Return of the Lone Marshal (Preview)


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The sun beat down on him like the boiling ball of heat it was. Marshal Grayson Ford and Deputy Oscar Walsh were crouched behind two huge bales of hay. They weren’t the only lawmen surrounding the farmhouse belonging to the Mohr family, but they were the closest, much to Grayson’s chagrin. At least they weren’t alone.

It was exceedingly hot for Virginia City, and all Grayson wanted to do was get this over with so he could find some shade. The only thing his hat was doing was making his head sweat profusely. He’d had to tie a bandana around his head to soak it up so it wouldn’t drip into his eyes and blind him at what might be a crucial moment in the fight with this family of outlaws.

“Why’d you choose today to raid this place?” he grumbled. “We could have come any day of the year and you picked the hottest one so far.”

Oscar squinted his blue eyes at Grayson, responding in a deep voice, “I don’t control the weather, Marshal. Pretty sure word came down we were doing it today because they’re all home.”

Grayson was surprised to hear that. He was under the impression the Mohrs consisted of a large family unit. It wasn’t just the father, sons, and uncles involved. There were women and children in there, too.

“How come I’m always the last to know these things?” he asked. “If they’re all there, what’s the plan? Just kill them all?”

Oscar shrugged. “I don’t know. I’m just here because I shoot good.”

Grayson noted his companion’s sarcasm. Oscar wasn’t in charge. He probably knew about as much as Grayson did about the whole situation.

The words were no sooner out of his mouth when several gunshots rang out, some coming from the house and others responding from the men surrounding it.

Grayson twisted with his back to the bale of hay protecting him, looking around it to the house to see if anyone was in his range of sight. Two of the men they’d come with had already been taken out of the fight. He wasn’t sure if either had survived. The only way to get this fight over with was to get to the house and go in. They were tasked with arresting Henry, Harry, and Francis Mohr.

As a rule, Grayson never shot at a house randomly, especially when he knew there were women and children inside. He had to get close and get inside to make sure his bullets reached their intended targets.

Oscar shared the same sentiment. Grayson had worked with Oscar before, tracking down outlaws and bringing them to whatever justice they deserved. They worked well together as a team.

Another shot whizzed past his head and he twisted back around. He looked at Oscar.

“They’re concentrating on the front of the house. Let’s go around back.”

They left the bales of hay behind to dart around the trees and objects dotting the landscape outside the farmhouse. They were nearly to the old, rotted wagon with a missing wheel that was parked behind the house in the dirt. It had apparently been abandoned some time before.

Grayson ran quickly, sliding behind the wagon, which was tilted down on the side with the missing wheel. The front wheel was only partially there, having broken off from the wheel shaft as if it had been cut in half with a saw.

He turned to see Oscar coming up right behind him.

It seemed like what happened next happened so fast, Grayson wasn’t sure it had really happened at all.

Oscar was almost to the wagon. Grayson could have reached out and touched him.

But the sound of a gunshot split through the air. Just one single gunshot—and that bullet hit Oscar right in the side of the head.

Grayson knew his friend was dead instantly. He couldn’t have survived a shot like that.

As soon as Oscar’s body pitched to the left and he fell to the ground, Grayson was around the wagon, running to the house. His gun was raised and he was shooting at random. His policy could take a back seat for a while.

He used the pain and anger from seeing his friend shot dead to run to the closest window. He’d shot out the glass long before he got there. He pitched himself over the sill and rolled to his feet, a technique he’d taught himself when he was a younger man.

Without hesitating to think about it first, Grayson ran through the halls, throwing open doors and aiming to shoot before the door completely opened.

All the rooms were empty.

He tried to rein in his frustration and confusion. He didn’t have time for it. Where was the family? How had they gotten away?

Grayson reached the back of the house and saw at least one reason why the house seemed abandoned. Henry Mohr, the oldest of the brothers, was sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth, holding the head of his brother, Harry. Next to them was the slain body of the third brother, Francis.

Henry’s eyes darted to Grayson when he entered the room. He roared with anger, shoved his brother off his legs, and leaped to his feet.

Grayson’s heart pounded, seeing the rage in the man’s face. He turned around and ran hard back to the foyer of the house, shooting behind him to where he expected Henry to be. The man pursuing him was screaming like an animal… until he wasn’t.

Grayson heard the thump of his body and skidded to a stop right before reaching the front door of the house. He wouldn’t have been able to leave without risking being shot by some excited vigilante who didn’t recognize him.

He turned back and looked behind him. Henry was lying face down five feet from him.

Grayson lifted his eyes and looked at the doorway the men had come through to reach the large foyer.

