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Burning Aurora Tressa Mancini Buffalo drove dear Aurora towards a most terrible cliff. Her horse stumbled and she fell to the unyielding earth! The flaxen-haired beauty reclaimed her horse and caused her mount to lie. She fired her father’s Winches- ter. The herd turned “Miss Blaise, what a pastime,” her escort, a Stetson-wearing preacher, interrupted. Viola's breath spewed out. Icicles clung to pine branches and glinted in the sunlight. Her smile matched the weather. “Montana is beautiful land. I feel inspired.” Though the world condemned her “habit,” Viola wrote on. She would start again. After all, she was in the land of her novels—the perfect setting for her resurrection. The reverend's Bible lay open between them. She read, "In the beginning . . .” Indeed, she was on the right path. The wagon’s front wheel hit a snow clump. Her inkwell, nested between her knees, tipped and dumped its contents on her navy traveling suit. The canyon echoed her cry. ~*~ Viola set up in Guntler's Ridge’s White Springs Hotel: a two-story, homely pile of lumber. She recoiled from the parlor wall. At home, her rose wallpaper brought her rooms to full bloom. White Springs lacked basic plaster. She couldn’t overlook the center attraction: the last saloon in Guntler's, framed by the front window. Viola dabbed her eyes. She was forsaken in a rugged land, and she was forced inside by winter and poor, un- washed miners. She crumpled her hankie and rammed it back up her sleeve. Viola swept back a blonde curl while never taking her eyes from the glass. The land’s one redeeming feature rose behind the ramshackle buildings. The God-carved mountains overshadowed the scrap of town be- low. A galloping, midnight-black horse intruded on Viola’s view. The woman rider’s jet hair streamed out from her loosened braid. Behind her, a man’s shout echoed in the street. He rode on a red beast—his mount’s hooves trampled the tracks of the woman’s horse. A gasp escaped Viola. The man, the pursuing rider, revealed a handgun. He fired. The blast reached Viola’s ears and rang in her head. Chaser and chased rounded the aban- doned dry goods store. Viola yanked her shawl off its peg. Mrs. Widener, the hotel’s matron, bustled around her parlor downstairs. "Where's the shotgun? Miss Blaise! Don't go!" Viola plunged into a snowbank. Brief embarrassment painted her cheeks, for she had once been a lady. But no matter—the now riderless black horse flashed by at the end of the alley. Viola ignored the icy moisture filling her shoes and sprinted to the back of the hotel. She halted at Mrs. Widener's stable. With a mitten-clad hand she covered her mouth. Bold, dark eyes met Viola’s blue-eyed gaze head-on. The woman resembled the romantic paintings of natives Viola’s mother favored. Indeed, the woman appeared to be a genuine Indian. Viola whipped out her teal lace fan, flashing it between herself and the stranger. The woman shone with sweat. She trembled in a burgundy dress covered in tan roses. Her lack of shoes was sorely apparent—strips of cloth bound her feet. A quick move of her hand brought to light a derringer, a derringer pointed at Viola. Viola’s leaden feet anchored her to the spot; her tongue moved before her mind. “I don’t want to hurt you.” Viola lifted her hands. Fear. She would need to add it to Aurora's character if she got the chance. The reverend's mule brayed. Both women’s gazes turned to the creature. After a moment of hesitation, Viola retreated faster than the pickpockets in her native Manhattan. No steps followed her. ~*~ The door's hinges shrieked with Viola’s entrance. Her damp petticoats clung to her legs and chilled her body. She hugged herself and took a few steps inside the parlor. Only once she halted. There was the woman rider’s pursu- er. His lofty form eclipsed Mrs. Widener's. Dirty yellow hair dangled down from under his beaten derby hat. "The woman I’m after is dangerous—she did the devil's work in Ignatius." The man’s crucifix jingled as he turned around. 18
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