Authors: T. K. Lukas
T. K. Lukas
Book One of the Orphan Moon Trilogy
PRAISE FOR T. K. LUKAS’S
“Highly recommended! An exciting, breathless read with well-developed characters and a plot that keeps you guessing.”
“Excellent read! The story grabs you from the very beginning and keeps
you wanting more!”
“You should read this book. It is a great story of overcoming hardship with a love story threaded throughout lots of adventure.”
“Gritty, raw American history…I felt like I was there. LOVE that in a good novel.”
“Loved this book! Gripping story grabs you from the very start. T. K. Lukas does an amazing job of creating characters. You love them or hate them but you feel like you know them all.”
“Highly recommended.The author makes the characters come alive with exquisite details and dialog...I feel like I know them. I can't wait for the next book in the series!”
“T. K. Lukas's writing reflects the kind of maturity that will shine more and more with each passing novel. Kudos to her!”
— Grammar Dowager
1860 - Palo Pinto, Texas: Under the spectacular glow of a Comanche moon, a family is slaughtered, their homestead torched.
Nineteen-year-old Barleigh Flanders survives the terrifying raid. Fiercely determined to rebuild, she seizes an opportunity meant for another. It's a foolhardy, reckless scheme. Desperate, near penniless, it's her only hope.
Her grueling physical journey stretches from Texas, to Missouri, and into the rugged Utah Territory. However, it's her emotional journey that takes her to places of uncharted darkness, discovery, and redemption.
In Hughes Levesque, Barleigh gains an unsought ally with dark secrets of his own. A hired gun, it becomes his personal mission to keep Barleigh safe. Doing so may cost him his life, his job, and his heart, none of which he's keen to lose.
Orphan Moon is a heart-wrenching saga of family love, loss, and betrayal. Both a gripping adventure and a timeless love story, it gallops across the bleeding edge of the western frontier.
Copyright © 2015 T. K. Lukas
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, scanned, or distributed in any printed or electronic form without the permission of the author. Please do not participate in or encourage piracy of copyrighted materials in violation of the author’s rights.
Purchase only authorized editions.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
For Baron, my husband, my friend, my lover, my real-life hero…
Your unwavering support and encouragement—your unshakable, never-ending belief in me—is the source of my strength, my joy, and my smile.
I’m grateful for your love.
High upon the Brazos River ridge, bare-chested warriors on war-painted horses gathered with lances, bows and arrows, and tomahawks in hand. The fire-holder, the elder and revered medicine man, sat astride his decorated pinto in the middle of the assembly, his mount indifferent to the flaming torches his rider gripped in each hand. Other horses stomped up puffs of fine caliche dust that glittered in the moonlight. One hundred or more in strength, they waited in patient surveillance of the quiet farmhouse below, while those in the farmhouse watched them.
The moon cast shadows where there should have been none, as if the sun instead had reached full bloom. A lone white stallion stood on the highest point of the ridge, silhouetted against the silvery backdrop, its rider sitting tall. He held his hand high above his head, as if connecting to some lunar spirit. His arm dropped, the signal was given. The rocky ridge came alive with horses pouring over the edge, sliding and tumbling down the steep slope, racing across the valley. With terrifying war cries filling the air, gyrating circles of mounted warriors constricted in an ever-tightening noose around the ranch.
Brilliant arcs of light erupted in the night sky like blazing traces of shooting stars falling from the heavens. Barleigh Flanders stood transfixed in the barricaded window of her bedroom, peering through the gun port as arrows streaming fire rained down all around. Dread rooted her feet to the floor.
Henry’s hands shook his daughter’s shoulders. “Run to the goat shed, Barleigh. Get in the cellar. Take Birdie and the baby and Aunt Winnie. Now! Uncle Jack and I’ll give cover till we can make a run for it.”
“No, Papa. I’m staying with you.” Barleigh picked up the shotgun, thrust it through the port.
“Don’t argue, girl. No time to waste. Keep hold of your gun—take it with you.”
Winnie ran out of Birdie’s room carrying the baby. Born two days earlier on the first night of the full moon, Barleigh’s half-sister wailed with hunger. “Birdie’s too weak to run
walk. Having this child took all of her strength.”
Henry shouted instructions as he shoved them out the back door. “I’ll carry Birdie down in a minute. Don’t open the hatch unless you know it’s me. Hurry now—run.”
They ran, Winnie clutching Birdie’s and Henry’s baby, Barleigh the shotgun. Noble the hound bounded alongside, his black hair bristling in alarm. From the back of the house, past the horse corral, then to the goat shed, they raced the roiling cloud of dust churning in from the ridge. Barleigh threw open the secret hatch in the floor, and after Winnie and the dog made their way down the angled earthen steps, she slipped into the cool darkness below. Henry had dug the cellar and crafted a secret door for it as their hiding place to seek shelter from dangerous weather or even more dangerous men.
