Trapped By A Haunting Past (Preview)

Chapter One

Sulphur Springs, Texas 1876

A thunderstorm swept through the countryside overnight, turning packed earth into rich mud, bringing nourishment back to the soil. It was a mild winter with windy days and biting cold, but minimal precipitation. Spring brought thicker clouds, widespread thunder caps that promised rain but never quite reached Sulphur Springs until mid-April. A coastal sea storm brought wind and rain up from the Gulf of Mexico and soaked the farmlands. 

By late June, the first crops had flourished, bringing bountiful, vibrant green stalks of sweet corn, while summer squash grew in profusion. The wheat turned from green to amber through June into July. While oat planting happened through the sweltering month of July, the other crops prospered, ready for harvest. 

The morning after the thunderstorm, Derrick Mason woke before the sun and wandered into the wheat field to pull at the plant spikes. He had decided to get ahead of the other local farms and harvest his crops before the end of the week. If he got enough help, Derrick could have the loads sent down to Jefferson before the rest. The railroad made it easier to ship, and seventy-five miles was much closer to haul the grain than taking it down to Dallas. Someday, the railroad would eventually reach Sulphur Springs, but until then, Derrick had to rely on wagoners to get his harvest to the brokers. He’d get great returns on his loads and still have enough left over for the locals and the harvest festival at the end of August. When it came to the feed and grain markets, the first sellers often got the highest prices, as long as their produce and crops were of good quality.

Derrick walked through the field, crossing over to the oats to check the growth. The oats did well in the late spring planting and had reached five to six inches by the time Derrick walked the crop. The culms had nubs for the flag leaves but hadn’t reached the point where the flowering stem separated from the leaf sheath. By the end of August, they’d have whorl branches and oat spikelets ready for autumn. 

The Blackland Prairie was the perfect location for farming and raising a family. The deep, loamy soil had moderate draining, and the land belonging to them differed from the claypan soil to the south mainly in the ability to absorb and release moisture. The area had little timber, except along the rivers and streams, where hardwood grew in abundance. The terrain of Hopkins County and the outskirts of Sulphur Springs had level land and rolling hills where evergreens and pines grew in quantity enough to use for lumber every few years. Most of the water in the range flowed north and south while the county’s primary interior stream, White Oak Creek, traversed east–west slightly northeast of town. 

Derrick and Lillian had accomplished the first part of their lives together, building a home and farm, but the idea of having a child terrified him. It was a responsibility that seemed impossible to imagine. 

He took a deep breath, breathing in the heady scent of rain showers, fertile earth, and the promise of a future where he didn’t have to soak the ground with blood to earn a living. 

As Derrick made his way back to the house, he pressed his tongue against his teeth and whistled a sharp, piercing note that caught the rooster by surprise. The yard fowls clucked and crowed, but Derrick didn’t see the dog. He wasn’t worried. 

The single-level farmhouse sat in green grass surrounded by cultivated flowers with a large vegetable garden that was Lillian’s pride and joy. When she wasn’t busy helping Derrick tend to the goats, horses, and chickens, she spent time reinforcing the fence around the prized vegetables to keep the goats out of the garden. Lillian dropped hens into the leafy vegetables daily so they could forage for the beetles and other bugs that might make meals on their winter food stores, chasing the birds out afterward. 

Making his way across the barnyard, Derrick checked the corn crib barn and the gable on the hip barn, where he kept the plow horses and the farming equipment. It was a daily routine that allowed him time to assess his priorities. If the animals didn’t need immediate attention, he could work on sharpening the tillers or plows. There wasn’t a day that went by where Derrick wasn’t making necessary repairs or changes to the property that made the farm more of a home. 

When Derrick opened the paddock, allowing the four horses to meander from the stalls, he saw Lillian’s slim frame step onto the modest porch of their plain house. Seeing his wife always gave Derrick a sense of pride, and a jab in the heart. Somehow, in her ability to choose any man who set eyes on her, Lillian had chosen Derrick. Her beauty wasn’t all physical—most men were captivated upon first setting eyes on her. 

