The Pursuit Of Hidden Truths (Preview)

Chapter One

Coker Creek, Tennessee 1878

She ran through the forest as the sunset already cast long shadows on the trees. The trail from the cabin to the ovens was a familiar footpath she had taken over the years. She knew it so well, day or night, thick with fog or covered in falling snow from blizzards; she’d always find her way. Her father had run the batteries for as long as she remembered. He had earned the town’s respect, if not the compensation that should have come with his knowledge and experience. 

Yet, her father provided for the family. He made sure they had full bellies at bedtime, went to sermons on Sunday, and she always had shoes that fit her feet growing up. Of course, she didn’t have the best dresses, never a Sunday go-to-meeting hat like the respectable ladies in the village, but she never wanted anything extra. If it were up to her, she wouldn’t wear dresses. The skirts got in the way of everything, especially when it came to running. She learned to tuck the skirts into her belt or hip sash to keep the material out of the way. If the briar bushes grabbed at the dress hem or tore the fabric, she didn’t care at all.

Before reaching the end of the path, the heavy layers of trapped chimney smoke clung to the saplings surrounding the earthen coke ovens. The beehive ovens were tended by able-bodied men who sometimes worked with their shirts off. Most of the young men living in Coker Creek took extra shifts tending the coke ovens. Sometimes, she’d find village girls watching from the low brush, whispering and giggling. 

On that evening, she didn’t see anyone spying on her brother. Before she reached the main path around the ovens, the hem came out of her belt, and she leaped over the deadfall log, startling the small group of men tending the fires.

“Girl, you gave my heart a start,” Milton Finley said, staggering at her sudden appearance.

“Sorry, Mr. Finley, you see my pa or brother?” she asked. 

“Your brother’s over on the south side, loading,” Randall Knox said, gesturing over the ovens. “Your Pa didn’t come today.”

Both Milton and Randall were a few years older than her brother but a decade or two younger than her father. Both men were hard-working and learned everything they knew about coke production from her father. 

“Thank you, Mr. Knox,” she said, sprinting away from them, weaving around the double battery of back-to-back ovens. 

“Be careful, Aria,” one of them called after her. 

“Hey, is he playing today?” Randall asked, already out of sight.

“Yes, he’s been playing for over an hour now,” she shouted over her shoulder, knowing other coke workers had the same question, and Aria wanted to make sure they heard her too. 

The Creekside Coke plant consisted of four batteries of ovens in staggered formation, all encased in the earth to trap the heat and help the cooking of the coal. Each battery of ovens was more than nine feet tall and thirty-five feet wide. Some were as long as one hundred and eighty feet that contained more than fifty ovens built back-to-back to conserve that heat with foundations of baked clay. 

Aria had helped construct the last set of beehive ovens with a diameter of twelve feet, sandstone exteriors. She and her brother, Tristan, helped stack the interior firebricks. Aria even set the last bricks at the top and the window on the side. 

Crew members unloaded coal from the railway cars to the rows of batteries and dumped coal into the oven tops. After which, laborers leveled the deposited coal through the side window with iron scrapers. Once the coal filled the chamber, the cart brought the wet clay to seal the windows, leaving a one-inch opening to allow for air. 

It took seventy-two hours to heat the coal in the closed chamber. Sometimes the fumes could make handlers pass out if they weren’t careful. The volatile material wasn’t meant to have anyone handling it until it reached its cooking temperature and time. Once the laborers removed the coke, it went back into the railway cars for shipment to the iron furnace in Nashville. They produced more than a ton of coke for every two tons of coal on good hauls. 

It was backbreaking work that Aria found strangely appealing and rewarding. Many nights, sitting with her father or brother watching the overnight fires, she enjoyed their company. They were warm and toasty through the winter months. Aria got satisfaction and felt her father’s excitement when they removed the clay plugs and saw how coal changed into a hard, grey substance through a technique called thermal distillation. It was a fancy term a man from the railroad wearing an equally fancy suit told Aria once. 

She raced through the last ovens, where Tristan and the other loaders scooped out the last of the coke from the cookers. He was over his shift by an hour, and the owners never made more than a day’s wage, so the extra time came out of his pocket, not into it. 

