Title: The Queen of Paradise Valley
Author: Cat Dubie
Genre: Historical Western Romance
She had meant to convince him to leave town, certainly not to marry the lying thief!
He wanted to claim what was rightfully his, not get hitched to the boss man's uppity daughter!
And so begins an uneasy, unsettling marriage/ranch partnership between two stubborn individuals who must learn to work together to save the land they both love.
How silent the area had become! Before, the air had been alive with bird sounds, the hum of insects, the rustling of leaves and grasses. Now even the splash of the stream seemed muted. Uneasy, she moved to shore but stopped when low bushes on the bank shook, leaves rattled. Something crept toward the water. A weasel? Something bigger. A cougar?
She stifled a cry when Ebony's black head surged through the leaves. "Damn, you startled me. Go away. He's your master now."
Head down, ears flattened, the hound slunk away. She was not going to feel sorry for him, but after she finished dressing, she heard him barking in a wild agitated manner and her heart jumped. She dashed through the trees, now aware of too many sounds: horses whinnying, a mule braying, birds screeching, their rapid wing beats churning the air.
Del, still barefoot and shirtless, his knife in hand, crouched beside the campfire, staring hard into the dark woods surrounding the clearing. Diana paused. "What--"
He lifted a hand to halt her progress. "Get the rifle. Bullets are by the saddles."
She took a cautious sidestep and froze when a mass of shaggy red-brown fur lumbered through the trees, slapping saplings from its path. "Baldface--" The word lodged in her throat. Ebony, teeth bared, stormed into the clearing behind the grizzly.
"The rifle, Diana. Now."
Galvanized, she raced to the saddles. Baldface sniffed the air and gazed about with his one eye. Ebony leapt at the monster. With a swing of his paw, Baldface flipped the dog into a patch of shrubbery. He wheeled, ears back, looking for other prey. The horses and the mule screamed, pulled at their tethers.
Del waved his arms. "You’re here to kill, aren’t you? I’m here."
Diana grabbed Del's Remington and fumbled for the box of ammunition. It fell, spilling the cartridges. Dammit! She blinked sweat from her eyes, dropped the rifle and snatched the loaded shotgun. Del circled the grizzly, jumping to evade snapping jaws and swinging paws. Diana clenched her teeth. She couldn’t shoot with Del in the way.
The grizzly stood. Jaws wide, he is down lunged for Del’s head. Del dodged to the side but the bear’s teeth nicked his shoulder. With a savage cry, Del thrust his knife into the beast's neck. Roaring, Baldface swiped at Del's chest, knocked him to the ground. Diana fired a shell at the grizzly's rump. He whirled. She fired the second shell. Buckshot sprayed his face. It wasn't enough to fell him, but it took his attention off Del. Focusing his one eye on Diana, he pawed the ground, woofed, and prowled toward her.
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Cat has written creatively since she could hold a pencil. Poems, short stories, novels, reviews, essays. Her day job as a technical writer for various levels of government was the labor she did for a living so that in her free time she could indulge in her labor of love, writing romantic fiction.
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