She had arching eyebrows over sweeping long eyelashes that surrounded amber-green eyes the color of moss agate. She had milky-smooth skin with sun-made freckles splashing her cheeks and the bridge of her nose. Men found her alluring, something Derrick had gotten used to over the years, while women found her charismatic—Lillian’s devil-may-care empowering attitude meant she wasn’t afraid to speak up if she found something displeasing. Her long fingers swept the hair from her eyes as she gaze across the farmyard. She smiled at Derrick.

His wife wore a pale floral dress with a simple sash. She had pushed up the sleeves, ready to start her day. Lillian never shied away from hard work, unafraid to get her hands dirty or lend a hand in the fields, sweating under a midday sun. Her tenacious nature took some by surprise.

Derrick didn’t see his wife as a prize or a possession—Lillian was a partner in their farming endeavors. She invested as much time and energy into the farm as Derrick. Her radiant beauty and infectious smile warmed people and made them gravitate to her. That smile caught him across the yard as she stepped from the porch and walked the flat stone to greet him. 

“Did you see Dragon around?” she asked. “He didn’t come to the door for his morning scraps.” 

Before Derrick answered, Lillian, leaned against him, kissing the bristles on his cheek. Shaving came after the morning chores and usually before they had breakfast. 

“I didn’t see him around,” he said. 

“When can he come back into the house?” Lillian wrinkled her nose, watching Derrick. 

“As soon as he doesn’t smell like a skunk anymore,” Derrick said. “It’s only been a week.”

“I don’t like it when he’s not around in the morning.”

“I know; I whistled for him.” Derrick walked with Lillian, his hand resting gently on her lower back. “He’ll show up before too long.” 

Lillian cupped her hands around her mouth and called for Dragon. If he was within range of her voice, the dog always came running. 

Derrick knew better than to say anything about his wife’s worry about the dog. Dragon was as much an asset to the farm as the geese. When the kit foxes snuck around the henhouse late at night, Dragon usually chased them away even before the geese honked in distress. 

Dragon, or el dragon, was the canine’s original name when Lillian rescued him from a traveling Mexican wet market. It wasn’t clear how the butcher had gotten ahold of the dog. It was a pointer with sleek, short orange-red hair and a dark undercoat. When the long-legged pup ran through the fields, it was like a streak of fire, earning the name el dragon from the Mexican migrant workers Derrick hired during harvest season. The moment Lillian learned of the animal’s fate, she had purchased the dog with money allocated for canning supplies. She’d immediately forged a special bond with the dog.

Dragon was a pointer, a powerful yet graceful breed of dog that lived up to its name daily. Dragon happened to point at the skunk before he chased the animal that was curious about the barnyard. He pointed at the foxes before darting after them. Dragon was impossible to spot in the dark, and only his thunderous galloping preceded his appearance when they called him for supper. 

Derrick had warmed up to Dragon when the dog pointed at the riser porch late one afternoon but didn’t approach. Before Lillian stepped outside, Dragon bolted and barked, startling her. The dog continued pointing and barking until Derrick found the copperhead that had taken refuge under the porch chair. Lillian had intended to sit in the chair to peel potatoes but didn’t see the snake any more than Derrick before the dog. It was impossible to find a reason not to keep the dog when it continued to prove its worth. 

Pointers were noble breeds, hardworking, even-tempered, with a centuries-long history of pointing mostly game birds. Dragon had high energy and was capable of great speed and agility, making him the perfect companion for Lillian. She had coddled Dragon, making him affectionate with a loyal nature that made him protective of her. Unfortunately, Dragon had one weakness. 

“Do you think he went down to Connor’s house this morning?” Lillian asked after wandering into the barn where Derrick had one of the two nannies tied off, ready for milking. 

“We can go over there this morning after chores,” he said. “I can’t imagine Dragon going anywhere else.”

The dog typically ventured overland, traversing the mile through the fields and creeks to Connor Hess’ house because Connor’s seven-year-old son carried treats for the dog. Connor and Edna didn’t mind Dragon visiting from time to time—their son, Spencer, considered Dragon equally his as much as Lillian. 

