Firestorm

Fires Of Paradise Cover Image

ISBN-10: 0380765357
REISSUED JANUARY 29, 2008

The Scorching Saga of the Braggs Continues…

Heiress to the magnificent Bragg empire, lovely, headstrong socialite Lucy Bragg lives a life that flies in the face of convention. Dark and rugged half-breed Shozkay Savage lives an outlaw's life on the edge. These two people inhabit different worlds—hers, opulent and privileged—his dangerous and wild. But on the vast and sweeping plains of Texas, their worlds collide …

Abducted and held for ransom, Lucy despises Shoz for his arrogance … yet is drawn to the strapping fugitive by a bold, unquenchable desire. Sworn to escape him but betrayed by her own reckless passion, she will follow Shoz from the unforgiving wasteland of Death Valley to the tropical heat of revolution-swept Cuba—braving scandal and heartbreak, risking life itself for an untamed and blistering love as perilous as it is forbidden.

"Definitely a keeper!"— A Romance Review

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Read An Excerpt

Chapter One – Paradise, Texas, 1897

Her name wasn’t Trouble, but it could have been.

She had gotten into more trouble between the ages of two and twenty than all five of her younger brothers combined. And each and every one of them was a born hellraiser.

As her mother said frequently, it wasn’t that she always looked for trouble, sometimes it looked for her. At two she spent most of her waking efforts determined to discover the meaning of her universe by investigating (and often breaking) everything she touched. At three she decided to see if the family pet, a miniature terrier, could fly. (It miraculously landed in a bush, unhurt, from the second-story window). That Christmas she stayed up all night, hidden behind the couch in the living room, to see if Santa Clause would really come down the chimney. At four she decided to go visit Grandma and Grandpa—in West Texas. She was very serious when she asked the cabbie to take her “to the train.” Fortunately, he took her home instead.

At four she was also in her first riot. Her mother was an active suffragette, and during one rally, her fervent speech was interrupted by tomatoes hurled from the audience. The little girl was attending in the first row, atop her father’s shoulders. Pandemonium broke out in the auditorium. She was not to be outdone. As her father raced to her mother to hustler her out the exit and to safety, she grabbed a gentleman’s bowler hat from his head and three it at another gentleman, shouting her own war cries. She loved every moment.

Her earliest near-disaster was when she was six and she tried to ride her father’s favorite hunter—alone. She got the seventeen-hand beast across Fifth Avenue and into Central Park, before being chased down by her furious parent.

Her name was Lucy Bragg. Her grandparents said she was an exact replica of her own father, Rathe, who had raised more hell as a boy than all of his siblings combined. Her mother begged her to just stop and think before acting. Lucy always promised she would. But…usually she didn’t.

Now she was twenty and had just finished her third year at Radcliffe College. Going to Boston had been a triumph of major proportions. Her father had insisted she stay in New York, close to home. He had even wanted her to live at home (the better to keep an eye on her). Lucy wouldn’t hear of it. She had that idea tooth and nail, promising to be on her best behavior, and in the end her sensible mother ruled that day, and her father reluctantly gave in.

The past year had been quiet, to her parents’ immense relief. Too quiet, Rathe had said, as if expecting a crisis at any moment. Her freshman year hadn’t been quiet at all. She had almost gotten expelled. By mistake, of course. She should never have been caught returning too her dormitory after curfew—and if the hansom’s horse hadn’t gone lame, she wouldn’t have been, either.
Lucy had come home from her sophomore year feeling a bit smug. Not only had her grades been excellent, she’d only garnered a half dozen demerits, as well as an equal number of marriage proposals. She figured that one cancelled the other, and she was right. When her father exploded about the demerits, she demurely countered with the marriage proposals. That stopped him in his tracks, effectively shifting his attention from one topic to another. He relaxed when Lucy assured him that she wasn’t really interested in any of her beaux.

This past year she seemed to have settled down. Although she’d received twice as many marriage proposals as she had the year before, she had had one steady beau for the last semester and hadn’t received a single demerit. Little did anyone know that Lucy was now an expert in the art of avoiding detection for her escapades and had perfected a few questionable techniques to insure that she would be caught out after curfew again—techniques that would have done any amateur cat burglar proud.

Every summer her family left New York City. Her parents had a summer home in Newport, and the family spent one month there. For a college woman, Newport was wonderful. Half of New York society spent their holiday there, including many of her friends, and it was an endless round robin of picnics, outings on the yacht, and evening soirees.

