A Gunslinger’s Redemption Tale (Preview)

Emily Johnson lifted the sheet to the laundry line and squinted into the sun, her hazel eyes tearing up. She looked at the pin as she pushed it over the wire, clamping the sheet up so it would dry in the noon sun. Tennessee was so beautiful in the spring. The weather was perfect, which made her want to be outside all the time.

That wasn’t possible, since she worked at the schoolhouse and spent most of her time indoors, reading and writing and teaching arithmetic.

Emily grinned. She didn’t mind her job as the teacher’s assistant. The children were wonderful and she could get out during recess. The best thing about her job was that she got to play the fun games she’d played when she was a child.

Not that she was much older than one herself. Having only just turned twenty, she was barely out of her teen years. Still, most of Emily’s friends were married now—not that she had many.

It wasn’t that she was an unpopular girl. It was that Back Creek had three hundred people residing within it and of those three hundred, there were only four other girls her age. And those four girls were all married. Two of them had even fled Back Creek for greener—or rather, bigger—pastures.

Emily thought about marriage a lot. Should she be married by now, too?

She lived with her father on their pig ranch in Back Creek, where she’d been born and raised. She didn’t have to worry about anything, as her father was financially well-off. They didn’t consider themselves rich, but they didn’t have trouble finding food and shelter—and that was a blessing, her father Joshua was prone to say. He’d had a hard life growing up.

She proceeded down the line, singing a song she’d made up all by herself, featuring her best friend Betsy, who had just gotten married not more than three months ago. She hummed as she moved to the second laundry line.

The sheets and towels she’d hung on the first line flapped in the wind. Emily stopped, lifting her head and closing her eyes. The warmth of the sun on her face was cooled by the breeze that lifted her curly brown hair from her shoulders.

It felt so nice, like peace. As though the world around her had decided to take a nap, leaving nothing but silence and tranquility behind.

When Emily stopped singing and bent over the basket to grab the last small towel to hang up, something out of the corner of her eye made her freeze. She lifted just her head, turning it to the side and peering through narrow eyes at the flapping sheets on the line.

She swallowed, straightening up and staring, not daring to blink.

Emily wouldn’t usually be afraid. Her father had taught her to shoot and she was quite good at it. She was proud of her quick draw and her ability to aim with precision at long distances.

But Emily wasn’t armed while she was hanging the laundry out to dry. And she was sure her father was in town getting feed. He wouldn’t be sneaking up on her while she was doing laundry.

The scent of a cigar made her fear feel justified. She moved past the two laundry lines, headed for the house. Before she could get ten yards from the back door, a surge of adrenaline shot through her as a hand closed around her elbow and an arm snaked around her shoulders. A big, dirty hand clamped around her mouth. She was momentarily glad she hadn’t opened it to scream or she might have been forced to taste whatever was on that grimy skin.

Emily immediately began to shake her body as hard as she could. In the past, her father had taught her to wiggle. He said she was so wiry, she could wiggle out of any man’s hands, and when she did, she needed to sprint to the nearest safe place she could find.

And the wiggling worked, as it always had when she practiced with her father and the ranch hands he hired every year when it was time to harvest the corn he grew on the rest of his land, what wasn’t taken up by the many swine he owned.

Slipping out of the grasp of her would-be kidnapper, she took off toward the house at top speed. She grabbed the doorknob and yanked the door open, thanking God she was about to be inside her home.

Emily jumped over the one step into the house and ran smack into a large obstacle that had never been there before. Why had they moved a cabinet in front of the door?

But it wasn’t a cabinet. It was a large, square-bodied man with an amused look on his shaggy face.

“Well, looky what we got here,” he murmured greasily. “This just might be our lucky day, boys.”

Emily had never been so terrified in her life. She spun around, intending to dash back out the door and hopefully get away from the two men. But before she could even take one step, the man behind her reached out and closed his strong hand around the collar of her dress. When he twisted the fabric up in his fingers, she felt her airway being restricted and had no choice but to go along with whatever the bandit wanted her to do.

“Please… please, don’t hurt me.”

The men in front of her sneered, and snickering came from behind her.