There was another body there. Grayson frowned and hurried to see whose it was.

Horror ran through him when he saw that it was a little boy. He recognized the child as ten-year-old Paul Mohr.

Grayson dropped to his knees next to the child’s body.

“No, no, no,” he mumbled, checking for signs of life.

There were none.

Chapter One

Ten years had passed since that day in Virginia City and Grayson Ford was now an ex-marshal, having hung up his badge to try his hand at ranching. He’d stayed in Montana, moving to a nice little town called Josephine, named for the wife of the founder of the small town. Most of the people in Josephine were miners and their families. The rest were farmers like Grayson.

He was self-taught, which meant he sought advice from as many well-seasoned ranchers as he could. He’d also hired men who knew what they were doing and learned from them. It wasn’t an easy job to do but he felt it was worth it. Plus, it kept him busy. He didn’t like to just sit around and do nothing like some folks he knew who’d retired from their respective careers.

Maybe he was too young to have retired, being only fifty-one years old. There were plenty of good years left in that body of his. The problem wasn’t his body and the effects of getting older. It was his mind that was giving him the most trouble.

Grayson had seen too much in his half-century of life.

The morning had been spent on the ranch, fixing a fence that was cracking. He’d seen one of his cows leaning on it. He hadn’t even known cows could lean. Was the animal trying to bust the fence down and get to freedom? Did the grass on the other side look tastier?

Either way, he’d had quite a time with the task as the soil no longer wanted to pack around the new post Grayson had to put in.

His hands were callused already, but now he felt like new painful blisters were going to rise up. Not to mention the myriad of splinters he’d gotten trying to get that darn post down into the ground and the rest of the fence secured to it so that cow couldn’t knock it over.

He was planning to move the cow to a different area of the pasture.

Grayson had come to the small lake on his property to bathe. He was nearly finished but he didn’t want to get out quite yet. The water was warm and refreshing.

He ducked under the water and came up with his face exposed to the bright sun above. Slapping his salt and pepper hair back with both hands, he wiped the excess water from his mustache and trimmed beard.

He planted his feet on the ground below, staring into the nearby forest. He’d seen something moving. It quickened the beat of his heart.

Grayson’s brown eyes moved to his underclothes and towel, which he’d placed close to the water on a small bush.

Something flashed in the corner of his eye and he looked again into the forest. There was someone there. They were keeping themselves hidden but letting themselves be known.

Grayson took that to mean he was free to get his underclothes without being interrupted. He approached the shore slowly, staying underwater until the last minute and then hopping to the towel and underclothes he’d left for himself.

Wrapping himself with the towel instead of drying off with it, he crept slowly toward the rest of his clothes, folded neatly on a rock in the sun so they would stay warm.

“Hello?” he called out, peering all around him. “Anybody here?”

He got no response.

Grayson stood up straight, putting his shoulders back and his chest out. “Anybody here?” he called out again. “You’re on my land. I’d like to know if someone has trespassed onto my land and is now watching me bathe. Who’s there? Show yourself!”

He turned in a half-circle. There was no way anyone could have come from the water itself to attack him.

Facing the water, he loosened the towel around his waist and quickly pulled on his underclothes. He then vigorously and swiftly dried off with the towel before wrapping it around his waist again.

He turned back toward the forest.

“One more chance to show your face!” he called out.

To his tremendous surprise, the person following him complied.

It was a young Indian boy. Grayson didn’t recognize the tribe, but then, he wouldn’t. He didn’t know anything about the Indians in the area. They’d never bothered him and he never bothered them. Everyone was allowed to live peacefully, as far as Grayson was concerned, as long as that was what they were doing—living peacefully.

The little boy came out from behind a tree. He looked like he might be around nine but Grayson didn’t know anything about that kind of thing. He hadn’t been around a lot of kids. His only dealings with a child was when he’d killed one.

His heart sank at the memory.

“What are you doing?” he asked. “Do you know how dangerous it is to be out here on your own?”

He felt like a fool. He was talking to an Indian boy who probably knew the area better than he ever would.

“I know these woods well,” the boy said in perfect English. So perfect Grayson was impressed. “I am just passing through to go over the mountain and join my father’s tribe there. I hope you do not mind.”

Grayson waved one hand in the boy’s direction. “Don’t mind at all. Carry on, son.”

He watched the boy retreat, pulling the reins of a horse behind him. The packs on the animal were full of berries, which Grayson could see spilling out over the top.

Chapter Two

The sight of that boy stayed with Grayson the rest of the day. He’d been living with the ghosts of Oscar and Paul Mohr for the last ten years. If he didn’t find a way to get it out of his head, he would end up losing his mind. And if he went crazy, there wouldn’t be anyone to help him. He had no family. No real friends, certainly not any close enough that he’d want to task with looking after him in his senility.

