Here is a sneak peek of the first book in my new series
Jake Kelly didn’t care for much of anything, and when it came to outlaws he cared even less. He’d done his fair share of thievin’. Hell, he’d done a lot more than that. He spat the reminder of the past from his lips. Life had been different back then, exciting, dangerous and then horrible. He couldn’t stop the guilt from sinking in. He should’ve known—seen it coming. He sighed. But he didn’t. By the time he’d started to take notice their lives had spiraled out of control like the dominos Nate used to play with and one by one disaster struck. It wasn’t long afterward the Kelly brothers discovered fear and desperation like none other.
He adjusted the black Stetson to cover the shame he felt. Each day he struggled to come back from the edge—from what he’d always known—from right and wrong. And some days he just didn’t give a damn.
Three years before he would’ve been sitting in some hideout in the mountains, or a rundown abandoned shack in the forest. Awaiting the plan, a cultivated path that was taught and organized by Frank Kelly, their pa.
Jake’s stomach twisted.
He focused on the trouble before him. A woman was being tossed between two outlaws, her trunks overturned, the clothes strewn about the grassy floor. No horses were tied to the stage and he looked for the stagecoach driver, but couldn’t see the man. Had he been in on it? The possibility was there and he’d seen it before. The wagon had been on its way to Pine Valley, the place Jake and his brothers called home. The bandits must’ve known it’s arrival and waited until the stagecoach had come into the valley, hidden from anyone passing by before they attacked.
The woman screamed again, a high-pitched yelp that had the birds flying from the trees. Willow stomped the ground and neighed. Jake held tight to the reins to calm the horse and pulled the Winchester hanging from the side of the saddle. He inhaled. The metal star tucked in the pocket of his denims reminded him of the new life he lived, and the right he’d sworn to uphold. He propped the heavy rifle against his shoulder, aimed and fired. The man went down. There was probably a more civilized way to deal with the men, but he couldn’t think of any at the moment. The barrel found the other man and a loud bang from the gun kicked the butt into Jake’s shoulder.
He nudged Willow’s sides and the animal made his way toward the woman and the outlaws. The Wyoming sun was hot during the summer months, with it came droughts, and fires. The dry grass crunched under Willows hooves; a reminder the land hadn’t seen a drop of rain in weeks. He held the rifle loosely at his side and ignored the sweat as it trickled down his temples.
Jake could smell the men before he rounded the stagecoach. They probably hadn’t bathed in a month the stench was so powerful, and remorse for the girl softened his eyes.
“Do not come another step closer or I’ll shoot,” she said.
He glanced at the woman, her dress torn, long hair pulled from whatever style it had been in and hung in dark waves around her shoulders. The colt shook within her hands as she gripped the handle and pointed the gun at him.
He ignored her, pulled the reins to stop his horse, and climbed down.
“I said I’ll shoot,” she said again.
He went to the closest outlaw nudged him with the toe of his boot. Experience told him the man might still be alive. He saw the subtle movement in the eyelids before the outlaw’s fingers tightened around his gun. Jake pulled his colt and shot the man in the chest.
The woman screamed…again.
Satisfied the bastard was dead, he walked toward the other man. The hole in his side was enough indication that he no longer lived. It was just as well. The judge didn’t come through for another month and, he wasn’t up for babysitting.
“Go away or I’ll shoot.”
He faced the terrified woman and winced when her eyes grew wide. He held still and flexed his jaw. He was used to the stares, the pity, but the horrified look on her face stabbed him in the gut and stole the air from his lungs.
“Get on the horse,” he said.
“I will not go with you. I’ll die before that will happen.”
He blew out a long sigh.
“You’ll die out here all alone.” He picked up her clothes and tossed them into the trunks.
She scurried toward him and yanked something made of silk from his hands. The barrel of the gun rammed into his stomach.
Jake had no time for this crazed woman. With skilled hands he grabbed the gun from her and tossed it onto the ground. The back of his neck ached. The sun was stifling, and he needed a whiskey.
“Get your stuff, or leave it here I don’t give a damn, but you’re coming with me,” he growled.
“I will not!”
He stepped toward her, and she retreated.
“I don’t barter with anyone.” He was an inch from her face. “Get on the damn horse before I put you there.” He’d intended to place the fear in her eyes, but not the tears.
