Following The Bandits’ Trail (Preview)

Chapter One

“I appreciate the offer, but I really have to get going. It’s almost time to put the brood mares in for the night,” Lawrence said with a wave of his hand. 

“You’re missing out. My wife makes a mean pie, I’ll have you know,” Mr. Briggs informed him. 

He had, for the third time, invited Lawrence to stay for dinner. But, as always, Lawrence declined the offer. He wanted to make sure his mares who were close to having their colts were locked in the barn for the night before dark fell. 

With the high chance of coyotes or wolves bothering the newborns, he didn’t want to risk it. Not only that, but there was a rumor in town that horse thieves were in the area, and brood mares were especially valuable to people like that—they were able to sell the animals for more than mares who weren’t pregnant. 

For the most part, the mares did a good enough job on their own protecting their offspring from predators, but there was little they could do when it came to thieves. Lawrence insisted on doing everything he could to help them. It had been a rough few years for him financially, and only just now were things starting to look up. 

“I’m sure I am, and I don’t mean any disrespect. I’ll make time soon, I promise,” Lawrence said, but Mr. Briggs laughed and shook his head. 

“No, you won’t. You have way too much on your plate to think about hanging around with a couple of old folks for the evening. Just know you’re always welcome.” 

“Thank you,” Lawrence replied. “I’ll see you soon.” 

He walked out the door with a wave of his hand, then he took his package and slid it into one of the saddlebags before climbing onto the back of his horse. He felt rude always turning down the invitation to dinner, but he was determined to stick to his guns when it came to the ranch. 

It was no secret to anyone in town that the ranch was the most important thing in his and his uncle’s lives. 

Lawrence had grown up an orphan, and his uncle had taken him in and raised him as his own. Lawrence had learned a lot from his uncle over the years, and he dreamed of the day when he would be in charge of the ranch himself. 

He wasn’t in any rush, of course, and he had an extremely close relationship with his uncle. However, he still wanted to prove he was mature enough to put the ranch before anything else in his life. 

And it would stay that way. 

He turned Patches in the direction of home, then clicked his tongue to the horse as he gave the animal a light tap in the flanks with his spurs. He wasn’t in too much of a hurry to get back out to the ranch. Leaving town now, there would be plenty of time to get back out to the ranch and put the horses away before darkness fell.

He wanted to make sure he had them put in the stable before his uncle asked about it. Uncle Hank would go out to do the chore himself, and Lawrence didn’t want that. He wanted to show his uncle he had everything under control. 

Lawrence’s mind wandered, as it often did, on his way back home. Though he was set in his mind on his choice to live out his life taking care of the ranch, there were many times as he rode between the little town of Twin Peaks and the ranch that he wondered what else was out there in the world. 

What was beyond that horizon? What other experiences were out there to have? He didn’t know, and he often thought about what it would be like to travel a bit and see. 

However, he never entertained the thoughts for long. He loved the ranch, and he loved his uncle. He wasn’t going to trade the life he knew he was born to live for something like that. He was meant to be here, and he knew that. 

He embraced it, even. 

Lawrence’s mind was brought back to the present when he realized something didn’t look quite right up ahead. From this distance from the ranch, he couldn’t make everything out for sure, but it seemed to him there weren’t any mares in the field where he expected them. 

They intentionally kept the mares who were near delivery close—close to the barn and close to the house. That made them easy to catch and corral as needed, and allowed them to supervise the mares during the day as the ranch hands worked. 

Lawrence should have been able to see at least a few of the horses by now. It would be highly unusual for them to be down near the stables this early. He always had to ride into the field to bring back a couple of the horses at night. 

But the closer he got to the property, the more he realized there wasn’t any sign of the horses anywhere. 

Immediately, a knot formed in the pit of his stomach. That meant something was wrong. Very wrong. Horses, like many of the other animals on the ranch, were habitual. They wouldn’t just decide to head back to the stables on their own. 

He urged his horse to a gallop. He had to get back to the house as quickly as possible. 

Lawrence scanned the field as his horse galloped past. From what he could see, there wasn’t anything wrong there. He didn’t see any sign of a predator or anything that might have spooked the horses. But he didn’t see any of the mares, either. There wasn’t a single one out in the field. 