The thought actively scared Grayson as he rode around his property, checking on the rest of the fences. He was also searching for Bunty, the cow he’d seen leaning on that broken fence on more than one occasion. Maybe the cow was having trouble with one of its legs.

He would check it himself first before he contacted the vet in Josephine to come take a look.

Grayson had no one to blame for his situation in life, not even himself. It was just the way life went. He wasn’t a bad man and he was a good lawman. He was charming when he wanted to be, intelligent, and a good conversationalist.

But when he’d asked the last lady he’d taken to a dance, she said he could be a little too kind, a bit meek, which many women didn’t find attractive.

That is, he was meek after the raid on the Mohr house. Before that, he’d been young and impetuous and zealous. He’d liked dispensing the law among citizens who wanted to break it. He’d liked bringing the hammer down on the heads of criminals.

After Paul died, it seemed he couldn’t keep focused on just one thing for long. He got distracted, and getting distracted could cost a man his life. Especially going up against ruthless outlaws without a conscience.

That was when he’d decided to try his hand at being a family man, buying a ranch and searching for a woman to court. But he’d had no success in that department. Women didn’t find him desirable. He’d tried for a while, finally giving up when every woman he talked to told him what a good friend he was.

Sighing, Grayson stopped at a lookout spot on the mountain behind his house. He’d followed the trail about thirty feet up and turned the horse out onto a ledge that allowed him to see over much of his property. He could see so much from that vantage point, he used it to make sure no poachers were camping on his land without his permission.

It wasn’t that he didn’t want anyone on his land. He would give permission as long as they were hunting for food and not for fun. Few were hunting for fun or profit—other than food in their bellies.

At that moment, with the sun dipping down to his left, casting long shadows over the landscape and draping his house in orange light, he thought it was the most beautiful sight in the world. If only he could have found a woman to share it with. Or a companion.

Maybe he should hire a companion.

Lord knows, if he kept going down the road he was going, he would surely end up insane. He needed someone to look after him, didn’t he?

Sighing once more, Grayson turned away from the ledge and headed back down. He would have to be satisfied with the companionship of the people he hired, the men out in his fields and working with the cows and the inside help, the cook and housekeeper, neither of whom lived with him, though there was plenty of room. They didn’t live there because they had families.

Grunting at the irony, Grayson rode slowly over the grass through the pasture and the yard, slipping out of the saddle once there. He removed the saddle and took it to a wooden horse for cleaning.

“Everything all right, Mr. Ford?”

He heard his young groom’s voice behind him and turned around to smile at the boy. He’d hired Abbot when the kid was fifteen. Now he was eighteen and got along well with everyone.

“Yeah,” he responded, handing the reins to the boy. “You go ahead and take care of that saddle and this horse for me, would you?”

“Yes, sir, that’s my job.”

Grayson didn’t have to ask Abbot to do anything. He was the boss. He’d delegated jobs and assigned tasks to men in the law when he was a marshal, but it felt strange to get someone to do tasks he knew full well he could perform himself.

But if he did do those things himself, he often pondered, Abbot’s family wouldn’t have food on their table and wood to heat their home. They also wouldn’t be living in the small bunkhouse that Grayson rented out to his family for a piddly amount every month.

“Thanks, Abbot. You’re a good worker.”

He liked to compliment, too. He’d always been willing to work harder for his superiors when they were kind and respectful to him, so he tried to use those essential tactics with his own employees.

He headed into the ranch house, breathing in deep as soon as he entered. The cook, Betty, had finished dinner. His stomach grumbled in anticipation.

Grayson put one hand over it.  “I know how you feel, friend. Let’s go see what Betty’s made for us tonight.”

He said the words aloud and looked to the left and right to make sure he hadn’t been heard talking to himself. Chuckling, he headed for the dining room.

Chapter Three

The candle flickered as if a breeze had gone through the kitchen.

Grayson was seated on a tall stool at one of the tables by the windows, but the window was closed and Grayson felt no breeze. He stared at the flame for a moment but it remained stable.

It was almost midnight. The housekeeper, Ethel, had gone home. Grayson couldn’t sleep and had decided to make a visit to the kitchen and warm up some milk on the pot-bellied stove. He’d had to make a second trip because he’d left his room without a lantern. He’d made it almost to the kitchen and had to turn back.

He felt a cool breeze in the hallway as he’d headed to the bedroom to get the only lantern he knew the location of. Chills erupted on his arms and down his spine. Had the breeze followed him into the room?

