An Alliance Forged by Fire (Preview)


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Chapter One

Carl had heard the shot before he’d seen the first Shoshone. They poured in quickly from over the foothills, painted ponies bringing them storming over the dying grass where the Rockies gave way to the Oregon territory.

But the men and women of the wagon train were quick to react, to draw and fire. They had no time to circle the attackers. But they had time to return fire, and that was just what Carl Jacobs and Leonard Smith were going to do.

Leonard had the Winchester, and he was good with it. Click, bang! Click, bang!

But Carl could spare him no time or attention. The Colts were already warm in his hands as he aimed and fired them. He lined up one shot at a passing Shoshone warrior, squeezing the trigger.


It was a miss, but a second shot caught the man in the chest. The warrior wavered on his mount, slowly falling as the pony carried him off, neither interested in the action any longer.

Bang, b-bang-bang!

The gunfight went on, with neither Carl nor Leonard having any real cover. The wagons all came to a halt, the horses skittish. But they’d be the living creatures to be killed, too valuable as prizes to be slaughtered without necessity.

Around them, the other wagons fired back, the cloud of gun smoke gathering around the defending party. Horses cried out, gun muzzles flashed. The Shoshone were good with their bows and arrows, those deadly rods flying with the thin sound of air being cut by the arrowheads, the screams of those struck.

The Shoshone could have come in with greater force, with Winchesters and Colt pistols. But they were not after a massacre. It seemed they were being selective—they wanted hostages, not just goods and horses.

They wanted women.

B-bang-bang, b-bang!

The gun battle went on. The party’s saving grace was the Indians’ care. They could have sent a barrage of flaming arrows and torched the wagons, and Carl knew that was coming. If it hadn’t been for the small size of the attacking party, not much more than a dozen, the wagon train would have been doomed.

They were a rogue pack, or they were youths needing to prove themselves to win their place in the tribe. It could be a move to take over as chief, or to establish a new tribe. Either way, they needed a win. They needed women. They needed horses and goods and wagons.

They needed to win.

But they must have had some desperation to attack such a big party, fifteen wagons, with such a relatively small band.

Bang-b-bang! Chk-chk-bang!

Leonard fought well from his position riding shotgun. He calmly aimed and loaded and fired, a box of shells next to him. Carl reloaded his Colts, knowing that was when he was at his most vulnerable. The bullets were slick in his palm, one dropping to the ground. His heart pounded in his chest. Until he got off the next shot, he was a sitting duck.

He filled the chamber just in time to raise the gun at a warrior riding at them from around the other side of the wagon train. It was Leonard’s side.


Leonard screamed and jutted to the side, his shoulder hitting Carl, knocking his gun out of alignment.


It was a misfire, and Leonard tried to right himself. But the rifle was slack in his hands, Carl knew instantly that he was too weak to aim and fire. Carl wasn’t too weak, and he was his friend and partner’s only chance.

He was also the next to die.

He aimed and fired again, compensating for the direction the warrior was riding, the speed of his pony. It was always best to shoot just a bit off the target. Carl overestimated the distance and shot several times, knowing the warrior would ride straight into his line of fire.


The warrior was struck, wavering on his mount before falling backward, pony riding on alone. A hot rush pulsed through Carl’s body. He’d avenged his friend, but in the corner of his eye, the results were undeniable.

There was no time to think about it, to reflect on what had happened and what was to come. He aimed and fired again, ready to kill as many Shoshone as he could before being brought down by an arrow like the one Leonard had caught.

Bodies were strewn on the foothills. The other wagons returned fire, the Shoshone riding around the defending party.


Another Shoshone went down, and Carl was unsure if his was the gun to fell him. But it hardly mattered. The remaining Shoshone pulled back and rode off, heading south, leaving the crippled party to lick its wounds.

Chances were that the Shoshone would turn and come back, hoping for another surprise attack. Carl would have to remain aware of his surroundings, to help protect the rest of the train, even as he turned to care for Leonard.

He took the rifle out of his friend’s hands and looked at Leonard’s wound. The arrow was deep in his chest, blood spreading in a black stain across his shirt. He winced and coughed, flecks of blood on his chin.

“Looks like you’ll have to make it to Oregon City on your own.”

Carl wanted to reassure him, to promise him that he’d make it. But he couldn’t. And every minute that went by was perilous, even deadly, for all of them.

Leonard looked at the arrow, a burst of tears spilling down his cheeks, spit mixing with the blood in his mouth.

“I… we should have stayed in… in Missouri.”

“No, it’s… it was worth it, Leonard.”

“Worth it? I… I’m good as dead, Carl!” More coughing threw out more blood as Leonard twitched and sagged. “No appeal for this.”

Carl tried not to cry. His friend and partner was dying with dignity, as he’d lived. Carl said, “Maybe you can take it up… with a higher authority.” He glanced up, and Leonard chuckled, wincing again in pain.


Carl smiled, bittersweet. “Overruled.”

Leonard raised a bloodied hand, but he seemed too weak. “Counselor… you’re… you’re out of order.” He finally fell forward, his arm in Carl’s lap and his head against Carl’s shoulder, eyes staring off, lifeless.

Carl reached over and closed his friend’s eyes. “Case dismissed, Counselor.”

Chapter Two

Jesse Mars was still in the back of the wagon, where her Uncle Duffy had stashed her. It hadn’t been for her safety from the Shoshone, as she spent most of her time back there just to keep out of sight. A healthy young girl of fifteen years and counting, it was getting harder to pass her off as a boy. And that was more necessary as it became harder to accomplish.

But being behind the cart had given her the advantage of being hidden, able to shoot at the Shoshone as they passed. They’d run off, and Jesse looked over at her uncle, big and blond, a shaggy beard under his long, thinning hair.

Too bad they didn’t get you, she couldn’t help but think. She didn’t feel good about it, but the man had earned whatever fate he got, especially if that was to be scalped at the hands of some Indian.

But the Shoshone hadn’t been there for the men, Jesse knew that. They were raiding the party for things they could take away undamaged, not merely to inflict harm, or they all would have been burned alive, at least by Jesse’s reasoning.

Duffy glanced back from the helm. “Keep an eye out, they might could come back.”

That’s all he has to say, Jesse thought. Didn’t ask me if I’m okay, didn’t ask if I was hit or hurt. Didn’t care about that, doesn’t care about me. He just needs me to watch his back, that’s all, that and whatever else he needs done. Uncle? Slavedriver is more like it.

Jesse couldn’t help but wonder if she shouldn’t just turn her Colts on him. But there were others in the train who could be hit, and it was too late to blame it on the Shoshone. And something else stayed her hand, something Jesse was afraid to admit.

She was afraid of Duffy—even in death he could be terrifying, perhaps even more so.

Somewhere behind them, a woman screamed. Jesse and Duffy turned, Duffy having the better view. He looked to the north, where the Shoshone had come back again. They’d looped around in a flanking maneuver. More gunfire crackled out as Jesse aimed out of the canvas cover of the wagon and took a few shots.

Bang! Click… bang!

One of the Shoshone was hit, but the blow landed in the man’s arm. He rode on, retaining his mount on his pony. But a man’s grunt from nearby got her attention, and Jesse turned to see Duffy toppling out of the front of the cart. The two men fell to the ground, tumbling on the tan grass.

Do it, she urged herself, kill them both! It was the perfect time to rid herself of the tyranny of her uncle’s cruelty, perhaps the only chance she’d ever have. If Duffy had his way, she’d never get that chance and would go on serving him well into old age, his and hers.

But she just couldn’t do it, and she didn’t know why. She’d killed men before, she’d needed to. And this time, she needed to. But Jesse had never shot a man in the back, unaware. That was the kind of thing her Uncle Duffy would do.

Duffy tumbled with the warrior until Duffy was on top. He raised a big hunting knife up over his head and was about to vanquish the Shoshone, but another rode past and swung his tomahawk, taking off the top of Duffy’s arm.

The Shoshone beneath him threw the stunned Duffy off him, pulled out his own knife, and plunged it into Duffy’s chest. Jesse sat stunned by what she was seeing, the blur and brutality of it all. She finally regained her senses and aimed at the Shoshone as he pulled his knife from her uncle’s chest.


The warrior took the shot in the side of his head, a cloud of red mist hanging in the air even as he fell to the grass next to Uncle Duffy. Jesse’s heart was beating fast, looking out the hole in the canvas to survey the area. The remaining Shoshone retreated once again, this time too few to make a return attack.

Jesse crawled out from the covered wagon and looked around as other members of the wagon train did the same. One by one, travelers popped their heads out, looking around, making sure it was safe. There was damage to account for, and there were dead to be buried.

Jesse approached her Uncle Duffy, lying on the ground in a pool of his own blood. The dead warrior lay next to him. Uncle Duffy moaned, still alive, and he looked around, his dazed sight finding Jesse. He reached out to her with his one good hand, dripping with his own blood. His arm quivered a bit, clearly weak with the nearness of his own death. It seemed as if he was trying to speak, voice a vague gurgle.

He’s dying, Jesse thought, and now he wants to make his last confession. Well, as long as dies, I’d love to hear him beg my forgiveness. I hope he lives long enough to hear me say he’s not going to get it, that I hope he rots in hell.

Jesse stepped closer, leaning down. “Uncle Duffy, what? What do you want to say?”

He reached out a bit more, voice just a bit louder.

Jesse got just a bit closer, then closer still. “What, Uncle Dufffff—?”

His dying hand clenched around her throat, strong with his last ounces of strength. Jesse’s shock caused her to drop her Colt, hands instantly grabbing his to free herself. His fingers shook with his resolve, all the rest of the hate and horror that was his life erupting in a final, vengeful act of hatred. He’d always hated her and she’d always known it. But it had never had been her fault, none of it.

He seemed to have supernatural strength, as if the devil himself were the one rising up from the depths to drag her down with her uncle, a final victim of that blood-strewn afternoon. Her vision began to blur, fingers pressing into the sides of her throat.

Jesse pulled herself away, choking to clear her throat. Uncle Duffy’s arm fell slowly to the ground, and when it landed there, Jesse knew it would never rise again. She crawled back, holding her throat and gasping for breath. Her vision sharpened again, and she focused on the sight of her uncle, Duffy Mars, dead at thirty-seven years old.

May he rot in hell.

Chapter Three

Mallory Craig’s heart was heavy, though she knew she hadn’t suffered as great a loss as others had. They’d all been dealt a terrific blow with the loss of Big Jim Diamond, their wagon master, who was escorting them down the Oregon Trail.

The trail itself seemed fairly well-trod, but there was still a lot to deal with—over a dozen wagons, Indians and animals and other perils. The disparate personalities had to be organized, kept in line. Not everybody on the train was a lawyer, after all. There were likely to be murders on the train, as there were in just about every corner of the growing nation.

She still didn’t know most of them by name, but she did know a few. And they knew her. They knew she’d be traveling alone now that the good Sister Elena had perished. Mallory knew what some of the others would make of that—that she was cursed, that she was the one who had brought the Indian attack down on them all.

And she’d be hard-pressed to insist that it wasn’t so. Superstitions were still all over the Old Country, rife in the memories of her childhood, as they’d been in Boston. Mallory didn’t think she’d ever be able to escape them, or anything else. When the old nun had volunteered to ride with her as an escort, Mallory knew she’d be in good hands, that the Lord would protect her. And so far, He had. But he’d extracted a terrible price, and now Mallory was alone.

She felt terrible for the old woman’s sacrifice. But she’d never asked for it. The ancient nun seemed to have some notion of her own, perhaps that she was to meet her fate just as she had. In any case, she’d died quickly and painlessly, and she’d lived a long and presumably holy life.

But that life was over and Mallory’s had yet to go on. She had business in Oregon City, an appointment she could not miss. If she did, everything in her life would be lost, perhaps even her life itself.

They gathered the dead Shoshone and stacked them on a large boulder, as close to their ceremonial funeral as the survivors could manage. Half of them had no interest in respecting the Shoshone dead at all. But the counselor from Missouri convinced them that it would demonstrate a humanity to the Shoshone that they no doubt felt was lacking in the white man, and for good reason.

And it was little enough work, after all. It was much more laborious to dig the large, communal grave for those lost to the Shoshone—a hole eight feet deep and four wide, to accommodate all of its four occupants.

One of them, the former wagon master, had also been something like the group’s pastor, having overseen the funeral of a child who died of consumption in the mountains. Lacking his leadership in ways both physical and spiritual, the wagon was visibly reduced, wayward. Faces were glum, conversations were murmured, and eyes shifted as they surveyed the crowd.

Mallory felt suddenly conspicuous around them. Some of the men seemed more interested in her than in the business of the day. She was alone, and they knew it. She was a young woman of twenty-two, attractive to most men. She was betrothed as a mail-order bride, but nobody who might object to that would even bother to do so.

There was some civility in the wagon train, some order by sheer necessity. But that order had been enforced by the wagon master, who at that time was being covered over with dirt. The sun was nearly down, and the job had to be finished before the pitch of darkness. The train needed rest after the fight, time to collect and pray and thank God or their lucky stars or whatever had gotten them as far as it had.

After some discussion, one young man stepped up to the grave and stood in front of the survivors, almost three dozen men, women, and children. Mallory knew the man from one unfortunate instance of misplaced affection, but Sister Elena had chased the fellow off.

He stepped up, very slender, his clothes threadbare.

“Howdy, folks, Lord, y’all know’d me maybe—Hiram’s my name, Hiram Anders. An’ I reckon I love God much as the next feller. I don’t know no bible words, but… thems sure is fine fer talkin’ o’er the graves them and the like—”

“A nun,” a man shouted, “and the wagon master, who was the God-fearin’est man here!”

“What’s yer point, Willie Beeks?”

“I dunno,” Willie Beeks said, almost invisible in the growing shadows. “God ain’t ridin’ with us, that’s all I’m sayin’.”

“Well don’t,” somebody else called out.

Mallory looked around at the crowd, already foreseeing the fracturing conflict, the upcoming difficulty they all could be facing.

“Anyway,” young Hiram Anders said, light brown hair thin on his head, “I ‘member one bible talk, ‘bout… Noah, I reckon. Nope, no sir, it was Jonah, yeah… Jonah. So one day the Lord says, ‘Jonah, you gotta build a big boat, and get animals from all ‘round—’”

“Okay, okay,” said another man as he stepped up to replace the younger man at the graves. He was older by about ten years, with brown hair and big brown eyes. He was dressed in a well-tailored jacket and a fine cravat, and though there was blood on each, it was not his own.

“Hello, everyone, I… I’m Carl Jacobs, traveling west with my friend and business partner. His name was Leonard, Leonard Smith. He was the best lawyer I ever knew, and the best friend a guy could have. I know I’m not the only one to lose somebody today, or since we left Missouri. Newcomers have arrived, we… we all traveled together. I… I’m not a religious man, so I won’t be able to share any wisdom about… about Jonah’s Ark, but… Well, I can tell you that… that while we all come from different backgrounds, from different circumstances, we are all truly Americans. That binds us together, that makes us… family, in a way. And, like family, when one loses, we all lose.”

Mallory looked at him. She’d noticed him before, but she’d never given more than a passing glance to the two men. They weren’t the first pair of business partners she’d heard about making that dangerous but often-profitable journey out West, and she wasn’t surprised to hear that he was a lawyer by trade. He was certainly well-spoken enough. Though it was getting dark, she could see that he was very handsome, with strong features and a tall, strong build.

“Let’s be glad we had a chance to know them,” Carl went on, “and that we’re all still here to get to know each other better. I… I’m not sure how much more any of us can ask than that.”

The crowd nodded and a few muttered a sloppy, “Amen.”

Carl said, “All right, let’s all have a bite, get some rest. We’ll hit the trail tomorrow morning.”


All went quiet as big Willie Beeks stepped forward, a wad of meat and fat about six feet tall, bearded not only on his face but his chest, his arms, and his back. He looked at Carl directly in the face, even taller than Carl himself. “Who put you in charge?”

Carl glanced around at the others, then back up at Willie. “Nobody, because I’m not in charge. I suggest we all get a good night’s sleep and move on in the morning. Do you have a better suggestion?”

“Well… no, it ain’t that—”

“Did you want to head off alone? I’m sure nobody here will complain about it if you do.”

“No,” Willie said, “no, I… I just don’t like bein’ bossed around is all.”

“Take it any way you wish,” Carl said, standing strong as the bigger man clearly tried to stare him down.

Neither man flinched, nobody said a thing until Hiram said, “Let’s take ‘er easy, fellers.”

The tension between the two men was thick, but there would be no clash that night, both of them seemed to know it. They backed away from each other, and Mallory couldn’t help but be impressed by Carl’s courage, his calm, his articulate intelligence.

She wanted to know more about him. And with the loss of Sister Elena, and the loss of his partner, she would have the chance.

The other loss had been that of a teenage boy, Jesse, who’d lost his uncle. The boy was awkward, quiet, a wide-brimmed hat over his face. He was slumped, thin, and seemingly all alone.

And so was Mallory. She walked across the crowd toward the little fellow, hoping to lend some solace, if nothing else. Mallory hadn’t had time to have a family. That was her reason for going to Oregon City. So it brought out motherly feelings not yet satisfied to see such a little thing, barely a man but still seemingly a boy, cast out into the world without a person to call his own.

Chapter Four

Carl wasn’t happy about almost getting into a fight with another member of the wagon train, especially not one so big. The whole point had been to get the funeral over quickly and avoid a struggle for power. Big Willie Beeks was just the kind of man who would seek to fill a power void, and then abuse that power horribly. It was better that Carl himself lead, or that nobody did, than a man like Willie.

In any case, the altercation had come and gone. The train would rest the night and hit the morning trail again. After that, it was hard to say what would happen. Carl’s only concern was that things happened in an orderly and therefore safe fashion. Being a lawyer wasn’t going to do anybody much good out on the Oregon Trail.

He couldn’t help but notice the two others, the woman and the teenage boy, were also among the grieving. One was a woman he recognized, though he didn’t think they’d ever spoken. She’d been traveling with the nun who got killed by the Shoshone. She was very pretty, with red hair and green eyes, no doubt from Ireland, perhaps even directly. The other was a young boy who had lost his uncle. Carl didn’t know what the two had in common, other than the tragically obvious and the obviously tragic.

He took the elder for caring for the younger. The impulse to reach out would be perfectly natural; Carl shared it himself. He could go on alone, but he worried for the two of them. A woman and a teenage boy, both left alone? They should travel together, for their mutual benefit… safer.

Another idea struck him, unusual but perfectly natural. Perhaps we should all travel together?

It wasn’t such an audacious notion, and it would be beneficial to them all. It would be safer for the woman and the boy, and more pleasurable for Carl himself.

There was also the notion of the young woman, the redhead, he had to admit. The only thing preserving her virtue had been that nun. Without her, the woman was vulnerable to the aggression of virtually any one of the other travelers, somebody like Willie Beeks. And while wanting as much to preserve her safety, Carl had to admit to being attracted to her.

Even in that tumult, it was impossible not to see how gorgeous she was. Her hair was long, red, and curly, spilling over her green eyes and a creamy, freckled face. Her cheekbones were high, her lips were full. Leonard himself had noticed her earlier in the trip, and both men had agreed that she was worthy of a nun’s protection.

And she was worthy of a man’s attention, a good man. Carl himself hadn’t had a woman since his unfortunate and mercifully brief marriage back in Missouri. There was nothing stopping him from finding love, on the trail or anywhere else. He could even imagine Leonard urging him on.

But he had to be careful. They had all been through a lot, and each deserved respect. The woman had lost her friend, a nun. And Carl had no idea how close she was, what their relationship was, how religious the redhead was to be traveling in such company. There had been some rumor of her being a mail-order bride, but Carl had to admit he didn’t know for sure. It gave him hope that she wasn’t in training to be a nun herself.

And then there was the boy to consider. He seemed near enough to manhood, but still far short of the mark. He’d been essentially orphaned by the experience, and that had to be treated with the utmost consideration.

He reconsidered going to them at all. He knew how it might look, opportunistic. He knew the way he’d paint himself in front of a jury. But he also knew he could sway the jury the other way. He could make a case for a virtuous fellow suggesting a common solution for the greater good.

There would be difficulties to contend with, of course. But somebody else would make a move if he didn’t. He’d stood out in front of the others, a chance to prove himself to the young woman and her new ward-in-waiting. It could well be enough to testify to his good intentions, to his trustworthiness.

In truth, he had little way of knowing how trustworthy either of them would be. In point of fact, it was well-known that the trains were filled with dubious types of all sorts. In that number, there would be gamblers, murderers, rapists, men on the run from the law in any number of horrible ways. And there were other trains up and down the trail, those behind and those ahead. Carl had a strong notion that the attack had put them behind schedule, and that they’d be meeting up with other travelers soon enough.

It was wise to consolidate, and to do it with reasonable quickness. Especially with the Shoshone so close. It was true, by Carl’s reasoning, that the men who had assaulted the wagon train had been successfully repelled, that they weren’t likely to collect enough numbers to return. But they weren’t the only Shoshone in the area. If they were in fact a rogue pack, either trying to prove themselves to a much bigger tribe or rejected by them to found their own tribe or small community, that meant there was a bigger tribe close by.

And it wasn’t only a matter of the Shoshone, or the Sioux, or the Crow. There were dangerous men in their midst, and the woman needed protection. The boy wouldn’t be able to handle it alone.

All signs pointed Carl across the collection of wagons and travelers to where the young woman, called Craig as far as Carl knew, and the newly orphaned young man stood standing, talking. The kid wore a wide-brimmed hat over his head, slumping and slouching like so many teenagers seemed to. He was thin, small; he wouldn’t be much protection for anyone.

Still, he could be good with a gun. And a young man that age was likely to have an instant attraction to such a beautiful young woman, suddenly speaking to him with a loving tone, a consoling air. With the unexpected loss he’d just incurred, the kid was certain to see the redhead’s attention as a boon, and likely a promise of marriage.

That would make him a rival, and of the most absurd type. The kid was nowhere near man enough for a woman like that. And from his perspective, set aside from the others, Carl could see that she was simply being kind, sweet, caring. Still, it would be easy for a young man to misunderstand, to make assumptions. He would consider Carl more a rival than Carl would consider him to be one, but a rivalry there was still likely to be.

Carl would handle it deftly, he’d have to handle everything deftly, or they’d all stand to lose out… and to lose everything.

“An Alliance Forged by Fire” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Carl Jacobs is an idealistic lawyer sworn to justice. On the Oregon trail, he meets a lonely young woman and a mysterious teenage boy. They decide to form a fake family for their mutual protection, but things only get worse when a horrible murder threatens to tear their facade to shreds. Will Carl solve the brutal mystery in time?

Romance and murder can only complicate their efforts…

Mallory Craig is a mail-order bride on the Oregon trail, forced into the company of the charming lawyer Carl Jacobs. But he may not be what he seems, and he’s not the only one. On this journey, everyone seems to harbor secrets that may get all of them killed before reaching their destination. And if she makes it out alive, will she marry the man she is promised to or the man she’s come to love?

Will she pay the ultimate price for her final decision?

Carl and Mallory start having feelings for each other but when a deadly conspiracy engulfs them, there’s no time for sentimentalism… Only guns and bullets can save them in this whirlwind of extreme violence on the dangerous Oregon trail!

“An Alliance Forged by Fire” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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