There wasn’t any sign of life at all, which really concerned him. He wouldn’t likely see any of the ranch hands out unless they were gathering the horses, but that in itself would be unusual. 

While the ranch was several hundred acres, the mares he expected to see were fenced closer to the house so he could monitor them while they gave birth. Where were they?

He turned his attention skyward as he continued toward the house. Though his horse was running at a full gallop, he was comfortable enough in the saddle to keep an eye on the other things happening around him. 

He was looking for any sign of vultures or crows – any birds that might be flying around overhead indicating an animal had been killed nearby. That was the only reason he could see for the horses deciding to head back to the stable early. 

They wouldn’t want to be hanging around something that had been killed. But the sky was just as clear as it had been when he left that morning. There wasn’t anything telling him something had happened. 

That was, until he arrived at the main house. 

Across the yard was where the stables stood, and those opened to the large field where the mares had been kept. 

Several gates stood along the fence line. Some led toward the stable, some allowed people and animals to pass from the field to the open yard in front of the main house. 

It was the largest of the gates that caught Lawrence’s eye first. It had been broken and was now lying somewhat attached to the rest of the fence, but mostly flat on the ground. It wouldn’t be difficult to move horses across the fallen portion of the gate, which told Lawrence this wasn’t the act of any animal. 

Someone had clearly broken down the gate to get to the horses, and they’d not been subtle about it. They’d clearly been in a hurry. That was evident from the way the dirt was torn up close to the gate itself.

It appeared as though whoever had broken it had done so with a hammer, and they’d had every intent to break down the barrier so they could retrieve the horses from inside. 

Lawrence’s heart sank. 

Clearly, the rumors about the horse thieves were true, and his ranch had been the target that day. It was shocking to him to see that whoever was doing this was bold enough to come after his ranch. It was broad daylight, and they had been brazen enough to attack anyway.

Not to mention he and his uncle were both known around town, and whoever had done this would have to realize news like this would spread through town faster than a wildfire on the prairie. It wouldn’t matter how new they were to town, either. With how well-known the ranch was in anyone, a stranger would still appreciate its notoriety in town. 

But how?

How did they manage to pull off a robbery when the horses weren’t left alone?

His uncle had been home, and if there was one person who loved this ranch even more than Lawrence himself, it was Uncle Hank. The man had built this place from the ground up, and there was no way he’d stand by and let anyone steal any of his horses. He’d fight to the death to make sure no one took anything from him. 

“Hello to the house! Anyone around?” Lawrence called out. He yanked on the reins of his horse, jerking the animal to a stop as he cupped one of his hands against his mouth to be heard within the house itself. 

He wasn’t worried about any of the robbers still being there. It was obvious, with the way the gate was broken and the horses gone, they had gotten out of there before anyone could catch them. 

If they had managed to break through the gate and pull out the horses without his uncle hearing, they really were good at what they did. With no reason to think his uncle had left the ranch, Lawrence figured the older man must have fallen asleep or something. 

It was the only explanation that made sense. Otherwise, his uncle would have done something to keep the men from getting away with the horses.

If his uncle was around, he’d hear Lawrence and come outside to see what happened. Lawrence would then be able to understand what had happened and why he hadn’t done anything to stop the thieves from taking the mares. 

“Hello?” he called out again. 

The door remained closed, but this time, Lawrence heard a groan. 

It wasn’t loud, and he was only barely able to hear it because of where he’d stopped to turn Patches around. It was then he jerked his head back toward the gate, and for the first time, he noticed Uncle Hank lying on the ground. 

The older man was propped up slightly against the fence, hidden from sight unless someone knew he was there. His shirt was stained with blood, and his hat had fallen to the ground next to him. He’d raised one of his hands to get Lawrence’s attention, and as soon as he saw Lawrence rushing toward him, he let it fall back to the ground. 

“Uncle Hank! What happened? How bad is it?” Lawrence cried out as he ran to his uncle’s side. He didn’t have to ask whether his uncle was hurt; that was obvious from the blood covering his hands and arms, along with his soaked shirt. But just how badly he’d been hurt was another matter entirely. 

Only when he was close to his uncle did he realize Uncle Hank had also been hit in the head. He had a nasty gash just above one of his ears, and the wound was still oozing blood. 

Lawrence felt sick to his stomach at the sight of his uncle in that state. 