It was cool for the summer months, though Montana did have colder nights even then.

The warm milk hadn’t done a thing for him.

He’d retreated to the parlor and fetched a bottle of whiskey, which now sat in front of him next to a small glass. Shot after shot, Grayson waited for the oblivion that would eventually be his sleep.

He’d heard someone say once that the body healed itself during sleep. He reckoned that only worked with the physical body. Sleep never helped what was going on in his head. It didn’t get rid of the memories of Oscar getting shot or the guilt of knowing he’d killed Paul Mohr without intention.

If only he could go to sleep and wake up never thinking about that horrible day again.

That was what he really wanted to do.

When the whiskey stopped tasting like anything, Grayson’s hazy eyes stared at the bottle. The words on the label were fuzzy to him. He was pretty sure he was as drunk as he could be without passing out.

Blessed sleep. That was what he wanted.

For ten years, he’d been fighting for it. When he closed his eyes, he saw the little boy. Or his friend’s body being tossed to the side as a result of the bullet to his head. Or himself, not taking aim at Henry but just shooting randomly. He replayed those moments over and over, wishing to God he could change it all.

He’d been told the family was there. Everyone else might have been upstairs hiding in closets or holes in the walls or inside trunks, but Paul wasn’t. He was a curious ten-year-old boy.

And now that ten-year-old boy haunted Grayson’s every moment. For ten long years.

When would it end? Or would it?

He lifted his head when he thought he saw movement on the other side of the kitchen. There was no one in the house but him.

Grayson was trying his very best to make up for the biggest mistake of his life. Killing a child was unforgivable in his book. He would spend the rest of his life—no matter how boring—convincing himself, others, and God Himself that he’d renounced his violent past and was only willing to lead a peaceful, compassionate future.

Sometimes he wondered if he would be able to do that. With violent dreams, very little sleep, and a ten-year-old ghost haunting his thoughts, it was almost impossible to be in a good mood.

He’d traveled so much when he was young, he hadn’t made any good friends. Only the Judge. Judge Isaiah Whitaker, his mentor and good friend. He’d followed the judge around like a lost puppy, or like the son the judge had never had, earning the moniker “The Judge’s Shadow.”

He was proud of his nickname and had introduced himself as such on several occasions when he and the judge were attending the same event. He knew his mentor held him in the same regard and had treated him like a son since their very first meeting.

That thought was something Grayson liked to use to take him to a comforting, peaceful place in his mind and soul.

He turned his face to the window, looked out at the twinkling stars before closing his eyes and sighing once more. He needed to visit the judge and Penelope, his granddaughter. They were, if he was honest, the only friends he had. Penelope still wrote to him regularly, and he wrote her back. He didn’t receive anything from the judge himself, but he was a busy man and Grayson understood that.

His next letter would be an invitation. He would ask them to visit his ranch for some reason or another. Surely he could think of something. Or maybe they’d just come because he asked them to.

The glass in the window reflected something behind him and Grayson turned with a start. He’d seen the shape of the boy, Paul, standing some ten feet from him, his ghostly form lingering in the air even though Grayson couldn’t see him anymore.

“I’m sorry,” he moaned into the quiet of the night. Choking, he tilted his head back for a moment, closing his eyes. He poured another shot of whiskey and tossed it down his throat. His words whispered through his lips with great sorrow. “I’m sorry.” Chapter Four

Someone was hammering outside.

Grayson woke with a start. Sharp pain shot through his head, ricocheting off his skull and bouncing around his brain. He moaned loudly and regretted it instantly since the sound was enough to spark the agony again.

“Good Lord,” he whispered, pressing both palms against his eyes and forehead. “Never again. Jesus. Have mercy.”

The hammering happened again and Grayson realized someone was knocking.

He shook his head and placed his hands flat on the floor to push himself up. He looked around. He was in the kitchen. An empty bottle of whiskey sat on the table, the shot glass tilted on its side next to it.

Another knock made him move again, shoving to his feet with the side of the table as leverage.

“I’m coming!” he yelled and regretted it again. Grayson stumbled through the kitchen door and down the hallway to the foyer. He yanked open the door, instantly blinded by the bright sunlight. “Good God!” he exclaimed, lifting one hand to block the light from his eyes.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Ford.” A young man stood there, looking sheepish. He held an envelope. “I have a letter for you. Had to be hand delivered right to you. Hope you have a good day now.”

He saluted Grayson and hopped away once Grayson had the envelope in hand.

It was strange to receive a letter in such a manner. It had never happened to him before. Grayson looked down at the envelope as he slammed the door shut and blocked out that Godforsaken sunlight.

