Tuesday, March 26, 2019

New Excerpt!

From chapter 31, The Queen of Paradise Valley




Del told her only that their cargo needed guards, so he and Clem and some hands would form an armed escort for the wagons. But as the days sped by it became harder to convince her to remain behind. A week before departure she still badgered him, declaring at breakfast, arms crossed, "You haven't given me one good reason why I can't go."
He stirred his coffee. "If there's trouble someone could get hurt, even killed."
Killer eyes, full force. "You know I shoot better than most men. If you’re riding shotgun, why can't I?"
He flashed an equally harsh gaze back. "Because no matter how hard you work at it, you're not a man,. Stop being unreasonable. I'm riding with the shipment. You're staying here." He set down his spoon. "Shouldn't you be out telling the men where to drill the seeds?"
"Stop changing the subject. Why don't you admit you don't want me along?"
Was she testing him? "Diana, I don't want you along."

She dropped the subject but her pique continued to fester. It did not seem unreasonable for her to be with Del when the copper was delivered and payment changed hands. Were they equal partners, or not?
Two mornings later she woke well before dawn to sounds of Del packing saddlebags. She dressed and followed him down the stairs. In the office he selected a pistol, shotgun, and boxes of ammunition from the gun cabinet, stepping around her as if she weren’t there.
She trailed him to the stable, where Clem and four others were mounted and ready to ride. Darkness cloaked the valley, the air was heady with the sweet fragrance of green growing things, underlaid by the ever present smell of thousands of warm-bodied cows. Birds chattered, a lightening sky above the eastern horizon indicated daybreak was imminent.
Del led out his horse and turned to her. "Aren't you going to say good-bye?" He tied back his hair and lowered his hat, rendering his features indistinct.
She linked her hands behind her back, muttered, "Good-bye."
He dropped the reins, strode to her and folded her into a hard embrace, his hands sliding down her arms to her wrists, pinning them to the small of her back. While she wriggled to escape, he bent his head and kissed her half-opened mouth with possessive ferocity. She responded with a dark passion that left her gasping.
One by one the mountain peaks erupted with bright vermilion light. Del's eyes were silver lamps burning beneath the brim of his hat. She pulled back. "Let me go. This is--indecent." Over his shoulder she saw the men gazing at the sky, at the ground, grins on their faces.
Rather than release her, Del tightened his hold. His face now bathed in warm golden light, he winked at her. "How can this be indecent after the things we did last night?"


Available at:


  

indigo   https://www.chapters.indigo.ca/en-ca/books/the-queen-of-paradise-valley/9781509217557-item.html?ikwid=The+Queen+of+Paradise+Valley&ikwsec=Home&ikwidx=0



