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Clint Rockwell had only been back in town for a short time when a tragic accident that he blamed himself for sent him back into the mountains. He left his love behind and swore never to wear a gun again, but when the man that started it all comes back spreading lies he puts his gun back on to protect the girl he left behind.

Elinor Marshall was left heartbroken when the man she loved left her behind blaming himself for the accident that took her brother. she has told herself to hate him, but he still holds her heart and when he returns it awakens her heart. But the man that she blames for everything still haunts her at every turn and would do anything to have her as his. Will the return of her love save her or has he forgotten about her.

Will a shooting competition and revenge bring them back together or will their pasts keep them apart when secrets are revealed?

Chapter 1

Trying to Forget

The sound of a shot in the distance caused a quick flashback in his mind. He could still hear the sounds and smell the smells of that day five years ago that still haunted him to this day. He had left town and never looked back even though no one blamed him for what happened.
His friend calling his name brought Clint back to reality and he waved back. Dan and Clint had been friends since childhood and Dan brought him supplies every few months and to catch up. But Dan had just been there three weeks ago and was riding at a high speed towards him and had fired his gun. Many thoughts ran through his head as he reached for his rifle ready to shoot at whatever was chasing his friend, but as he got closer he realized Dan looked excited and not like him was running from something. He sat the rifle down as Dan came to a skidding halt right in front of him talking so fast that he couldn’t understand what he was saying.
“Dame it, Dan. I thought something or someone was chasing you. Now calm down so I can understand you.’’
“There’s a shooting computation in town and you have to enter it, Clint.’’
“You know I don’t use my gun like that anymore. Not after what happened.’’
He turned and walked back towards the house, but Dan wasn’t going to let it go.
“Clint, you know that wasn’t your fault and no one including Ellie blames you.’’
He hadn’t heard her name since he left town. He had made Dan promise to never speak her name again when Dan found him three months after he left town. Dan had promised it only if Clint never drank himself into the state he found him in again. Hearing her name made him swing around and clench his fist near where a gun would rest on his hip, to see his friend smiling back at him.
“I told you I never wanted to hear her name again.’’
“I’m sorry, but that was the only way to see if you still had the fire in you and you do.’’
“Why did you need to see if I still had the fire because I won’t go back no matter what you say.’’
“Because Hawkeye Johnson is in town for the computation and saying all kinds of things about you…… and Ellie.’’
Hawkeye Johnson was the one that started everything that day. He didn’t have proof, but a part of him believed Hawkeye was really responsible for killing young Jake and not him. If only Hawkeye had been seen in the area at the time, but he was at the Black Torn Saloon and had witnesses to prove it. Clint had fought with him earlier that day over Eleanor because she had turned Hawkeye down in favor of Clint saying he got along with her brother Jake. He had been quick say Clint wasn’t a very good shot anymore if he could miss a grown man at close range and hit a boy that was out of sight behind a wagon wheel.

He had managed to ruin Clint’s reputation, steal Eleanor away and make him leave town with his words that day. One thing that didn’t fit into Clint’s theory was the no name gunfighter that fired the first shot that day. No one knew who he was of where he came from, but something about him had seemed odd from the start. He had been in the saloon just a few feet away from the man and heard him ask the bartender where Clint Rockwell was while fidgeting with his gun belt. Anyone one planning to challenge him already knew what he looked like or had a pretty good idea of it and they acted like a proud rooster when they came into town.

This was his chance to find out the truth. He gave a grin to Dan and grabbed his rifle.
“Dan looks like I’m entering that contest after all.’’
The whooping and hollering was the answer from Dan.
Dan knew Clint’s mother died when he was young and that his father tried his best to raise him, but he never could figure out why he went down the path of a gunfighter after being in the army. He knows when he is ready Clint will tell him the reason because is a good man.
Clint mind had been stuck on Ellie all day. A part of him wanted to know what happened to her after he left and if she was happy, but he had refused to ask about her and know Dan wouldn’t say anything unless he asked. After hours of riding, he finally decided he needed to know and asked Dan.
“Dan, tell me that at least Ellie is taken care of by Hawkeye and that he doesn’t hurt her physically.’’
Dan erupted with laughter and slapped his leg. “ Clint, you may be the smartest guy I know, but when it comes to women you are a fool. Ellie still refused Hawkeye after you left.’’
Clint’s eyes went wide. “But she walked off with him after everything and she needed someone to take care of her and her father.’’
Still laughing at his friend. “Clint, if you had stuck around you, would have seen that he walked her straight into the saloon and told her he would take care of her if she did as good as a job as her ma did. Boy, I tell you he got to see that hidden wild cat in her when he said that. She realized where he had walked her smashed a whiskey bottle over his head before walking out.’’
Clint cringed because he knew the story about Ellie’s mother. She was a lovely woman that married a man that loved her and took care of her, but it wasn’t enough for her. She wanted money and when a well-dressed gambler came into town showing off his money and took an interest in her, she took off with him leaving behind her young children and husband. Her husband drank himself sick forcing Ellie to act as the woman of the house taking care of her father and brother while working in the dress shop. Within a year her mother’s gambler was killed during a card game for cheating and she was working in a saloon a few towns over and everyone knew it. Ellie battled with people thinking she was just like her mother when she was nothing like her.
“No wonder Hawkeye had his eye on her. He never planned to marry her and was just going to treat her like some saloon whore.’’
Dan nodded his head. “He left town without a word after that, but now that he’s back he is spreading lies about her because she still refuses him.’’
“What kind of lies?’’
“He told people that he was ready to marry her when you left, but found out she wasn’t as innocent as she looked and that you were the reason and he wasn’t going to marry her and in nine months a baby be born and he does not know if it was his or yours.’’
Clint cringed because knew part of what he said was true. Ellie wasn’t as innocent anymore and he was the reason, but not how Hawkeye claimed and if he had married her, he would have found that out. After talking a bit more the friends laid down for the night and he promised himself that no matter what that he would marry Ellie and take her away from that town.
He woke up just before dawn and decided that a little target practice would be a good idea since he hadn’t used his gun like that in a few years. He set up his targets down by the creek and fastened his gun on for the first time in five years causing the memories of the men he faced down to come flooding back, but he wasn’t going to let them stop him. The targets were at different heights and distances so he could see what he needed to work on by what he missed. The gun felt good in his hand as he fired at each one and only missing a couple the first time around.
Dan woke up a short time later hearing the shots in the distance, but he knew it was Clint because it was only one gun and he recognized the pattern. After starting some coffee he wondered down to the creek and watched for a moment as shot after shot rang out hitting every target dead center like the gun had never been out of his hand these last few years. When the gun was empty he heard Clint’s voice through the cloud of dust.
“you can come out now, Dan’’
Dan chuckled. “still has sharp as ever and I was being as quiet as a mouse’’
Slapping his friend on the back. “ you, my friend or no mouse and have never been able to sneak up on someone’’
They slapped each other on the back again before picking up the targets and heading back to camp for breakfast. Dan filled him in on the other men in the computation, their skills, their weaknesses, and speed. He pointed out many times that besides Hawkeye it would be easy to beat the rest if they didn’t back out after seeing their computation.
The ride into town seemed longer than it actually was, but with every mile they rode Clint’s mind and heart waged a war on each other, but he knew he had to face the town and Ellie. They entered the town and he recognized the faces of many people and then he heard the gasp of a lady he knew. He thought his nightmare was about to come true, but a huge smile appeared on Mrs. Collins face and she welcomed him home. Word spread like wildfire that he was back and he was greeted with many welcomes and invitations to supper. As he was being dragged into the saloon by the men, Dan kept his eyes open on top of his horse and saw the young lookout of Hawkeye’s run off as soon as he heard Clint’s name and he knew it wouldn’t be long before he showed up.
Dan was right, they had barely finished the first drink when he saw Clint tense slightly and unfasten the strap on his holster and he sat up. He knew he had heard Hawkeye’s boots just before the doors swung open to show he was right.
The whole room went silent when he spoke. “Rockwell!’’
Clint leaned back on the bar. “come to welcome me back, Hawkeye’’
“what the hell are you doing back here’’
“why for the shooting computation, of course. I wouldn’t miss it for the world’’
Hawkeye’s fingers itched to pull his gun when he saw that smirk on his face, but was stopped by the sound of a pistol being cocked, off to his side he saw Dan’s matching smile and pistol pointed at him from under the table where no one else could see it. He turned back to see Clint’s gun pointed at him and knew he didn’t have a chance if he tried it.
Clint nodded at him. “let’s keep things fair for now, shall we.
The only response he gave was a grunt before turning and walking out the door.
Clint lowered his and the men near him slapped him on the back and cheered. They told him how Hawkeye had acted like he owned the town after he left by shooting up the town almost every night with his gang after drinking until they could barely walk. The sheriff tried his best to stop them, but one against almost a dozen usually doesn’t end well and this wasn’t one of those lucky times. Sheriff Baker had rounded up a few men willing to act as deputies and help arrest Hawkeye’s men, but two deputies tried to handle things by themselves and were killed in the process. Hawkeye’s men were smart and made sure they didn’t shoot first and claimed self-defense because witnesses said the deputies never identified themselves and fired first. The other two quit after the sheriff was thrown from his horse and injured badly.
Clint remembered Dan telling him about the sheriff’s accident. He made a mental note to go and talk to the sheriff later. He had realized that is was true that no one here blamed him for what happened, but he still hadn’t seen Ellie and he wouldn’t fully believe it until he saw it in her eyes that she didn’t blame him. He looked at Dan who shrugged knowing what he was going to ask, they had been in town over and hour and saw just about everyone, but no sign of Ellie and she should have heard that he was back by now.

Just down the street, Ellie sat in the back room of the mercantile. She not only had heard he was back but had seen him when as he rode into town. She could recognize that old turned up hat of his anywhere and had froze on the spot when she saw him. The crowd had hidden her from his view and by the time she returned to the mercantile it seemed like everyone was talking about it and telling her expecting her to run to him. After the sixth person had asked her if she knew yet Mr. Jacobs could see she was trying to hide her upset and told her Mrs. Jacobs needed her in the back. She knew Mrs. Jacobs or as she called her Ma Jacobs was probably waiting with open arms and a tray of tea and cookies for her. Ma Jacobs had taken the place of her mother after all these years and would help her figure out what to do.
Ma Jacobs let her cry and say everything that was running through her head before speaking.
“I don’t know him that well, but if he loves you then your paths will cross when the time comes’’
Ellie sniffed. “but he has been in town for over an hour and hasn’t come looking for. What if he only came for the computation and believes everything Hawkeye said?’’
Ma Jacobs tisked at her and patted her hand. “ haven’t you thought that he may be doing the exact same thing as you and trying to figure out what to do without putting you in danger’’
Ellie hadn’t thought about that and wiped her eyes. “I hadn’t thought of that and that’s something he would do especially with Hawkeye around. I won’t put myself in danger by going to him’’
Her mind was made up she would go on about her day and wait to see if he comes to her or sends word somehow. If she showed even a hint of still caring about Clint then Hawkeye would find a way to use her against him. She went on with her day like it was any other day, tending to customers and acting indifferent whenever someone asked her about Clint. Hours went by and she was worn out by closing time and was putting some things away when the bell above the door rang. She turned with a smile that quickly faded when she saw who was standing there leaned up against the shelf.
Hawkeye grinned. “your cowboy with the golden gun has returned. Don’t you want to see him’’
She tried to hide the cringe that jab caused because he would only enjoy it. “I don’t know who you are talking about’’
He stiffened. “you know damn well who I’m talking about. The man that claimed to love you, but ran off’’
Ellie knew he was baiting her into reacting. “and as you recall, you did the same thing, but first offered to make me a whore before leaving me too. Which is why I do not want to see either one of you again’’
He didn’t expect her to bring up their last encounter and moved forward. “now Eleanor, that was a misunderstanding’’
She had him right where she wanted him and quickly pulled the gun out from behind the counter where her hand had been resting and pointed it at him. “just like it will be a misunderstanding when I shoot you’’
He stopped dead in his tracks wondering if she knew how to use the gun. “you couldn’t kill someone and live with yourself. So put it down.
She lowered the gun a bit and cocked it. “never said I would kill you. Just make sure you could never enjoy yourself again and I’ll do the same to Clint Rockwell if he comes within a few feet of me’’
That threat did the trick and he quickly backed out the door mumbling something under his breath. Ellie tossed the gun down and let out the breath she didn’t know she had been holding. She knew how to use it, but the gun wasn’t loaded and she didn’t know what she would have done if he hadn’t believed her.
The memory of learning to shoot flashed before her eyes. Clint had insisted she learn how to protect herself if something happened and her father wasn’t able to do so. He stood behind her showing her how to hold the gun properly and would lean in closer to whisper for her to relax. She wondered if he knew just how much his whispering and having his body that close drove her mad. She smiled remembering how he rubbed his hands up her arms to relax her shoulders and kissed the base of her neck every time she hit near the center. The lessons always ended in many kisses before returning to town. She was pulled from her memories by Ma Jacobs clapping from the doorway as Mr. Jacobs picked up the gun placing it back in its proper place behind the counter. She knew they both probably had listened to most if not all of the conversation that had just happened and that Ma Jacobs would sing her praise to anyone that would listen. It would quickly spread to Clint and Ellie was glad because then he might let her know one way or another if he had any intentions of seeing her.

Ellie decided to work in the back room the next day to avoid any more attention like the day before. It was spreading like wildfire that she put Hawkeye Johnson in his place at gunpoint thanks to Ma Jacobs and surprisingly Mr. Jacobs who evidently couldn’t stop telling the men of the town what happened. She could hear the gasps from the approving ladies and the comments from the disapproving ladies that said it sounded like something her mother would do. She hated being compared to her mother more than anything even if it was something she was proud of herself for doing like everything that happened with Hawkeye. She had seen him for what he was when he had told her he would take care of her if she did the job as well as her mother. It sickened her to think that he knew who her mother was and had been a customer of hers.
“I will never be like her.’’ She said out loud without realizing it.
“Who will you never be like?’’ Came from Ma Jacobs in the doorway causing Ellie to jump.
“I didn’t realize I was talking out loud. It’s nothing, I was just rambling to myself.’’ She mentally cursed herself for it.
“sweetie, you don’t ramble. It was your mother you were referring to, wasn’t it?’’ as usual Ma Jacobs was somehow able to read her mind and know exactly what she was thinking.
“I heard what some of the ladies said, especially Mrs. Randall.’’ She saw the eye roll at the mention of Mrs. Randall and tried not to giggle.
“Mrs. Randall just thinks no one knows about her visits with that ranch hand while her husband is away visiting his poor old aunt so often. But that’s not the point. You care too much about others to ever become your mother, she loved money too much.’’ She hugged Ellie and kissed her forehead.
“thank you for everything you and Mr. Jacobs have done for me these past few years.’’ She let the unspoken words hang in the air knowing Ma Jacobs knew what she meant.

Clint couldn’t believe it when he heard what had happened between Ellie and Hawkeye. All worries he had about if those shooting lesson had done any good now vanished, but were replaced by new ones of what if she meant what she said about him. He had convinced himself that he hadn’t sent word to her or tried to see her to protect her, but now he realized it was also out of fear that she secretly hated him for leaving even if she didn’t blame him for anything that happened. Now more than anything he needed to see her to be sure himself about her feelings, but he couldn’t risk being seen with her or their conversation being overheard if she didn’t really plan to shoot him between the legs. He made his plans with Dan for later that evening when Ellie would be walking home and hopefully Dan would be able to let her in on the plan beforehand.
It was just past sunset and Clint waited in the old barn near Ellie’s home. Dan had told him she always walked through it on her way home because she fed the cat that lived there. He ran his hand along the doorway and closed his eyes remembering playing there as a child with Dan. This barn was part of Dan’s grandparents’ small farm and was where Dan had grown up with his mother and grandparents. Clint couldn’t remember ever seeing Dan’s father but knew that had something to do with why Dan lived in town while his mother lived in the house even though he inherited the whole place after his grandfather died. That was the only thing that Dan never talked about and he never asked him about it.
The sound of humming made him jump and reach for his gun but he quickly recognized the humming as Ellie’s and so did the cat that came walking out of the stall where it had been sleeping. He waited for her to finish with the cat before stepping out of the shadows and softly calling her name.
“Ellie.’’ He knew she had heard him because she froze for a moment before turning around.
“Clint is that you?’’ She asked her before her eyes found him at the other side of the barn.
“Yes, I’ve come to talk to…..’’ He didn’t get to finish because she ran to him and kissed him then suddenly pulled away and slapped him hard when he kissed her back.
“You bastard! Don’t you think you should have talked to me when you first got back to town or better yet before you left in the first place.’’ She turned her back and hoped that hurt just as much as the slap to the face she gave him.
“I’m should have come to you before I left and I know saying I’m sorry will never be enough after everything that has happened.’’ He saw her shoulders lower slightly and knew she wasn’t going to hit him again when she turned around.
“How could you think I would blame you for the accident when there were two of you shooting and you were defending yourself.’’ There was still anger in her eyes, but her voice was softer.
“because I was stupid and thought you would see me as the gun that killed your brother.’’ He hated mentioning Andy and saw a tear fall when she pulled her shawl tighter.
“Yes, you were stupid to think that because I know you’re not just a gun and it wasn’t your fault.’’ The anger was gone from her eyes when she touched his face lightly with her hand.
He touched her hand on his face and they stayed like that for a moment. Hearing the reason from him made all her anger disappear and she now understood what Dan meant when he said Clint was angry too. Clint now felt a like a weight was lifted off his shoulders because he had kept that all that buried inside for years. A howl off in the distance made them break apart and they both realized it was too dark for her to walk home alone and she gladly accepted his over of a ride home. She felt safe for the first time in a long time sitting in front of him in the saddle with his arms around her. They talked about how they would have to keep up the appearance that he didn’t care and that she hated him like she had told Hawkeye for her safety. If they ran into each other in town they would act like they didn’t care and Dan would pass messages back and forth with the help of Ma Jacobs and if they needed to meet it would be at this barn.
Clint helped her off his horse and walked her to the door watching her open it like she always did when he walked her home in the past, jiggle the handle three times, lift up and turn the handle. He had offered many times to fix it, but she always insisted it would be her warning if someone tried to break in. Out of habit he took his hat off and started to follow her in and was met with the same hand that stopped him every time before.
“Not until we’ve been in front of the preacher.’’ Finger waving, the words were out before she realized it. That was what she had always said to him and she said it without thinking.
“Old habits don’t die easily, do they?’’ the smile never left his face, but there was a pain in his eyes.
He turned and left before she could answer leaving her to whisper that they don’t when you dream about the every night. She closed the door and sank to the floor with her face in her hands. She had told the truth about not blaming him, but she still hated that he left her in the hands of Hawkeye even though she completely understood why he left. A small part of her wished he had stayed away because that little slip at the door brought back ever buried feeling she had. Her father’s voice from the other room pulled her from the floor. He had gotten worse since Andy died and stayed in the dark all day, only coming out when Ellie was home to eat and ask how her day was. Ellie always told him it was a great day and never told him anything bad out of fear it would be the end of him to know everything.
They ate in silence as usual, but then he smiled and started talking like he did years ago. He asked if he had heard Clint’s voice earlier and when she confirmed it he went on about true love and how he wanted them to be happy and to forget the past. She was so shocked by his speaking that all she could do was nod her head. She wondered just how much he knew about that past or if he just assumed they had a spat and Clint left town since she never told him exactly what happened the day Andy died or who had done what. All she had told him was there was a shooting accident and she let his mind feel in the blanks and the never spoke of it again. One day she would ask him what he meant about the past, but tonight wasn’t the night.

Clint rode in silence with his mind replaying what she had said over and over. He knew it was just an old habit of hers, but it made his heart pound like it use to and he wondered she still felt the same way or if she just saw him as a friend now. He remembered the very first time he saw her, he had just ridden back into town for the first time in years. He had seen her in front of the store telling two men how to properly load a wagon as he passed on his way into the store and was surprised when she entered at the sound of the bell greeting him with a smile as she asked what he needed. He had assumed she was another customer outside since he knew the Jacobs never had any children and they ran the store themselves. He quickly learned all about her and her family from Dan how her family moved to the town a few years before, what happened with her mother and how she took care of her father and brother.

He had been so deep in his thoughts that he didn’t realize he was back in town until Dan called his name and waved at him from the stables. Dan had been waiting for him to come back and was about to ride out after him when he showed up looking like him was in a daze. Dan had a concerned look on his face so Clint quickly assured him he was fine and would tell him after they ate. They ate quickly and only talked about the competition and the girl that watched Dan from across the room clearly hoping he would notice her, but he just shrugged it off.
Once back in Dan’s room where they could safely talk he told him how it went with Ellie and the plan to keep Hawkeye in the dark, but Dan could tell he wasn’t telling him everything.
“Did she hit you or call you a name a girl shouldn’t know?” he asked with a grin on his face.
Clint went wide-eyed. “why would you ask that?”
Dan walked over to the window and leaned against it. “Because I know her so she either hit you or called you an ass”
He rubbed his face where she slapped him “actually she slapped be and called me a bastard”
Dan clapped his hands and laughed “I applaud her restraint compared to what she had threatened to do in the past and to her growing list of names for you” Clint went wide-eyed
“what do you mean growing list of names and she doesn’t even carry a gun” he replied. When he finally stopped laughing Dan answered him
“oh, she has called you just about every name she could think of, but that is a new one. I gave her a small pistol to carry, but she had said if you ever came near her again that she would kick you in the balls” he winched at the thought of the force behind that slap being a kick instead and agreed she showed restraint.

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Kelly Snyder

Cookeville, USA

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