An Unexpected Journey To Justice (Preview)

Prologue

Joe Younger hit the nail so that it sunk deep into the board. He lifted one rough hand and rubbed his thumb over the spot to make sure the head was flush with the wood. It was perfect and he nodded in satisfaction, stepping back to survey his work.

He’d found himself to be quite the carpenter as of late. He didn’t know how he had acquired the talent, but once he’d started building things, it had felt so natural, he’d continued.

This was just the simple installation of new shelves in the boss’s kitchen. That final nail meant it was time to go find his boss, Cyrus Bigsby. Bigsby was a decent enough man to be working for. Joe felt he could have done worse as far as pay equaling the amount of work he did. His employer wasn’t a hard man to get along with, either. Maybe he was a bit stingy and more than a little greedy, but he treated his ranch hands fairly, in Joe’s opinion.

He left the kitchen, which was finally done with that last nail. Bigsby’s cook, Helga, would be able to move about freely again and no one would be forced to listen to her complaining. Bigsby kept telling her it was temporary and to be patient, but she was an older German woman and change bothered her a great deal.

Joe stepped out on the porch, squinting at the light of the sun. He plopped his hat on his head and went down the steps to cross the compound. He was of the mind Bigsby was in the stables, probably talking to his groom about getting the horses ready to take to town. He was due to head out in about twenty minutes, according to his daily schedule.

Joe wanted to catch him before he left, in case there were any last-minute changes he wanted made to the kitchen. Joe was looking forward to getting back outside. He preferred working outside, rather than being cooped up indoors all day long.

Entering the stables, Joe realized just how bright the sun really was in Durham Peaks, Arizona, that late spring day. It was only going to get warmer as the days rolled into summer, but that was just how Joe liked it. He was a man who liked to be out in the sun and could take the heat better than most of his coworkers. It was just the way he was made, he told everyone.

When he saw Bigsby wasn’t in the stables, he left through a side door and headed to the barn. The only thing he knew was that his boss wasn’t inside the house. The chances the man had returned to bed or to his bedroom for some reason were slim. Joe hadn’t checked the study or the library, but Bigsby had said he would be outside, checking some of the work being done to decide if he wanted anything new constructed, repaired, or expanded.

Bigsby was usually a man of his word.

Joe went into the barn. The first thing he noticed was that his boss wasn’t inside. In fact, it was empty of human presence — though he heard the distinct sound of mice skittering through the hay up in the loft. Annoyed, he crossed to the ladder and went up, pulling himself onto the wooden floor. He’d spent a good portion of the last week exterminating mice. They were a never-ending problem.

He got down on his hands and knees and peered through the hay scattered across the floor.

“Where are you, ya little bugger?” he murmured, looking for holes in the walls that would allow the mice to escape unnoticed.

Movement through the window at the end of the loft caught his attention and his eyes darted to the field outside. Two men were standing in the middle of the wheat. It wasn’t until he saw them that he became aware of the loud voices floating through the air toward him.

The men appeared to be arguing about something. Joe moved to the edge of the window, which was really an opening from the roof to the second floor. He stood up all the way and held onto the edge of the barn, squinting through the bright sun.

It was his boss, Mr. Bigsby, and a stranger. It wasn’t surprising that he was with a stranger, since he had many different business dealings and Joe didn’t keep up with what he was doing all the time. It wasn’t his business. He was just a ranch hand and didn’t want anything to do with the town gossip or high society.

Not that Mr. Bigsby was high society. He was just wealthy and owned a lot of land. There wasn’t anything particularly classy about the man.

A shock ran through Joe when the stranger pulled a knife from a sheath hidden under his jacket and rammed the blade into Mr. Bigsby’s stomach. Before Joe could make a sound, the man had withdrawn the blade and stabbed his boss twice more, this time in the upper chest.

“Hey!” Joe yelled out, wishing he could leap from the second-story window without hurting himself. “Hey! Hey, you! Stop what you’re doing!”

