Outlaw on the Ranch (Preview)


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Chapter One

“Everyone get down! I said get down!”

Caleb sat bolt upright, his eyes wild as he reached wildly around him. His tall frame was already cramped in the small stagecoach cabin, and he hit his head against the back wall as he thrashed about.

The rest of the passengers whipped around, staring at Caleb with wide eyes. He felt the lingering stares land on the scars on his arms. Scars that, even though he was only thirty-two years old, would forever remind him of his fight in the war.

He looked around the stagecoach, realizing he’d fallen asleep. The dream had been so real. It had been more of a flashback than a dream, really. Caleb had been having a lot of those lately, but each time it happened, it was just as terrifying as experiencing the war in person.

“I think you were having a nightmare,” one of the other three passengers, a young woman who’d just married to the man next to her, stated. Neither she nor her husband looked to be much past twenty, and Caleb silently wondered why her husband hadn’t gone to war.

He knew it was an assumption, but the man looked far too soft to have endured anything war would have put him through. It was a selfish thought all the same, and Caleb dismissed it, feeling foolish for his outburst.

“I guess so,” Caleb responded in little more than a mumble. He tossed his dark hair out of his eyes. “Sorry to bother anyone.”

“You’re no bother,” the oldest gentleman in the stagecoach assured him. “God bless you for fighting in the war as you did. I can only imagine the nightmares you deal with now.”

“How do you know I fought in the war?” Caleb asked.

“You talk in your sleep, my boy,” the gentleman said. “But beyond that, your jacket. You fought for the Union. Good man.”

“It’s just terrible if you ask me,” the young woman said. “I find war to be deplorable. I don’t know how you or anyone else could sleep at night knowing that you’ve done what you’ve done!”

“Now, Annie, no need to lecture the man,” her husband said. “Everyone can make their own decisions.”

“I’m not trying to pass judgment on him, William—we know only the good Lord can make any judgments. But still…” Annie said, letting her voice trail off.

“Clearly, I don’t sleep,” Caleb stated, though he wasn’t addressing anyone in particular. He was rather annoyed that the woman felt comfortable enough to comment on his choice to fight in the war, but then, he had come to expect the judgment as he wore the same Union-issued jacket he’d had worn most of the past two years.

It wasn’t that he wanted to dress in his uniform, but rather he had very few possessions left. He had lost almost everything in the two years he’d spent fighting, and he’d been left jaded and scarred after the war was over.

They said the Union won, but Caleb didn’t feel like much of a winner. He’d witnessed a lot of pain and suffering while he was fighting, and even though he was on his way home now, that didn’t change the fact he still carried a lot of those memories with him—memories of things he wanted to forget.

The stage came to a jolting stop, and Caleb braced himself.

“Did you hear something?” he asked the others.

Annie shook her head, her blonde ringlets bobbing back and forth as she did. Both of the other men told him to relax.

“There wasn’t any sound,” William assured him.

“You’re imagining things, my boy,” the older gentleman added, and Caleb whipped around, glaring at him with fire in his eyes.

“Did I imagine we stopped? Because we most certainly did!”

“We’ve got another passenger,” the driver called down to those who were in the stagecoach. “Make room in there.”

“How many of us are they going to shove in here?” Annie complained.

“Don’t worry, my dear, we’re going to be in town soon enough, and from there, it won’t be long until we find ourselves a hotel and some decent civilization once again,” her husband told her.

“I sure hope so,” Annie replied as she folded her arms across her chest. “I’m tired of this travel. Surely there’s got to be better options in Greshon.”

Caleb said nothing. He thought about telling her that there wasn’t much to offer in that town. They didn’t have a train when he’d left two years before, and he hadn’t heard anything about a station being built in the letters his father sent him while he was away, either.

Greshon had once been a small town, but by the turn of 1866, it had grown immensely. At least, that was what his father had told him in the last letter he’d received.

A lot of people had traveled to Greshon trying to find a better situation for themselves during and after the war. It was located near a large river, which was ideal for the southern Texas climate, and with more people moving in, that meant there was a greater chance to succeed.

