Wrath of the Lone Rider (Preview)

Ezra Fielding tipped his hat back and blew into the cold air just to see how big a cloud he could make. It felt like the air was clipped with ice chips that stabbed into his beard and mustache as he rode through the prairie. Especially at the speed he was going. 

He and his horse, aptly named Lightning because the animal could practically fly, were chasing down Juan Carlos Santos, who had kidnapped Penny Armstrong in an unfair and brutal fashion. He was about to catch the man in the forest around Mount Arness, a part of Texas Ezra knew well. 

Ezra wasn’t about to give up a good thing when he found it. And he had found exactly that in Penny. Her father was against the union, and it had caused some hardships, but when Juan Carlos Santos had taken Penny right out from under her father’s nose, the man had had no one else to call who knew how to do the job Ezra was doing. 

Ezra hadn’t told John Armstrong, her father, that Santos had taken Penny as a means to draw Ezra out. He was afraid the old man would have yet another reason to hate him. It was true, though, and he would have to own up to it sooner or later. He hoped rescuing her and taking Santos out of the picture would suffice in making up for the whole ordeal. 

As a well-known and highly regarded bounty hunter, Ezra had a knack for smelling out bad men, instinctively getting a feeling just from being near someone that they might be up to no good. He’d discovered wanted men hiding in small bars all over Texas just by visiting them. Nearly half his captures were a result of him getting a feeling about a certain saloon or restaurant. Sometimes, he would have to wait, but nearly every time, a wanted man or several in a gang would show up, walking in as casually as he had before them. 

It hadn’t taken him long to track down Santos, but he was pretty sure the man had intentionally made it easy for him. He wanted to fight. Ezra had interrupted too many of Santos’ schemes and taken too many of his men to jail. He wasn’t a stupid man, either. It wasn’t like he didn’t know this was a set-up and there was a good chance he would be ambushed.

When he’d gotten to Broken Pines the day before, he’d ridden right into what he expected to find. But he’d managed to take cover and the men of the town had naturally defended themselves and their loved ones, ridding the place of Santos’ men without Ezra having to take on more than one or two before he spotted Santos riding off with Penny. 

Penny had been positioned on the back end of the horse. He assumed her hands were tied at the wrists because her arms were around Santos. She was screaming at him and wriggling like a mad dog, but he’d managed to secure her well. 

Now he was pursuing them over the desert prairie, a sparse, dusty place that stretched for miles in every direction, dotted here and there with a lonely tree and various cacti. Up ahead, just some hundred yards from Santos, was the Arness Forest and the mountains on the other side of those trees. The forest was probably a few miles long at most. He didn’t want them to get to the canyons in the mountains because it was dangerous in there and he could easily lose them. 

Plus, he might get lost himself and wander those canyons until he starved to death. 

He was making good time, though, and pulling closer to Santos. Lightning could go for miles and miles without getting tired; he’d already proven that to Ezra on several chases. Ezra didn’t catch every single outlaw he pursued as a bounty hunter. But his success rate was high, and his instincts were good. His solid reputation kept him getting jobs, even offers from the government to become a marshal or a Texas Ranger.

 

But he didn’t want to stay in this job for the rest of his life. He would turn thirty soon, and he wanted to settle down and have a family. 

The woman he wanted to do that with was on the back of Juan Carlos Santos’ horse. And Ezra aimed to get her back. 

“Come on, boy,” he murmured, leaning as far forward as he could, squeezing his heels into his horse’s sides. “If you can give me any more, give it to me. Let’s go, let’s get her.”

It seemed his pep talk worked because the distance seemed to fold between them, and he was suddenly just thirty yards from the edge of the forest. Santos had just gone in past the tree line.

Something in the forest spooked the outlaw’s horse, or maybe it was Penny who caused the distraction, but it bucked and both Santos and Penny went flying off. Ezra’s heart nearly came out of his chest as he watched her land nearby in a soft patch of grass. 

