The Lawman’s Undercover Love (Preview)

Chapter One

The worst night of Pearl Dunn’s night started with a pleasant dream. For the life of her, she couldn’t remember what she was dreaming about. All she knew was that it was good. It was the smell of smoke that woke her up. Her eyes flew open, the dream already gone from her mind, and she immediately began coughing. Tears streamed down her cheeks as she dropped to the floor. 

The carpet broke her fall, but she still groaned in pain. When she fell, she took the lantern by her bedside down with her. Glass shattered across the floor. Pearl pushed her feet into her slippers so that she wouldn’t cut herself. 

Her childhood bedroom was sweltering hot, which was strange since it was the dead of winter. She tugged at her high-necked nightgown. The garment had been a gift from her mother. It was easier to breathe on the floor, but not by a lot. Pearl looked around wildly. Grey smoke drifted across the dark room. 

What was happening? 

She crawled across the floor on her forearms. When she got to the door, she grabbed hold of the doorknob—but immediately let go of it with a yelp. It was burning hot, and her hand throbbed where it had burned. 

Pearl used the sleeve of her nightgown to pull it open. As soon as the door swung open, flames burst into the room. 

“Help!” Pearl screamed, scrambling back. “Someone help me!”

The flames rushed toward her, eating everything in their path. She couldn’t see into the hallway. There was no way she could escape through the door. 

Pearl pinched her skin. Was she still dreaming? She backed up all the way to the wall. The fire followed her, and she whimpered as it singed the carpet. It was as if everything had slowed down. She watched in horror as her hem caught fire. 

“No! No!” She brushed her skirt down. 

The fire singed her fingers. Something feral broke out inside of her. She ran toward the window and pulled it open. The ground seemed so far away. Her bedroom was right at the end of the house on the second floor. 

Pearl took a deep breath and jumped. She was suspended in the air for a split second before she fell to the ground. There wasn’t any carpet to break her fall, and she fell right into a pile of unforgiving snow. 

She lay on the ground, trying to catch her breath. Voices filtered through the haze of shock. 

“Someone’s here!” 

There was a crunching sound, as if someone was running through the snow toward her. Before long, her vision was filled with the face of Mr. Ward. 

“Pearl escaped! She needs help.” 

He grabbed her under her arms and dragged her away from the house. Pearl whimpered in pain as he moved her. His arms were like iron, and she could feel bruises forming. As he pulled her along, glass exploded out of the living room window, as if the fire was trying to get at her. 

Pearl’s home was on fire. It was engulfed in a blazing inferno that ate at everything she held dear. 

“Pearl!” Janey Ward cried when Mr. Ward dragged Pearl out to the front yard. 

The Wards had been the Dunns’ neighbors ever since Pearl was born. Pearl and Janey’s fathers worked for the same bank, and the families got along well. They were the same age and spent most of their time together. 

Janey’s arms closed around Pearl’s body, but Pearl couldn’t tear her gaze from the house. Would anything stop it in time? 

“Where’s my family?” Pearl croaked. 

Her voice was raw, and she shivered in Janey’s arms. Janey tightened her grip on Pearl. No one said anything. Why weren’t they saying anything? 

There was a large group of people in the front yard. All the neighbors had gathered outside. Some were using buckets of water to douse the fire. They were drawing water then rushing at the fire with their buckets. It did little good against the inferno. 

“Where’s my family?” Pearl pushed Janey away so she could see her friend’s face. 

“We’ve sent for the fire brigade,” Mr. Ward said, putting a hand on her shoulder. “They will be here soon, and they’ll put the fire out.” 

Pearl shook her head. She got to her feet. Her ankle gave out beneath her, and she stumbled with a cry. A shooting pain went up her leg. Her ankle must have been injured when she jumped from the window. Pearl ignored the pain and pushed past Janey and Mr. Ward. 

Her family was still in the house. Their faces flashed in her mind. She’d seen them a few hours ago and everything had been fine. Jacob, her ten-year-old brother, had been disappointed because he failed his spelling test. She had kissed her parents goodnight and ruffled Jacob’s hair. 

How could everything be gone in the blink of an eye? 

