A Gunslinger’s Deadly Draw (Preview)

“Jack! Jack!”

“Frankie!” he yelled. “Where are you?” 

His name resonated on the walls around him. The house he was in was abandoned, and the only other person inside was Frankie Doolan, his best mate, companion, and fellow ruffian. Frankie and Jack had begun traveling in late ’86 and now it was ten years later, approaching the new century. 

At that moment, though, the only thing on his mind was finding his friend and rescuing him from whatever evil clutches he was caught in. He pushed himself from where he was sitting in a corner, having slid there to avoid getting hit by any of the number of bullets popping new holes in the wooden walls of the abandoned house.

He raced to the door of the room he was in and let himself out into the foyer. With his eyes on the front windows and entry, he crossed to the other side and hurried down the hall to the kitchen. Scuffling sounded from the other side.

He went in through the open door and halted, the sight in front of him taking him by surprise. Frankie was there with two bandits, both of whom were beating him profusely. 

“Stop that!” Jack shrieked angrily. “Stop that! Stop or I’ll shoot you here and now!”

He’d already pulled out his gun, cocked it, and aimed at one of the men, the one currently holding Frankie’s arms so he couldn’t fight against the other bandit as he pummeled Frankie’s body. The man in front of him twisted his upper body and glared at Jack, daring him with his eyes.

Jack didn’t need to be dared. He’d shot many men, some innocent of any charges. He’d been on both sides of the law, doling out justice where it was needed as well as taking revenge on those who had wronged him. At thirty-two years of age, Jack had only one friend in the world, and that was Frankie.

He watched in horror as the bandit in front of Frankie grinned wickedly, exposing yellow, crooked teeth. The man turned back to Frankie and drew the sharp knife he was holding in his hand across Jack’s friend’s throat. 

Jack pulled the trigger, ending the life of the man who had slit his friend’s throat. The bandit fell to the floor, landing on Frankie, who had crumpled to the ground, both hands around his throat. The man behind him had released him the moment he saw Jack, turning tail and running out the door. 

Jack ran to Frankie, grabbing the back of the bandit’s vest and dragging him off his friend. He tossed him to the side and knelt by Frankie, looking around in a panic for something to stop the blood from pouring from the wound in his friend’s neck.

“Frankie. Stay with me. Stay with me. I’ll get something…” He saw nothing that could help to stop the blood flow, so he pulled off his vest as quickly as possible, ripping his shirt off so that the buttons went flying. He kept on his undershirt and wrapped the fabric of his flannel shirt around Frankie’s neck.

Jack had watched a lot of men die. Some from simple gunshot wounds, others from complicated injuries. Watching Frankie’s life drain from his eyes was a new experience. 

This was his only friend. No one else in the world cared about Jack McQueen. Part of that was his own fault and he knew it. Regardless, he was struggling to hold himself together, watching his one and only friend move on to the other side. 

“We’ve done a lot together, Frankie,” he murmured, pulling his friend close to him, despite the blood, despite the sounds of death ringing in his ears. “I’ll never forget you. Thanks for being my friend. Thank you. Thank you.” 

He closed his eyes and clenched his jaw, gripping onto Frankie with all he had, even after the man’s body relaxed when he expired. 

He wasn’t going to cry. He wasn’t going to let himself cry. Not right now. Not here. 

Despite himself, the tears did come. It was senseless that Frankie had had to die here. The bandits that had killed his friend were only taking revenge for losing fifty dollars at the poker table four hours earlier. 

He moved gently, resting Frankie’s body to the side, making sure the bandit who had killed him wasn’t touching his friend in any way. He couldn’t bring himself to look at Frankie’s face. Frankie had been looking at his thirtieth birthday that year. They had made no plans to stop their crusade across the country, stopping wherever they wanted, selling their gunslinging skills for good amounts of cash that they used to fund their travels. He’d been a gun-for-hire and worked as a deputy in another town. 

They’d lived such a carefree life. Not worried about anyone or anything but themselves. 