Realizing that yelling out at the criminal was doing nothing good at all, Joe turned and nearly threw himself down the ladder to get to the ground. He dashed for the front door and rounded the barn as fast as he could. He stopped for only a moment, getting his bearings by looking up at the barn window he had been watching from and taking a guess as to where he’d seen the stabbing happen. He could barely see over the top of the wheat and if the assailant was smart, he would have ducked below it to run off. Mr. Bigsby was most likely lying on the ground, dead or dying.

Joe tried to make himself as tall as he could. He couldn’t see anything.

“Mr. Bigsby!” he called out, feeling foolish. The man had just been stabbed three times.

When he heard the sound of moaning, Joe ran toward Mr. Bigsby. His boss was on the ground, one hand over the stab wound closest to his heart.

He reached for Joe as soon as he came closer. Joe slid to a stop on his knees by the man.

“Mr. Bigsby! I’ll get you to a doctor! Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine.”

Just looking in the man’s eyes, Joe knew he was likely not going to be fine. They looked vacant and distant to Joe, who had no medical training other than emergency aid. He’d never seen anyone die before, but he believed he was looking at someone who was.

Mr. Bigsby knew it, too. He shook his head, holding onto Joe’s arm. “Leo… Cronin … circus… boy…”

The words were so strange to Joe. But they were all his boss managed to get out before he slumped over, losing consciousness.

Chapter One

Simone Kirby gave her friend, Deputy James Quinn, the friendliest smile she could. Behind her smile, she was nervous as could be. It wasn’t like her to deceive her friend, or anyone in law enforcement for that matter. But now, it was necessary. And she didn’t like it one bit.

“So, when is this man supposed to come to our town?” she asked, trying to appear casual while her stomach was tied in knots.

James gave her a look. “Who, Angus Starling? The Hooded Rat?” He placed his hands on his flat stomach and leaned back slightly to let out an amused laugh. “Next few days, I reckon. He’s not the only one we’re holding here. Two murderers.” James shook his head. “Doesn’t happen much here in our sleepy little town.”

Simone would rather nothing happened and no one came through Salt Canyon. Whenever trouble found their town, it found her brother.

Simone’s twin brother, Simon, was not known for being the most upstanding of individuals. It wasn’t that he was a bad person. But he had a gambling problem, exacerbated by a desire to drink excessive amounts of alcohol and then run his mouth like an idiot. He frequently got himself beat up, and he owed nearly every man in town and probably all of Arizona at least a few dollars.

This time, Simon had joined the wrong game. He was in debt to Angus Starling by quite a lot and after Angus was arrested, his men had found out he would be transported to Salt Canyon and held for a few days or a week while they arranged further transportation for him. They had contacted Simon and demanded he pay back what he owed. And then some.

Feeling like he had no choice, Simon had agreed to their terms. Simone would attempt to bail Angus out of jail — and if that didn’t work, a plan would be made to break him out.

The very thought of doing something so dangerous and illegal made Simone’s skin crawl. She’d been praying, ever since Simon had confessed to her what he’d agreed to, that paying off the debt would be the end of it. Angus would be released, a free man to go and do whatever things he was doing that would probably land him right back in jail.

Simone hoped Angus was only a run-of-the-mill gambler with bodyguards. If he was a full-blown outlaw, one who would kill without recourse, then she and her brother were in a great deal of danger. And what about the people she was helping to unleash a murderer on?

She shivered. Her eyes darted to James to see if her friend had seen the emotion. He had, and he nodded slightly.

“I know why you feel like that,” he said.

For a split second, Simone thought James had somehow found out about the arrangement. Her eyes widened and she gave him a terrified look, only recovering when he continued.

“It doesn’t surprise me that women feel threatened when an outlaw like Starling comes to our jail. We only get them here because we’ve got one of the biggest jails in Arizona. You knew that, didn’t you?”

Simone nodded. It was something she knew, because she’d been friends with James since before he joined the lawmen of Salt Canyon. And after he joined, their friendship had remained strong — he’d even taught her some of what he learned as a trained deputy.

