Title: The Queen of Paradise Valley
Author: Cat Dubie
Genre: Historical Western Romance
Diana Rennie, daughter of a wealthy rancher, attempts to persuade mystery man Del Russell to leave his grievances behind and forgive her father for past mistakes. Her careful plan goes awry and results in a shotgun wedding and a prison sentence for Del.
Four years later, Del is back in her life with a vengeance—back for his rightful share of Diana's ranch, back to prove he isn't the criminal she thought he was, back to finish what the two of them in started years ago in a passionate daze. And he isn’t going anywhere, no matter what beautiful, treacherous Diana does or says to try to get rid of him.
Seething with anger, much less composed than she was, he poured more whiskey, tossed it down and resumed his seat. Infuriating female--she'd taken his simple gesture and twisted it about. His temper was justified. But what had he gained by hurting her except to widen a gulf that already existed between them?
And he had lied when he said he didn't want her, for suddenly, inexplicably, the opposite was true. Diana's proud, inviolable attitude only fueled his desire. She was an ice maiden with a touch-me-not manner and a wonderful lithe body.
She had a delicate body scent, fresh as a high mountain breeze. Her hair was softer than the down of an eaglet; her skin smoother than polished obsidian. The crystal stones teased him, boasted of contact with glowing flesh. He was no longer sure if he’d bought the necklace because it reminded him of Reese. Had he unconsciously been thinking of Diana instead?
The silence was cumbersome, worse than any argument they might have had. Needing to break it, he said, "I've been looking at the books. They're a mess."
"Yes, just like the bottom drawer." Prim words. "But at least I know where things are on the desk when it's messy. The neat little piles you make are utterly confusing."
"I didn't mean it that way, although you can learn some organization. And that scrawl you pass off as handwriting--"
"I can read it and don't care if you can't. So where did you learn to write such fancy script? You lived with Indians, didn't you?"
He was silent for a time, deliberating. "I learned to write, and other things, at Aunt Francine's house. She wasn't my aunt, though. And it wasn't a real house. An Emporium, she called it, 'An Emporium of Pleasure'."
Diana dropped her fork with a ping of metal on china. Her cheeks glowed pink. "A brothel?"
He nodded, smiling as the memories came to him. "I was seventeen when I left the Cheyenne and had nearly forgotten how to read and write. Found a job in Durango--Aunt Francine needed a strong arm to handle rowdy customers."
Wavering candlelight revealed Diana’s fingers crunching, then smoothing her napkin. "The Emporium was a parlor house, elegant and cultured, one of the finest in the West. Aunt Francine was a former schoolteacher and made sure we all had daily lessons: penmanship, literature, music.”
“And I bet you bedded each of the wh–um, ladies.” Her voice was tart.
Did the idea bother or intrigue her? Should he tell her he spent many a late night reading in Francine’s library, that the books he had devoured in his eagerness to make up for lost time had been the biggest part of his re-education? Nah. “Not all of them, I’m afraid.” Her mouth opened then closed, her thoughts unspoken. He added, “After nearly five years there I felt ready to tackle the world."
“And then you came here.” She looked down and arranged her knife and fork on her plate, the movements slow and precise.
“Yeah.” That was one memory he didn’t care to relive.
She lifted her head and now there was a searching intensity in her blue gaze. “You escaped prison two years ago. Where were you those years?”
Another memory he would not, could not share. “I worked on a ranch up Wyoming way.”
Hell, this was a conversation neither of them wanted, and he needed to free his mind of the painful pictures of the past now surging in. He cleared his throat. “Where were we? Oh yeah, the messy books. I meant that you recently bought unnecessary items--two hundred cows, paid for with money taken from an emergency fund."
"We replaced breeding stock lost over the past three winters. If I used money from the emergency fund, it was your doing. If you hadn't won everything Randy possessed he wouldn't have come and stolen all our cash."
Del set down his glass with a thump. "Most people keep money in a bank. Normal people, that is."
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What I love most about the holiday season:
Long sunny [mostly] days and short starry nights result in significantly lower power bills! But seriously, it’s lovely to sit outside on a beautiful afternoon with a cup of coffee or glass of iced tea, puppy or kitten on your lap, and a good book.
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Runs July 1 – 31
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Cat Dubie's love of words began early. With a crayon in hand she first drew stories, with a pencil she wrote them. As for reading, she was the girl who always had her nose in a book, the one who read with a flashlight under the covers or, when the moon was full, sat by a window for hours laughing, crying, loving characters whose adventurous lives wouldn't let her sleep.
She has traveled the world in books. She has traveled back to the dawn of time and far into the future in books. Her keen interest in history determined the nature of her books, and the first Historical romance novel she read, settled the genre.
After working for various levels of government, she retired and now lives in the beautiful province of British Columbia, where she indulges in her need for creating stories about romance, adventure, passion, mystery, love ...
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