The Disappearance Of A Fearless Hero (Preview)

Chapter One

William Leech didn’t like the feel of the fine trousers and starched white shirt. He looked good, and he knew the impression he had to make and wanted to make, but the suspenders felt like bonds. Every twitch and pull of shirt only made it cut deeper into his neck, his armpits.

Freddie Leech chuckled and shook his head, that wry smile on his aging face. “You’re nervous. Don’t be. You know she loves you, Celeste. She’ll make a fine wife for you, son. You won’t regret it.”

“Regret it? I’ve been impatient for it since I first saw her in that… Well, it’s all behind us now.”

Freddie clapped his hand against his son’s sturdy upper arm. It felt good to feel his father’s touch, their connection still strong. They shared much, the masculine core of their family. The Leeches had endured losses, and too much time and distance between them. But things were about to change for the better, and Will could see in his father’s eyes that the elder man was as glad and anxious for the change as the younger had long been.

After a little nod, he went on, “I was the same at your age, about to marry your mother.” A somber moment passed before Freddie added, “She’d be very proud of you, and she’d be happy to have your Celeste in the family.”

Will could only imagine her red hair and calm smile, head tilted just so. But it was fleeting, like life itself, and Will’s mind was brought back to his father. They stood together in the same house where he was born and raised, still-familiar smells of favorite meals and Christmas mornings pulling him back to the past. The dressing room in the church just a few miles away was reserved for the bride-to-be, Celeste Dilley, and her own caretaker.

Will asked his father, “How do you think they’re doing?”

“Your sister and your betrothed? Much like you and me, nervously fussing about like a bunch of clucking hens.” The two men shared a chuckle, but it didn’t last. Freddie seemed to take a closer look into his son’s eyes as his mirth melted away. “What’s wrong, son?”

Will tried to shake it off. “No, I… it’s… it’s nothing, I’m sure.” He looked into his memory, eager to leave it all behind them and behind them all. He was reticent to even speak it, but he was loath to lie to his father. “I just… after all I’ve been through, the men I’ve… Well, I guess I’ve seen too much to think… to believe that everything could really work out so… so smoothly.”

Freddie nodded, clearly knowing what his son was thinking. There was no reason to go over it. But there was still the future to look forward to, and that very day, they each were taking a significant step into that future and away from the past.

“Son, we all have to do things, ugly things, sometimes, but for beautiful reasons. I know you, William Leech, I raised you. You never hurt an innocent person.”

“No, Father, never.”

“And the men you hunted down, who knows how many innocent lives you saved?” William nodded and his father went on, “And they’re all vanquished now, aren’t they? Behind bars, or… or dead?”

Will had to shake his head. “There’s no knowing for sure, Pop. I mean, far as I know. But… and this is something I should have told you, but… one of the reasons I stayed away from the farm, from Lexington, I… I never wanted to visit any of that on you, on Ines.”

Freddie chuckled and gave his son’s shoulder a little reassuring squeeze. A long strand of graying, black hair had fallen to the side of his face, the rest still pulled back behind his head. “You’re just nervous. It’ll pass.”

“I suppose. After so much time on the trail, watching every turn of the bend, reading every face in every saloon, every cheap café. It’s hard to turn it off.”

“Time will tell, son.”

“It always does. And in time, will everything just… settle? Or will I always be looking over my shoulder, wondering when my past is going to leap out and strike, like a rattlesnake underfoot? And once it hits, well…”

“You paid a gun to watch the place, didn’t you?”

“Two, and undercover, too. And I’m sure they’re fine, I’m sure of it.”

After a lingering silence, Freddie said, “But…?”

Will sighed. “I’m sure they’re fine, too.”

Freddie huffed up another little chuckle. “Why don’t we go in and I’ll make sure they’re good and ready? Women, they can take forever.”

“That’d be fine, just fine.” Will looked around and at his own finery, still in his shirt and suspenders. “My cravat, my cufflinks. How about I catch up with you?”

Freddie stood silent, looking his son up and down. “I can wait.”

Will looked around the house. He’d be returning a different man, a married man—the turn of an epoch had finally come to the family Leech. “I’ll catch up.”

Freddie nodded. “You sure you wanna ride in alone?”