Chapter Two

It was a pleasant day following the thunderstorm and they opted to walk the distance between the family households. Derrick thought the walk along the wagon trail that crossed a shallow stream using a makeshift bridge he and Connor had erected two summers ago had taken longer than needed. Nonetheless, the journey allowed them time to reflect on how they intended to handle the upcoming harvest and Lillian’s time away from home. 

While the vibrant vermilion flycatchers and common sparrows chased rivals away from dense undergrowth as they snacked on mosquitos and flies, Lillian took her husband’s hand and walked the last few hundred yards to the Hess farmhouse. Derrick smiled at his wife’s profile as she took in the sight of the rolling green fields and milky blue sky. She held a small wicker basket that Derrick had offered to carry, but she’d refused him. 

“Olivia is going to have the baby in a few weeks,” she said. 

It was an ongoing conversation between them. Derrick immediately understood why his wife insisted they walk to the Hess household instead of taking the carriage. She needed his full attention, and at a point where he couldn’t use something on the farm as a distraction. 

“Do you know when?” he asked innocently. 

Lillian’s laugh was raucous, and she snorted lightly before covering her mouth. “When a woman knows exactly when she’ll have a baby, it will be a miracle,” she said. “She’s terrified.”

Derrick understood his sister-in-law’s concern. This was their second attempt at having children. Their first challenge had ended in a heartbreaking miscarriage. Lillian had gone down to Nockenut, Texas, and stayed a week after the incident. However, the overland stagecoach down to Austin and then onto Nockenut took two days each way. 

They agreed that Lillian tended her sister since her husband Edgar E. Hastings had to manage the general store—he owned the only mercantile and provisioner in an area that covered four counties south of Austin. It was a thankless post that saw him staying inside all day, worrying about accounts, and ordering supplies for people who paid in primarily empty promises. 

Derrick got along with Edgar Hastings insofar that he understood the man’s placement in the community. Every population center needed someone like Edgar, who sold dry goods. But unlike Sulphur Springs, he had to rely more on wagoners and traders to bring deliveries. It meant buying from third-hand suppliers that wanted more than their share for the hauls. 

The proprietors in Sulphur Springs had expectations that the railways would make delivering materials easier. Since the Galveston, Harrisburg, and San Antonio Railway Company had reached Jefferson, Sulphur Springs was the likely next step in the line headed toward El Paso. The railroad brought promises for growth in the community. 

Lillian bumped Derrick’s hip as they walked together hand in hand. He got lost in thought about when they could start harvesting. 

“How long do you think you’ll be gone?” he asked. 

It wasn’t a debate about Lillian going. They had a balanced relationship, equally responsible for the farm. But life got in the way sometimes, which meant Lillian had to stop everything in her life to tend to her sister’s. 

“I don’t know for sure,” she said, squeezing his hand. She leaned against him and kissed his cheek. “How long can you stand to be away from me?” 

It was her way of needling Derrick, trying to coax a length of time out of him without making demands. They had a marriage based on almost a lifetime together, so they freely spoke their minds whenever essential issues arose. Now, with Lillian in her late twenties and Derrick brushing his earlier thirties, she still had as many years ahead of them as behind. Lillian needed validation from Derrick. She’d go and tend to her little sister’s needs, assisting with the birth or helping the woman through another crisis. 

“We’ll make do,” he said finally. If he overthought the possibility of Lillian being away from home for several weeks, it would depress him. Instead, Derrick understood she needed reassurance. “I’ll talk to Connor about getting some help to start the harvest. If you can wait a week, we might have everything ready.”

“I can wait a week,” she said, letting it linger as birdsong filled the space between them. “But it’s not about me. It’s Olivia.” 

The girls had lost their parents after their father gave away Olivia’s hand in marriage. He wasn’t around to walk Lillian down the aisle when she married Derrick. But they were childhood sweethearts that had made promises to each other when they were still too young to understand what it meant to be man and wife. Still, Lillian and Olivia were close even with the miles apart, sharing correspondences weekly, often passing letters through the post before the next one arrived. 