Some of the men they’d killed for money had families. He knew that. Children. A wife. Parents. But he’d never cared before. He’d just wanted the money. 

Shame and guilt overwhelmed him. 

Frankie was dead because of fifty dollars. If they’d known this would happen, they would have just given the money back. Pride had gotten in the way, and now Frankie was dead.

Fifty dollars.

Jack sat against the wall, scooting around his friend and leaning his head back. When he closed his hazel eyes, his tears drained down into his ears, soaking his sandy blond hair. He rested one hand over his eyes, his shoulders jerking as he sobbed.

 

He’d lost his friend over fifty dollars. He couldn’t think of anything more ridiculous. But he would avenge his friend. Somehow. Someday.

Chapter One

The sign was grand and obviously hand-crafted. The words were engraved deep in a swooping oval wooden sign: Brentwood Bushes Ranch. Jack had never heard of it before.

That wasn’t surprising. He’d never heard of the nearby town of Rusty Spike either. But it was there, and he was only two miles away from the first building in the small mining town. Several neighborhoods stretched out from the main square, and he was approaching one of them. The neighborhood to the east of the town center consisted of four very large homes—two stories, each of them, with large front yards that had circular dirt paths to take one to and from the house conveniently. 

He stopped at the top of a hill and looked down at the two on the right and the two on the left. Which one would he go to? Which one seemed the most receptive, from a totally clueless point of view?

His eyes settled on the first to the left. In the garden beyond the house, he could see a woman kneeling in the garden. She seemed to be hard at work, her hands digging feverishly in the dirt. There was something about that woman… she intrigued him from afar. 

Jack took that as a sign he needed to visit that particular house. He wanted to know who the woman was, and he had never been the type of man who did things in a roundabout way. He was upfront, honest to a brutal point, filtering his words and deeds only when absolutely necessary. He knew how to speak bluntly but tactfully when respect was required. 

Maybe she was alone. The kind of woman who could handle a big house like that. Someone like the Queen of England. Or at least someone with that countenance. Probably left the house and land by a deceased husband or maybe a father who’d had no sons.

He imagined all sorts of scenarios as he rode down the slanted hill to the pathway leading to the big, white house Jack was interested in visiting. It was two stories with a third on top, only in the middle, making it look like a candle on a cake. He surmised it was one room, formed like a lighthouse so anyone in that room could see for miles and miles around the house. 

Unique, he thought, and very stylish. 

He dismounted in front of the house, leaving his horse’s reins dangling as he went up the steps to the door. He removed his hat and looked to the left and right. The porch furniture was white, iron, and looked fairly new. The door was red, a deep red that stood out from the white-washed exterior walls around him. 

He lifted one gloved fist and knocked on the door, stepping back and clutching his hat in front of him in both hands. He waited a few minutes and was about to knock again when the door was abruptly pulled open. 

Jack expected to see a dirt-covered woman dressed in gardening clothes. But it wasn’t her. She wouldn’t have had time to get to the door, nor would she have likely heard it. Still, the woman in front of Jack could have been her, if she’d been dressed the same and was a bit slimmer.

A man came up right behind the woman, staring over her head at him. He pulled the woman out of the way and stretched a hand out to Jack.

“Alan Brentwood,” he said. He was probably ten years older than Jack with dark gray eyes that flashed with a sadness Jack didn’t understand. Maybe someday he would, if the two men were to make friends.

Jack took the man’s hand and shook it. “Jack McQueen. Just a traveler looking for some temporary shelter, some food, and maybe a bath, if you’re so inclined to offer.”

Alan stepped back, running one hand through his salt-and-pepper hair to make it stop swinging in front of his eyes. As soon as his fingers released it, though, the locks of hair fell right back where they’d been. 

He looked down at the woman. “This is my wife, Laura. What do you think, my dear? Shall we offer this man a chance to clean up and have a meal with us?”