“Yeah, that’s why we get the responsibility of holding them over while arrangements are made,” James continued, hooking his thumbs in his belt. He had a very self-important look about him, but Simone adored that about her friend. It had been speculated whether she and James would ever be an item, but the two friends knew that wasn’t in the cards. They had discussed it outright and decided together that a friendship was all they needed between them. Simone had encouraged James to find a sweetheart and whenever a possibility came along, James sought Simone’s opinion before pursuing the woman. He didn’t always agree with Simone’s opinion and sometimes pursued the young lady anyway, but so far, she had turned out correct on each one.

Not that James had a string of women in his past. There weren’t too many in Arizona to be found in 1889, but times were changing. Both he and Simone held out hope that someday, his beautiful lady would come, and he would be married with children before too long.

He was twenty-five years old and time was ticking. Simone did her best to keep her friend patient. She herself was twenty-four and there was no ring on her finger. In fact, she still lived in her childhood home with her twin brother. Marriage wasn’t in the future for her anytime soon, either.

But she and James had made a pact — if they weren’t married by the time Simone turned 30, they would get married whether they liked it or not.

An instant smile came to her face. She scanned James. He was a handsome man, no doubt, with brown, wavy hair and brown eyes set deep into his face, his high cheekbones making him resemble an Indian. Their children would be very good-looking, and there was always a chance they could have a child with virtually any color hair. Simone had long blond hair and bright blue eyes. She was the complete opposite of James.

Shaking her head to clear the thoughts running through her mind, Simone brought herself back to the present, listening as James rattled on about various infamous outlaws who had briefly stayed at the Salt Canyon jailhouse.

“But you don’t have to be afraid, you know,” James was saying, giving her a direct look. “I’m not gonna let anything happen to you.”

“None of us will, Simi,” another deputy, Craig Johnson, spoke up from behind his desk to her right. She turned her head to give him a smile. She liked the nickname the deputies had given her. It made her feel special to be well-known by the men who kept the peace in her town. She trusted them completely.

That fact made it even more difficult for her to do what she needed to do for her brother.

“Thank you, Craig,” she said in a breathy tone, swinging grateful eyes from Craig, to the third deputy in the building, Tony Custer, and then to James. They all gave her comforting smiles. “It does feel good to know you are all on duty. It makes me feel a lot safer.”

“Safer than what?” Craig asked in a teasing voice. She grinned at him.

“Safer than if you weren’t.”

“Well, I should hope so,” Craig replied, returning her grin and shaking his head. He bent over his desk and began to read a document lying there.

When Simone looked back at James, her smile wavered. He was giving her a strange look.

She blinked at him. “What is it?” she asked.

He shook his head, still hesitating before answering. “I don’t know. You look strange. Is everything all right?”

Simone sputtered. “Uh… of course. What could be wrong?”

“You just look a little tense is all. Don’t tell me, you’ve found a beau!”

Her friend’s enthusiasm when he spoke the words broke her nervousness and she let out an abrupt laugh. “Oh, James! You are funny, aren’t you?”

This made James and the other two deputies chuckle, which made her feel a little better. She offered to make the men lunch, which they declined as they had all brought something with them. After another hour of chatting with the men, Simone left the jailhouse.

She turned once she was outside and down the steps leading up to the porch. It was indeed a massive building, having three floors, doubling as a courthouse on the third floor and with additional cells on the second.

The acting sheriff three terms ago had decided he wanted to make a statement. He’d dumped much of his own fortune into building the jail and told everyone it would someday be a massive prison holding thousands of men. He’d been laughed at but he’d built the large jail anyway, telling them all his predictions were sure to come true.

Simone turned away from the jail and as she walked to her house three blocks over and one to the right, her nervousness returned. Her stomach turned over and knotted up. She chewed on her lips and kneaded her hands together, her forehead wrinkling with concern.

What if they wouldn’t accept the bail money? What if Starling had to break out? Would they try to involve Simon? Or her? Would Starling just kill them both, anyway?

Simone sighed shakily.

Chapter Two

Simon was in the kitchen when Simone arrived. She brushed through the front door and closed it softly behind her, hearing his shuffling noises. She passed through the foyer and the open kitchen door. The room also doubled as the dining area, so she dropped herself in her usual chair at the table and folded her hands in front of her to keep them from shaking.

Simon had a loaf of bread in front of him on a cutting board. A large ham and a round circle of cheese were on the counter, and a container of mustard sat nearby.

