Title: The Queen of Paradise Valley
Author: Cat Dubie
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Diana tries to persuade Del to forgive her father for past mistakes, but both are swept away by unexpected passion. When her father barges in he orders a quick shotgun wedding and a long prison sentence for Del.
Four years later Diana is capably running the ranch. Suddenly Del is back for his rightful share of the ranch, to prove he isn't a criminal, and to finish what they started years ago. And he isn’t going anywhere, no matter what beautiful, treacherous Diana does or says to try to get rid of him.
Two strong-willed people, two opposing views—their battles become as legendary as the land they both love and must fight together to save.
Diana lingered over a cup of coffee and planned her day. On such a glorious morning she’d ride to the high range and in a meadow aswarm with daisies eat the lunch Teresa was packing for her. On her return later this afternoon she'd tackle the books, a chore she'd been dreading.
She looked up at the sound of firm footsteps. Del stood beside her, face expressionless, eyes hard. He slapped an envelope on the table. “Read this. Explains everything.” And he was gone, moving with quick strides across the room.
The envelope bore Diana's name in Owen’s handwriting. Goosebumps rose on her arms and her hands trembled as she opened the envelope and unfolded the letter.
My dearest daughter, I saw how alarmed you were when I insisted you marry Delaney Russell. It’s been eating at my conscience that I never explained my reasons to you.
There is a slight chance I won't have the time or place to tell you this, so let me do it now. However wrong it was, I had one of the men put the stolen items into Russell's possession. He was dangerous and needed to be sent where he could not harm us. The marriage was for your protection. I've been assured Russell won't survive in prison, thus any share of the ranch he might have claimed belongs to you. The marriage certificate will prove your rights.
Forgive me for having caused you pain. I know nothing happened that night. But the opportunity was there for us and I had to seize it.
My love always,
Diana’s face burned. She slid the letter back into the envelope. Instead of messing things up, she had played into her father’s interests and helped condemn Del to prison. She rubbed her cheeks and tried to wipe away a torrent of guilt. How could she ever face Del?
But Owen did this for her, a rationalizing voice piped up in her mind. He was thinking of her future. And oh–
She pushed herself away from the table and snatched up the envelope. Where had he gone? Where had that sneaky bastard gone?
In the stable, Del, having let his anger wash through him and dissolve, brushed bits of straw off Diablo’s back prior to saddling him. He glanced up at Diana’s rapid approach and said, “If you’re here to justify Owen’s actions, save your breath.”
Stiff in posture and voice, she said, “I don’t need to justify anything he did. He was protecting me.” At his scornful laugh, she shook the envelope at him. “How dare you read something addressed to me? Where did you get this?”
What a bitch she could be. She had no right to be offended when the letter proved he was the victim.
“Are you going to answer me?”
Bright color in her cheeks, righteous fury in those killer eyes. He said, “The inkwell was dry. I searched for more. Evidently no one's looked through the desk for four years. The letter was stuck in with papers in the bottom drawer. I did what you'd have done if it was addressed to me.” He threw the brush into a bucket of tools where it landed with a rattling clang. The mustang twitched his ears and stepped forward.
Del slipped a blanket onto the horse, smoothed it, and turned to Diana. “Now you know for a fact that old bastard--I'll call him what I damn well want--is the one who should've rotted in prison. Not me.”
"You threatened him--"
Stubborn woman! "I threatened his possession of this ranch. My pa's lawful share. My lawful share." The earlier anger bubbled up again. "Do you have any idea what it's like to be in prison? Locked up, chained, treated like shit, hell, living in shit." As he spoke he moved closer to her, but rather than retreat she stood rigid, hands linked behind her, mouth a flat line, eyes daring. He put out his hand, growled, "Give me the letter."
"It's addressed to me."
"Give it to me, dammit, so I can show it to the judge as proof I was innocent."
She stared at the envelope as if she wanted to rip it to pieces, then threw it at him, swung about and departed as rapidly as she had come, without one word of apology. What a surprise.
That afternoon Diana sat at the desk, frowning at a column of figures she had added several times. The result was always the same. For the first time in the four years she had been at Paradis do e Valley the ranch was posting a loss. It was his fault.
Oh, damn, time to discard such ridiculous notions. Del had changed since their first encounter. But the man he had become was an enigma and she never knew how to deal with him. Owen’s letter had given Del the vindication she had wanted for herself, and now she must bear her father's shame as well as her own.
Of course Del had a right to be angry. Surely he realized she'd been victimized herself, that her father's love and concern had pushed him to form an ill-conceived, morally wrong scheme. Would it help to point this out to him?
Likely not--he'd get angry again.
Should she try to be a friend to him? No. Not after the nasty scene this morning. And how could she be cordial to him when he believed she was afraid of men? She was equal to most men, including him, yet she was also a woman, one without the frailties some affected when a man was around.
She glanced at the calendar on the desk. Perfect. In two days she would have an opportunity to prove all this to him.
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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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