A Hunter’s Instinct Never Fails (Preview)

Chapter One

Beaumont, Texas 1888

Katie had a secret, one she’d kept hidden for so long that it no longer gave her anxiety or difficulty sleeping. She had learned to hide her scars. She laughed off her distress and used her husband’s money to lavish herself with anything that helped convey her eternal happiness for the gilded life of an oil baron’s wife.

It was a hot and sunny day in mid-August when Katie stood before the full-length mirror in the luxuriant bedroom. The enormous space-specific recommendations during the construction of the house had made it unnecessarily large. The baron had overseen the architecture of what he had considered a family estate for the affluent.

Katie lived in her husband’s shadow. She owned expensive things. The baron bathed her with extravagance, and it was the life of a modern-day princess. She had everything she needed, and more than anything she’d ever wanted. The reflection of the princess in the French mercury mirror with the giltwood frame and gold leaf was the same young woman she always saw. What defined the princess the baron expected?

Katie had never known the answer. She did her best to give him everything—love, compassion, and comfort. She gave her husband the support he craved. She showed him the dedication he demanded, but his needs never seemed sated. He was incorrigible. He was unkind, but gave the appearance of a reasonable man. For all that glittering gold, the sparkling silver, Katie only ever saw the girl of her youth staring back from the mirror’s reflection, never the princess. She would never be the absolute perfection the baron wanted as his trophy wife.

“Will there be anything else, Mrs. Marks?” Sherry asked from over Katie’s shoulder. The girl was all of sixteen with sable hair, ivory skin, and brown eyes that hadn’t seen anything of the world. She was the age now that Katie was when the baron had claimed her.

“No, thank you, Sherry,” Katie said.

The girl gave Katie a slight curtsey. “You look very pretty today, Mrs. Marks,” she said. She always said it. Katie had stopped hearing compliments years ago.

“Thank you, Sherry.”

The baron believed his domain was simple, but Katie knew anything under her husband’s thumb was complex and layered. He thought anyone in his employ, if he saw them at their daily activities, must look presentable. Much of what he took for proper attire came from the overseas aristocratic ideals.

Sherry had taken on the position as an upstairs maid and lady’s maid, two distinct functions for which she received a very modest income. Sherry’s wages went directly to the girl’s father—another employee of the baron. Sherry took her orders directly from the housekeeper, Mrs. Annette. Yet, when it came time for Katie to dress for outings or special occasions, Sherry helped with the necessary lacing and handling of the attire.

“Is there anything else?” Sherry asked. She waited patiently, hands tucked in front of her starched white apron. Her lace collar over the black long-sleeved dress stood tight against her thin neck. She smiled at Katie through the reflection.

It was meant as a simple outing, but the baron believed everyone to see his wife in all her beauty. Her custom-made clothing was only purchased with her husband’s approval. From the most petite pearl to the thread count in the fabric, everything received the baron’s approval before it ever touched Katie’s skin.

So the dress, of course, was elegant, even for an ordinary day outing where Katie intended to shop for succulent gourmet items the baron preferred for his bold dinners. Shopping gave Katie independence outside the household, with special considerations. Over the years, she had relished her limited freedom. She’d developed business relationships with local shopkeepers who knew that to cater to Katie was to cater to the baron, as well.

Today’s elegant day dress was made of lush, lavender taffeta fabric. It featured a full skirt with an attached top with gold stripes, diamond-shaped shoulder caps, and a slender waistline with scalloped daggers. Golden trim accentuated the cuffs and square neckline. The lace-up back had silk cords tied in a loose bow under the feather braid Sherry had put in Katie’s hair that morning.

The hairstyle gave her hickory-colored hair added volume from its otherwise flat plaits. The golden sash matched the trim of the dress, and Katie’s willowy figure, light on curves, allowed the true hourglass shape of the dress to fit snugly.

“Mrs. Marks, is everything alright?” Sherry asked.

“Yes, thank you,” she said, spinning from the princess in the mirror. Sherry gave her a modest smile and another curtsey before walking across the expansive bedroom to exit.

Alone in opulence, Katie took a long look around, considering the master suite that belonged to the baron. She had a small front corner with a vanity, armoire, and a slender chest of drawers for her intimates. The baron had a changing room separate from the bedroom, where his personal valet dressed him. The dresses he picked out for his wife came from a locked room adjacent to the large bedroom, and Katie had no key to the walk-in closet. The baron selected her daily wardrobe based on what he wanted to see her wear. The armoire had space to put away the clothes picked out that day. Housekeeping removed and cleaned the dresses and undergarments daily.

Some days, her husband had straightforward selections. Other days, the demands were strenuous for Katie. She abided, because her husband’s needs came first. Most days, Katie dressed alone or with the help of the lady’s maid. Most nights, she undressed under the watchful eye of her husband. He took pleasure in watching Katie shed her clothing before joining him in the elm-framed bed.

The Chinese canopy bed came from the Qing Dynasty, shipped overseas for the baron. The deeply carved bedpost, rails, crown, and interior had extraordinary details in the lacquered rich gold finish, with red, green, and black highlights. The handcrafted, eternal knots, with woven fruits and figures, featured meticulous natural fauna embellishments. Fabric curtains enhanced privacy and kept out morning light when the baron required extra sleep. Most mornings, he was first to rise. Most nights, he was last to go to sleep. The exquisite bed, with its downy duvet, feather pillows, and luxurious mattress, helped Katie find rest deep in its tranquil folds.

A bedside table occupied the baron’s side, while Katie had nothing but a small cloth-covered chair on which to drape her nightgown or robe. Katie left the bedroom through the thick mahogany door. Her taffeta dress swished as she went downstairs.

The housekeeper addressed Katie accordingly. She gave Katie a respectful audience and waited until she passed before returning to their business.

The enormous house was elegant throughout with marble floors, and exquisite artwork including sculptures and paintings. The baron contracted an art dealer from Houston who traveled the world for items that piqued his interest. There was no style or symmetry to the statuettes or artistic paintings that filled each available space. The baron had dedicated rooms for his library, his study with full bar, and the cigar room and parlor. With a house so large, there was room enough for all the baron’s diversions, except, it seemed, Katie.

“Good morning, Mrs. Marks. Will you need anything today?” the butler asked.

Mr. Snow was the consummate professional. He was always tidy, and as head of the estate, nothing got by the gentleman. Snow reported directly to the baron and no one else. He was the baron’s vessel when it came to anything to do with the property. If her husband was away, everyone reported to Mr. Snow. He was a stoic man, unreadable by Katie, which made him dangerous, as far as she was concerned. He gave orders, not options. She didn’t know the man’s Christian name. The household staff never spoke about Snow behind his back. Though, outside of Sherry or the cook, Mrs. Helen Thomas, Katie had very little interaction.

“Yes, Mr. Snow, I am going into town today.”

“Very good,” he said. “I will have the coach brought around.” Snow slipped out of the kitchen to make preparations for her day.

Outside the home, away from the property, Katie always had two men with her. Her husband handpicked them to chaperone her. They took orders from her husband but occasionally listened to Katie, as well. The baron believed in the enhanced safety of his lovely wife. Everyone in town recognized the baron’s wife. The two men in her husband’s employ swore allegiance to him, protecting Katie from the tribulations of the outside world. Though, Katie never needed any safeguards.

Breakfast was light and hollow. The cup of tea was rich, and the half-biscuit was fluffy. But Katie never overindulged. She had requirements that needed constant attention. Lately, she ate less and less, not feeling the need to sit by her husband while he counted the number of times she chewed her food.

The stagecoach was as lavish as the house. She had the front-facing plush velvet seat to herself while Mr. Eduardo Holt and Mr. Glenn Burt sat against the driver’s wall, facing her and the rear. The coachman wore a suit with a bowler hat. The baron wanted people to see even the private stagecoach driver had attire fitting for the American industrialist.

Through the curtains behind her on the coach, Katie glanced back to the sprawling lush gardens and vibrant green lawns of Byzantium Manor, a christened name given to the Queen Anne-style house. Her husband never explained the title he gave the estate. Even in private, the baron was aloof to Katie. Much of the man’s past never came into the open.

People knew him for his profession, not for his upbringing, and Katie saw the mansion as an extension of her husband. With its looming polygonal towers, its asymmetrical façade, and overhanging eves, the cornflower-blue house with the patterned wood shingle siding had aspects of her husband throughout.

Once upon a time, Katie had seen it as a lavish American castle with its dominant front-facing Dutch gable, cantilevered off-center to give the rambling manor distinction. It was a playland full of endless corridors, massive rooms, and extensive bathrooms. The mansion even had running hot water for baths and washing. It was everything Katie wanted in a home before she knew what it meant. There were countless fireplaces—mostly unused much of the year—with monumental chimneys. Inside, it had dentils in every corner.

The front, sides, and rear gardens had sectional wooden fences. The entire property had flagstone walkways and a flat stone driveway leading into the private domain.

Now, it had lost all its appeal. The pedimented veranda with its second-story balconies no longer captured Katie’s imagination. The classical columns, spindle work, and oriel and bay windows helped make up the penitentiary that kept Katie in a luxurious cage.

“Is everything alright, Mrs. Marks?” Eduardo asked.

She smiled at him, settling with her back against the comfortable overstuffed cushion. She cleared her throat and smoothed the lap of her dress, sweating in the sweltering interior of the coach.

“Yes, thank you,” she said. “Could I get one of you gentlemen to open the side curtains and let some air in here?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Glenn said. He tied off the tan leather curtains over the window and air flowed through the coach, basking Katie’s face and hands in the Texas breeze.

Over the last few years, Katie had done her best to get to know the bodyguards individually. They were personable men but didn’t share the kind of work they did for her husband outside Katie’s presence. Men were fickle animals.

But away from the baron, each man had sometimes shared their views, opinions, and secrets, when appropriate. Katie began to appreciate their company when she traveled to Beaumont. She knew better than to get too close to either of them, but Katie allowed them close enough to see the woman beyond the façade of the princess.

Eduardo had a smoky handsomeness that made him confident even in the presence of her husband. He stood shoulder to shoulder with the baron with dusty mocha eyes and warm earthy skin, wearing the obligatory expensive black suit required by his employer. His waxed mustache was thin and boyish.

At twenty-seven, Eduardo had begun working for the baron earlier that year. The last six of the eight months of his tenure had seen him accompanying Katie on most of her outings. It was a schedule she didn’t understand; only her husband knew for sure which one of the many men working for him had duties that included watching over his wife.

Glenn was Eduardo’s senior by eight to ten years. He had graying black hair and warm eyes, and his smile hid beneath a long, brushed mustache. Whenever Glenn accompanied Katie, he typically addressed the junior bodyguard about etiquette and expectations. Glenn had worked for her husband for several years. So long, in fact, that he had accompanied the baron the day Katie left her home when she married the man. Glenn was patient and knowing. He kept an eye on Katie better than any other assigned man in the entourage.

Chapter Two

The ride from Byzantium Manor to Beaumont took close to an hour, sometimes ten minutes on either side of the whole hour, depending on weather and the amount of cart and foot traffic on the roadways. On still days, with minimal wind blowing in from the Gulf of Mexico, coal and oil smoke looked like long black threads on the horizon reaching up to the endless sky. Factory furnaces throughout the city burned day and night. In the last leg of the trip, where the rural routes met the city thoroughfares, traffic came to a standstill. It depended on whether train cars were loading and unloading at the freight yards and the passenger depot.

Beaumont was an industrial township with black scorched rooftops and oily puddles when it rained. Predominantly on the west bank of the Neches River, Beaumont relied heavily on trade and commerce. One of the central hub cities for Texas, the Port of Beaumont was a thriving regional shipping center.

In the early years following the War Between the States, farming and cattle raising were the most extensive commerce for the area. But demand for retail and transportation led other entrepreneurs to invest heavily in developing the real estate around the riverside townsite. Exporting lumber helped clear the way for more buildings. Several rail companies threaded tracks in and around downtown serving Kansas City Southern, Southern Pacific, Missouri Pacific, and Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroads. Trains moved in and out of the city night and day.

Commerce in Beaumont led to blanket businesses catering to everyone’s needs and indulgences. Arts and recreation soon followed the merchants, and entertainment came in the form of playhouses and operas. Friday or Saturday nights typically meant spending the evening at the finest restaurants, eating cuisine from around the world, and enjoying a show on opening nights. The baron always got special consideration, and Katie was the princess he could parade around on his arm.

“I think I’d like to walk from here,” Katie said. Boldly, she opened the door to the stagecoach as it paused in a line of other carts, schooners, and coaches backed up from the west end of Calder Avenue.

She exited the left side of the carriage, where Eduardo scrambled to climb out shortly after her. The heat of the August sun quickly warmed Katie’s shoulders as the distant bell tower on the Episcopal Church rang out ten times.

Train whistles and the general sound of people going about their daily lives filled Katie with mild excitement. Everyone had places to go. She opened the embroidered lace parasol to shade herself once on the sidewalk. Eduardo quickly joined her, standing close by without touching her directly.

“Please wait a moment, ma’am,” he said.

Katie took in the sights as the men did their duties. They hadn’t quite reached the boutiques, kiosks, and street sellers. Still, she smelled a rich tapestry of early-morning treats, from fried cob corn to fritters. Pastry sellers attracted the hungry. At the same time, shopkeepers opened their doors to eager men and women ready to experience east coast and European delights shipped in daily.

Eduardo conversed with Glenn as the older man climbed from the carriage. The driver looked bewildered, a little worried that Katie had chosen to open her own door instead of waiting. Sometimes, she liked to give her keepers a harmless scare. They lived and worked under the shadow of the baron, and any deviation from the habitual schedule kept them vigilant and lighthearted. That morning, she glimpsed a smirk from Eduardo when she announced her departure from the coach.

Glenn made arrangements with the driver, setting a timetable, while Eduardo waited near Katie. She felt his presence, even under cover of the parasol. She saw his firm jaw and erect profile. The tailored suit fit him snugly without overburdening him with restricted movement.

Eduardo’s shoes had a minor scuff mark on the toe that either he’d overlooked that morning or had happened since they left the residence.

The coach driver settled back into the driver’s box and directed the team of horses back into the rows of fellow travelers. Glenn approached Katie.

“The carriage will return to pick us up at two in the afternoon,” he said. “We’ll meet the driver in front of the Cordova Hotel.” It wasn’t a request. Glenn set the time limit she had away from the manor house.

“Thank you, Glenn,” she said.

Addressing the men by their Christian names was a risk Katie took when they were well away from the baron. It was her way of testing their camaraderie. Over the years, she learned everything she could about what the staff was willing to share with her. Carefully, Katie had nurtured relationships that allowed her isolation to feel less lonely.

Sometimes, the employees understood Katie’s sublime encouragement to small talk, fostering a surface rapport that kept her entertained and enlightened.

Most of the housing staff lived and worked on the property. The men assigned to personal assistant positions sometimes went away for weeks, assigned to various other venues owned and operated by the baron. They never shared details of their off-hour lives—if they had any.

As they walked along the crowded sidewalks, Katie saw faces of men and women who looked upon her like royalty. They stepped to the side to allow her and the men to pass unobstructed. Eduardo walked on Katie’s left, while Glenn walked behind them at a slower pace.

Glenn had a knee injury that sometimes impeded his speed. He always caught up to Katie because her routine whenever they went to town rarely changed.

“Are you looking for anything special today, Mrs. Marks?” Eduardo asked casually. He walked facing forward, never looking at her directly for too long.

“I want to pick up something special for Patrick. The dinner party on Saturday promises the governor’s presence,” Katie said. “I’d like to get orders for clam fritters, fried tripe, and something fun to drink instead of bourbon or beer.”

Katie loved sampling treats from the various pastry and confection shops. Proprietors catered to her because she was the conduit to the baron. In their eyes, if they treated her with the utmost respect, the baron made sure they received bountiful compensation in kind.

Katie began to relax, slowed her pace, and took in the window sights for each merchant shop she didn’t visit directly. She heard the church bells chiming every half hour. The train whistles from the freight yards, and the platform stations followed the twice-hourly bells.

Slowly, Katie began to accumulate different items from various shops and street vendors. Glenn and Eduardo carried bags and boxes. When she went into the drug store on Forsyth Street, Glenn paid for a cream soda for her.

“What are you getting for yourselves, gentlemen?” Katie asked. She had closed the parasol inside the large store with the ceramic tiles and high counters. Inside, it was stuffy but tolerable.

Glenn and Eduardo exchanged glances. Neither dared to speak up. They had stacked the small collection of boutique bags and boxes with ribbons on an available bench near the door.

“I can’t have the two of you walking with me all day without eating or drinking anything. It’s no way to enjoy your day,” she said, coaxing them.

The soda clerk stood behind the counter, grinning at Katie with a ferocity that she noticed but avoided. He was a teen in a white apron and hat. The pharmacist stepped out from the compounding room and observed the young man’s determined beaming.

Katie waited for Eduardo and Glenn to give in to the offer. She saw the pharmacist lean close to the clerk’s shoulder and the boy’s face changed, the smirk wiped from his face with a few choice words. He departed from the service counter. The clerk retreated to the backroom. The druggist took over, waiting with practiced patience.

“Please, gentlemen, I insist,” she said. Glenn carried the baron’s cash. Katie took a clasp purse because it was fashionable, but rarely was she allowed to have anything in it. Sometimes she carried a brass clasp of framboise rouge in a shade of rose tint that appealed to her husband. The baron did not allow Katie to carry money. Purchases came through store tabs for the baron, which the accounts paid monthly. Sometimes cash came out of Glenn’s pocket, who carried the money purse for Katie’s outings.

They ordered root beers, and the sodas came in individual glass bottles. The pharmacist returned to the compounding room to observe the sales floor through the small window in the separating wall.

Katie took a seat, enjoying a moment to get off her swollen feet. She didn’t complain about how her shoes felt too tight. The fatigue in her lower back and from another sleepless night strained her. But Katie knew better than to show her aches and pains. People had expectations when it came to the baron.

His wife was the talk of the town. People who made eye contact with Katie sometimes spoke to her kindly in passing. They saw her elegant dress, her beautiful face, and concluded that she was the luckiest woman in Texas. Katie had learned to show people what they wanted to believe. It wasn’t hard to do. Most people had a perception of the baron. He had earned the respect of local community officials and had shook the hand of the President of the United States. The baron often dined with visiting dignitaries from around the world; he was on a first-name basis with the governor.

People saw Katie as the baron’s wife but never got to know her intimately. Socializing as the hostess of parties at Byzantium Manor didn’t make a lot of room for close acquaintances. Wives and mistresses of the men who visited with the baron didn’t get close enough to share the kind of chatter and gossip that other women thrived on. Sometimes, the solitude suited her. It made it easier for Katie to live a life free of close ties.

“See, wasn’t it worth getting?” she said, watching Glenn and Eduardo dropping their pretenses long enough to enjoy the sugary drinks.

When the noon bells rang, Katie had already finished the majority of her shopping. She had found a street seller that had acquired a fine collection of black Périgord and Burgundy truffles. The baron had once spoken of the overseas delicacies fondly. Finding them fresh off a boat from France was a true delight and would certainly please her husband.

Haggling wasn’t something Katie understood, however. “Can one of you gentlemen help with this transaction?” she asked.

The street seller was a savvy young man who wasn’t familiar with Katie’s celebrity or her husband’s. Glenn began a conversation with the vendor and Eduardo stood beside Katie, waiting while the street seller refused to give her a better price.

It was a mildly entertaining display, but Katie lost interest in the conversation between Glenn and the truffle seller when she felt the delicate caress of Eduardo’s fingers against her knuckles. She had relaxed her right hand to her side, and Eduardo stood with the parasol shading his left shoulder. It was close enough for him to brush lightly, innocently against her side. His tantalizing fingertips found Katie’s naked knuckles, and she sighed at the encounter.

It was daring and dangerous. Eduardo’s presumption could cost him more than his job if the baron found out.

Katie did her best to collect other people’s secrets. If she ever needed allies, it was good to know whose undisclosed information had not been shared with her husband. Flirtation was a man’s game. Men always coveted what they could not possess. They took risks when it came to passion. When Eduardo’s strong fingers caressed the inside of Katie’s palm, she sucked in air. Despite the heat, chills ran down her spine. She looked at everything else except the man standing next to her.

They watched Glenn haggle with the professional street seller. Even the president wouldn’t get a better deal than what he offered. The man made no compromises. Glenn focused on dealing with a belligerent young man without getting violent over mushrooms while Katie focused on the clandestine touch of a man risking everything to show her that he cared for her. The forbidden contact went unnoticed by Glenn and anyone passing by the two men in a heated debate over the price of a fungus.

It was close to one in the afternoon when Katie needed to find a community water closet.

“We’re close to Cordova,” she said. “Why not get a small lunch for the three of us before we go back to the estate?”

“Whatever you wish, ma’am,” Glenn said, keeping the box filled with the prized mushrooms with him.

Eduardo flagged a taxi carriage to take them the rest of the way down Main Street to the hotel. They had a bigger collection of bags and boxes. The taxi driver agreed to help bring the lot into the hotel’s lobby while Glenn escorted Katie to the dining area.

Before she sat down, Katie excused herself. The hotel catered to several guests from all over the country. In August, they had reached capacity, and walking from the dining room to the water closet meant a crowded path. She took her time, smiling falsely at anyone who looked her way. Katie had mastered the art of looking in high spirits at all times.

The ladies’ powder room had several women chatting and touching up their rouge and powdered faces. Katie slipped between and around the women who noticed her but didn’t stop to greet her directly. Unlike men, women played a different game when it came to notoriety. Women waited until the object of their gossip or ridicule left the vicinity. It didn’t matter to Katie. She didn’t get close to too many women, either. Sometimes, women’s allegiances were impossible to decipher. If their husbands had business with the baron, or were under pressure by the man, they could use any tidbit gleaned from Katie to help their husbands.

She walked through the second inner door of the powder room to the toilets. They had individual stalls without doors. Ignoring ladies going about their business was easy when they had layers of skirts and petticoats in the way. Katie didn’t stop until she reached the back of the room and opened a door that led into the next powder room, which had an exit that led to the hotel’s billiard room. Tobacco smoke engulfed her as Katie picked up her pace.

Hurrying through the smoky room, Katie snatched a black umbrella leaning against the coat rack by the exit door. She had left the parasol at the luncheon table in the hotel restaurant. She knew Glenn and Eduardo didn’t worry about her taking time in the ladies’ room. Over the months, she’d increased the time with each visit, testing their limits. She had ten minutes before one of them went to stand outside the room, and another five minutes after that before they went into the powder room inquiring about her. It upset the women, but they knew better than complain. After all, the baron’s wife was an important figure in the community. Her safety was above others’ embarrassment.

Katie strolled quickly through the side door of the Cordova. Once on the sidewalk on Bonham Street, she opened the umbrella and kept it close to her head. It was impossible to disguise the taffeta dress, but people didn’t see her face. She hurried along the street and through the alley leading to Calder Avenue, where she turned east.

Throngs of people filled the platform at the train station for Southern Pacific Railroad. Katie bypassed the ticket agent and headed to the one-thirty departure train. The conductor called out a two-minute warning. Steam from the engines filled the walkways as Katie searched the crowds for—

“I didn’t think you’d make it,” he said from behind her. He took Katie by the elbow and whisked her through the loading passengers. “Hurry, get on.”

“A Hunter’s Instinct Never Fails” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Noah Hancock is a former lawman who has learned the hard way that right and wrong don’t always balance out. Four years after resigning, Noah’s employed by a powerful self-proclaimed baron to track down a missing woman, but he knows he is not alone in this mission. Faced with a difficult choice, Noah must decide the fate of a woman he’s never even met. When a mysterious stranger approaches him, he discovers the shocking truth behind her escape…

Will Noah take the law into his own hands to find justice, or will his morality prevail?

Katie has been planning her escape from her callous husband for a long time, determined to walk away from everything she’s ever known. The adventure of a lifetime begins when she becomes the target of her husband’s trusted associate who will stop at nothing to bring her back. However, she’s not alone on this journey, and when she opens up about her choice she finds an unexpected ally…

Will Katie manage to flee from her controlling husband, or will she pay the price for her rebellion?

As they grow more familiar, Noah and Katie will find themselves magnetically attracted to each and their lives are unexpectedly intertwined. They will have to trust each other if they are to beat the odds and overcome those who threaten their safety. When faced with danger, will their quick thinking and drive help them survive their greatest challenge yet?

“A Hunter’s Instinct Never Fails” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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