The Queen of Paradise Valley
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 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.
“I don’t need a lesson in ranch economics.” She took a breath and said with a forced smile, “We can still hope the prices get better. Any more questions?”
“Yeah. A payment of eighteen dollars to a Mrs. Willard—”
“That’s what I paid for this gown. Oh, I can see what you’re thinking. A frivolous waste—right? Well, in New York this very gown would cost three times as much.” She rose, paced into the darkness, turned, and moved back into the circle of candlelight.
“I haven’t bought a new gown in four years.” Again she headed into the shadows, skirts whispering, again she returned to the light. “When we sell the cows, I’ll use my portion of the profits to reopen the copper mine on Cimarron. You can do what you want with yours.” Back and forth she went, from darkness into light, into darkness again, until he followed her into the shadows and drew her to the table.
“Stand still. I can’t talk to you when you keep vanishing.”
Diana avoided his eyes and shied away from him, apprehension swelling inside her. She didn’t want his kindness, his gentleness. Her heart fluttered. Or did she?
His thumb grazed her cheek. “What are you afraid of?”
The flutter became a steady drumbeat. “Nothing.” She lowered her head.
He lifted her chin, forced her to look at him, to feel the pull. “Diana…” His voice was soft as his fingers moved lightly along her neck. The feathery strokes generated a sigh, brought it sizzling through her clenched teeth. In a moment he would kiss her and she waited, her heart pounding, to show him her lips weren’t always cold, that she was a real woman after all.
With a smile that crinkled the corners of his eyes, he pushed a chair aside and lifted her onto the table. Surprised, she dropped her hands flat behind her. He nudged her knees apart with his hip and stood between her legs, canted forward, enclosing her with his arms as he covered her hands with his.
“Diana…” The low whisper touched her brow like a sultry breeze. He worked at the tight knot of her hair, the hard press of his thighs kindling fierce heat she felt through her skirts. Her hair slipped down, and he ran his fingers like a comb through the twisted strands.
“China Doll.” He skimmed her heated cheeks. “We seem a perfect fit.”
Flames bolted down her spine and lodged somewhere between her legs, almost pulling a groan from her mouth. With that smile he was so attractive, so—
Ebony, lying on a round mat in the unlighted hall, yelped. Del turned and gazed into the darkness. A jolt of alarm causing her heart to trip in a different manner, Diana slid off the table and willed strength back into her legs.
The dog sounded as if he were running in circles, claws clattering on the floor. Del lighted a lamp and carried it into the hall just as Clem staggered in reeking of smoke. Cinders and ash tumbled like snow from his hair and clothing.
“The winter pasture’s on fire.” He gasped between wracking coughs and shook his head, swiping a hand across his soot-smudged cheek.