She screamed and kicked with her feet because her arms were still around Santos, who was lying on top of her. She wiggled frantically until she’d brought her arms up over his head and managed to stumble to her feet. As she spun around and headed toward Ezra’s galloping horse, she grabbed the rope around her wrists with her teeth and jerked until it came loose and fell away. 

Ezra leaned to the side, holding out his arm, racing his horse toward her. She spotted him and reached out just in time to grab his forearm and propel herself onto the back of his horse. Ezra kept going for a few yards before turning his horse around and going back to where Santos was. 

He slowed his horse and stopped when he saw a growing circle of blood on the ground around Santos’ head. Upon closer inspection, it was apparent when he’d fallen from the horse, his head had made contact with a large rock.

The outlaw was dead. 

As Ezra and Penny left the area, he was conscious of her body draped against his back as she sobbed in relief. Someday, he would marry this woman. Someday, he would settle down and have a family with her. 

Someday.

 

Chapter One

It was a bright and crisp autumn Sunday. Ezra was feeling particularly good that morning and took the extra time to stretch and bathe in the stream behind his shack before heading out to the church building. 

He didn’t often attend but today, Penny would be there, and it was always nice to get a glimpse of her pretty face. She was still under the thumb of her father and even though he’d saved her life a year ago, John Armstrong had made it clear he didn’t want her married to a bounty hunter. His job was too dangerous, as was proven by the kidnapping. There was nothing Ezra could say to combat that. It was the truth. If Santos hadn’t been after Ezra, Penny would never have been taken. 

So, even though he’d rescued her, his efforts had only gotten him a hearty “thank you, but no.” 

Penny, for her part, showed her affection for him, but only with her eyes and that secret smile she never gave anyone else. She made sure to make eye contact with him whenever they met. He could tell her heart was still with him. He was determined they would be together someday.

He walked up the path to the church, going up the four steps with only two strides and reaching out to shake Pastor Garret’s hand. 

“How are you today, sir?” he asked politely, lifting his hat from his head and holding it to his chest.

“Doing well this mornin’, Ezra. Hope you are, too. Keepin’ us all safe but gettin’ some good sleep at night.”

“Yes, sir, it’s a fine mornin’. Slept well. You’ve got a good sermon ready for us, I’m sure.”

“I do. At least, I think I do.” The man laughed pleasantly. “I reckon we’ll see when it’s all over and done with.”

“I’ll be sure to let you know if it’s rotten.” Ezra grinned wide and winked at the pastor, who laughed again. 

“All right, then. I’ll look forward to that.”

Ezra moved on, sensing people directly behind him. He glanced back and nodded at the family there before going through the double doors, one of which was propped open. 

The church was buzzing with people. He took an aisle seat toward the middle and stretched his legs out, waiting for Penny and her parents to pass by. At twenty-three, she was still living with them and obeying them as if she was a teenager. But they weren’t terrible to her. They just didn’t want her to marry a man in his occupation. 

Ezra was close to giving it up anyway. He had a goal and when he reached it, he would have enough to buy a ranch and become an established member of the community. When that happened, he would go to John and Mandy Armstrong and ask once again for Penny’s hand in marriage. He had a good feeling they would say yes then. 

When Penny passed by, she brushed her hand over his shoulder to get his attention. He turned his green eyes up to her and his heart flipped in his chest. 

“Papa says he’s happy to see you here,” she said so softly he barely heard her. What she said was hard enough to believe. He raised his eyebrows.

“Did he really?”

That smile. That gorgeous smile that made his heart nearly stop. 

“Yes,” she replied. “I think he’s close to changing his mind.”

Ezra wanted to say right then and there that he would give up everything about bounty hunting if that were true, but he wasn’t there yet. He didn’t have enough yet to buy the land he had his eye on. Until that happened, he would have to keep up what he was doing, taking on every job he could at the best rates he could find. 

“I hope that’s true,” he said sincerely. She rested her hand on his shoulder and he covered it with one of his own. “I really hope that’s true, Penny. I miss you. A lot.”