Businesses would grow, as would the market for a variety of things whether it be cattle, horses, or handmade goods.

But it was best to let this woman figure it out on her own.

“I’m really sorry for stopping you folks,” the new passenger said after the door flew open. “But I am thankful for the ride, really.”

“Yeats?” Caleb asked in utter shock.

The newcomer jerked his head up and looked Caleb in the eye, his mouth falling open. Though he had a thick white beard, it was never difficult to see when Yeats smiled. The man was what Caleb had always imagined Santa Claus would look like.

Yeats was clearly thrilled to have crossed paths with his old friend. “Why, if it’s not Caleb Diablo! How the heck are you?”

“Been better, but I’m okay,” Caleb said. “What are you doing in these parts? I expected you to be all the way out to California by now.”

“Spent a while out that way, didn’t care for it. Too hot,” he said.

For the first time since climbing aboard the stagecoach, Caleb smiled. He even let out a small chuckle as he teased his old family friend.

“So you’re coming back to Texas?”

“Passing through, mostly,” Yeats replied. “Wasn’t sure how long I’d stay. But if you’re home again, might be a good time to stop by and say hello to your pa. How’s he doin’?”

“Haven’t heard from him in nearly eight months,” Caleb informed him. “I’m hoping to find him well when I get home, but it’s hard to put much hope in the unknown these days.”

Jacob Yeats was a gentleman Caleb guessed to be in his early sixties. Yeats, who never went by his first name, had worked for Caleb’s father as a ranch hand for years. Caleb had come to know him as a father figure in his young life, and he admired Yeats greatly.

“Ah, I can imagine after fighting in the war that you’re a little bitter. But that’s okay. It’s over, and more than that, the Union won! Good on you! And thank you for putting in your help. It matters, it does,” Yeats told him.

“Thanks,” Caleb replied, but he kept it at that. He didn’t care to offer any other information or sentiment even to his old friend. Not after the horrors he’d endured on the battlefield.

But Yeats was never a man to pick up on social cues.

He immediately launched into asking far too many questions and for way more details than what Caleb cared to answer. In response, he was as vague as possible.

“Must we talk about such crude things?” Annie blurted out after Yeats continued to pester Caleb for details. “I don’t wish to hear about war or the terrible things that happened.”

“Ignoring the truth doesn’t make it any less real,” Yeats told her. “You might as well know the hard truth rather than sweeten your life with lies.”

“No, I think she’s right,” William chimed in. “I think we should talk of pleasanter things, especially with a lady on board.”

“There’s not much pleasant to talk about dealing with the after-effects of the war,” Yeats replied. “It’s ravaged the entire country, as I’m sure you well know. And it will take some time before things go back to being normal.”

“If they even can,” Caleb said. “I don’t think my life will ever go back to the way it was before the war.”

“What do you mean?” Yeats asked him.

“Nothing,” Caleb said with a shake of his head.

He wished he hadn’t said anything. He really didn’t want to talk about life before the war, and he really didn’t want to talk about how life would be different now. He already had to dodge the questions Yeats was asking him, he didn’t want to  trap himself into talking more.

Yeats was about to resume his questions when there was a sudden jolt to the stagecoach, and they started picking up speed.

“What’s going on?” Annie cried out.

“What in tarnation?” Yeats asked.

“Look that way!” The oldest gentleman in the group pointed out one of the open windows, and the group turned to see what he’d found.

Caleb’s heart sank into the pit of his stomach, and he thought he might vomit. There were two riders galloping alongside the stagecoach. They were roughly a hundred yards away, plenty close enough to shoot if they wanted.

Caleb wasn’t armed, and from the looks of things, neither were the others in the stagecoach. Annie had gone as white as a sheet. Her husband had his arm around her and was doing his best to comfort her, though there was little he could say to make this situation any better.

Panic was already setting into Caleb’s chest, and he thumped his hand on the roof of the cabin.

“What’s going on?” he demanded, yelling at the driver. “Who are those men? What do they want?”

“I don’t think we want to find out,” the driver shouted back. He slapped the reins on the backs of the team, urging them on as fast as he could.