--Cat

Monday, February 25, 2019

New excerpt from The Queen of Paradise Valley







From chapter 27



Clem waited in the house. "How you been, Miss Diana? Heard there was some trouble."
She hung her jacket and wool muffler in the hall, dropped her hat and gloves on a chair. "What did you hear?"
He hooked his thumbs into his vest pockets. “Well…you and Del had a big fight and you tried to kill him. 'Course, it's also been said he shot himself by accident."
"That's what he told the sheriff."
“Miss Diana--" Clem gave her a searching look, but she shook her head. No. She would not discuss the incident.  Teresa bustled down the stairs bearing a tray laden with empty dishes. Clem turned to her. "How's the patient today? Does he want comp'ny?"
"He is much better.” Her eyes were bright. “But he wishes to see the Signora."
Oh, no. Seeing Del was the last thing Diana wanted to do. "I don't have time now. Teresa, can you please get me a change of clothing from my room?"
With a shake of her head, the housekeeper declared, "You must get for yourself anything you want. You cannot delay seeing him. He is your husband and must be obeyed."
Clem smiled. "I'll be back tomorrow."
Engulfed by a torrent of angry thoughts, Diana didn't watch him leave. Husband? Well, yes. Master? No. Never.
But eventually she went to her room. So warm. Someone was keeping the fireplace well-fed lest the invalid get a chill. Without a glance at the bed, she strode to her bureau and opened a drawer. Why didn't he say anything? If he was asleep she could avoid a confrontation. She took a chance, looked into a mirror and saw her own pink-cheeked face, and Del, gazing at her with half-closed eyes, a cryptic smile on his lips.
Flustered by the weight of his gaze, she lifted several nightgowns out of the drawer, then turned to face him. "I needed some things. Teresa refuses to fetch them."
He didn't speak but continued looking at her. Propped up by pillows, a quilt drawn to his bandage, he was bare-chested, all black hair and hard muscles. Much too masculine for the lace trimmed pillowslips and the elegant roses embroidered on the quilt. Ebony dozed on the floor at the foot of the bed. Another traitor.  Like everyone else at the ranch.
She licked her dry lips. "Will you be able to move back to your room soon?"
A shrug lifted one shoulder. "Soon's doc says I can. Are you keeping my bed warm?"
"I've been sleeping in Randy's room." Face tingling, she hugged the clothes and looked aside. "Why don't you ask Alfredo to give you a shave?"
"Alfredo's busy. Why don't you do it for me?"
Her gaze swung back to him. "Ha. Put a razor in my hand I just might slit your throat."
“Diana." His tone was softly chiding and she stared at him in surprise. "I trust you. Why don't you trust me? Come sit so we can talk."
Despite her reluctance, she perched on a chair beside the bed and looked out the window.  What did he want to say? Why didn't he get it over with? She asked, "How do you feel?"
“Like I’ve had a bullet carved out of my side. Like I've had my flesh stitched together. Want to see it?"
"Oh no. No!" Embarrassed, she added, "I can't look. I–I have an aversion to the sight of human blood. I panic. I can look at animals covered with blood, dead or dying. But wounded people--never." Damn, she was jabbering. She rubbed her brow.  "I--didn't mean to shoot you. It--just happened."
Another awkward silence. At last he said, "I'm sure I deserved this. Go ahead, call me a miserable son of a bitch." He paused, but when she said nothing, he continued, "What do you think the sight of you half-undressed does to a man? Especially when he knows you aren't the saint you pretend to be? Why don't you stop acting the prude?"


— Cat

Sunday, February 03, 2019

New excerpt

From chapter 23

She ran to the barn door. "I must go home."
Clem moved after her. "Stay here. The storm--"
"I'll be home before it's really bad. I have to go." She mounted Paladin and turned back to him, her voice ragged. "Don't you see? I told them I'd help and look what happened."
Paladin did an uneasy dance. Clem grabbed for the reins but she veered to the side and spurred the horse into a quick lope. Clem’s hoarse voice called her to stop, to wait, but she paid no heed. Then she heard nothing but the keening of the wind.
At first it came in uncertain gusts, and the large white flakes eddied and coiled, building low mounds on the road. Then it blew steadily, drawing the flakes into threadlike tassels, streaking the mounds into drifts. Finally the wind assumed full force and drove the snow hard in a slanting southeasterly direction.
Moving nearly broadside against it, Diana made slow progress. Icy pellets stung her cheeks. Billowing veils became thick sheets, concealing all landmarks, even the road. Paladin tried to turn his back to the wind whenever she relaxed her grip on the reins. She leaned over his neck and urged him through deepening drifts. A half buried fence line on the left vanished. Whenever she turned her head to search for the gates to Paradise Valley, her eyes and nostrils filled with snow.
"I must get home," she said aloud. But the screaming wind drowned out the sound of her voice.
Paladin, his coat crystallized with ice, whinnied and wheezed, gasped and shuddered. Despite the horse’s increasing unsteadiness, she didn't dare stop, even when she lost all sensation in her face and hands.
They plodded on, for miles it seemed, for hours that may have only been minutes. How long had she been out in the storm? Where was she? Nothing made sense any longer.
Paladin stumbled and fell onto his forelegs. She rolled off and struggled for footing. With a jerk on the reins, she pulled him up, then plowed on through knee-deep drifts. She couldn't see the horse an arm's length behind her. He careened and dropped onto his side.
She yanked on the bridle, shrieked, "Get up. Get up, damn beast. Oh, God. What have I done?" She fell on his neck, heard his exhausted gasps, a shuddering sigh, then--nothing. Horrendous pain seized her throat. "My beautiful Paladin." The wind snatched the words from her frozen lips. "I could have saved you. I could have saved James. It's my fault he's dead. My fault you're dead."
          She hauled herself up and staggered forth, whipped by the wind and haunting images: James 

staring vacantly at the sky; Stevy, his scarred face contorted. "The bullet I got for you," he taunted 

her. "The bullet for you--"


The Queen of Paradise Valley    available at Amazon

Thursday, December 27, 2018

New excerpt from The Queen of Paradise Valley




From chapter 19

A lantern hung from the center post, shedding smoky light that didn’t reach the gloomy corners of the tent. Diana brushed snarls out of her hair and pulled down the wool sleeves of her underwear. Outside a rising wind stirred the pines, sawing branches together, scattering needles onto the canvas roof.
She shivered and hugged her arms. Her bedding, blankets arranged on a thin mattress, looked cold and uninviting. Why hadn't she asked one of the cowhands to bring some heated rocks from the campfire? Where was her brain? Still listening to Del as he chided her for skimming the surface of the ocean he called life?  
A chilly draft swept her back. She whirled. As if she had conjured him up, Del stood in shadows at the entrance, one hand holding his hat, the other clasping the neck of a bottle.
"Del--" Tremors in her voice betrayed her excited dread. "You have no right to be here."
Her dread increased as he let his hat fall and stepped forward, his face emerging in the light. There was something predatory in his half-closed eyes. Something hungry.   
"Why?" The soft-spoken word seemed fraught with danger. His gaze moved over her in a slow sweep and he swayed, groping for the center post to steady himself. The lantern swung and grotesque shadows careened across the canvas walls. He raised the bottle to his lips.
She shook her head. Drunk. Disgusting.
"See, the men got a wager. Some say you wear black to bed. Reckon they’re wrong. Man's clothes, man's red underwear. An' I was hoping to see the flawless design."  
No sense to his words. No reason for heat forming in her cheeks, spreading to her neck and down. She said, "You can make your report and leave me to myself."
“C’mon, Miz Russell, don't you want some of this good whiskey?" He lifted the bottle and shook his head. A grin twitched his mouth. "Sorry. None left to warm you--"
The bottle slid from his hand. He took several steps, stumbled, and half fell against her. She grabbed his shoulders, strained to stabilize him. At once locked in a ponderous embrace, she stared into glazed silver eyes mere inches from hers. He bunched her hair to one side and dragged his fingers down the center of her back, igniting all her senses.
And she was the one sliding, falling, and he was supporting her. He lowered his face to hers. She averted her head and his lips brushed her cheek. 
“I’ll warm you myself, China Doll." He squeezed her chin and turned her face to his.
She opened her mouth, whispered, "Don't--" but her protest was crushed by the stubborn press of his lips. He tasted like whiskey and she herself was intoxicated. She clutched at his jacket collar. It was fur, maybe wolf, thick and shaggy like his hair. 

 --Cat




Sunday, December 02, 2018

Excerpt 5 – The Queen of Paradise Valley

From Chapter Fifteen


Del followed the guests into another large room,
where an orchestra was setting up on a dais. A variety
of colognes eclipsed pine scents from scattered boughs.

He wove through the crowd to where Lord stood with
Diana, her hand tucked into his arm.

Lord wore his earnest face. “Miss Rennie, I was
hoping to learn something about you at dinner. I wish to
be your friend.”

She slid her hand free and smoothed her hair. “I’m
not very interesting.”

He gestured at the orchestra. “Do you like music?”

Del stepped before them. “Does she like music?
You should hear her play the piano.”

Lord’s assessing gaze moved from Del to Diana.
“Will you play for us?”

She pressed her lips together. Not hard to guess
what was going through her mind. “I’d rather not. I
haven’t—”

“Ah, she’s modest.” Maybe this was as reckless as
riding a wild mustang. Del didn’t care. Why should she
always get her way? “Don’t listen to her. Sit her at a
piano, and she won’t stop.”