When she came in and he saw her, his shoulders slumped and he set both hands on the edge of the counter, leaning on it heavily. She could see how troubled he was.

“It’s all right,” she said quickly, “he’s not there yet.”

Simon drew in a relieved breath, standing upright again and continuing to make his sandwich. He spread a thin line of mustard on one of the bread slices he cut off and moved to the ham to slice three thick chunks.

“That’s good,” he said. “I wish he wasn’t coming to Salt Canyon at all. Tell me, sis, do you think they’re gonna let you bail him out? And what is James gonna think?”

Simone knew exactly what her friend would think. It wasn’t as though Simon’s gambling addiction wasn’t well known in their hometown. She felt sorry for her brother but was fully aware there were some who weren’t nearly as compassionate as she. James, fortunately, always tried to understand. Simone and Simon were twins. He’d known her brother just as long as he’d known her. He was closer to Simone but he considered himself a friend to Simon, as well, despite the problems the young man might have.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen,” Simone admitted, regretfully. “I just don’t know. And you know James is going to be the only one to really understand.”

Having finished making his sandwich, Simon stood at the counter and took a large bite. He chewed, a thoughtful look on his face, his eyes staring straight out in front of him. After swallowing, he looked at his sister. “You want a sandwich?”

Simone’s stomach was rumbling, but she didn’t want a ham sandwich. There was possibly some chicken left over from their meal the night before. She would make a chicken sandwich for herself instead.

She expressed these thoughts to Simon as she stood up and moved to the icebox.

“I’ll make it for you,” Simon offered quickly, moving to take the chicken from her hands. “I never get to do anything for you and you’re always putting your life in danger for me. Give me something to do here.”

Simone was amused by his words and the jovial tone he used to say them. “I don’t know if I’m always putting my life in danger for you,” she admitted, allowing him to take the chicken from her and return to the counter. “If I’m very honest, brother dear, this is the first time I’ve had to deal with a situation like this. When you go out and get yourself in trouble, you aren’t putting me in danger. You’re doing that to yourself.”

Simon gave her a side glance. She could tell he knew all of what she was saying already, but she forged on anyway.

“I do want you to know I can see how hard you try. That’s why I just can’t give up on you. You don’t go out and get in trouble nearly as often as you used to.”

Simon lifted half his lips in a slight grin. “Yeah, it’s been… a couple months now, hasn’t it? I am trying, Simone. Thanks for noticing.”

A few minutes later, Simon returned to the table, where Simone had taken a seat, and he set the plate down in front of her.

They both sat quietly eating for nearly ten minutes. When Simone popped the last of her sandwich in her mouth, Simon was on his feet, gathering their plates and taking them to be washed in the big basin sink.

He returned to the table and sat where he had been, giving her a close look. He reached across the table, his arm outstretched, his palm up. His eyes never left hers.

She rested one hand in his and he squeezed it.

“I’m forever grateful to have a sister like you, Simone. I don’t know where I’d be without you. Wait — I do know. I’d be dead in a ditch somewhere, in a gutter, alone and pathetic. You’re the only reason I’m still trying.”

Simone’s heart melted for her brother. She tilted her head to the side and gazed lovingly at him. “It’s just the two of us, Simon. We have to look out for each other.”

Her brother shook his head. “I don’t feel like I even look out for you. I feel like you do everything and I’m just a lump on a log, wasting your time. I hope I’m not holding you back. I don’t want to do that.”

Simone pressed her lips together. She could feel her emotions weighing heavy in her chest. She didn’t want to cry. It might give her brother the wrong impression. She wasn’t ashamed of him and didn’t feel like she was being forced to do too much. She wasn’t being forced to do anything. If she wasn’t there to make sure her brother was all right, who would be?

“You are not a waste of my time,” she said. The words came out heated, which she didn’t intend. She gave him a sharp look to go along with her words. “How could you even say something like that? I’m here for you. You’re my brother. I’m not going to let you fall.”

Simon nodded, moving his blue eyes to gaze out the window at the woods behind their cottage. “I know. Trust me, I know that about you. But that doesn’t stop me from feeling guilty. Like I should be the one taking care of you, not the other way around.”