But riders on single mounts could easily outrun a team of horses hitched to a stagecoach, so it wasn’t difficult for the men to maintain their pace. It was just a matter of time before they overtook the stagecoach entirely, and the occupants would be at the mercy of the men who had attacked them.

Gunshots rang out, and the sound carried Caleb back to being on the battlefield. He wanted to cover his ears with both hands, but there was no escaping this. It wasn’t one of the many nightmares that haunted him. This was real life, and once again he found himself at the wrong end of a gun.

“Hang on, we’ll outrun them yet!” the driver shouted to those in the bouncing stagecoach.

“He’s crazy if he thinks we have half a chance of getting away from those men alive,” Yeats said with a solemn shake of his head. “They’re going to shoot us all just because they aren’t going to want any witnesses.”

“They can’t!” Annie cried. “We just got married. We’re just starting our lives together, they can’t kill us now!”

“Oh, they’ll probably leave you alive,” Yeats said. “But you’re a lady. That’s different. I wouldn’t be too worried about it if I were you.”

“Yeats!” Caleb snapped. “You aren’t helping.”

Gunshots peppered the side of the stagecoach, making it impossible for anyone to hear what Yeats had to say in reply. Annie screamed as the bullets splintered the wood and sent slivers shooting through the cabin, and Caleb shouted for everyone to stay as low as they could.

“You don’t want to be in the windows. Don’t give them anything to aim at,” he yelled.

“My boy, I don’t think you understand,” Yeats yelled back to him above the panic taking place in the cabin. “These men don’t care about aim. They just want to stop the damn stage.”

“Then stop it, for God’s sake!” William cried out. “If it will save our lives, stop it!”

“I don’t think there’s much helping that now,” Yeats said, clearly resigned to his fate. “Like I said, the war changed this country. There are outlaws and raiders patrolling the plains now, taking advantage of those who are just trying to get around.”

Caleb gave his friend a look. Yeats was right, but he didn’t think now was a good time to bring it up. Annie was clearly scared out of her wits and nearly in hysterics, and neither of the other men knew what to do in the situation, either.

For his own part, Caleb knew how to handle himself if he had a weapon, but as he had no gun, they were all easy targets.

Yeats was making the situation a lot worse with his grim outlook, and Caleb didn’t appreciate the panic Yeats incited.

There were several more gunshots, and a scream came from outside the stage. It was followed by a terrible jolt, and the driver shouted something no one in the cabin was able to understand.

The sound of splintering wood filled the air, along with a horrific bump that nearly caused the entire stage to tip over on its side. Annie screamed yet again, William clinging to her and the bench as best he could.

Caleb was doing the same on the opposite side, trying not to fall out of the coach.

They came to a sudden, jolting stop.

And silence ensued.

Chapter Two

“Is-is it over?” Annie asked in a shaking voice.

Before anyone else in the stagecoach had a chance to reply, the sound of horses approaching filled the air. There was a shout from the driver, who was still in his seat on top of the stage, but Caleb was too caught up in the heat of the moment to understand what the man said.

The door to the cabin swung open, and a masked man with a gun shouted at the passengers.

“All of you, get out here! Now! I’m not asking! Any one of you doesn’t get out here right now, I’m putting a bullet in your brain! That’s right, get out!” he screamed.

One by one, the passengers disembarked. By now, Annie was sobbing against her husband, and the older gentleman was attempting to act frail in an attempt to gain sympathy from the outlaws. It was a long shot for that to work, but Caleb didn’t blame the man for trying anything that came to mind.

He was also scared out of his wits.

Once he was outside and standing with the group, Caleb saw what had caused them to stop so horribly.

One of the six horses drawing the stagecoach had been shot. It was one in the middle row, and it had fallen to the ground from the bullet. The animals had been running so quickly that none were able to stop or get out of the way, and the horse behind it had tried to jump over the animal’s body.

But the stagecoach couldn’t. Instead, the wooden arms around the horses had snapped, and the coach itself had run over the fallen horse’s body. The upset had been nearly enough to cause the entire stage to fall on its side, and Caleb was grateful that it hadn’t.

