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."
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