“I miss you, too. But we’ll see each other again soon, I know it.”

“Do I still have your heart?”

His heart melted when she gave him that smile again. “Yes, Ezra.” She pressed a kiss to her fingers and touched them to his cheek. “You always will.”

His heart beat a thousand miles a minute. She took her hand from his shoulder, sliding it out from under his. He didn’t want her to go.

She went to the other side of the church and took a seat with her parents, who were staring at him. He lifted one hand and waved, a sheepish grin on his face. Her mother smiled back and waved in response, but her father just nodded curtly, no smile. 

Ezra sighed. He had a poker game that night to kick off a new tournament that would make the rounds through taverns and saloons all around Texas. That was another way he liked to make extra money. His goal was set for six more months. By then, if he played his cards right and got the right jobs, he could quit the work that was keeping him from the love of his life and become the rancher he wanted to be. 

The sermon went quickly and he enjoyed it thoroughly. There were several times he felt like the pastor was speaking to him and knew what he was thinking. He liked it when that happened and told Pastor Garrett so afterward. 

He left the church feeling good, wrapping his handkerchief around his face to keep the chilly breeze from freezing his nose and lips. His brown hair was thick, and his beard kept his face warm, but his lips and nose had a tendency to freeze fast and that irritated him. He headed directly to the saloon, where he would have a bite to eat and wait for the poker game to start. 

There would be some high-dollar players there that night, he was told. He was a little nervous about it but he wasn’t planning on betting a lot. He was good at the game but not the best by far. Winning only meant he could bump his future goal up by a week or so. 

He had plans. Big plans. It was time to make them happen.

 

Chapter Two

An hour later, Ezra’s stomach was full, and he sat back in his chair, enjoying the heat from the fireplace directly next to him. The games were about to start. There were three tables participating, five men at each table. He’d asked Ian, the bartender and owner of the saloon, as well as the sponsor for the tournament Ezra was about to participate in, to put him right next to the fire. 

Being warm helped him think. Winter was not his favorite time of the year. 

“Good to see you all here,” Ian said, clapping his hands to get everyone’s attention. He repeated himself louder to stop the buzzing of the people talking. The saloon was packed, which didn’t really surprise Ezra. This was probably the most fun the people of this town had had in years. 

“When’re we startin’, Ian?” someone from another table called out. “I been sittin’ over here stewin’ for two hours.”

Ian shook his head, lifting both hands in the air. “Ya knew what time it was startin’, Billy boy, and that’s two o’clock, just like I told everyone. Well, it’s two o’clock now and we’re gonna start. So you pick your dealers for the first match and start as you see fit.”

Ezra said a quick prayer for luck, sliding his cards closer as they came toward him on the table surface. His heart beat nervously as he looked at them, holding them close to his chest so no one else could see them. 

“All right,” said the man who’d won the draw to be the first dealer, “we’re gonna go around the table here first and y’all gonna say yer name. That’s just so we ain’t havin’ no mistakes or anythin’. You all right with that?”

There were nods all around. 

“I’m Linus Blackwood,” the dealer said. 

“Henry Baron,” said the man to his left.

“Peter Winters.” 

It continued around the table until it was Ezra’s turn.

“Ezra Fielding,” he said.

“Charlie Foster.”

“All right.” Blackwood took the attention back to himself. “Now that we all know each other, let’s play some cards.”

The first two matches were a bust for Ezra. He lost both but wasn’t discouraged. Charlie Foster won the first and Peter Winters won the significant second-round pot. The third round proved to be a winner for Ezra, who found himself with a full house minus one card from the get-go, and he received the card he needed when he discarded. 

By the time the fourth round started, Charlie, on one side of Ezra, and Peter, on the other side, were drunk. They could conceivably have come to the table that way. Ezra had no idea. Either way, they were becoming obnoxious. Peter was trying to cheat. Ezra could tell by the way the man was sweating profusely and the shaking of his hands. Plus, there was a suspicious sag in one of Peter’s sleeves. Ezra pondered how long he should let it go before he pointed out the obvious. 

