Haunted by a Deadly Shot (Preview)


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Chapter One

Winter in Bannack lasted longer than any other season in the Montana Territory. It habitually started after the second week of September, when autumn mornings turned the grass crispy with frost. Maple trees took days instead of weeks to turn from green to red and orange before leaf litter blowing through town filled crevices with brown leaf piles. When the snows came down the mountains and overflowed the town with deep drifts, it made even a walk to the store take hours instead of minutes.

Night lingered longer during the winter, too, clinging to the territory like the frost and snow. It made it difficult for Adam Meade, because nighttime snowfall reminded him of the past. It was impossible to outrun, impossible to escape—like walking through the heaping berms and snowdrifts. The memories had lasted longer than the last ten years’ worth of winters since that night in February 1863.

That was the night Adam Meade shot his father.

A respectable member of the community, Adam’s mother Alberta Meade had the town’s ear. She had style and grace, a fair-haired beauty who caught many a man’s eye. As the proprietor of Hotel Meade, Alberta had admirers and men who had tried courting her by showering her with gifts and promises of better days away from Bannack. She collected guest fees and always had company after hours. Adam didn’t understand a lot of what happened in his mother’s house after he went to bed.

At thirteen years old, Adam had chores and schooling. Since his mother had social graces and nightly guests in their house, Alberta had strict rules for Adam. He needed to stay in his room no matter what he heard going on in the parlor. Those guests sometimes stayed to the late hours of the night. Sometimes, Adam saw men sitting at the kitchen table drinking coffee while the black servant, Hilde, had breakfast and a smile for Adam. So many different men had occupied the tablespace that Adam barely noticed them after a while.


The heavy snows during the winter of ‘63 were still talked about a decade later. Most of the town residents had had to hunker down and wait out the snowstorm that had come with the sunset that night in early February.

Alberta Meade didn’t live at the hotel she managed. She and Adam had a single-level house that spread over the property like a stone and wood castle. Adam had grown up in that house, with its white picket fence, livery stable, and paddock. Alberta had grown rosebushes and soft green grass during the summer months. Adam had tended the horses.

Alberta had a lot of gloating pride for the house, with its covered wrap-around patio, large windows, low-pitch roofline, and wide eaves. The house had a cold storage root cellar where Hilde had collected jars of honey and preserves. The potatoes and carrots with the onions and turnips kept longer in the dark space, with access from the pantry floor.

Hilde’s job was to cook, do laundry, and milk the cow that shared space in the stable. She spent her mornings and evenings at the house and lived in the hotel’s servant quarters. When she wasn’t cooking Adam’s meals, Hilde had tended to guest needs at Hotel Meade. That night in February 1863, because the snow started early afternoon, Hilde never made it down to the house from the hotel.

The wind blew against the clapboard walls, rattling planks. It wasn’t the screaming wind that woke Adam from a fitful sleep. The space had a red-orange glow from the potbelly stove in the corner of his bedroom. The snow had piled against the windowpane, high enough to cover half the view. Adam saw only swirling snowflakes over the drift that packed against the side of the house. He lay awake, staring at the white against the upper window. He’d heard something, but inside, the house stayed quiet after he woke.

The howling wind pressed against the window, and then Adam heard something else. The heavy thud from somewhere in the house caused him to sit up. When he heard his mother screaming, Adam leaped from the bed and ran for the bedroom door.

The house had large sectioned rooms organized in an L-shape that put his mother’s grand bedroom on the house’s east side. She wanted to face the sunlight each morning. The bedroom door had a lock inside that barred Adam and refused to break.

“Mother,” Adam shouted, pounding on the door.

Buildings in Bannack were sturdy, wood-framed dwellings with stone foundations. The plentiful pine trees of Douglas fir, Ponderosa, and lodgepole meant abundant building materials for the houses and shops. The best of the wood—aspen and maple—made thick, heavy doors that were impenetrable without a pickax or sledgehammer.


