Lucky Shot (The Montana Hamiltons: Center Point Large Print)

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9781683241577: Lucky Shot (The Montana Hamiltons: Center Point Large Print)

He s determined to uncover the truth behind a decades-old disappearance even if it kills him."

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About the Author:

New York Times and USA Today bestselling author B.J. Daniels lives in Montana with her husband, Parker, and three springer spaniels. When not writing, she quilts, boats and plays tennis. Contact her at www.bjdaniels.com or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/pages/BJ-Daniels/127936587217837 or on twitter at bjdanielsauthor.

 

 

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Max Malone scratched his shaggy sandy-blond hair and squinted at the sunrise that cast the awe-inspiring Crazy Mountains in a pale pink glow. He'd camped just outside the Hamilton Ranch, sleeping in the back of his pickup and hoping it wouldn't rain.

He needed a haircut and he also had a couple days' growth of beard. All part of the job, he thought as he surveyed the news vans parked outside the Hamilton Ranch gate. There'd been more vans parked here nine months ago when the senator's first wife had returned from the dead. Now only two vehicles remained, along with a few reporters who drove out some mornings after a hot shower, a latte and a night in a warm bed. Like him, they lived in hope of getting something newsworthy on the days they heard the senator was back from Washington.

Max had met the other reporters and photographers the first day he'd shown up here. They would have looked down their noses at him even if he hadn't been driving an old pickup and sleeping in the back of it under the camper shell. He was a freelancing investigative journalist, one of a dying breed.

But he had a reputation that preceded him, so he hoped he made them all nervous as they worried about what he was up to. Anyone who had ever read his articles would know that this wasn't his kind of story.

Which meant he might know something they didn't.

He smiled to himself. Let them wonder. If he was right... Well, he wasn't going to let himself go down that trail of thought, not yet. He didn't want to jinx it.

The only one of the news bunch waiting at the ranch gate who'd given him more than a nod was an old-timer newspaper journalist named Harvey Duncan. It was Harvey he stood with this morning at the fence.

"Is it true there are no photographs of Sarah Hamilton except for her high school yearbook and her driver's license mug shot from years ago?" Max asked about the senator's first wife, Sarah Johnson Hamilton.

"Rumor is the new wife disposed of all the photos, photos of Sarah, including the wedding photos," Harvey said and took a gulp of his coffee from a cup that said Big Timber Java on the side.

Just the smell of the coffee was almost enough to send Max hightailing it into town. He could go without food for several days. But coffee, that was a whole other matter.

"Surely someone's seen her and gotten a recent shot, at least a candid one," he said as if merely passing time.

Harvey shook his head. "No one knows where she is. She couldn't move back in here at the ranch after her unexpected return from the dead, not and live with the senator and his current wife. And after the story came out about her...memory loss..." He pulled a face.

No one believed anyone could forget twenty-two years of her life. "I heard all six daughters have scattered to the wind, as well," Max said.

"So it seems." Harvey took another drink. "Abandoned the ranch as if it was a sinking ship."

Hamilton Ranch was far from a sinking ship. Just as Senator Buckmaster Hamilton's bid for the presidency was a far cry from the disaster everyone had predicted when his dead wife had shown up. He was a front-runner in the polls, and the gracious way he'd handled his first wife's return had only garnered him more popularity.

"I've been struggling to get a bead on Sarah Hamilton. No one seems to know anything about her," Max said. "With a maiden name like Johnson and a married name like Hamilton, it makes it hard to get much background, other than what is already known about her. Not that she was probably using either name in the past twenty-two years. That is, if she was trying to hide and really didn't lose her memory."

Harvey chuckled. If he knew anything, he wasn't giving it up. Max had used all of his resources and had come up empty, but apparently so had everyone else. Not that anyone in the world would care about the woman if she hadn't been married to the future president of the United States—if you could believe the polls and he didn't do anything to screw up before election day.

Still, Max was fascinated by the woman and more than a little curious about what she might be up to. Sarah Johnson had come from a two-parent, affluent home with a squeaky-clean past. She'd been the golden girl, high school cheerleader, valedictorian and had apparently glided through college without making a ripple, coming out with a bachelor of arts degree in literature. She'd married well, had six children and then one winter night, for some unknown reason, she'd driven her car into the Yellowstone River. Her body was never found. Because there were no skid marks on the highway, it had looked like a suicide. Foul play had never been suspected.

That was twenty-two years ago. Now she was back—with no memory of those years or why she'd apparently tried to take her own life.

Max wanted this story more than he wanted a hot cup of coffee this morning. Even better would be a current photograph. Right now a photo of the back-from-the-grave Sarah Hamilton would be worth...hell, he could name his price.

At movement down at the ranch house, the reporters and photographers in the vans hopped out and got ready. Word was that the senator had flown in last night for a short visit. He'd been gone for months and only returned for quick visits between his job and his campaigning. Unlike some of the others, who hadn't declared their candidacy yet, Hamilton had jumped into the ring early.

"I think I'm going into town for coffee," Max announced, even though that wasn't his plan at all as he walked back to his pickup. While the senator often came and went from the ranch with his current wife, this morning Buckmaster Hamilton was alone as he drove toward the gate.

Max crossed his fingers as he started his pickup. Maybe luck would be with him. He'd tried to follow the man before but had lost him. Buckmaster was a Montana rancher at heart. Being a senator hadn't changed that. Nor had money. He didn't own a private jet, he didn't have a large staff while at the ranch and he certainly didn't have a driver. On top of that, the man drove like a bat out of hell and had the luxury of knowing the roads. If that didn't make it difficult enough to follow him, add the dust that boiled up behind the senator's SUV. Because of that Max hadn't seen where the man had disappeared to during his other attempts to follow him.

This morning, while he would have loved to actually go in to town for coffee, he was determined to outfox the man. On a hunch, Max took off down the road that led to the old mining town of Beartooth, Montana. If he was wrong and the senator headed the other way, then he still had nothing to lose. He'd go have coffee and breakfast at the Branding Iron. Maybe he'd pick up some gossip he could use.

But as he glanced in his mirror, he saw the senator's SUV behind him and grinned. Max drove slowly like many of the local ranchers, his window down, his elbow out. The smells of fall blew in. He breathed deeply. He'd grown up in California, and this kind of fall was new to him. He loved the scents, as well as the spectacular leaf show the aspens and cottonwoods put on this time of year in Montana against the snowcapped Crazy Mountains backdrop.

He'd been a lot of places over the years with this job that he loved. As an investigative journalist, he got to delve into other people's lives. It was like digging through their garbage, which admittedly he'd done a few times when the situation necessitated it. And because he freelanced, he didn't have a boss he had to answer to either.

Max was going slow enough that he knew the senator would eventually pass him to get out of his dust.

Sure enough, Hamilton finally did, blowing past without a sideways glance. Max was betting the man hadn't noticed him or his old truck parked away from where the other reporters hung out by the ranch fence.

A news van came flying up behind Max. He moved to the middle of the road and ignored the driver blasting his horn. The driver was a hotshot newsman who looked down his nose at him. Let him eat some dust.

Meanwhile, Max could see the senator's dust dissipating in the distance. Just a little farther.

He'd followed Buckmaster Hamilton several other times when he'd left about this time of day and headed in this direction. Max was betting the senator was going to the same place he had before. What had thrown him previously was that there hadn't been any ranches or houses near the spot where he'd lost him.

Since then, Max had had plenty of time to explore the area. He had an idea where the senator was going. He moved over and let the news van pass him, knowing the van would never be able to catch up to Hamilton now. The newsman flipped him off as he went by.

Max smiled and slowed, turning at the next dirt road, and hoping his instincts paid off. Sometimes at night, with nothing to do, he would just drive back roads. He'd found this one quite by accident and had been surprised to end up on a tall rocky outcropping. The view had been incredible. He figured teenagers knew about the spot because he'd seen rock fire pits and a lot of smashed, empty beer cans.

Driving up the road, he stopped short of the top of the rocky hill. Getting out, he grabbed his camera case and, closing the door quietly, headed up to the pinnacle. He'd almost reached the top when he heard a vehicle on the narrow dirt road below him. He recognized the senator's SUV as it came to a stop at the edge of the tree-lined creek.

He smiled to himself, pleased that he'd been right as Hamilton got out. Fifty-nine, the senator was a large, distinguished-looking man with thick salt-and-pepper hair. No one had been surprised when he'd thrown his hat in to the ring for the presidency. The Montana rancher was well liked and moderate enough that he had friends on both sides of the aisle.

The senator exited his vehicle and walked down to the water and paced as if waiting impatiently for someone. Max was betting that someone was Sarah Hamilton, the wife who'd only recently come back from the dead. As he watched the senator, he reminded himself that he could be spying on the next president of the United States. That was, if nothing happened to derail the man's run for the top political seat.

Five minutes later a pickup truck came down the road from the other direction and began to slow to a stop. Max took a photo of the dust trail the truck had left across the canyon and up into the pines of the foothills. It wouldn't be easy, but maybe he could track down where that pickup had come from—and find Sarah Hamilton's hideout.

Excited now, he was betting it all on who would climb out of that truck. It had to be the senator's first wife, the woman who'd left behind six daughters, the youngest twins and only a few months old, to plunge her vehicle into the icy Yellowstone River.

When her body was never found, Buckmaster Hamilton had had her declared dead and had also apparently buried her memory before marrying Angelina Broadwater fifteen years ago. Needless to say, Sarah's return had caused an uproar even before everyone found out about her memory loss.

There wasn't a reporter worth his salt who didn't want her story, which had forced her underground. Even the man she'd been staying with, a rancher named Russell Murdock, refused to say where she was hiding.

As the pickup came to a full stop, Max had his camera ready. Everything about this clandestine meeting in the middle of nowhere told him it was going to be worth the hours he'd spent driving these back roads.

With the telephoto lens, he snapped a shot of the driver behind the wheel, recognizing him as Russell Murdock. Russell, who was about Sarah Johnson Hamilton's age, had been the one who'd found her. The story was that she'd stumbled out into the road a few miles out of Beartooth in the middle of nowhere with no memory of where she'd been the past twenty-two years.

Max quickly focused on the other side of the truck as the passenger side door opened. A blonde woman in her fifties stepped out and he knew he'd hit pay dirt.

Sarah Johnson Hamilton? The only other photos he'd seen of her were from her high school yearbook and her 1993 driver's license mug shot. Strangely enough, there were no photos of her from college that he'd been able to find. Obviously, she'd changed in the years since those photographs were taken. But he told himself this had to be her.

He snapped a half dozen pictures of her as she headed down to the creek. The senator looked up, frowning as she approached him. Snap. Snap. Snap. He took several shots of the two of them. Even through the viewfinder he could read their body language and see the tension between them.

Max wondered what it would be like to think that no time had passed, only to return home to find your children all grown and your husband married to someone else.

The woman looked around as if worried that she was being watched. She glanced in his direction. Although dozens of yards away, Max froze. After a moment, she turned back to the man she'd obviously come here to meet.

What had driven her to leave behind her husband, six daughters, money and a huge ranch? That was the question everyone was asking. That, and why had she returned now—right when Hamilton was making a run for the White House with his current wife, Angelina?

The media had jumped on the lovers' triangle angle. But that was getting old. Everyone was looking for another angle, something more. He wished he could hear what was being said, but they were too far away and talking too softly. He watched them, snapping photos, intrigued by the way they were acting. Not like strangers. They'd known each other too well for that. He could almost feel the chemistry between them. Good or bad, he couldn't quite tell.

Hamilton might have remarried, but there were definitely some old feelings still between these two. Max could see it even through the viewfinder. He couldn't wait to get the photos on to his computer so he could get a good look at them. Maybe the tabloids were right, and the current wife, Angelina Broadwater Hamilton, did have something to worry about.

Everyone wanted to know the real story.

Everyone but Max Monroe. Right now he couldn't care less about why Sarah was back, where she'd been or if she'd end up getting her man back. He was too pleased with himself. If he was right and this woman was indeed Sarah Hamilton, what he had in his camera was money in the bank.

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