A Town in Peril (Preview)

Virginia, 1885

“Amen.” The priest crossed his hands in front of his chest and bowed his head, adding a few silent prayers of his own with his pale lips moving.

Victor stared at him. It was somewhere else to look instead of at the hole in the ground in front of him, where the wooden casket that bore his father was now being lowered. Grinding his teeth together to stop the muscles twitching in his cheeks, Victor fought his tears.

He’d cried for a long time the night his father died. He’d stayed there beside him, not wanting his father to die alone. Now, Victor had to be strong. He couldn’t give in to his tears too freely.

For one thing, I don’t have enough handkerchiefs for the three of us.

He tried to joke in his own mind, to find some way to relieve the tension, but it did little good. Tearing his eyes away from the priest, Victor looked at his brothers standing on either side of him. They were both crying. Victor took two handkerchiefs from his pockets and handed them to each of his brothers in turn.

His youngest brother, Wilbert, who had only recently reached his eighteenth year, blew his nose loudly into the handkerchief, with such a firm blow that it sounded like a horn. The few people who stood by the graveside, having come to pay their respects, flinched at the noise.

“Careful, Wilbert,” Victor whispered. “Do you want to frighten all of our father’s mourners away?”

Wilbert managed a feeble smile and used a different corner of the handkerchief to wipe at his gray eyes. He stared down at the grave, the whites of his eyes reddened thanks to the tears.

“They’re leaving now anyway,” Harmon said on Victor’s other side. He huffed, angered by the truth of the matter, and wiped restlessly at his own eyes. As the middle brother, Harmon had a tendency toward anger and frustration.

Today, he has good reason to.

Victor offered a sad smile and clapped him on the shoulder. “They’ve paid their respects. That’s important,” he reminded his brother.

“But they go home and move on, don’t they?” Harmon said, pointing down the path that led away from the small churchyard.

The few friends of their father who had come were now retreating. They walked beneath heavy yew trees, their figures cast in long, dark shadows. The area was so poorly lit that the grass didn’t even look green, but a murky black.

“They can deal with this, they can…” Harmon’s breath hitched and Victor tightened his hold on his brother’s shoulder. Any other time, Harmon would have moved away from him by now, but not today. It was different today.

“We can deal with this, too,” Victor promised his brother. “Maybe it doesn’t feel like it now, but we can.”

The lump in his throat fought against the resolution he had made not to cry. How can we move on from this?

The vicar nodded at each of the brothers in turn as he held out a box of soil. Wilbert was the first to step forward, taking a handful and tossing it onto the casket that was lowered into the hole. The dirt struck the top of the wood with a dull thud. At that sound, Wilbert’s breath hitched, and his tears came harder.

Victor encouraged Harmon to go next and released his shoulder, reaching for Wilbert instead. He took Wilbert’s arm and turned his brother to face the grave again. Wilbert hung his head forward so that his long dark brown hair fell loosely around his cheeks. He’d tried to tie it back with some black string for the occasion, but his hair had quickly fallen out.

“He’s really gone,” Wilbert muttered.

“I know.” Victor sighed and raised his arm around his younger brother, holding onto his shoulders. In his grasp, he could feel Wilbert quivering with his tears.

Harmon took some dirt and threw it onto the casket. Stepping back, he shook his head. “It doesn’t feel good, does it? Burying him.”

“It’s our chance to say goodbye,” Victor reminded Harmon, who continued to shake his head. His light brown hair danced across his temple with the movement. “My turn.”

Victor released Wilbert and stepped toward the grave. He hoped Harmon would take his place by Wilbert, to console him, yet Harmon chose to keep to himself. With his hands crossed in front of him, he stared at the ground with tears silently rolling down his cheeks.

Turning his focus to his father, Victor took a handful of soil. He didn’t throw it in the grave straight away, but clutched onto the dirt for a few seconds, until he could feel it in the lines of his palm.

“Goodbye, Father,” he whispered so quietly that only he could hear. “We’ll all miss you.” Gently, he dropped the dirt into the hole.

The vicar nodded, showing they were done. Rather than disturbing the moment with words, he quietly retreated, following the same path that some of the mourners had already taken. He nodded briefly at the gravediggers who sat nearby, ready to pile the rest of the dirt on top of the deceased.

