New Release – No Man’s Land By Linnell Jeppsen and Jeb Rosebrook

Today I have a New Release for you, No Man’s Land by my friend Linell Jeppsen and author Jeb Rosebrook.

No Man's Land by [Jeppsen, Linell, Rosebrook, Jeb]

 

Description1

Scarred by the Civil War, now a loner by choice, Missouri-born Jack Ballard rides the West in search of trouble. Sometimes he’s able to stop it from hurting innocent people—and sometimes he causes it.

It can’t be helped, though. He is a good man with a fast gun, and in West Texas in the late 1800’s, trouble lies around every bend.

Only he and his filed-down .44-40 Colt can stop it.

 

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Coming Soon – Devilfire by Simone Beaudelaire

Coming soon is the new book from my friend Simone BeaudelaireDevilfire is book one of American Hauntings.  It is up for pre-order, so get it now at the low price of  $0.99 before the price rises.

DEVILFIRE (American Hauntings Book 1) by [Beaudelaire, Simone]

 

Description1

Texas is burning.

It’s clear to doctor Gavin Morris and ghost hunter Annabelle Smith that no ordinary prairie fires destroyed one small frontier town, leaving few survivors. Now, the strange flames are threatening larger cattle towns to the east.

Can the unlikely pair decipher the clues before time runs out, or are they doomed to burn with more than passion?
——
Content warning: this western paranormal romance contains both strong religious themes and graphic sex scenes.

 

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Excerpt Promotion – FAR WEST – The Diary of Eleanor Higgins by Linell Jeppsen

Today I have an Excerpt for you from the soon to be released book FAR WEST – The Diary of Eleanor Higgins by my friend Linell Jeppsen, so look out for this one.  I will post again with links when it is released.

Far West 02

Description1

FAR WEST- The Diary of Eleanor Higgins

Nel Higgins is the sixteen-year-old daughter of Frank Higgins, a deranged Lutheran pastor. After Nel’s mother passes away, she finds herself and her sister, Annie, at the mercy of her father in Yankton, Dakota Territory, 1876.

Bereft and frightened, Nel knows, deep in her heart, that neither she nor Annie will survive unless they can escape his evil clutches. Then, when unforeseen circumstances lead to Frank’s sudden death, the two girls soon board the famous riverboat, the Far West.

Once onboard, Nel finds herself following the path of American destiny toward Fort Abraham Lincoln, Custer’s Last Stand and the Battle of the Little Bighorn!

Readers and early reviewers are comparing this Historical Romance novel to FOREVER AMBER and THE UNSINKABLE MOLLY BROWN. It is filled with action, adventure, sorrow and joy and showcases the strength, fortitude and danger of the American frontier.

 

Excerpt2

 

To my beautiful wife, Nel.

I am in Montana now, due to the mind-bending speed with which Captain Marsh applied his boat and crew.

We are moored at the mouth of the Yellowstone River, awaiting Custer’s return and that of his two, separate wings of command- Captain Benteen’s regiment and Major Reno’s troops. When they return I will, most likely, accompany Custer to Sitting Bull’s encampment.

General Terry is due to arrive any day now and I hear he is quite put out with Custer’s behavior. It is rumored that the brevet general is treating this campaign as some sort of holiday and he is stoutly refusing Terry any authority over him or his beloved 7th.

I honestly don’t know how any proper Army can operate under these circumstances~

Meanwhile, as snowy puffs of Cottonwood seed fill the air, and the smell of primrose prickles our nostrils with the first blush of summer, I can’t help but think of my lovely, young bride and the paper roses she held under her nose one day as she sat for a portrait with my father.

I know, now, I fell in love with you that day, and I also know that I will continue to love you until the end of my days… and beyond.

I hope that you and Annie are well in my absence and that our child is still safe and sound in your belly.

I am here to do a job and to secure our future together as a photographer of some good repute, but rest assured that my heart yearns for you- your smile, your touch, your body.

Sincerely; from your loving husband,

Martin

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Halloween Promotion – Heart of Ice by Linell Jeppsen

Today’s Halloween Promotion is for Heart of Ice from my good friend Linell Jeppsen.   It will be released the week before Halloween and to give you a hint of what it’s like, Linell has given us a chapter to read, so enjoy.  I will post the buy links when it is available.

LINELL HeartofIceWEB

In this, the sixth installation of the Deadman series, Matthew and Chance run into something deeply evil and terrifying. Supernatural monsters have found their way to the North Idaho woods!

Torn between disbelief and a fierce will to save his family from the beasts’ clutches, Chance mounts a rescue party, armed with special bullets, love and sheer determination.

For silver is the only thing that can stop a Wendigo and its cold, icy heart.

Case File #6

May 18th, 1909

Since I first opened the doors to The Wilcox and Son Detective Agency, I have made a habit of documenting each and every one of our case files. This has served two purposes. First, it is a good way to protect my son Chance and myself against reprisal from an unhappy client. Secondly, good testimony pertaining to the acts performed by this investigation agency stands up well in a court of law, especially signed affidavits when the injured party in a lawsuit – usually the crook involved – tries to claim wrongdoing on our part.

