Divided By True Grit (Preview)

Chapter One

Thomas Scott kept a sharp eye out on the fir trees and junipers around them as he and Paul Ericson made their way through the perilous Rocky Mountains. So far, everything Thomas had heard about the mountains had proven true, with terrible clarity.

Visions of their partner’s death were still fresh in Thomas’ mind. He could still hear the man crying out as the water levels rose, trapped in the boulders of the Colorado River. The man had known he was going to drown, and it happened despite their best efforts to free him. His dying cries echoed in Thomas’ bloodstream, in every fiber of his being.

The Rocky Mountains were more of everything than Thomas had expected. They were taller, monumentally so. They dipped into sudden drop-offs that seemed endless. Rivers rushed and snaked through clusters of boulders; spruce and fir and pine trees rose up in uncountable numbers. The snowcapped peaks brought a chill to his blood. They lent a coolness to the breeze that whipped through the crags and crevices, a faint howl echoing from the gaps.

However, there was an undeniable beauty to the terrors of the mountains. No city could compare to the pure majesty of those powerful, rugged mountains, those winding rivers, those lush forests. Still, every muscle in his body longed for a soft bed, clean sheets, and a well-cooked meal.

Thomas couldn’t help but think of his life before setting off with the two men, Paul and Jim Brookes. It hadn’t been an easy life, rife with perils of its own. Every turn of the card, every turn of the bedsheets, every pull of the trigger had its own price to pay. And Thomas couldn’t help but think he’d paid for it all, and that others had paid, too.

It had been a wayward course, one that could have led anywhere. The landscape surrounding him, threatening to envelop him at every turn, told Thomas that anywhere was just where he’d wound up. He felt very nearly at the ends of the Earth, or on another planet altogether. He was a man out of place, yet to some extent, he’d always felt this way. Thomas has been searching for the thing that would make him complete, make him happy and satisfied, bring an end to his fruitless searching.

He was an American man, and that man had to make his own way, find his own way, find his own self in that wild and dangerous nation. He had to discover the man he was trying to be, the man that he’d always been. The mountains seemed ready to spin him around in circles, to trap him and his partner. 

How the man remained so steadfastly optimistic, Thomas was unsure. Yet he knew that without it, and without Jim Brookes’ insights, the journey would have been a waste and a loss. Despite Jim’s death the other two pushed on.

Paul seemed untroubled by the perils of the journey to that point, as if he was certain he would succeed. He’d been convinced of it since his friend Jim Brookes had approached him. That seemed part of his composition, his soul, but it didn’t feel a part of Thomas’. He’d rather be silent, but he didn’t think of himself as the kind of man who was afraid to speak if he had to, no matter what he had to say or who he had to say it to, where or when.

Integrity, Thomas reminded himself. If a man’s not himself, who is he? If he can’t be trusted, what is he? 

“Whaddaya think?” Paul asked. “Two mansions, right next to each other. Between us, we’ll run whatever town we come across. Hell, maybe we’ll just buy ‘em!”

Thomas liked the idea of being rewarded for his efforts. This was his greatest gamble, and he was putting everything on the table.

“Sure,” he said, thinking little of it. They’d spent months on the trail and were still nowhere near finding their new hold as far as Thomas could tell. Whether they would even find the claim was one question… only one.

“You just wait,” Paul said. “We’ll be knee-deep in gold.”

“That’s just what I’m waiting for,” Thomas said. “Standing up to my knees in sludge or icy water.”

Paul chuckled. It seemed to come easy to him, like so many other things. “It’ll take a little brawn, sure. Good, hard work.”

“What hard work was ever good?” When Paul chuckled again, Thomas went on. “If I wanted to work, I’d have been a farmer like my old man.”

“Your old man’s farm never made what we’re gonna make,” Paul said. He pulled out a cigarette rolling paper and held it with one hand, retrieving his tobacco pouch with the other. “Want one?”

Thomas shook his head. They rode on slowly as Paul sprinkled in the tobacco, pulled the sack shut with his teeth, and tucked it into his pocket. 