Her bottom lip trembled, but before he could ease things over, she hauled off and kicked him in the shins.
Jake moaned. The skin torn, he could feel the air hit the bare flesh and sting. He pulled the colt from his holster and aimed it at her.
“Get on the horse,” he growled.
Big round eyes stared back at him and two tears fell lazily from the lashes.
It was too late. He couldn’t take back what he’d already done, and so he wouldn’t apologize for it. Instead he holstered his gun and tried to breathe some understanding back into his veins. He was a lawman now, had been for the last year, and there were times like this one where he wished to be anywhere but Pine Valley.
More tears fell from her eyes, and he took another deep cleansing breath. He flexed his jaw. Who was he kidding? He couldn’t be cleansed, hell he couldn’t even be saved after all the things he’d done. He berated himself again for taking the badge, for his promise to keep the townsfolk safe when he was no better than the bastards he arrested.
He opened his mouth to say something, anything to ease the tension he saw around her lips, but instead he turned and walked away. He’d never been a man of many words, and when it came to females he had less of them.
“I won’t go with you,” she said and the words floated toward him like leaves falling from a tree.
Jake waited…he searched his mind for something to say.
“Pine Valley is a few miles west.” It was just as well. She didn’t want his help anymore than he wanted to give it.
“You’re not going to harm me?” her voice was no more than a whisper and if he hadn’t been attuned to everything around them he would’ve never heard her.
“Why would I do that?” he asked.
“I…I just assumed.”
Jake set his jaw. Willow grazed on some dry grass beside the stage; he grabbed the reins and swung up into the saddle.
“Wait! You’re going to leave me here?”
What exactly did she want from him? He’d offered to take her to safety and she welcomed the gesture with a kick to his shins.
“What are your intentions?” she asked coming toward him.
“How am I supposed to get my things to Pine Valley?”
He looked at her trunks, two large wooden crates. He’d never had a need for more than what his horse could carry and he couldn’t fathom what she had in the damn things.
“You cannot expect me to drag my trunks all of the way there.” She wiped the wetness from her cheeks.
“Where’s the driver?” he asked.
“Gone. He took off when trouble started.” She stepped closer and put out her hand. “Eva Daily.”
Tiny in stature, her small hand showed long fingers and pale skin. He didn’t take it within his own and instead he nodded. Her oval shaped face was sprinkled with freckles across her nose and cheeks, and when he looked closer he could see the red in her dark hair. She was young…too young to be out on her own.
“Gather your things back inside the trunks until I can send someone to fetch them.”
“But I can’t leave them.”
He shifted in the saddle and the metal star poked his leg. A token of the pledge to uphold the law whether he wanted to or not, and this snippet of a woman and her bags were one in the same. He jumped down and went to inspect the carriage. The wagon shafts lay on the ground, but the harness was gone probably still on the horse that had been pulling it. The trunks would have to stay.
“I’ve never been out west,” she said traipsing along behind him. “It’s so beautiful here.”
“I’ll take you to town, but the crates stay here.”
“Can’t you tie your horse to the stage?”
He was tired, hungry and needed a bloody drink. His mood had turned from sour to downright annoyed. All his life he’d taken care of others, and today had been no different. He’d been on his way to town to rustle up his younger brother, Nate, when he’d come across the stagecoach.
“You can stay and wait,” he said.
She looked around the valley before bringing her blue eyes back to his.
“Out here all alone?”
She chewed on the inside of her cheek.
“I don’t have all damn day.” He was back to biting her head off, and at the moment he didn’t care. He needed to get to town. Wyatt had told him Nate didn’t come home last night, and both brothers knew what that meant. Their little brother had been gambling. Jake didn’t even want to think about the trouble Nate had gotten himself into. Last time Wyatt had to pay the debts and Jake had to repair the saloon.
“Either you’re coming with me to Pine Valley, or you’re waiting.” Another layer of guilt fell across his shoulders. Jake hardened himself to it.
“You do not have to be so rude, Mr.?”
“Jake.” He refused to tell her more. The Kelly’s were known clear across the country for their outlaw ways. Most newcomers into Pine Valley had heard of them and wanted to meet the boys who were exonerated for turning their pa in. The brothers had thought about changing their names, but Hope had been the reason they didn’t.