Behind the Ranges, Book X

Someone believes Eliza's inheritance is a buried treasure. And he'll kill to get it.

Commoner By Choice cover
eBook ISBN 978-1-60174-235-3
Trade paperback ISBN 978-1-60174-908-6

["Behind the Ranges"]"...a series truly reflective of the American west..."~~Romantic Times BOOK Club

Idaho Territory, August 1884

"Can you shoot?"

Eliza looked up from her plate. "Shoot? Of course not. All I know about guns is that they make loud noises and they kill people."

His eyes closed and his lips tightened.

She imagined him counting to ten and was conscious of a sense that she'd somehow failed a test. "That wasn't the right answer. What I should have said was that I've never had an opportunity to use a gun. Or a need."

"And I hope you never do have the need. But you should know what do to if it ever happens. We haven't ammunition to spare, but I want you to know how to load and aim. Jocky, can you handle the mules alone this morning?"

"Sure, Micah." His plate empty, Jocky set it aside and refilled his coffee cup. "When I'm done, can you show me how to use the gold pan?"

Of all the-- Eliza glared at both men. They were here to find Mr. Harris's papers, not to play gold miner. And why the sudden need for her to learn to shoot? That's why she'd hired a guide, wasn't it? To protect her?

She used the last fragment of biscuit to wipe the bacon grease off her plate. The first morning on the trail, she'd found it revolting even to think of eating grease. Now she rather enjoyed the flavor. Seeing that they had no butter or jam, it made an excellent spread. But she was getting tired of bacon and biscuits every morning. Some porridge would taste good, even without cream.

They went to the cleared area in front of the mine for her shooting lesson. When she gingerly took Micah's rifle in her hands, she was surprised at the weight of it.

He pointed out the various parts. "Stock, hammer, trigger, magazine, sight..."

She understood only about half of what he said, but she decided she really didn't need to know what all the pieces were, just how to load it and shoot it. The first was relatively simple, and on her third try she managed to insert all fifteen of the bullets--Micah called them "cartridges"--without dropping any. She held it out to him.

"Careful where you point it," he said as the barrel swung in his direction.

"Oh! I'm sorry." She let the barrel drop, until it pointed straight down.

"Best way, until you're sure of yourself, is to unload before handing it over."

Since she was reasonably certain she'd never be that sure of herself, she unloaded the rifle in silence. Remembering his earlier advice, she checked twice to make sure it had no bullets left in it.

"Now, show me how you'd shoot that white rock up there."

"The one we--"

"Yep. Pretend it's a bear and you're hungry for meat."

She raised the rifle and aimed. To her complete chagrin, the barrel wavered and dipped. Even if she knew how to aim it properly, she was certain she'd never manage to shoot that "bear."

He stepped up behind and reached around her, moving her hands on the stock and the barrel, showing her how to nestle the stock into her shoulder. The warmth of him against her back, the faint-pepperminty smell of him, and the low rumble of his deep voice distracted her, until she all but forgot what she was about.

"Try again."

"Hmm?" Try what again, she wondered. "Oh! Yes, of course." She raised the barrel of the rifle and pointed it in the general direction of the white rock. The end of it still drew circles, but they were smaller and more round. She pulled the trigger anyway. If this were real, maybe she'd scare the bear to death.

"Now what do you do?" His breath was warm against her ear.

She wanted to lean back into his embrace. To set the fool rifle aside and turn to face him. She wanted to know what it felt like to be kissed.

"I-I have to cock it, don't I?"

"That's right." He released her and stepped back.

She wanted to follow him. Instead she worked the lever that was supposed to eject the empty shell and push a new bullet into the...the chamber?

"He's mad now. Comin' right at you. What are you going to do?"

She turned around and handed him his rifle. "Here, you take it. I'm going to run."

Coming to your favorite ebookseller on 16 February 2018;
Trade paperback release to be announced soon.