In the meantime, I thought it might be fun to incorporate a sneak peek that highlights a supporting character who originally appeared in the Circle C Adventures and also plays a major role in the new Circle C Stepping Stones (for ages 7-10).
Andi and Sadie are good friends when they are younger (age 9). In Andi Saddles Up, they meet when Andi is first exploring her brand-new special spot (that Chad shows her and gives her on her birthday). She is up in the tree and hears somebody approaching:
Andi spread the leaves apart. A barefoot girl wearing faded overalls sat on a brown horse.
While Andi watched, the girl slid from the horse’s back and walked up to Taffy. She rubbed the filly’s nose then took hold of the reins.
“Hey!” the girl hollered. “I said, whose horse is this?” She looked around. Then she tugged on the reins. “I guess it’s finders keepers, losers weepers.”
Andi sucked in her breath. Oh, no, it’s not! If this strange girl thought she was going to keep Taffy, she had another think coming.
Andi scrambled down the tree. When she reached the lowest branch, she swung from it and dropped to the ground. “Hey, yourself! What are you doing? That’s my horse.”
The girl laughed. “I knew I could get you to show yourself.” She dropped the reins. “Mighty pretty horse. I wouldn’t really take her.” She turned a full circle. “This your spread?”
Andi nodded. “Where did you come from?”
“Thataway.” The girl pointed up the creek. “We got a place just on the other side of those hills. I been followin’ this creek for quite a spell. Woulda kept goin’ if I hadn’t seen the horse.”
“Why are you following our creek?”
She shrugged. “To see where it goes.” She flipped a dirty-blond braid behind her shoulder. “What’s your name?”
“Andi Carter. What’s yours?”
Fast forward three years to Dangerous Decision. School (and the fact that Sadie doesn't go), life, and the fact that Chad never liked Andi going around with a no-account sheepherder's daughter has caused Andi and Sadie to drift apart. Sadie is not directly in this story, but we hear about her.
"My money's on the Hollister kids," Justin tells Andi when he hears about somebody nearly trampling the new teacher. "They're a wild bunch and wouldn't think twice about tearing through town on their horses . . ." "It wasn't Sadie and Zeke Hollister," Andi confesses. "It was Cory and me. Mostly it was me." The new teacher later thinks Andi is Sadie and treats her harshly. At that point Andi assures Mr. Foster she is NOT Sadie. The Hollisters hardly ever come to school (never, actually).
Fast forward another five years to Courageous Love. Riley and Andi are on their way up to the Hollister place to find out if they have anything to do with the recent, unpleasant happenings to the Carter family. Click to read on . . .
At Andi’s and Riley’s approach, the children paused in their play and looked up from the heaping trash piles. Andi didn’t recognize any of them. Their stringy, matted hair and filthy faces reminded Andi of her friendship with Macy Walker a few years ago. A bath had transformed Macy into a pretty girl, but Andi doubted these poor kids would ever enjoy the same opportunity.
“What’d y’all want?”
Andi brought Shasta to a halt at the edge of the yard and focused on the tall, skinny girl in the doorway. A little boy about Sammy’s age sat perched on her hip. Behind her, a heavyset, bearded man rested a shotgun across his shoulders. He glared past the girl’s head.
“Is that you, Sadie?” Andi called cheerfully. Her heart thumped at seeing the weapon in plain sight.
Sadie nodded, her lips a thin line in her pale, dirt-encrusted face.
“It’s me, Andi Carter. I want to ask you something.”
“Howdy, Andi.” Sadie dropped the toddler and addressed the man standing in the shadows. “It’s the Carter girl, Pa. Wants t’ ask us somethin’.”
“I heard her.” Vince Hollister leaned his shotgun against the doorjamb and took a step onto the creaking porch. “Y’all dismount. I don’t like talkin’ up t’ folks.”
Andi and Riley exchanged glances. Putting aside the shotgun was a hopeful sign. Riley nodded.
When they stood beside their horses facing the Hollisters, Vince shoved past Sadie and went nose to nose with Riley. Three more disheveled-looking adults poked their heads out the square holes that served as windows. A baby squalled in the background.
“You can go back and tell Chad that me and my boys ain’t gettin’ rid o’ none of our sheep,” Vince challenged. “Specially not the new ones. Took years to save up to add new blood to the flock. Ain’t had ’em but a month, and looky here! Y’all come by t’ bully me.” His fierce scowl sent Andi back two steps. “Don’t care what you cattlemen think. I got rights, same as y’all, to keep what livestock—and as many as I want—on my own place.”