Each summer her family spent the other month with Lucy’s grandparents on their ranch in southwest Texas. Ever since she was a child, the highlight of the year for Lucy was going to Texas, which was even better than the summer home in Connecticut. Last summer, business had brought her grandparents, Derek and Miranda, to New York, so they had all shared their holiday at her parents’ summer home in Newport. They hadn’t gone to Texas, and Lucy had missed Paradise terribly.

Paradise was a small, idyllic town, aptly named by her Aunt Jane and Uncle Nick some years ago. It had been spawned by the D&M, her grandparents’ ranch, which had grown so big over the years that the little cluster of homes and stores on its outskirts had finally hatched into a full-fledged town. It boasted a bank, a railhead, a post office, plenty of shops, several eateries, and the most modern of hotels, which even had an elevator. The storefronts were freshly painted each spring, and the boardwalks swept clean of dust every morning. Lucy knew practically everyone in town by name, if not by sight. And they certainly all knew her.

This summer was going to be special. It was her grandfather’s eightieth birthday, and her grandmother was holding a party, which was fated to be talked about from coast to coast. More than a thousand of Derek’s friends and peers were coming from all over the country, and from as far away as London and Paris. Derek Bragg was held in the utmost esteem, and all there powerful men and their wives were coming to pay tribute to him and his lifetime’s achievements. There would be senators, congressmen, and political bosses present, the Texas governor, the San Antonio mayor, and the New York City police commissioner, Theodore Roosevelt, who was a good friend of her father’s. There would be Vanderbilts and Rockefellers, Goulds and Astors, and even the Republican nominee for president, William McKinley.

The entire affair was to be a surprise. Lucy’s grandfather was oblivious to the plans going on behind his very back. Had he known, he would have heartily protested such a fuss.

Lucy’s family intended to arrive several weeks before the grand event, in early July, as they always did. Just before they were to leave, however, a problem in Lucy’s father’s vast, multimillion-dollar empire occurred, taking him to Cuba. Lucy had overheard her parents talking and knew that there was some rioting down there, although her father had assured her mother that this trip would not be dangerous. Lucy had been to Maravilla, the vast sugar plantation near Havana that Rathe owned. It was a tropical paradise, quiet and beautiful, the undulation valley of sugar cane surrounded by thick, lush jungles and blue mountains with cascading waterfalls. It had been so peaceful and quiet the one time she had been there that she was sure the disturbances were greatly exaggerated and would be over in no time.

Concurrently, her mother decided she had to be in Washington to attend a fund-raiser for the young Democrat, William Jennings Bryan. (She did not support her husband’s choice, McKinley, much to his annoyance.) This meant that their vacation would be delayed two or three weeks, and Lucy was terribly disappointed—until she had a wonderful idea. Why shouldn’t she and her best friend, Joanna, who was also coming on their holiday, go ahead with a chaperone, so as not to lose part of their holiday? Lucy had inherited a bit of her father’s opportunistic instincts, and she seized the moment. Why not? Traveling alone across the country would be fun, even if they were chaperoned. It would be an adventure. Lucy had never traveled farther than the Berkshires without her parents, and Joanna agreed, as she always did with Lucy, that it would be exciting. The girls were clamouring to go, and Rathe and Grace succumbed.

Her father departed for Cuba via one of his brother-in-law, Brett’s, freight steamers, and Grace left for the rally in Washington. And at the last moment the kindly Mrs. Tilly Seymour came down with a terrible case of hay fever, which she claimed she hadn’t had in ten years of more. She could not possibly travel in such a state, and was terribly sorry that the girls would have to wait for the return of Lucy’s parents and travel with the entire family. It seemed as if their vacation would be delayed no matter what.

But Lucy had a blazing inspiration. She and her best friend would go to Paradise ahead of her family, alone, for their holiday!

Mrs. Seymour certainly wouldn’t know, and when her parents returned and found her gone, it would be a fait accompli. Lucy would feign innocence, widening her big blue eyes at her father and exclaiming, “But, Daddy, if I’d known you didn’t want me to go, I would have gone to Newport with the boys!”

Her mother was a bit tougher. Lucy couldn’t pull the wool over her eyes. But her mother would forget about her escapade soon enough. If some political or social or economic crisis did not arise, Lucy could always count on one of her brother to do something to divert her mother’s attention from her.