Simone shook her head. “Don’t be ridiculous. We’re family. That’s what I’m here for.”

Simon didn’t look back at her. He was quiet for a few moments before continuing, “What will happen when you want to get married and you move off to be with your husband? What will happen to me then?”

Simone raised her eyebrows. “You’ll be right here in this house and I’ll visit all the time and you’ll be just fine, that’s what will happen. You are behaving as if you don’t know how to take care of yourself. But you do. You know how to cook and clean and properly bathe yourself.” Simone gestured to the remnants of the meal they’d just had, which was spread out on the counter, waiting to be put away. “You know how to make a decent sandwich. You’ll be fine.”

She was grateful when Simon laughed softly. “So, making a good sandwich is enough for you, is it?”

Simone leaned forward abruptly, putting her other hand over the one Simon was holding. “I don’t want that for you. I want you to find love, too. I want you to be with a woman you can hold and kiss and have babies with.”

Simon looked regretful. “I don’t know if that can happen now. Not after the damage I’ve done to my reputation. You realize that’s another reason why you aren’t married already; you’ve been saddled with what I’ve done because you’re my sister. It’s my fault you aren’t married yet.”

Simone shook her head. “I’m not going to let you take that blame, brother, I’m sorry. Your gambling habit might have caused a bit of a rift, but if a man truly loves me, he won’t hold me accountable for what someone else does. It helps that Ma and Pa were such upstanding citizens. I think it made more people sympathetic to you than there might have been.”

“Do you really think so?” Simon sounded truly surprised. “I didn’t know anyone but you was sympathetic.”

“Well, James has never let your name be sullied. Not in front of me, anyway.”

“Well, you’re my sister,” Simon pointed out.

“True,” Simone agreed, “but it’s only happened a few times and once I overheard him defending you when he didn’t know I was in the room. I was behind him, looking through some papers in the library, and someone said something about you owing a lot of people in town. James told them to mind their own business and keep quiet about other people’s affairs.”

Simone could tell what she was saying brought comfort to her brother. She would never admit to him how terrified she was that he would, in fact, be lost without her. It wasn’t him who kept her from being courted, she was sure of that. The pickings were slim in Salt Canyon, and she had a good reputation. She was a kind girl with high standards and plenty of class. She could cook and clean and do anything required of her. She was also well-liked on a personal basis.

She just didn’t have a beau. And she didn’t blame her brother for that fact.

“I’m glad some people try to understand,” her brother mumbled softly.

She nodded. “They do. And you really are still quite young. You have plenty of time to change their minds about you.”

“I’ll have to get right on that,” Simon said with a smile.

Simone laughed. “You’ve been doing a good job so far. I’m so proud of you, Simon. I really am.”

“I like hearing that,” Simon said, his voice a little weak. “Thank you, sis. I am so blessed to have you.”

Chapter Three

Joe tried to avoid bumping into the ranger who was seated next to him, but the stagecoach was jostling him hard on the rough dirt road. On a normal basis, he would have been apologetic. But, under the circumstances, he wasn’t.

He didn’t blame himself for the mess he was in. He’d done everything right. He’d only made one mistake: he’d had the knife that was used to kill his boss in his hand when the other ranch hands had spotted him and Bigsby and came running. They’d told the prosecutor about it, and the attorney was certain Joe was guilty from the beginning. No amount of pleading and explaining had changed the man’s mind.

Through no fault of his own, he’d been arrested for killing his boss and was being shipped to Austin for the trial, as Durham Peaks didn’t have a courthouse.

“I don’t understand why we gotta go stay in Salt Canyon,” the deputy across from him said in a whining voice, his narrow eyes beady and shifty as they took in his two companions. He wasn’t looking at Joe, but he seemed to be taking delight in Joe’s misfortune. Joe took an instant dislike to him. “We got all we need back there in Durham Peaks.”

“We already told ya why, Dave,” Ranger Spike Tanner, sitting next to Joe, replied in a disdainful voice. Joe could tell he didn’t care much for the deputy, either. “We’re pickin’ up Starling on the way to Salt Canyon because they’re both gonna be transported at the same time. How many times we gotta go over that with you? What’s your problem, anyway? You got somethin’ important goin’ on in Durham Peaks?”

