lucas with his cooking skills.

The downside was that Reynolds almost never stopped talking. By the end of the night, Lucas’s head was pounding. So far, he wasn’t convinced that Reynolds would be much help and was second-guessing his decision to take him along. He had agreed though, so he was just going to have to deal with the man’s excessive friendliness.

***

Martin had always dreamed about becoming a bounty hunter as a child. His father was a deputy, just like he was now, and always told him stories about how the bounty hunters captured ruthless criminals and helped to make the world a safer place. He kept his desire to be a bounty hunter to himself, though. His father wanted him to become a lawman like him and his mother, always terrified that his father would get hurt, wanted him to become a rancher.

Ten years ago, at the tender age of twelve, Martin’s mother’s fears became a reality when his father was shot by a bandit, killing him on the spot. That was the day that Martin put away his dreams of becoming a bounty hunter and decided that he would honor his father by following in his footsteps.

Martin didn’t regret his decision to become a lawman, but couldn’t hide his excitement at the idea of joining a real bounty hunter on his search for one of the most notorious criminals in the West. He was so thrilled that he barely slept a wink and was up earlier than usual.

Wanting Lucas to like him, Martin decided to make them a big breakfast. Once they set out on their adventure, they won’t be able to have big home-cooked meals and he wanted them to start their journey with a full stomach. He had no idea what Lucas liked though, so he decided on bacon, eggs, beans, cornbread, and coffee.

The smell of frying bacon caused his stomach to grumble, and a second later, Lucas peeked around the corner.

“I hope you made enough for two,” the rugged man said as he made his way into the small kitchen and sat down at the rickety table in the center. Martin couldn’t believe that he had a bounty hunter in his kitchen and that they were going after Silas ‘Scar’ McCallister.

“Of course,” Martin replied as he dished up and sat down across from Lucas. “What should I call you?” he asked, hoping that they could be friends.

“Whatever you want,” the bounty hunter shrugged as he started scoffing the food down his throat.

“All right,” Martin smiled. “I think I’ll call you Lucky, or maybe Malone.” He wasn’t sure which one sounded better and the man across from him didn’t seem interested in the least.

***

Lucas ate in silence and then got up to gather his belongings. The sun was just visible over the horizon, and it was time for them to get going.

“What should I pack?” Reynolds asked, his voice catching in his throat as he eyed Lucas’s gunny sack.

“Only the necessities,” Lucas replied. “We’ll stop at a trading post to get supplies before we go.”

“The necessities,” Reynolds repeated as he disappeared into his room, “All right, I can do that.”

Lucas was still hesitant to take Reynolds along. He seemed like a nice enough guy, and he was eager to help, but Lucas wasn’t sure if he had what it took to survive in the wilderness.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Lucas asked as each of them mounted one of his horses, the other two tied behind Lucas’s horse.

“Definitely,” Reynolds replied, “I’ve been dreaming about this my whole life.”


“A Hunter’s Unseen Shadow” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the dusty heart of the American West, Lucas “Lucky” Malone, a seasoned bounty hunter with a past shrouded in sorrow, rides alone. His journey is a relentless pursuit, seeking justice in a land where lawlessness reigns supreme. Lucas’s hardened exterior hides a soul tormented by a tragic family loss, driving him to seek redemption through each outlaw he captures. But his solitary existence is disrupted by whispers of a fallen lawman turned outlaw, a story that lures Lucas into the depths of mystery and intrigue…

Will his quest lead him to salvation or deeper into the shadows of his haunted past?

Eva Turner, a determined woman managing a trading post in the wilderness of Dustwood, emerges as an unlikely ally in Lucas’s quest. Her brother, Silas “Scar” McCallister, the very man Lucas seeks, is entangled in a web of crime and conspiracy. Eva, steadfast in her belief in Silas’s innocence, insists on joining Lucas, driven by fierce loyalty and a hidden agenda. As their paths intertwine, Eva’s resilience and resourcefulness challenge Lucas’s lone-wolf approach.

Can their uneasy alliance withstand the revelations that await them in their hunt for Silas?

As Lucas and Eva delve deeper, they find themselves against a corrupt businessman with insidious plans. His scheme threatens the fragile balance of the frontier towns, exploiting their vulnerabilities for his own gain…. Will Lucas and Eva’s journey through the treacherous terrain of the Wild West lead them to justice, or will the shadows of their past consume them?

“A Hunter’s Unseen Shadow” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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