Also, didn’t any of the other men see what was happening? Peter’s slurred words, the way he leaned to one side almost to the dangerous point of falling out of his chair? He managed to continue playing, but it was touch and go how long that would last. 

Ezra swept his eyes around the table, taking in all of the men. Charlie’s eyes were half-closed. The other two were alert and focused, showing no indication they’d been drinking. Ezra wasn’t sure they even had. He had had a few beers but he’d stopped long before the tournament started. He needed money. Being drunk wasn’t going to help him reach that goal. He couldn’t afford the beer, and he couldn’t afford to lose money in the game. Both were good enough reasons not to drink.

When the fourth round was called and they all had to show their cards, Ezra watched closely out of the corner of his eye when Peter shuffled his arm slightly and an ace came out of his sleeve. 

Ezra leaped to his feet, kicking the chair back with his legs. It went flying and when it landed, one of the legs snapped in half. He reached over and grabbed Peter by the lapels of his vest and yanked the man to his feet. The stink of alcohol swept over Ezra as Peter let out a gasp of surprise. 

Ezra turned his face away, grimacing. 

“You’re a cheater!” he roared, gripping Peter’s vest as tightly as he could. “I saw you!” 

Before Peter was released from his grasp, Ezra slapped one hand on the man’s wrist and slid his sleeve up with the other hand. An ace and a king of spades fell out, floating to the floor.

Behind him, Linus and Henry roared with rage. Charlie looked confused but seemed aware he was supposed to be mad at Peter for something because he was glaring profusely at the cheating player. 

“You aren’t in this game anymore!” Ezra yelled, shoving Peter away from him and bending to pick up the cards. He shook them at the younger man. “This is cheating and you know it! You should be banned from playing anywhere in Texas. If I had the authority, I’d make sure you couldn’t play anymore at all.”

“Well, you don’t have that authority,” Peter snarled back, running the words together but not making them incomprehensible. “You’re a nothing. You can’t really compete against me, anyway. You’re not better than me!” 

He took a swing at Ezra but, with his hands held up in a surrendering motion, Ezra stepped out of the way, shaking his head.

“No, I’m not gonna fight you, Peter. You’re a cheater. You ain’t playin’ anymore and you should probably leave this place before you start a fight you can’t finish.”

“I don’t have to listen to you!” Peter cried out, taking another swing. When he missed by a long shot, the momentum kept him going until he had punched his way through a table nearby and crashed to the floor, splintering it even more. 

It looked painful. Ezra’s instinct was to offer help to get the man back on his feet. 

He took a step toward Peter but stopped when the drunken man pushed himself back up. As he stood, he took hold of a beer bottle that had smashed when the table fell. The broken ends were sharp, glinting in the light of the fire and the lanterns placed all around. 

He held it out with a shaking hand, one eye squeezed shut. It was probably going to bruise and swell. 

“You ain’t got no right to be pushin’ me around,” Peter said.

Ezra frowned. “I’m not pushing you around,” he said matter-of-factly. “You cheated. You’re drunk. Safest thing for you to do is put that bottle down and leave this place. Go take a nap somewhere. You live around here?”

Peter blinked at him with his good eye, lifting one scratched-up side of his lips. “You don’t know who I am?” he asked as if astonished by such a thing.

Ezra was mildly confused. “I don’t know why I would. You’re just a kid I’m playing poker with.”

“I’m more than that!” Peter cried out. “I’m Peter Winters! Me!” 

He turned the broken bottle around and tapped himself on the chest with it. Ezra felt a flash of fear. Was he going to push it through even further? Didn’t it hurt him?

Peter turned the bottle back around and jabbed it toward Ezra. 

“You ain’t gonna push me around!”

