A Partnership Against Injustice (Preview)

Mark DeLong lifted the bag into the back of his wagon, looking over his shoulder at his brother, Luke. “You remember when we were kids and Pa used to take us to that lake out there near Tuscaloosa?”

Luke nodded, holding the trunk of supplies up so Mark could take them from him. Mark was perched on the edge of the tailgate of the wagon, making sure everything they needed for the upcoming hunting trip was easily available to them. 

“Yeah, I remember,” Luke replied. “You whined the entire trip up, had a great time with Pa, and then whined all the way back. I swear I never heard anyone whine like you did. You were a real fusspot.”

Mark snorted. “Don’t think you’ve got much room to talk, brother. I’ve got lots of memories of you doing some pretty childish things.”

Luke chuckled, shaking his head, lifting up as Mark struggled to take the trunk. “What’s wrong? You’re not as strong as you used to be? Getting old at twenty-six?”

“Watch it,” Mark said, jumping down from the wagon. “I’m only a year older than you. If I’m old, you’re old.”

Luke let out an abrupt laugh. “Age is in the mind, my brother. The mind.” He tapped his temple. “And I’ll never be old. I work too hard.” He proved his point by flexing the muscle of his right arm.

Mark glanced at him and rolled his eyes. “I’m real impressed. Why aren’t you coming with us? You know we could always use a sharpshooter like you.”

Luke grinned, slapping his brother on the shoulder as Mark passed him. “Wow! You go from insulting to complimentary in the same breath. Amazing!”

They both laughed as they went into the supply shop. There were four more boxes and two fabric sacks that were ready to go. 

Mark looked across the room to Manny Overstreet, the man behind the counter. He made a wide circle with one finger over the supplies waiting for him. “This all of it, Manny?”

The older man nodded and saluted Mark. “That’s all of it, Mark. You boys be careful now.”

“Oh, we will!”

Mark and Luke began lugging the remaining supplies out to the wagon.

“You think Bear Mountain is the best place to be hunting? There’s a reason it’s called that, you know.”

Mark gave his brother a sarcastic look. “Yes, I know that. Thanks, Pa. We’ve got the best chance of getting the most meat if we hunt there. There shouldn’t be any trouble with the Indians around there either. We’re friends with all the tribes and I’m pretty sure Peter got permission from the tribal leaders to hunt there. He likes to think ahead, you know.”

Luke nodded, thinking about Peter Egan, his brother’s best friend. “Yeah, he’s real good at stuff like this. Setting up this stuff. He takes care of everything.” He let out a sharp laugh, looking over at his brother as he lugged a heavy trunk to the wagon. “He even made lists for us. To make sure we didn’t forget anything.”

Luke tossed a full fabric sack into the wagon. “He does realize you’ll be near other towns where you can get anything you forget, right?”

Mark shrugged. “I think we’ll be fine. We’ve got Ted. You know Ted Fawcett.”

Luke nodded and leaned over to help his brother with the trunk. They both shoved it toward the front of the wagon. “Yeah, the guide. He knows those woods?”

“He did a couple tours of Bear Mountain and the woods around it. He can probably walk those woods with his eyes closed.” Mark rested against the back of the wagon, whipping his handkerchief from his back pocket and wiping it across his sweaty forehead. He pushed against the rim of his hat with the cloth, turned, and perched on the tailgate again. “I kind of wish you were coming, though, Luke. We work well together. How many bucks have we put down together? How many bears? We’ve fed this whole town for an entire winter before, just you and me.” As he spoke, Mark flipped his hand between the two of them. “Imagine how much we could provide if we both hunted the woods around Bear Mountain?”

Luke gave his brother an appreciative look. “Well, you’re chock full of compliments today, Mark. Trying to talk me into going?”

Mark lifted one side of his lips in a half-grin. “Is it working?”

Luke laughed. “No, sorry. I promised Mrs. Lipscomb I would fix that roof and if I don’t do it, they’re gonna be real cold all winter and sore at me for not keepin’ my word. Sorry, brother. Can’t do it. You’ll be back in a couple months. We’ll go out together when you get back.”

With a solemn look, Mark surveyed his brother and said, “Swear on it?”

Luke’s heart warmed with love for his brother. He grabbed him into a hug, slapping him on the back. “I swear. On Ma and Pa’s graves. And Emily’s, too.”

Mark returned the hug. “Okay. I’m gonna hold you to it.”

Luke was aware Mark knew he wouldn’t swear on the graves of their family if he didn’t mean it. And he did want to go hunting with Mark. He just couldn’t leave Lion’s Tooth for two months. He’d made promises to the people he helped around town as a handyman. He didn’t want to let them down.