Victor stood close to the grave, not wanting to allow the gravediggers to get to work just yet. Quietly, Harmon and Wilbert stepped forward, joining him. They all stared down into the grave and at the wooden casket. It was a relatively fine one. Their father’s carpentry business had left them decent money, so they had been able to give him a good farewell.

I’d rather not have said farewell at all.

When Wilbert’s breath hitched another time, Victor had to do something. As the eldest, it was his responsibility to look out for his brothers. Having reached his twenty-sixth year, he had run the business for the last few years as their father’s health had deteriorated, and he had been the one to watch over Harmon and Wilbert as they had grown up.

It’s my responsibility now more than ever.

“It’s important we remember him for the good times,” Victor said. His voice had taken on a deeper tone as he fought the pull of tears. “The happy times.”

“I know,” Harmon muttered hurriedly at his side. “Doesn’t make it easy.”

“I never said it would be, but we have to look to the good. It’s how we cope with grief.”

“Grief…” Wilbert repeated the word. Having screwed up the handkerchief Victor had given him, he was now using his sleeve. Victor found another handkerchief, tucked away in a pocket, and passed it to Wilbert to use.

He remembered losing their mother when they were very young. Wilbert was too young to remember her at all, and Harmon only remembered her a little. But Victor knew he could survive grief, even if it was no easy thing.

It’s a lesson they have yet to learn.

“We look to the good, it’s what you do in this situation,” Victor continued on. “If our father stood beside us right now, what do you think he’d say?”

“Get me out of the box,” Wilbert offered, prompting Victor to smile a little.

“I think his language would have been worse. He would have pushed me forward in the back. ‘Vic, Vic! What are you doing leaving me in there? Get me home and put a scotch in my hand. That’s where I belong.’”

His joking at last pulled a chortle from his brothers, Harmon allowing himself only the smallest of chuckles.

“See? We think of the good times.”

“I suppose.” Harmon sighed deeply at his side. “I guess all I can think of at this moment is how he never did what he really wanted to do, did he?”

Victor felt a tightening across his chest, for it was the truth. For years, their father had talked about starting a new life in the west. He’d longed for a life of the cowboys, one that was more exciting than that of a carpenter in sleepy Virginia. It wasn’t a dream that had ever been a reality.

“He was happy,” Victor insisted, his voice quiet.

“I know, but he could have been happier.” Harmon shrugged, looking lost. “I’m just wondering how different life could have been, had he lived his dream.”

“If only we’d all gone,” Wilbert added. “We might have liked it.”

“Maybe,” Harmon whispered, an uncertainty in his tone.

Victor looked sharply between his brothers, feeling a crick in his neck with the movement. What if we did go?

He racked his brain, trying to think of an argument against them relocating to the West, but with each turn of his thoughts, he simply found another reason why they should go.

Wilbert was restless in their hometown. His wild ways had gotten him in trouble with locals more than once. Repeatedly, their father had said Wilbert needed to burn off his energy somewhere. With a more exciting life, Wilbert would mature and eventually settle.

Harmon was also not content in this town. Though he’d never said the words, Victor had seen over the years how Harmon struggled. What he did allow himself to talk of openly was the need to find a place in the world—a need that still hadn’t been satisfied. What was plain to Victor was that Harmon was not happy being a carpenter. He frequently made errors, knocking nails into wrong places and breaking planks of wood. It wasn’t that he was maliciously trying to destroy his work, he was just not interested in doing the job well.

It bores him, even saddens him.

“What if we did go?” Victor’s suggestion had his brothers looking at him. Wilbert paused in his tears, holding the handkerchief to his nose. “I know it’s mad.”

“Mad? Insane!” Harmon said hurriedly. “You want to tear up our lives and move how many states?”

“Many,” Victor agreed. “But is it really so insane? We make our father’s dream a reality. We find somewhere new for us to live. You hardly like our hometown, do you, Harmon?” He waited for an answer, but his brother shifted his weight between his feet and fiddled excessively with the handkerchief in his palms. “And you, Wilbert? Well, I don’t need to wait for an answer, do I? You’re already smiling like a grinning drunk.”

“Am not.” Yet Wilbert continued to smile and dabbed at his cheeks, wiping away the last of his tears. “Could we do it? Really?”