Laura smiled at him, making Jack feel comfortable immediately. She put out her hand and he took it, impressed with her grip. “It’s nice to meet you, Jack. You can come in and relax for a night or two, if you like. We have plenty of room and only a few people living here. I can’t imagine how many children Alan’s parents thought they were going to have, building a house this big.”

As she spoke, she kept a firm hold on his hand and pulled him into the foyer. He was further impressed with the interior of the home and felt at ease the moment he stepped inside. 

“What would you like to do first?” Alan asked. 

“I’m sure he’d like to clean up, wouldn’t you, sir?” Laura responded to her husband’s question in a gentle voice. She was looking at Jack. 

He had a feeling he’d chosen the exact right house to stop at. There was no chance the other three houses were as inviting as this one. He’d never met anyone who trusted him as soon as they laid eyes on him. 

Jack’s old lifestyle taunted him as he eyed the luxury around him. In his youth, he’d have been counting in his head all the money he could get for just a few of these items. But he was grown now. All he wanted to do since losing Frankie four months ago was to live his life in peace.

He wasn’t sure how to do that, but maybe this family could help him. 

“I’ll take you to the bathing room and help you prepare the tub,” Laura said. “I’ve got some good soaps, some with perfume in them if you want to smell nice.”

Jack blushed, unwillingly, shaking his head. “I… I don’t care about that.”

“The ladies will,” Alan said with a laugh. “You won’t regret it. Give them a try. Just make sure you smell it first before you cover your body or you’ll end up smelling like roses. Unless you like that smell.”

Jack moved his eyes between the two of them and when they laughed, he did, too. What a stroke of luck stumbling on the Brentwood Bushes Ranch.

“I noticed a woman outside in the garden,” Jack said, “as I was coming to town down that path. Is she your twin sister? The resemblance is uncanny.”

Laura laughed, glancing at her husband, who looked back at her as if they’d had this conversation before. “Yes, that’s my sister, Lila. When you see us next to each other, you’ll see we aren’t twins. But we look similar and both have blond hair and blue eyes. Come with me. I’ll get the bathing room ready for you. Do you have some clean clothes or shall I have these washed and put on the line now to dry?”

“I have clean clothes in my bag.” He jerked a thumb over his shoulder. “I’ll go grab that.”

“I can have someone get it for you if you like,” Alan said. “He’ll bring it to you. The groom. He does odd jobs when there’s nothing he can do with the horses.”

“That would be fine,” Jack stated, ready to feel clean again. “Thank you so much.”

Chapter Two

Jack felt a unique type of excitement in his chest, making it tight and strained. The back of his neck tingled. He’d only had this feeling twice before and he recognized it as attraction. How he could be attracted to a woman he’d seen from a distance was a mystery. 

He was about to solve that mystery. 

After his bath, he came down to the first floor to find Laura waiting for him at the bottom of the steps. She had a delighted look on her face. He couldn’t decipher what that look was all about, though she did seem to be admiring him, and the first thing she did was compliment him. 

“Well, you certainly clean up well. I hope you don’t mind, we had the groom take your horse in to give him some food and a bath of his own.”

Jack was happy to hear his horse was being treated as well as he was. “Thank you for that, Laura. It’s unexpected and very much appreciated.”

She smiled at him. He lifted his head and took a deep breath in. He smelled something delicious and familiar but couldn’t put his finger on what it was. Something he hadn’t had in a long time, he was sure of that.

“What is that delicious smell?” he asked, lowering his head to look at her again.

“It’s a ham being roasted for our luncheon. You didn’t know this was the day of the luncheon, did you?”

Jack let out a small laugh. “No, I didn’t. Don’t rightly know how I possibly could have.” She laughed with him. “I reckon I lucked out today. A real blessing.”

“I’d love it if you would go out to the garden and get Lila. She won’t come in unless she’s fetched, and if a strange man comes out to get her, she’ll know you’re safe and that I’ve sent you. Then you two can talk if you like. You did have an interested look on your face before, when you thought I was her.”

Jack lifted one eyebrow. “Interested?”

Laura lifted both of hers. “If you aren’t interested in going out to get her, I’ll—”

“No, I don’t mind,” Jack interrupted her with a grin. “I am interested in speaking to her. I just didn’t know you knew. I just got here, but it feels like you and your husband have known me all my life.”

Laura’s smile was warm. “Go on. Give her this.” She handed him a basket. “Tell her we need some corn for the stew later.”

“How many ears?” Jack asked. “Just in case she asks.”

The woman laughed, a delightful sound that Jack hoped her sister would copy. She flapped her hands for him to leave the house. “Go on…” she mumbled, giggling under her breath.

Jack wondered what made the woman so eager to have him meet her sister. They didn’t even know him. He’d shown up on their doorstep and they’d given him a way to clean himself, offered him food, and wanted him to meet the single sister. Was this God? Fate? Destiny?

Whatever it was, Jack was ready for it. The last few months without Frankie had been strange. They’d gotten into so much together for so long, Jack felt lost without him. The abrupt welcome at this house on the path of his journey was completely unexpected. He didn’t know what to think of it, so he just went along with it. 

The basket swung on his arm as he went buoyantly down the steps. He glanced at the stable as he passed, picturing his horse in there, enjoying being clean and fed. Maybe he would make friends with the other horses in there. The thought made Jack chuckle.

Lila was on her knees still, but in a different part of the garden. She was digging potatoes out of the ground with great fervor and chucking them into a bigger basket than the one he was carrying. He came up on her left side and called out to her before he got there so he didn’t scare the dickens out of her. He suspected she was the kind of woman who would bravely defend herself, attacking before asking questions.

“Lila!” he called, lifting the hand that wasn’t holding the basket. “Your sister sent me out to get you and tell you she needs some ears of corn brought in for the stew tonight.”

The woman turned to him, shading her eyes with her hand and peering out from underneath it with sharp, intelligent light blue eyes. The look of determination on her face relaxed and she stood up, pulling off her gloves and coming toward him with one hand outstretched. 

“And you are…?”

“Name’s Jack. Jack McQueen.”

“Jack McQueen.” Lila pumped his hand, a smile on her face. She looked him in the eye as she did so. He could tell she was judging him, but her judgments didn’t seem to be harsh ones. “It’s nice to meet you. And where did you appear from? Pretty sure there wasn’t anyone new at the breakfast table this morning.”

Jack enjoyed shaking her hand. She wasn’t too rough or abrupt, and her hand was soft considering she obviously spent quite a bit of time in the garden. She was wearing gloves. That must have saved her slender hands from blisters and cuts. 

“I’m a traveler. Your sister and brother-in-law are very generous folks. They allowed me to bathe and dress in clean clothes, and I do believe your sister is having my other clothes washed. Now there is a meal they’ve prepared…” he winked at her, “though I don’t think that luncheon was prepared in my honor. I have the sneaking suspicion I just arrived at a convenient time.”

Lila laughed, sending a tingle of delight through Jack. It was the same bouncy sound her sister had made that he’d liked so much. Now, if he spent more time with this bubbly creature, he would get to hear it more often. He made it his goal to make her laugh as often as possible, even if it was at his own expense.

“You would be right about that, Jack. And the luncheon isn’t supposed to be a pleasant meeting. There are some men in town that are causing trouble for others and my brother-in-law has decided it’s in his best interest to do something about it. His heart is in the right place, though I’m not sure there’s much he can do to stop Barnes and his men.”

Jack had no idea what she was talking about. The blank look on his face must have amused her because she laughed again, softer this time, while shaking her head. 

“You only just arrived in town. You don’t know about Barnes and the miners and the townsfolk, do you?”

Jack shook his head. “No,” he said. “You’re right, I’ve only just arrived. I don’t know who is doing what to who. But if you and your family need help, I’m pretty handy with a gun.”

He never thought he’d offer his services to another soul. He was ready to put that life behind him, had been since he lost Frankie. But if this woman and her sister and brother-in-law needed protection, he would gladly provide.

Chapter Three

Lila had a good feeling about the newcomer. She’d been hoping someone would come to Rusty Spike to help with Barnes and the others. It wasn’t just Silas Barnes, the wealthy owner of the coal mine that basically made the town what it was, creating the issue. He oversaw those who were causing most of the problems. 

The miners from the Barnes mine never ceased in their misbehaving. And they didn’t keep their shenanigans to just the other men in town, either. In fact, the women got the worst of it where harassment was concerned. And the children weren’t completely out of the target zone. The miners wouldn’t think twice about taking candy from the hands of a small baby. 

Now this handsome stranger had come to their house out of the blue, just walking out of the woods and asking for shelter and food. Like an angel might do. She assessed him further, looking him up and down. He didn’t look like any angel she might have expected. 

Though he was handsome, and the Bible did say the angels could be handsome. That was Satan’s whole problem, wasn’t it?

Lila laughed at her thoughts, not realizing she was laughing out loud until he gave her a curious look. 

“I’m sorry,” she said. “I was thinking about… oh, never mind.”

“How many people are coming to this meeting?” Jack asked. 

She liked the deep tone of his voice. It matched his rugged look, the squint of his hazel eyes long out in the sun, the deep tan of his skin, which made his blond hair look exactly the color of sand. 

Lila shrugged. “I don’t keep up much with Alan’s affairs. He can be moody sometimes and I just try to avoid that. I like working out here in the garden. I’m good with plants and vegetables. They grow big for me. I’m not sure why. I guess I’ve just got what it takes.”

Jack looked around, taking it all in before looking at her again. When their eyes met, her heart fluttered lightly in her chest. It was an unfamiliar feeling, but one that she liked very much. 

She realized quickly why her sister had sent the man out to her. She’d seen what Laura saw in him. There was something behind those eyes—a past he was likely trying to run from. She wondered if he’d killed a man and the law was after him. But he didn’t look like a killer. His eyes didn’t say that to her. 

While Lila was eager to know more about him, the first of at least five buggies began down the path to their house. She wondered where Jack’s horse or buggy was.

“How did you get here? Horse? Were you walking?”

“I wasn’t walking, I can tell you that. I rode my horse, Lightning. He’s in the stable now. I heard Alan got your groom to take care of him.”

“Ah, yes, Larry. He loves horses. You can rest assured your mount is in good hands.” She didn’t turn her eyes to him. She stared at the approaching buggy. “There will be more of those,” she said. “That’s Dave Fontaine right there. He and his brother, Caleb, have a lot of influence over the good men in town. There are several leaders in the pack of men going up against Silas and the miners.”

Jack looked confused. Lila wondered if she wasn’t making it clear to him. She tended to jump into a conversation assuming her companion knew all about what she was talking about. 

“I, uh, don’t know nothin’ about what’s goin’ on. What kind of trouble are the miners causing? Is it just them or have men in town joined them?”

“They have supporters,” Lila responded dejectedly. “You’ll have to watch out for Silas’s son, too. Dirk. He’s an angry man and prowls around the ladies in town like he has the right to them all.” Her memories of Dirk made her shudder.

“Sounds like a snake in the grass.”

Lila turned her eyes to him, scanning his attractive face. He wasn’t conventionally handsome, but he was appealing in other ways. And it wasn’t like he was hard on the eyes, either. 

“He is. Look there, that’s Nicholas Cranwell. He lives in Rusty Spike with his granddaughter, Susan. Her parents were lost when they were caught in a flood that toppled their wagon when they were coming back from a small holiday for their anniversary.”

“How tragic,” Jack responded, his voice sympathetic. 

“I think you’ll find him to be very responsive to any help you can provide.”

Jack blinked at her, his eyes so intense she felt a tingle of apprehension in her chest. 

She stared at him. “You came here to help us, didn’t you?” she asked. 