He and his brother had moved to Lion’s Tooth ten years ago when they were teenagers after influenza took both their parents and their sister. The citizens of the small town had embraced them, welcoming them with open arms.

He’d made it his goal to keep all his promises to them. They paid him good for his services and he was good at all types of repair. He was trusted. He wasn’t about to mess that up.


Chapter One

When Luke walked into the church, his first thought was that he’d never seen his fellow townsfolk in such a state. He could hear the murmurings as people talked under their breath and he noticed when they all went silent as soon as they saw him. 

He walked to the altar, where Reverend Michael was standing, his arms outstretched to take Luke into a warm hug. After, he stepped back and looked directly at him. 

“Luke. Thank you for being here. I know this has to be hard for you.”

Luke turned his eyes and scanned the people in the room. He moved to the front pew and sat down, aware their eyes were boring into the back of his head. He turned to the side so he could look at everyone, resting his arm on the back of the pew. 

“Everyone calm down,” Reverend Michael said, lifting his hands and patting the air down. “Calm down, everyone, please. We need to make a plan. We are all on the same page here. We are all desperate to know whatever we can find out.”

Luke’s heart was heavy. It had been two months since his brother and the hunting party had left and two whole weeks since they’d heard anything from any of them. It had everyone worried. And with good cause. Bear Mountain and the surrounding woods had a reputation. It was why the hunting party from Lion’s Tooth were wary, why they were warned by older men in town who’d hunted that area before. There was never a guarantee when it came to traveling to do some big game hunting. 

Luke looked at the people again, his eyes settling on a pretty redhead named Penny Kingdom, one of the girls who’d been in the schoolhouse with him. Mark had made him finish all the grades when they moved to Lion’s Tooth. While he was there, he discovered his birthday was exactly two weeks before Penny’s, a fact he never forgot but also never mentioned.

Luke considered Penny a friend and had done odd jobs for her and her father, who was quite an elderly man considering he had such a young daughter. He’d always wondered about the story behind that but had been much too polite to ask. He’d had a crush on Penny since the first time he laid eyes on her but had never pursued her. 

Now they were both adults and Penny grew up to be exactly the headstrong, gun-shooting, hunting, fishing woman he’d thought she’d be. The perfect woman. Able to do anything she set her mind to and possessing the will to go for it. 

She turned her head and their eyes met. They both smiled at the same time but he could see the sadness in hers. It wasn’t an amused smile. It was warm and caring. His heart skipped a beat and he looked away, straightening himself on the pew to look at the reverend.

“I think it would be best if we sent a second party, this time to search for our friends and family,” the reverend was saying. “And we must stay in contact with them as often as possible.”

“How is that possible?” a voice called out from the crowd. Luke looked over his shoulder at Danny Edgerton. Danny was a big, strong man with a full beard and mustache. He was well known for being able to chop a tree in half in two swings. Not a sapling or a year or two old tree. One of the massive trees that provided lots of shade in the summertime. For him to think something wasn’t possible provided reasonable doubt that it was. 

“I know how we can do it,” Penny said, standing up. She always was the type to draw attention to herself when she thought it was important. Not in an egotistical way. In a leadership way. She was charming and intelligent and funny. She was also well-respected by all in town. If she had any enemies, Luke didn’t know about it. 

“How’s that, Penny?” the reverend asked, genuinely curious.

“I have pigeons. Carrier pigeons. On my farm. I can come along and send them back every day. They’ll go straight to my pa and he will give you all updates.”

Luke stood up, turning to face her and the rest of them. “That’s a great idea, Penny,” he said. “A really great idea. But this is probably gonna be a dangerous mission. You shouldn’t put your life at risk. Your pa needs you here, safe and sound.”

Penny’s eyebrows shot up and Luke felt about two inches tall from the look she was giving him.

“My pa is a very healthy man, thank you, Luke,” she said, not unkindly. “He doesn’t need me to be at his beck and call. How sweet of you to be concerned for me, though. I would like to volunteer to help find your brother. I assume you will be coming on the trip, as well?”

Luke nodded without hesitation. “Of course I will be going.”

“Then you can keep me safe. How does that sound?” Her lips pulled back just slightly in a small smile.

Luke pressed his lips together. He really didn’t think Penny would need a lot of babysitting. She was a better shot with both a rifle and a pistol than half the men in town. 

“I think Luke would be happy to look after you on this mission, Penny.” Suddenly Reverend Michael was standing next to him, his hand on Luke’s shoulder. Luke looked down at him, as he was a few inches shorter. 