Derrick stopped walking with Lillian. They were in sight of the Hess farm. A plume of smoke rose from the farmhouse chimney—Edna had stoked the morning fire for the stove. They didn’t see Dragon, but Derrick wasn’t worried about the dog. 

“Tell me what you want to do,” he said. 

Talking to Lillian was as easy as breathing. Whenever Derrick looked at her diamond face with her softly defined cheekbones, heart-shaped lips, and upturned nose, he saw his whole world. Lost in her amber-green eyes, Derrick knew he had everything he needed right in front of him. Lillian had to be clear about what happened with the birth of her niece or nephew. 

“I’m worried Olivia won’t manage another miscarriage,” she said after a heavy sigh. “Edgar does what he can, but he’s a mess when it comes to the pregnancy. The doctor in Nockenut doesn’t speak English very well and leaves births to the midwives unless there are difficulties.” 

The Guadalupe County settlement had predominantly German and Polish immigrants that flocked to the region in ’57 before the war broke out. Olivia and Edgar moved from Sulphur Springs following their marriage so they could build a dry goods store and help the people of the region. Edgar’s brother, Allan, had a contract with the government to bring in mail from Seguin, twelve miles south of Nockenut—another whistle-stop town. 

It was a noble cause, moving to the new settlement, but the region didn’t have much to offer the community. Most of the eighty or so residents had turned down the prospects of the railroad passing through, leaving it a closed township with not much more than a school, church, general store, cotton gin, wagon maker, and no hope for a sustainable future. 

When the community leaders passed on the railways—a challenge to their beliefs in the old countries—they had doomed the growth of Nockenut, making it a place the prairie grass would eventually take back into the wild when the people went away. Nockenut didn’t have a lot to offer when it came to expansion, and once the politicians weren’t interested in allowing a through passage for the railways, they lost valuable opportunities with traveling merchants and eastern settlers moving west. 

Derrick wasn’t about to let his understanding of commerce wedge between him and his wife. Olivia and Edgar had to work it out for themselves. Suppose Edgar had a sense for business. In that case, he’d eventually realize that it was a failed enterprise—but nothing to do with his business sense, only poor decisions by people who didn’t understand they needed to make compromises when it came to living so far from where they once called home

“If you can get Olivia to hold off for a week and a few days, we can get you on a coach in time to be there when the baby comes,” Derrick said. He couldn’t think of a better way to put it that didn’t put pressure on his wife. Lillian laughed again, this time without snorting. They continued walking together toward the house at the end of the road.

Connor and Edna had a small, self-sufficient plot of land that sustained them. At the same time, Connor picked up odd jobs around the community. He helped Derrick from time to time with the crops, managing the traveling migrant workers that conveniently showed up whenever harvest season happened. Derrick appreciated the additional help from the Mexican workers willing to spend long days in the hot sun working for meals and coins. Derrick never skimped on wages, paying them equally, and he never needed more than five to six laborers with Connor and Lillian’s help. 

They had a good life together, earned decent money by selling their crops outside the community, and still managed to sell locally to people who appreciated their efforts—including Connor and Edna. 

“What’s in the basket?” Derrick asked before they reached the outskirts of the barnyard. He didn’t see Connor or Dragon, but the open barn door meant someone was awake and doing chores. 

“I wanted to bring some beets to Edna,” she said. “Our root cellar has overrun with last year’s canned beets.”

“It might be a good idea to take a few cases down to Nockenut when you go, and Edgar can sell them,” Derrick said.

“I intend to do just that, but I wanted to bring something with me visiting Edna,” Lillian said. “I’ll get the jars back when she’s done with them.” 

“You do know she’ll want to return the favor.”

“I know, but maybe she’ll run out of pickled onions.”

Derrick laughed and said, “Edna doesn’t have much luck when it comes to gardening. They only ever get onions to grow. Do you know how many pickled onions she’s got in their root cellar?”