“I’m not trying to do that!” Ezra repeated in a hard tone. “You need to put that thing down and walk out that door and go home. You’re drunk. Somethin’ bad is gonna happen if you don’t get your wits about ya.”

The other games had stopped and several people were making a path through the crowd so Peter could leave. But it didn’t look like the man was planning to go anywhere.

“Peter, all ya gotta—”

Ezra didn’t get a chance to finish. Peter leaped toward him and Ezra stepped neatly to the side once more, letting the smaller man fall while jabbing out with the bottle. Peter stumbled but was unable to stay on his feet. 

He lunged forward and chills ran over Ezra’s body when the sound of glass shattering underneath Peter filled the air. 

 

Chapter Three

Ezra instantly knelt by Peter’s side, turning the man over. His eyes were wide with shock and pain, and his shirt was quickly turning bright red. 

“Oh God,” Ezra murmured. He twisted his neck and barked at the bartender. “Go get the doc! Now! Someone get bandages. We gotta get these shards of glass out and get it to stop bleeding.”

Ezra whipped out his knife and used it to slice through Peter’s shirt. Peter was gasping and a bit of blood dribbled from a corner of his lips. 

“Stay with us, Peter,” Ezra said calmly, looking into the man’s frightened eyes. “Stay with us, all right? I know it hurts. I’m sorry. I’m gonna have to get these things out. It’s not gonna be pleasant. You just hold on, okay? Somebody gonna help me out here?”

Henry was next to him a moment later, kneeling at Peter’s other side. “What can I do to help?”

“Talk to him, hold onto his hand, keep him with us if you can.”

Henry nodded, turning to Peter, lifting the wounded man’s hand in both of his and grasping it tightly. “All right now, young man, you just listen to me, all right? You listen to the sound of my voice and concentrate on me. Look right here, okay? Right here.” He pointed with two fingers at his eyes. “You just look at me, Peter.”

Henry continued the gentle, encouraging talk as Ezra decided what to do. Someone had brought over a basin and pitcher filled with water, along with some towels and rags. He dipped one of the towels in the water he poured from the pitcher into the basin and got it soaking wet. He lifted it over Peter’s exposed bloody chest and squeezed it so the water fell like rain on the wounds. 

Peter began to cry. Henry continued to talk, patting his hand. 

Ezra took out his knife and began to pry the shards of glass from Peter’s chest. There were some that were simply too small or too deep in the skin for him to get to without some type of tool, like pincers or tweezers. 

Peter’s cries were weakening and his breathing was becoming erratic. He coughed and splattered blood over his chest and Ezra’s hand, which he wasn’t able to withdraw in time. 

After Ezra had gotten most of the shards he could, he was grateful when the doctor arrived with a bag full of useful tools and some medicines Peter could use. But just when the man was about to take his spot, Ezra pushed aside part of Peter’s shirt to reveal a puncture wound directly over the man’s heart that was seeping blood. 

Ezra shot to his feet, stepping away so the doctor could take over. 

“Oh,” the doctor said, taking a look at the wound. 

Peter’s face had gone ashen white. His eyes were barely slits. He was sweating and his breathing had turned shallow. 

“Peter?” the doctor said, leaning close to the prostrated man on the floor. “Peter, can you hear me?”

Peter didn’t respond with any acknowledgment. The doctor turned his eyes to look directly at Ezra. He shook his head. He rested one hand on Peter’s forehead and pushed up to his feet, draping the shirt over the large shard sticking out of Peter’s chest.

He moved closer to Ezra and Linus, who peered at him intently. 

“If I take that out, he will bleed to death in an instant. This isn’t good at all. Do you know who his father is?”

Ezra didn’t like the sound of that. Was Peter really someone of note? He would definitely be missed by a powerful father. “I don’t know who he is, but this was just an accident. Peter was drunk, that’s all. He stumbled, trying to fight, and this is the result. I feel real bad about it, but this was no one’s fault but his own.”

The doctor lifted his head in a nod and then shook it, frowning. “Ah, yes, but that’s not how Damon Winters will feel.”

