Showdown in the Rocky Mountains (Preview)


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Chapter One

Stephen Keller sneaked up on the camp. He’d been stalking them for two days, after six weeks of hunting them. Jack McGurk and his gang didn’t seem aware that he was pursuing him. They thought they’d got away, that he wouldn’t come looking for his own dear wife.

They were wrong.

A lone coyote howled, somewhere distant in the Rocky Mountains. The night was cold, their fire flickering only a hundred yards in the distance. Dollar was hanging back, the horse so well trained that it would wait and come at the designated whistle.

Until then, it was important to lay low and not be seen. That was difficult enough with the goods he was carrying, weapons for his assault on his wife’s captors. He wrapped the bottles so they wouldn’t clink against one another, a sound that could carry far enough and give him away.

And once he launched his assault, it would be impossible to stay hidden. The darkness would help, speed and stealth would do a lot. But they would only last so long, and after that, the bullets would start flying.

But he had to get closer. He had to be able to make out his targets. There was too great a chance of his Kathy being hurt, either by his assault or by one of the men holding her. She would need to be able to get some distance away from them, and she’d have to do it fast.

Even in the darkness, he could see Kathy milling among the men. She slouched and shuffled as she lifted a coffee kettle and poured it out into their tip cups. A closer look revealed that she had a liquor bottle in the other hand, pouring some liquor for those who preferred it.

They laughed among one another, reaching out to pinch or slap Kathy, her red hair hanging limp over her tired face.

They’d had her for weeks, and it became clear that they’d been using her as a maid, a slave, cooking and cleaning and serving for them.

Stephen’s blood began to rush in his veins. The night of her capture rang in his memory, the sick feeling of coming back from the shop to find the house empty, no trace at all of his beloved wife of only a few years. He still had that nervous nausea in his gut, the same feeling he’d had since discovering her gone. His investigation had lost him time, even more absorbed with giving chase in the wrong direction based on bad information. It had been a miracle that he’d managed to pick up the trail at all. Only his experience as a fighting man, gave him the advantages he would need. He’d honed those skills in the Pig War, between the United States and Great Britain over the ownership of the straits between Vancouver Island and the Washington Territory. But that was something the villainous McGurk likely did not know. He’d taken Stephen for the bookish storekeeper he’d appeared to be.

He was about to pay the price for that miscalculation. Stephen’s Colts were loaded, one on each hip. But that would be as good as shooting Kathy right between the eyes.

Stephen crept closer, strong legs bent. He used tactics he’d learned from the Sioux, the Crow, the Apache. His body had softened from life as a storekeeper, and he was glad enough of it. So his kills had weakened. But six weeks on the trail had put him back into his prime, all his training and years of experience coming back to him. And he’d need those superior skills to take out eight men and rescue his woman unscathed.

It seemed nearly impossible, and Stephen knew as he approached that both he and Kathy could well suffer terribly or die in the battle. It would almost be better to leave her alive, but that was beyond consideration. Stephen and Kathy shared a fabled love, one they’d endured much to preserve. She was a woman both rare and exceptional in many ways. They’d dedicated themselves to each other after a harrowing misadventure which had taken them across the Rocky Mountains before.


She was hardly living, Stephen could see that, a living death among those landlocked pirates, thieves, and fearmongers all. She lived in hopes of rescue, anticipating Stephen’s appearance and not losing faith in it. Stephen was not about to lose faith in himself. She’d rather die than go on living amongst that crew, and Stephen would rather die than go on thinking of her doing just that.

The die was cast, but Stephen still had to hedge his bets.


They laughed, and Stephen could make out words as he neared them, still cloaked in the darkness. Finally, he was close enough, almost too close. A big rock wasn’t far from the camp, and it gave Stephen the shelter he needed up pull the first bottle from his saddlebag. He unwrapped the swaddling around the bottles and uncorked them. He cut the swaddling and put one-half of each piece into the nozzle of the bottle, setting them aside. The two other bottles were easy enough to ready in the same fashion.

Stephen peeked out from behind the rock to see McGurk’s crew embroiled in their chatter. The key moment would come when Kathy was on the outskirts of the crowd. She wouldn’t get far from the firepit or they’d rein her in, she had to know that as well as Stephen did.