The deputy snarled at the ranger. “Maybe I do,” he retorted. “But it ain’t none of your business, it is? I ain’t gotta answer to you. I’m only here because I gotta keep my job.”

“Then shut up and stop whinin’,” Ranger Tanner replied in a curt voice. “Don’t none of us want to hear it. Ain’t nothin’ wrong with Salt Canyon. They got the creature comforts there, the saloon, the hotel, they got some women who will dance with ya and sing to the tune playin’ on the piana. Try to have a good time and ya will.”

When Dave turned his narrow eyes to him, Joe braced himself for the smart remark he knew was coming. “Yeah, least I won’t be locked up in jail cell with a murderer, a liar, and a thief.”

Joe held in his temper. If his hands weren’t tied behind his back, he would have leapt across the stagecoach and choked the man. Or at least punched him. The goal was not to go to prison.

“Hold on,” the ranger said, to Joe’s surprise. “We don’t know if this fella is a thief. Apparently, he didn’t have time to get anything from the house before the other ranch hands came up on him.”

“I didn’t kill Bigsby,” Joe barked, unable to restrain himself.

“Whoa, whoa, there, calm down.” The ranger didn’t sound intimidated in the least, turning his head and his upper body toward Joe. “You ain’t got anything to contribute here, son. You need to just sit back and enjoy the ride.”

Joe clenched his jaw, anger spilling through his chest, making it tight. He wanted to burst out of the ropes tying his wrists together, jump from the stagecoach, and run as far as he could. The cell they’d been keeping him in the last two weeks still reeked from his clothes and body. He hadn’t had a decent bath since they’d arrested him the day his boss was murdered. They hadn’t even tried to find the man Joe saw. He tried to describe the murderer, but when the attorney had gotten wind of the situation, he’d seemed to immediately decide Joe was guilty.

“There’s no evidence to prove I murdered Bigsby,” Joe insisted. He knew it didn’t matter what he said, but he couldn’t help defending himself. “I’m an innocent man. I had no reason to kill him. He was a good enough boss — decent, paid all right, didn’t work us too hard. I had no reason to kill him.”

“You ain’t gotta repeat yourself,” Deputy Dave said. “We heard ya the first time. When ya said it two weeks ago. Still don’t believe ya, though, do we?” He snickered, shaking his head.

Joe scowled, balling his hands into fists that he could only keep together behind him. He’d been pushing against the ropes the entire time and they hadn’t budged. He was tied tight. There was no escape.

He wasn’t sure he was the kind of man who could pull off an escape, anyway. He’d never been in trouble, never had the need to fight. His life had been fairly peaceful so far.

He shook his head, turning it so he could look out the window. There was no point to any of this. What did he hope to accomplish? Did he expect that the ranger and the deputies would just let him go? That was never going to happen.

“I gotta say, though,” the other deputy, a man Joe knew as Jim Turnbull, spoke up after having been quiet for nearly the entire ride, “I don’t see why they did arrest him. I mean, his story is just as plausible as the attorney’s.”

Ranger Tanner sneered. “Look at you, usin’ big words,” he said disdainfully. “Why don’t you leave that stuff up to the courts? You don’t know nothin’ about applyin’ the law.”

“And you do?” Jim replied, seemingly as unintimidated by the ranger as his partner. “I studied some, opened those books and read some stuff, more’n I bet you’ve done. You know about pickin’ ‘em up and shippin’ ‘em to the courthouse, but you don’t know what happens after that. Unless a lawyer tells ya. Besides, what difference does it make to you if I think he might have a point? You got a personal vendetta against him?”

Ranger Tanner met Joe’s eyes for a moment, and Joe wondered the same thing, himself. It was just like the prosecuting attorney. What had he done to make these people dislike him? He’d never met any of them before in his life.

“Nah. I just don’t like the looks of a murderer, and he looks like a murderer to me.”

“I ain’t a murderer,” Joe said, hotly. “I ain’t killed anybody.”