Pearl rushed toward the house. She didn’t have a plan in mind. All she knew was that she had to get them out of the house. The heat from the house was overwhelming. With each step she took, it grew fiercer. 

“Pearl, no!” 

Several hands grabbed at her, pulling her back. She fought them off, desperate to get into the house. Janey threw herself at Pearl, causing them both to topple to the ground. Pearl tried to push Janey off, but Janey held fast. 

“Pearl, you need to listen to me,” Janey shouted. “You can’t get back in the house! It’s too late. I’m sorry.” 

“No.” Pearl shook her head wildly. “Let me go!” 

Janey hugged Pearl tightly, rocking her back and forth as Pearl cried. In the distance, the fire brigade made its way down the street with their bulky water cart. 

“The fire is spreading!” 

“Quick! Put it out!” 

People shouted around them, but Pearl clenched her eyes closed and prayed for it all to be over. 

*** 

A few months later 

“Pearl! You’ve got a letter.” 

Pearl looked up as Janey came bounding into the room. Ever since the fire, Pearl had been staying with the Wards. They didn’t have any other children besides Janey and were happy to take Pearl in. 

Poor Mrs. Ward had given up her sewing room and had turned it into a comfortable room for Pearl. It was touching. Pearl had offered to share a room with Janey, but Mrs. Ward wouldn’t hear of it. After all, Pearl had already lost so much. 

In the days following the death of her family, everyone had talked about how much Pearl had lost. They had no idea what she was going through. All they could do was stand by her as she grieved. Thankfully, she had friends who supported her through the worst of it. 

“Who is it from?” Pearl asked with a frown. 

Everyone she knew lived in the same street as her. She’d never received a letter before. It was kind of thrilling. 

Janey read the envelope. “Someone named Clint Dunn.” 

Pearl’s eyebrows rose. “That’s my father’s brother. My father said they were estranged. They hadn’t spoken since before I was born. I don’t think Clint ever met my mother.” 

“What?” Janey said, her brow furrowing in confusion. “How come you never told me about your mysterious uncle?” 

Pearl shrugged. “It never seemed important.” 

“How can you say that? You know how much I love a good mystery.” 

“How would you know? You’ve never been involved in a real mystery.” Pearl raised her eyebrows at her friend. 

Janey’s mouth dropped open. “You know I solved the case of Mrs. Hannigan’s missing pie when we were ten.” 

“Janey, a toddler could have solved that. It was a raccoon. It’s always a raccoon.” Pearl shook her head as she took the envelope from Janey. 

“Janey! Are you packing?” Mrs. Ward’s voice drifted up the stairs. 

She winced and rubbed the back of her neck. “Yes, Mama! Pearl is helping me.” 

Pearl narrowed her eyes at Janey and Janey made a pleading motion. 

“No!” Pearl hissed. 

“Please?” Janey widened her eyes and pouted. “You know how much I hate packing. It’s beastly.” 

Pearl shook her head. “No. You’re the one who decided to move all the way out West. Why should I help you pack your things?” 

Before the fire that destroyed Pearl’s life, Janey had written to a mail-order bride agency. She had exchanged letters with a few possible suitors, but nothing serious had happened. 

And then the letter from Henry arrived. He was unlike the other suitors in that he was sweet and sincere. Janey had fallen in love instantly. Pearl had given her blessing as Janey was determined not to move forward with the union unless Pearl was alright with it. Her parents insisted that Janey wait a few more months. 

In the meantime, Henry had come to town to visit Janey. Once everyone was satisfied that it was a good match, Henry had asked for Janey’s hand in marriage. According to Janey, it was the love story to rival all love stories. 

Their plans had momentarily been paused during the aftermath of the fire. However, Pearl had insisted that Janey go ahead and marry Henry. She didn’t want to hold her friend back. 

Janey got down on her knees. “I’m begging you, Pearl. Please help me. I can’t pack all on my own.” 

Pearl sighed. “How much have you done so far?” 

“More than half!” 

“Fine.” Pearl’s shoulders dropped. “I’ll help you, but just this once.” 

Janey grinned and they hurried to her room. Pearl put the letter in her pocket, glad that Janey’s focus was elsewhere. She wanted to peruse its contents in private. 

