Author: Heather Snow
Publisher: Signet Eclipse
7 February 2012
She took a quick step back when the target was thrust into her face.
Five shots clustered very near the bull’s-eye.
Liliana cleared her throat. “Well done, my lord.”
Stratford lowered the target and glared. “Is that all you have to say?”
“Well, yes, I –“
“Because I can assure you, Miss Claremont, most of my shooting experience has been from the back of a moving horse,” Stratford claimed. “With a rifle, not a pistol.”
Liliana didn’t know what to say, so she nodded.
“So my victory meets your ideals of sportsmanship?”
Liliana nodded again, astounded. Her plan had worked better than she’d thought.
“Did my stance meet your approval?” he challenged. “Not leaning too far forward or back?”
“Your stance was perfect,” she said slowly.
He raised himself to his full height and looked down on her, cocking a raven brow. “So even you, with your uninformed petty little standards, could find nothing wrong with my performance?”
Liliana narrowed her eyes. Uniformed? Petty? She’d had quite enough of his display. Yes, she’d been rude, but he was being a boor.
She stepped toward him, raising herself as well – she was no shrinking violet. “Since you asked,” she said, simply because she couldn’t help herself, “you didn’t hit the center, not even once.”
She could actually see the blood rising up Stratford’s neck to his face before he exploded.
“No one hits the center with a flintlock!” he exclaimed, throwing his hands up in the air. “It takes so long for the powder to ignite, it throws off one’s aim!”
Stratford’s fist clenched and he gave her such a fierce stare, Liliana feared to take so much as a breath. Not that she sensed he’d do violence to her person, but she’d never seen someone so angry.
Then he collected himself, a mask of indifference slipping over his features. When he spoke, his voice was nonchalant. “But then, what would a woman know of a man’s pursuits?” He capped his mocking words with a shrug of his own and turned away.
Liliana sucked in a breath. Laughter tittered around her, but it hardly registered through the swiftly rising haze of fury. “A man’s pursuits?” she asked, her voice sounding low and dangerous to her ears. Her entire life she’d been told to keep her nose out of men’s pursuits. As if men alone had a brain worth educating. As if only men were capable of understanding complex scientific theory or making any worthy contribution to the world besides babies.
Well not today. Liliana took a bold step forward. “I’d wager, my lord,” she scoffed, “that this woman can not only make that weapon fire faster, but increase its accuracy measurably.”
Stratford stopped and turned back to face her, both brows raised. People around them hushed in expectation. Liliana heard Aunt Eliza’s groan from the crowd.
“And how do you propose to do that?” Stratford asked, sounding more surprised than scornful.
“That is none of your concern,” she snapped. “Do you take my wager or not?”