The Ghosts of an Outlaw’s Past (Preview)

Arizona Territory, 1875

 August frowned at the image in the distance. It was barely discernible against the shimmer of heat that rose above the cracked dust of the Arizona desert, but it was clear enough that he could tell it was a horse and rider. 

He rubbed his eyes and looked again. The image was still there.

August wasnt the only person to have seen it. Blake Curtis, the leader of the Arizona Cowboys, peered ahead. 

Whos that?” he asked. Marshal?”

August shook his head. No, I dont think so. They would ride in a troop, not alone. Could be the sheriff, but I doubt that, too. Hed bring a posse.”

Well, whoever it is, they aint one of us,” Blake said, drawing his handgun and pulling back the hammer.

August placed a hand over his. Lets not add murder to the bank robbery charges.”

Blake glared at him but agreed,I wont shoot him if I dont have to.”

The rider drew closer, and August’s eyes widened when he saw it was a woman and not a man.

She saw them when she was about a hundred yards off and pulled her horse to a stop. A lone woman was an easy target for the gangs that roamed Arizona Territory, and the leers on the faces of Blake and the others near him told August that she was right to be afraid.

Ride on, he pleaded silently. Ride away. Theres nothing for you here.

The woman looked behind her and evidently decided that whatever she was running from was worse than what she was running to. She snapped her reins and rode on toward the waiting gang.

Whoo-ee, would you look at that?” Caleb said to Blake. We got ourselves an early Christmas present!”

Who said you were getting any?” Blake said, shoving him playfully. I saw her first.”

I saw her first,” August reminded him, forcing a hard look onto his face. I get her first. If you boys want any, youll have to wait in line.”

It sickened him to talk about the woman like that, but if he could get them to accept that he had first call, maybe he could get her away before the others hurt her.

Blake narrowed his eyes but acknowledged, Well, all right. I suppose you did spot her first. Dont hurt her too badly, though.” He grinned again. I want her to have some fight left when its my turn.”

Stomach twisting, August managed to put a smile on his face. Ill make sure shes still kicking,” he promised.

The girl pulled her horse to a stop in front of the gang. The others were gathering to see what the fuss was about, and soon, the poor girl was surrounded. August could see the fear in her eyes and wondered again what could possibly have frightened her more than the thought of being at the mercy of a gang of outlaws.

Well, well,” Blake said, smiling up at the young woman. What do we have here?”

He held a hand out to help the young woman dismount, but the girl, thankfully, remained atop her horse. My names Hattie Harrison. Im on the run from my betrothed.”

The gang exchanged glances. Augusts lips thinned. If there was one thing the gang loved more than women, it was money. And a woman on the run from her fiancé meant one thing: ransom.

Your betrothed? Well, now. Thats not very ladylike, is it? Leaving a poor man behind when hes on the cusp of lifelong happiness,” Blake said. His eyes traveled lecherously up and down the girls body. And what a happy man he would be.”

Hatties eyes flashed. He is not a man who deserves happiness, and I will not surrender the rest of my life to the lechery of an old, violent drunk.”

That so?” Blake lifted an eyebrow.

Caleb and a few other gangsters walked casually around the girl’s horse, fencing her in. Her eyes flitted back and forth between the outlaws, and August could see tension come to her shoulders as she realized the danger she was putting herself in.

Were not heroes,” August said, hoping to curtail the gangs intentions before they had a chance to fulfill them. You had best be on your way.”

Blake flashed a dirty look at him. Well, thats not polite, is it? Sending the young lady away all alone where anyone could find her—and do what they will with her?” The outlaws snickered and Hattie paled. Heres what well do,” Blake said, his voice hard. Well take Miss Hattie Harrison here back where she came from. Im sure her fiancé will be overjoyed to see his lost love again. Maybe overjoyed enough to pay us for our trouble.”

No,” Hattie said, shaking her head. Please. You cant do that!”

Get off the horse,” Blake ordered.And be nice.” His grin returned. Unless youd like us to be your new husbands.”