“Of course I will.”

The Reverend looked out over the crowd, removing his hand and taking a few steps forward. “Who else wants to go find out what happened to our friends?”

Danny stood up, waving his hat in front of him. “I’m willin’ to go. I ain’t got anyone to answer to.”

Luke had an idea and held up one hand. “I don’t think there’s a need to take too many people on this,” he said. “Just me, Penny, Danny, and maybe one more man. Other than that, I’ll be asking my Comanche friend, Burning Sun, to lead us and track down the first hunting party. I know there are some here who know Bear Mountain Woods well but it would be better to keep this party small and use someone who has great skill at tracking. He’s even worked for the sheriff. Hasn’t he, Sheriff?”

Luke looked at the sheriff, who was standing to the side, his thumbs hooked in his gun belt. He looked surprised to be addressed at first and then nodded, vigorously. “Oh. Yes. Burning Sun is one of the best trackers I know. And a good man, to boot.”

Luke nodded, sweeping his eyes over the crowd. “So one more volunteer is all we need.” His eyes came to rest on Doug Morningside, who had been working with the doctor learning medicine for the last five years. “Doug. How about you come along in case we need some medical help?”

Doug stood up, nodding. He wasn’t a big man like Danny. He was tall and thin and sharp as a tack. He had long needle-like fingers that disguised the actual strength of the man’s hands. “I’ll be glad to go along, Luke.”

Luke nodded. “I’m going to get Burning Sun after I leave here. We should go in the morning. Is that enough time for you three to get ready?” When they all nodded, he continued, satisfied, “Thank you for doing this. I know Mark will appreciate it, too.”

Chapter Two

Luke made sure to catch up to Penny as everyone left when the meeting was over. He nodded at the men who tried to stop him to talk but avoided eye contact so they would know he had an agenda. He was amazed this kind of opportunity had come along. His fear for his brother combined with his excitement about taking a trip with Penny and was making him feel a little sick to his stomach.

He shoved both feelings to the back of his mind when he saw her strolling away from the church. He hurried to catch up with her, taking her arm gently from behind.

“Penny, Penny…stop a minute.”

Penny spun around, looking up at him as if she didn’t recognize his voice. But she recognized his face and her expression immediately relaxed into a smile. 

“Oh, Luke! You startled me. You should be more careful about doing that. You might get shot.”

He had to laugh. He could tell she was teasing him by the look in her eye. 

“Sorry about that. You’re probably right. But I don’t generally go around grabbing people from behind to get their attention. I knew you were unarmed.”

She winked at him, looking mischievous. “You sure about that, mister?”

They both laughed but Luke had to wonder. She didn’t look like she was carrying a gun on her but it wasn’t like he could see under the long dress she was wearing. He was no fashion expert but there didn’t appear to be anywhere she’d be able to hide a gun from the waist up. 

He stopped examining her body and focused back on the reason he’d come over. At the same time, he was wondering if she knew she’d distracted him so. 

“Let’s talk about the trip. You know a lot about Bear Mountain Woods?”

Penny shook her head, making her big red curls bounce on her shoulders. “Not any more than most. I’ve heard about it, read about it…I don’t think I’d have gone there with anyone to hunt unless I’ve forgotten about it. I really don’t think I’d forget something like that. Even if I was really little.”

“Your pa started taking you hunting with him real early on, didn’t he?” Luke asked. He didn’t know Penny’s life story but he knew a few things about her. 

“He sure did,” Penny acknowledged with a nod. She turned and he walked beside her. He enjoyed the look of affection that came to her face when she talked about her father. “But I don’t think we went there. I’ll ask him tonight. What do you know about it?”

Luke shook his head. “Me and Mark have done a lot of hunting in our time but we’ve never been there.”

Penny looked thoughtful. “Do you know why they picked that area?” she asked, her voice almost dreamy. He glanced at her. 

“I’m sorry?”

She stopped walking and turned to him. He did the same. “Why did they choose Bear Mountain Woods? It’s so dangerous. I just don’t know why they went out there.”

“No one who has ever gone there has come out empty-handed,” Luke said with a shrug. “We’ve had an additional hundred people move to Lion’s Tooth in the last year. We had to step up our game. Unfortunately, me and the men didn’t discover that until we all happened to get together for drinks and started talking about our storage plans for the winter. Plus, with the weather damage we’ve sustained this year, it just seemed logical to go somewhere we would be guaranteed to get a good haul.”

Penny shook her head. “Well, I don’t understand why it had to be there. It’s practically a fifty-fifty chance of coming out alive.”