Ear to the door, Adam heard the unmistakable gruff voice of a man. He heard more thudding. Something made of glass shattered on the floorboards. He hammered his fists on the door and kicked with stocking feet.

Holding his breath, eyes closed, ear against the wood grain, Adam listened. On the other side of his thudding heartbeat, he heard the faint gasp and murmur of his mother.

The angry boot heels reached the bedroom door. Adam braced to fight the man as the door swung open and he caught the heady stench of whiskey and sweat. He saw the untucked shirttails, the unbuttoned britches.

Adam was young, but he was smart enough to know something untoward had happened to his mother. Without hesitation, he launched himself bodily at the stranger. It took little effort for the burly man to push Adam to the floor. Immediately, he got back up. Gritting his teeth, he went after the stranger again.

“Get down, you useless little bastard,” the stranger snapped harshly. He backhanded Adam across the face, sending him careening against the wall. The bone of his brow collided with the hard wood.

As Adam fell to the floor, he heard the muffled whimpering of his mother deeper inside the darkened bedroom. He crawled away from the hallway, the outsider moving to the front of the house. Blood dripped into his eye as Adam looked for his mother.

In the bedroom, several feet from where he lay in the hallway, Adam saw his mother in the weak candlelight from the bureau. The thin yellow light showed her unmoving body. The bedroom was in shambles—the chest of drawers emptied and overturned, the footlocker opened with clothes strewn everywhere, and the armoire had broken doors and empty shelves.

His mother lay on the floor next to the disheveled bed box. With her nightgown in shreds, Adam did his best to keep her humility in check. He pulled a blanket from the bed and draped it over Alberta. She stirred and sat up with Adam’s guidance.

“I don’t understand,” he whispered. The stranger’s footfalls sounded like distant thunder as the man wandered through other rooms in the house.

“That man,” Alberta said. Her mouth had deep bruising that Adam saw in the candlelight. Her left eye had a gash and swelled up from a dense impact against the socket. She had contrasting features of charcoal hair and a pale complexion with deep eyes and even brow ridge. Long lashes had caked with blood. Her nose had a deep gash and swelling. The aquiline prominence of her nose had a fracture that caused a turn. Her soft jawline had deep purple bruises, and her full lips had puffed, split, and turned almost black from the beating she had sustained.

“That man,” Alberta mumbled through broken front teeth. Her gums bled and pink foam dribbled down her chin. She lifted a shaky hand and pressed bloody fingers against Adam’s face.

Adam took her hand. His mother’s right eye shimmered in the light. Tears flowed from the swollen and bruised eyes. She trembled and shook her head. Alberta’s hand brushed by Adam’s head and clawed against the cotton-stuffed mattress. Her hand slipped under the bedding. When Alberta withdrew the hand again, Adam saw the gun.

He knew guns because anyone living in the rugged terrain of Bannack needed to understand how to handle themselves against wildlife and Indians. Adam knew every firearm’s inventory in their house, including the Springfield rifle and the forager shotgun. The Meades didn’t own a revolver.

But Alberta pulled one from under the mattress and dropped it into Adam’s hands. It was a Remington pocket brass, a favored concealable weapon for storekeepers, gamblers, bandits, and women. The .31 caliber revolver had a spur trigger that didn’t reveal itself until cocked. It had a small integral barrel and a full frame.

The weapon weighed heavy in Adam’s hands with the loaded bullets. He turned it over and squeezed the grip.

His mother moved against him. She wanted to speak, to say more than mumble through the swelling of her lips and the bruised jaw. Her hand pushed at Adam’s shoulder.

“What do I do?” Adam asked.

“You know,” she rasped.

Adam stood on shaky legs. He looked from the pistol in his right hand to the violent aftermath of his mother’s fragile and broken form. Her once angelic beauty, tarnished in blood and scars. Would she recover? Would people of the community still see Alberta Meade as a woman of means and strength? Adam knew intimacies beyond the public’s eye. The stranger wasn’t the only man who shared his mother’s bed. But he was the first man to leave Alberta physically ruined. Who was this man that had caused so much damage to her?