“I don’t know.” Harmon spoke quickly, before Victor could answer. “It would be a big change.”

“Maybe that’s what we need,” Victor said with passion. “A change, a new life, something new to think about.”

“What would our father say, do you think?” Wilbert asked, so restless he practically bounced his weight on his toes.

“Well…” Victor paused, folding his arms across his chest as he cleared his throat, ready to impersonate their father again. “He’d say, ‘Why are you boys still here? What did I tell you about waiting to get things done? You want to make it happen, you make it happen. Bring me back a good scotch, too.’” The joke had Wilbert chuckling and Harmon shaking his head. “I think it could be good. A chance to start something new, what do you think?”

“I’m up for it,” Wilbert said without hesitation.

Victor looked at Harmon, waiting for him to say something. He stopped fussing with the handkerchief, then revealed the smallest of smiles.

“Maybe we could do it.”

“Then it’s decided,” Victor declared. “We’ll head West and make our father’s dream a reality.”

Chapter One

Colorado

The heat struck Victor’s face as he stepped down off the train. It was strong, practically burning his skin after just a few seconds. As the train chugged away behind him, Victor lifted a few bags over his shoulder and walked across the platform. For a minute, he didn’t listen to his brothers’ argument. He was too busy looking at their new home.

Above the platform building was a wooden sign, painted many years ago judging by how the red and white paint flecked off the wood. It read, “Western Springs.”

“A good name,” Victor murmured to himself.

When he and his brothers had opened a map and effectively pointed at a town with their eyes closed, there had seemed to be something good about the town name. They had known little about it when they’d bought the train tickets and arranged for new lodgings in town.

May it be everything you hoped for, Father. Victor cast a quick look to the white clouds above, somehow hoping his father could hear his thoughts.

Around him, the white smoke was beginning to clear as the train moved on. It revealed a sparsely populated platform, with just a handful of people having arrived in town.

“Oomph!” Harmon complained loudly. “I said, watch where you’re going, Wilbert. Honestly, you’re not supposed to be a kid anymore.”

“Sorry,” Wilbert mumbled. “I’m trying to carry the bags.”

“About as useful as an injured cart horse, aren’t you?”

“Hey!”

“Enough,” Victor said tiredly as he turned back to look at his brothers. “You two have argued for most of the journey.”

“Are you surprised?” Harmon asked with one risen eyebrow.

“No.” Victor sighed and led the way across the platform with his brothers following behind. “Two raccoons have a better chance of not fighting with one another than you two do.”

“We’re not that bad,” Wilbert complained again. “He’s just always picking a fight with me. You do it on purpose.”

“I wonder why,” Harmon said quietly.

“Zounds.” Victor abruptly stopped and turned to face them again, making them both hasten to a sudden halt. “Would you look around you? New town, new home, and you would think that the sun wasn’t even shining the way you two are going on. Look at that. Sunshine!” He pointed into the sky. “It’s that big yellow thing that brings warmth.”

Wilbert smiled at his joke, but Harmon’s cheeks didn’t even twitch.

“You don’t have to turn everything into a joke,” Harmon pointed out.

“Tell me another way to make you smile,” Victor said and elbowed his brother on. “Come on, let’s see what our new home is like. If you two can bear to stop arguing for a few minutes.”

When they walked on in peace off the platform, Victor applauded them. “Hurrah!”

“You’re so annoying,” Harmon said quietly.

“Now you’re stuck with me.” Victor nudged him with his shoulder. “Moving out to a workshop with me in the West. You’ll never be able to get away. Aww, come here, brother!”

Pretending to be overly sweet, he wrapped his arm around his brother’s shoulder. Harmon quickly darted away and actually hid himself behind Wilbert.

“He won’t keep you safe,” Victor warned.

“True.” Wilbert chuckled and jumped away, not willing to be his brother’s shield.

Victor laughed as he stepped away from the platform building. Turning his head back and forth, he took his first look at their new home. The streets were busy enough, and the buildings a little old with some of the wooden walls falling down in places, but there was something off about the town in general.

Rather than any passersby meeting his gaze, offering a smile or a friendly wave, everyone kept their heads down. People seemed to be hurrying through the streets with purpose, taking little time to talk to their neighbors.