They didn’t need to tie her up, at least not at that point. That would render her useless as the slave they intended her to be. Stephen didn’t doubt that she would run if she could, and had likely already tried an escape at least once. But they had made it clear, and even Stephen could see it. There was no reason to tie Kathy up because there was no point in running. There was nowhere to run, and she wouldn’t get far in any case. Even if she were to manage an escape, they were buried deep in the Rocky Mountains. Even if she did get far, she wouldn’t last long. The crags and crevasses, the bears, cougars, and snakes would make quick work of her.

But they clearly weren’t counting on Stephen Keller.

Kathy, on the other hand, clearly hadn’t lost her faith. She kept casting glances around the periphery of the camp. Stephen knew she could have been looking for encroaching Indians or other predators. No doubt she would be looking for any opportunity, even if it meant dying in the darkness of the Rockies.

But Stephen felt certain that she was looking for him. She knew the skills he’d developed tracking Sioux and Cheyenne renegades during the Indian Wars before his freelance years as a young bounty hunter. She was certain to have kept that information a secret, but it wouldn’t have been something she’d have forgotten.

He was a man she wouldn’t have forgotten.

And as Stephen peeked around the side of the rock, she stopped just for a moment, her eyes locked on his. As soon as the connection was struck, she broke it off. He knew her well, and she didn’t want to give him away. But she knew he was there, and she was going to react with awareness, with purpose and, he hoped, with quickness.

If not, they’d both wind up dead, or worse.

Chapter Two

Kathy Keller had endured the worst six weeks of her life. It had started with the shocking appearance of men at her house, whiskered and beefy and reeking of body odor and liquor and bad breath. They’d grabbed her from out of nowhere during her daily chores, between sweeping the floor and preparing the beef heart for dinner.

One had grabbed her from behind, a hand over her mouth to silence her. The other grabbed her kicking legs and they’d carried her out of the house. One held her tight in the back of a cart, covered with hay, while the others drove her off.

Since then, it had been an odyssey of captivity, attempted escapes, brutal bondage, and inevitable acquiescence. She was the property of Jack McGurk, but she’d quickly become prized by the others, particularly Timothy Scott, McGurk’s second-in-command. But nobody was going to challenge Jack McGurk, not even Tim Scott. That left Kathy to serve them all food, do their cleaning, everything short of their physical needs, which Jack McGurk prohibited on pain of death to the transgressor.

There didn’t seem any way out of it. Kathy had never lost faith that Stephen would come after her. But she thought he would have come sooner, and after a month, she began to wonder if he’d survived his quest to find her or somehow perished along the way. Even Stephen Keller could succumb to the elements, especially traveling alone, and Kathy was certain that he was.

He wouldn’t have wasted any time trying to find her, but Kathy had been taken early in the day, and hours had passed before Stephen could possibly have begun his investigation. In that time, she’d been dumped like a sack of potatoes over the back of one horse and then the other. Days had turned into weeks and the weeks had been piling up, each day urging her hope to collapse into a sense of despair.

That’s when she saw the motion behind the rock near the camp. A casual glance around the rest of the camp, and she’d been looking, told Kathy that there were no other parties coming in from any other side. That ruled out an Indian attack, who almost certainly would have ambushed them all at once, leaving no route of escape. A bear was unlikely to be waiting behind a rock or anything else. And she didn’t see the telltale yellow eyes of giant cat, reflecting the moonlight.

It could only be Stephen. He’d come for her at last. She reeled to think what he must have been through, what he must have been thinking every minute of the journey, what he was thinking at that very moment. Kathy knew because she thought and felt the same things, she had been all along. They’d developed a connection between the two of them, so perfect was their union. They’d fought long and hard to win that union, and they were about to have it again.

But Kathy knew she’d have to be quick.

She saw that Stephen was positioned around the northern side of the rock. Whatever he was planning, he would be attacking from that position, telling Kathy that he would need her to retreat to the south. If she were grabbed by one of the men, she’d be used as a human shield, and that would end Stephen’s rescue and probably his life. From then on, her own life would become considerably worse, and even that was hard to imagine. But Kathy knew just what that would entail, and she didn’t even want to think about it.