Yeah,” Caleb agreed, sliding his hand toward the hem of her skirt. She cried out and jerked back, and he laughed, his gap-toothed smile reminding August of the alligators he had seen as a youth in Mississippi. Well be real nice to her, wont we, August?”

August looked around at his brothers, men hed ridden with for years. He turned his gaze up toward Hattie. The young womans eyes were wide with fright, but more powerful than her fright was the resignation in her eyes, the despair.

He made his decision. When I mount up behind you, just ride west.”

Blake turned to him with a frown. What the hell—”

Augusts fist crashed into the side of his head. Blake fell to the ground in a heap and August leaped up behind Hattie, drawing his weapon and firing twice into the air. The outlaws scattered and Hattie spurred his horse. August fired two more shots behind him, then leaned forward and reached around Hatties waist to grab the pommel of the saddle. 

Hatties body was warm and soft next to his, but he pushed that thought from his mind and kept his eyes peeled for danger as they rode to safety.

Chapter One

Telluride, Colorado, Ten Years Later

Hattie smiled and filled Davids mug. The grizzled miner grinned up at her. Thankee kindly, Miss Hattie. You must be an angel sent to bless us poor, hardworking men.”

Not an angel, Mr. Cooper. Just a woman.”

Aint no difference to me,” he said, laying a coin on the counter for his drink, then another for a tip.

Hattie smiled gratefully as she took the coins and placed them in the cash register. A cry of raucous laughter carried over the bar from where Hank was regaling another group of miners with one of his tall tales. She rolled her eyes and shook her head, but she smiled as well. Hank had the best stories Hattie had ever heard. Some of them might even be true.

Well, I looked that cowboy right in his eye, and I said, Boy, I dont care how many of you there are. Ill have you strung up like sausages before Im done with you.’”

You aint never said that,” one of the miners challenged. Youre spinnina yarn.”

Maybe I am, maybe I aint,” Hank said sagely. All Im sayinis that the Dalton gang never bothered the people of Pueblo again.”

Dalton? You mean Cliff Dalton? Out Kansas way?”

Hank cast an irritated look at the miner whod spoken. Might be,” he said.I didnt stop to ask his first name.”

While the miners bickered good-naturedly over the veracity of Hanks story, Hattie helped the next group of men who walked in. Ten minutes and half a dozen beers later, she deposited more money into the register and smiled around at the crowded saloon.

Who would have thought Hattie Harrison would be a saloonkeeper one day? Then again, who would have thought she would be Hattie Harrison?

A touch of cold crept into her mind, but she pushed it away. She was Hattie Harrison, the saloonkeeper of Telluride, Colorado, favorite angel of the miners and hardworking, independent woman. That was the present, and that was the future. The past was better left where it belonged.

Well, Miss Hattie,” Hank said, approaching with a smile, looks like another successful night.” The burly bartender looked fearsome with his bulging muscles and scarred face, but underneath the fierce exterior was the heart of a teddy bear.

Hattie smiled at him. So it is. Seems like the mines yielding again.”

Just enough, Miss Hattie, just enough,” he agreed.

Well, as my father used to say, Enough is enough.’”

Hank burst into laughter, a deep, booming sound that attracted the attention of another group of miners who catcalled Hank and launched good-natured jeers his way. Hank gleefully returned the insults, pouring himself a beer and starting toward the group.

The doors to the saloon swung open and the crowd quieted. Hattie frowned. Most of the men in town were in the saloon already, save the teetotalers. Who could be…

Her heart leaped to her throat when she saw the men who walked in. They looked familiar, and anyone who looked familiar to her was bound to be bad news.

There were two of them, one around Hatties age with a youthful appearance and a slightly nervous expression. He was slighter of build than his companion and moved with the lithe grace of a cat. He wore his gun low on his hip, his hand hanging like a coiled spring above the butt.

The other man was older than Hattie. He had a few daysgrowth of stubble and a scar on his left ear that ran down his jaw nearly to his chin. He looked at Hattie, and when their eyes met, her knees grew weak. He grinned at her and tipped his hat, his hard eyes boring into hers.

The two men sidled up to the bar and Hattie tore her eyes away from the newcomers and wiped the counter with the rag tucked in her apron. The miners returned cautiously to their conversations, though they kept their volume low and cast a watchful eye on the strangers.

