A Western Town Divided (Preview)

Chapter One

Caleb Crane’s instincts were on high alert. Just thirty miles east of Gutter Gulch in the Arizona desert, a feeling was in the air. The sun was bright and hot in the blue sky, with only a few clouds drifting along to obscure it from time to time. It was Mojave country, and they were known to attack whites without remorse.

And the Mojaves weren’t the only perils of that treacherous landscape. Big cats were known to prowl the area, leaping out from hiding in ambush with white fangs and black paws to tear open a man’s belly and gorge on the gore while the victim yet lived.

But Caleb was ready, with a Colt pistol in each of his leather holsters, one on each side of his gun belt. A Winchester repeater hung from the side of his paint to back the Colts’ play, should it be necessary.

It had been before, and it was likely to be again.

His back and shoulder muscles were tense. It had been a long ride from his last comfortable stay in Santa Fe. The trail was a punishing experience, and many didn’t survive the trip to California.

But there was no life for Caleb back in Santa Fe, no life for him anywhere, it seemed. Memories lingered in the east, and possibilities flourished in the West. There was still hope for a brighter future or any future at all.

Poor Margaret, Caleb thought. She so enjoyed life in Boston, her friends, and her parties.

But that was all over for them both. Those streets had become haunted, the spirit of his late wife hiding behind every corner, lingering in the shops, breaking that little smile he’d so adored. He’d never see that smile again.

 The flat desert ground was dotted with rocky outcrops, ironwood, and desert willow growing at odd angles to absorb the sunlight. Mice scurried for cover while hawks circled overhead. The horizon was unbroken by any dust clouds to suggest an encroaching party, but the ambush worried Caleb.

The hawk cried out overhead. Caleb knew they could drop out of the sky and hit a man square on the head with skull-crushing power. The birds were known to carry human children away, and they became more emboldened with every generation.

The paint’s hooves clapped against the hard desert ground, each like the ticking of a grandfather clock, marking his slow progress across the country. But thoughts of California kept him going. It was lush and green, so he’d been told, with the fairest weather in all the country. There was said to be gold and a lot of it, to be scooped out of the water with one’s bare hands. There were women, unspoiled by the corruptions of civilization. There was life and hope, and there was California.

Caleb caught sight of a quarter horse behind a big boulder, telling Caleb that he’d be facing whites, road agents, not Indians at all. There would be at least one, but likely more.

Caleb knew he was close enough for them to open fire. But they wanted his paint, more valuable than a human being. That meant he had to be close enough to be shot clean through the head or chest and to capture the horse before it ran off. Caleb had to outflank their maneuver, knowing time was running out. Every step the horse took led him closer to an early grave.

His skin seemed to tighten on his body, the hairs on the back of his head standing on end. It would take split-second timing, the hawk circling above.

Caleb’s instincts told him what to do, instructing his body to jump off the paint at just the right time.

Click … bang!

The paint huffed and scrambled to escape, but Caleb grabbed the reins to hold the beast in front of him. He drew one of the Colts and threw hot lead at his hidden adversaries. The paint was struck, crying out and falling to the desert ground, nearly crushing Caleb in the bargain. It cost Caleb dearly, exposing him to his enemies’ gunfire.

Caleb drew his second Colt and moved to the side of the big rocky outcrop. He shot from both guns, locating his enemies even as they hid behind the big rock. There were two of them, and one volunteered the top of his head to the effort of ambushing Caleb Crane.

Caleb moved steadily to the west, revealing the quarter horse and a second, also a paint. The man who owned at least one of them was ready to protect them with his life, and that would be necessary.

Bang, bang-bang!

Caleb put a bullet in the man’s belly, and he stumbled forward, dropping his gun. He held his bleeding belly, looking at Caleb with the expression of a man who did not want to die. But he was going to, and his twisted grimace told Caleb that the man knew it.