Timing would be of the essence. Kathy couldn’t make a break for it too soon or they’d scoop her up, likely be alerted to what was going on around them. Too late and she could be vulnerable. But if she ditched at just the right minute, as soon as the men were distracted by Stephen’s assault, she’d have a good chance of getting far enough away from them to let Stephen do what he had to do.

But that would hardly be enough. Kathy had survived their last misadventure, which had brought them together, by being wily, cunning, willing to act for herself. She hadn’t been any damsel in distress then and she surely was not one in the hands of Jack McGurk and his boys.

She wanted satisfaction for being targeted, taken from her home, bodily mishandled, forced to slave for a pack of men who were very nearly more animal than anything else. Every impulse in her was to stay and fight, to kill every one of them if she could, Jack McGurk most of all. But she also knew that such a move could endanger her husband, that good and noble man who had stalked her through the Rocky Mountains for weeks, never forgetting or abandoning her. The prudent move would be to get out of the way, but Prudence had been her sister’s name, not hers.

She glanced down at Jack McGurk himself, leader of a band of nine miserable men, countless murders, robberies, kidnappings, and rapes among them. Only the Lord himself knew what McGurk had done in his forty-some years on His Earth. But Kathy knew there was at least one thing he hadn’t done, as much as he might have wanted to.

Still, the man deserved to die for what he’d done to Kathy, upending her life the way he had. And she wanted to be the one to kill him.

Chapter Three

Jack McGurk had a bad feeling all night. He didn’t like the way Thomas Scott kept glaring at him. He’d been doing it since they grabbed the Keller woman from her home in Omaha City in Nebraska just a month and a half before. He wanted her for himself, Jack knew that. But every man in the gang wanted her, and that was something Jack was keen to keep a lid on.

She was beautiful, with long, curly red hair and a pale, lightly freckled face. Her body was sturdy and shapely, any traces of girlhood riven away by the blossoming of maturity. She was inviting in every aspect, and she belonged exclusively to Jack.

Everybody knew that.

But the men he rode with were prone to temptation, to put it lightly. They’d kill a man to get to a woman like Kathy Keller, even a man like Jack McGurk. But none of them seemed willing to try. He was their leader, their king. And it was well known that, if you came after the king, you’d better kill him.

Jack had already killed two of his own men for conspiring over such a thing, and he’d done it in such a way that nobody else in the gang would forget it. It had happened before the girl’s time with them, no doubt for her benefit. Had she seen the men being drawn and halved by two horses, it would have changed her for life.

The other men hadn’t forgotten it, one glance into their eyes told him that. And he’d done several things since the girl’s arrival to demonstrate that his tactics would not get any more civilized. The man he’d left castrated to bleed out in the river told them that…with his life.

Jack knew he had to remain on his guard. His strictness would be a powerful force for governance, but it could also be used an excuse for a rebellion. And any excuse would be a good excuse.

Jack knew he couldn’t go on killing every man that looked at him sideways, at least not if that man was in his gang. Some sacrifices were necessary, but too many would be virtual suicide. There was a line to be drawn and then carefully observed. Where that line was drawn would mean the difference between life and death, for Jack and perhaps for the girl too, certainly for any one of his men.

He also needed their numbers, something else to consider. He was down to nine, still a considerable number. But he’d lost six, and the others knew it. If he kept whittling away at his own ranks, he’d soon be shorthanded in the face of an attack by the Sioux or just about anyone or anything else. Other packs of predators would see the pretty woman in their custody, and they’d kill to have her as much as anyone in Jack’s gang would.

Jack couldn’t miss the little glances among the men as they slapped at her backside, laughing and having their fun. Jack could hardly deny them that. But he would deny them anything else, and it was more than just a matter of his position.

It was a matter of his pride.

She gets close enough to Thomas Scott or anyone else, Jack told himself, she’ll tell. I can’t have that. I’ll kill her now ‘for I let her tell. And I worked long and hard to get her, to keep her. I ain’t givin’ her up fer nothin’!

And it wouldn’t be for nothing. He couldn’t lose the girl without putting up a fight, and he couldn’t put up a fight without fighting to the death. That would have complications of its own. Once one man got close, another would join him. Jack could take any of his men one-on-one, but in conclave, they’d have him beat and he knew it.

Still, things seemed stable enough for the present. His plan was to get them to Butte, Montana, furthest north of their position, where McGurk would turn them loose on the saloons and wherever else their hungers took them. They could sate their thirst for rapacious debauchery and return to the gang with money in their pockets and little else, leaving them ready to take orders once again, and to perform the tasks ordered.

That was still several days’ ride off, however, those would be dangerous days and even more dangerous nights.

The girl was standing nearby, a coffee kettle in one hand and a bottle of whiskey in the other. She was tired, and that was just how Jack wanted her to look, rode hard and put away wet. She was always looking around, like she expected some handsome sheriff to come out of nowhere to her rescue.

But her shop keep of a husband was weeks behind them, no doubt too frightened to crawl out from behind his counter. No sheriff knew or would know or would care, and they certainly hadn’t put a posse together.

There was little for her to hope for and little for Jack to worry about. Though he had other concerns, a bookseller was hardly one of them.

He had the girl fill up his tin cup full of whiskey and let her walk on, circling the crowd. She drifted a bit to the south of the camp, not far from where the horses were posted. It hardly mattered, as she wasn’t about to jump on one and ride off. She had to know she’d never get far in the mountains in the dark, even on horseback.

Jack was relaxed, convinced that he still had everything under control.

That was just before he saw the flash of light from behind the rock, followed quickly by another. They lobbed up, and for a brief moment, he thought they were fireflies. Then he realized that they were fires.

The shape of the whiskey bottles only became recognizable after they were too close and it was too late. They hit the gang dead-on, bottles shattering and flames spreading with the liquor. One bottle hit Johnson on the back, dousing him in flames and catching two others as well. Johnson started screaming and running, reaching out blindly as the flames consumed him. The others scrambled to escape the same fate.

The second bottle had flown in just behind the first, and it hit another cluster of men. Blanchard was hit, not as badly as Johnson, and he had a chance at survival as he rolled on the ground. But the flames spread quickly over that same ground, and the man’s survival instinct only proved to be his death warrant.

Other men were also burning, scattering, and scrambling to douse the flames. Jack turned to see the girl retreating among the horses, and he rolled over and pushed himself to his feet to retrieve her. He wasn’t sure who was attacking them, but he knew exactly why.


Jack’s attention was distracted from the other direction, from the north. His men were in chaos, and before Jack could do anything about it, another two bottles of whiskey were flying at the campsite, rags in the nozzles trailing orange flames.

One of them was too close to avoid. It hit him hard in the face, the glass shattering against his forehead. The pain echoed through his brain, enough to send him staggering back but not enough to put him off his feet.

But that wasn’t the pain which had him staggering. The fire was instant agony on his face, his head, his upper body. It was the feeling of a hundred-million needs jabbing him at once, straight down to the bone. His body reacted with a frenzy, desperate to relieve what his instincts told him would be a horrible death.

The horses cried out, the men screamed, more gunfire rang out. But Jack was blinded to it, nearly deafened by the crackling of the flames in his ears. Jack fell to the ground, rolling in the wet grass. The battle roiled around him, the sounds fading behind his own dizzying, excruciating pain. His body flailed about to relieve himself of the unspeakable pain, and when he passed out, he wasn’t sure if he’d passed or died or which he’d prefer. It was one of the rare instances wherein Jack McGurk had no choice.

Chapter Four

Stephen’s heart was pounding. He’d managed to pull it off, the gang of cutthroats were burned or shot or they’d run off. None of them cared enough about a single woman or their dear leader enough to withstand an unseen barrage the likes of which Stephen brought them. They were bullies and bullies were cowards, something Stephen had always found to be true.

But he’d been counting on that.

What mattered was that Kathy had done just what he’d thought. She’d seen him, he felt certain. But even if she hadn’t, he’d had to make his move. He’d lit the first two bottles and thrown them from behind the rock, following it up with gunfire, then the other two bottles. He was proud that Kathy had been smart enough to retreat to the other side of the camp, keeping herself out of the deadly grip of any of the men who kept her in captivity. They were all scrambling with the assault of gunfire and burning liquor, several of the men devoured by the flames and several more laid low by the gunfire.

Kathy had seen him coming, and they clasped hands long enough to run away together. Kathy had cut one of the horses loose. Stephen climbed onto the mount and pulled Kathy up to join him. Sitting him in front of her, Stephen scattered the other horses and rode off, gunfire sputtering and spitting behind them.

They didn’t speak a word until they were far from the camp, riding up to Dollar, waiting faithfully and patiently. Stephen reached down to grab Dollar’s reins, then lead him further into the mountains.

There was only so fast and so far that they could go, but after a dangerous hour weaving through the crags of the mountains, Stephen was convinced that they were safe to camp for the night.

But neither could sleep, and they weren’t about to.

“Stephen, I knew you’d come for me, I knew you would!”

“I…I was misled early on in my investigation. Nothing nefarious but…it cost me a lot of lost time. After that, it was a matter of tracking you through the mountains. I lost two men on the way.”

“I’m sorry.”

“They knew it’d be dangerous,” Stephen said. “I’m just glad you’re okay.”

“Yeah, I’m…I’m okay.”

“They didn’t…hurt you?”

Kathy shrugged, brushing a red curl from her white, freckled face. “Some rope burns. I haven’t had a decent meal in weeks.”

“Not…they didn’t….”

“No, Stephen, they didn’t.”

“None of them, not even McGurk?”

“You know his name?”

“Picked it up along the trail,” Stephen said.

“Oh, well, I don’t suppose you heard the rumor about his…well, one thing is that he kept the other men away from me, wouldn’t let ‘em touch me.”

“Thank God.”

“McGurk wanted me all to himself, but…but then he couldn’t…he…he tried everything, being rough, holding me down—”


“But he couldn’t manage to…to take advantage of the situation. I don’t know, some men just…they just can’t, I guess. Not that I’m complaining about it.”

“No, of course not!”

“It’s just…maybe that was why he was so angry all the time.”

“Can’t blame him,” Stephen said. “Anyway, that’s over with for now.” Kathy looked around the darkness. Stephen asked her, “Force of habit?”

“I…they could come back.”

“Not now,” Stephen said, “not at the moment. But I didn’t kill every man, and some of them might have a good reason to want revenge.”

“What about McGurk, the big man?”

“Burned up, hard to say. Man burns that bad, usually gets fever, other complications. What about the other men. They…show any interest?”

“Plenty. McGurk kept ‘em off me, but…that was going to be a problem for him soon enough, I could tell. They didn’t like him, and they’d have killed him to get to me if things hadn’t changed. Thank God they did, thank you.

“I’d never have abandoned you, Kathy, I’d have gone to the ends of the Earth.”

She reached out and touched his cheek. “I know, and I love you so much for it.”

He grabbed her hand and kissed it. “I love you…so much.” Stephen pulled her close, his voice low and grainy.

“My love, my love, I…those weeks, you can’t know what I was thinking.”

“But I do know,” Kathy said, “I know every tear, every sleepless night. I know every cold howl of the wind, which seemed to be calling your name.”

“My name?”

“Calling us toward one another, calling us to be together again.”

“Yes,” Stephen said, his blue eyes locked on her, a stalk of his black hair falling in front of his handsome face before he brushed it back, “precisely that.”

They stared into each other’s eyes. There were so many feelings, so much to say that no words were necessary. The love between them reverberated with a sound only they could hear, saying everything they wanted and needed to say.

Kathy and Stephen looked around the darkness together. “So,” Kathy asked, “what now?”

Stephen sighed, holding Kathy’s hand. “I’m not sure. They know where we live, back in Omaha City.”

“Do you think they’d go back there?”

“Just to keep you from identifying them,” Stephen said. “I’m afraid so.”

Kathy was clearly thinking things through, always ready to apply herself to any challenge. “What a lovely place, Omaha City.”

“It was…well, I mean, it still is.”

“But…not for us.” Kathy looked down with melancholy. “But not for us.”

After a long, sad silence, Stephen said, “No.”

Stephen knew Kathy was fond of the life they’d had there, the friends they’d made. It was true that they’d not born children there, but they’d still made friends with good people, good Americans.

“I wonder if Mr. Samuels repaired his fence.”

“Not unless he convinced the whiskey to do the job for him.”

“I’ve seen him do the same before,” she said, the two of them sharing a chuckle.

“Missus Nesbit is still roiling to give women the vote,” Stephen said.

“Naturally,” Kathy said, rolling her eyes. “I mean, she’s not wrong, I don’t think, but…in this day and age? I hardly think.”

“If anywhere,” Stephen said, “may as well be there.”

After a rueful silence, Kathy said, “We could go back and wait for them?”

“Could be a week,” Stephen said, “a month, a year. That’s no way to live.”

Kathy shook her head. “What…what are you saying, Stephen? That we…that we’re stuck out here?”

“Well, we’re stuck out here right now either way. I thought about it during the chase, not knowing how many people I’d have to face. Almost ten men, I had to calculate that some would get away. Frankly, I’m just glad to have gotten you out of it unhurt.”

“So am I, I assure you.”

“But…it means we may have to leave Nebraska behind us.”

“No, Stephen, our home? The store? You were doing so well!”

Stephen could only shrug. “It doesn’t mean anything if I don’t have you, if we’re not safe.”

Kathy nodded, and it was obvious that more thoughts were streaming through her head. Stephen knew the questions she had, and he could only wish that he had answers for them all. He had answers for precious few of them, in truth, and he felt Kathy knew that as well as he did. “Will we ever be safe then?”

Stephen rubbed his chin. “I figure, they’re either going to abandon the hunt and retreat to one of these nearby camps, Butte and Helena in Montana, that or they’re going back south to give chase, figuring we’re going back to Omaha City.”

“So that means…?”

“We go north and it’s just more mountains. Hard to say how long we’d last.”

“You can get us through, with your tracking skills.”

“It’s too dangerous,” Stephen said with a shake of his head. “I suggest we go west. We’re close enough to the deserts. If we make it that far, we can get all the way to California. By the time they get back to Omaha City, if they go there, we’ll be long gone.”

Kathy was clearly thinking things out, a sad sigh falling from her pretty mouth. “What about our things, the inventory in the shop?”

“It’s better than living in a death trap.”

“That’s true enough,” Kathy said. “But…our home, our…our friends?”

“They’ll be safer with us elsewhere,” Stephen said. “No reason for them to get caught in any crossfire.”

Kathy nodded, and it struck Stephen that she was trying to smile. “And it’s a big country,” she said with a hopeful air, “plenty of places to start again.”

“That’s right, Kath, plenty of places. We’ve been through tight scrapes together, we’ll get through this one. I set up one shop, I can set up another.”

Kathy nodded, but she was less than enthusiastic. Stephen could see that, even in the near pitch-darkness of their position under a lodgepole pine.

“I…I don’t like running,” Kathy said.

“Neither do I, Kath. But I’m tired of fighting.”

“I know, Stephen, I’m tired too.” And she was, Stephen could see it in her face, hear it in her voice. Kathy had been through more than most people ever had or ever would, and she was barely past twenty. She’s survived being kidnapped by Indians and then rescued by Stephen Keller, who would later become her husband. She’d earned the quiet life he’d tried to give her in Omaha City, Nebraska. She’d earned the children he’d tried to give her, and the child which destiny had dropped literally into her lap. She needed strength to raise that child, if they were so blessed. They both needed strength, they needed rest, they needed civilization.

“Showdown in the Rocky Mountains” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

When Stephen Keller returns from rescuing his wife Kathy from the clutches of a band of outlaws, they find an infant girl abandoned and alone. They know they must take her in and care for her, but with the outlaws still on their trail, they have to get her to safety first. With a storm closing in from the north and the outlaws from the south, they are left to face harrowing natural perils while awaiting a fated confrontation that could bury all three of them.

Will Stephen cope with such a weight on his shoulders?

Despite being a captive, Kathy Keller never lost faith in her husband. It is incomprehensible to her that someone would wish harm on a child. She will do whatever it takes to protect both herself and this innocent soul from the bandits who are thirsty for revenge after her husband left their leader scarred.

Like a lioness protecting her cub, Kate will traverse the Rocky Mountains to save the girl…

Can Stephen and Kathy protect the child and themselves long enough to make it to safety? And even if they do, will they be able to keep the baby safe from the atrocious criminals who are still after them? A spirited adventure through the snowy mountains that will keep you on the edge of your seat!

“Showdown in the Rocky Mountains” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


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