Evenin, maam,” the older stranger spoke. My names Blake and this heres my associate, Wyatt. Weve been on the trail all day, and were wondering if you could see it in your heart to spot us each a whiskey.”

I can pay—” Wyatt began but stopped when Blake held up a hand.

Blake. Where had Hattie heard that name before?

She forced herself to meet his eyes and replied, I have a policy here that a mans first drink is free. After that, he pays. That work for you, mister?”

That works fine, Miss…?”

Hattie hesitated but couldnt think of a reason not to answer his question truthfully. Hattie. Hattie Harrison.”

Blake smiled. Miss Hattie. Thank you.”

She forced a smile of her own and poured the drinks, aware of Blakes eyes on her. His head was cocked to the side as though he too was trying to decide if he knew her.

Where had she heard that name before?

She returned with the drinks and set them in front of the two strangers. Wyatt smiled and thanked her, then sipped gratefully. Blake downed his shot in one gulp and set the glass on the counter. He pulled a bag of coins from his pocket and set two on the counter. 

He grinned at Hattie. Make the next one a double.”

As Hattie poured the drink, she said, So, I havent seen you two here before. You staying for long or just passing through?”

Oh, were here to stay,” Blake replied. Wyatt and I, were with the new management.”

New management?” Hattie asked, placing the refill in front of him.

Thats right,” he said.Ulysses Duke bought the mine from Lance Freeland.”

The world fell away from Hattie. She grabbed the edge of the counter again and used every ounce of her willpower to keep from trembling. Even so, she wasnt entirely successful. Her knees were shaking under her apron.

Ulysses Duke?”

Thats right,” Blake replied. Hes a businessman out Kansas way. Well, originally from Kansas. Hes got land in Arizona Territory and Texas, too. Not that that matters to you folk. What matters to you is hes the new owner of the Telluride mine.”

Hattie fought to keep her voice steady. And where is Mr. Duke?”

Hell be along. He has some business back East to attend to, but hell be here as soon as thats taken care of. In the meantime, hes sent me and my crew to run things.”

Hattie tried to process what she was hearing. It seemed surreal, almost unbelievable. Ulysses Duke? Here? Could he have found her?

No, if he had, he would have come himself, not sent a lackey to fetch her. True, she hadnt given Blake her real name—her old name, she reminded herself—but if he had been sent for her, he would have asked for her by that name.

Say, youre a pretty one, aint you,” Blake offered, eyes traveling over her lasciviously. Is there a Mr. Hattie somewhere I need to worry about?”

Have the miners been told theres a new owner?” Hattie asked.

Oh,” Blake said, as though only just thinking of that. Well, thats a good point. Someone oughta tell ’em.”

Well,” Hattie suggested, theyre right here. You can tell them now.”

She expected Blake to demur rather than risk a confrontation with four dozen drunk miners, but she was wrong. He downed the double with no more effort than that with which hed drunk the single, then slammed the glass on the bar and turned to the crowd. Everyone, listen up!”

The gathered miners quieted. Hank stood and headed casually back behind the bar, regarding the strangers warily. Blake noticed the movement and cast a hard gaze at him.

Hattie felt the ghost of a memory playing at the back of her mind. She reached for it, but it fled from her grasp.

Blake addressed the crowd. Were here representing Ulysses Duke. Hes the new owner of the Telluride Gold Mine.”

The crowd erupted into cries of shock and indignation.

New owner?” one miner called.

What are you talking about? Lance Freeland owns the Telluride mine.”

Lance Freeland is retired,” Blake replied.Ulysses Duke is the new law here.”

Now wait a damned minute,” David Cooper said, standing and approaching the newcomers, a glare on his face. Blake watched him approach with a grin, seeming to enjoy the outcry his announcement was causing. Lance Freeland wouldnt sell the mine out from under us without telling us. Hes been a friend to this town for as long as its existed.”

And now hes enjoying a long, happy retirement in California. Ulysses Duke had some business matters to attend to, so he sent us here to take over until he can come and handle things himself.”