“Come on,” Aria said, skidding to a stop in the coke dust surrounding the coal cars. “He’s been playing for over an hour now.”

Tristan wore a bandana over his face and had the same grey dust coating his sweaty skin as the rest of the men who stopped chucking coke into the open rail cars. He paused to lean on the shovel handle. 

“Is he winning?” someone asked. Aria knew all the men who worked at the coke plant, but it was harder to pick out some over others through the layers of flying dust and fabric-covered faces. 

“He always wins,” Aria said. Though that wasn’t entirely true, it was all she wanted to say about it. Aria glared at her brother. “Come on.”

“I can’t. I got to finish up here,” he said through the bandana, puffing coke dust as he spoke. “Dad didn’t come in today. I had to finish up for him too.”

“Are you getting paid twice for your work?”

Tristan didn’t answer. 

“Come on,” she said. 

“Take off. It’s this last one. We’ll be back into town in an hour or two,” Dennis Haney said, tapping Tristan’s arm before reaching for the shovel. “The coal’s late today.”

Sometimes Tristan helped load the ovens once the coke emptied. The locomotive had empty covered hoppers for the coke and open gondola cars for the raw coal coming from the mine. He stepped away from the others finishing up at the last ovens. 

Aria grabbed Tristan’s shirt, holding it out for him with two fingers. 

He wiped down his face with the bandana before grabbing his button-down shirt. Aria wrinkled her nose at her brother. 

“It don’t smell,” he said. “I put it on clean this morning.”

“It ain’t the shirt that smells,” she said, stepping out of reach as he took a playful swipe at her. “Rachel won’t want to stand near you if you go to the saloon smelling like that.” 

Rachel MacKiernan was a pretty girl of nineteen that had her eye on Tristan since she was sixteen. Many boys in town liked Rachel because she always wore pretty dresses and never had to help earn her keep in the house owned by her father, the local blacksmith. Rachel was a girl that had a lot of gossip about her that Aria didn’t like to hear. She didn’t want her brother getting near the girl, but Tristan was a catch, according to some of the chinwag Aria had heard about her brother. Rachel would never settle for a twenty-four-year-old young man that worked at the coke plant. 

Aria liked to tease Tristan because Rachel had caught his eye on occasion. 

“Are you ready?” she asked.

“I ain’t racing you,” he said, finishing the last button on his shirt. He stopped to take a drink from the water bucket on the loading dock. 

“Are you afraid I’ll beat you again?” she asked, still needling her big brother. Tristan was a year older than Aria and had always looked out for her. 

“No, you silly girl. I’ve been up to my elbows all day hauling coke,” he said. 

“That never stopped you before.”

“You get on my last nerve. You should get home and look after Dad.”

“Dad doesn’t want me looking after him,” Aria said. “He’ll want to know if you beat me home racing.”

Aria didn’t worry too much about their father missing a day of work from time to time. He had a cough that took his wind and sapped his energy. With the money she brought in from the laundry and the earnings Tristan made from the plant, they still had money left over to put in the hidden savings jars. Their father had taught Aria and Tristan the responsibility to put away something every week from their wages. When their father had days of heavy coughing that took his strength, they didn’t have to worry about the lost wages. 

Aria pushed on her brother’s arm, trying to coax him into a race home. It was four miles on the trail, taking a shortcut off the main path leading back to town. They had access to the footpath to the coke plant from the cabin on the north end of Coker Creek, which meant the alternative route took them through a ditch in the middle of the forest that sometimes filled with stagnant, mosquito-infested water. Aria had already run the conduit and wasn’t afraid to race back. 

“Don’t push me,” Tristan said, suddenly bitter about Aria’s challenge. “I’m tired.”

Leading away from the loading docks, Tristan waved to the others. Aria walked with him, thinking by the time they got back to town, they’d miss out on the games. 

Friday night, most people in Coker Creek went to one place in Coker Creek: Stig Lager House Pub. It was the place all outsiders knew about the village. It was the one location that anyone passing through Coker Creek couldn’t resist. The place had history, had prestige, despite its name. It was the one place Aria went to that gave her a sense of the homeland, a place she only knew through her father’s stories. 