Will smiled. “I’ll have my Winchester. I promised Celeste I wouldn’t wear my pistols to the altar, and I promised myself… but I’ll still have them for the ride.”

Freddie seemed to realize that his son, long his own man, would have his own way. With a smile and a nod, he turned to leave the second-story bedroom. Will stood to hear his father’s footsteps receding, the wooden staircase creaking beneath his weight.

Will stood alone, a moment of quiet he knew would never come again. Celeste would be a good and dutiful wife, filling the house with the love and warmth that his late mother’s passing had robbed of the venerable farm. His sister, Ines would be free to find her own husband and family, to stay on the farm or go out and follow her husband’s destiny. Will could only smile at the notion of the house once again filled with marrieds, with children, the family Leech growing strong again, expanding rather than contracting. The clamor of those children’s joyous cries filled his ears, the smells of those future favorite meals filling his nostrils: savory beef steaks, creamed potatoes, corn muffins, and other and even more exotic flavors.

But for the moment, Will was alone and the house was still and quiet. He was at the precise moment between his past and his future, and it was a singular point of his life. He glanced around and wished he could pray for more calm to come, for the place to be a shelter, a safe harbor, hard won by years of life in the mountains, chasing bad men to their fateful ends, either at the end of a rifle or a hangman’s noose. His future was his reward, his family’s future. It was all that mattered to him.

It had been a good reason to let his father go on ahead. If anybody wanted one last shot at Will Leech, it would come then, and at least nobody would be caught in the crossfire.

Will looked at himself in the mirror. He was tall and broad enough, body taut with life in the hills. But his face was still youthful, lacking the crags and wrinkles that increasingly marked his father’s face. His own hair was lacking the gray, his future well ahead of him. He pressed his shoulders back, took a deep breath to let his chest expand. He felt strong, capable, the prodigal son come home at long last.

And, just a few miles away, his future awaited him. Will was ready, nodding to step away from the room and out the door.

Oh, wait, he thought, the cufflinks! My cravat!

Will turned to re-enter the room and find the missing items. They weren’t far, and he fumbled with the links as he pinned them to bind his cuffs. He wasn’t accustomed to such finery and was eager to get to the honest, hard work of a farmer.

Maybe an extension on the house, he thought, or more crops on the western side.

Will put on the black jacket and grabbed the top hat Celeste had insisted on. But he carried it, willing to wear it only as little as possible. He made his way down the stairs, stairs creaking under his weight as they had his father’s. It was a sound he’d heard millions of times, and would go on hearing a million times more. In years to come, his children’s feet would creak those steps. It was as if they were the very voice of the house itself, welcoming him home—home to stay.

Will stepped into the main floor of the house, taking one more look at the quiet place, grateful to be there and almost hesitant to step away. But Will’s future was waiting, and it made him wonder if he should have tarried so long.

He opened the living room closet and pulled out the gun belt, a Colt pistol in each holster, and the loaded Winchester rifle the family kept for self-defense. The ride into Lexington wasn’t long, but it could yet be perilous.

Will approached the front door, slinging the gun belt over his shoulder and holding the rifle in one hand, reaching for the door latch with the other.

Bam!

The front door burst open in front of him and hit Will hard on the forehead. The shock and pain and sheer force of the blow sent him stumbling back.

Chapter Two

Will staggered back, his head throbbing. Blood trickled down his face, but the cut wasn’t severe. That wasn’t what would kill him.

The men rushed at him from in front, fast and ready. They had to have been watching him, Will knew, waiting for their moment and seizing upon it. Will’s readiness to drop his guard had been his undoing, but there was no time to reflect on it. One man grabbed the Winchester out of his hand with a wrench so great and swift that Will’s weakened hand had no chance to retain the weapon.

“Get the guns,” one of the men shouted from behind the red bandana over his mouth and nose. Will drew one of the guns from the holster and fired, but the third of the three men obeyed the second and had already lurched at Will. He grabbed the pistol hand and threw it upward, the gun shooting harmlessly into the ceiling.

The first of the men, who’d taken the rifle, slammed his heavy leather boot into Will’s gut, forcing his body to cramp forward. The third man, on Will’s right, took the pistol and the gun belt from around his shoulder, pushing Will back and unarmed.