The trip to Texas had been ridiculously easy to accomplish, and now she and Joanna were standing in the dust yard of a carriage dealer in the blazing heat of San Antonio at noon. Her friend was whispering nervously in her ear.

“Lucy are you sure you know what your doing?”

Lucy grinned. She ignored the little warning bell going off inside her head. After all, they had made it this far without a single mishap. An elaborate Parisian hat bedecked with ribbons and flowers shaded her face, and she tosses her head. “Absolutely.”

“Lucy…”

Lucy grabbed Joanna’s arm and propelled her aside. She was tall for a woman, and built like her mother, long-legged and willowy, yet full-breasted. It was a figure that turned men’s heads, and even now, as she bent over to whisper in Joanna’s ear, the dealer was staring at her—as were three salesmen through the large display window from inside the red brick store. “Look, we missed the local to Paradise—think of it! Our parents will kill us if we stay the night here, unchaperoned.” Joanna started to waver, not mentioning the obvious fact that they just traveled across half of America unchaperoned. “Besides,” Lucy added, “we’ll have more fun once we get to Paradise.”

Joanna looked at Lucy.

Lucy smiled, “Didn’t we say we wanted an adventure?”

Joanna nodded, looking none too reassured.

Lucy turned to the plum little man standing before her in plaid trousers and a white linen jacket, with an oversized bow tie and a straw boater hat. “I’ll take it,” she announced, then added, “How much?”

All three pairs of eyes turned to regard the gleaming black Duryea standing in the dealer’s front yard. It was outstanding amongst the carriage and coaches for sale—the only automobile present. The dealer’s voice was eager. “One thousand five hundred dollars, but for you, little lady, one thousand even.”

“That’s fine,” Lucy said enthusiastically. She had always wanted to own an automobile! And she never quibbled over prices. Besides a thousand dollars for a brand-new motorcar sounded right to her. Hadn’t the salesman explained that it had an electric ignition as well as a one-cylinder gasoline-driven engine? And it had four wheels, not three, like some of the new automobiles.
“You’re crazy!” Joanna cried, but she was regarding the shiny automobile with awe.

Lucy was flushed with excitement. She imagined herself and Joanna driving into Paradise in the splendid black roadster. Two young women in the beautiful new car…what a stir they would create! What a sensation! Lucy liked doing things with aplomb.

She turned to the salesman. “I will give you five hundred cash. I have an unlimited line of credit at Paradise Bank. They will wire you the rest, I assure you.

The salesman blinked. “Look, ma’am, I can’t do that, I don’t know who you are!”

“My name is Lucy Bragg.” The man’s eyes widened. Bragg was the name in these parts, and Lucy didn’t have to continue, but she did. “My daddy is the industrialist Rathe Bragg, and he owns the bank. My grandpa is Derek Bragg, and he owns the D&M, the D&M Railroad, and probably the rest of Paradise and half of West Texas, too. I assure you, you will not be cheated.”

Sometime later, after all arrangements had been completed and the dealer had given them a few brief instructions and traveling directions, he left Lucy and Joanna standing with the road car in the dusty yard in the blazing sun.

It was so hot. Lucy pulled an immaculate white linen handkerchief from her reticule and dabbed at her face, wishing she could swish it between her breasts. Paradise was at least a two-day ride—or drive—from San Antonio, Lucy thought. She hadn’t mentioned that fact to Joanna. As she and Joanna circled the car, Joanna asked, “Now what?”

“We get in and go.”

“Lucy, I didn’t want to bring this up, but you don’t know how to drive this thing.”

“Pooh! Of course I do, it’s easy; any idiot can see that! Come on, get in!”

With no small amount of pandemonium, they hauled their luggage and filled up the roadster’s tiny backseat. Both girls were huffing and sweating. Lucy wanted to remove her hat, but didn’t dare, for it would ruin her fashionable appearance, and her skin was ivory white—the bane of a redhead’s existence. They climbed in, tucking their skirts around them. Unfortunately, or fortunately, nothing happened.

“Lucy,” Joanna began hesitantly. Lucy understood.

“Great balls of fire!” she cried, using her favorite new expression that she had picked up from her Harvard beau, Leon. She climbed out, dragging her sumptuous skirts with her. She was dying to remove her perfectly fitted, velvet lapeled jacket. It was so hot and wet.

She grabbed the crank. “I’ll turn it, and when it catches, pump the gas pedal, just a little bit.”