When they got to the room, Pearl’s mouth dropped open in shock. The room looked like a bomb had gone off inside. Clothes were lying everywhere, and Janey’s cases were empty. 

“You said you were more than halfway done!” 

“Would you have come if I told you the truth?” Janey put her hands on her hips. 

“I’m not helping you,” Pearl decided. “I have a letter to read.” 

“There’s no way you’re reading that without me!” 

Pearl scrunched her nose up at Janey and ran to her room. She got the door closed just in time to keep Janey out. 

“Let me in!” Janey banged on the door. 

“Girls! What’s going on up there?” Mrs. Ward called. 

“Nothing!” they both called at the same time. 

Pearl scoffed and took the letter out of her pocket. She would miss Janey when she was alone. 

“Let me in!” Janey said firmly. 

“I’m sorry, I can’t let you in. I’m too busy reading this letter.” 

Janey gasped. 

Pearl chuckled as she opened the envelope. 

Dear Pearl, 

I’m not sure how much your father told you about me, or if he ever talked about me. My name is Clint. I’m your father’s older brother. I just heard about the fire. Please accept my sincerest condolences. Even though I haven’t spoken to my brother in years, I feel his loss keenly. 

Although we’ve never met, I would like you to come stay with me on my ranch. It’s quite spacious, and I have enough servants to take care of your needs. You won’t want for anything if you stay with me. I will take care of you as my own. 

I think you’d enjoy Grenville, Texas. I don’t know if your mother had any family who could take you in, so I’m not sure what’s become of you in the months since your family died. Hopefully, you’re safe and well. 

Please consider my invitation. I regret not spending time with my brother before his death. I don’t want to let another opportunity pass me by. If you choose to come stay with me, please let me know in advance and I’ll send you some money for the journey. 

Sincerely, 

Your uncle Clint 

Pearl inhaled sharply. When her parents died, she had thought that she didn’t have any family left. In truth, she had forgotten about her uncle. Her father had only mentioned him once or twice in passing. 

The Wards had said that Pearl was welcome to stay with them as long as possible. It was a kind offer, but Pearl didn’t want to impose on their hospitality. 

Her inheritance would be released from its trust when she was twenty-five, but that was still four years away. What would she do in the meantime? Although the Wards were like family, Mr. Ward wanted to retire and travel with his wife. They were kind to her, but she was sure they would rather have the house to themselves. 

“Pearl?” Janey knocked on the door. “Please let me in.” 

This time, Pearl didn’t hesitate. She pulled the door open. Janey must have seen the anguish on Pearl’s face because she immediately pulled Pearl in for a hug. 

A few minutes later, they sat on Janey’s bed as Janey read through the letter for the fiftieth time. 

“I think the only thing that matters is if you want to go,” Janey said, lowering the letter. 

Pearl shrugged. “I don’t know. There must be a reason why my father didn’t talk to Clint for all those years.” 

Janey chewed on the inside of her cheek. “What if you asked Clint what happened between them? Perhaps it’s not that serious.” 

“My father was a kind man. I can’t imagine he’d ignore his brother for years over something trivial.” 

Janey got to her feet and made her way over to the dresser. She picked up her book of maps and flipped through the book. When she found what she was looking for, she turned to Pearl with a smile. 

“I thought the name ‘Grenville’ looked familiar, and now I know why! Grenville is only a few miles away from Redwood Ridge!” 

Pearl jumped to her feet. Janey would be moving to Redwood Ridge in a week to marry Henry. 

“We’d be neighbors again!” Janey said, bouncing on the balls of her feet. “Please say you’ll consider it?” 

Pearl picked at her nail bed as she looked between Janey and Clint’s letter. Finally, she nodded. “Alright. I can find out what happened between my father and Clint in person. Surely, if my father knew how things would turn out, he’d want me to be with family. Clint is the only family I have left.” 

Janey squealed and threw her hands in the air. “I’ll write to Henry and delay my journey until we can travel together. Oh, what a blessing! I was terrified of traveling into the West alone. Now, I’ll have you with me every step of the way. Let me go tell Mama the good news.” 

Pearl smiled as Janey hurried out of the room. She picked up Clint’s letter and read the words again. Was she making a mistake? 

She caught sight of the empty lot that had once been her home. Her heart bled as she realized that she couldn’t ask her parents for their advice. She was on her own. Every day brought a fresh reminder of what she had lost. Perhaps things would be easier when she got to Texas. All she could do was hope for a better tomorrow. 

Chapter 2: 

Austin Stone stood in front of his commander and a group of his fellow US Marshals. They were all sitting at the long table while Austin remained standing. Every man in the room outranked him. Whatever the operation was, it had to be extremely serious. And if he got it right, he would be in line for another promotion. That alone was enough to get his attention. 

He stood upright in his heavy uniform as his commander, Colton, explained the particulars of the mission he was about to embark on. 

“I don’t need to tell you that the Dolinger Gang has caused a lot of headaches for us in Texas,” Colton said. His eyes were stormy. “These guys aren’t amateurs. They’ve pulled off three serious robberies in the past year alone.” 

Austin remained completely impassive. Colton would let him know when it was time to speak. 

“These men are highly dangerous. They seem to have near unlimited resources and are extremely cautious. It’s taken us years to get to this point. We’ve sacrificed a lot of time and money to get this intel.”

The room was stifling. He yearned to take his uniform off, but it was still a few hours before he would be free. 

“We’ve got reliable information that tells us we might have found a link that could lead us to the Dolinger Gang’s leader, Edward Dolinger. However, we don’t have enough evidence to launch a proper search. That’s why we need you to infiltrate their ranks. The governor has been talking about sending more marshals to Texas, but we can’t rely solely on the word of a politician.” 

Austin nodded. It wasn’t the first time he had gone on a mission like that. Although those operations were the most dangerous, Austin always volunteered for them. It was the quickest way to get noticed. 

Those types of operations weren’t sanctioned, and resources were limited. While other methods of investigation were formal and had standard procedure, whether or not to disguise oneself, and infiltrate, was left to the discretion of each officer. As a result, covert operations were far and few in between. 

Excitement coursed through his veins. Who knew what kind of action he would encounter on the mission? 

“Do you have any questions so far?” Colton asked. 

“Do I have an in with the gang?” Austin clasped his hands behind his back. 

“No, I’m afraid we don’t even know if the gang is in the location we’re sending you to.” 

Austin struggled to keep his composure. “Sir?” 

“These guys are ghosts. They disappear after every job. We’re sending you in based on a rumor that some of the gang members are working on a local ranch.” 

Austin’s superiors were more desperate to catch the gang than he realized. If they were willing to send one of their best officers in—based off a rumor—they had to be at their wits’ end. Austin hid a smile. While it would be a difficult assignment, it meant the reward would be much greater. 

“Will that be a problem for you?” 

Everyone was watching him intently. This was his chance to advance. 

“No, sir.” 

Colton nodded. He didn’t look surprised. “Alright, let’s continue. Our intelligence states that the ranch belongs to Clint Dunn. There seems to be some suspicious activity taking place on the ranch. It’s not enough to get local law enforcement involved, but there are a few raised eyebrows. We got word that Clint hired a horse breeder a week ago and is expecting him to arrive on the ranch in a month. Your first assignment is to intercept the horse breeder and tell him his services are no longer needed.” 

Austin smiled. He grew up around horses. It was the perfect assignment for him. 

“I cannot stress the danger of this assignment. The Dolinger Gang has proven that they have no qualms about killing lawmen. We will not be able to provide any assistance. No one will judge you if you want to back down.” 

Colton paused. 

“I appreciate the concern, sir, but I accept the assignment.” 

“I don’t suppose I could talk you out of this if I tried,” Colton said with a smile. 

A chuckle rippled through the room. 

“No, sir.” Austin ducked his head. 

“We all applaud your bravery, Deputy, but we’re concerned about your history,” Supervisor Hayes said. 

Austin kept his face devoid of any reaction. Hayes was a notorious stickler for procedure. It was no secret that he despised covert operations and the agents who took them. Austin had been on the receiving end of Hayes’ disapproval on more than one occasion. 

“Sir?” 

“I’m referring of course to your general reckless behavior. Isn’t it true that your training officer called you ‘irresponsible and foolhardy’?” 

Austin grimaced. Hayes was taking his training officer’s comments out of context. While it was true that the training officer had said that, it had been a joke after Austin singlehandedly took down three bank robbers. 

“I believe that Austin is well-suited to this position,” Colton said, looking at Hayes. “This type of operation requires an independent and experienced deputy. There’s no one who fits that description better than Austin.” 

“I’m well aware of that,” Hayes said with an edge to his voice, “but I’m concerned about the freedom that this operation gives someone like him. How can we be sure that he will stay on the right side of the law while he’s undercover?” 

“Austin’s record is spotless,” Colton pointed out. 

Austin appreciated Colton’s words, but Hayes’ words stung. He burned to set things straight. But if he spoke out of turn, he could be dismissed from the entire operation. There was no way he would let Hayes ruin this for him! 

“For now,” Hayes said darkly. “Deputy Stone, I want you to know that I will personally be keeping an eye on you. If anything untoward happens during this investigation, I will have your badge.” 

Austin clenched his teeth but inclined his head respectfully. Hopefully, it wouldn’t be long before he outranked Hayes. He comforted his hurt pride by imagining how it would feel to be the one giving Hayes orders. 

“I want to hear you say it,” Hayes snapped. 

“I understand, sir,” Austin said in a pleasant tone. 

Colton’s eyes glimmered in amusement, as if he could tell what Austin was thinking. They had always had a good relationship. Colton seemed to appreciate Austin’s detective skills. 

“Alright.” Colton clapped. “Do you have any questions?” 

“When do I leave?” 

The rest of the supervisors laughed, but Hayes glowered at Austin. 

When the meeting was over, Colton walked up to Austin and clapped him on the back. “I knew I could count on you for this.” 

“I’m looking forward to it,” Austin admitted. “Things have been a little boring on this side. I was wondering when the next operation would come my way.” 

Colton shook his head. “I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am. I should make good use of you before you decide to settle down with a nice girl.” 

Austin snorted. “I doubt anything would change even if I did get married. This kind of work is in my blood.” 

Colton smiled knowingly. “You say that now, but I’m betting that the right girl would tame your wild heart. Trust me, women have a way of changing everything about you.” 

“That might be true of you, but I’m different.” Austin chuckled. “It would take a lot to get me to settle down.” 

“You never know,” Colton said, raising his eyebrows. “In all seriousness, though, the Dolinger Gang is unlike anything we’ve ever faced. These men are trained and dangerous. I’ve never encountered anything like it in all my years as a marshal. You need to keep your eyes peeled. Don’t let your guard down, do you understand me?” 

Austin nodded. “I know, sir. Don’t worry about me, I know the drill by now.” 

Colton hesitated then patted Austin’s shoulder again. “Alright. Get your affairs in order. Who knows how long you’ll be gone.” 

“I’ll be back before you miss me,” Austin said with a wink. 

As he talked to the other officers, he felt Hayes’ eyes on him. It didn’t bother him. He was about to face far worse threats out in the field. 

Despite his easy-going demeanor, an undercurrent of tension ran through him. He had always been lucky, but would this be the job that turned that all around? Every marshal knew that it only took one stray bullet to change everything. There was a bullet out there with his name on it. 

Thankfully, he didn’t have anyone waiting on him back home. He was as free as a bird. 


“The Lawman’s Undercover Love” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the aftermath of a devastating fire that left her orphaned, Pearl is left to build a new life from the ashes. Seeking a fresh start, she embarks on a journey into the heart of the untamed West to her estranged uncle’s ranch. Little does she know, her path will cross with Austin, an undercover lawman investigating the ranch’s activities.

Pearl finds solace in his presence after her heart-wrenching loss, but will her feelings remain when his true identity is revealed?

Tasked with unraveling the illicit activities festering on Pearl’s uncle’s ranch, Austin Stone’s undercover mission takes an unforeseen turn when he crosses paths with the resilient young woman who awakens emotions long buried beneath his hardened facade. Although he is no stranger to a life of danger, this assignment proves much different…

Will Austin risk his mission for a love that challenges his duty?

As Pearl and Austin navigate a dangerous mix of hidden motives and growing attraction, their lives intertwine amidst escalating risks and blossoming love. Will their love withstand these trials, or will the truth drive them apart?

“The Lawman’s Undercover Love” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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