“It’s strange, isn’t it?” Harmon asked, having returned to Victor’s side.

“A little,” Victor whispered. He was so busy looking at the people that when the first shout began, he almost didn’t pay attention to it.

“Thief! Thief! Get back here.” A woman’s voice boomed across town. “They’re back! One of them is back.”

At the holler, the people in the road scarpered. Some men dropped their hats in their eagerness to run, other ladies tripped on the hems of their dresses before scrambling to their feet and rushing off again.

“What the…” Victor trailed off, standing very still at the edge of the road. People were so desperate to escape that some knocked into one another. Those that were escaping into the house opposite him shut the door tight, locked it loudly, and must have dragged furniture up against the door judging by the sounds of scraping wood.

“What is happening?” Wilbert asked, looking up and down the street.

“Perhaps they fear the sheriff,” Victor jested.

“Thief!” The shout went up again.

Victor looked down the street, where a man sprinted as fast as he could, his arms pumping at his sides. His jacket was scruffy, covered in the arid dirt that was everywhere in this town, and his face was darkened as if he’d attempted to hide the features with mud across his chin. Panting hard, he glanced over his shoulder at his pursuer.

“Give it back! You can’t outrun me,” the woman demanded, but the man continued to run without slowing his pace. In his hands was a leather satchel.

Behind him, a young woman atop a horse galloped fast, closing the distance between her and the thief. Wearing a gown topped with a waistcoat and a wide hat, she rode with ease, as if it was second nature to her.

“Thieves, great. What sort of place have we come to?” Harmon asked at Victor’s side, his voice deep.

“Wait one minute.” Victor stepped out into the road.

“What are you doing?” Harmon grabbed his arm, trying to pull him back.

“Helping.” He pushed the bags he carried toward Harmon and rushed into the road. Standing tall, he lifted his chin and flicked the dark blond hair back from his forehead.

The thief was so busy looking over his shoulder at the woman advancing toward him, he didn’t seem to notice that Victor was in his path.

“Stop him!” the woman pleaded.

“Well, I can try,” Victor muttered to himself.

“Don’t be an idiot, Victor!” Harmon called, struggling to carry all the bags now in his grasp.

“Love you too, brother,” Victor joked.

The thief turned and looked at Victor at last. Seeing someone was in his way, he panicked and tried to dive to the side, heading for a nearby lane. Victor ran in that direction, trying his best to cut the man off. Throwing his body weight through the air, Victor managed to tackle the thief to the ground.

They fell together in a heavy thud. The thief’s face landed in the dirt and he began to complain loudly of a cut to his cheek. Victor knelt on the thief’s back, holding him down as he reached for the bag the thief had in his grasp. He tore it away.

“Ah! Give it back,” the thief grumbled.

“Aren’t you the thief?” Victor asked with a laugh.

The man grumbled and wriggled on the earth, trying to escape as a worm might try to flee a crow. Victor pushed harder down into the man’s back, keeping him fixed to the ground. Turning his head, he looked at his brothers nearby. Wilbert was smiling, pointing at what Victor had done, as Harmon shook his head.

“You trying to play hero now?” Harmon called to him.

“Just trying to be useful,” Victor called back.

A sudden horse’s whinny captivated his attention and Victor turned to see a brown chestnut stopping in front of him. The animal halted sharply, its nose tipping up and back down again. The woman on top of the horse leaned forward. Tapping the brim of her broad black hat upward, she revealed her face.

Sharp green eyes stared at him, rather large and bold in her face. Her cheek bones were pronounced and led down to full lips that were now flattened together. Her light brown hair was swept back into a loose ponytail high on her head, the tail end hanging down her back. She had a charm to her looks, one that was unusual, and Victor looked at her a beat longer than he should have done.

“Careful, stranger,” she warned, “you don’t know who you’ve caught there.”

“A common thief?” Victor asked as he rearranged his hold on the man, keeping him firmly down on the ground. The man complained again, trying to flick his dark hair backward and thrust his head up, but Victor managed to push both knees down into the man’s back and grab one of his wrists, bending it up behind his shoulder.