Will collapsed in the corner of the room, near the fireplace. He looked up at the three masked men, heavily armed with their own guns and Will’s own. He knew who they were, at least who one of them was, he felt certain. And, in truth, it hardly mattered. The men sought Will’s life, and it looked as though it was theirs for the taking.

They loomed over him, seeming to know they had him dead to rights. But none of them had drawn on him, they didn’t seem to feel the need. Will saw that as his only chance. It gave him just enough time to grab the iron poker, leaning up against the brick around the fireplace. Will threw himself up and into the man in the middle, whom he took as the leader. He jabbed the iron poker at the man, sending him lurching backward. A sideways swipe hit one of the men in the face. He snapped to the side with an angry growl, but was quick to turn back on Will.

And that still left the first man, on Will’s right, to grab the poker as he had the Winchester. Will pulled his foot back and smashed it into the man’s knee. He bent to the side with a loud crack and a wailed expletive.

The man in the middle lurched forward at the once-more unarmed Will. He threw several hard punches into Will’s gut, but Will’s hardened muscles could sustain the blows. It was the pounding at his face that Will could only withstand for so long. His brain rang in his skull, his teeth feeling like they were being jarred loose from their roots.

Will returned the blows, sending the leader back on his heels. Will’s rage welled up and spilled over, expressed in a rain of vengeful blows on his attacker.

The two other men rushed Will from each side, grabbing each of his arms. Will pulled to try to wrench them free, turning to throw another hard kick into the already wounded leg of the man on his right.

But their leader pulled out a bullwhip and wrapped it around Will’s neck. He pulled it tight, the pressure instant and even, quickly closing in on his throat from every angle.

The three men collectively pushed Will to his knees, craning his arms behind him, pulling him down and forward with the bullwhip around his neck. He was completely prone, that increasing pressure making the blood pound in his head, neck swelling around that long leather whip.

The man nodded with a blood-red smile and a wink. “Hate to bust up the wedding, Mr. Leech.”

Will tried to free himself, but he had no chance. Still, if he was going to die, he was going to die trying. He flinched and gagged, his neck feeling like it was imploding under the squeeze of the whip, choking off oxygen to the brain. Pressure built up until it seemed ready to push the eyes out of his head, tongue out of his mouth. Will spasmed and twitched, his vision going black as his hearing became a dull monotone filling his head.

His limbs went numb, his body collapsed beneath him, and he fell into a dark oblivion which he had every reason to believe was death. His last thoughts were of Celeste, his father, so many innocents.

No, Will thought, certain that it was his last, I’ll come back from the dead to protect them if… I… must. 

Chapter Three

Celeste Dilley had been nervous all day, but as the time crept on, that nauseous curl in her belly was bubbling up and heating her blood, which seemed to be pumping faster in her veins. She paced around the little room in the back of the church, not far from the sanctuary where she would walk down the aisle and marry her betrothed and her beloved, William Leech.

All their family and friends were there, including his father, who had arrived alone. Neither Celeste nor her bridesmaid, Ines Leech, took that as a good sign. But Ines had been eager to calm Celeste, to reassure her with a variety of reasonable scenarios. As the hour crept on, Ines was fast running out of ways to explain her brother’s absence.

She paced, the white bridal gown suddenly hemming her in, uncomfortable with its many layers of frill and lace.

The door opened and Freddie Leech stepped into the room. Celeste’s question fell fast from her lips. “Mister Leech—Freddie, is he here? Tell me he’s arrived!”

Freddie just shook his head. “I’ll go up to the farm, see what’s delaying him. But… well, I suppose there is something I should warn you about.”

Celeste’s eyes widened, Ines mirrored her own.

Freddie said, “I thought it was nothing, hoped that it was. But, back at the house, Will, he… he expressed his concern…”

“About me,” Celeste assumed, “about marrying me?”

“Not about his love for you,” Freddie was quick to answer, “never that, but… but for your safety. His past, it plagues him. He’s worried that it will plague you, plague the entire family.”

“But we’ve discussed that,” Celeste said, almost a plea. “We’ve made… certain plans, just in case.”

“I know it, child, I do. But Will… he worries, you know that. He cares so much, and he feels… he carries the burdens of his life in the hills.”