“We don’t know that.” It was Ian, the saloon owner, who spoke up then. “We gotta tell him to see how he’s gonna take this. He knows Peter gets drunk and does stupid things.” He looked down at the man on the floor. “Well, he did.”

This got everyone’s attention and Ezra hovered over Peter as the doctor examined him once more. Without much fanfare, he yanked the large shard out of Peter’s chest and set it to the side. Blood seeped from the wound but didn’t spill out as it might have if the man’s heart had still been beating. 

“This is a real tragedy,” Ian said, shaking his head. “A real shame. That boy just didn’t know what he was doing.”

“Who’s gonna tell his pa?” Linus asked. “You can’t make any of us do it. The doc’s gotta do it.”

“We gotta get the sheriff in here, too,” Henry said, finally setting the dead man’s hand on the floor and standing up. He made the sign of the cross over Peter’s body. “Poor kid. What a dumb thing to do.”

Ezra didn’t think he’d ever heard more of an understatement.

 

“Dumb thing or not, his father is gonna make someone pay.”

Ezra looked at the doctor, who almost looked irritated by the whole thing. The door of the saloon opened, sending a cold breeze through the establishment. Ezra’s skin lit up with goosebumps and he shivered, glancing toward the fire as if looking at it would help reheat his body. 

The sheriff and a deputy came through, heading straight for them. The sheriff stopped a few feet away, his hands on his hips. He swept his eyes around, surveying the scene, landing them on Ezra. 

“What happened here, Ezra?”

“This is Peter Winters,” he responded, pointing at the body. 

“I know who he is. Tell me what happened. Why’s he dead? How’d he get like that?”

Ezra shrugged. “He got drunk. Wanted to fight because he was cheating and got called on it.”

“I reckon you did the callin’?”

“Yeah, that’s right.”

Sheriff Buchanan stood for a moment, shaking his head and sighing through his nose. “Well, we’re gonna have to deal with his pa. He’s not gonna like this. He’s got a lot of powerful friends, even though he’s not all that much on the right side of the law.” 

Another sigh of exasperation and the sheriff waved at his deputy and several men nearby. 

“All right, you boys help out and let’s get this young fella to the undertaker. His pa will have to be told.” He lifted his hands to stop the murmuring that lifted up around him. “I’ll do it, I’ll do it,” he said. “Y’all just go back to what you were doin’ and let us handle it from here on out.”

Ezra didn’t mind letting the sheriff take care of the situation but had a good feeling it wouldn’t be the last time it affected his life. He wondered how long it would be before Peter’s powerful father decided to find out exactly who his son had been arguing with when he tragically lost his life.

Ezra wasn’t looking forward to finding out.


“Wrath of the Lone Rider” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Deep in the heart of an untamed frontier, Ezra Fielding, once a celebrated bounty hunter, craves more than just thrill-chasing exploits. When he sets his sights on the lovely Penny, he abandons his perilous past and uses his poker winnings and hard-earned fees to secure a ranch house nestled in the wilderness. Just as the dust settles though, something is about to shake up their newfound haven…

What mysterious forces conspire to turn their sanctuary into a battleground of darkness and danger?

As the town enjoys the peacefulness of Ezra’s choice, a storm looms on the horizon. The accidental death of Peter Winters, a powerful bureaucrat’s heir, becomes a turning point in their lives. Blinded by grief, Peter’s father blames Ezra and the entire town for the tragedy that befell his son. Suspicion grows that he’s involved in destroying nearby ranches and farms while enjoying his position of power…

Can Ezra and his comrades stand strong against all that threatens to consume their beloved land?

United by a common purpose, Ezra, Penny, and their loyal companions devise a plan to reclaim their town. Each passing day intensifies the flames of their struggle… Will they uncover the hidden truth behind this mystery and put an end to the destruction?

“Wrath of the Lone Rider” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “Wrath of the Lone Rider (Preview)”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *