The Call of Vigilante Justice (Preview)


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The California sun was shining bright the day Page Lynch’s world turned dark. Suddenly, hard times were upon her family. Her father had been working in a gold mine and making enough money for their family to live a good life in Branch Hill, 200 miles from the nearest bigger town of Bodie. There was a stretch of mining camps between the two. When the boom of gold mining started in 1880, Henry Lynch had jumped at the chance to get his family out of poverty.

Now, with the dwindling work and the accident that had taken one of his legs and injured the other, Page’s mother, Mary, was forced to care for him and the children, with no money coming in. Mary began taking in sewing work to supplement the loss of income, but it wasn’t enough—and Page knew it quick.

Her two little sisters, Nina and Caroline, were too young to work. Nina was 14 and Caroline was only seven. At 20, Page felt a strong responsibility to find a job and help out.

It felt strange to her, going to Branch Hill for the first time to look for work. She’d never thought she would need to, though why she felt that way, she didn’t really know. She assumed the feeling came from the fact that she’d expected to be married at some point. But, so far, she had no suitors and the time had come for her to do her part.

Before she left to seek out a job, she sat on the porch steps with her friend, Abigail Smith. They’d gone to school together, but Abigail was a year older. She had been working since she could sew and brought many jobs to Mary.

“I don’t have the talent,” Page said, shaking her head, making her auburn hair swing back and forth. “I can’t sew like you and Ma. I can barely hold a needle, much less make a straight stitch.”

“You could use a machine,” Abigail suggested. “I often do.”

Page felt a nagging itch inside and shook her head. “I’m not spending money on something like that when I know I don’t have the talent or desire to make a real job out of it. I would end up messing up all kinds of things and people would be angry with me. I don’t want that to happen. It would make me feel bad.”

Abigail nodded, leaning forward to wrap her arms around her knees. “I understand. What do you plan to do? Work in the saloon? The restaurant doesn’t have a hiring sign out front, but they might have work for you.”

“Ma asked them when she was in town last. She asked at the general store, too, but they don’t need help. I think Six Guns is my only option.”

Abigail gave her a direct look. “I bet that makes you pretty nervous. There’s a lot of men coming and going there. And you’re real pretty. I hope you’re safe there.”

“I don’t think Lee will let me get hurt. He knows Pa from when he’s gone in there after work with his friends. Pa says he will protect me and treat me right. So, I guess that’s where I’ll have to go. I wish I could sew like you and Ma. Or do ranch work like a man. It must make Pa ashamed to have three girls and no sons to help support the family.”

Abigail snorted, raising her eyebrows. “Your pa ain’t never been ashamed of his daughters a day in his life. Why, I remember him telling Marvin that, last time they met.”

Page thought about Marvin. He was a young widower whose wife had died from an illness five years earlier. He had become a bit self-isolated. Even though he and Abigail were seeing each other socially, Page would be very surprised if he ever asked the young woman to marry him. She didn’t know him well enough to make assumptions but she did anyway, based on the fact that he stayed by himself so much. He had a few ranch hands who worked with him on the ranch he owned. Other than picking up supplies, he was rarely seen in Branch Hill. His property was several miles outside the town limits.

She gave Abigail a soft look. “Did he really say that?”

Abigail shrugged. “In not so many words. I mean, those weren’t his exact words, but it’s what he meant.”

“How did that even come up?”

Again, Abigail shrugged. “They were talking about their mutual financial problems. He said you mentioned getting a job to help out and how proud he was of you. Something like that. Besides, I’ve known you since we were practically babies and I can tell you from the outside of the family how obvious it is how much he loves his girls.”

Page thought about that for a moment. “So, you don’t think he’s ashamed of us girls at all? Ever? He doesn’t want a boy? Not that Ma can still have babies; I don’t think she can.”

Abigail giggled. “I don’t think she wants to.”

Page smiled. “You’re probably right about that. I’m glad to hear it, though. Thank you for telling me.”

Abigail stood up and brushed off her gingham dress with both hands, as if she’d somehow gotten the front dirty just sitting there.

“Do you want me to accompany you to the saloon? I don’t mind.”

Page stood up with a gentle smile. “You’ll come with me? I’d like that very much, if you would.”

Abigail nodded vigorously. “Of course, Pagie. You’re my best friend in the world. I am always here to support you, even if you are going to work in a filthy, nasty saloon.”

Both girls laughed, going down the steps to the lawn where the wagon was waiting. Six Guns wasn’t filthy or nasty. It was clean and, on most nights, a respectable place to get an ale after a long day of hard work.

At least, that was what Pa had told her.

Chapter One

Stewart Howell was seated at the bar in Six Guns, nursing a beer. He’d been working hard all day and was ready to hit the sack. But he’d forced himself to come to Six Guns first, to grab a bite to eat and have a drink before going home to bed. He had to keep up his strength, and not eating wouldn’t help him with that.

He ran one hand through his blond hair, turning his blue eyes toward the long window at the front of the saloon. There were words painted on the window, but he could still see through it.

Stewart watched Shamus Sweeney, a rancher who was a well-known rival of Stewart’s boss, Marvin. The big man was standing on the other side of the window, arguing with John, the bank’s assistant manager. His face was beet red, almost as red as his hair, and he kept jabbing a finger in John’s chest. John looked so calm, and Stewart could tell that was contributing to Shamus’ ire. He was looking at Shamus like he wasn’t affected at all by the man’s anger.

Finally, he said something and turned away from Shamus. Shamus yelled something incoherent as John walked away and then stormed into the bar, slamming the swinging doors open to their maximum capacity.

Shamus was just as tall as Stewart, who was six feet even. He was broad in the shoulders and his Irish roots were obvious even to complete strangers. He had a fiery temper and was apparently going through something that was setting him off pretty bad.

Shamus came up to the bar and stood between the two stools next to Stewart.

“You okay, fella?” Stewart asked, not really interested in his rival’s state of affairs. Shamus wasn’t a nice man to anyone, and he didn’t expect a nice response to his question.

“Why don’t you mind your own business, fella?” Shamus said, a sneer on his face. “Hey! Gimme a beer. I’m gonna need something to wash down the bile after talkin’ to that scum of a man.” He was yelling to Lee, who was standing near the door to the kitchen, holding back the blanket that made for a door cover. Lee looked at Shamus and lifted his chin in a curt nod.

He stayed at the blanket door until a young woman came through, holding a tray with three glasses of beer on it and one smaller glass—a shot of what looked like whiskey.

The young woman was quite pretty, but she looked absolutely terrified. Her hair was a deeper color of red than Shamus’, and Stewart couldn’t help wondering if she was Irish, as well. While he tried not to judge someone by their roots, the Irish were typically brash and aggressive.

This girl didn’t look like she was ever aggressive in any way. She looked like she wanted to find a hole to crawl in and escape from the world. She was taller than most women he knew, and slim, with intelligent green eyes.

Lee directed her to the bar where he and Shamus were.

“This is Page, Shamus. Stewart. She’s new here, so let’s make her feel welcome and not scare her to death, all right?” He directed the last part with a hard look at Shamus, whose face reddened again. He clamped his mouth shut, however.

Stewart raised his glass to the young woman, and she smiled at him. He hoped he made her feel a little more at ease.

“I’d like a beer, please,” Shamus said in a surprisingly humble way.

Stewart stared at him as the young woman took one of the glasses from her tray and set it in front of the big Irishman.

“Here you go, sir,” she said in a sweet voice.

“Thanks.” Shamus snatched the drink up and downed half of it at once. He turned and took the drink with him as he sought a table where he could sit and stew on his problems.

“Page is gonna be helping you out, too, Stewart. If you need anything, just give her a holler.”

Stewart nodded but said nothing to either of them. As Lee pulled her away from the bar, he could hear the man telling Page that some customers would be friendly and want to talk and others wouldn’t want to talk, but that didn’t mean they weren’t friendly.

“Some men just have a lot on their minds, my dear,” Lee said before they got out of earshot and the piano started playing.

Perhaps Stewart would normally have plenty to say. Perhaps he was usually friendly. But today wasn’t that day. He didn’t want to talk to anyone new, especially a pretty young woman.

The stress of working at the ranch and getting everything done had been weighing him down for days. The recent storms didn’t help. Trees were down on the property, the fence had broken and let several cows out onto a neighboring ranchland, and Marvin had been forced to argue with the owners to get his cows back. He’d then taken out his frustrations by venting to his ranch hands.

Thinking about it made Stewart aggravated all over again.

“Hey there, buddy.” A hand on his back and a familiar voice distracted him from his irritation. Stewart turned to see his good friend, Owen, sliding onto the stool next to him.

“How’s it going, Owen?” he asked, relieved to have a friendly face to talk to after looking at Shamus’ ugly mug.

“Ah, I’m doing okay. Still haven’t found work. Mining just ain’t what it used to be, at least not here in Branch Hill. I may have to move on to another mining town if I don’t get some work.”

Stewart would be sad to see his friend go. “I hope you find work. I’d hate to lose a friend.”

Owen grinned at him and nodded at Page, who came over to serve him.

“What… can I get you?” Page asked slowly and shyly.

“I just want a shot of whiskey and a Coca-Cola, young lady. Thank you.”

Page smiled at him, her face brightening with the look. Stewart wished he’d been as friendly so he could have made her smile that way. “I’ll get that right to you,” she responded and disappeared into the back where the kitchen was.

“You eaten yet?” Owen asked.

Stewart realized he had been sitting there all that time and hadn’t ordered any food. “No. I came in here to eat and forgot. I’ll order somethin’ if you do.”

Owen nodded. “Yeah, I’m famished. I’m gonna run out of money soon, though.” He sighed. “Gotta find work before I starve to death. I’ve got a small savings, but I’m running through it quick.”

Page was back quickly with the drinks and didn’t say a word, leaving as soon as she set them down. Stewart and Owen watched as she moved down the bar to another customer.

“Been stressful at the ranch, huh?”

Stewart nodded. “Marvin is losin’ his mind. It’s getting hard to work with him.”

“He’s goin’ through some hard times, eh?”

“Yeah, that storm last week didn’t help at all.”

“I imagine it didn’t.”

Both men were quiet for a moment.

“He’s a good guy, though,” Stewart said quietly. “I’ve liked him, like working for him. Don’t plan to leave. But he’s been gettin’ visits from John, from the bank, and afterward, he’s always in a foul mood, runnin’ around and yellin’ at the rest of us. I really don’t know what I can do to make things better. He’s been selling plenty of cattle, but I guess not enough to pay for the damages done by the storm. And I know he was already having financial trouble.”

Stewart sighed, lifting the glass to his lips.

“I just don’t know how to help the man. Not sure he would accept it if I did. Not like I’ve got money to loan him.”

“You’re the foreman, aren’t ya?” Owen asked.

Stewart nodded. “Yeah, but I guess that doesn’t entitle me to any special treatment. He yells at me like he does everyone else.”

“Well, you and your men work hard out there. I know how responsible you are, and he needs to give you the respect you deserve.”

Stewart felt bad for gossiping and complaining about his boss. “He’s a good guy. He’s just struggling right now.” His tone was defensive, which made him feel bad for talking to Owen rudely. He shook his head, setting the glass down after drinking the last of the gold liquid. “I’m sorry. I’m having a hard time dealing with all this stress. It’s gonna give me more sleepless nights, which makes me tired during the day and I can’t be as productive as I want to be.”

Owen slapped him on the back again. “I understand, Stew. You can talk to me, I won’t judge ya. I know it’s hard for you. You take on a lot at that ranch. Why, you could run that place all by yourself in your sleep!”

Stewart smiled at his friend’s words of encouragement. “I don’t know about that,” he said. “But thanks.”

Owen nodded. “You bet.”

Stewart wished he knew what to do to ease his boss’s burden. For now, all he could do was sit at the Six Guns and think about it. He would return to the ranch for a few hours and finish up some work before heading to a small cottage nearby, which he’d been renting since he’d moved to Branch Hill three years earlier, after losing his parents in a stagecoach accident.

Chapter Two

Page felt it before it happened. She knew the tray was tilting, but she was helpless to stop it from toppling from her small hands, the glasses on it smashing to the hard ground at her feet. She jumped back to avoid being cut by the glass.

“Oh!” Her face turned hot as she blushed from embarrassment and humiliation. She looked up to see Lee heading her way, a look of concern on his face. She was in the middle of three tables, and all three were occupied by men who looked like they’d been working hard all day.

Three of them jumped to their feet while the others laughed. She was mortified by the mistake.

She felt a hand on her arm as one of them pulled her farther from the glass. She stood back and watched as the men cleaned up her mess, putting the shards of glass on the dropped tray.

“It’s all right, Page,” one of the men said as he hurried to help pick up the glass. “Everyone makes mistakes on their first day. It’ll be all right.”

She looked at the man, ready to fall into a puddle of tears. Why had this had to happen on her first day? It was all so overwhelming. She’d been told Six Guns was one of the best saloon establishments in California—which was saying a lot, since there weren’t very many people living in her small town.

Lee was a very nice man and had generously given her the job as soon as she asked for it. But it was all so new. She’d never had a job before. Some of the men seemed nice and some of them didn’t.

If there was one thing Page knew, it was that she didn’t know what she was doing. At all.

The depleting mining community in the area had meant that many of the shops she might have been able to work at had closed down. It seemed like everyone was deserting Branch Hill, which was just another thing to terrify the young woman.

She couldn’t quit. The mining company her father had been working for had shut their doors shortly after he’d lost the use of his legs in the accident. They had given him a severance package but it wasn’t much, certainly not enough for the family of five to live on for long.

One of the men lifted the tray and held it out to her. “You got this?” he asked.

She took it with both hands and nodded. “Thank you for picking the glass up for me.” She turned her eyes to the other two men who had helped and then to the one who had encouraged her, giving them all grateful looks.

They nodded and, as they returned to their seats, she hurried to the back where she could have herself a good cry in private. She pulled the curtain closed so no one could see her and dumped the glass into the large trash can near the back door. Lee had stayed out in the dining area to talk to the men, trying to distract them from what just happened.

She was so humiliated. She lowered her head to her hands, pressing her fingers hard into her eyes to try to prevent the tears. But they were having nothing of it and quickly seeped out in between her fingers.

Page’s shoulders shook as she tried to keep her crying as quiet as possible. She didn’t hear when Lee pulled the curtain back and came through.


She snatched her hands down from her face and gave him a horrified look. “I am so sorry, Lee. I promise, I won’t let that happen again. I didn’t mean to cost you money on my first day here. Please don’t fire me. I need this job so much.”

Lee nodded as he approached, his eyes kind. “I know you mean well, Page. And you don’t need to worry about me firing you. So far, you’ve made a good impression and I wouldn’t want to get rid of you because of a simple mistake. I can replace the glasses. Good help is hard to find.”

Page was grateful to her boss for lifting her spirits, but she was still embarrassed. She could feel the heat of her cheeks and knew her face had to be as red as ever.

“I’m still just so sorry. Thank you for not firing me. I… I don’t know what I would do. My family really needs the money I will make here.”

“You are a pretty girl, Page, and these men like seeing pretty girls serve them their drinks. You will get extra money from them if you treat them right. And most of them will be generous just because you are pretty and young. You won’t get rich in this job, but you’ll definitely be able to help your family.”

Page pulled in a deep breath and let it out slowly, trying to calm her beating heart and rid herself of her humiliation.

“I feel like if I go out there, they’ll all laugh at me again.”

Lee’s eyebrows shot up. “No, don’t worry about that. Most of them have probably already forgotten about it, if they were even paying attention in the first place. The piano was playing and not everyone even knew what happened.”

That made Page feel a little better. The thought of losing her first job on the first day because she was clumsy and inept made her feel horrible.

“Okay, thank you,” she responded, meekly.

“You do need to remember that some of these men will be a little forward. Maybe more than you’d want. If anyone threatens you or tries to touch you in a bad way, you call for me immediately. Even if I’m not working, I live right upstairs and I will hear if you scream.”

Page shivered. She never wanted to scream for Lee to come rescue her. “Okay,” she said, lowering her eyes to the ground.

He put a hand under her chin and lifted her face so she was looking at him again. “Don’t you be like that. You’re a good worker. You’ll get used to this. Everyone does. Some better than others, and I suspect you will be one of the good ones. You’re smart and pretty and fully capable of doing this job.”

Page nodded without responding aloud.

“Most men won’t mind if you mess up. You need to laugh about it, like they do, and just tell them everything will be all right. Can you do that?”

Page thought about it for a moment. “Yes, I think I can do that.”

“And remember that if anything goes awry, you can just come to me and very often Sheriff Potter stops by to check on things. He has been doing that since there was a brawl here last year. There was a lot more damage done to my establishment that day than just a few broken glasses, I can assure you. And it was caused by customers, not my staff.”

Page nodded. “I understand.” It made her feel better to know the sheriff made regular calls to Six Guns. He was a fine man, a friend of her father’s. He had suffered recently when more than half of his deputies had left Branch Hill to work in bigger cities in California. She felt more secure knowing the man would be around occasionally. She would have to send her father’s greetings to him when he stopped in.

“Now you just go on out there and pick up the empty glasses and bring them back to be washed,” Lee continued. “And this time, don’t drop the tray.” His teasing grin made Page feel a lot better. She managed to give him a weak smile in return and he chuckled, settling one hand on her shoulder and giving her a comforting pat.

“You’ll be all right, Page. You’ll see. You will be just fine.”

“Okay. Thank you, Lee.”

The man nodded to her, turned, and walked out of the kitchen, leaving her there alone. She didn’t feel like crying anymore. She felt stronger, even though the thought that some men might put their hands on her and she’d have to scream for Lee or the sheriff still haunted the back of her mind. She could only hope such a thing never happened.

When she left the kitchen to gather empty beer glasses from the tables around the lobby, she found herself looking at each man, wondering how each would treat her, what kind of man he was and if she was safe. Her fear didn’t last long.

Most of them gave her sympathetic or kind looks. Others barely looked at her at all. When she took the empty beer mug from in front of the big Irishman she knew as Mr. Sweeney, he grunted that he wanted another one and sat there, brooding with his hands clasped in front of his face and his eyes glaring holes in the wall across from him. She didn’t want to cross paths with him. He was an angry man.

She felt most comfortable when serving the two men at the bar, who were at first quiet and then ended up laughing about something, looks of delight on their faces. Lee had introduced the one as Stewart, but she didn’t know the name of the other man. When they ordered another drink from her, they both gave her friendly looks. They spoke with respect and kindness.

She hoped most of her customers were like Stewart and his friend. It would make her job ten times easier. She retrieved their drinks for them and put in their order for food, which Lee would cook up.

Later, she would take the food to them, her first real smile of the day on her pretty face.

“The Call of Vigilante Justice” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Stewart Howell’s life was about to fall apart when he first came to Branch Hill. Desperately trying to escape his penniless state, he will accept a job offer at one of the most powerful ranches in town without hesitation. Little does he know, though, that this serene place will soon be threatened by shadowy figures… When a merciless criminal steals numerous heads of cattle from the ranch, Stewart is ready to risk it all to track him down. Even though his first guess is his boss’s worst enemy, he will need to connect all the dots to solve the intriguing mystery. In the end, will he manage to trail the vicious thief and save the ranch from a possible financial disaster?

While Stewart is on a perilous mission, seeking justice, he will grow a deep and tender affection for Page Lynch, a sweet but fiercely independent woman who works at the local pub. In an unexpected twist of fate, her gracious manners will make Stewart’s heart shiver for the very first time. Their paths will eventually entwine more than either of them would expect, but as long as the thief is out there, they cannot live the fairytale they’re dreaming of . Will Stewart’s new love survive the challenging undertaking? Or will their romance be lost once and for all?

As the days go by and the mystery remains dark, the notorious town of Branch Hill starts losing its vim and vigor. Will Stewart manage to bring Branch Hill back to the thriving town it once was? Will he complete his mission successfully, protect the ranch and live happily ever after with the woman who stole his heart?

“The Call of Vigilante Justice” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

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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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