“What happened? I’ve got to go get you help,” he said. “I’ll fetch the doctor, just hang on.” 

He was about to run back to his horse and head back to town when Uncle Hank strained to reach up and grab Lawrence by the wrist and hold him back. The man was incredibly weak, but Lawrence didn’t fight him, stopping as his uncle struggled. 

“Wait, don’t go,” Uncle Hank hoarsely begged. “There’s no time for that.” 

“If I don’t go now, you’ll die,” Lawrence replied. He tried to remain calm as he explained the situation to his uncle, but the words caught in his throat as he spoke. Emotions rushed through him. 

Anger. Fear. Pain. 

He wanted to scream. He wanted to punch the ground until his own knuckles bled. He wanted to find the person who had done this and make them pay. But most of all, he just wanted his uncle to be okay. And Lawrence wasn’t a doctor. 

He could help fix a horse with an injury or nurse a sick animal back to health, but that was entirely different from a head injury or a gunshot wound. It was clear to him that his uncle had lost a lot of blood—more blood than Lawrence realized a body could lose and still be alive. 

That scared him. 

“It’s already too late,” his uncle informed him. “I’m not going to make it, and I don’t want to die out here alone. You’re all the family I’ve got, and I want to spend my final moments with you.” 

“Uncle, there’s time,” Lawrence begged. “Let me make the run to town. Patches has plenty left in him. He can make it there and back in minutes. Just watch.” 

“There’s no telling where the doctor is, and you’ll spend too much time looking. Trust me, Lawrence. I need you here with me. I know this isn’t easy for you, but I need you here. I need you, Lawrence. The horses. They’re gone.” Uncle Hank’s eyes rolled back into his head as he spoke, and Lawrence reached forward to help steady him. 

Uncle Hank nearly fell on his side, but Lawrence kept him steady enough he could lean against the fence once more. He didn’t look comfortable, and Lawrence hated that his uncle wasn’t letting him run for help. He was convinced that if he was just allowed to go back to town to get the doctor, everything would be okay. 

But he wouldn’t abandon his uncle. He wouldn’t be able to live with himself if he left to get the doctor and came back to find that his uncle had passed in his absence. For as much as it killed him to see his uncle in this state, he knew he had to be there to comfort his uncle as best he could. 

It was killing him, but this wasn’t about him. This was about being there for the man who had been there for him his entire life. 

“Don’t worry about the horses,” Lawrence said. “I’ll take care of that. Worry about yourself. What happened? Did you see who did this?” 

“They came from behind. I was in the middle of checking the gate here where it was weak when someone hit me in the back of the head.” Uncle Hank reached up and put his hand where he’d been hit, but Lawrence gently pulled his hand from the injury and put it back to his side. 

“I fought back. I swung at the bastard with all I had in me. I wasn’t about to let them take the horses, but they got the drop on me with a gun. I didn’t know they had a gun until I heard the shot and felt the pain in my chest. Felt like someone punched me, really. I didn’t even know I was shot until I was on the ground,” Uncle Hank explained. 

He wasn’t speaking very loudly, and it was clear to Lawrence his uncle was struggling to keep his thoughts straight. Lawrence guessed it was delirium or shock that would make his uncle act that way, but there wasn’t a thing he could do about it. 

All he could do was watch as his uncle fought for another breath, and Lawrence wanted to hunt down and kill the person responsible. It brought forth such feelings of rage in him, Lawrence hardly recognized it in himself. 

“Listen to me,” Uncle Hank finally gasped. “Listen to me, Lawrence.” 

“Yes? What is it?” he asked, leaning forward to hear his uncle speak to him, despite the fact Uncle Hank could barely add any real voice to his words. 

“You have to find the people who did this. Bring back those horses. Don’t let them get away with this crime. Don’t worry about me. Do it for what we’ve worked so hard for. Do it for the ranch. Do it for what you’ve built,” Uncle Hank told him. 

There were tears in Lawrence’s eyes as his uncle spoke. 

He wanted to tell Uncle Hank he cared about the horses, but he cared about his uncle more. The ranch was important, but the most important thing in his life was family—and Uncle Hank was his family. 

He would go after the people who had done this, but for the purpose of avenging his uncle. Lawrence wouldn’t rest until he made sure those people were brought back and locked up. Hell, if he had his way, they would hang for what they had done to Uncle Hank. 

Uncle Hank gasped and tried to continue, but Lawrence hushed him, putting a finger to his lips and telling him to lie back and relax. 

“I’ll take care of this, Uncle, I promise,” he swore. “They’re not getting away with this. I’ll bring all the horses back. And I’ll make sure they pay for this with the rest of their lives.” 

As he spoke, he watched as Uncle Hank took his last breath, and when his uncle’s chest fell for the last time, Lawrence felt a tightness in his own chest unlike anything he’d experienced before. 

“More than anything, I’ll avenge you,” he said after his uncle had passed. 

He angrily dragged his sleeve across his eyes as he spoke. Lawrence had seen a lot of death in his life, and his uncle had always told him there was no need to shed a tear for it. 

But this was the first time he’d ever lost a person he loved—that he could remember, anyway. He had been too young when his parents died, and since then it had been just him and his uncle. 

He allowed himself to shed a few tears now, breathing hatred against those who had taken his uncle from him. The horses were bad enough, but to rob him of the only person in his life he called family was too far. He promised his uncle aloud he would get revenge—and told him just what he wanted to do to those people to get that revenge, too. 

It wasn’t anything he could say while Uncle Hank could hear him; Lawrence knew his uncle wouldn’t approve and would tell him to forgive those people for what they’d done. But that was just the way Uncle Hank lived his life. 

He would forgive anyone for the hurt they did against him personally, but he would make sure anyone who came against Hank or the ranch paid for it. Lawrence, on the other hand, was far more worried about getting revenge than he was about the horses. 

Whoever had done this would pay for it, one way or another. He didn’t care if he was the one who had to personally hunt them down and make them pay, or if he had to bring them in and let the justice system take over. 

Whatever happened, he vowed as he sat with the body of his uncle that he wasn’t about to let another day pass without him working to find these people. He didn’t care if he had to follow them to the ends of the earth. 

He would go after them with such vengeance they’d never be able to shake him. Like the avenging angel, he’d never stop until they paid. 

Someone had to pay. 

Chapter 2


The rough scratching of the razor was the only sound in the room. 

The clang on the bowl felt a little too loud after Lawrence rinsed the blade and tapped it on the side of his washbasin. 

He looked in the mirror. Though Uncle Hank had only ever grown a mustache, Lawrence could grow a full beard in a few days if he didn’t keep shaving, but he didn’t like the feeling of all that hair when he was riding out on the range. 

It was too hot and too itchy, so he often shaved his face clean in the mornings—something his uncle often teased him about. But this morning, the house was deathly quiet. 

Lawrence heard the distant sound of thunder. It was rare to have a thunderstorm first thing in the morning, but it wasn’t unheard of, and rain seemed fitting for the day ahead of him. 

The sun hadn’t yet risen, but the predawn gray had settled over the landscape. It was darker than normal considering the cloud cover, and Lawrence was glad for that. 

He didn’t want a bright and cheerful morning with the way he was feeling. He had lost everything the night before. 

His uncle had meant the world to him, and though he’d often gone above and beyond what was asked to show his uncle he could take care of the ranch on his own, and he knew the day would come when he was the person in charge of the ranch, he still hated the thought of his uncle not being there. 

Whenever Lawrence thought about being the one in charge, he never thought it would be because of his uncle’s passing. He’d just assumed it would be when Uncle Hank got too old to handle things on his own, and Lawrence naturally would be the one to take charge of the place. 

He figured the two of them would continue to work together, but they would take on different roles. His uncle dying was never in the picture, and Lawrence wasn’t sure how to think of life without Uncle Hank there to guide him or offer advice. 

The house was too big and too lonely without his uncle, and the fact that he’d let all the ranch hands go the night before contributed to the eerie silence. He’d made their lives harder by abruptly letting them go like that, but he was distraught over what had happened, and it was the only way he could think to act at the time. 

Lawrence was angry. 

It was wrong to be angry with the three men who had been hired to work on the ranch, just like it was wrong for him to be angry with the two women who worked as housekeepers in the large home. 

It wasn’t their fault his uncle had been out there alone when he was attacked. They had their own duties that took them away from where the crime had happened, so he couldn’t blame them for his uncle’s death. The two women had been around the back of the house, hanging laundry in the garden. 

While they were the most likely to have seen him either during or directly following the attack, they were too far away from that part of the yard to hear what was going on. And with no reason to check on the horses, neither woman had even considered going around to the front of the house. 

Lawrence refused to let his emotions get in the way and blame anyone for what had happened except for those who were directly responsible. They were the people who had to answer for this. They were the ones who had to pay. 

The ranch hands and the housekeepers were all torn up about what happened, and they understood why Lawrence had to let them go. It wasn’t ideal for any of them, but with the money Lawrence gave them to live on while they found more work, no one left with any hard feelings. 

They just had a lot of questions of their own. 

But he also didn’t talk to any of them about what had happened, nor did he say much about anything else when he told them the night before he would be changing the way he did things on the ranch and gave them each their last paychecks. 

He’d made it clear to them that he didn’t blame them for what happened to Uncle Hank, but he also didn’t know what direction he was about to take with the ranch, and it was best to let each of them move on and find other work than to keep them on and have to let them go later. 

Considering the circumstances, they had all been gracious, accepting their final pay and leaving the ranch, but it hadn’t taken long for the loneliness to set in. Not that Lawrence regretted letting any of them go, but he felt the size of the house a lot more than ever before. 

And this morning, he had a tedious task ahead of him. 

The night before had been hellish for Lawrence. He didn’t know how to cope with all the grief rushing through him, and he couldn’t bear the thought of putting his uncle in the ground. 

But this morning, it was a job that needed doing, and he was the only person he felt was right for the job. He had been close with Uncle Hank, after all, and he didn’t want to hand over this final act to anyone else. 

His uncle, of course, had been a popular person in town. Everyone knew Uncle Hank, and there wasn’t a soul in town who didn’t like him. He was kind to everyone and always had a good story to share to make anyone laugh and brighten everyone’s day. 

Anyone tasked with the job of burying him would do it with the utmost respect, but that wasn’t the problem. 

There would be a lot of commotion once the news broke. Not only was his uncle dead, but seven of his horses had been stolen. He would go straight to the sheriff and bring anyone the sheriff wanted out to the ranch to make sure no evidence was overlooked. 

He didn’t want his uncle to be part of that. 

Lawrence didn’t care that his uncle had been part of the crime. He didn’t want anything having to do with Uncle Hank himself to be considered evidence in anything. His uncle was far more than that. He was one of the kindest men Lawrence had ever known, and he would make sure his uncle was laid to rest as a good man and only a good man—not evidence in some case. 

After he’d finished readying himself for the day, Lawrence pulled on his trench coat and headed out to the barn. He had carefully wrapped his uncle in two of the horse blankets the night before and had left the body where it wouldn’t be disturbed. 

Now, Lawrence took a shovel and a pickaxe with him out to the yard around the back of the house. He knew the exact place he wanted to lay his uncle. 

There was a large oak tree near the small creek. It was close to the bridge where Uncle Hank had taught Lawrence to fish when he was just a boy, and it had become one of their favorite places to spend time together. 

Lawrence had many fond memories of that part of the yard, and he felt it was the perfect spot to lay his uncle to rest. With time, the pain would fade, and he could come to find peace when he saw the grave here. It wouldn’t happen overnight, but it would happen. 

And he would be glad when it did.

“Following The Bandits’ Trail” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When Lawrence Martin sets out to catch the bandits who killed his uncle and destroyed his town, he has no idea what he’s up against. Joining forces with Kevin, an unlikely ally, he sets out on a mission to get justice for himself and his loved ones. But as the chase unfolds, he realizes that catching these criminals is going to be much harder than he thought…

Will Lawrence keep his sense of justice and honor when confronted with such savage brutality?

Meanwhile, Kevin Hardy is a brave man on his own mission; to find the love of his life, Sue. Her move to the West left Kevin heartbroken, unable to get her out of his mind. As he searches across the West to find her, Kevin must deal with dangerous bandits and harsh elements that will test his determination and force him to give up…

Is reaching her worth all the sweat, blood, and lives lost?

As Lawrence and Kevin head west into the unforgiving frontier, they must work together to catch the bandits and find Sue. Faced with danger at every turn, it’s going to take all their courage and strength to make it out alive. Will they succeed in this perilous, or will everything they sacrificed be for nothing?

“Following The Bandits’ Trail” 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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