The noise in the receiving room told Adam the angry stranger remained inside the house. He broke something that sounded like a bottle. Alberta drank wine and didn’t have whiskey in the cabinet. Adam took hesitant steps toward the doorway. His mother had collapsed to the floor again, still curled inside the blanket Adam had placed over her naked and broken body. She faded in and out of consciousness. The further Adam went from her side, the more courage he had to do what she’d asked of him.

The gaping hallway leading out of his mother’s bedroom was a black maw. At the other end, Adam saw the stranger had lit the oil lantern in the parlor. He continued to move things around inside the house; Adam heard the crashing of books and plates. Whatever the man wanted, he had no concern for the damage he had caused.

Adam followed the swearing, stomping of boots, and the breaking glass and clattering of overturned furniture. The stranger carried the lantern with him as he moved from room to room, destroying any personal property and curio Alberta had collected or purchased from east coast periodicals.

“Where the hell did she put it?” the man grumbled.

Adam saw the outsider kick over the chairside table in frustration. He stood in wool socks and long johns, facing the man from the doorway of the parlor. Unless the stranger went out of the large windows, he had to get by Adam to leave the room.

“What are you doing, you little shit?” he said.

It took very little effort for Adam to lift the pistol. He’d grown strong from chores in the stables and around the house. Holding the loaded weapon was as easy as clutching a wood ax. But instead of gawking in fear, the man chuckled.

“What do you think you’ll do with that?” The man pressed his bruised-knuckled hand against his holster. He carried a Colt Navy black powder revolver. Its walnut handle and black metal frame jutted from the tarnished leather holster, but he didn’t draw the weapon. He simply sneered at Adam. “Do you know who I am, boy?”

Adam didn’t engage the stranger in dialogue. He had walked the distance from his mother’s bedroom down the corridor to face off with the man who had beaten her. In the time it took to stand and leave his mother’s side, Adam knew she’d given him the gun and her blessing to take revenge for what the outsider had done to Alberta.

As if to show the stranger he meant to follow through, Adam cocked the pistol. The trigger sprung from its metal sheath.

Either emboldened by drunkenness or feeling invincible for thrashing a woman, the outsider grunted as if impressed. He still didn’t pull his sidearm on Adam. The look in his narrowed and drunken eyes told Adam the stranger believed he wouldn’t squeeze the trigger. When the gun discharged in Adam’s grip, it had very little kick.

Adam had anticipated and braced against the shock. There was a moment of disbelief on the stranger’s gaunt face. He stared back at Adam, his mouth making a perfect circle. The blue-gray smoke belched from the gun’s muzzle in a smoke ring matching the man’s bewildered expression.

The lead shot struck the stranger in the stomach. It took seconds for him to register the astonishment and a few seconds longer for him to feel the impact. At that time, the man tried drawing the sidearm, and Adam fired again. The shot clipped the man’s right elbow, slamming him to the right, spinning him slightly as the stranger bellowed. The third shot caught the man in the ribs on his left side, driving him against the wall, crashing over the overturned side table. The fourth shot slammed him in the back. The bellowing turned to shallow coughing, and he screamed with the little air left in his dying lungs.

When the man eventually turned over, Adam saw the distress in his gray eyes. The lantern illuminated the outsider in a pale, yellow light, making the deepening spots across his ruffled shirt look like black ink had spilled over him. He glared at Adam, flabbergasted.

His ruined right arm hung from his shoulder like a lifeless fractured tentacle. The man wheezed, and more black ink poured from his mouth. He reached over the paunch to grab the sidearm with his left hand. The man’s eyes never wavered from Adam’s stare. Adam refused to believe the glistening at the corners of the man’s gray eyes were tears. For a man who showed no mercy to his mother had no heart to feel sympathy, and Adam knew the cruelty of men.