Celeste didn’t have to look far into her memory to find the proof of it. Her imagination was alive with recollections of Will’s softer moments, his regretful reflections, his hopes for a simple family life and love. And Celeste shared those dreams, and she wanted to live them only with him. And Will felt that way, too, she didn’t doubt.

“No, Mister Leech, no!”

“He couldn’t have left her at the altar, Father,” Ines said. “I won’t hear of it!”

Celeste said, “We’ll return to the farm at once. Freddie, you’ll escort me.” She turned to Ines and said, “Go reassure the crowd that all is well, beg their patience, and promise them word will come back soon.”

Ines shook her head. “I should go with you—”

“No, Ines,” Freddie said, “Celeste is right. Somebody from the family must be here, and you have that… that air of warmth and love. The family calls upon you once again, my daughter.”

Ines nodded dutifully, as she always did. Since the death of her mother, young Ines had stepped into the breech. Celeste could see the silent frustration in the pretty young woman. But there was no time to worry about that. They had to get to Leech Farms, and get there fast.

Her wedding dress made riding a saddled horse almost impossible, and there was no time to change. So, they took the family cart, reserved for the newlyweds after the festivities. The wooden wheels creaked and groaned as the cart took the bumps in the road.

Celeste pleaded, “Can’t we go any faster?”

“We’ll lose a wheel!” Freddie shook the reins and the brown paint pulled them closer to the farmhouse, already coming up in the distance.

The jostling cart only made Celeste more nauseous, more nervous, her heart beating faster in her chest. She looked around the farm, nothing seemed out of place. They pulled across the property and to the house, everything quiet. A glance at the stable revealed that the Leechs’ last horse, which Will would have taken into town, was gone. Celeste and Freddie shared a nervous glance, but neither of them said anything.

Freddie drove the cart up to the house, but Celeste was quick to jump out and run to the house. “Will? William?”

“Celeste, wait!” Freddie stopped the horse and climbed down off the cart, slow to catch up to Celeste. She ran up to the house and found the door closed. She grabbed the latch and pushed it open, the workings loose in her hand and askew, the iron bent.

Freddie rushed up behind her. “Let me go first, child! You have no idea what’s—” He pushed the door open, easing Celeste back as he looked around what seemed to be an empty house.

“Son? William?”

Celeste could hardly restrain herself. She pushed her way past Freddie and into the house. “William? It’s us, it’s Celeste!”

No answer came back, leaving Celeste to look around the living room. Everything seemed in place, but she had the distinct impression that something was very, very wrong. She took a breath, feeling that she could identify other smells, unfamiliar to the room—other men. That was when she noticed the fireplace poker, miscast into the center of the room. She walked over and picked it up, then gasped to see a few droplets of blood on the floorboards nearby.

Freddie was drawn by her reaction and knelt by her side. He reached down to touch the blood, rubbing it between his thumb and index finger. He looked back at Celeste and nodded, which was all he had to do.

He stood up, Celeste following his lead. Freddie crossed to the closet, where he knew the guns would be, finding them gone, too.

“Somebody’s got him,” Celeste said. “That’s the only thing that makes any sense. He was afraid they would come for him, and he was right.”

Freddie seemed to think about it. “That must be why he wanted to ride in alone, make sure nobody else was a target.”

“He knew word would get around about our wedding,” Celeste said. “I knew he was worried about that. But we hired guns, it’s completely secure.”

“As secure as it could be,” Freddie corrected her. “But my William—our William—knew other measures would be necessary.”

“What… what measures? What are you talking about?”

Freddie turned to the door latch, then to the blood. “A sacrifice.”

“No! No!” Celeste ran up the stairs, calling Will’s name and searching through every empty room, glaring daylight streaming in through the drapes. Finally certain that he wasn’t there, Celeste pulled up her dress and scurried back down to the first floor. “Then I’m right, they’ve got him. If they’d killed him, he’d be here!”

“Who, Mister Leech, who?”

“I… I don’t know! Will didn’t know! I… whoever it is, they’ve got our William! He wouldn’t tarry here if somebody had me in their clutches, I can tell you that.”

“And I’d be right by his side.”

“Then be by my side now, Mister Leech!”