Three armed men were bent on pulling the passengers out of the coach, with Caleb stepping out before Yeats. He turned his attention to what was going on in front of him rather than what had happened, though he silently prayed this wouldn’t last long.

Yeats, for his own part, stood tall and defiant. He’d always been that way from what Caleb could remember. When Yeats had worked as a ranch hand on his father’s ranch when Caleb was just a boy, he remembered his father telling a story in which Yeats had wrestled a mountain lion with his bare hands. Caleb never knew if the story was true, but he remembered.

Now, as Yeats glared at the men who had surrounded them, Caleb could see it. Perhaps it was a matter of Yeats assuming they were all going to die that day, or perhaps the man really had no fear of death. Whatever it was, it didn’t seem as though there was any fear at all in the man’s face.

And Caleb envied him for it.

“Get in there with the rest.” A fourth man appeared, shoving the driver into the small group of captives.

All four men had masks over their faces and hats pulled low, but after the group had been corralled together, only the man with the bright red kerchief tied on his face spoke. It wasn’t difficult for Caleb to ascertain that he was the leader of the group.

“What do you want from us?” Annie cried, unable to keep silent with the mounting panic.

“Money, mostly,” the man said. “All of it. I don’t care if you have a lot or a little, I’m taking it now. And jewelry, ma’am, so if you don’t mind.”

He took his hat off his head and shoved it toward Annie. With shaking hands, she removed both her earrings and her necklace, dropping them into the hat as her husband placed the few dollar bills he had on him in the hat, too.

The older gentleman followed suit, but when the hat came to Yeats, Yeats shook his head and passed it along to Caleb. Caleb dropped the few coins he had into the hat, but the outlaw who stood nearby pointed to a patch he’d spotted inside Caleb’s billfold.

“That, too,” he said.

“It’s not anything,” Caleb tried to explain. “It’s from a friend who fell in battle.”

“I didn’t ask for a sad story,” the man shot back. “Put it in the hat, or you’re going to wish you had.”

With that, Caleb deftly put the patch into the hat along with the other items that were being stolen. He told himself that it was only a patch, and it wasn’t the friend he’d lost. But it still hurt to see it go.

No one said anything at first, but the man in charge wasn’t going to let Yeats go without putting anything he had of value into the hat. Caleb would have simply handed along the hat to the older gentleman next to him, but the leader of the group stepped in, preventing him from doing so.

“You too,” the hatless outlaw snapped. As he spoke, he used his pistol to gesture toward the hat, indicating that Yeats had to place his things in there. Caleb braced himself for what could come next.

If there was one thing he knew about Yeats, it was that the man was stubborn as an ox. If he didn’t want to do something, he wasn’t going to do it no matter how many threats were made. Caleb feared for his friend’s safety, and he silently hoped Yeats would give in to the demands of the outlaws.

But he had no such luck.

“Don’t have anything for you,” Yeats remarked.

“I’m not playing games, damn it,” the outlaw spat at him. As if to solidify his point, he used the back of his gun to hit Yeats across the side of the head.

Yeats stumbled from the blow, but he regained his footing as best he could against Caleb.

At the same time, the blow ignited a hatred in Caleb he couldn’t ignore. For as much as he wanted to passively obey the demands of these men, he couldn’t stand by and do nothing as his old friend was beaten.

Caleb acted without warning and without thinking, all but lunging forward to grab the pistol away from the man who stood closest to him. He was fast, and he knew if he was armed, he could do a lot of damage to these men before they would have the chance to put him down.

At least, if he acted smoothly enough.

But the leader of this band clearly knew what he was doing, shooting the ground directly in front of Caleb. It was a shot that missed both Caleb and Annie by mere inches, sending up clods of dirt in all directions.

Annie screamed, and Caleb instinctively recoiled. He hadn’t meant to do it; it was only natural for him to react that way after the war. Any sort of explosion that close to him had that effect, no matter how small it was.

“You’ve got guts, kid,” the leader of the group said. “But now’s not the time to be the hero.”

He gave the outlaw Caleb had just attacked a nod, and the man punched Caleb in the stomach, hard. He used his pistol for added damage and knocked the wind out of Caleb, causing him to double over and gasp for breath.