The Navy Colt rattled against the floor beside the dying man; the weakened grip of his left hand had lost its hold on the weapon. It took one accusing pointer from the outsider’s left hand to make Adam finish what he’d started. The man’s left hand continued to point shakily at Adam as the last shot hit him in the cheek. It left a hole in the man’s whiskers and made him look away from Adam as his chin slumped to his chest.

Five shots, that was all the Remington pocket brass revolver held in its cylinder. Five lead projectiles to put down a mysterious man at the whim of a frail woman. His mother had kept a loaded pistol under her mattress for the one reason Adam had needed to use it. The gun’s metal frame warmed his grip as he walked with wooden steps back to his mother’s bedroom.

She’d recovered somewhat. Alberta had used the blanket to wipe away the blood on her face, but the bruising and swelling had worsened. Adam didn’t think his mother’s beautiful features would recover from the severe beating she’d sustained at the hands of a stranger.

Adam stepped close enough for Alberta to look up at him.

“Is it done?” she asked. Her voice had changed. Adam didn’t hear fear, only the brooding confidence that she had always had, before the beating, and from there afterward.

Words didn’t come out of him when he tried to speak. Instead, Adam nodded at his mother. She reached for him. Adam thought Alberta wanted to embrace him, but she flipped her fingers to signal she only wanted the gun. Adam handed over the still-hot empty revolver. Alberta put it back under the covers of the bed.

“Now, you listen carefully. That man, he was no good, you understand? He came here to steal from me. He came here to hurt your mother. You did what you needed to do, you hear me?”

It took a lot of effort for Alberta to stand up. Adam obliged her to use him as a crutch as they made the slow procession back to where Adam had left the dead man. Alberta leaned on Adam’s shoulder and used the wall to make the distance. She leaned in the doorway to the parlor. The room was ripe with the stench of blood, death, and gunpowder.

Adam stood beside his mother, staring at what he’d done and could never take back. Her grip found Adam’s shoulder, and Alberta pinched his arm, turning him to face her. She used both hands on his shoulders and stared at him with her one good eye.

“This is what you need to do now,” she said. “You need to take him to the root cellar and bury him deep. You bury him so deep in the ground that Hilde will never know she walks on a no-good bastard whenever she claims a jar of beets or bag of potatoes. No one’s going to miss that man. No one will come looking for him. For all anyone knows, that man went into the snowstorm and died. They won’t look for him, and you never need to shed a tear for him. You understand me, Adam?”

He felt his head nod. It took several tries to swallow the sand in his throat before Adam finally found words again.

“Who was he, Mama?” he asked. Adam felt his mother’s pain. Seeing her in such a state made him ache sympathetically.

Alberta didn’t answer immediately, but Adam saw it in her eye. She held back something akin to sorrow; it was fleeting. She shook her head slowly.

“You never speak of that man again after tonight. Do you understand me? This goes no further than the storm outside. When the winter weather turns, we will deal with what’s next.” She let go of him.

As Adam stepped away from Alberta, he sighed and swallowed down the revulsion. He looked back at the woman trying to use the doorjamb to remain standing.

“Shall I fetch Dr. Leavitt for you, Mama?”

Alberta shook her head slowly. She looked at Adam with her right eye, red-rimmed but clear. “No, son, I will tend to my wounds. I do not expect to see anyone until I am well healed. I hope poor Hilde can make it through the drifts in the morning. She can help me mend.” Alberta gestured with her head. “Now, do as I say, Adam. Fetch a pick and get started digging a hole. You make it nice and deep.”

He moved to the side door to the west of the house, the closest door to the stables and faced away from the drifting snow. Adam had a collection of tools in the shed a few paces outside. He put on boots and a coat to grab the pick and spade.