He raised his eyebrows, shaking his head slightly. “I will help you,” he said, “but I’m just a traveler looking for a new life. I’ve been through some tragedies and lost a good friend recently. He’d been my constant companion for the last ten or so years. I’m alone now and… I just thought I’d stop here at your ranch. Your sister and brother-in-law are so welcoming.”

She didn’t believe he’d just shown up out of the blue. How could it be possible? He had to be there for a reason. Men didn’t just ride up to their house for no reason. Just to stop and ask for a bath and a bed. Did they? 

“No one called you to come to Rusty Spike?” 

He shook his head, looking as confused as she felt. 

“Well, do you plan to help out?”

Jack raised his eyebrows and, to his credit, didn’t look away from her. “I don’t even know what’s going on. I should probably be in there listening to what those men are talking about, instead of out here enjoying the scenery and sunshine.” He smiled at her.

It was such a relief to see. Lila had spent the last several months with a grumpy brother-in-law. 

“Yeah, you should,” she said, picking up her basket and handing it to him. “Take this inside. I’ll get some corn and meet you in there. Just go on in. Take this one to the kitchen and then go into the parlor where the rest of the men will be. Alan will introduce you and you can get a clue what’s been going on in our town. We sure can use another good man on our side. Silas and Dirk and their ilk are trying to get rid of everyone who goes against them—vandalizing ranches, killing cattle or letting them out, damaging crops… whatever they can do.”

Jack frowned. “Who is doing that? Miners?”

“We think so, yes.”

“Why don’t they get arrested?”

“Barnes won’t let that happen. He’s giving them orders, but he’s also giving them alibis for when these things happen. That ensures they never get put in jail and they can’t be stopped. That’s what this meeting is about. Will… will you stay and listen?”

Jack nodded. “Don’t see why not. I’m good with a gun. I might be of some help to you and your friends and family.” 

Lila was pleased he wanted to stay and listen. There was something about him… something in his eyes that told her there was more to him than it might seem. He had a past, as all men did, but she wasn’t one to pry into anything that wasn’t her business. 

She hoped he would talk to her again, tell her more about himself. At that moment, however, it was more important to gather the corn, as her sister had directed, and send this stranger in to get his own assessment of what was going on in Rusty Spike. His presence would breathe new life into the townsfolk, not just the men but the women and children, too. 

They’d been waiting and waiting… praying and praying for someone to come and save the people of Rusty Spike.

God willing, it would be this man.


“A Gunslinger’s Deadly Draw” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

As the late 1800s approach their twilight, Jack McQueen teeters on the precipice of destiny, a life defined by dust trails and gun smoke. Alongside his steadfast companion, Frankie, Jack straddles the blurred lines between justice and vengeance. Yet, fate, unyielding in its capricious design, extinguishes Frankie’s flame in a violent blaze, leaving Jack adrift in a sea of reckoning. Seeking solace, he stumbles upon the Brentwood ranch—a refuge from his tumultuous past…

Will this sanctuary offer the redemption he seeks, or will the specter of his actions haunt him still?

The Brentwood ranch emerges as an oasis on Jack’s parched journey, a haven of secrets and salvation. Within its weathered walls, Jack crosses paths with Lila—an enigma who sparks both his heart and the town’s simmering conflict. As tensions rise and sinister forces loom, Jack finds himself at a crossroads: holster his guns for good or take a defiant stand.

With his heart pulled by love and a debt to pay, will Jack become the hero this town needs, or is his history too deeply etched to escape?

As the threads of fate weave anew, Jack’s retreat from turmoil unravels, unveiling a town ensnared in a tapestry of intrigue and unrest. Between the yearning for redemption and the allure of the gun’s cold embrace, Jack’s destiny awaits its final chord. As the town’s fate hangs in the balance, will Jack’s actions tip the scales toward salvation or destruction? And will his bond with Lila be the anchor that saves or traps him?

“A Gunslinger’s Deadly Draw” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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