How do we know you aint a liar?” David said, jutting his chin out.

Blake took the accusation in stride. You can send a telegram to the chamber of commerce in Denver to confirm the news. Theyll be happy to tell you Im right. Now, if you do that, it might get back to Mr. Duke that his new employees dont trust him. That might break poor Mr. Dukes heart. Might make him think you dont want to work for him and maybe he should find other people to handle the mine.”

So now youre threatening our jobs?” David said, stepping closer to Blake.

David,” Hattie called. No fighting in my saloon.”

Davids jaw tightened, but he kept his hands at his side.

Im telling you who your new boss is,” Blake said. Its up to you if you keep your jobs.”

I want to talk to Lance,” another miner said.

Yeah,” a third called. We want to talk to Lance.”

Lance is retired,” Blake repeated, his smile disappearing. You have any questions, you can talk to me.”

I aint talking to some dog whos run away from his master,” David replied. You tell Ulysses Duke that if he wants this mine, he can come here himself and take it like a man.”

Hatties knees grew weak, and she grabbed at the bar to steady herself. David, why dont we let these two men alone for now, and we can get this sorted in the morning? Ill go to the post office and send a telegram to Lance and the chamber of commerce. Im sure well get this resolved without any trouble.”

Blake turned to David. Better listen to your woman, boy.”

Davids eyes narrowed. David—” Hattie warned.

Too late. Davids fist crashed into Blakes jaw, sending the stranger to the ground. Wyatts return shot flew toward David like a rifle bullet. When the miner fell back into a table, instantly, the other men got to their feet and rushed the strangers. Wyatt looked toward the exit as he helped Blake to his feet, but a dozen miners blocked the door as several more laid into the two men, fists swinging.

Hank!” Hattie called.

The big man was already moving, tossing men to the side like sacks of flour as he made his way to the beleaguered strangers. Blake was snarling and cursing as he shoved and bit and punched at the crowd. His hand dropped to his handgun, and he cried out in pain as Hank covered his hand and squeezed. 

Leave that gun right where it is,” Hank said, his voice low and dark. Louder, he said, The rest of you, back off! This is Miss Hatties bar, and I wont have a bunch of ruffians tearing it to pieces!”

Wyatt sighed with evident relief as three miners reluctantly released their grip on his neck and arms. Blake glared at Hank, but the bartender was easily twice his size. He lifted the hand Hank wasnt squeezing into the air in a placatory gesture.

Your hand comes anywhere near that handgun again, Ill rip it off,” Hank promised. You understand me, mister?”

You want to call off your dog, Miss Hattie?” Blake asked drily, his eyes never leaving Hanks.

I want you and your friend out of my bar,” Hattie replied, crossing her arms and forcing sternness into her gaze despite the fearful pounding in her heart. Next time you have something to say to people, you ask permission first. Youre new here. Remember that.”

Blake smiled at her, but his eyes were black pits. Ill remember, Miss Hattie.”

Hank, will you escort these men out of the saloon?” Hattie asked.

Sure thing, Miss Hattie,” Hank replied.

He placed one hand on the back of Blakes neck and the other on Wyatts. Both men chose wisely not to resist as he led them to the door and then released them. Blake stopped and turned back to the bar, his hand drifting toward his weapon. Hattie pulled the Colt revolving shotgun from behind the bar and tossed it to Hank, who caught it one-handed and pulled back the hammer. 

Blake chuckled and lifted his hands again. Well be back,” he said. Things are going to be different around here. You all best get used to it.”

Hank released the hammer but held onto the shotgun until the strangers mounted their horses and rode off. Hattie waited until their hoofbeats died out before turning to the gathered miners.

Yall go on about your business. Nothing will change overnight. Youll go to work the next morning, same as any other day. Well figure out this business with U—” She hesitated, unable to bring herself to say his name. With the new owner tomorrow.”

The miners grumbled and returned to their drinks. The conversation remained subdued as the men abandoned their frivolity for concern over what the arrival of these strangers and their mysterious benefactor meant for them.

Hattie feared she knew the answer to that question already. She wasnt sure how she remembered Blake, but she knew all too well who Ulysses Duke was and what he was capable of.