The beer hall was an essential piece of Ireland brought to America by the Coker family and others. They had survived their overseas passage and indentured time with English families wanting to settle in the new world. The pub had memorabilia, trinkets, and bobbles, hand-me-down pieces from families that made the tiny town in Monroe County, Tennessee, their new home. Many Irish families ventured further west after adding their blood to the War Between the States. Still, Aria’s father and several other families decided to make Coker Creek their residence. They used their knowledge of milling, farming, and mining to live their lives free of indentured servitude. 

“What’s with the piss face?” Tristan asked, nudging her as Aria walked beside him. 

“I wanted to see him play,” she said, kicking broken twigs off the trail.

“You can go,” he said, shoving her again, setting her off-balance. 

She could go; it wouldn’t matter to Tristan. But Aria always had more fun watching the games with her brother. He knew more about the game than her, had even played it, though never around their father. Aria shoved her brother’s shoulder, and he barely moved. Tristan had remarked a few times that he wanted to play against the best, but they never had the money to sit across the table from Jacob O’Farrelly, the best gambler in the territory and the sheriff of Coker Creek. 

“Don’t act so sour,” Tristan said, pushing Aria again, making her trip. 

When she recovered, Aria used all her upper-body strength to push her brother lopsided. It didn’t work. He was fleshy stone, strong as an ox. 

“Stop pushing,” she said through gritted teeth.

Instead, Tristan continued poking Aria’s side, her head, and shoulder. She tried swatting his hand away, but Tristan was too fast. He shoved her again, even tripped her. Aria fell on the footpath, catching herself with her hands in the dirt. 

“What’s the matter?” he asked, teasing her. “Are your legs broken?”

Aria dug into the soil with the tip of her boot, pushing off to launch at her brother. But he anticipated her attack, pivoting, dodging out of the way so fast that her fingertips brushed his shirt instead of grabbing it. Aria fell into the bushes. 

“Aw, you ass,” she said, trying to pick herself out of the bush. The yarrow and buckeye drank up the sunlight that filtered through the overhead canopy of leaves. Wild raspberries had curled their unforgiving tendrils around the other plants among the bushes. “I got scrapes on my hands.” 

When Aria untangled herself from the bush, she saw an empty trail. The distant patter of boots told Aria that Tristan used the distraction to gain a head start in the race for home. 

“Damn it,” she hissed and dashed away. 

Far ahead, Tristan’s fleeting figure weaved along the trail, around the red oaks, ash, and poplar trees. He hurried over the knoll, headed for the shortcut to their cabin. Aria darted into the woods to the left, anticipating Tristan’s attempt to reach home before her. If she stayed in the woods, flying as straight as she could, there was a good chance she’d catch up. 

Aria hoped that during Tristan’s walk to work that morning before sunup, he overlooked the—

She heard the splash and Tristan groaning. Aria dodged around the pines, jumped the ridge to get to the narrow footpath, and stopped short of following her brother into the ditch. Tristan had to climb out the other side, and mud had soaked his knees. 

“Did you fill that with leaves?” he asked.

Laughing at her mud-soaked brother crawling up the embankment, Aria went around the hole, waiting for him. He had most of his front covered in wet leaves and muck. It wasn’t deep enough to hold water — the long hot days leading up to June had sucked most of the spring rainwater from the pit. It was perfect timing and worth the few minutes it took to best her brother with ingenuity and a little patience. 

“I don’t know what you mean,” she said, still laughing at him.

“Look, I see all those leaves missing from there and over there,” he said, pointing to the cleared parts of the forest where typically leaf litter blanketed the ground. He climbed higher, getting his head above the trench. “You filled that hole with leaves.” He struggled to climb out, kicking footholds in the soft earth. “What if Dad fell in here?”

“Dad doesn’t run through here,” she said. “And he knows about the hole. You were the lunkhead that forgot about it.” 

“You did this to set me up?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Aria said

“Help me up,” he asked, sounding weak, reaching out a dripping hand to her. There was a smirk on Tristan’s face. 

After catching her breath, Aria backed away from the hole, turning from her brother to continue the footrace. 

“Now you got to clean up before you get to the pub,” she said. “Rachel won’t have to squeeze her nose around you.” 

Chapter Two

Aria didn’t wait for Tristan before passing by the cabin, weaving around the broken wagon, crossing the street, and running to the other end of town, where the Stig Lager House Pub was the tallest and most prominent building at the end of the road. 

The same heavy construction techniques used to build the coke ovens went into the production of the large pub with the gambling hall, stage, and second floor filled with flowery suites and girls of wilted flowers. Its two-level structure had a concrete slab floor with a wrap-around porch outside the first level with balconies on the second floor. 

Beyond the foyer with its deer antler chandelier, coat, and gun room, the main floor had space enough for fourteen tables and five chairs each. The stage often had no entertainers, typically reserved for men with deep pockets of cash, gold, and silver. Rarely did anyone play the piano at the side of the stage. 

On the stage that Friday night, Sheriff Jacob O’Farrelly had his high-back chair with the leather cushions. His black flat brim gambler hat hung on the hook over his shoulder. He always had his chair against the back wall, never allowing anyone to stand behind him or see his playing cards. 

The saloon catered to the Irish immigrants who made Coker Creek their home. Men and women complained about the flat ale without color or weight. Aria had never tasted lager, only knew of the stories. The whiskey and rye never got complaints. She found her place among the other young pub ladies on the stairwell leading upstairs. Most girls who worked upstairs often spent hours downstairs, trying to wheedle men away from the gambling tables. But persuading men upstairs using the wiles of a woman never worked when Sheriff O’Farrelly played the game; no one had bedroom games on their minds when the man played poker. 

“Has he lost at all?” Aria asked in a breathy whisper, having run so far to watch the players. Tristan hadn’t arrived at the pub, but she expected him soon enough. 

“Yeah, a few times,” Molly whispered. 

She was a few years older than Aria and didn’t talk about what happened upstairs or the scar on her face that extended her mouth up to her cheekbone. Molly was one of the few working girls that talked to Aria. She never understood why the others often scowled at her. Aria wasn’t interested in taking one of their rooms at the pub. She understood some of the business that went on in the rooms but didn’t think it was polite to ask anyone, even Molly. She was a girl that never went hungry with roomy hips and a heavy top; she wore low-cut tight-waist dresses that accented her attributes. 

“But he’s got more in front of him than anyone else,” Aria said. The stacks of banknotes had a stack of gold coins weighing down the pile, and the gold and silver coins glinted in the lantern light. 

When Aria had left the pub to fetch her brother, there were five players. They were down to three players. She looked around at the other tables. Some men continued playing near the doors, but most people stood facing the stage where Jacob O’Farrelly presided over the other card players with the shiny silver badge on his vest reflecting the room light. 

Over the years, Aria had learned about the game. Sometimes, late in the night, if she and Tristan couldn’t sleep, they would play for corn kernels, keeping quiet so as not to wake their father. She often won more times than Tristan. She didn’t have luck; it had to do with the kernels. Corn wasn’t real money, and they never played with real coins. Aria usually had all the grains by the end of the games.

Tristan tried emulating Jacob O’Farrelly, mimicking the man’s mannerisms, from drumming his fingers on the tabletop when he got impatient to chewing on a reed pretending it was one of Jacob’s Figurado cigars. The sheriff liked smoking the thick cigars during the hours-long poker games. Aria liked the smell of the slow-burn tobacco leaves but swirling with the cheroot and other tobacco smoke after the first hours made her light-headed. 

Jacob had the nub of his cigar in his mouth, staring at the last two players at the table, waiting for one of them to raise or fold. She couldn’t hear the trio talking. As she waited for the game to continue, Aria felt Molly tap her arm.

“There’s your brother,” she whispered. 

Aria observed other women in the place noticed when Tristan showed up. They saw a handsome young man with broad shoulders, a pleasing smile, and a polite disposition. Tristan had changed his shirt and washed up before ambling through the door, heading to the bar for a beer. 

Collin O’Farrelly, the Stig Lager House Pub owner, shook hands with her brother after pouring him a beer. Collin was the second oldest of the three prominent men of Coker Creek. Together with the eldest brother, the sheriff, and the youngest, a wealthy entrepreneur owning the largest general store in Monroe County, the O’Farrellys brought the town through the war and out the other side unscathed, even thriving with the coke plant and the railroad that continued to operate through the county since ’58. 

While the Coker family had founded the township in 1848, none survived their namesake village. The O’Farrellys and several of the remaining Irish families, including Aria’s father, Jamie Dempsey, kept businesses thriving in the area. 

Following the war, many cities suffered, unable to recover their depleted economies or rebuild their homes. Coker Creek prospered. The Tennessee Central Railroad carried coal from the mountains through the town since before the Blue and the Grey. The railroad didn’t suffer because the mountain ranges between Tennessee and North Carolina were treacherous. Troops from either side never needed to venture through the area on their marches to Nashville or Chattanooga. 

Aria and Tristan lived among others who had stayed out of the war, never took sides, and continued in their peaceful place deep in the Chattahoochee forest in the southern Appalachian Mountains.

One of the two remaining men lost their hand. Around the place, people applauded as the stranger stood, collected his hat, and shook hands with Sheriff O’Farrelly before making his way off the stage. Tristan saw Aria sitting on the stairs next to Molly, and he lifted his mug to her from across the expansive room. 

“Does your brother have a girl yet?” Molly asked, surprising Aria. She knew many of the local girls swooned in her brother’s presence. He was intimidating even at a distance, with shoulders as broad as a mountainside and piercing eyes of green-gold. 

Aria had similar features as her brother, softer, wavy auburn hair that turned rusty with too much sun. Her eyes were the color of early autumn leaves when the red-orange began to drain the vibrant green. Freckles coated her nose and cheeks in the summer months. She had a button nose, as her father called it, and a mouth that her brother teased her had bigger lips like a suckerfish. Aria didn’t put any faith in her brother’s teasing. She got enough attention from local boys and passing strangers to know her looks were appealing, even if it didn’t matter to a washerwoman that spent six days a week up to her elbows in other peoples’ dirty laundry. 

“I don’t know,” she said defensively. “You can ask him yourself.”

Aria got up from the stair and made her way down to the bottom, using a random person’s shoulder for a brace as she climbed around the people gathered at the bottom of the stairwell. 

Aria made her way through the room. Men were tipping their hats at her as she walked by, but she never paid too much mind to most people in the tavern. When she got to the bar, the stranger from the stage leaned against the counter and glanced at Aria as she walked to her brother.

“Can I buy you a drink?” Tristan asked.

“Yeah,” Aria said.

“Not you, girl. I was talking to the gentleman here,” he said. “Don’t mind my little sister; she’s more of a pest than a piper.” Tristan waved Collin over. “Mr. O’Farrelly, can I buy this man a beer? He needs it after the good washing the sheriff gave him at the table.”

“Thank you kindly, young man,” the man said, offering his hand to Tristan as Collin poured flat beer from the cask under the counter. “Gary Banks.”

Her brother shook hands with the gambler. “Tristan Dempsey, this is my little sister, Aria.” 

“Ma’am,” Banks said, shaking hands loosely with Aria. His eyes lingered. For a few decades older than Aria, he had soft hands. He didn’t have to work hard to make a living.  

She hated when Tristan introduced her as his little sister, and he knew it.

Gary sipped his beer, rubbing his fingers through the bushy mustache over his lips. He thumbed at Collin behind the bar, who had moved back to the other end to sip coffee and chat with locals. 

“That man is another O’Farrelly?” he asked. 

“Yes, sir, that’s Collin. You already met Sheriff O’Farrelly at the poker table,” Tristan said.

“There’s one more, Eric O’Farrelly,” Aria added, feeling she had as much right to include herself in the conversation as her brother. “Only I didn’t see Eric here tonight. He owns the big shop on the other end of town.”

Gary nodded, glancing back at the stage where Sheriff O’Farrelly and the final player reached the last few hands of poker. 

“Did you keep enough in your pocket to make it back out of town?” Tristan asked.

Aria thought it was a rude question, but the gentleman snickered and nodded. “I never bet too much,” he said. “I came through to play that man because I had heard rumors.”

“Do you play cards a lot?” Aria asked. She wanted a beer but didn’t have the coin. The O’Farrellys weren’t interested in charity. Collin never gave away anything when something made money. 

“I do more than playing my luck,” he said. “But the sheriff’s reputation as a proficient gambler piqued my interest.” He saw Aria standing on the foot pegs of the stool, watching across the hats at the stage. People applauded again as she saw Gary watching her. “Can I buy you a drink, miss?”

Before she could answer, Tristan, nudged her, knocking her off the stool. “She don’t need a drink,” he said defensively.

“I apologize, Mr. Dempsey; I only meant a courtesy.”

“I would take a drink, Mr. Banks, if you want to buy one,” Aria said. “I am twenty-three and can speak for myself.”

“Twenty-three and not married,” he said. 

This time, before Tristan could say anything that might get him in trouble with the man, Aria stepped on her brother’s shoe and pushed him as she waved Collin back over. Gary dropped a coin on the bar. Collin poured a beer for Aria and passed it along with a subtle wink. 

“My brother thinks he needs to protect me,” she said. “Don’t mind him.”

“I understand, Miss Dempsey,” Gary said. “A lovely flower such as yourself might need looking after in a place that isn’t favorable to young ladies.”

“This is a wholesome place,” Collin said, somehow overhearing Gary from a few yards away. His selective hearing meant Collin picked up any negative comments about his establishment. He saddled up to the bar, facing off with Gary. “We don’t allow weapons in the place.” He pointed at the coatroom where anyone coming into the pub had to relinquish their weapons too. 

“My brother doesn’t cheat anyone; no one at the tables is allowed to play with anything more than what they bring with them.” He pointed to the ceiling. “The girls upstairs can come and go as they please. They keep the coins they make. No one can knock them around, and they’re not allowed to swindle anyone.”

“Mr. O’Farrelly, please don’t think my comment meant any disrespect,” Gary said quickly. “I came to Coker Creek because I heard your brother was one of the best poker players around.” 

“He earned Poker Champion of the West in Texas in ’76,” Collin said proudly. 

Gary nodded, sipping the beer. Aria saw the tight-lipped slurp. It was her turn to take Collin’s beer and add herself to the conversation. 

“Didn’t your brother have a pistol on the table during the game?” she asked. 

Collin was a loyalist to his family first and anyone else in town. Strangers were allowed to spend money in his pub, but they weren’t allowed to make remarks that cast him or his family in any shadows. Aria grew up in Coker Creek, giving her license to say things that could get outsiders a one-way ticket out of town on the rails. 

Tristan poked her in the ribs. 

“Don’t mind my sister,” he said. 

“I don’t mind Aria, as long as she knows her place,” Collin said. He stared at her, making Aria uncomfortable. When she reached for the beer mug on the countertop, Collin pulled it away from her, making it disappear under the bar. He saw how Gary held the beer mug close to his chest, trying to avoid an argument with an Irishman. 

“You’re referring to the game between my brother and the Texan Lee Atkinson,” Collin said. He took a breath, lifting his head. “It was a fair game until the Texan tried to make a fool out of Jacob.” As Collin talked, he lifted the mug and pushed it back across the bar toward Aria. She grinned and took it with both hands, listening to Collin, ignoring Tristan. 

“Do you know the story?” Collin asked. 

Gary glanced at Tristan and Aria before nodding. 

“I suppose the version you heard had my brother holding the Mayor of Houston ransom with his Colt,” Collin said.

Gary nodded hesitatingly. “As I recall the story, your brother pointed the gun at the mayor and proclaimed—”

“‘Now, Mayor Lord, you sign this paper, or I will kill you,’” Collin said, using his finger to mimic a pistol. He laughed, shaking his head. “Further, you heard that my brother admitted to keeping his reputation as a better poker player, making the Mayor of Houston sign over the title to the city against Lee Atkinson.”

Gary laughed nervously. Sweat peppered his forehead. “As I recall,” he said, using the beer to swallow his fear. “That is the version I heard with the addendum that the mayor proclaimed it was luck that he wasn’t the governor of Texas.”

“Well, you must understand that my brother never sits at the table that has limits,” Collin said.

Gary nodded. “I had a reasonable amount of money when I walked in here,” he said. 

“Will you have some walking out again?” Aria asked with a smile.

He nodded lightly. “Enough to get me home again, miss.”

“Well, you understand that Lee Atkinson had the deed to his ranch in his pocket,” Collin said. “It was a point of fact not brought up to Jacob when he agreed to gamble with the man. Once the rancher put the deed on the table, the only way for Jacob to save face was to put up the entire city of Houston as collateral. The ranch was estimated at $100,000.” 

Gary couldn’t swallow the swig of beer, coughing lightly. 

Collin laughed, slapping his palm on the bar top. Gary chuckled, still nervous. Tristan scowled at Aria, trying to intimidate her. Aria made it a point to slurp her beer in retaliation. 

“So, you’re saying that Mr. O’Farrelly — your brother — didn’t use his gun to intimidate the mayor?” Gary asked. 

“No, sir,” Collin said. “But it’s a hell of a story and one worth holding up the reputation. It was Mayor Lord’s idea to use the city as collateral. He had some agreement with Jacob over Mr. Atkinson. The mayor and the rancher’s rivalry predated anything to do with my brother.”

“Well, it makes for a fascinating legend.”

“That it does,” Collin said. “And here you are, trying your luck to best my brother at a game he was born to play.”

“I will drink to that, Mr. O’Farrelly,” Gary said, toasting Collin. 

The cheers and applause caught Aria’s attention. She took to the stool footpeg, allowing her another few inches over the top of the others in the saloon. She gripped her brother’s shoulder to steady herself, watching Sheriff O’Farrelly nod to the the last player at the table. Jacob shook hands with him as the man exited the stage. Jacob stood several seconds with his back to the wall, scanning the crowds still cheering him. He took his time collecting the money on the poker table.

Aria had pride in the sheriff and the town. Jacob saw Collin with Gary and them. Aria thought the sheriff had smiled at her when he saw her grinning. It was hard to see through the thick mustache on Jacob’s face at a distance. She wanted to believe the sheriff saw her and saw her pride for him being a celebrity. When Jacob collected his winnings and his hat from the hook, Aria knew he saw her when he touched the brim of his black hat looking at her. He fished a thick cigar from the inside pocket of his jacket, lighting it before stepping into the crowd, waiting to shake hands and brush shoulders with the sheriff. 

Gary finished his beer, put down the mug on the counter, and nodded. “At least, now I know.”

“What’s that?” Aria asked.

“Some legends aren’t as important as the men behind them,” he said. “Well, Mr. O’Farrelly, Mr. Dempsey, it was good to meet you both.” Gary shook hands with Tristan and Collin. “And Miss Dempsey, I enjoyed your brief company.” His handshake with Aria was longer than her brother and Collin. Firm fingers brushed her knuckles, and she felt flush at his touch and the twinkle in his eye. 

“Are you leaving us, Mr. Banks?” Collin asked.

“While I still have a few coins in my pocket, I will make my way back to Chattanooga.”    

“Don’t forget about us.”

Gary winked at Aria. “Never,” he said before slipping through the patrons headed for the doors. 

Aria glanced at Tristan, still scowling at her. “What?” she asked before taking a sip.

Tristan bumped her mug, tipping and sloshing beer on her chin and down her front. He slipped away laughing before Aria grabbed him.  

“The Pursuit Of Hidden Truths” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Aria Dempsey’s quiet life is shattered when her brother is sentenced to life in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. To make matters worse, a fire destroys their home, her father perishes in flames, and everyone thinks Aria died too. Using the fire to cover her tracks, Aria must play dead and take it upon herself to right the injustices…

Will she be helped or hindered by the law in her quest?

In an unlikely turn of events, Aria meets Edmond Snelling, a card player, whom she hopes might be able to help her brother. Ed, on the other hand, is certain that he’s met his match with Aria. She hires him to discover the truth but as they seek retribution, they’re plunged into a quagmire of corruption and wickedness.

Will they survive long enough to see her brother set free?

When Aria and Ed join forces, unexpected alliances are formed that will lead them to have a reckoning with the past and change their lives forever. With ruthless enemies after them and death just a heartbeat away, the stakes have never been higher. Will they open their hearts to one another while staying one step ahead of a dangerous scheme?

“The Pursuit Of Hidden Truths” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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