“Faster!” Luka yelled, urging his steed, Whistle, into a raging gallop. He and the other posse members were hot on the trail of the bandits who had just robbed the First Bank of Brenton; this time, he didn’t plan to let them get away. This nasty little outfit called themselves the Brenton Boys. They had been doing everything from robbing banks to thieving cattle in the dead of night, and Luka knew this was his one chance to bring them to justice.
“Almost there,” he whispered softly as he leaned forward, feeling the wind fly past his face. The leader of the Brenton Boys was riding a mare the color of tar, and as he rode, Luka kept that horse in his sights. “Just got to get the leader of the pack…if I can take him down, the gang will surely leave these parts.”
…And then they’ll have to think of a cleverer name than the Brenton Boys.
Luka snorted in disgust, loathing the way this gang had rolled into town and adopted the name of the small city as if it meant they owned everything in it.
They’ve no respect for anyone or anything, and it’s up to me to stop them.
Luka was sure he was closing on the leader as Whistle moved furiously, tearing through the dry, dusty landscape.
“Hold up!” Luka heard the voice of Sheriff Cohen, but he figured the order wasn’t meant for him.
I’m so close… there’s no way the sheriff could be calling me back now. He wasn’t even a part of this hunt. It was just me, Guyton, and Carballea.
“That’s enough!” Sheriff Cohen’s voice echoed across the barren desert a second time. Luka didn’t want to turn and look at the senior lawman, but he felt he had little choice in the matter. If someone had fallen from their mount or, even worse, been led into a trap, his assistance might be needed, and he couldn’t leave another one of his comrades in a precarious situation.
Luka gave the leader of the Brenton Boys’ black mare one last look. Then, he swiveled enough in his saddle to peer over his shoulder. Sure enough, Sheriff Cohen was sitting upright on his horse, waving both arms wildly in the air.
Luka did his best to help Whistle correct his course, pulling lightly on the reins and gradually increasing the pressure until the horse slowed enough to be guided in the opposite direction. Then, he put his heel back to the horse’s side and prompted him to dash toward Sheriff Cohen.
“That’ll do! That’ll do!” Sheriff Cohen boomed, dropping his hands as Luka and the other posse members circled him. Luka, as well as the two other deputies, came back when the sheriff hollered. The horses panted, and Whistle fidgeted, stomping his hooves in the hard-packed dirt.
Whistle’s just as anxious to get back to the chase as I am…
Luka took off his tall brown leather hat and wiped his red handkerchief across his sweaty brow. Lately, he’d taken to wearing his sandy blonde hair long in the front, so thick strands stuck to his forehead now, and it felt good to push them aside.
“We’re going to have to give up the pursuit,” Sheriff Cohen announced, his voice still louder and more authoritative than usual.
“No way, Sheriff,” Luka responded, outraged by the idea.
“I’m with Deputy Finley,” Deputy Carballea added, nodding at Luka. “We almost had ‘em, Sheriff. We can’t let those no-good Brenton Boys take all the money from the bank.”
Sheriff Cohen nodded his assent. “I understand it’s tough to watch them get away, but we’ve no choice. There’s no chance of catching them and—”
“I could’ve done it,” Luka interrupted. “I nearly caught the leader.”
“That wasn’t the leader,” Sheriff Cohen said, shaking his head mournfully. “The leader of the Brenton Boys wasn’t even in town today. He had one of the gang members take his black mare as a decoy.”
“Why would he do something like that?” Deputy Carballea asked, slapping at a fly buzzing about his thigh.
The sheriff shook his head and said darkly, “From what I understand, the man in charge of that gang doesn’t even live here in Brenton. He’s hired out a band of outlaws in every town across a hundred-mile stretch.”
“Alright then,” Luka said, aching to get back out there and race after the bandits. “We know the leader wasn’t with the group, but that doesn’t mean the group won’t take us right to him. I say we follow them and see where they go.”
“Can’t do that,” Sheriff Cohen responded, squinting toward the horizon in the direction where the bandits were escaping.
“Why not?” Luka asked incredulously.
“What am I always telling you?” Sheriff Cohen looked first at Guyton. Then he glanced at Carballea. Finally, his steady gaze fell on Luka.
“Don’t sacrifice your own life unless you can be sure the risk is worth it,” Luka mumbled, dropping his head. He knew how the sheriff felt about taking dangerous measures while out on the job, but Luka didn’t consider going after the bandits a concept that was up for negotiation. They’d broken the law. It was only fitting that they be caught by the sheriff and his deputies and brought back to town so they could pay for their crimes.
But Sheriff Cohen didn’t see it that way. “In this case, following those men is not worth the risk.” Luka started to protest, but Sheriff Cohen held up a hand to stop him. “Sorry, Deputy Finley. I won’t let you argue with me on this one. When Mr. Hopkins over at the bank reported the robbery, he told me the men only got off with a few stacks of bills and a large pile of coins. So, it looked like they took quite a load, but that wasn’t really the case. You…” He paused and glanced around at the rest of his deputies. “You all are more important to me…to the people of this town… than a couple of pennies and a few dollar bills.”