Not just to the miners.

Its been ten years, she told herself. You dont look like the girl you once were. He wont know its you.

Miss Hattie?”

Hattie jumped and Hank stepped back, chagrined. Sorry, Miss Hattie. I was just asking if you wanted me to run to the sheriff?”

She nodded. Yes, I think that would be best. Thank you, Hank.”

Hank handed her the shotgun. She took it, the weight of the weapon providing some measure of comfort.

The knowledge that soon August Flint would be aware of the strangers provided far more. She smiled softly as she thought of her friend. He had saved her from danger once before. He would do it again.

David approached Hattie, a sour expression on his face. His left eye was already swelling up and there was a scratch on the right side from where he had been knocked down onto a table. You believe this?” he asked Hattie. Who the hell are these people to take our mine from us?”

Thats a question youll have to ask Lance Freeland,” Hattie replied, not wanting to get involved in an argument right now.

Theyre saying Lance is gone to California,” David said. You think theyre telling the truth?”

Hattie suppressed a shiver. The truth was that she thought Lance Freeland was likely in an unmarked grave somewhere outside of town, but she didnt want to say that. I think you should do what Blake said and send a telegram to Denver. If Blake is lying, well find out, and then we can bring the marshals in to run them out.”

We need the marshals for two men? Why cant Sheriff Flint handle this? Hell, if its a posse he needs, Ill ride with him.”

What I need,” Hattie said, pouring another whiskey, is for you to calm down and tell all of your friends to calm down, too.” She slid the drink across to him. We arent going to get anywhere stirring up trouble. Hanks gone for Sheriff Flint to tell him what just happened. Well see whats the truth first, and then well go from there.”

David glared at the door. Those boys had better hope theyre lying. If I find out that some strangers trying to take my mine from me, theyll have hell to pay.”

Not just your mine, David,” Hattie reminded him. Everyones mine. And if you go crazy and start looking for fights, then a lot of people are going to get hurt. So calm down, drink your whiskey, and think about your friends and neighbors.”

His glare softened, and after a moment, he lowered his eyes. He drank his whiskey and managed a thin smile before returning to the table where his friends—each sporting their own bruises—were setting up the card game that Blake and Wyatt had interrupted.

Hattie went about her business, refilling drinks and wiping down counters, occasionally stopping to chat with other disgruntled miners worried about the arrival of the strangers. If only they knew how worried they should be.

Ulysses was coming. Had he found her? Was he still looking for her? The question seemed almost absurd with so much time passing since she had run from him, but unless Ulysses had changed radically in the past ten years, he was the kind of man who held a grudge.

And he was vicious when people defied him.

David was a decent sort of man but given to temper as tonight had shown. If he lost control of himself in front of Ulysses, it could end very badly for him—and not just him.

And what of her? What of August? What would they do if UIysses did recognize her?

What if he wanted her back?

The night was uncharacteristically warm, but Hattie shivered.

“The Ghosts of an Outlaw’s Past” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

August Flint is a former outlaw who wants nothing more than a quiet life in a peaceful place. He forsakes his past and relocates with his companion, Hattie, to Telluride, Colorado, a realm where the sun-kissed streets seem to promise redemption. There, he accepts the position of sheriff, believing this to be a sign that he’s finally become the person he’s meant to be. However, a ghost from his past threatens to overturn everything he’s worked for.

He wonders if he should have kept running…

Hattie Harrison has also left her former life behind. She isn’t running from her own crimes, though, but from the crimes of her former betrothed, Ulysses Duke. Now, with August by her side, hope kindles in her heart that she can finally live a life free from the torment she’s left behind. But as their love blossoms, a figure from her past life shrouded in mystery and malice reemerges with a claim to the town’s lifeblood.

If Hattie’s identity is revealed, her life is over…

August and Hattie can either confront the demons of their past or leave behind everything they’ve worked so hard to build. As they fight, they must also confront their own feelings for each other and the fear that has kept them from truly embracing the future they both want. Can they defy the malevolent forces that seek to dominate their lives and finally forge their own paths?

“The Ghosts of an Outlaw’s Past” 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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