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Stealing Destiny

978-0-9860557-4-4
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After the war Billie is determined to steal her horse from the Yankee officer who commandeered Destiny during the war. When Grayson catches her, Billie’s glad she wore the ragamuffin disguise she used during the war.

Grayson admires the slender youth who traveled far to reclaim Destiny. He should have the rapscallion jailed, but something about the boy intrigues him. The reprieve gives Billie a second chance to steal Destiny. Infuriated by the theft, Grayson follows her and discovers his horse thief is a lovely young woman. He’s stunned…and utterly smitten. Now he wants Billie by his side, but a man from her past wants her, too.

Cross-country chases, renegade former Confederates, horse stealing, and a wicked villain add up to a romantic love-on-the-run. But then, true love never did come easy.

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PROLOGUE

Tennessee, 1863

A gunshot cracked the summer morning air. Startled, Destiny shied backward with a frightened whinny. Billie hugged the horse’s neck, her body tensed for the searing pain of a bullet. In a shower of leaves, a Yankee swaddled in an oak branch dropped out of the sky to land in front of her and Destiny.

He staggered upon hitting the ground but kept to his feet. In quick, fluid motions, he shoved the broken oak branch out of the way and pulled a gun free. “Halt or I’ll shoot.”

Too late, Billie realized it had been the breaking of the tree limb, not a gunshot, that split the quiet morning. Beneath her, Destiny danced sideways.

“Easy, big boy.” Even as she used her voice and hands to calm the horse, Billie tightened her legs around his girth. Sliding her feet back, she eased them outward to kick the muscled sides.

“You do it and you’re dead.”

Fear raced down her spine at the callous challenge.

“Don’t worry, I won’t shoot the horse,” the clipped voice said. “I need him. I don’t need you.” The barrel of the pistol pointing at her moved slightly. “Dismount, boy.”

The gun didn’t convince her of the futility of disobeying. It was more an air about the soldier that dictated obedience. An air that told her none of the many tricks she’d taught Destiny would help. The Yankee had caught her with her guard down and had seen a healthy horse. He wouldn’t believe a sudden attack of lameness. She sat in the saddle and contemplated the Yankee’s gun for several long moments before she dismounted. Once on the ground, she couldn’t walk away from the horse, who turned his head to whicker at her.

“Get away from the horse, boy.”

She wanted to kill the man. Oh, yes. There were many Yankees she wanted to see dead, but this dusty Yankee now topped her list. The fact she carried no weapon kept her from trying to kill the Yankee, and he would kill her if she didn’t move, but her feet wouldn’t comply. Instead, she rubbed the soft nose one last time, savoring the feel of damp breath blown across her palm.

“I’m sorry,” she murmured to the horse.

“I’m not telling you again. Get away from the horse.”

The outrage. The impotence. The tears. They clawed at her throat, but she couldn’t give them voice. She had to move. With a playful butt of his head, Destiny shoved her. She stumbled a few steps away.

“Your horse shows better sense than you.” The Yankee didn’t bother to adjust the stirrups. He grabbed the saddle and swung a leg over it. Destiny circled, shaking his head at the strange weight.

She steeled herself for a harsh command or a spur dug into the horse’s satiny flanks. “

I’ll kill you if you hurt him.” The thump of hooves obliterated her threat. She watched the Yankee settle in the saddle. To her surprise, he handled Destiny with patience and gave the horse time to accept his new rider. And gave her time to memorize the man who took her horse, because when the war was over she would find Destiny.

She recognized the signs of an officer beneath the dust of the road. It was there in the double-breasted frock coat, the sword, the gilt spurs, and the hat made of the finest black felt. A well-dressed officer whose uniform contrasted sharply with the ragtag attire of the renegade troops from either army that raced back and forth across this portion of Tennessee. The fact he was a Union officer placed him among thousands. Her gaze swung upward, searching for something to hold in her memory. To her dismay, his face was shadowed by his hat as well as the dark stubble of a young beard. Several days’ growth framed a pair of lips curving into a grin.

“Aren’t I the lucky one?” He slid his hand along Destiny’s neck. “To find such a specimen of Tennessee horse breeding in the middle of nowhere.”

As he bent to check a stirrup, the tardy morning sun broke free of the tree line to catch the dull gleam of a belt buckle adorned with two women leaning against a shield with the word Excelsior scripted across the bottom. She knew the insignia. He was a New York soldier.

The Yankee holstered the Colt revolver. “What’s his name?” The rich baritone crackled with an educated Northern crispness.

Her gaze swung from his belt buckle to his face. She couldn’t find one distinguishing flaw to lock the man in her memory. With his hat low on his brow and the stubble on his jaw, she was left with little to file away for future reference.

“I guess I could call him Brownie.”

Billie stiffened at the insult to a horse whose bloodlines dated back to the founding sire, but her brain ordered caution. Destiny’s future lay in her obtaining all the information she could before the Yankee left. She closed her mind to the carnage of the battlefields, which wrought as much havoc on animals as it did on men.

“Angel.” She roughened her voice and slid back into the role of belligerent youth. “He be known as Angel.” She anglicized Destiny’s name with the hope the Yankee wouldn’t realize what a prize he had taken.

“Angel? I’m not too sure I can ride a horse called Angel.”

“Then don’t ride ’im at all. Just leave ’im here.” She thrust her fists into her pockets. It took all the self-control she had learned in the past months not to rush the Yankee. In the deepest recesses of her heart, she wished she had perfected Destiny’s latest trick, but she was afraid to signal the horse to rear. If Destiny hesitated, the Yankee would have time to control him.

“Impertinent young boy, aren’t you?”

She swallowed her anger. Appealing to a Yankee made her want to vomit, but she only had these few seconds to plead Destiny’s case. And for him she would grovel before a thousand Yankees. Her anguish stripped away the bumpkin role.

“I don’t mean to be impertinent, sir.” A growing constriction in her throat made speech difficult. “Please, don’t give my horse away when you reach your lines. Take care of him. He is a…” Tears vied with a tight throat to prevent her from talking. "…a wonderful friend.”

The Yankee guided Destiny close, and the familiar mixture of sweat, leather, and horse filled her nose. Destiny’s head dipped toward her, and his velvety lips grazed her cheek. She stifled the reflexive urge to run her hand along the white blaze that ran a crooked path from ear to nose. Playing a boy kept gestures like that out of her life. But it was
hard not to cry out her despair. Destiny was all she had left.

She contented herself with a whispered vow. “Survive the war and I will find you.” She could feel the Yankee’s impatience to be gone. As did Destiny, who restlessly shook his head.

“You have my word. I will keep your horse as safe as I can through this damnable war.”

She glanced up, surprised at the bitterness lacing the man’s voice. She had not thought a man could be anything except pleased by the war. The idea of whipping Yankees delighted all the local boys she knew. A pair of dark gray eyes met her startled gaze.

Stepping back, she nodded. For some unfathomable reason, she believed him. He would take care of Destiny.

Horse and rider turned and started down the rutted farm lane. They had not gone more than twenty yards when he wheeled Destiny around. “If I should want to write the owner after the war to tell him of the horse’s welfare, where would I direct the letter?”

She hesitated, then realized she had to anglicize all the names or admit she had lied. He probably wouldn’t send a letter, but if he did make it easy for her, the postmaster would know where it belonged. Many of the local people called the farm by its English name.

“Angel belongs to my pa, Philip Angel of Angel’s Valley, Sumner County, Tennessee.” She stepped toward the horse and rider. “And who’d be writing my pa?”

White teeth flashed through travel grime and beard stubble. “Grayson Vanderlyn, Colonel, United States Army.”

Grayson Vanderlyn! She stared after the disappearing horse and rider in astonishment. It couldn’t be
the Grayson Vanderlyn, could it? But all his Captain Dinsmere books were set in New York. It had to be him.

Fate had smiled on her at last. She had been given the way to find Destiny after the war. Billie almost clapped her hands with glee. Her horse had been stolen by a well-known Yankee author. If she couldn’t find Destiny, then her name wasn’t Wilhelmina Constanza D’Angelo.