When he returned to the house, Adam shook off the snow and shed the coat. He needed his boots in the root cellar.  As he carried the tools by the parlor, he saw that his mother had lit more lanterns in the house and stoked the fireplace in the drawing-room. She gathered scoops of snow in buckets to boil and use for cleaning her wounds.

Adam descended into the space under the kitchen floorboards. It took him the rest of the night and long past daybreak before he finished the hole and buried the stranger. Adam went to his mother once he’d finished, with blistered hands. After what he had done, Adam knew she owed him an explanation.

“Mama, who was that man?” he asked.

“He was your father, Adam. And he was a no-good bastard.”

Chapter Two

Killing a man at thirteen years old had had a profound effect on Adam in his formative years. Certainly, Adam had seen other men die in the streets, shooting each other over card games or women. But witnessing and actually committing the act of killing were very different experiences.

Bannack was an unsavory place. No one denied that it was a town scratched together by ill-experienced people looking to get rich quick. Adam had learned early that, sometimes, a man’s life wasn’t worth more than the time it took to bury him.

Gold fever was an undeniable curse that affected many newcomers searching for a place in the inhospitable territory. It wasn’t the native savages people had to worry about when it came to reaching the rugged frontier mining settlement—the elements claimed more settler lives in the Montana terrain than Indians.

Adam grew up at his mother’s side, never knowing about his father until the night he’d shot the man. Meade had been a respected name before his mother commissioned the building from the government. Initially, it had been built as a courthouse when the territory’s politicians caught gold fever and wanted to be close to the action. The government had designated Bannack as Montana’s capital quickly following reports that Pike’s Peakers—fortune hunters following rumors about gold discoveries—had unearthed exceptionally pure gold in Grasshopper Creek, some three miles from the basin mining camp that became Bannack in ‘62.

Over three thousand people immediately flocked to the area expecting a profit once word reached the telegraph lines. After a year of mining and a rough winter, few remained in town. For some, when miners depleted the gold pockets and veins, the rapid expansion of Bannack was nothing more than another obstacle in their quest for gilded vices.

A year later, prospectors found new gold veins in Alder Gulch and stripped the forested frontier landscape into the thriving metropolis of Virginia City. The government moved the capital to the new location. Alberta Meade got a quit-claim on the hardy red brick two-story civic building left over and had her surname stenciled onto the façade. Remaining residents, and the slow-coming gold hunters, appreciated the grandiose accommodations Alberta had cobbled together with the last of the family savings. She saw the hotel as a legacy, a long-term investment that would withstand the elements.

Adam saw his mother rise to elite status as the proprietor of the hotel that bore his name. He was nothing more than free labor for his mother, and she used him from dawn until he collapsed from exhaustion. Often it was Hilde who made sure he had a hot bath and a warm meal after finishing his chores and tending the livestock and horses on their property.

Alberta Meade was a woman of elegance. Once the deed exchange with the government was finalized, she turned the ill-fated courthouse into a hotel for the curious and the new residents. They came for riches drawn from creek water. They left with little more than blistering hands and the ragged clothes on their bent backs. Alberta charged reasonable rates for her rooms.

When hotel guests began to dwindle, Alberta started renting out her rooms to the painted ladies and a few saloon girls who wanted cleaner sheets and more extended time with their clients. Adam grew up in an establishment that catered to anyone who had banknotes, coins, gold nuggets or powder to exchange for hot meals, hot baths, and warm beds. And sometimes added company in their beds to exchange for money. It wasn’t a secret in Adam’s world.

Part of his education came with knowing what men and women got up to when they closed the doors. It carried over into his household when his mother entertained guests willing to part with more money to pay for her affections. Still, he grew up in luxury that many people never achieved when they reached the gold mining township.

By ‘63, most of the gold had all but vanished from the heavily excavated creek beds and nearby mountainsides. Only the hardiest or most foolhardy prospectors stayed to scratch at the earth or pan for gold in the heavily polluted Grasshopper Creek. People motivated themselves to work from sunrise to sunset along the eroded and excavated creek bed, returning nightly with minimal success and arthritic knees and knuckles.