It had his name on the outside, to be sure, but there was no return address to say who it was from. He set it on the table by the door and headed for his bedroom. He needed out of these clothes. After a night like that, extra haunted by Paul, he needed a bath. For ten years, he’d been taking regular baths in an effort to wash the filth away. So far, he still felt pulled down, weighed down by the tragedy of what he’d done.

An hour later, Grayson reemerged from his bedroom, clean and feeling a bit better. He was curious to know who the letter was from. His head was still pounding, but he’d taken some powders and expected the ache to ease up with time. Plus, he needed to eat some breakfast. That would make him feel better, too.

He took the letter from the table by the front door and went to the kitchen. After starting a pot of water for coffee and fixing some eggs and toast, he sat at the table and looked at the front of the envelope. He didn’t recognize the handwriting.

Grayson turned the envelope over and slid his finger under the flap to rip it open. He withdrew the paper and unfolded it, immediately dropping his eyes to the bottom to see who it was from.


It simply bore the judge’s name, which was something Grayson didn’t expect. He’d never received a letter from the judge before, and his level of respect for the man made Grayson feel slightly uncomfortable that he’d signed the letter with his Christian name and nothing else.

Still, he considered it a great honor to have received a letter from someone so distinguished. He read the letter eagerly.

Dearest Grayson,

It has been too long since we’ve spoken, my friend. I need your help. You know I would not call on you if I didn’t. I’m aware of what happened to make you leave the world in which we knew each other, but I believe when you hear what I need you for, you will come to my aid. 

My dear Penelope is in trouble. She has gotten involved with some dangerous men who are leading her down a dangerous path. Please come and give us the blessing of your presence in our time of need.

It is a matter of life and death. I know I can count on you. 


Grayson stared hard at the letter, pulling his eyebrows together. He read it several times. He was a little confused. He hadn’t heard from Penelope in a few months, but their correspondence had only been about two to three times a year, anyway. He couldn’t remember the last time he’d written to her.

It made sense that she wouldn’t write if she’d gotten caught up in something over her head. He lowered the letter and lifted his eyes, staring into space, remembering what he could of Penelope Whitaker.

She was fiery, if he remembered correctly, which could be why she’d let herself fall in with a bad crowd. Confident as she was, she probably thought she wasn’t in any danger.

She had auburn hair that she let flow down her shoulders, despite the looks the ladies in town would give her. Her piercing light green eyes were naturally narrow and she had low lids so it was sometimes hard to tell who she was looking at. But once you knew she was looking at you, there was no escaping her gaze. She had a quick wit and an easy smile that made it obvious she had a fun, happy side.

She was formidable, to say the least.

There was, of course, no choice in the matter. Grayson would go to help his old friend, the man he’d shadowed for so many years and respected so deeply he would give his life for the man. Or his granddaughter.

He got up and headed to the stairs, going up to his bedroom. A trunk made of thick wood sat under the window. He went to it, knelt down, and undid the latch, lifting the lid. A stack of letters sat in one corner, untouched for months. He lifted out the whole stack. He wanted to see what had been going on in their lives, if she’d mentioned anything at all that would give him a clue as to what this was all about.

He went through the stack, reading the most recent one first, but as he went along, he noticed a pattern he’d never seen before.

All the letters were essentially the same. Penelope always said she and the judge were fine. She always said the days were cold or hot according to the time of year. She always said they would definitely stop by his ranch and see him should they come through Josephine.

The pattern never wavered, though there were other bits of information and anecdotes here and there.

It made Grayson feel suspicious. But exactly what he had to be suspicious of, he didn’t know.

“Return of the Lone Marshal” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

For a decade, Marshal Grayson Ford has lived in the shadow of a grave mistake he made, haunted by the memory of a life taken too soon. However, his self-imposed exile is shattered by a desperate plea from his past, calling him back to the very place he vowed never to return.

Can Grayson find redemption in the eyes of those he once swore to protect?

Penelope Whitaker, the resilient daughter of Judge Isiah Whitaker, has been widowed and left in financial ruin following her husband’s fatal obsession with the elusive Kinashaw Lost Gold. Yet, her spirit remains unbroken, steadfast in the hunt for the legendary treasure. Her dangerous quest intertwines with that of Grayson, setting the stage for a journey filled with looming challenges.

Can Penelope’s courage forge a path to safety?

As Grayson and Penelope unite against a ghost from Grayson’s past, their struggle is about more than survival—it’s a fight for the soul of their hometown. With stakes higher than ever, can they avert disaster and defend the town from its lurking menace, or will their efforts end in tragedy? The battle lines are drawn, but the war is far from over…

“Return of the Lone Marshal” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 60,000 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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