“No, and I’m hoping she doesn’t want to pass them off on us,” Lillian said and added in a whisper, “They give me wind something terrible.”

Derrick and Lillian laughed loudly as Connor stepped from the barn carrying a pail. Dragon bounded out the door behind him. The dog saw them and galloped to meet them, tail wagging so hard his hindquarters flapped with the movement. Derrick patted the pointer on the head as it ran circles around them.

“Good morning, neighbors,” Connor said as he met them walking to the flagstone pathway leading to the front door of their modest cabin. 

“We came to find the mutt,” Derrick said, and Lillian tapped his arm. 

“Well, Dragon was here this morning before we got up. He brought me a dead groundhog,” Connor said as the front door opened. 

Edna held the door as Spencer ran outside, greeted by Dragon knocking the boy to the grass. Lillian gasped, but Connor chuckled as Spencer giggled, wrestling with the dog.

“Oh, he’s fine,” Edna said. She wiped her hands on the apron. “They always roughhouse when Dragon visits.” She saw the basket. “What did you bring?”

“I thought I’d share a few jars of beets with you,” Lillian said, presenting the wicker basket for Edna to inspect. 

Derrick glanced at Connor as his friend wrinkled his nose. Derrick smirked but remained quiet. 

“That’s splendid,” Edna said. They followed her through the door. 

Spencer and Dragon stayed outside, playing—Dragon hopped around the boy before he could touch the fleet-footed dog. Derrick closed the door as Edna and Lillian continued toward the kitchen. 

“Before you go, I want you to take a few jars of pickled onions,” Edna said. She checked on something in the oven when Lillian glared at Derrick. His wife sharing her disinterest in the additional jars of onions only added to his delight. 

“Lillian loves those pickled onions, Edna. They’re her favorite,” Derrick said, holding back from laughing aloud. “We didn’t have many jars left in the root cellar. She was telling me on the way over here that she hoped you had a few more jars to spare.”

“Oh? You like them that much?” Edna asked as Derrick realized he’d started something that wouldn’t end anytime soon between himself and Lillian. “I’m so glad to hear that. I have so many. I don’t know what to do with them. Spencer won’t eat them, and Connor—well, he gets more than his fill of them.”

“I like them,” Connor said, rubbing his stomach when Lillian and Edna glanced at him. 

As soon as Edna focused on removing golden biscuits from the oven with Lillian’s help, Connor squeezed his nose for Derrick and waved his other hand near his backside. Derrick coughed lightly to keep from laughing too hard. 

Spencer poked through the front door with Dragon waiting outside, panting. 

“Mama, can I give Dragon a biscuit?” he asked. 

“You need to wait until they cool off some. Go wash up for breakfast,” Edna said. “Are you folks staying for breakfast? We got more than enough.”

“Trapped By A Haunting Past” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When Derrick Mason put down his guns at the end of the war, he never intended to hold them again. Determined to leave the dark days behind him, he gets married to Lillian, the love of his life, and they start a family together. However, the day Lillian leaves Sulphur Springs to tend to her sister’s pregnancy, Derrick’s life is interrupted when a ruthless killer from his past comes seeking vengeance…

Can Derrick stop this man before he destroys his life?

When a fire is set on his farm, Derrick senses that someone wants him dead. Once Derrick finds out that an old enemy is free from prison, he knows death and mayhem will follow. While he cannot contact his wife, he must pick up his guns and manage to stay alive long enough if he wants to see Lillian again.

The past has a way of lingering long after it’s forgotten though…

Fate seems determined to put him in an early grave after a disastrous altercation gets him thrown overboard, setting in motion an epic journey that tests his mettle at every turn. Will he escape vicious killers and a corrupt legal system in order to find freedom and redemption, or will the past finally catch up to him and consume him, along with everything he holds dear?

“Trapped By A Haunting Past” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

3 thoughts on “Trapped By A Haunting Past (Preview)”

  1. A very good story of the life of Derrick and Lillian in their struggles of survival in the wild West. Loved the preview. Looking forward to reading the book.

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