Winters in the territory took many lives and livestock. While people had abundant access to building materials, many spent their short summers digging in the dirt instead of building proper shelters. The town amassed buildings from people who paid local carpenters for their crafts, but they didn’t anticipate the heavy snowfall or arctic winds that took over the territory like a white devil unable to be vanquished no matter how much people prayed it away.

Adam saw more than his share of blooded men, either cut down by claim jumpers or card games gone afoul. He helped bury many settlers in Aspen Hillside Cemetery just outside Bannack proper.

Given the timing for the gold strike in the area, some of the newcomers were eager deserters of the war. In ‘63, former Union and Confederate soldiers had abandoned their posts, laying down their Springfield rifles to pick up shovels and pickaxes. Clashes between prospectors and overlapping claims turned into bloody feuds that stemmed from their political sides during the war. Claim jumpers frequently denied killing their creekside neighbors while immediately paying the dues for the territory ownership left behind. Lawlessness flourished while the town grew from miner shanties, tents, and huts to fortified log homes and false front businesses along Main Street.

Sheriff Henry Plummer had no luck taming the wild fever spurred by golden rumors or those willing to kill to keep what didn’t belong to them. The mines dried and the creeks ran black with sludge instead of gold dust. Many of the settlers followed the next claim spot at Alder Gulch; the better-suited settlement of Virginia City had easier access across the prairie valleys. Bannack had a reputation for keeping people prisoner with deep snow during the winter months. Many prospectors died protecting their claims. Many more people lost their wealth to bands of highwaymen and road agents willing to kill for any amount of gold or supplies leaving the territory.

Adam had heard tales of trails soaked in blood and burned wagons, dead horses, and families, leaving Bannack for better days. He never left the territory, so Adam’s understanding of life outside the city limits was as bleak as was living in Bannack. After ten years, he had no desire or need to move away. After that night taking revenge in his mother’s good graces, Adam felt there was nothing beyond Grasshopper Creek for him.

“Haunted by a Deadly Shot” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Although Adam Meade never seeked trouble, trouble found him. When he was just a 10-year-old boy, he participated in a cruel crime he never intended to commit, in order to save his mother; the shooting of a man. Little did he know that the curse of the past would still haunt him many years later, isolating him from everyone else in Bannack, his hometown. The world writes him off, but Adam grows into a lionhearted man, with a hidden bold side that very few know. Working hard day and night as a miner to make a living, he can’t stop dreaming of a life full of adrenaline. With a past as burdened as his, will he ever manage to take life into his own hands and prove his worth to everyone in the small town?

When a group of strangers ride into town before the early winter snows block the Montana Trail, Adam suspects they have other plans in mind besides wintering over. Their arrival will soon spread chaos in the peaceful town, as it will be revealed that they are on a dangerous mission. One fateful day, a prospector is found mysteriously murdered and Adam can’t help but wonder whether the evil strangers are behind the atrocious crime. However, due to his bad reputation, the sheriff won’t believe a word he’s saying. Luckily, he crosses paths with a brilliant young woman, Jessie, and together they will go on an endless journey of hide and seek. But the hardships they encounter on this pursuit are nothing like they expected… What are Adam and Jessi willing to risk in order to carry out such a perilous undertaking?

While Adam and Jessi are struggling to survive through this hazardous adventure, they will realize that the attraction between them is impossible to deny. But as long as danger is closing in, love is not in the cards for them. Will their love have the chance to flourish on the trail of criminals who spread death on their way? Or will they be forced to abandon all hope for a new life once and for all?

An action-packed story, featuring complex and fascinating characters, and twists and turns that will take your breath away. A must-read for fans of Western action and romance.

“Haunted by a Deadly Shot” 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!

5 thoughts on “Haunted by a Deadly Shot (Preview)”

  1. This book had my attention from the very first paragraph. I can hardly wait to read the rest of the book.

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