There is another reason. Although I have been a lawman most of my adult life and am even now a licensed attorney, there are good lessons to be learned in the pursuit of justice. As my dear, deceased wife Iris once told me, “People are not always black and white, Matthew. People come in all shades of gray. Some, so-called Good People do heinous things and some Bad Folk are heroes. To be a good marshal, I think you must look into the gray of things…”

On our first case, I put my own son’s life in mortal danger; by the grace of God, Chance survived that encounter. I now know a hundred different and safer things we could have done to bring a dirty boxer and his trainers down. Our second big case was won by luck alone and only with a lot of help from the people involved. Again, I now know that Chance and I ran blindly into a situation that could have gotten everyone I hold dear killed.

That case was resolved more or less satisfactorily but I have learned a few things since starting my detective agency: No. 1 – Get as many facts as humanly possible before rushing into danger; No. 2 – Take copious notes; and No. 3 – Be prepared for anything. This philosophy has served us well so far. But there are some things no man or woman can even dream of, much less anticipate.

What happened to my son on a frigid, moonlit night in October of 1908 is one of those things no human being can reckon or prepare for.

He survived the experience, thank God, but at great risk to both body and soul. My son is not the same happy, carefree young man he was before that night and, I dare say, he will be forever changed…both for the worse and the better. For sure, he is looking into the “gray of things” now.

So, that’s what I am doing…trying to document Case File #6. But I admit to being stumped. This is, by far, the strangest case my son and I have ever taken on, the most hazardous. And now that we have survived to tell the tale, it is a case that remains unsolved and one that will always be kept hidden from prying eyes.

I will share this report with Chance, his wife Hannah and my wife, Annie. After we have studied what happened, separated fact from fantasy, and tried to the best of our ability to report the truth as it unfolded, I will seal this case file away.

Forever.

Matthew Wilcox

Part 1

Lenny

Heart of Ice

 

His huge round eyes

bulge out of his head, lidless eyes

rolling in red blood of pain,

always rolling, blood sockets

behind them.

~George Bowering

chapter

 

Winter 1847

 

Lenny “The Spoon” – named for his habit of pinning two tin spoons to the front of his coat – Turnbull sat on a high branch of an ice-encrusted pine tree, chewing a finger joint and watching thoughtfully as young Miles Manning buried what was left of his cousin’s body in a 12-foot-high snowdrift.

The lad was sawing Samuel Tarley’s limbs off, one by one, starting and staring about in alarm at the slightest sound… the high chitter of a chipmunk, the whispery sound of frail branches giving way under the ever-shifting weight of the heavy wet snow, the sharp crack of larger tree limbs succumbing to the ravages of the latest winter storm.

Lenny knew almost to the minute when the Donner/Reed party had finally resorted to cannibalism. He couldn’t really blame them. One mishap after another had haunted the pilgrims’ passage ever since they had abandoned the famous Oregon Trail and followed the ill-advised Hastings Cutoff trail into the Wasatch Range of the Sierra-Nevada Mountains.

Between losing most of their oxen and horseflesh to Indians while crossing the Great Salt Lake Desert and getting snowed in here along the Humboldt River, the sixty people left to rot away in these high hills were literally starving to death.

Again and again, Lenny wished he could have followed the last wagon train heading over the Oregon Trail into Montana rather than these sorry critters but the teamsters for that outfit were a tough bunch and had chased him off when he approached.

He knew why, although he didn’t think it was either fair or smart on their part. Lenny was a dwarf; at least that was what that doc in Kansas City had said after offering Lenny two-bits a day to be a test study. Lenny had declined the doctor’s offer and ran away but now he had a name for his peculiar condition.

He stood only 4’8” tall and, although his body was as bent and crooked as a gnarled branch, it was lean and strong. His face, however, was a fright and he knew it. His brow protruded over tiny, close-set brown eyes and his jaw was as underslung as that of an old, toothless mule. His mud-brown and gray hair, beard and eyebrows grew as wild as a patch of thistles as he had neither the desire nor the money to visit a barber.

His teeth – or, at least, what was left of them – were rotten and Lenny suspected the reek of them flew away in front of him in a foul cloud. He had often seen members of the party rear away in disgust whenever he came close. Although, he smirked, what made them think they smelled any sweeter, he couldn’t fathom; he could, even now, smell the stench of their meager encampment from a half mile away which was one good reason most of the edible wildlife in the region had fled.

Yet despite the lack of easy game, Lenny was a good hunter… unlike many of the beleaguered people he had trailed after on this doomed trek out west. Over the last few months, he had left many a rabbit, skunk, gopher, and fish close to the main camp to help out though he had never received an acknowledgment or thanks.

Lenny had been born and raised in the Ozark Mountains and, although his pa treated him worse than he did his pack of bloodhounds, Evan Turnbull knew an extra set of hands when he saw one. He had trained his young, twisted son to hunt, fish and scavenge all manner of foodstuffs for the rest of the family members, of whom there were many.