Disgust swept through her, but the feeling was quickly forgotten as her nose and mouth were smothered by a piece of cloth. Everything went black before she even hit the ground.

Chapter One

Jack Crowe tipped his hat back on his head and scratched his beard, which was as black as the hair on his head. He wanted to shave. He didn’t like having that scruff there but he’d been on the run for three weeks, and that didn’t allow for proper hygiene. He stared longingly at the town below.

That was where he was going. He knew it to be Back Creek, and the people there were friendly. That was what he’d heard. He’d never been there.

Jack sat atop his horse, Bolt, who had been his constant companion these last three weeks even more so than he’d been the last two years Jack had owned him. Bolt was his friend and Jack did everything he could to respect that friendship. If Bolt wanted to go get some relaxation and enjoyment out of Back Creek, who was Jack to deny it?

He urged Bolt forward, his blue eyes scanning the countryside that surrounded Back Creek. He and his horse were at the edge of a ledge overlooking a valley below, which just happened to be where Back Creek was. Or so he was told. All he knew was that a time of rest was coming and he couldn’t wait. He pictured the old man in his head, remembering what he’d said.

Back three weeks ago, when Jack had decided he no longer wanted to live a life of crime, he’d left with just Bolt and his pack with his belongings. He hadn’t wanted or needed to steal anything from his boss; he just took what was rightfully his. It wasn’t just the lifestyle, either. The boss’s daughter had taken a liking to him, and though he found her attractive, he didn’t want to be involved in the family business for his entire lifetime. When he got the impression she was pushing to marry him, he knew it was time to leave it all behind.

The Old Prospector, as Jack took to calling him after they’d parted, had told Jack to be careful but that success was sure to come his way, as he had a “good soul.” Back Creek was where he needed to be, according to the man. Where peace was almost always the theme of the day.

There were three ranches he would pass on his way to Back Creek, and all of them were potential job opportunities. He’d spent the last five years running with a gang, making himself into an outlaw, but he was done with that life. He’d left the gang behind and had bigger aspirations for himself now. He wanted to own his own ranch, run it and make as much money as he could. That was the only purpose to existence, really.

Jack looked at the two ranches that flanked the one in the middle. There was nothing but fields and meadows to his right. The ranches he might be working at were on his left.

He decided to stop at the first one he came to with easy access to the main road. Who didn’t want a quick and easy way to get to work? He turned Bolt onto the path and headed for the big ranch house he saw about a hundred yards up the path.

There was a commotion around the building on the other side. He could hear it: men talking, doors slamming, boots stepping hard as men walked around. He stopped his horse, contemplating whether it was a good time to seek employment.

Jack had never considered himself any sort of hero, or even a good guy for that matter. At this point, he’d have to work mighty hard to get such a reputation. Once his past was brought out in the open, he wouldn’t stand a chance. He’d been thinking about it for a while now and had decided he would likely spend the rest of his life alone. Alone and miserable.

So he might as well be alone and happy by doing things he enjoyed doing, in places he enjoyed living. Like Back Creek, with its excellent reputation. He needed peace. That was all he really wanted at this point. He was still young, only twenty-six. There was plenty of time for him left. And he wouldn’t be living it recklessly like he had been when he was in the gang.

What had ever made him want to put his own life at risk so often? And the lives of others?

When he’d joined the gang, he wasn’t at all concerned about other people and their lives. That had been eight long years of denying how unhappy he was and stealing the happiness others might feel by acting like an outlaw.

How long would it take for him to forgive himself? Would he ever really be able to?

Jack urged Bolt to go a little farther, to the edge of the house so he could look around the corner and see what was going on.

He got off Bolt and left the horse behind him in front of the large deck. Jack inched forward until he could look around the corner. At first, he only took a quick glance. An older man, someone likely old enough to be his father but not his grandfather, was kneeling down on one knee and appeared to be inspecting the ground. Other men were hovering around the laundry lines, where the first row was still hanging.

Jack’s curiosity got the better of him and he leaned out a little too far. The older man’s head snapped up when he saw Jack standing there. His face drew inward and he frowned deeply.

“You there,” the man said, standing up straight, sending a streak of fear through Jack’s entire body. He’d seen people rise up like that and act threatening. Especially his former boss. And those words usually meant business.

He backed up slightly before spinning around and hurrying back to Bolt. The horse was only a few feet away and he was pulling himself up into the saddle when the man came around the corner of the house, several others trailing right behind.

“You there!” the man called out as Jack spurred his horse into a gallop.

He had a flashback of a time when this had happened to him before. The farmer he’d encountered was heavily armed and unafraid to use his weapon.

Jack hadn’t run the last time. This time, he did. He didn’t want to get caught up in whatever was going on at that house. He’d only gone there to get a job. He had to make a living somehow. But he could always try the next ranch on the way to town.

With a pounding heart, Jack raced his horse back to the main road. He wasn’t going down for his crimes if someone recognized him. He’d put that past behind him.

For good.

Chapter Two

Joshua Johnson had come home to a nightmare. He’d been able to tell something was wrong as soon as he turned his horse onto their path. His dogs were barking, and they only did that when they were alarmed by something.

There was very little reason for them to be on their guard. No one had ever caused trouble for the ranchers at Back Creek before. Outlaws seemed to move right past their little town.

Mark, his right-hand man on the ranch, waved frantically to him. He and the other three men Joshua had hired were standing in a loose circle around a laundry basket, concerned looks on their faces.

“It’s your daughter, boss,” Mark said in an urgent voice. “Em was hangin’ laundry when we went out in the field, and when we came back, we found this. She don’t leave stuff like this just sittin’ here unless she had an emergency, and now we can’t find her anywhere.”

Joshua’s heart instantly shot into overdrive. He swung off his horse and headed for the laundry lines, his eyes trailing past the woods to his right.

“Where could she be?” he asked, though he didn’t expect an answer from the men. Instead of heading for the woods, he decided to check the house first. He ran to the back door, but as he was about to go in, he noticed it was ajar. He spun around to his men.

“You boys open this door and leave it like this?”

“That’s how we found it, boss,” Mark replied.

“Exactly how we found it,” Bill added, backing up Mark’s statement.

“But you did check inside the house for her?” Joshua asked.

“Yeah,” Mark nodded, “but we left the door exactly as we found it so you could see it, too. She might have tried to go inside but she didn’t make it.”

“Yeah, we know that because she isn’t inside,” Bill reiterated. “We looked good, boss. We’re afraid for her.”

Joshua appreciated the concern of his men, most of whom were in their late twenties and early thirties. Mark was the oldest at thirty-five. They had become like uncles to his daughter, watching out for her whenever she was in their line of sight.

“I’m going to check inside. Have you gone out into the woods and looked for any footprints or signs that she struggled to get away?”

“Not really,” Mark answered. “That is, we went out there a bit, but not real far because we didn’t see anything. No way to track someone down if you don’t see any tracks.”

Joshua was irritated that there was nothing to go on. He didn’t blame his foreman but he wished he could just so he would have someone to pin this on.

Joshua went inside and crossed the kitchen with a rapidly beating heart, finding it difficult to breathe. His daughter was missing. His daughter had been taken. And he hadn’t been there to protect her.

Who would do such a thing? Joshua didn’t have any enemies that he knew of. He’d never been threatened by anyone and neither had his daughter.

“Emily?” he called out, feeling in his heart he wouldn’t hear her call back. He trusted his ranch hands. If they hadn’t found her in the house, chances were she wasn’t in the house. “Em? Tell me you’re in here, girl, just hiding and playing a silly game. Em?”

He felt a little silly, knowing what he’d said was one of the most unlikely scenarios he could have come up with. Of course she wasn’t playing a game. She wasn’t that kind of girl. She wouldn’t scare him to death just so she could jump out and surprise him. That wasn’t the kind of thing she’d do.

“Emily…” he said her name softly, hating the way it drifted out into the silence of the house.

He ran to the stairs and headed up, hoping she’d fallen asleep and the men had just missed her. Maybe they hadn’t dared to look in her bedroom. It was a private space and they were respectful men.

“Emily, you up here?”

He went down the short hallway to her door and opened it, looking inside at the bed, hoping to see her there.

Of course, she wasn’t. And she’d made her bed nice and proper, leaving her room spotless and clean.

But she wasn’t there.

There was nowhere else in the house she would be if she wasn’t in her room or the small library he’d used one of the bedrooms for. Emily liked to read, so he picked up whatever books he could for her when he was on his travels selling or buying pigs at auctions held all over Tennessee. Sometimes, he would travel into Kentucky, and he often found good books by going out of the state.

“Oh, Emily,” he murmured, crossing the open doorway of the library room, seeing it empty but not as neatly kept as her bedroom. “It looks like trouble has found us.”

He glanced out the front window when he stuck his head into the living room just to make sure she wasn’t in there. To his astonishment, there was another horse in front of his house—one he didn’t recognize.

He frowned, apprehension making his skin prickle. He crept into the living room, moving slowly so he wouldn’t get the attention of the stranger, who could just as easily have looked into the house and seen him there.

But the stranger’s attention was on the ranch hands and what they were doing. Admittedly, his eyes looked more curious than dangerous, but Joshua couldn’t help thinking he might have seen what had happened to Emily. Otherwise, why would he be watching from afar instead of riding up to ask what was wrong?

Joshua moved even slower as he got closer to the window. He scanned the man’s profile, his heart slamming in his chest in anticipation of the stranger looking up and seeing him there.

But he never did. His eyes remained steady on the ranch hands.

Joshua backed away from the window and crossed to the kitchen to go back out the door there. He stepped out into the yard and began to inspect the ground around the laundry lines, where Emily had apparently been.

He knelt and touched a spot in the dirt that looked like a deep heel print.

“Look,” he said, lifting his eyes to Mark, who was leaning near him, both hands firmly on his knees, propping him up. “This is her bootprint. Her heel. I can tell. And look, there’s another one.”

While he inspected the ground, Joshua kept an eye on the stranger in front of the house. He wasn’t very good at concealing himself. When Joshua decided the man wasn’t going to come over and introduce himself, he would reveal the fact that he knew he was there.

So when the stranger came into view the next time, his curious eyes focused on what Joshua and his men were doing, Joshua stood up straight, looking right at him.

Chapter Three

Jack could hear the men behind him as he reached the main road, desperate to get away.

“Hey! Stop!”

But something about the way the man yelled out for him to stop made Jack slow his horse down. He hadn’t heard anger or threat in the man’s voice. In fact, he sounded about as desperate as Jack felt.

He brought Bolt to a stop and slowly turned him around to face the men who were chasing him on foot. They weren’t far behind him, but only because he’d slowed his horse down. None of them had gotten their own horses to try to capture him.

“Wait!” the man in the front said, holding up his hand. “Who are you? Why are you here? Did you see what happened?”

Even as out of breath as the older man was from running hard after Jack and his horse, he still managed to get out those questions with a good deal of force.

“I’m Jack Crowe,” Jack answered, allowing some pride in his voice. “I’m just a stranger passing through. Thought I might be able to find a job here, but it looks like you’ve got other things on your mind. I’ll let you be.”

“Wait!” the man yelled as Jack began to turn Bolt around again. He hesitated, waiting for the man to continue. After a few swallows and deep breaths, he went on. “I’ve… I’ve lost my daughter… That is, she seems to have been… taken… sometime today and… how long were you at the house? Did you see anything else? Have you seen anyone around here besides yourself?”

Jack frowned. “You say your daughter’s been taken? As in kidnapped?”

The man nodded, and Jack now recognized the fear in the man’s features.

He slid off his horse and took Bolt by the reins, leading him back to the group of men. None of them looked threatening, but he could tell they wanted to know if he’d seen anything by the way they were looking at him.

“I’m sorry,” he said, “I haven’t been here long and didn’t see your daughter being taken. Is she a little girl or a woman?”

“She’s twenty,” the man responded, holding out his hand. “Joshua Johnson. She was doing laundry and my men lost sight of her while they were in the field doing some work. Now she appears to be gone.”

“She wouldn’t leave on her own, would she?” Jack asked gently. “No man she wants to run off with and you don’t approve?”

He was surprised and pleased to see an amused grin pass over Joshua’s lips, however quickly it came and went.

“No, no, nothing like that,” Joshua responded, shaking his head.

“I’ll be glad to see if there’s anything I can do to help you find her. I know a thing or two about tracking people down. I’ve done it before.”

The look on the man’s face made Jack feel warm inside.

“I’d appreciate any help I can get, Jack.” Joshua held out his hand and Jack took it to shake. “It’s nice to meet you. This is my crew. Mark, Leonard, Bill, Keith, and Elmer. They’re the best ranch hands in Tennessee and I’m honored they work for me. Even if they didn’t keep an eye on my daughter.” He gave the men a sympathetic look. “I don’t hold it against you boys. How were you to know something like this might happen?”

“You mind if I go have a look at where it happened?” Jack asked. He had a sneaking suspicion and it made his skin crawl to think about it.

If it was the gang he’d just left three weeks ago, he’d know it. He’d long suspected they were following him and saw no reason why they wouldn’t scout ahead to see where he was headed. They might have stumbled on an opportunity they couldn’t resist.

“You, uh, go to the saloon in town much, Mr. Johnson?”

“Joshua. And yeah, I reckon I’m a regular patron of the establishment. Why?”

“You seen any strangers in there recently?”

Joshua raised his eyebrows. “You sound like a deputy. Were you a deputy?”

Jack tried to forgive himself for the necessity to lie. He didn’t like to lie. It always led to more lies, and eventually people found out and got real mad about it.

“Nah. Was a bounty hunter for a short time.”

He could forgive himself for the smaller lie. He hadn’t been a bounty hunter, but he had tracked down and extracted money from several men for the boss of the gang he’d just left. He had no words to describe what he’d thought of that job.

“Why didja want to know about the saloon?” Mark asked, coming up on Jack’s other side as they went back toward the house. They were all looking at him and he was glad he didn’t see any confrontational looks on their faces.

“Because there’s a gang going around Tennessee right now that visits the saloon to get information about the people who live in the town. When they find the richest or the most gullible or the most vulnerable, they’ll do whatever they can to take money and valuables from that person. Which category are you, Joshua? I’m assuming the first. You’re the richest man in town?”

“I reckon I am,” Joshua answered, nodding, “but that ain’t really sayin’ much. No one in Back Creek has a great deal of money. As a pig farmer, I do. Plus, I travel. Do you think this gang heard me talkin’ about goin’ to town for feed today?”

“I think they might have. Didja talk about your daughter?”

“Emily? I always talk about Emily. So you’re saying I got her kidnapped by talkin’ about her?”

Jack was taken aback by the question. “This ain’t your fault, Joshua,” he stated firmly, frowning at the older man. “It’s all their fault for doing what they’ve done. Don’t blame yourself. Find her instead.”

He was glad to see the man straighten his spine and lift his chin.

“You’re right. Will you help me track her down and get the gang that did this?”

“If it’s the men I think it is, they will contact you with a ransom demand. We’ll take it from there. Right now, all you can do is wait. But yeah, I’ll look around at where it happened. Maybe I can catch something you missed.”

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

Emily Johnson lives an idyllic life on her father’s pig ranch in Back Creek, Tennessee. But when a group of strangers disturb that peace and steal her away, Emily is left feeling helpless and scared. With no idea who these men are or why they’ve taken her, Emily finds herself at their mercy…

Will she find out the truth and manage to escape?

Jack Crowe, a hardened thief, has just left his gang after a shocking incident, and he is determined to start a new life. With his days of robbing, looting, and thieving his way through life now behind him, he meets Emily’s father, Joshua. Jack will decide to join him in his mission to find Emily, no matter the cost…

Will he be able to truly leave behind this life of danger and the gang he belongs to?

Emily and Jack’s lives become intertwined in a dangerous journey full of adventure. With their lives at risk, will Jack be able to save Emily from the clutches of a ruthless criminal and his gang? Or will they all lose their lives to the irrational delusions of a madman?

“A Gunslinger’s Redemption Tale” 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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