He fell forward, collapsed into the dirt, and as quickly as the violence had erupted, it was over. Two men and one horse lay dead, leaving Caleb with no joy or any sense of satisfaction. His training and skills had kept him alive for one more day.

Caleb crossed back to his own paint, dead in the dirt. The shovel was on the horse’s exposed side and would be put to the same sad task to which it had been put so often. Caleb picked a spot near the rocks and started digging the graves of his felled enemies. Afterward, he would transfer the goods from his dead paint to the quarter horse and then ride the other paint to lead it into Gutter Gulch. His own paint would feed the critters of the desert, a sad ending to the life of a noble creature, a hearty servant, and just about the only friend Caleb Crane had in the world.

 

Chapter Two

Abigail Trent went about dusting the little house she shared with her father, Lawrence. Their farm was struggling, but it provided enough for them, with extra to sell in town as necessary. The plants on their lands were essential for making the tequila, which was so popular at the local bars, a taste of the country, Mexico, to the south.

Her father had been summoned by none other than Melvin van Horn, the pillar of Gutter Gulch. His own father had helped found the town, and his inherited power and wealth were unmatched. Everybody paid him a tax, and he protected them from outsiders and himself.

It was a trial to be called before van Horn and Abigail knew just what the matter was. The whole of Gutter Gulch was abuzz with the news. Abigail could hardly think of anything else, little as there was to think about. Her mother’s grave drew Abigail’s attention, not far from the house. Her father had wanted to keep his beloved close, but with her father meeting van Horn, there was no assurance that her mother and father wouldn’t soon be reunited in the afterworld.

Melvin van Horn had shown a disconcerting attraction to Abigail, something she’d been painfully aware of as she’d gotten older. At first, in her teenage years, the man had been polite enough, smiling at her during church services and on the occasional visit to the farm. But now, at eighteen, nature had taken its turn with Abigail Trent, rending a woman from the shape and size of a young girl.

Melvin van Horn had taken notice and wasn’t the only one. His beefy second, Capt. Jack Williams was a big and powerful presence, his dusty hair and boxy build a contrast to Melvin’s shaved-bald head and thin, skeletal appearance. When her father was away, Abigail knew herself to be vulnerable to the captain, to Melvin. And with Melvin having summoned her father, leaving her alone, it put Abigail in mind of her deliberate and perhaps purposeful vulnerability.

But Abigail’s father had taught her to protect herself, and the Winchester repeater wasn’t far, waiting in the little closet by the front door. Failing that, he’d taught her ways to punch and kick a man that would do serious damage, even given her slight build and height of just five-foot-three. 

The ball of the palm can drive the cartilage of the nose straight up into the brain, Abigail reminded herself. Both palms slammed against the ears at once could rupture the eardrums, debilitating a man. Knuckled fingers slammed into the throat may collapse it, leaving a man to choke and suffocate.

It was sad to have to live in fear, and Abigail wondered how much longer she’d be lucky enough to do so. She knew that nature was pitting Melvin against her, perhaps his second or the captain’s other men. It wouldn’t be long before they’d come for her.

Abigail still had her father, that good and noble man, a hard worker and a solid citizen. The man knew how little power he had, how much power van Horn and the others had. Thomas Trent lived in fear of them, and his daughter knew it. There was little she could do. She lived in fear of van Horn as well, as did everybody in Gutter Gulch.

Though Sheriff Boris Applebee was a good man, he was a weakling, a dog serving its master. Melvin van Horn was the law in Gutter Gulch.

The only respite from Abigail’s concern was the news that van Horn had an enemy coming into town. Everybody was informed, though nobody knew exactly what to expect. Melvin’s name gave him renown, but he’d left a trail of dead men and women on his road to keeping power over the people of Gutter Gulch. Nobody knew how many had died by his hand or word, but nobody doubted that they wouldn’t be the last.

The front door of the farmhouse clacked open, and Abigail turned, shock drawing the breath from her lungs.