Luke gave her a strange look and laughed, amused by her exaggeration. “Well, you didn’t seem very hesitant about volunteering to go.”

Penny started walking again, so he went along with her, wondering where they were going. She was in the lead and he was going along. Did she even know that?

He grinned at his thoughts. 

“I guess I’m just really…curious. I want to see what the fuss is all about, you know?” She paused a moment before continuing, “I was thinking before the men went out first that if something happened to them, I had to find out why. I had to find out what was happening there. The only way to do that is to go along on the trip. And I’m a real good shot so I can hunt just like the rest of ya. I’ll kill it and you boys can take care of storing it in the ice wagon till we get back.”

“I think we’ll be doing plenty of killing on our own,” Luke laughed. “But yeah, we’ll help you take care of storing it. It’s just gonna be the one wagon anyway. Your idea to use carrier pigeons is top-notch. How did you think of that? I didn’t even know you had any.”

Penny nodded. He admired her profile, with her small nose and her shapely chin. She was a good-looking young woman. “I’ve been working with those birds so long my pa says they are my children. He talks to them like they’re human, asking them if they missed mommy and things like that. You know, when he comes along with me to take care of them in their coops.”

“I think there’s probably a lot I don’t know about you,” Luke said with a smile. She glanced at him, her own smile warming his heart. 

“I’m sure we’ll find out plenty about each other on the trip. Tell me, Luke, are you a good shot, a mediocre shot, or an expert with a gun in your hand?”

Luke snickered before saying, “Is there a rank between mediocre and expert? I’m a good shot, yeah, but I’m no Buffalo Bill.”

“We can’t all be nationally known sharpshooters.”

That reminded Luke of Mark’s words before he’d left on the hunting trip. Mark had called him a sharpshooter. He was probably better than he gave himself credit for. Plus, Mark had probably just been buttering him up. He’d wanted Luke to go along and had been trying any means to get him to. 

Now Luke was glad he hadn’t gone. Whatever had happened to them would have happened to him. Maybe he was meant to be in the rescue party.

“I think the four of us need to sit down a little later today and decide on a plan. I’ll go get Burning Sun. He and his nephews always come to town on Thursdays. I’ll ask him to come meet with us.”

“Do you think he’ll help us?”

Luke nodded. “Yeah. I don’t think he’ll turn us down.”

“Do you know him well?”

“I do,” Luke responded, thinking about the older man he was about to ask for help. Burning Sun was almost like a mentor to him and Mark. He’d been giving them advice and direction since the day they’d arrived in Lion’s Tooth. He was in the lumber yard when they came asking for work and spent a few hours talking to them. 

He grinned remembering it was that same day they were introduced to his grandson, Benjamin, a playful little five-year-old. Luke thought it was hilarious that Burning Sun had a name like he had but his daughter had named her son Benjamin. 

“I’m going home to talk to Pa and get some things from my house to pack up,” Penny said, her green eyes flashing when she looked at him. “I’ll meet you back here in an hour. At the community building?”

“Sounds good. I’ll let Danny and Doug know what we’re doing before I get Burning Sun.”

“A Partnership Against Injustice” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

After losing their family, Luke and his brother moved to Lion’s Tooth for a new beginning. Luke is a handyman, trusted around town for his genuine kindness. While he’s helping his brother get ready for a hunting trip, he wishes he could go too, but he has a lot of people in town counting on him. However, when his brother and the rest of the hunting party cease contact for a span of two weeks, he begins to regret not going. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, the town decides to send Luke along with an unexpected group of people to find out what’s going on. Luke experiences situations that put his skills and allegiances to the test while he fights to make it back to Lion’s Tooth. Will he manage to get through the trials ahead or is it too late for him to save his brother?

Luke has had eyes for Penny since he moved to Lion’s Tooth ten years ago but he kept his admiration for her a secret. Even though Penny has no relation to any of the men in the hunting party, Luke is overwhelmed by the fact that she volunteered to join the rescue team. He tries to open up about his feelings as they travel the long miles but the terrifying thoughts are haunting him. When the dangers of the wilderness become more than the group bargained for, he knows that Penny might be his only hope to ever find his brother. Will a new love flourish amidst this treacherous pursuit or will this quest bring not only Luke’s, but also Penny’s demise?

As this unusual adventure brings Luke and Penny closer, they are convinced that if they live through this mission, their lives will never be the same again. Luke depends on Penny’s friendship but as the danger spirals out of control, will they manage to survive the greatest challenge of their life?

“A Partnership Against Injustice” 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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