Ranger Tanner sat forward with a grin that exposed his tobacco-stained but fairly straight teeth. “Well, I reckon we’re gonna let the courts decide that, aren’t we?”

“Shouldn’t be a question of deciding on it,” Joe continued, unafraid. They couldn’t do more than they were already doing to him unless they killed him, and it certainly looked like that was the way it was headed at that point, anyway. “It’s the truth. Shouldn’t no man be deciding what the truth is when I know it. I didn’t kill him! He was a good boss. I had no reason. I ain’t killed anyone in my life!”

“You just keep quiet and calm, son,” Ranger Tanner said, leaning close enough to Joe for the scent of tobacco and alcohol to fill Joe’s nose. “We got ya taken care of. You’ll like Salt Canyon; it’s a big place. Two, three stories, somethin’ like that. Maybe you’ll get lucky and get a cell on the second floor. A room with a view, you know. You can see way out there into the desert.” The ranger lifted one hand and spread it out flat, moving it in front of him as if to indicate the entire horizon. “Way out there where everyone else is a free man but you.”

It felt like someone was squeezing a hand around Joe’s heart. He let out a sharp breath. His mind went blank and a feeling of despair washed over him. Slumping his shoulders, he leaned against the inner wall of the stagecoach, resting his head to the side.

“That’s a good boy,” the ranger said.

Joe closed his eyes. He wanted to lash out, to yell at them, to force them to accept the truth of what happened. He could still see the man in his mind. He’d gotten a fairly good look and knew for a fact he would be able to pick the man out again if he saw him. If he’d known someone who could draw a good sketch, he would have enlisted their services.

But, as it was, no one wanted to believe or listen to him. He didn’t know what the future would bring, but it certainly wasn’t looking good for him.

When the stagecoach stopped and picked up Angus Starling, Joe saw his chances of surviving this mess going down further. Starling was a large man with an angry face, dark blue eyes that blazed out at the world behind dark lashes, and tanned, weathered skin. If he had ever been a handsome, charming young man, those days were long gone.

The stagecoach slumped to the side when he stepped in, his hands tied securely behind him. His long dark hair swung in front of him, creating a curtain around his scarred face. He turned his head up to look at the others in the stagecoach and sneered at them all. He scanned Joe when he noticed they both had their hands tied behind their backs.

Joe was shocked that for one brief moment, Starling’s eyes recognized that Joe was a prisoner, too, and the outlaw jerked his head up in the smallest nod of acknowledgment Joe had ever seen. Joe replied with the same, though the feeling of dread he’d had before was now exploding in his chest and drenching his body in intense worry.


“An Unexpected Journey To Justice” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Ranch hand Joe Younger has his life turned upside down when he finds his boss brutally stabbed to death, whispering the name of his killer. To his misfortune though, he becomes the main suspect when he is caught with a knife in his hand. With everything set against him, he is immediately put into jail but his troubles have just begun. Eager to escape from this living nightmare, Joe grabs the opportunity to break out of prison along with Angus, a fellow prisoner. Joe won’t give in, and he’ll never stop fighting for justice while also doing everything in his power to prove his innocence. When his investigation leads him down a dark, perilous road, will he manage to find peace?

While breaking out of jail, Joe meets Simone and her twin brother Simon under peculiar circumstances. She is in a bit of trouble herself, caused by her brother’s gambling addiction. To Joe’s surprise, Angus happens to be the man Simon owes money to for past gambling debts but Joe won’t let anyone hurt a helpless woman. Tired of being haunted by wrongful accusations, he asks her to help him find equity and vows to always be by her side in return. Simone is a blessing in disguise for Joe while everything seems to be falling apart but he’s too afraid to let her in. However, when he unearths a shocking secret about the man behind his boss’s stabbing, he knows he must turn the tables no matter what the cost. Will Simone break through the walls around his heart before it’s too late, or will the dangerous outlaws destroy Joe’s last hope for justice?

Joe and Simone come closer and create a special bond between them, but whether it can withstand the danger and coming confrontation is far from certain. Joe will try to prove his innocence before the law catches up with him…Can he really find freedom, or will this quest be his own demise, as well as Simone’s?

“An Unexpected Journey To Justice” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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