In fact, all of Evan’s children either gathered food together for the communal cook pot, suffered a beating, or – in one case – were kicked out for good and made to fend for themselves. So Lenny had found comfort in heading out on his own to fetch the family meal for, if his father treated him badly, his brothers and sisters treated him worse.

Lenny’s ma, Mary Turnbull, had died from birthing-fever when he was thirteen years old. When she was alive, she protected her youngest son from his sibling’s hatred but now they tormented him with regular beatings, teased him mercilessly and called him names. Often, as he made his way home at night after a successful day of hunting or fishing, his older brothers would set upon him and steal his bounty.

Many a time he did not darken the doorway of his family home at all. He would rather go to sleep hungry than suffer his sibling’s scorn or his old man’s wrath when he showed up empty-handed.

When he was seventeen, his two sisters headed into the nearby township to attend church and, hopefully, catch the eyes of some eligible young men. They were accompanied by Lenny’s oldest brother whose job was to bring grain, flour, lard and horse oats back home after the service.

The day went well enough, although no new gentlemen came to call. Three days later, Maryanne – Lenny’s oldest sister – came down with typhoid; soon after, the whole family lay dying inside the rough-hewn walls of the cabin they called home.

Lenny was not there…he had received such a harsh beating the week before after, once again, having his bounty forcibly removed, he had decided to spend the next week or so in a hidden cave close by a stream. He ate well, slept peacefully, and caught enough pink and green trout to share.

Cheerful, he whistled his way back to the house, only stopping long enough to gaze about and wonder where his older brothers and sisters were. Cautiously, he stepped out from the tree line into the weed-infested front yard.

He stared about the empty yard and felt a chill of foreboding. It was quiet… too quiet. Their old plow-horse nosed his empty grain bucket and their sow, Gertie – seeing him approach – squealed mournfully and was shrilly echoed by her many piglets. Gazing into Gertie’s empty water trough, Lenny wondered why his family members had allowed the pig, one of their best means of stocking up on winter stores, and her brood to run dry.

Walking over to the well, he put enough water in the animals’ troughs to keep them from bellowing and then made his way slowly toward the house. Once or twice, while fetching the water he had smelled a foul odor wafting on the afternoon breeze. He knew that smell and he knew the sound of fat and lazy bottleneck flies as well…something in that house was dead.

Lenny paused outside the front door and then he heard a faint voice say, “Lenny, is that you?” Pushing open the door, he saw his father lying on the floor of the house by a cold stove.

Staring about in shock, Lenny saw that – except for his pa and his little sister, Hester – almost all of his family members were dead. The smell was overwhelming and, even as he watched, a cloud of blue bellies fell over Hester’s face like a black lace veil. The little girl had stopped breathing and, although Lenny brought fresh water and tried to slap the life back into her body, he knew she would not be coming back to breathe air again.

He tried as best as he knew how to keep his pa alive but Evan died later that night. The next day, Lenny tried to bury his family members but the ground was as hard as rock; he broke two spades and their one good shovel before giving up on the notion.

He put blankets over the dead bodies and mumbled a little prayer over each of them, although he doubted whether they would have done much but dance over him had their positions been reversed. Then he prowled about the place and finally found his pa’s meager stash of gold and a few paper dollars.

Lenny packed up as much as his puny shoulders could carry and packed a cloth bag full of food. He tried as hard as he could to keep from fingering things knowing, instinctively, the sickness was anything but gone.

Staring around at the oft-hated but intimately familiar house he had grown up in, he shrugged and poured kerosene on the floors and walls of the cabin, then lit a wooden match. Dropping it, Lenny stepped outside and pulled the pigpen’s gate to the side so Gertie and her little ones could escape before he went to search for the horse’s ancient saddle in the barn.

It took some time and a vast amount of patience to saddle the horse; the old gelding had not been ridden for years. It objected to having the creaky old leather on its back and it didn’t help matters that flames were starting to shoot out the front door and windows of the house. Finally, Lenny was able to climb aboard just as the house went up in a roar and a whoosh of heat.

The horse reared up in terror as sparks and burning ash fell like fireworks on the ground around them and Lenny dug his heels into the animal’s flanks. With a squeal, the old horse took off at a full gallop with Lenny clinging to his back like a burr.

And so, with eight dollars and twenty-two cents to his name, Lenny Turnbull took the first road in a series of highways and byways leading, ultimately, to the fiery gates of Hell.

 

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New Release – Second Chance by Linell Jeppsen

Today I have a New Release for you, Second Chance the fifth book in the Deadman’s series by my friend Linell Jeppsen.  If you want to start at the beginning then begin with Deadman’s Lament.  This is a fantastic series and well worth reading.

NELL SECONDCHANCEWEBSMLDESCRIPTION

The Wilcox and Son Detective Agency is working on its second case file, but Matthew and his son Chance are beginning to think they might have bit off more than they can chew.

Their investigation into a series of claim-jumps near the booming mining community of Wallace, Idaho, suddenly turns deadly as one witness after another turns up dead. It turns out that the theft of land and mineral rights is only the beginning of a much deeper conspiracy…

Matthew and Chance follow the leads as best they can, knowing full well that their investigation has turned into a game of cat and mouse … but who is the cat in this deadly contest?