“But Sheriff…” Deputy Guyton interjected, joining the conversation for the first time. “If we followed the gang like Deputy Finley suggested, we could get the leader, and that would be worth more than the bags of coins.”
“That may be true,” Sheriff Cohen confessed, “but I think I’ve got a better plan to help us track the leader.”
“You do?” Luka narrowed his eyes as he observed Sheriff Cohen closely. The older man had been the sheriff of Brenton for more than a dozen years. He was shrewd, and unlike other lawmen who held the same title, he was incapable of being corrupted. Even though Luka wanted to disobey Sheriff Cohen’s direct orders and track down those bandits, find the gang’s leader, and drag him back to Brenton, he knew he should trust Sheriff Cohen.
“Guyton and Carballea,” Sheriff Cohen said, nodding stiffly at the pair.
“Yes, sir?” they responded in unison.
“You boys ride on back to the bank. Do what you can to help Mr. Hopkins clean up matters and calm the citizens who were present at the time of the robbery.”
“What do you want me to do, Sheriff?” Luka asked eagerly, hoping the sheriff wouldn’t send him to do a separate cleanup job.
“I’m going to need you to come with me, Deputy Finley,” Sheriff Cohen said, drawing out his words slowly, stroking a hand through his grizzly beard. “I’d like to share my plan with you.”
“Serena, Serena, Serena…”
She heard her brother’s sweet singing voice and turned toward him. The stagecoach bounced along evenly, but just as she pivoted, one of the wheels rolled over a rock, making her feel rather unbalanced. She put out a hand to stop herself from toppling into her brother altogether. Once she was steady, she gave him a brilliant smile.
“Yes?” She hummed, lifting the brim on her wide straw hat so she could peer at him more easily.
“I thought you might have fallen asleep,” Aiden responded, taking his eyes off the horses for a moment so he could shoot her a quizzical look. Serena was used to her brother’s critical stares, and so, when he glanced at her, she widened her eyes and batted her thick eyelashes.
“Nope,” she replied, “not asleep.”
“Then what were you doing?” Aiden asked, turning back toward the road and shaking his head at her silliness.
“What do you mean?” Serena replied innocently. She, of course, knew precisely what she’d been doing. While riding in the front seat of the stagecoach, alongside her big brother, she dreamed of a different life. She was staring out at the cacti, searching the land for any signs of life other than the ugly lizards that appeared every so often, and wondering if she would ever see a body of water again.
She and Aiden had grown up in Chicago, so at one time in her life, she’d thought living near a lake was something everyone did. But when they moved to Texas five years ago, bought the stagecoach, and started making this regular run from Teran to Littleton and onward to Brenton, she’d been forced to endure day after day under the blazing sun, wondering if the sweltering heat would ever abate. But she didn’t want to talk to her brother about that. He seemed to like this life, out here in the great wide open, and she hated to spoil his day.
“We’re only about half a mile from Littleton, and I wanted to make sure I had the passengers sorted before we arrived,” Aiden responded, a touch of irritation coloring his voice.
“Sure, sure,” Serena answered, fumbling in the pockets of her apron for the list she kept there. She unfolded the piece of parchment and looked at the notes she’d made when they’d last stopped at a station almost eleven miles back. “Let’s see what we’ve got here. Back in Teran, we were joined by Mr. and Mrs. Clark. They paid upfront for their entire journey, lodging, and meals at the home station in Littleton. That means we’ll need to give the folks in Littleton….” She paused and used the edges of her teeth to hold onto the scrap of paper. Then, she plunged her hand into her pocket and pulled out a fistful of coins. She opened her hand and counted out several pennies. “Twelve cents,” she mumbled around the paper. She moved the twelve pennies to her right pocket, took the parchment from between her teeth, and reviewed her list once more.
“What about the other group? What’re their names?” Aiden asked impatiently.
“I’m getting to them,” Serena replied, flapping the paper in his face. As she did so, a strong burst of wind swept through, and the paper took flight. Serena watched in horror as the paper floated right out of her fingertips. Luckily, she was swift-thinking and had even faster hands, so she snatched the parchment before it coasted out of sight. “Phew,” she said, wiping a hand across her brow, “that was a close one.”
“It wouldn’t have been so close if you hadn’t been messing around,” Aiden scolded.
Serena stuck out her tongue at him childishly. “When did you start being so grumpy?”
“And when did you stop caring about our customers?” Aiden countered, the tinge of frustration that was there before intensifying now. “You know we’ll never be able to make ends meet if we don’t keep careful track of our fares and—”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah,” Serena cut him off. For the last five years, she had endured endless lectures from Aiden on the importance of servicing their customers and keeping careful track of the accounts. Never once had Serena made a mistake, but for some reason, Aiden persisted in giving his little speeches.
He must know that I’m feeling restless. I wonder if he’s able to sense it.
“Well… go on, then,” Aiden urged, nodding toward the paper in her hands. “What’s the name of the second couple?”
“We’ve got Mr. and Mrs. Clark, and the second couple is Mr. and Mrs. Johns. They joined us for the entire four-day trip, but it looks like they plan to stay in Littleton.” Serena folded up the paper and stuck it back in her pocket, not wishing for it to blow away once more.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Aiden said quietly, guiding the horses toward a path that was much more worn, indicating they were coming closer to Littleton.