“You gotta learn to relax,” he said as he licked the paper and rolled it closed. “Life is short, right?”

“Right,” Thomas said, not thinking he had to say any more about it.

“You don’t drink either?”

“Water,” Thomas said with a shrug.

“How’d you get through so many nights gambling and the like?”

Thomas didn’t want to say too much about it, or about anything else. “Women,” he said, leaving it at that. It was only then that he realized how little he knew about his partner, and how little his partner knew about him.

The man had seemed reasonable enough, though he’d been a friend of the late Jim Brookes. Still, when Jim had died, Thomas had noted the coldness of his friend Paul’s reaction, his inattention to the man’s devouring disease.

Still, Paul was a jovial sort, a good man, and reasonable company. He seemed a forward-thinking fellow, one with his eyes on the future. That was the kind of man who would succeed in the new nation, in 1850 not even a hundred years old. The future seemed uncertain, with different factions pulling away from one another. But there was still a chance that there would be no civil war, that the young nation would hold together. And Thomas hoped he and his partner could do the same. For as Dr. Franklin had said, if they didn’t hang together, they seemed likely to hang separately.

“Y’know,” Paul said, lighting his cigarette and spitting out a stream of white smoke, “we all face tough times, right?” 

Thomas knew what his partner was getting at, and he didn’t like it. When he didn’t answer, his talkative partner went on. 

“That girl you knew back in Austin, that was rough the way it turned out.”

“Yeah,” was all Thomas could think to say.

“But here we are,” Paul went on, “facing the future, not the past. We’re miles from whatever may have happened. And ahead of us, it’s all blue skies.”

“And big mountains,” Thomas said. “You know skies are only clear in certain months of the year, right?”

“Does the bear mind?”

“The bear hibernates,” Thomas said. “Then it wakes up and kills men like us.”

Paul chuckled and shook his head. “Attitude like that, you’re inviting misery and misfortune, my friend.”

“Attitude like yours,” Thomas answered, “you’re inviting an ambush.”

“Who isn’t? To live is to invite an ambush. You’ve spent your whole life ducking and dodging such things.”

“Not always successfully.” Thomas didn’t want to think too much more about the subject, terrible memories plaguing him.

“But that’s the way of things, isn’t it? Up, down, but life goes on, eh? That’s the—”

Bang!

Paul snapped forward but recoiled, remaining on his mount. He looked down at his own torso, a new stain seeping across his chest. Thomas glanced at Paul’s back to see where the shot had come from.

The whole terrible moment seemed to last an hour, a day, a lifetime. But in those few seconds, Paul looked at Thomas with an expression of near disbelief, the cigarette slack in his lips. He seemed to know he was done for, that his dreams and schemes would come to nothing.

The shot had to have come from behind, a cowardly attack. But there was no time to turn and draw. Even in that flash of violence, Thomas had time to calculate that he was already in the killer’s line of sight. By the time he pulled his gun, the killer would take the second shot.

So Thomas threw himself off his own horse, the animal startled and whinnying. He hit the ground hard as the next shot rang out, meant for him. Thomas had time to turn and see that mountain of a man running toward him with massive knife and a murderous roar, a bear in human form with a single murderous claw, drawn and thirsty for his blood.

Chapter Two

There was no time to draw and fire. Thomas rolled out and scrambled to his feet just as the massive man charged him, hunting knife flashing. The man had incredible strength pulsing through his heavy arms and chest, and his belly thrust forward to push Thomas back even as he swung that knife. Even drawing a gun could distract Thomas to the point of opening him up to a lethal swipe.

The big, bearded man had seemed to come out of nowhere, but there was no escaping his presence. He roared again as he charged, that deadly blade very nearly tearing open Thomas’ chest. The man seemed enraged, unthinking, acting on pure ravenous instinct.

Thomas grabbed the man’s arm and wrist, but there was no controlling his incredible musculature. This was a man who lived in the mountains, Thomas could already tell that. And the perils of his life had forged a hardened hero, a champion of rugged individualism. But he’d shot an innocent man in the back and tried to do so to another, Thomas himself. Whatever his strength or position, the big man had to die, or Thomas would.