Vince Hollister’s angry speech caught Andi off balance. It was true ranchers despised sheep. Chad called them four-footed, stinking vermin that chewed the grass down to the roots, making it hard for the cattle to find good forage. But Chad could not deny another man his right to raise what he wanted on his own land.
Riley smiled as if he and Vince had just exchanged pleasant greetings. He thrust out his hand. “I’m Riley Prescott, one of Chad’s new foremen. We’re not here to give you trouble about your sheep, sir. The law’s on your side, just so long as you keep them off Circle C range.”
Vince drew his dark eyebrows together at the outstretched hand. He chewed on his wad of tobacco then squeezed Riley’s hand. “I aim to. And I’ll hold Chad to your word to leave us be.” But his mood had clearly lightened. “Vince Hollister.”
“Howdy, Mr. Hollister.” Riley shook the burly hand. “It’s not sheep but cattle I want to discuss.”
“What cattle?” Vince sounded perplexed. “I ain’t got any. Just sheep, a few chickens, and a pig.”
“Carter cattle,” Andi piped up. “Black Angus heifers. Mitch has a herd of them not too far from these hills. We found the fence cut this weekend. Some sickened, and three of them died from alkali.”
Vince’s eyes widened. “Ain’t none of our doin’. Got no reason to poison Carter cattle. Not now. Not ever. Sure, we filched a steer or two time and again when we was hungry, but”—he shook his head—“don’t try to put this on us.”
“What about Zeke?” Riley asked. “He spent time in jail, thanks to Justin. If my kin landed in prison, I’d be mighty aggravated. I might even be bent on a bit of mischief as payback for—”
“Listen here, young’un.” Vince’s face turned dark red. “Neither me nor my kin would stoop so low. If I wanted t’ pay Justin back for prosecutin’ Zeke, I’d steal cattle, not poison ’em. I’d never waste a good hunk o’ beef. And that’s a fact.”
Andi believed him. From the shocked looks on the rest of the Hollisters’ faces, Vince had to be telling the truth. Hungry people didn’t kill for any other reason but to eat.
“Besides,” he finished, “Zeke an’ me an’ the whole clan’s been shearin’ sheep these past few days. No time to give the Carters mischief.” He smiled, exposing a mouthful of broken, yellow teeth. His look dared Riley to challenge his word.
Riley nodded. “I’m sorry for troubling you, Mr. Hollister. You understand why we had to ride over and see for ourselves.”
Vince grunted. “Somethin’ goes wrong and who do the valley folk blame? The no ’count Hollisters.” But there was no malice in his voice. “I’m sorry ’bout your dead heifers, Miss Carter. Hope you catch them that did it.” He scowled fiercer than ever. “There ain’t no call fer somebody t’ go after calves like that . . .” He paused. “Now, hold on a minute. I jus’ remembered somethin’. Sadie!”
“Yeah, Pa?” She stepped out on the porch, the toddler once again settled on her hip. Andi wondered if he might be Sadie’s own child.
“You saw a feller a week or so ago, didn’t ya?” Vince scratched his beard and bored his daughter with an accusing look. “He told ya he thought he was on Carter land, but you set him straight and ran him off, ain’t that so?”
For the first time since the visit began, a smile curved Sadie’s lips. “Gave him somethin’ to hurry him on his way too. A seat full of buckshot. Didn’t like his looks or the way he was talkin’ t’ me. Couldn’t figure out what he was doin’ a-way up here. He asked all sorts of nosy questions ’bout your family, Andi, and your spread. We Hollisters ain’t always been on the best o’ terms with you Carters, but we ain’t on any terms with the likes of that one.”
“What did he look like?”
Sadie wrinkled her nose in thought. “Shifty eyes. Brown, I think. Brown beard, scraggly brown hair, not young, not old. Called himself Vega or Vargas or somethin’, but I didn’t share my name.” She shivered. “He gave me the creeps.”
Andi could think of no reason to linger any longer. She thanked Sadie and Mr. Hollister, mounted Shasta, and waited for Riley before galloping away from the gloomy place. The sun was well past noon by the time they returned to check on the heifers and their keepers.
I hope you enjoyed it!