“Hurry. Close the hatch,” Winnie whispered. She bent forward, shielding the baby’s tiny body with her broad, sturdy back as hooves pounded the ground all around, dirt sifting down onto their heads.
“But Papa’s coming with Birdie.” Barleigh peeked out the hatch, straining to see. A cavalcade of horses passed in front of the open door of the goat shed. All she saw were fast hooves and painted legs, but that was enough. She knew what was above. She secured the latch.
In the safety of the cellar, they clung to each other, the baby nestled between them. The huge black dog sat on his haunches, watching the hatch with a keen alertness, a low rumble steady in his throat. Bloodcurdling cries lingered on the wind; thundering hoof beats echoed; gunfire exploded, diminished, faded away, and the sharp smell of things burning found its way underground.
“Shh, shh. . . .” Winnie cradled the hungry, crying baby against her ample bosom, placing a finger in her mouth to hush it. “Be quiet, Noble,” she commanded the curious dog that howled in unison.
“The nanny goat is just outside the shed door in the pen,” Barleigh said. “I can make a run for it. Grab the goat and duck back inside. This baby needs milk. Birdie may not—”
“No. It’s too dangerous for you to go outside. I’ll let the baby suck some peach nectar off my finger. Can you find a jar of peaches in the dark?”
The baby’s hunger was greater than the nectar. Her wailing intensified into piercing, balled-fisted spasms. Winnie tied a rag around Noble’s muzzle to keep him from joining in again.
“We need that goat.” Barleigh crept up the steps and cracked open the hatch, her determined blue eyes peering outside. Dreadful noise reverberated in the distance, but overhead quiet filled the darkness. She crawled outside, found the milking stool, and wedged it in place to keep the hatch propped open.
“Stay in the cellar on the steps with the gun pointed out the hatch,” Barleigh said to Winnie. “Don’t be afraid to shoot if something needs shooting. If I don’t come back in two minutes, push the milking stool away and bolt the hatch.”
The words echoed in Barleigh’s mind.
Don’t be afraid to shoot if something needs shooting
. Those were the words of her father, Henry’s parting phrase when leaving Barleigh at the ranch alone, and the words he’d said when he’d handed her the new shotgun three months earlier on her nineteenth birthday.
“I’m not afraid to shoot, but I don’t like this plan. I should be the one going for the goat. You should be in here with your baby sister.” Winnie brushed a dirty-blonde curl off her worried forehead, the wide streaks of pre-mature gray matching the color of her equally worried eyes.
“You’re the midwife. You know babies. I know animals. I can catch a goat.”
“All right.” Winnie sighed the deep sigh of one giving in. She placed the baby in a basket of rags and grabbed the shotgun. “I’m ready.”
Clinging to the darkness, pressing her back against the wall, her thin frame almost as thin as her shadow, she inched toward the door that led outside to the attached pen. The nanny goat should be just inside the gate next to the feed trough, she thought.
Barleigh rushed to the gate, searching.
Where is she
? She listened for a moment, making out the sound of faint bleating. Thick, choking smoke hung in the air. She coughed, covered her mouth and nose with her hand, trying not to make a sound. Ignoring the shouted songs of triumphant celebration in the distance, the eerie orange glow, the flickering light from fire burning all around, she opened the gate, groping, and made a blind grab. Her hand settled on the goat’s bell collar. The happy tinkling sound it made rang loud. Barleigh grabbed the brass clanger, snatching it in her clutched fist to quiet the convicting noise.
Running back inside the shed with the goat in her arms, she heard a noise coming from behind. She turned to see the silhouette of a warrior framed in the doorway, a dark figure braced against the backdrop of flames and smoke.
Barleigh dropped to the ground, clutching the goat to her chest. A shotgun blast split the air. She looked up to see the Indian, tomahawk raised, flying backward, with blood spurting from a hole in his chest. He fell to the floor, dead.
Handing the goat off to Winnie, Barleigh rolled his body up against the wall and then covered him with empty feed bags. She scattered loose hay over the tomahawk and the wide pool of blood, fearful of the evidence and the story that the scene would reveal to another passing by.
They milked the goat, taking turns letting the baby suck the sticky sweetness off their fingers. Satisfied, she slept. Taking a risk, Barleigh lit the oil lamp, dialed the wick down to the lowest height before it extinguished, the flicker of light allowing a quick reminder of their surroundings before she snuffed the flame.
Birdie’s preserved fruits and vegetables lined the shelves. Barleigh’s preserved thoughts and dreams lined her journals, which she kept stacked below the shelves. She counted eight bound books, one each year beginning when she had turned twelve. The cellar was her writing place. Her dreaming place. Her hiding place.
Noble sat like a sentinel guarding the hatch while the little goat paced. “I’m sorry, Nanny Goat, but if Noble wears a muzzle, so must you.” The goat’s confused bleating had grown louder, her frantic striding more vigorous. “Sorry.”