Thomas leaped onto the man’s back, arms around his neck. The big man growled like the bear he seemed to be, grabbing at Thomas, trying to pull his arm free. Failing, he dropped the knife and reached for a pistol on a holster slung around his huge chest and gut. He reached back and fired, Thomas pulling away and narrowly missing the bullet. The big man spun to throw Thomas, the better to gun him down at close range.

The best bet was for Thomas to draw and shoot the man in the back. But he was no coward, and he wasn’t about to stoop to such tactics. He’d fought men before, in alleys and saloons. So this man had chosen a hard target. But the man was no easy kill himself.

Thomas pulled his fist back and threw a hard punch into the back of the big man’s head. He staggered, but a second punch sent him into a rage. The man spun hard and his big paw managed to grab hold of Thomas’ arm, flipping Thomas over his beefy shoulder. Thomas flew far and landed hard, rolling and knowing what the big man’s next move would be.

Thomas drew and fired, just as the big man was leveling his own gun. Both shots seemed to go off at once, the man’s bullet digging into the ground just inches from Thomas.

Thomas’ own shot had been better, landing in the man’s shoulder. It didn’t put him off his feet, nor shake the gun from his hand, but he seemed surprised, distracted, and that was all Thomas needed.

Bang! His second shot punched right into the big man’s beefy chest. Bang! The next one joined it and the big man dropped his gun and staggered back. He looked down at his own wound, much the way his last victim had done. Thomas recognized the astonishment of those final moments, the grim knowledge of one’s own mortality suddenly made manifest in the undeniable truth of the waiting grave.

The big man was slow to fall, but once gravity overtook him, the momentum pulled him fast and he landed face-down in the dirt. Thomas pushed himself up and turned to move up the trail to his own party, his horse lingering next to Paul’s. 

Paul had fallen from the horse and lay face-up on the ground, a horrible opposite to the position of his murderer, a sight Paul would never take in. Thomas knelt by Paul’s side, sweat pouring down from the man’s quivering head. He looked around, then up at Thomas. His eyes were wide with fear, and he licked his lips before he tried to speak.

“You… you’ll work the mine, Thomas, right? Right?”

“We came all this way,” Thomas said.

“That’s… that’s right, we did.” Paul coughed up a mouthful of blood, dripping down his cheeks to his ears. “And Jim… Jim…” It was too easy to recollect Jim Brookes, dying before him the way Paul was doing even then. “We owe it to him.”

“I won’t let him die for nothing.”

“Or me,” Paul said quickly, as if he knew he had to say it, to recognize what was happening. There was no questioning it and no correcting it. “Or me,” he repeated with less urgency.

“Nor you,” Thomas answered. He could hear the sadness in his own voice, knowing by the man’s arching brow that Thomas was concurring that death was upon Paul, a man only thirty years old.

He reached up, surprising Thomas with a sudden burst of strength. “One thing more, my friend…”

“Of course,” Thomas said. “Anything.”

Paul looked up, bloodied lips bent in a sorrowful frown. “Bury me. Bury me, Thomas. Don’t just… just leave me—”

“I wouldn’t,” Thomas said. “We buried Jim, didn’t we?”

Paul nodded. “Together.”

“That’s right.”

He cracked a little smile as his voice got even weaker. “This time, I… I guess you’ll have to do the heavy lifting on … on your own.” He chuckled, then winced in pain and coughed, his body shaking.

Paul went still, whatever was inside him now freed from his mortal coil. Thomas closed his friend’s eyes for him. A cold chill passed through his body, mind, and soul. Both his partners had given their lives in their quest of wealth and glory and power. They were both good men, as far as Thomas knew. But they were dead. Death had become too familiar to Thomas, too much a part of life in the new world.

There was no escaping it, no matter how wealthy or powerful one was. Thomas would be joining his partners eventually, perhaps sooner than he’d anticipated. The Rocky Mountains were treacherous, and for a lone traveler even more so.