She didn’t look at him. Likely planning to punch
him in the mouth.

Lord guided her to the shiny black piano, pulled
out the seat, and turned to his guests, clapping to
capture their attention. “We have a treat in store. Miss
Rennie will entertain us until the orchestra is ready.”

People gathered. Diana sat on the bench, smoothed
her skirt, and removed her gloves. Del took them and
leaned against the wall, facing her. She glared at him,
mouthed the word bastard. The others formed a half
circle behind her. She flexed her fingers and tested the
keys, delivered a quick arpeggio, added fluttering trills
and a smooth glissando.

Killer eyes, but her voice was pleasant. “What
would you like me to plunk, Mr. Russell?”

And there was the challenge. “Chopin? Nocturne.
Do you know it?”


— Cat

Thursday, September 27, 2018

New Excerpt

Excerpt 4 -  The Queen of Paradise Valley

From chapter 11



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 saddle 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.


Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Excerpt 3 - The Queen of Paradise Valley

New excerpt – from chapter 7


Diana and Del Russell stared into each other’s eyes, measuring, assessing, searching. She tore her gaze away. As if the pull wasn’t bad enough, she was swamped by guilt.
No, damn it. He was the guilty one, the criminal, and his arrival could only be a threat. She swallowed her apprehension and lifted her chin. "I heard you were dead."
He tipped his hat. Cleaner-looking than that day in town two weeks ago, his black hair collar-length, he wore redolent rawhide and moccasins. "Guess you could say I'm back from hell." A half-smile twisting his lips, he reached down and scratched Ebony behind the ears. No longer growling, the dog closed his eyes, and sporting a foolish look of bliss, allowed this stranger to fondle him.
Jolted, Diana pointed to the back of the house. "Ebony, go. And you, don't touch him. He could tear you apart."
Head down, ears flat, the dog loped away. Del shook his head. "Yeah, that dog’s a real killer. Aren't you going to invite me in?" He pushed past her into the main room. “Still the grand room I remember, the room touched by Midas." Having completed a slow circuit, his silvery gaze rested on her. "And you, China Doll, are better looking than I recall, even dressed like a man." His eyes moved from her head to her feet and back again in such a thorough manner her skin tingled as if touched through her clothes. Heat rose to her cheeks.
He ambled to the piano and swept a hand along the satiny white surface. "Didn’t see this before. Do you play? Maybe you can plunk a tune for me."
The keyboard cover creaked as he lifted it. With a low hiss she elbowed him away. Owen’s last gift to her. Not to be handled by a criminal. "Don't touch it. The piano is not for 'plunking'. It’s never been played."
He raised a brow. "The piano's a virgin? Kind of like you?"
"And it will never be played." Oh, damn, their marriage hadn't been annulled! She whirled and darted to the office. There she pulled desk drawers open and shuffled papers until she found what she sought. Prepared to tear the document to shreds, she jumped when Del closed a hand over hers, crushed her fingers and slid the paper from her grip.
He scanned the words. "Destroying this won't change anything. You're my wife. Get used to the idea." He tossed the page onto the desk, turned, and studied the room. 
A sour taste in her mouth, she backed away. "Why did you return? Owen is dead. You're too late for the revenge you promised."
He walked to the bookcase, read some titles, returned and settled into the chair behind the desk. "Yeah. But for two years while I counted stones in Snake Canyon I planned a thousand ways to kill him. It's what kept me alive. That and the thought of you. It would've been easier going to prison if I was guilty of something."
She compressed her lips, shook her head. "You were guilty. You stole our horses and--"
"You still believe that? The old bastard didn't tell you the truth?"
Incredible, the tale he now told. "My father wouldn't lie to me."
"He would and he did." Del stared hard at her, eyes unblinking. "I have an interest in this ranch and I'm going to protect it."
Heat, this time of anger, flushed her cheeks. "The ranch is mine."
"Some of it, yeah. But legal ownership of Paradise Valley was set up in both our fathers' names. A fifty-fifty partnership, properly registered, never dissolved. That alone entitles me to half the ranch, but if you insist on denying it, then I'll insist you honor your brother's debt."









  


— Cat