Panting, Lucy worked the crank until the auto started up.

“Told you this was easy!” Lucy cried, straightening her back with a wince. She clambered back into the Duryea. She’d watched many of her beaux drive. It had always looked like such fun. She stomped on the gas. The car shot forward and slammed into the wooden corner post of the dealer’s brick store.

“Oh, damn!”

“Lucy!”

They were simultaneous wails. Lucy stumble out, thoroughly flushed now. “Are you all right?” she cried, barely able to believe they’d gotten off to such a start. Joanna assured her she was, although she was quite white, and shaking. Lucy inspected the car. The dealer and the three salesmen also came running out, the dealer screaming incoherently because they’d somehow cracked the big display window. Lucy ignored him, worriedly regarding the automobile’s front fender. Miraculously, there were only a few scratches—and one perfectly round, melon-sized dent. “Why didn’t you turn!” Joanna cried.

“I didn’t have time.” Lucy explained, rubbing one of the scratched as if she might erase it.

Joanna consoled her. “You can always buy another motorcar.”

Lucy gave her a look. “I just spent my entire allowance—and then some”

Lucy gave the dealer another hundred dollars, along with a bright smile, and they were on their way. Joanna said nothing, even though she knew Lucy had overpaid the dealer for the damage they’d done to his window.

They drove on down the road at ten miles an hour. It was wonderful, despite the heat and the humidity; they actually caught a small, hot breeze. Lucy sighed, relieved to be finally on the road. She would never admit it, but she was a bit shaken from the accident. However, she was sure the rest of their trip would pass without incident.

Lucy decided to forgo her original intention of driving down Main Street. Traffic was heavy often in the city, a few roadsters, many horses, riders and carriages, and many business conveyances, wagons, buses, and the like. Sometimes there were even cattle, a hangover from days gone by. She had learned her limitations, and would stick to the relatively quiet open roads leaving town. An hour later, they had left the last residential homes behind them. It was blazing hot.

“The train was cooler,” Joanna said quietly.
Lucy didn’t answer. The train had been cooler.

The car was bouncing over each rut and hole in the road, and they hadn’t seen another rider or carriage in ages. Lucy’s backside was already sore, her back stiff and aching. Why was the road so quiet? The hills around them were dry and yellow from the summer sun. Stunted trees dotted the landscape. Not a cloud marred the sky. Above them, buzzards circled, and Lucy didn’t want to know what they were scavenging. So it wasn’t exactly like a picnic in Oyster Bay, she though, but it was still an adventure.

“I wonder if these roads are always so quiet,” Joanna remarked uneasily.

“Of course they are,” Lucy said cheerfully, hiding her own unease. “Joanna, what time did we leave San Antonio?”

“At two,” she said, automatically looking at her eighteen-carat pocket watch. “It’s almost four-thirty.”

It didn’t seem like they had been driving for two and half hours. It seemed like they had been driving for ten hours. Lucy was starting to have doubts, which she refused to entertain. “See how the time just races by! Before you know it, we’ll be in Paradise!”

Joanna just looked at her.

Lucy could see that they were approaching a man on foot. Instantly worry arose. A man on foot this far from the city? They were in the middle of nowhere! It became evident that he was carrying a saddle, but she did not relax. Because of the depression, there were too many tramps around these days, even armies of violent unemployed drifters. It was only last year that “Coxey’s army” had marched on Washington. Caution and determination won the moment. In order to give the man a wide berth, Lucy steered the car carefully to the other side of the road, and landed hard in a pothole. The car bounced rigidly and Joanna groaned. Lucy darted a glance at the man. He wore faded, form fitting Levis, boots, a bashed Stetson, and an unbuttoned shirt, hanging open. He had been looking over his shoulder; now he stopped to watch them approach. Lucy told herself she was ridiculous for suddenly feeling afraid. She wished the Duryea would go faster.

“Lucy,” Joanna whispered, staring at the stranger. “He wants a ride.”

Lucy saw, with a sinking sensation, that he was thumbing for a lift. “I will not stop.”

“Don’t! He looks dangerous!”

Lucy hushed Joanna as they were drawing alongside, because she didn’t want him to overhear. Of course, inwardly she agreed with Joanna and even condemned him as a thief, or worse. However, sensing Joanna’s real and rising fear, she whispered. “Don’t be silly, he just needs a bath. He’s probably a cowboy from one of the ranches around here.” She caught glimpse of tightly clad thighs and hips and a bronze, slick torso, and then they were past.