Freddy nodded, taking her hand and leading Celeste outside. He walked her to the front of the house and looked at the dirt ground at the end of the private road.

“More than one horse, that’s for sure. But the road’s too hard once we’re off the property.”

“Mister Leech, we can’t just leave him to die, and they’re getting farther away by the minute!”

“And they could have gone in any of three directions, or any variant.” Freddie seemed to be thinking fast, every silent second another period of torturous frustration.

“We have to go searching, Mister Leech!”

“We will, but think about it, Celeste. We’ll be wasting more time if we go lumbering around in this damned cart! We have to go back, get the sheriff, gather a posse. The whole town’s at the church, just about. Then, we’ll head out.”

“And you won’t leave me behind?”

Freddie turned with a start. “Of course we will! Celeste, you said it yourself—you and William made plans, and you have to stick to them.”

Celeste knew that this was so, though she wasn’t at all looking forward to it. She nodded and allowed Freddie to extend his hand to help her onto the cart before waking around, taking the helm, and turning to ride back to Lexington as quickly as the cart could endure.

But Celeste couldn’t help but wonder what was happening in town even then. If they’d struck Will at the farm, another party could have struck the church. And the two guns could fall against a full party, and then Lexington’s most innocent and most powerful people would be at the whim of a criminal conspiracy Will himself had unwittingly brought down on all their heads.

She thought of Ines, so sweet and pure, about her friends in town. Her family were long dead, and she was to be the newest member of the family Leech. Riding that jostling cart back into town, Celeste vowed to do all she could to make that dream come true, even if that meant doing nothing at all.

Chapter Four

Will’s consciousness stirred, jarred out of the relaxing void of blackness and silence.

Thump, thump, thump.

A dull pounding pushed into his gut with a steady rhythm. He tried to avoid the onslaught, his insides bruised and compressed. But his arms were useless, shoulders straining, wrists pinned behind his back. And that merciless enemy whom Will could not see just kept punching him, fist massive and heavy and curved just so. It seemed to know that this was not a death—not his death—but a slow torture for the sheer amusement of some distant force.

Will had strength enough to wonder, and only that. God? But he couldn’t pray before, and he could hardly blame God now. Too many bloody years in the Appalachian Mountains, the Black Mountains, and the spectacular knobs rising up out of the state, bringing the scum of United States to their fates, had made the idea of God seem too distant. What kind of God would create such men and set them loose upon society, Will could never understand.

The devil, on the other hand, was easier to believe in, but no easier to blame for the wiles of men. Men had evil in their hearts, some more and some less. But no man was above his human instincts, Will knew that. It was one of the most painful lessons he or his family had every had to learn.

Fate? Irony? Words? Will had to silently conclude. What do they mean to anybody, anyway?

Consciousness became clearer, the ropes biting into Will’s wrists, that unrelenting pounding driving his stomach into the back of his torso, preventing his lungs from working as they should. His heart was frantic to take up the slack, and even it was reaching the ends of its limits.

Thump, thump, thump.

Will’s eyes opened, vision blurred as he tried to focus. The horse scent streamed up his nostrils, the waft of leather undercutting it in a distinctive combination. Will tried to raise his head, but he couldn’t. Though dried blood was caked on his face, pinching his skin, the greater pain was from his arms, his ribs, his stomach as the horse galloped beneath him. The black gum and the sweetspire fragranced the air beneath him, the clop of the other horse’s hooves telling Will that he was tied and slung over a saddled horse, and another glance at its gray speckled coat told him it was his own horse. And they weren’t alone.

Flashes of memory reminded Will of what had happened, the fight he had lost, the life that was no longer his own. Choked out on his own floor, where he’d played so often with his toys during a bygone childhood, Will had thought himself executed. But that pounding in his gut, his own horse’s whinny, told him a different story.

He’d been abducted.

Will searched his memory for pictures of the men, but they’d all been masked. And they clearly had purpose beyond merely killing him. But not knowing the men meant he could not know their motives for keeping him alive. And there could be any number of terrible reasons, his experiences in the hills had taught him firsthand.

Taking me for a slow death, Will had to consider, at a place far enough from town, hidden in the hills. They’d have been interrupted at the house, they’d have to know that.