The pain was more than he expected, but bearable. It was enough to keep him from trying anything else. He hadn’t meant to put Annie in danger, and he was grateful that she hadn’t been shot in the process. For as much as his instincts told him to keep fighting, he had to be smart about the rest of the captives.

It wasn’t fair to them to put everyone in danger because of his own training and need to fight back. If he could just get Yeats to behave and obey these men along with him, they would all be alright. But if his old friend refused, Caleb would have to control himself to get through this.

Neither of them was any good dead.

“And finally, you,” the hatless outlaw said to the driver. “I’m sure you’ve got a nice bit of money on yourself with this many passengers. No? That’s it?”

The outlaw was clearly disappointed to see the bills the driver dropped into the hat.

“I was paid by all but one before leaving town,” he said. “I put the money in the bank.”

“Blast it all,” the outlaw said. “That’s the kind of mistake that could cost you your life out here.”

The driver said nothing, and Caleb tasted bile. He glared at the four men surrounding them with a hatred he’d not felt since he was in the middle of battle, and he agonized that there was nothing he could do to help these people. He was just as much at the mercy of these men as the rest.

“Please let us go,” Annie begged. “Please! We gave you all our money, we don’t have anything else.”

“And we haven’t even seen your faces,” her husband added. “There’s no way we can identify you. Please, we just got married. We want the chance to live our lives.”

“Isn’t that sweet?” the leader of the men said. His tone was sarcastic, and Caleb wished the others would just stop talking. He had known plenty of men like this outlaw in the two years he’d fought in the war.

Even saying one wrong word could get them all killed, and he worried they would do exactly that if they kept up the conversation.

“Please,” Annie said again.

“What about the rest of you?” the leader asked, motioning his gun to the driver, Caleb, and the other two men. “Do you have some sweet reason why I ought to let you live? Need to go home to your wives? To your mothers? Huh?”

None of the men spoke, and Caleb mentally prepared himself for the worst. He didn’t see a way any of them could get out of this, but he wasn’t about to die begging for his life. He would face death like a soldier, standing on his feet with his head held high.

“No?” the outlaw continued. “Well, I’ll make a deal with you, then. Since this little lady is so sweet, I’ll let you all go.”

Annie sobbed harder, making the outlaw raise his voice to be heard above her cries.

“But I need to make it clear to you how dangerous I am. I want you to tell your friends and loved ones so they, too, know to watch out for me and my men—so they may pray to God they never find themselves in your position.”

Caleb watched the man coolly, entirely on edge for what he was about to do.

Then, the criminal laughed. “I’m not one to give out names, but I want you to remember this is the day Outlaw Jackson let you live. Most of you, anyway.”

Without another word, he lowered his pistol and took aim, then pulled the trigger.

He shot Yeats in cold blood.

Chapter Three

“No!” Caleb screamed.

His ears rang from the gunshot so much he couldn’t even hear himself shouting. It seemed time had slowed down as he watched Yeats fall to the ground, and Caleb lost control over himself.

He didn’t think of the danger he put anyone else in when he turned and sprang on the outlaw nearest to him.

The man had been distracted by the gunshot himself, and as everyone’s eyes were glued to Yeats lying on the ground, Caleb had been able to get the upper hand, wrenching the gun away from the outlaw and opening fire.

He didn’t bother checking to see how many bullets he had left in the revolver. All he knew was to shoot—and to shoot at the man who had just put a bullet in his old friend.

With the money in hand and one of the prisoners suddenly armed, Jackson shouted to his men.

“Time to get out of here, boys!”

They scrambled in all directions, fleeing from the gunshots that were now coming at them. Caleb didn’t want to kill anyone in particular. He wasn’t even thinking clearly as he pulled the trigger again and again.

His training and instincts took over, and he only stopped when there were no more bullets in the gun.

He threw it to the ground and rushed to his friend, praying the wound wasn’t as bad as he thought. It had only been a matter of seconds from when he’d witnessed the killing to when he was at his friend’s side, but to Caleb, it felt like an eternity.