I highly doubt it…
“Oh yeah, what am I thinking?” Serena asked, turning to fix Aiden with her gaze. She and her older brother looked a great deal alike—everyone told them so, anyway. Both were slim with long faces that ended in pointy chins. Aiden’s brown hair was the color of dark coffee, and Serena’s was just a shade lighter, but her long hair sprung up merrily all around her head as it was as curly as a corkscrew. The feature they had in common, which made people remark on their familial resemblance, was their deep blue eyes. Like the water in the lake Serena recalled swimming in when she was a child, she and Aiden both had eyes that were an odd mixture of blue and gray. When they were hopeful or dreamy, their eyes were brilliant blue. But their eyes took on a more subdued gray color when either was perturbed or pensive. When he shifted toward her just an inch, she noted that his eyes were that thoughtful gray shade, and she wondered if he actually had been able to figure out what she was thinking just a few moments beforehand.
“You’re worried I’ll make you get right back on the road as soon as we drop off the Clarks and the Johns. But, have no fear, little sister.” He paused, and his face broke into a wide grin. “I was thinking we could take a quick rest break tonight when we got to Littleton. We can maybe even stay in the hotel there…if we’ve made enough coin on this trip.”
Serena swatted him lightly with the back of her head. “So that’s why you were on me to check the list and figure everything out before we got to the station.” She laughed. “I don’t care how much we earned on this trip. I need to get out of this stagecoach and take a rest.”
Aiden grunted lightly. “You sound like an old woman. If I didn’t know better, I’d say you were nineteen going on forty-five.”
“Ha ha,” Serena returned smartly. “My legs might be aching, and my back might be sore, but at least I’m not so old I have to squint at the road just to see what’s in front of me.”
Aiden’s mouth twisted into a funny little pout, and Serena snickered. “Hey,” he said, pretending to be wounded by her comment, “I’m only twenty-six. I didn’t think I’d need to get spectacles just yet.”
“But Pa wore glasses, didn’t he?” Serena asked, sure she remembered their father wearing a wire-rimmed pair of spectacles. Serena and Aiden’s mother and father died tragically when a building tenement caught on fire when Serena was only seven years old. While her memories of her folks were a little fuzzy, Aiden had been fourteen when they passed away, and he remembered them much more clearly.
“He did,” Aiden replied, the jovial look that had been on his face just moments before vanishing altogether. He always clammed up any time Serena mentioned their parents. She knew the subject of their family was painful for him, so she tried not to talk about their mother, father, or even extended family members like Uncle Oscar, but it was difficult as Serena wanted to remember them more clearly.
In truth, Serena had always been drawn to the idea of a big family. She was grateful she had a brother, like Aiden, whom she trusted and who always looked out for her, even in their darkest days, but she wondered what it would be like to have parents and maybe even several brothers and sisters. Ever since she turned eighteen, she spent long snatches during these interminable rides thinking of the day when she might leave the stagecoach behind and find a husband. She dreamed of living with someone who was kind and gentle and would build her a house near a lake…or maybe a creek. At this point, Serena would be happy to see any body of water. When she pictured her life with that husband in the little adobe brick house with a pond in the backyard, she also imagined the children she one day hoped to birth.
She had to shake herself out of her daydreams once more as she knew Aiden needed her to pay attention to the path the closer they got to Littleton. There was a turnoff just up ahead, and if they missed it, the horses would drag the stagecoach through a bit of rocky terrain that would make the ride unpleasant for the passengers inside.
“There,” Serena said, pointing at the twisting curve in the dirt path, but Aiden had anticipated her, already tightening his grip on the reins so the horses would follow the bend almost naturally. “You’ve gotten so good at running this route. I’m starting to think you might be able to do this job without me,” Serena added jokingly, but Aiden didn’t laugh.
Instead, his mouth drew into a thin line, and he said, “That’s exactly what I was thinking.”
“Lost Souls Escaping Dark Times” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Eager to support her brother, Serena Olsen has put her life on hold and accompanied him as he drives a stagecoach across the barren deserts of Texas. Although she sometimes has rushing thoughts of what it would be like to fall in love, and have everything her heart desires, hard reality takes every hope she has. However, when their stagecoach is attacked by a group of bandits and Serena is taken hostage, she notices one man among them who might not be like the others…
Can she really trust her own captor to be her guardian?
After the death of his older brother, Luka Finley becomes a sheriff’s deputy and devotes his life to protecting and serving others in the small town of Brenton. When he is asked to get recruited by a notorious gang and collect enough evidence for their arrest, he accepts without hesitation. What he didn’t expect though is that on his first mission he will have to kidnap a beautiful and brave young woman, Serena.
Will her presence make him devote himself to her safety and endanger his mission?
The perilous state they find themselves in seems to be drawing them together, rather than pushing them apart. How will they admit their growing attraction while surrounded by danger? Will they find the courage to overcome the boundaries forced by others or will they lose their chance at true love?
“Lost Souls Escaping Dark Times” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.