Love on Target was such a fun story to write.
I got to dive into some Annie Oakley history, revisit details I’d researched a few years ago about mining in the late 1800s, and even research paint colors available in the 1890s. It was all right up my alley!
Rena, the heroine in the story, has had more than her share of challenges (and tragedies). She’s ready for a fresh start, and her cousin, Theo, offers her a place to stay in Oregon. She travels alone, unless you count her old mule, Scout, all the way from Texas to Holiday, Oregon where Theo not only opens his home to her, but helps her land a job working with dynamite at a mine.
Did I mention Rena is a bit unconventional? She refuses to wear skirts, dressing in trousers. She’s a great shot and likes to target practice. And she thinks romance is for the weak minded.
Then she meets Josh, the local saddle maker. He lost his wife and his raising a feisty little girl named Gabi who wants to be a princess, when she isn’t emulating Rena.
Here’s the scene where the three of them meet:
The uncanny, unsettling feeling of being watched pulled Rena from her restful slumber. She opened one eye to find a blue eye so close to hers, she could count the blond eyelashes framing it, although the rest of the face was too close and therefore blurred.
With a gasp, she sat up on the rock where she’d fallen asleep and automatically grabbed her pistol, pointing it at the intruder.
An ear-shattering scream erupted from the child who’d been peering at her. Rena lowered the weapon and released her breath.
“Are you a nymph?” the child asked, clearly frightened as she backed away.
“No. I’m not a nymph, or a sprite, but might you be a fairy?”
The little girl shook her head, sending her curls flying into a state of greater disarray. They already looked like they’d been whipped with an egg beater, but the child was adorable with her big blue eyes, rosy cheeks, and stubborn chin. She wore a pale blue dress trimmed with blue and yellow flowers embroidered across the yoke and around the hem. A pair of sturdy black boots looked impossibly tiny on the child’s small feet.
The little one tilted her head. “I’m not a fairy, but I want to be a princess when I grow up.”
Rena hunkered down so she didn’t tower over the child and smiled. “When you become a princess, will you live in one of those big, drafty castles with a moat and a dragon that breathes fire?”
“No. I want a big house with white fluttery curtains, and a yard full of smelly-good flowers, and a whole room full of beautiful dresses, and a piano, and someone to play it for me. And I want my papa to live next door and come have breakfast with me every morning. We’ll have bacon and berry jam on biscuits every day!”
“You can’t go wrong with bacon or biscuits. That’s quite a wish list, but if you are a princess, I’m sure you can make it happen. Does your …”
“Gabi!” a man’s voice boomed through the silence around them. The sound of fast-moving footsteps preceded the arrival of a broad-shouldered man who looked so much like the child, Rena had no doubt he was her father. “Gabi!”
He dropped to his knees and pulled the child to him in a hug that looked like it might squeeze the air right out of her, except that the man appeared to be careful in not holding her too tight.
“Are you well? Are you hurt? Why did you scream? What’s going on?” His questions peppered the air as he ran a hand over his daughter’s head, across her shoulders, and then picked up her tiny hand to examine it.
“I reckon that’s my fault, mister. She woke me up and caught me by surprise, and I pulled my pistol out of reflex. My apologies for frightening her.”
He appeared shocked as he realized Gabi wasn’t alone. He lifted his daughter in his arms then faced Rena.
Beneath the brim of his dark dust-coated hat, Rena could see a hint of blond hair. He had a nice face with a pug nose, rounded jaw, and eyes the same lovely shade of blue as his daughter. His shoulders were broad although his waist appeared trim in the brown canvas vest he wore over a dark blue shirt.
After giving the man a second glance, Rena concluded he had kind eyes. The lines fanning from their corners caused her to assume he was someone who laughed with regularity.
“Gabi shouldn’t have startled you awake,” he said, giving his daughter a stern look before turning back to Rena. “Who might you be?”
“Rena Burke. Theo Marshall is my cousin.” Rena waved her hand around them. “This is his place, isn’t it?”
Before the man could answer, the child leaned forward. “You know Uncle Theo?”
Rena grinned. “I do know him. How is it he’s your uncle?”
“Cause he’s nice and plays games with me, and gives me candy when Papa isn’t looking.” Gabi clapped a hand over her mouth, then shrugged and giggled. “I wasn’t supposed to tell that part.”
The child’s father rolled his eyes and jiggled her good naturedly. “I’ll pretend I didn’t hear it.” His focus shifted to Rena again, and she battled the urge to shove her wayward hair behind her ears or tuck her wrinkled shirt into the waistband of her pants.
The book is coming April 10!