“Yeats, Yeats, can you hear me? Can you hear me? It’s going to be okay. We’ll get a doctor to you, it’s going to be okay,” he cried as he scrambled over his friend.

Caleb didn’t need anyone to tell him he was too late, that Yeats was already gone. He didn’t need to hear the words spoken out loud to know they were true. God knew he’d seen enough death to know when someone had passed. But that didn’t stop him from shaking his friend, shouting and begging him to respond.

“He’s gone, son,” the old gentleman said. “Let him be.”

“Oh God, why? Why?” Caleb screamed. “Why Yeats? Why?”

He sobbed over his friend, not paying any attention to the rest of the group. He barely heard the driver telling him they weren’t far from Greshon, or that he was taking Annie’s husband with him to fetch the sheriff.

He felt numb as he sat back on the hard ground, watching as the two men unhitched the horses from the wrecked stagecoach, and the driver took his companion along with him toward town.

The two of them were able to cover a lot of ground without the rest, and in a matter of a few hours, they returned with the sheriff and his deputies.

“Who are you, exactly?” Caleb asked when he saw the man acting as sheriff. “Where is Sheriff Colbert?”

“He was shot some time ago,” the man replied. “I transferred when the town found itself in dire need of a sheriff, and I was looking to move from another town. The name’s Sheriff Hambleton.”

Caleb bit his tongue. He knew things had changed since the war, but the thought that a new sheriff had taken over the town was yet another adjustment he hadn’t been prepared to make. Sheriff Colbert had been the sheriff here for nearly ten years.

“Who shot him?” Caleb asked.

“The same man who is responsible for this attack today,” the sheriff replied. “Now, if you will please step to the side so we can take care of this, thank you.”

“Be careful, Sheriff,” Caleb told the man as he directed the deputies to place Yeats’s body in the back of a wagon. “He was a good man. He deserves respect.”

“Yes sir,” Sheriff Hambleton said. “I truly am sorry for your loss. This is one of the worst attacks I’ve seen since taking office.”

“I’m nearly hysterical,” Annie said. “I just want to get out of here. I want to go home.”

“We’re going,” her husband promised. “We’re getting a hotel as soon as we’re in town, and I’ll start looking for passage back east.”

“Good,” she said.

Their conversation faded into the background as they walked over to the wagon the lawmen had brought with them. There wasn’t much room, but enough for them to all fit if they were willing to sit close.

Caleb still lingered with the sheriff and the deputy sheriff, looking over the wreck and answering questions.

“It’s getting worse,” the deputy sheriff said.

“What do you mean?” Caleb asked.

“This outlaw. Jackson, you said?” he asked. Caleb nodded, and the deputy sheriff nodded, too. “He’s violent and angry, and he sets out to kill and destroy. Sheriff Hambleton is right about this being the worst we’ve seen, but how many more attacks are we going to deal with before we catch him? It’s becoming more frequent, too.”

“Outlaw on the Ranch” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Caleb Diablo is a haunted man. Returning from the war to his hometown in the Wild West, he is determined to reclaim the peace he once knew. Witnessing a brutal murder during a stagecoach robbery though shakes him to his core. Driven by revenge, he’s further gutted when he learns that his parents have been forced off their ranch by Jackson, a ruthless businessman. The question hanging in the dry Texas air is: can Caleb deliver justice for his family without losing his soul?

This will be his hardest battle yet….

Sammie Bowen is a gunslinger with a chip on her shoulder. Once living a peaceful life with her father, a retired lawman, her world was upended by corruption and greed. Known for her sharpshooting and an even sharper tongue, Samantha finds herself drawn to Caleb’s noble cause—and to Caleb himself.

As bullets fly and their romance blossoms, will Samantha’s hard exterior crack enough to let love in?

In a tale of vengeance and redemption, Caleb and Samantha join forces in a quest that will take them deeper into the heart of darkness than they ever expected. When their alliance uncovers an unsettling truth about the town’s corruption, the stakes are raised higher than ever. Now they must decide what they’re willing to sacrifice in the name of justice and love. Will they tear down the empire of greed or will they become its next victims?

“Outlaw on the Ranch” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 70,000 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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