The next story in my Entertainers of the West series, Love’s Target, has released. This novella is part of Debra Holland’s Montana Sky Kindle World.
Vanora Deverell is tired of accompanying her father in his vagabond life as a farrier and wants a house to call her own. Even more, she’s tired of keeping him away from the Faro tables. When a casino owner demands her hand in marriage to cancel her father’s outstanding debt, Vanora and her father go on the run. No matter what Vanora does, she’ll never do it as well as her late brother, even though she’s stepped in as her father’s apprentice. But she yearns to be recognized for the young woman she has become. Having to dress as a boy to enter shooting contests grates on her nerves, but her shooting skill is their best chance to get out of debt.
Rancher Trent Melbyrne wants to step out from his father’s shadow and be recognized as a horse breeder in his own right. He’s in Bozeman buying a stud stallion when he enters a shooting contest and is chagrined when his accomplishments are bested by a boy…until he learns a secret about his opponent. At a second contest a few days later, he can’t believe the unfairness of the acclaim being heaped on the boy’s head. When he reveals the shooter’s secret, he sets off a string of events that lead to a showdown on his ranch in Morgan’s Crossing, Montana Territory. Can he atone for the danger he’s caused?
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The call came to set up for the rifle contest. The targets had been moved to the far end of the field. This time, the contestants stood about three hundred feet distant.
He hesitated over adding himself to a line, hoping to be positioned opposite the boy if he entered this contest. Finally, he stepped up to the mark for the farthermost target, settled his Winchester 1873’s stock against the cup of his shoulder, pulled up the graduated rear sight, and lined up the fixed sight. Trees at the edge of the forested area showed only slight movement. Good. Not much compensation needed for wind drift. He lowered the rifle barrel until it pointed at the ground and waited for the signal to shoot.
At the last moment, the boy shuffled to the mark to Trent’s left, cradling a Spencer carbine rifle, head cast downward.
Under the ruse of looking down the line toward Stanley, he gave sideways glances at the figure to his left. The repeating rifle was at least twenty years old but looked well cared for. Possibly, the father’s weapon from his military service. The boy’s clothes were baggy enough to almost look like a disguise. But why would that be? Dirt marked the side of the boy’s face, swiped along a cheek that appeared rounded and soft. How old was this boy? The streaks weren’t unusual for a hot summer’s day when kids were playing. But Trent hadn’t seen him anywhere on the ranch except in the area of the contest.
“All right, commence firing.”
The boy glanced just once at Trent and frowned. Then he angled his body and raised the rifle to shooting position.
The crack of the first shot snapped Trent alert, and he shook his head to clear the unusual thoughts. He set himself up with his left shoulder aimed toward the target, raised his weapon, and put the boy out of his mind. Instead, he focused on his aim, inhaled a deep breath, and held it. With precision, he did his best to group his six shots into the red circle.
When the firing stopped and the breeze wafted the smoke from the line of guns, he heard a soft-spoken exclamation, “Yes” that tightened his gut. Struck speechless, Trent could only gape at the vacant space to his left. Not only had his opponent disappeared from sight, but his opponent was not a boy.
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