Lucy let out a breath. There was something menacing even in the man’s stance.

Fifteen minutes later, Joanna cried out, “Lucy! Watch out!”

Lucy had been admiring a roadrunner darting into the shade of some brush. She jerked her eyes to the road just as the automobile crashed hard into a huge hole, jamming both girls up against the dashboard. A few yards later, a slapping, irregular noise signaled that this time they done some damage to the auto. Lucy could feel that something was dragging on the ground. She stopped the car and slumped at the wheel. “Oh, damn,” she whispered.

It was so hot and they had been driving forever and there was not a house in sight and how could she have been so stupid to think up this whole scheme? “Please just stop and think before you act, Lucy,” she could hear her mother saying.

Lucy took a deep breath, managed to smile for Joanna’s benefit, and climbed out of the cab. She looked at the car and noticed that it was sagging on the right in front. Something was surely wrong, but what? And even if she could find out what, how was she going to fix it? She circled the car. The other side seemed fine, upright, except for the scratched and the dent. She came back to the driver’s side and saw again how the chassis sagged over the big spooked wheel. “Something’s broken,” she said, trying not to sound despondent.

“Lucy, what are we going to do?”

“I don’t know.”

Lucy stared at the car for a few minutes, thinking. She immediately ruled out walking. They were two young women, unchaperoned and unprotected, dressed in their eastern finery. Impossible! Even if they escaped mishap, should they somehow arrive at the D&M safely, her father would kill her once he found out. And never trust her again. It was one thing to travel by rail or auto, another to travel alone on foot. And besides, what about all their luggage? How could they leave behind all their clothing for their holiday? By the time Grandpa Derek sent someone to fetch their things, undoubtedly they would be stolen.

“Damn,” Lucy said fervently.

She would have to fix the car herself.

Determined, Lucy began taking the pins out from her hat. She was horrified when she saw that dead bugs had accumulated on it, and went crimson thinking of how she had looked to the cowboy they had just passed. She threw it aside.
Her head gleamed like golden fire in the sunlight. Her chignon had become loosened, and tendrils were spilling around her face. It was a face that captivated and mesmerized men everywhere.

She was more than beautiful. Her face was classic—oval shaped with high cheekbones. Her eyes were big and sapphire blue. Her lashes were a dark gold, like her brows, startling against the pale ivory of her skin. Her complexion was flawless. Her nose was small and straight except for slight tilt at its tip. Her mouth was lush and full and coral—too lush, too full; for it drove men crazy.

Lucy dropped to her knees and peered under the car’s carriage. It was dark and she couldn’t see anything. On her hands she crawled forward, straining to see. Joanna started giggling.

Angrily Lucy raised her head and slammed it into the car, “Ow!”

“You looked so funny, with your fanny in the air like that! If Leon could see you now!”

Lucy sat on her haunches in the dirt, mad, her head throbbing. Then her gaze widened and she stared.

He stared back.

Her breath caught. She hadn’t heard him approaching, and he stood so close, she could see, for the first time, his face beneath the battered cowboy hat. It was roughly chiselled, stark, completely masculine. His skin was dark bronze, and his eyes were so light they seemed silver. The contrast was stunning. She was ensnared in the hot light of his eyes for a long moment.

The corner of his lip curled unpleasantly. Lucy didn’t move. She couldn’t. Joanna was stock-still, too. But he never looked at her. His gaze released Lucy’s eyes and slid down her face to her mouth. There it paused, and Lucy’s heart began slamming wildly in her chest.

His gaze slid lower lazily. No man had ever looked at her the way he was looking at her. He eyed her full breasts, straining against the confines of her traveling suit, the jacket opened now. It slipped quickly down her dainty pearl buttoned shoes, then back up. He hefted his saddle up to his shoulder and started walking on.

He was leaving them.

Lucy was so stunned, she blinked.

“Maybe he can help us,” Joanna whispered urgently.

Lucy was staring at his masculine swagger. That very thought was also occurring to her. “Or maybe he’ll kill us,” she whispered back. “Or—worse,”

She suddenly realized that he might have heard her, and she flushed. But if he did, he never broke stride. Rapidly she weighed her choices. He was a tramp, or worse, there was no doubt about that. Still, he hadn’t hurt them…

She leapt up. “Wait! Mister, wait!”