Will began to wonder who it could be, but the list became disgustingly long. It could be that he’d been taken not by some bygone bounty, but by any of their relatives, a disgruntled brother or cousin, looking for justifiable revenge.

And it seemed they would have it.

But there were other options, too, including holding him for some ransom, the only source of which would be Leech Farms. His father and sister would eventually cooperate, and Will would have done precisely what he’d hoped never to do.

Should have stayed out in the mountains, he knew, that’s the only place for a man like me, for a life… and a death… like mine.

But he wasn’t dead yet, and the trail of bodies he left in his wake was proof enough that he could still be dangerous. There were still rooms for turns of events nobody could predict, including raids by Cherokee or Shawnee, or a roaming grizzly or cougar. Though Will couldn’t imagine faring much better in those circumstances than in his present straits.

They’ll come for me, Will knew even then. My father would never let me disappear like this. But… will they find us, and will they find us in time? Let him come with plenty of backup, or not come at all! That magnificent old fool will get himself killed, and I’m just not worth that.

They kept riding, that ceaseless pounding making Will wonder if he’d survive long enough to reach their destination, the scene of his eventual execution.

Celeste, Will thought, please go to the place I set aside for you. That’s the only place you’ll be truly safe. Do as we agreed, Celeste, and I’ll do my very best to get back to you as soon as I can… if at all.

He closed his eyes and envisioned her long black hair and dark features, caramel skin and big, dark eyes. She had the face of an angel and a soul to match, and somewhere out there she was worried for him, praying for him, even as he got farther and farther from her with every passing second. They rode deeper into the winding canyons and jagged hills of the Appalachian range, where they would be impossible to find.

Thump, thump, thump.

Chapter Five

Celeste and Freddie rushed into the church, the crowd already rustling and abuzz with speculation and worry. Every pair of eyes in the place turned to them, Ines rushing up and clinging to her father’s chest.

The sheriff, tall Douglas Mott, looked over, slowly brushing his fingers through his long, blond handlebar moustache.

The sheriff asked, “What’s the word, Mr. Leech?”

“He’s gone,” Freddie said, the crowd shaking their heads.

Celeste knew the conclusion they were jumping to. “Taken, my husband was taken!”

Someone else asked, “You sure about that? Wouldn’t be the first fella to come to his senses.” He and a few other men chuckled.

“There was blood on the floor, damage to the door. I’m telling you, my husband… my fiancé, is in terrible danger!”

Ines said only, “Father?”

“There, there,” he said to his daughter, pulling her close before saying to the others, “we need a posse!”

The crowd was quick to grumble, Celeste adding, “Several, in fact, we… we’re not sure what direction they’re headed.”

“You want us to ride out on some fool’s errand,” some other man asked, “to chase after some runaway groom?”

The sheriff just watched, taking in the crowd’s reactions.

Somebody else contributed, “We all know the man, crept in from the hills with blood on his hands. Probably prefers it out there, and I say let him stay. We don’t that kind around here.”

Celeste’s voice cracked with her rising frustration. “But… you’re here at his wedding?”

The man shrugged. He was shopkeeper Norman Scott, a tight black beard framing his lipless mouth. “I’d had high hopes for his redemption.”

“Then start worrying about your own,” Celeste said, instigating a rise in their rumbling ire.

Freddie seemed to see that the crowd was turning against them. He said, “Sheriff, you’re with us?” During the sheriff’s pause, Freddie added, “My son has a list of enemies, any number of them could have come after him. He’d not run out on this young woman, I promise you that.”

Sheriff Mott nodded. “I can hardly blame him.” His words sent a chill up Celeste’s spine, her imagination quickly racked with new concerns. “And I’ll ride with you, Leech, sure.” He looked around to add, “Anybody else? There’s twenty bucks in petty cash for it, split even among those who come back.”

The other men looked at each other, some nodding and raising their hands while other shook their heads and turned away.

Celeste turned to Freddie, who said to her, “Don’t you get any ideas about riding out behind us, Celeste. I know Will’s counting on you to do what’s right, go where he’ll know he can find you.”

Celeste knew he was right, and that his insight was greater than she’d expected. She said, “I’ll see Ines back to the farm, then head out alone.”

They all shared a nervous moment, the danger for each of them undeniable. Ines was never meant to go back to the farm alone, but Freddie’s call of duty was more than he could resist. With the sheriff with him, she was vulnerable no matter where she went. It was a dangerous plan, but sticking to it was the best way for them all to survive, and Celeste knew that as well as the others seemed to.

The crowd dissipated around them, and the church’s pastor, fat Reverend Paul Marconi, approached, his thinning black hair plastered onto his round head.

“My children,” he said, “Brother Leech. You have the church’s prayers and blessings on this sorrowful day. I will bid the Lord to see you safely to the young man’s rescue, and bring you all safely home.”

Freddie said, “Well, that’s all very nice, Reverend, but if you wanted to mount up and ride with us, that might do even more good. May even bring the Lord’s attention more directly to our cause.”

Reverend Marconi shrugged and huffed and stammered, setting his hand on the bible. “My talents are of better use elsewhere, lest I interfere in my inexperience.”

Celeste shared a glance with her father-in-law, who nodded at their reverend. “Very well, Reverend. Now that we have your blessing, we’ll ride out.”

Reverend Marconi turned and scuttled away, leaving Celeste, Ines, and Freddie together. He asked the girls, “You sure you know what to do?” They nodded. “Ines, you’ll have two of the hands following you back to look after you, like one should have been there to look after Will.”

“Father, don’t.”

“All right, you’re… you’re right. The thing is to find him, bring him back. You two will be all right, and I’ll be back presently. And Celeste, you keep your head down, stay put in your safehouse.”

Celeste nodded, but her blood ran cold as her imagination fell into the dark shadows of her future. “For how long?” She knew the only answer was to wait for Will, but that only inspired another question—one much worse.

What if he never comes?

She knew Will would come back for her, if he could. But that was too uncertain to consider. Celeste had to believe the Lord had some design, and that the good man Will was would redeem his bloodied past. She had to believe it, because anything else would be so terrible that she would very nearly fall down dead from the sheer pain in her heart. In a lot of ways, she thought, that would be preferable than to live without him.

Celeste took a deep breath and released it, turning to Ines and forcing a smile. “Okay, let’s get you home.” Ines smiled, too, with a little nod. But neither smile would last long.

They found the car and loaded up, Celeste taking the reins and shaking them, the brown paint seeming to know just where to go to bring them back to the nearby farm. The two remaining hands followed on their horses. The Munford Brothers, Wesley and Carl, were quiet men, reliable, but things seemed to be rapidly changing around Celeste and the Leech family, and she knew they could very well be a big, bad part of it.

On the other hand, they seemed on the alert, reassuring Celeste but also adding to the tension of the party, their exposed rifles ominous signs of things to come. Celeste tried not to notice it, but Ines was deeply struck by worry and doubt. It shone in her quivering lower lip, and in her arching eyebrows.

But Celeste could think of nothing to say that would truly soothe her younger friend and sister-in-law-to-be. In truth, she shared the girl’s doubts and worries, and was afraid that to put words to them would be to give them life, give them truth, give them power.


“The Disappearance Of A Fearless Hero” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Will Leech is having the merriest day of his otherwise turbulent life; he is about to marry Celeste, the woman of his dreams. But his nightmares come to life when three hired guns abduct him just before he makes it to the chapel. He always knew that being a bounty hunter, even a retired one, has its risks and apparently some persistent enemies. After making a narrow escape, he embarks on a perilous journey to reunite with his betrothed. Along the way, he comes closer to death only to be saved by a mysterious traveler who will join him in this crucial quest.

But is he really a trusted companion or does he have darker motives?

Will’s mission is twofold; not only does he have to escape the ones chasing him, but he has to find Celeste, who went into hiding soon after his disappearance. His family assists him in his frenzied search for her but trouble comes their way too. Celeste is in grave danger and Will will turn the world upside down to get to her before anyone else does.

Time is of the essence..

His pursuit will bring forth memories from a past life, ones he chose to relinquish, along with an old acquaintance with vengeful intentions. Will he be able to find Celeste before the unthinkable happens? For a man who spent his life fighting, can peace and love ever prevail?

“The Disappearance Of A Fearless Hero” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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