Whatever his fate, Thomas had to press on. He’d come too far, others had given too much, and he’d made a promise he intended to keep—though the price could be greater than all the gold in all the claims in all the mountains in all the world. None of that gold was of any use to his late partners, nor would it be to Thomas if the pattern persisted.

Before any of that, there was one more promise to keep. And while preparing to dig one grave, it struck Thomas that to leave the murderer unburied would be a sacrilege of its own. Not appreciably religious, not so much as so many others, there was still the question of decency, of respect even for the worst men. They were still men, after all.

And a reliable spade was among the equipment they’d brought in from Austin.

Thomas scanned the area, a bit too hilly for a proper grave. But there had been a glade only a mile back, and that would suffice. He loaded Paul’s body onto his horse and tied a rope to the big man’s feet so that Paul’s horse could drag him along behind.

Turning the bend of the trail behind them, Thomas was shocked to find yet another person standing before him. He drew fast, ready to kill the big man’s partner, whoever he was.

But it wasn’t a he at all. 

Thomas stayed his trigger finger at the sight of the small woman before him. Behind her was a wooden cart with a sturdy quarter horse. The cart was filled with furs, what looked to be several wolf hides, at least one black bear, and a number of beavers. There were other goods, too, a few pots and several bundles of what looked like clothing and bedding.

 

She was an Indian, Thomas could tell immediately from her sculpted features, her straight black hair, and her big, soulful eyes. Her body was shapely; womanhood had blossomed and she was in the prime of her glory. She wore a simple dress of what looked like calves’ leather, suitably soft to cling to her womanly curves, accentuating what nature had provided. She wore little fur moccasins at the bottom of long, strong legs.

The woman was unarmed, calm, simply standing in front of him and saying nothing. She made no move to avenge the big man, whom Thomas took for being two things: a fur trapper and the woman’s late husband. 

She didn’t seem upset to see the man dead, and Thomas was hardly surprised. He was well aware of how such men treated women, and how they acquired them. This young woman, hardly twenty years old by Thomas’ estimation, had likely been kidnapped and then sold to the big fur trapper, for whatever purposes he saw fit.

But his reign of terror over her was over, and she seemed to understand that. Still, she spoke nothing of it, and Thomas was struck by a certain mysterious quality to her, her appearance, her presence there, logical though it was.

He said, “You speak English?” She made no gesture one way or the other, so Thomas went on, “Name’s Scott, Thomas Scott. You got a name?” 

If she did, she wasn’t sharing it, offering only continued silence and virtual stillness.

“I’m sorry about killin’ yer man.” Again, she offered no answer. Thomas glanced back at the man, arms up and eyes staring at the sky. “I’ll give him a good Christian burial, don’t worry.”

He led Paul’s horse past the woman and her wagon, but she kept her eyes on him as he moved along. “Leave my horse be,” he added, moving on toward the glade.

But he wasn’t going there alone. 


“Divided By True Grit” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Thomas Scott is a miner venturing into the Rocky Mountains looking for gold when he loses his partner in a violent altercation. Determined to find justice, he is about to be caught in the crosshairs of ruthless enemies. Yet, when he meets a Cherokee woman in need of protection, their seemingly unrelated paths will cross in the face of even more sinister threats…

When an epic journey that tests his courage at every turn begins, can he trust the one closest to him?

Sarah Moonglow was stolen by manhunters as a teenager and sold into slavery. She winds up dedicated to Thomas, a white man like no other she has ever known. However, mining is against her ideals and she will have to change his course for a chance to be with him…

Their cultural differences are the least of their problems in the face of the great dangers ahead in their journey…

Thomas and Sarah find encouragement in the feelings that grow between them. With squatters claiming Thomas’ gold on their tail though, the unlikely pair will have to face more dangers than they can handle. Will they survive to enjoy their new connection, or are the two doomed to a horrible death in the mountains?

“Divided By True Grit” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “Divided By True Grit (Preview)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *