Home to Me by Catherine Bybee

CHAPTER ONE

Erin kept a close eye on the clay target as it left its spring, flew through the air, and shattered into tiny pieces once Parker squeezed the trigger of the shotgun.

“Every time. How do you do it?” Erin was impressed. She’d only managed to hit one clay out of ten, whereas Parker had earned her nickname, Annie Oakley, in spades.

“Practice. You just started, give yourself some time.”

They were in a location well up into Angeles National Forest at a shooting range. The place was dominated by testosterone with the occasional wife or girlfriend mixed in. Erin and Parker were the only women shooting without a man at their side.

“Let’s throw out a few more and move over to the pistol range. Moving targets are harder. But I really want you to get the feel of how the shotgun kicks back so you can keep control of it.” Parker was giving her lessons without the bucketful of questions anyone else would ask.

Erin had moved onto Parker’s property at the end of the previous summer. Parker had been desperate to rent the guesthouse after surviving a fire that almost destroyed everything her family owned. And Erin had been just as eager to set up a new life far away from the main roads and close-knit neighborhoods of any big city. She wouldn’t stick out in a town the size of Santa Clarita, nor would she be surrounded by the tourists and businesspeople that overran larger Southern California cities.

Erin had expected to find solitude, and what she found instead was a spectacular friend. A friend who realized Erin was hiding from her ex, but never once pushed to find out the details. No, Parker didn’t pry. She simply told Erin that when she was ready, she would listen.

Even now, while shooting targets, or missing them as in the case of Erin’s terrible aim, Parker could easily ask why she had a strong desire to learn how to shoot. Parker hadn’t. Not once.

She handed Erin the gun with the barrel open and ready to load. This she’d figured out. Hitting shit with it . . . not so much. Although, if anyone asked, she’d say that even loading the weapon offered a certain amount of strength she didn’t know was in her.

With her safety goggles on and her ears plugged with orange earplugs, eyes and ears as Parker called them, Erin placed the butt of the gun into her shoulder.

“Are you forgetting something?” Parker asked.

For a second, she paused, confused. Then she smiled and cocked the gun. The sound was hauntingly satisfying. It said Don’t fuck with me with two solid clicks.

Parker smiled. “This time I want you to lean into the gun and stare down that barrel until you feel like it’s an extension of your arm. You know the clay is headed to the left so don’t aim to the right at all.” She moved behind the pulley. “Whenever you’re ready.”

Erin took a deep breath, placed her finger on the trigger. “Pull.”

Parker released the spring. An orange clay shot into the sky. She saw it fly past and knew she was going to miss before even squeezing the trigger.

The blast from the gun sounded in her ear and jolted her shoulder back with one action.

The undamaged orange clay flew until it hit the back of the hill to join all of its friends. Only then did it crumble.

Parker walked up behind her. “Shift your weight to your left foot.” She put a hand on Erin’s shoulder and gave a slight push into the weapon. “Lean into it.”

Back in position, she took a few more deep breaths. I can do this.

“Pull.”

Miss.

“Pull.”

Miss.

“Pull.”

Hit . . . Holy crap, she hit it. Erin felt like she’d won the lottery as a huge smile erupted on her face.

She sat the gun down and gave Parker a high five.

“Quit while you’re ahead?” Parker asked. “Or try a few more?”

Erin put the gun down. “Let’s try something smaller.”

An hour later they were driving down the long canyon road smug in their marksmanship. Parker had been right. Shooting a pistol was a lot easier than the shotgun. Each plink of the metal targets was an exclamation point. Erin couldn’t stop smiling.

“That was a lot more fun than I thought it would be.”

Parker kept both hands on the wheel as she traversed the canyon switchbacks. “My dad used to take me out all the time. Said that since we had guns in the house, it was imperative that I know how to shoot.”

“What about Mallory and Austin?” Mallory and Austin were Parker’s younger sister and brother that she took care of after the passing of their parents three years before.