A Hunter’s Sacrifice for Honor (Preview)

Chapter One

Austin Hale took a deep breath of the fresh spring air, mist thick through the Smokey Mountains, just a few hours east of Nashville. Ghost carried him through the sharply rising mountains, thick with red maple and buckeye and hackberry trees. The gray, speckled stallion stepped through a rushing stream, a red-tailed hawk crying out before fluttering from the branches of nearby silverbell.

Austin’s senses were keenly tuned to the mountain; listening for the sounds created by other animals, scanning the forest for any sign of his prey, a ten-point white-tail buck. The animal would bring in good money for the hide and provide him and others with a good supply of meat.

But the deer knew he was coming, and it had begun a series of changes of course to avoid him. It was an old tactic Austin knew well and could use to his own advantage. The deer was agile and strong, but Ghost was dogged and Austin knew the stag would tire as it climbed higher. Austin had been tracking the beast for an hour, a slow and steady pursuit which he knew would finally be the crucial factor, other things notwithstanding.

So Austin kept another eye out for those things; cougar, black bear, cottonmouth and copperhead, timber and pigmy rattlers. The Smokies were filled with dangerous creatures.

Austin Hale was very much one of them.

He looked around as Ghost brought him higher, sun breaking through the canopy. He took a deep breath of the cool spring air and took in the lush foliage around him, and blue sky above. He loved being out in the mountains, relished it, but it brought him a certain melancholy.

They’re going to make it out here eventually, Austin had to admit to himself, those slickers from Nashville, from the East Coast. Little by little, they’re taking over the whole country. Automobiles coughing that noxious black junk into the air, roads that are often paved and permanent. Ford and those others will want to build more of those factories out here, with those hideous towers and more black smoke pouring up. They think they can get away with that forever, but it’ll come to blows.

Someday, the mountains will fight back.

But that day was a long way off, and the Smoky Mountains were still far from Nashville, still rugged and inaccessible to most, still Austin’s sanctuary. It provided for him and protected him and kept him out of the way of lesser men, wicked men. Men always brought their lesser selves to society, Austin had always found. It was the natural world that brought out the best in men. In cities like Nashville, men were measured by the gold in their pockets, the coins in their pouches, and the shine of their boots. But in the Smokies, a man was measured by his deeds, by his character, by his grit; those made the difference between life and death in the mountains, and that was as it should be to Austin’s way of thinking.

Austin spotted the buck, climbing the slope about a hundred yard ahead of him. It was a beautiful animal, the sum total of nature’s grace and majesty. It stopped and looked around, raising those ten points to survey its territory. It was the alpha male, Austin had no doubt. But it had sired families, and contributed to the life cycle of the mountain. It would soon be aging, and the mountain would be as cruel to it as to anybody or anything.

Nobody and nothing survived the mountains forever.

But Austin knew he had to get closer, and a little kick to Ghost’s haunches sent the animal climbing higher, nodding and huffing to reassure Austin it knew what to do. They’d done it hundreds of times over Austin’s thirty years, raised in the Smokies by his trapper father and loving mother before their murders by road agents fifteen years before.

Austin and Ghost stalked the buck, pushing quietly through the green ash and sweetgum, beech and holly thick at the stallion’s black hooves. But the stag wasn’t fooled, and pushed higher up the slope, to a spot Austin knew well. He’d been driving the buck to a clearing on the side of that particular slope, one often used by deer for grazing. It was a marking spot, and Austin knew the stag would stop and double-check the integrity of his boundaries before pushing on.

Austin readied his Winchester. He cocked it slowly, knowing that metallic click could travel far and fast and would spoil his trap. He’d planned for hours to push the buck into that clearing, timing it perfectly as Austin and Ghost arrived at a smaller rise in the forest, one he’d used often. It gave him elevation above the forest floor and a perfect shot at the clearing. The buck knew his world, he knew the ways of the human; Austin didn’t have any doubt.

But he couldn’t know this.

Austin waited, Ghost huffing and pausing at the top of the small rise. The clearing was in perfect view, a patch of grass in the forest with a large rock formation jutting out at its center. That was where the beasts marked their territory. That was where Austin would make the kill. He waited, the forest quiet around him. But there was something wrong, something he couldn’t quite place. The gray speckled stallion glanced around beneath him, huffing and shaking his head.

Austin felt time was running short but there was little to do but wait, watch, and be ready. He kept his eyes on that clearing, rifle in his hands, a pine warbler crying out nearby. The mountain seemed peaceful, calming. But death lurked nearby. In the Smokies, it always did.

The stag stepped into the clearing up the slope, only fifty yards or so ahead. It was a perfect distance for the perfect shot. The wind would carry Austin’s scent in the other direction and the stag would be focused in on its freshening its mark, no doubt certain it had evaded its predator.

The big beast strode up to the rock formation in the center of the clearing and looked around. There could be no sign of danger from its perspective. It walked with caution, but increasing comfort as it sniffed the rocks.

Austin raised his rifle, lining up the shot. His breathing was measured and slow and even, finger moving slowly and easily over the trigger. He was aiming for the head so the valuable hide wouldn’t be damaged and so the animal would die quickly. A shot almost anywhere else could send the animal running through the mountains, and give it hours of painful climbing that would be needless torture for the animal.

Austin only did it one way; a single shot, right in the head.

If it was a miss, the animal would make a clean getaway. It would move fast and far and it would create such a distance between them that it wouldn’t be worth the pursuit. But Austin had long resolved, at his father’s guidance, that if the shot was a miss then the animal deserved to live and the hunter deserved to go hungry and go home. It was a matter of fairness. It was life or death on a single shot, the gamble of a lifetime, every time.

The stag lifted its leg, the moment of its greatest unsteadiness and vulnerability. Austin held his breath, his finger gently tightened around the trigger and squeezed.

Bang!

Northern cardinals fluttered out of the branches above. But in the clearing, the stag’s head jutted slightly to the side. It stood stunned for a moment, stepping sideways before falling to the ground to the side of the rock formation.

Ghost huffed and clopped beneath Austin, used to the sound of a rifle shot but never reacting well to it. Austin holstered the rifle, took the reins, and kicked the horse into action, galloping up the side of the mountain to collect his kill. They weaved through the blackgum and poplar to the clearing and Ghost carried Austin to the stag. It lay dead, a clean hole in the side of the head.

Austin looked around before dismounting. He took a long coil of rope from his saddle. It was a chore to tie the front pair of legs together and then pull it over horse’s back, tie them off around the back, and an even bigger chore to walk the horse all the way back to his cabin, and he had to do it quickly.

The roar sent a chill up Austin’s spine, hairs standing up on the back of his neck to see the great black bear lurching out of the trees and into the clearing, shaking its head and opening its great, toothy mouth, ready to devour him and the dead stag too.

CHAPTER TWO

Austin reared back, Ghost doing the same in the face of the charging black bear. It came in fast, light face against the death-dark body. It wanted the stag, Austin knew that, and he could just as easily run and let the big scavenger have its fill.

But he wasn’t going to.

Ghost was too far from Austin for him to get his Winchester from the leather holster on the side of the saddle. But the horse had courage and sense enough to linger and not run off, and that could still make all the difference, even at the gamble of its own life.

Austin held his ground to keep the bear from pawing at the hide, destroying its value. But the bear was intent on chasing Austin off, waving its long, black claws at him in deadly swipes which got closer and closer.

Austin drew his Colt pistol, gifted from his father. It had been used to dispatch road agents and French marauders, scoundrels of all stripes. But Austin had no wish to kill the creature who was simply acting on its own impulse. The mountain needed that bear, and Austin had already taken the stag. He’d never be able to bring both back, so one would be a complete waste.

Austin knew what he had to do. He drew upon the years of experience of the lessons his father had given him on shooting fast and smart. Austin raised the gun and leveled the sights, the bear roaring as if confused by Austin’s calm reaction.

Bang!

The bear’s right ear vanished from its head in an explosion of meat and fur and blood. The bear reared back, howling in shocked agony. It shook its head, blood flecking as it pawed the side of its head. Austin stood, ready to put one into the creature’s head if he had to. And the bear seemed to know it at last. It growled and whimpered and backed up, turning one way and then the other before picking an avenue of retreat out of the clearing and back into the woods.

It was a risky proposition. Austin knew he faced a long trip down the mountain to his cabin with the fresh kill slung over Ghost’s back. The bear could strike back on the way down, and at almost any time.

But it wasn’t likely. The beast would have learned its lesson about getting too close to a human being, especially Austin Hale. It was no certainty, however, and time remained of the essence. Just mounting the stag onto Ghost’s back took thirty minutes, and they were the most dangerous because his hands were constantly occupied with tying or pulling or push the beast into place. Once over Ghost’s back in the saddle to keep the kill in place, Austin could lead it down the hill. He kept his pistol in one hand, horse’s reins in the other as they entered the thickly forested part of the mountain.

The woods were treacherous. In addition to the bear that Austin knew was lurking, there were the other predators crawling all over the mountains. Austin was dragging a fresh kill which would be a beacon to any nearby cougar, and even the snakes. Every step that led him closer to home also led him closer to the heart of darkness, the precipice of doom.

But the Smokies offered little choice to the intrepid. Every day was a risk, a struggle, a life extended and a life cut short. It was no different in Nashville or in any of the big cities, as far as Austin was concerned. But at least on the mountain it was a fair fight, a noble struggle for noble reasons of survival, nourishment; not the greed or corruption which propelled the men and women of the city.

Austin made his way slowly back to the cabin, a journey calm enough to let his mind wander. He knew what to expect; another long night alone, butchering the meat and cleaning the hide, setting it out to dry and then smoking the meat to preserve it. He’d make a stew some of the better cuts, which would preserve the meat and the vegetables from his garden. The night’s meal would be the best steak cut from the deer, tender and juicy and best cooked fresh.

But it would be a bittersweet taste in his mouth, as it would be another meal that he would enjoy, or endure, alone. He would have no woman with him, hadn’t for so long, for too long. It had seemed right at first, natural, after Ester’s passing. First his parents; it all seemed so futile to try to love somebody in such a violent and grizzly world. But the price he’d paid came in coin he knew well, in the lonely nights and the quiet days, in the chill in his bones and belly even on those humid summer days. And he paid every day; every morning, noon, and night. It was like a tax on his very life, and he felt that it was slowly bleeding him dry.

He flashed on Daisy’s pretty face; red hair and green eyes, pale skin lightly freckled. He thought about her feisty manner and her fiercely loyal friendship. But he knew what would happen if he dared to love her more, as he wished to do. He seemed to lose everybody he ever loved, and it seemed the only way to keep her in his life at all, to keep her alive, was to keep her at a distance. But he knew he’d never find a woman with her strength and beauty, that rare combination of sweet and sexy.

Austin put her out of his mind yet again. The cabin got clearer as he walked Ghost down the mountainside. They’d made it safely, but there was still a stag to skin and butcher, meat to smoke and cook and eat. It was a lot of work for one man, but that was the life the Smoky Mountains had staked out for Austin Hale, the life he’d accepted.

CHAPTER THREE

“I hear the Feds are setting up an office in Nashville,” Walter Winfield said, sticking a fat cigar into his fat mouth and puffing out a fat cloud of white smoke. “You think that’s a coincidence?”

“We all knew that was likely,” Austin said, raising a glass of his own whiskey to his lips. A sip went down hot and smooth.

“And now we have to do something about it!” Walter’s round face and stout body, made strong by a lifetime of farming, seemed to roll in the chair on the other side of the sofa in Austin’s cabin living room.

He’d expanded the cabin several times over the years, to include new bedrooms and a larger study, giving the place more of the feel of a rustic hotel than the meager mountain cabin his father had started building years before. The walls were of fine cedar, the support beams spruce, the floorboards pine.

But of course his mountain home had advantages other than size; being more or less just between Nashville and Knoxville, it was perfectly situated for the regular meetings the three of them often had.

Daisy Billings looked over from her seat on the sofa, one of the numerous furnishings Austin had brought back from Nashville on one of his regular trips into town. She also held a glass of Austin’s whiskey, sipping it daintily. She was a rare woman, a combination of rugged mountain bootlegger and refined woman of elegance. And her Celtic coloring and perfectly symmetrical face was a sensual distraction, as always, one he found harder and harder to resist.

And she seemed to know it.

“Your whiskey is delicious as always, Austin. My compliments.”

Austin offered her a friendly smile, the chemistry of their company always an easy brew. “It goes down great with a cold glass of your refreshing beer.”

“I work hard enough to make it. Thank goodness for Jimmer here.” They all glanced at Jimmer Samples, who raised the brim of his wool cap and smiled to acknowledge the compliment. And it was true; without that intrepid young man to smuggle cartloads of ingredients in and liquor and beer barrels out, the three bootleggers could never have thrived the way they had.

Walter, who could grow his own potatoes for the clear spirits that were his specialty, did better than either Austin or Daisy, though all three’s products were immensely popular with the speakeasies and others in Nashville, Knoxville, and other points beyond. Austin had little doubt their goods were being watered down and resold to others, but he considered that out of his purview. He hated the idea that his family recipe was almost certainly being bastardized, but he was glad his family’s nearly lost art had managed to carry the name through harder times then as it had in years before. The Hales had always made whiskey, and it had been the family’s savior more than once.

This time, however, he needed his alliance with Walter and Daisy. It gave them mutual protection, support, and advice. It gave them a network of information that kept them one step ahead of the prohees , over road agents and other marauders. There was strength in numbers, and information was money.

“As for the feds,” Walter went on.

Daisy asked him, “What do you suggest? We can’t just murder every agent the federal government sends here.”

Walter glared at her. Austin could tell what Walter was thinking, and he was certain Daisy knew it too. Walter was an old-fashioned man who had to be convinced to join business forces with a woman, but it had profited him well and he seemed to know enough not to be constantly butting heads with her. As the brewer of the best beer in the state, close enough to both towns to beat out any other supplier in terms of quality and freshness, she was not to be challenged.

But there were other tensions between Walter and Daisy, ones Austin chose not to think about.

“We’ll buy them off,” Daisy said. “Let’s face it, the Volstead Act is … it’s a child’s notion of morality. Most of the prohibition agents don’t believe in it any more than anybody else.”

“But they get paid to enforce it,” Austin said. “And it is the law, after all. You don’t kill a man for doing his job, and you don’t kill a man for enforcing the law.”

“You’re doing well enough,” Daisy said to Walter. “Your profit margins are bigger than either of ours.”

“But my sales are less,” Walter said. “I didn’t realize you’d become my accountant as well!”

Austin said, “Collect yourself, Walter.”

“I’m collected,” Walter said, sticking the cigar back into his mouth.

“All right,” Austin said, thinking things through as he stood up to pace around his own substantial living room. “First, we’re all very well hidden. It would take a miracle to find my still.”

“Or mine,” Walter said, “but I don’t like hiding.”

“None of us do,” Daisy said. “But we’re just going to have to deal with it for right now. Your traps are all rigged up, I trust?”

Walter said, “Of course! I don’t need you to tell me that.”

“Mine too.” Austin turned to young Jimmer. “You know the spots to avoid, right?”

“Aye, sir,” Jimmer said in an Irish brogue, adding a nod and a smile.

“And your shotgun rider, you can trust him?”

“He’s me own bruddah, sir, aye.”

Austin turned back to Walter and Daisy. “Then I suggest we stay the course, keep an eye on the feds in Nashville.” He looked specifically at Daisy. “Same thing in Knoxville?”

Daisy shook her pretty head. “Not that I know of. I’ll double-check with my snitches.”

“Do it,” Austin said, “but be cautious, be careful who you trust.” Daisy smiled and nodded, clearly knowing Austin’s concern for her. Walter’s eyes shifted from her to Austin and back. He seemed to recognize it too.

They broke up the meeting, preparing to go back to their respective homes in different areas around the Smoky Mountains. Walter stepped up to Austin first and the two turned for a modicum of privacy.

“You and this woman, you’re –?”

“Don’t overstep your bounds, Walter.”

“I just want to make sure we’re all handling things in a strictly businesslike manner.”

Austin looked Walter over. He was formidable, but the shorter and stouter man was no match for him in strength of body or will. He did have other strengths, connections and a willingness to be underhanded, and those could be turned to a deadly advantage; against Austin himself, against Daisy.

After glancing at Daisy behind them, Austin said, “Strictly professional.”

Walter seemed to give it some thought before nodding, sticking the cigar back into his mouth, and stepping away. Jimmer offered Austin and Daisy a nod before following Walter across the living room and out the door.


“A Hunter’s Sacrifice for Honor” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Austin is a fearless hunter who lives a solitary life and earns a living by brewing whiskey for the speakeasies of Nashville. He and other local bootleggers have joined forces to maintain unity and avoid internal conflicts. When the government sends two prohibition agents to take the bootleggers down, the balance of power is thrown into disarray, putting everybody’s prosperity, and life in grave danger. When Austin witnesses a dreadful attack against Sally, one of the agents, he’s left with no choice but to rescue her. Will he confess the crime and risk everything he is fighting for? Or will he oppose corruption and put himself on the line for the sake of justice?

Being an honorable man, Austin can’t let Sally unprotected but he will need the help of Daisy, a bootlegger who is in love with him to complete his plan. Eager to find the suspect behind the terrible crime, Austin is determined to take drastic measures by sacrificing himself. While unlikely alliances are formed, the dishonesty of mighty people must be dealt with if Austin truly wants to find peace. Will his plan to bring down those who committed the crime come to a conclusion without having to jeopardize the lives of innocent people?

Just when Austin and Daisy are ready to develop a divine connection, Austin will get badly injured by wild animals in an attempt to escape a vicious attack. Daisy will find him barely breathing but saving him will be beyond her powers. Will they get a chance to be together after all? Or will the wickedness of corrupt government agents and murderous gangsters end their happiness before it even begins?

“A Hunter’s Sacrifice for Honor” 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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