“Father!”

Thomas stumbled into the living room, leaving the door open behind him. His shirt was sopped in blood, a massive, black hole in his belly. His face was white, shimmering with sweat, his thinning red hair plastered to the side of his head.

He fell into her arms.

“Father.”

“Abigail,” he barely managed to say, looking up from her lap as she stroked his face. “I … I’m sorry, I’m … I’m so sorry.”

“Father … what did van Horn want? Why did he do this to you?”

“He … you have to get away from here, Abigail.”

“I … to where? I can’t! Alone?”

“You must,” Thomas said, his voice cracking and failing. “The man … the man van Horn fears is … he’s coming, coming closer.”

“Who? And why?”

“Even he …” Thomas winced, his body buckling forward before going flat again, his head damp and heavy in Abigail’s lap. “He doesn’t … he doesn’t know. But he’s afraid …”

“Let him fear me then,” Abigail said. “I’ll kill the man myself for what he’s done to you.”

“No,” Thomas said, his pale head shaking. “Run, my child … run … while you can.”

“The man coming for van Horn,” Abigail said. “Who is he? I … I’d help him kill van Horn if I could and not have to do with him myself, like everybody else in this miserable place.”

“They … they do his bidding,” Thomas said, his eyes rolling up into the back of his head. “We … we all do …”

“Not me,” Abigail said, “not now, not ever!”

“Then … then flee, my child … you … must … flee.”

His last words dribbled out of his mouth, and Thomas went limp in his daughter’s lap. He stared up at her with eyes that would never see again, a brain that would hold no thoughts nor memories, a body that would only be moved and never move again.

Emotion welled up in Abigail, a tide she could not resist. It was hot and cold simultaneously, pushing up from the corners of her soul. It filled her heart, rising through her throat to fill her brain, a rush of thought and emotion threatening to drown her from within.

Memories crackled in her mind, images of her parents together in her youngest years. They’d been so loving, so bright with one another and with her. Her father had none of the anger and bitterness that so many men seemed to have, a hatred that naturally pitted them against one another, against men of other colors, against women, against the world.

There had been Christmas mornings; there had been Sunday dinners. There had been good times and bad; her mother’s funeral was held in the Gutter Gulch cemetery, where her husband would soon join her.

Abigail was alone in the world. And it wouldn’t be long before the wolves would be at her door, the same wolves who had killed her father. There were reasons she knew and reasons she did not. But her father’s dying words rang in her memory and her conscience.

Flee? Where can I go? They’ll only hunt me down, van Horn and his men. Flee? No. No, Father. I’m not going to flee. I’m going to fight.

I will lose, but I will still fight.


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

After leaving his troubled past behind, Caleb Crane heads to the uncanny desert town of Gutter Gulch to join the gold rush. Soon he realizes that this town has its own unwritten rules, and is run by the bloodthirsty Melvin Van Horn and his men. With Caleb in the line of fire as the assassin who threatens Melvin’s life, a relentless hunt against him and the pretty lone woman who has taken him in begins. In a town where nobody can be trusted, Caleb is tangled in a killing spiral with no end…

He must find the answers, but at what price?

Abigail Trent lives alone under the shadows of Gutter Gulch after Melvin murdered her father. The rumor that a mysterious assassin is coming to kill Melvin turned him even madder and he enlisted the entire town to stop that, offering rewards or terrible punishments. Since nobody dares to challenge him, the honorable Caleb volunteers to stand beside Abigail and fight at any cost.

When love knocks on her doorstep, will she be able to bear the chance of another loss?

As Caleb and Abigail try to face pure evil, Melvin’s tyranny seems to prevail, threatening their lives. But Caleb is not the assassin, and that leaves a deadly wildcard that might turn things around for either side of this bloody battle. Will Abigail and Caleb survive this ruthless war, or will they end up in a shallow grave?

“A Western Town Divided” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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