It had been a while since Victor had seen a fight. When he was young, he’d scrapped with his brother all the time, and some troubles back in his hometown had resulted in a few fights, but never many. The reason Victor could hold the thief down so easily was his greater strength. Years of heavy carpentry had built up the muscle.

“Not quite,” she said slowly as Victor passed her the satchel the thief had taken. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.” Victor smiled at her as he held down the thief, but she didn’t return that smile. She was too busy looking in the satchel, checking everything was in order.

“You keep trying, don’t you, Paddy?” she said to the thief, who angled his head in Victor’s grasp.

“You know his name?” Victor asked, his eyebrows raising.

“You could say that.” She sighed deeply and lowered the satchel in her grasp. The more Victor stared at the woman, the more he realized she was different from other ladies he had known back in his hometown. There, the ladies dressed in grand gowns and barely did anything without a man offering his hand as assistance. They wouldn’t even step up or down from a wagon alone. This woman had a rope looped at her side as if she had just stepped off a ranch. She wore a waistcoat that had seen dirt and had a cowboy hat on her head.

The last thing in her belt caught his eye and made him still. The metal gleamed in the strong sunlight. She carries a pistol.

“You should be careful,” she warned, quirking an eyebrow in Victor’s direction. “He’s known to be dangerous.”

Victor stiffened a little but drove his knee firmly down into the thief’s back when he tried to move again.

“Harmon!” he called to his brother.

“What?”

“Want to be useful and fetch a sheriff?” Victor asked him.

Over his shoulder, he caught a glimpse of Harmon shaking his head and mumbling something at Wilbert, who merely shrugged in answer. Harmon huffed but walked off, looking for a sheriff.

“You won’t find him,” the woman called to Harmon, who stopped abruptly, turning back to look at her. “He’s not here today.” She faced Victor, gripping her satchel tightly in front of her. “Even when he is, he’s not useful.”

“What does that—zounds!” Victor struggled to keep the thief in place as Paddy thrust his hands down then pushed his back upward, dislodging Victor from his place.

Unable to stand in time, Victor hurried to his knees and readied himself for a fight, but the fist was in front of his face before he could dive away from it. Paddy lashed out, driving that fist straight into Victor’s jaw.

He saw stars as he was tipped away, falling flat to the earth on his back.

“Paddy! You scoundrel.” The woman’s voice rang nearby as Victor lay still, blinking repeatedly to try and dispel those stars. “Come back again and I’ll find a use for this gun!”

Victor lifted his head, raising an eyebrow as he found the woman standing beside him.

“Welcome to Western Springs,” he said with a chuckle and laid a hand to his jaw, rubbing the sore spot. “Quite a town you’ve got here.”

The woman faced him with an intrigued look in her eye. “I didn’t think I’d seen you before.” She held out a hand to him, offering to help him up. “Need a hand?”

“Thanks.” He took hold of her palm and pulled himself upward. Over her shoulder, he could see Harmon and Wilbert walking toward them, impeded by wagons crossing the road.

“You took a chance,” she said, quickly releasing her hand from his. “A risky one.”

“Well, I was always quite good at a game of chance. Won a few rounds of poker in my time.” He laughed, but she didn’t crack a smile. “No sense of humor?” he teased her.

She quirked that solitary eyebrow again, but her lips didn’t twitch.

“He’s a dangerous man,” she warned, her voice low. “That was Paddy.”

“You said his name before. I don’t see how a common thief is that dangerous.” Victor brushed at the arms of his shirt, trying to get rid of some of the dirt that was now smattered across his clothes.

“He’s no common thief,” she said simply. “He works for the most powerful gang in the area. They call themselves the Desert Rats.”

“Desert Rats?” Victor couldn’t help smiling. “My apologies, but in my experience, rats are usually pretty easy to stop. A good stamp will do the trick, a trap, even a cat. They could have chosen a better name, couldn’t they?”

“You like to laugh.”

“What other way is there to be?” He chuckled, but stopped quickly when she continued to glower at him. She may have had an intriguing face, one he couldn’t stop staring at, but she was lacking warmth or any indication of being pleased to meet him at all. “I’m sorry again. I’m making light of a situation I know nothing of. Are you alright? Did he take anything else?” He gestured to the bag in her grasp.

“Not today,” she murmured, her green eyes flicking to look farther down the street.

What does that mean?

“Victor? Victor!” Wilbert appeared at his side and clapped him on the arm. “Not bad, eh? Two steps off the train and you’ve already caught a thief.”

“Caught him?” Harmon asked, walking up to stand on Victor’s other side. “He slipped away.”

“Like sand through my fingers,” Victor said.

“Better luck next time, brother.”

“At least I did something,” Victor reminded Harmon. The brothers looked at one another, and for a minute, Victor forgot he had an audience. He was staring at his brother’s angular features, thinking how much they looked alike. They even shared the same gray eyes, just the same as Wilbert’s, though in Harmon’s face, those eyes always seemed angrier. In Victor’s, that sharpness was usually softened.

“Thank you,” the woman said, disturbing their staring match. Victor turned back to look at her. “You’re new to town, then?”

“Just moved, ma’am.” Wilbert tipped his hat to her and smiled broadly. “Looks to be an exciting place to live.” He was turning in a circle, looking at where Victor had knocked the thief to the ground.

“Exciting? You must be from the East.” The woman shook her head.

“What makes you say that?” Victor asked as Harmon stepped back a little. He had a permanent frown on his face as he looked around the street.

“Only men from the East think danger is exciting and not a threat.” She looked uneasy, glancing between them.

“Beats sitting in a workshop and waiting for a knock at the door.” Victor’s joke had Wilbert laughing and Harmon shaking his head in despair. “I’m Victor Jepson.” He tried to move the conversation on in the vain hope that the woman in front of him would at some point show the smallest of smiles. “This is Harmon, my brother, and our youngest brother here is Wilbert.” He gestured to the two of them. Harmon nodded his head in greeting and Wilbert smiled eagerly.

“She carries a gun,” Wilbert said, elbowing Victor so vigorously that he had to rub a sore spot on his ribs.

“I see it,” Victor murmured.

“Florrie.” She laid a hand to her own chest, then moved that palm to the gun at her hip. “You might need one of these yourself if you stay in this town.”

“Yes!” Wilbert clapped his hands together.

“No,” Victor and Harmon said in unison, offering Wilbert a warning look. He immediately lost his smile.

“I would say welcome to town, but it’s not something I can do in good conscience.” Florrie looked down at her satchel, fiddling with it before she pulled it over her shoulder. “I thank you for getting my bag back, and to pay you back for your kindness, I’ll do you a good turn, too. Go home.”

“I beg your pardon?” Victor said.

“You didn’t hear me?”

“I was too busy reeling.” He acted a part, pretending to wobble on his feet. This time, both Wilbert and Harmon laughed, but the woman stayed very still, staring at him as if she was made out of marble. “You wish us to leave?”

“For your own sake.” Florrie turned and took the reins of her horse that had waited patiently nearby. With alacrity, she leaped into the saddle and pulled herself straight. “This place isn’t safe—not for those who call it home, and not for newcomers either. If you’re smart, the three of you will leave right now and not return to Western Springs again.”

Flicking the reins, she turned the horse away. The horse galloped down the street with Florrie in the saddle. She glanced back in their direction just once.


“A Town in Peril” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

After their father’s death, Victor and his brothers set out to fulfill his lifelong dream of starting a new life in the Western frontier. However, their arrival in Western Springs is met with danger and conflict as the town is plagued by the notorious Bermuda Gang. As they struggle to find their place in this untamed land, the brothers must make a fateful decision…

Will they stay and defend the town against the gang’s reign of terror, or will they abandon their father’s dream and flee?

Harmon, the trained carpenter, finds himself torn between his growing feelings for a young nurse named Georgina and his responsibility to protect his brothers. Meanwhile, Wilbert craves adventure, and Victor seeks to keep the peace. The brothers’ conflicting motivations and fears threaten to tear them apart, forcing them to make choices that could have deadly consequences.

When Harmon develops a natural affinity as a healer, he’ll have to make a choice as to what his purpose is in life…

As the brothers search for a new home, the dangerous Bermuda Gang repeatedly stands in their way. The brothers must decide whether to fight alongside the town or flee before it’s too late. But as the stakes grow higher and their bonds are tested, they realize that their decision could mean the difference between life and death… Will the brothers risk everything or will they finally choose to save themselves?

“A Town in Peril” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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