Starting in the deep woods of North Idaho and culminating in the finest, most exclusive ballrooms of high society in Seattle, Washington, follow Matthew and Chance Wilcox as they match wits against one of the worst criminals they have ever faced!

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First Chapters – Deadman’s Fury by Linell Jeppsen

Today’s First Chapter is from Deadman’s Fury, book two in the Deadman’s series by my good friend Linell Jeppsen. A really awesome series.

Linell Deadman's FuryDESCRIPTION

In 1892, Sheriff Matthew Wilcox learns that his wife’s niece, Amelia Winters, has been abducted. Once more, he gathers his posse and hits the trail hunting outlaws. What he discovers shocks, dismays, and angers him: Amelia is only one of hundreds of women kidnapped and sold into sexual slavery.
An exotic auction is about to take place and time is of the essence. The sheriff and his posse are making things difficult for the criminals and a pile of money is at stake. The bandits realize, the sooner they can get rid of Sherriff Wilcox, the better.
But Matthew and his men won’t go down easy.
In this much-awaited sequel to DEADMAN’S LAMENT, readers are in for another thrilling Western ride as these dedicated lawmen put their lives at risk seeking justice.

Chapter 1

Amelia

Amelia Winters stepped off the train and gazed at the dusty little town with delight. Her adventure had begun and she wanted to twirl around on tiptoe with excitement. She was on her way to live with her father’s younger sister Iris, her husband Matthew, and their family while going to nursing school, about twenty miles outside of Spokane. Although she had been helping her father, Dr. Lewis Winters, in his small medical practice in Marysville, Washington since she was twelve years old, he had decided he needed someone to assist in real medical work like surgeries, triage and post-surgical care.

The logical choice for surgical assistant had been Amelia’s older brother James. Indeed, Lewis Winters had groomed his son for years, but James had enlisted in the army four years ago and was subsequently killed in an avalanche, along with twelve other Cavalry officers, two winters ago while on assignment.

Although Amelia’s heart still stuttered occasionally with grief at the loss of her handsome older brother, she was thrilled with the prospect of learning her father’s skills and (possibly) becoming a doctor in her own right. It was 1892, after all. A new, bright future – a whole new century – was just around the corner and she, for one, was ready to embrace all the possibilities!

Her daydreams were interrupted by the conductor, a wizened old man with an enormous pocket watch in hand, who said, “Miss, you can go into the café with the others for refreshments and if you need,” he cleared his throat in embarrassment, “the necessary. It’s right behind the building… you can see the corner of it, just there.”

He pointed and Amelia saw the edge of a smallish outhouse behind the larger café/post and telegraph office. Even as she watched, a small, dirty pony bearing a small, dirty man tore around the disembarking passengers and pulled to a stop in front of the post office section of the building in a cloud of dust.

“Thank you, sir” she said politely and stepped forward a few paces to join her fellow passengers. Mrs. Dorothy Jones, a widow, had stopped and was impatiently waiting for the younger woman to catch up.

“One must not dawdle when traveling alone, young lady,” the plump, middle-aged woman admonished.

“I am sorry, Mrs. Jones!” Amelia exclaimed. “The conductor…”

“Never you mind, Amelia,” Mrs. Jones interrupted. “Just stay close by my side. This is a wild place, as are all of these little towns east of the Cascades. My son told me to step sharp and keep an eye out for riff-raff while on my way to his home.”

She sniffed, adding, “Since your father saw fit to send his daughter into the wilds all alone, I feel it is my duty to serve as chaperone until you are well met at the train station in Spokane!”

It was all Amelia could do to keep from rolling her eyes, but she followed the older woman into the café meekly enough and sat next to Mrs. Jones at a table. The widow Jones was nice, if over-protective, and although she was sure she could navigate her way from the train depot in Marysville to the depot in Spokane, she did not have the heart to be rude or rebuff the woman’s good intentions.

Her bladder was starting to protest – although the train was new, the only accommodations were chamber pots hidden behind a canvas curtain for the men and a smelly bench behind another curtain for the women-folk.

Amelia figured it was the conductor’s job to keep the bench (with its hole that gave a clear view of the tracks whizzing by under the train’s wheels) clean, but he was so old and frail-looking, she wondered if he was shirking his duties. There were odious brown streaks all over the bench and the smell was unbelievable.

Besides that, Amelia had wondered how on Earth she was supposed to squat over that horrid hole with her corset, petticoat and heavy layered skirt. She was determined to be as pretty and fresh as possible when she met her Auntie Iris and her husband, Matthew, at the train depot – not smell like a chamber pot!

Pulling a photograph out of her small, beaded handbag, Amelia studied the two people who would be picking her up at the train station and whose roof she would share for the next year. Her auntie was beautiful in the black and white image. Amelia remembered Iris well, although she hadn’t seen her Auntie in years.

Iris had long, curly auburn hair, much like Amelia’s, ginger freckles and merry brown eyes. She always smelled so fresh, like flowers, and her white teeth sparkled often with mirth. In this photograph, Iris held a young child in her arms. The baby was in a white baptismal gown and seemed to be wailing at something or another, while his parents grinned in resignation.

Amelia smiled. Photographers often told people to sit very still while having their likeness taken and, above all, never smile. Her Auntie and Uncle did not seem to care at all about the rules of photography, as their amusement was plainly obvious. Squinting at the dog-eared picture, Amelia acknowledged the only reason she knew the baby was a boy was that Iris had written and told her so. Chance Jonathon Wilcox was the boy’s name, and Amelia could not wait to meet him, although by now that screaming infant was almost five years old.

The young woman traced her finger over the face of Matthew Wilcox, her Auntie’s husband. As always, two things struck her, simultaneously. First, Matthew Wilcox was one of the handsomest men she had ever seen. Second, he was one of the most frightening men she had ever laid eyes on. She had heard, of course, about the “Granville Stand-off” and she had even read about what her uncle Matthew had done to stop Top Hat and his gang of thugs six years ago in a penny-dreadful.

Maybe that is what made her see such menace in his handsome countenance, but Amelia didn’t think so. Although he stood tall and straight and had a fine, strong body, there was something about the look in his eyes and the set of his lips that made her blood run cold. She had no way of knowing what color those wide, pretty eyes were or what made his stare so fierce, despite his grin, but there seemed to be a sort of gloom about him … a dark shadow.

Amelia shivered and prayed she never gave him reason to be angry with her! She also hoped that he was not too strict when she moved into his home. Iris had written, though, and said that she couldn’t be happier with her husband so Amelia felt confident that this hard-faced man was kind at heart… at least she hoped so!

Amelia jumped a little in her chair as a tray of tea was set down on the table, along with some milk, butter and a small plate of muffins. “Well, it’s about time, I say!” Mrs. Jones grumbled. “I was beginning to think the train would leave before we had time to eat lunch!” She eagerly plucked a muffin from the plate and grabbed a knife.

Amelia was famished as well, but she could ignore her bladder no longer. Regretfully, she pushed her chair backward and said, “I must use the facilities, Mrs. Jones. I’ll be right back.”

The stout woman glanced her way and muttered, “I will come with you if you like…”

Amelia saw the look of frustrated hunger in her companion’s eyes as she held her butter-laden knife in the air and she shook her head. “No, that’s alright, ma’am. I’ll only be a minute.”

Stepping outside, Amelia moved down the boardwalk toward the outhouse. She plucked at the lace of her shirtwaist as sweat sprang up on her skin and trickled between her breasts. It is the middle of September and still hot as blazes, she thought and then stifled a gasp as a man came around the corner of the building and bumped into her, causing her to back up a step.

The tall, barrel-chested man grabbed her by the upper arm and said, “Pardon me, miss… didn’t see you standing there.”

Amelia tried looking up into his face, but the sun was directly behind him so his features were silhouetted in darkness.

Still, there was no harm done and she REALLY needed to relieve herself, so she smiled up at the stranger and said, “That’s quite all right, sir. Excuse me!”

He released her arm and she stepped off the sidewalk, onto a dirt path and into the outhouse building, which she observed with approval. Unlike the train, this building seemed spanking clean with a private stall, a deep basin sink sitting next to a water barrel with its own hand pump, and a cracked but serviceable mirror.

She stepped into the cubicle – heaved up her skirt, unbuttoned the lower part of her corset, pulled down her petticoat and sighed with relief. She watched for a moment as an industrious spider spun a web by the ceiling and heard the door to the outhouse open.

Someone had stepped inside the small building while she was busy and now Amelia heard water being drawn into the sink. “I’ll be done in just a moment!” she called.

A woman replied, “Take your time, m’dear. I’m just fetching some water.”

The woman sounded foreign, perhaps Irish, and Amelia hastened to finish her business and get back to a couple of those muffins before Mrs. Jones ate them all. Corset buttoned, petticoat and skirt back in order, she stepped out of the stall and saw an older, very tall woman standing by the sink.

The woman might once have been pretty but now she looked hot, dusty and tired. She had black hair, liberally streaked with gray and slightly slanted green eyes. Whatever beauty she might have once possessed, however, was obscured now in crow’s feet and bitter, down-turned lips.

There were a number of canteens and water receptacles lined up on a narrow shelf above the sink. Although Amelia wanted to wash her hands, she hesitated to disturb the woman’s task.

As though sensing the girl’s discomfort, the woman, whose name was Margaret Donnelly, stepped away from the sink and said, “Please, help yourself.”

Smiling, Amelia said, “Thank you,” and pumped the lever for more water, washing her hands with a sliver of harsh lye soap from the shelf. Two rumpled towels hung from wooden nails by the sink, and as she stepped toward them, she saw the lady suddenly step up behind her in the cracked mirror.

Amelia was tall for a seventeen-year-old girl, at 5 feet and 6 inches, but as Margaret grabbed her from behind and wrapped her left arm around Amelia’s chest, the girl realized that the woman was huge … maybe six feet tall and frightfully strong!

She squealed in alarm but Margaret placed a wet, smelly rag over her mouth. Panting in fear, Amelia locked eyes with her captor in the mirror. The older woman gazed back and smiled as the girl’s eyes grew dim and then closed.

Placing her “catch” on the floor Margaret stepped quickly to the door and hissed, “You there, Patrick?”

“I am,” her brother’s voice answered. “You got her ready?”

“Just about… hurry up, now!”

Margaret Connelly tied the girl’s hands together and tucked the little bitch’s fancy reticule into her own carpetbag, along with the water bottles. She heard the surrey pull around to the front of the small building and then a quick two-tap on the wooden door. Unlatching the hook from the door, she let her brother Patrick inside and watched as he grabbed the girl’s limp body from the floor and placed her in the back of their closed carriage.

Margaret stared around for a moment, making sure that nothing of hers was left behind. Then she stepped into the back of the carriage with the girl. All the heavy canvas drapes were tied down so neither she nor her captive were visible. She felt her brother Patrick step up onto the front bench, and then heard him snap his whip above the rumps of the horses.

Within moments, Patrick and Margaret Connelly, along with their latest victim, were trotting down the dusty road. Taking her Da’s pocket-watch out of her coat, Margaret checked the time. Eight minutes … a record!

Of course, the brother and sister team had done this many times before, and as Da always said, “Practice makes perfect!”

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First Chapters – Deadman’s Lament by Linell Jeppsen

Today’s first chapter is from Deadman’s Lament, book one of the Deadman’s series by my friend Linell Jeppsen.  I loved this series and highly recommend it.

Deadmans LamentDESCRIPTION

The year is 1872. Twelve-year-old Matthew Wilcox leads a charmed life on his family’s sprawling ranch in Washington Territory until a series of tragic events leave him orphaned and in the clutches of a vicious band of outlaws. Threatened by the gang leader’s perverted cousin, Top Hat, Matthew also faces Indian attacks, dangerous wildlife, and a deadly snowstorm. He survives but burns with an overwhelming hunger for revenge.

Thirteen years later, Matthew – now a Spokane County sheriff – realizes that Top Hat is riding again with a new gang called the Mad Hatters. It means risking his friends, his family and the love of a good woman, but Matthew must find the man who destroyed what he once loved most in the world. To that end, he and his posse venture into Idaho gold country to capture the Mad Hatters.

Top Hat, however, has a different idea. He turns the tables, heading to the sheriff’s hometown of Granville and going after everyone Matthew holds dear.

What follows will haunt Sheriff Wilcox for the rest of his life as he confronts the hatred, vengeance and retribution buried deep in his own soul. Matthew will do anything, though, to put an end to A DEADMAN’S LAMENT.

Part 1

Chapter 1

Coming over a high hill, twelve-year-old Matthew Wilcox searched the far green slopes for Adeline, his father’s mare. Addie liked to wander but now, ever since they sold her yearling colt to old man Hensley, she had taken to chasin’ north. It was Mattie’s duty to fetch that mare home. Spotting a flash of white by the Pinckney trail, he shook his head. The horse stood at the barbed wire fence, pawing at the ground, calling her offspring back home. Shoot, he thought, she’s as lonely as a teetotaler in a saloon.

Mattie grinned, feeling proud that he remembered one of his father’s sayings so exact. But his smile faltered and died when he recalled that his pa, Robert Wilcox, had not yet returned from his last trip into town. It was only Monday, though, so no call to get in a ruffle.

He clicked his tongue, “Come on, Pete. Let’s go and grab that old jug-headed hoss.”

Pete, the mule, farted in reply. Looping the lead rope around Pete’s neck, Mattie moved ahead on foot, keeping a sharp eye on the rocky ground that sheltered timber rattlers and skinny rabbits.

Pete was never afraid of any old snake but those jackrabbits did him in every time. He would get to shuddering and twitching and, next thing you knew, that mule would be running as fast as greased lightning or he’d go rodeo. Last time that happened, Mattie could barely sit down for a week, his tailbone was so bruised and sore.

Stepping carefully, they wound down the switchback trail, landing in the valley below. He stuck two fingers in his mouth and whistled. The mare left off crying for her foal long enough to turn and look at the approaching boy. Pete brayed in reproach and lowered his lips to the tender grass at his hooves.

Mattie pulled the lead from around the mule’s neck, muttering, “Come on, Pete. Let’s go…”

Pete flapped his long ears and hunkered down, calf-kneed…a sure sign that he wasn’t going anywhere, at least until he had his fill of sweet grass. The boy sighed and let the rope drop. At most, the mare was only a quarter mile away, so he grabbed the hackamore and took off walking.

Although the wind pinched with icy fingers, the sun was warm. Mattie took off his felt hat and stuck it in his belt. The breeze ruffled his hair and tears streamed from his eyes. Bending over, he grabbed a stout stick and swished at the grass and wildflowers in his path.

He thought about the harsh words his folks had whispered Friday night as he and his little sister Maude eavesdropped from the loft. Mattie wasn’t sure why his mother was so mad but it had to do with his daddy, and no money to spare. Yet it seemed to him that, every time his pa went to town, things were better rather than worse. After all, Pa had brought Pete, the mule, home a year ago and, one time, he brought home the new danger-wire and two ready-made dresses, one each for Ma and Maude.

Now, though, his ma was madder than a wet hen and his pa was late getting home. Calculating the distance to town while he lopped the tops off the dandelions at his feet, Mattie wondered. Pa’s gelding, Joe, could keep a brisk trot going for miles on end. It was thirty miles to the fort, so Pa could make it into town with daylight to spare. He had left on Saturday… even if Pa had lingered through Sunday to shop for supplies, he should be home by now.

He glanced up at the sudden pall in the sky. The sun hid behind a large black cloud and tiny beads of frozen rain were suspended between earth and sky. Mattie shivered at the chill. The mare had stopped pacing and stood waiting for his approach. She was sweated, her mane speckled with ice.

“Come on, Sis…,” Mattie crooned as he walked up slow. “Let’s go on home.”

The horse complied, bending her muzzle to nibble the weeds growing alongside the road. He smoothed the hackamore up the mare’s nose and over her ears. He took a double fistful of her mane, jumped up bareback, and ambled toward the mule grazing at the far end of the valley.

Mattie started to eat one of the bacon sandwiches his ma had made for his lunch when, suddenly, Pete lurched to the left and—with a panicked bray—jumped backwards. Glaring through the fitful sunlight, he saw a small pack of wolves worrying at Pete’s flanks.

“Haw!” Mattie cried, kicking the mare hard. Addie took off running with a startled snort. It only took a couple of minutes to reach the trembling mule. The wolves had run off at his approach but he saw them gather at the foot of a rocky crag bordering the valley’s northern rim.

The pack stared down at him with cool appraisal and the boy felt a tingle of fear. It was unusual at this time of year for wolves to attack in the bright of day and even more uncommon to go after as formidable a beast as a full-grown mule with a human so close by. Studying the wolves’ slat-ribbed bodies and hollow eyes, Mattie understood that they were starving to death and had thrown caution to the wind in their quest for sustenance.

Both horse and mule were skittish and blowing hard with fear. Although his hands were clammy with sweat, he reached for his slingshot. Taking careful aim, he shot a rock at the lead wolf, a big rangy male with a gray muzzle. His rock fell short but ricocheted upward, hitting it in the belly. The animal spun in mid-air with a yelp and the pack took off over the hill and out of sight.

Shaking and too scared to climb down off the horse’s back, Mattie bent down to see what damage, if any, the wolves had done to the mule. There were two rake marks across Pete’s rump, but little blood and he seemed sound. The boy gathered up the lead rope and, clicking his teeth, sharply brought the two animals to a trot. His blood was still racing and he cursed himself for being a coward.

He decided to cut back and take the road home instead of going overland. Common sense told him the wolves were long gone by now but the idea of following hard on their tail did not appeal. He slowed Addie and rode a wide circle back toward the road. A couple of times, he turned around to study the landscape, making sure the wolves were not tracking and then sighed with self-disgust; going back on the road would cost him a couple of hours and make his ma worry.

Mattie was about a hundred yards from the road when he heard a distant shout. Pulling the mare up short, he sat and watched as a draft horse hove into view, followed by a large wagon. A horse and its rider walked along beside them. The wagon driver was speaking to the solitary rider but stopped talking and pointed in Mattie’s direction.

“Hey boy, how far to the Wilcox farm?” the rider called.

“Well,” Mattie hesitated. “You’re on it…the south end of it, anyway.”

The man on the horse spoke to the driver for a moment and then he spurred up and trotted toward Mattie. The rider sat high in the saddle and wore a wealth of silver on his saddle leather and on his person. The boy saw a star on the man’s chest and realized it was the sheriff approaching. He slid off the mare’s back and waited.

The sheriff creaked to a stop in front of him. The huge bay gelding bared its teeth at Pete, pissing a heavy stream on the grass in front of where Mattie stood.

“Dang it,” the man muttered and climbed down off his horse. Leading the gelding away a bit, he hobbled it and walked back, hitching his belt leather and swatting his hat at a persistent fly. He was a heavy-set man of middle years with thinning ginger hair and the red nose of a serious drinker. His eyes were fixed on Mattie’s face and something within his gaze made the boy’s heart race with fear.

“My name is Bradley…Sheriff Bradley. Are you Robert Wilcox’s boy?”

Mattie nodded and said, “Yessir. My name is Matthew, sir.”

The sheriff clutched his hat in both hands and growled, “Well, Matthew…I got a piece of bad news for you, sorry to say.”

Mattie glanced at the wagon on the road and the driver who leaned against it chewing a piece of cheat grass. Suddenly understanding, Mattie started to run in that direction but the sheriff leaned down and grabbed his arm.

“Whoa, son. Why don’t we sit for a spell afore you go runnin’ off? That’s your pa, for sure, but the doc’s got him all fixed up proper for buryin’.”

Mattie felt dizzy and his ears rang. Looking up at the fat, old sheriff from where he sat on the ground, Mattie realized he must have fainted. The man was kneeling over him with a canteen, urging him to drink. Mattie shook his head and dashed tears from his face.

“What happened?” he cried. “Did someone hurt him?”

“Well, no. Your pa had a stroke.” Bradley scratched at the stubble on his chin. “Thing is, though,” he continued, “Doc thinks yer pa had a stroke on account of what happened.” The sheriff sighed.

“What do you mean? What happened before that?” Mattie felt tears running down his face but could not make them stop.

“Well…and this is gonna be hard on you and yer family, you understand, but yer pa put this farm up on the poker table.”

“What do you mean?” Mattie cried. “My pa doesn’t gamble!”

The sheriff nodded. “I know, son. Doc Wilcox was not known for it, but he played Sunday night, that’s for sure.” He shrugged his shoulders and shook his head. “From what I hear, he was doing real good too, but the stakes got too high and his luck jus’ ran out.”

Knees popping, the sheriff stood up, reaching his hand down to the boy. “This story is best told once, son. I aim to have you ride with me back home to your ma, alright?”

Ignoring the sheriff’s help, Mattie climbed to his feet. Grabbing Addie’s reins, he started walking toward the wagon. The driver tipped his hat and climbed aboard while he tied the mare to the back. Bradley tied Pete to the opposite side while Mattie climbed in next to his pa’s body. The doctor had wrapped Robert Wilcox in an old horse blanket. A note pinned on the blanket read, Propertee of Stokes Livery.

Mattie saw that his father’s blond hair stuck out from the top of the covering. It seemed improper, somehow, and not knowing what else to do, he pulled his hat from his belt and placed it on his pa’s head. It was too small, of course, but it made Mattie feel better.

The wagon lurched toward home while Mattie Wilcox rode guard and the sheriff contemplated the sorry task that lay ahead.

~

By the time they pulled up in front of the Wilcox’s house it was late afternoon. There had been no conversing along the way except for the occasional comment on the early onset of winter or muttered curses toward the balky lead horse.

Mattie had fallen asleep for a while and dreamt of his home…the only home he had ever known. It was a fine place…chinked logs and a sturdy roof that only leaked once in a while, usually after a sudden, spring thaw. He dreamed of Christmas’ past and how his pa would swing through the front door, sometimes with presents in his arms for his “womenfolk.”

Waking with a start, he recalled how his pa would lift him up onto his shoulders and say, “You are the king, my boy…the king of all you see!”

Mattie and his sister had learned long ago that his ma and pa came from West Virginia. Sarah Cummings, Mattie’s mother, was from a family of well-to-do landowners; Robert Wilcox was the son of a prosperous attorney.

Robert was well educated, whimsical and completely in love with the notion of settling in the new western territories. Abandoning his father’s law office, Robert packed up his new bride—incurring the wrath of Sarah’s family—and joined a wagon train heading to the Northwest into the exotic new land of Columbia, which would later, be re-named Washington State.

He had no real understanding of how hard the overland trek would be on his young wife though. Whereas the journey was a wonderful adventure for Robert, it was a terror-filled and dreadful ordeal for Sarah. Robert’s original plan was to set up office in the booming new city of Seattle. By the time they reached the Spokane area though, his beautiful Sarah was so undone by nerves and illness, Robert feared he would lose her entirely. The young couple abandoned the wagon train in Spokane and settled into their new lives.

Within the year, Robert purchased land thirty miles away from Fort Colville…a hundred acres of pasture ringed by high mountains. It was rich in timber, water and wild game. With the help of two out-of-work cowboys and one old Indian named Joseph Two-Toes, Robert built a fine house and barn. A year later, Matthew was born, followed by Maude.

The children led a charmed life. For years, Robert rode into town and stayed there for a week at a time, taking care of the sundry land disputes and criminal cases that came along. There was still money left in Sarah’s dowry that the family dipped into upon occasion. Although Robert’s payments often came in the form of chickens, or eggs or canned goods, the family prospered.

At least at first- then lack of money finally took a toll on Sarah’s nerves. She had been raised in wealthy splendor and she was unable to hide her disappointment with their present circumstances. Robert seemed unwilling or unable to demand cash for services rendered and the more she pushed for extra money the more Robert fled her constant nagging until, finally, his one week in town turned into two, or even three weeks gone. When he finally found his way back home, he stayed as far away from her as possible.

When they did spend time together, furious, whispered quarrels erupted over nothing and a tension-filled silence fell upon the once happy household. Soon, the Wilcox children understood that their parents’ love was dying. The last time his pa left, Sarah stood in the open doorway of their home with tears trickling, unheeded, down her pale cheeks.

Mattie took her hand in his and asked, “What’s the matter, Ma?”

She shook her head once, whispering, “He’s gone… and he might as well stay gone for all the good he does.”

Mattie was shocked.” Ma! Why would you say such a thing?” She turned away, saying nothing.

Mattie winced now, remembering the anger in her eyes. He sat up from where he had fallen asleep, nestled at his dead father’s side and peered over the edge of the tall-sided wagon.

His ma stood on the front porch, Maude by her side. Sarah Wilcox met her son’s eyes as they pulled up in front of the house and Mattie knew that he would never forget the look of guilty sorrow in his ma’s eyes, even if he lived to be a hundred years old.

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