REISSUED JANUARY 29, 2008
FIRE AND ICE
Leaving behind the sheltered life of a French convent, Miranda journeyed to the New World and an arraged marriage to a prosperous Texan rancher. Arriving in America, the innocent European met her fiance's freind Derek Bragg, a rough-hewn Texas Ranger, whose harsh manner and candid comments about her beauty enraged the shy miss. Although Bragg fought to deny his feelings for his charge, he knew that he was falling in love with her. Miranda, too, was struggling with her desire for her escort as they trekked across the treacherous wilderness. Drawn to the lawman—enflamed by his raw masculine virility—will Miranda sacrifice her innocence to the fire blazing out of control in her heart?
"Captures and doesn't let go." —Johanna Lindsey
Chapter One — Natchez, 1840
Miranda was afraid.
They had stayed in Natchez four days, waiting for her fiancé to show up to escort her the rest of the way to his ranch just east of San Antonio. He had not appeared. Miranda was very, very glad; because all she wanted to was to go home, to France, not England, back to the safety and security of the convent. She prayed, selfishly she knew, that the man her father had betrothed her to had changed his plans.
Miranda was as frightened of marrying this stranger, who had to be a barbarian—he was a Texan, was he not?—as she was of the country she was going to. It was a land she knew of only vaguely from her studies, but upon her father’s startling disclosure, she had made a point of learning all she could about it. Mon Dieu! Her father was banishing her to a wilderness of savage Indians, wild animals, and barbaric men! How could he do this to her!
The shock had come so suddenly. One day Miranda was content—although maybe a bit restless—performing her duties at the convent, and the next she was being sent home, upon her father’s request, with no explanation. She had been reluctant to leave, dreading the thought of seeing her father again, although she had been excited at the prospect of seeing her mother. Angeline had come to visit her several times over the past decade. She had seemed quite different, with a glow on her face, her eyes bright and sparkling. Miranda didn’t understand it. She didn’t understand either, her mother’s sadness when she’d asked Miranda if she wanted to return home and Miranda had replied that she preferred to remain at the convent.
Angeline couldn’t have guessed that Miranda would have chosen anything to avoid going home—her childhood memories were vivid and insurmountable. Home was a place of terror. The convent was a haven of comfort, security, and affection. She was loved there, even if she was occasionally the despair of the mother superior, who thought her too curious in some ways for her own good.
There had been nothing but shocks, one after the other. Her father in his study, looking exactly the way he had the last time she had seen him, ten years ago. He was huge and animal like, his face was covered with unkempt growth, and his eyes were red, very red, as if he had been weeping.
“Papa,” Miranda said, curtsying formally. She held in check her fear of the monster—she would never forget what he was. “Is Momma here?”
Her father rose unsteadily. “No. No. I am sorry.” His voice was hoarse,
barely audible. “She’s left me, Miranda. Left…”
Miranda started, thinking her mother had run away again, finally, after all these years.
“She’s dead,” Edward cried in anguish. She died in childbirth—and God, I killed her! I killed her!” He reached out suddenly and drew her into his embrace. Your mother is gone!”
Miranda couldn’t believe it—no, not Maman! Not beautiful gentle Maman! “No!” she screamed, twisting away. “No!”
“I’m sorry! Miranda, God—“
“You killed her!” she cried in uncharacteristic rage. She had never felt such rage; in fact, anger of any kind was a totally unfamiliar emotion to her. “I hate you! You killed her” Oh Maman!” Without waiting for permission, Miranda fled from his study.
Her father didn’t speak to her for a week. Miranda lived in a state of extreme fear. How could she have talked to her Papa like that? He would surely bear her, maybe even whip her—and it was no more than she deserved. She had been rapped on the knuckles a few times by the nuns, when she had been too wordly or too mischievous. And then there was that one time, when she was so young, when her father had struck her. But she had never been beaten before. He was a monster, a beast, like most men—Sister Agnes had told her horrible stories about what had happened to her. She had been raped!—not that Miranda knew what that was. She didn’t know anything about the facts of life, she did not know how babies were conceived, she did not know that men and women coupled. But she had heard her father’s agonized, guilt-ridden words: I killed her! Papa had killed Maman! She hated him, feared him and grieved for her beautiful mother all at once.
Edward called her into his study a week later. He had shaved and dressed neatly, and his eyes were no longer red. His face was lean and hard, and his virility, his magnetism, frightened her. His presence was overpowering. She couldn’t help trembling.
“I have chosen a man for you to marry,” he said bluntly.
“I want grandchildren. A grandson. Your mother would want that, too. You are too beautiful and too rare to rot away in that damn convent.” His dark eyes held hers and she could not look away, although she was stunned by his sacrilegious manner. “If you are at all like her, you will not regret my doing this.”
Miranda couldn’t speak. Her entire world had been crumbling piece by piece, and now lay in ruins around her feet.
“I met him a few years ago. He lives in Texas. He has a ranch, and thousands
of acres of land. He is a gentle man, educated, and he will not hurt you.
You only have to please him and he will worship you, believe me.”
“Marriage! Texas! Papa, no, please…”
“You will not change my mind. He is already in love with you. He saw your portrait; the one Angeline gave to me two years ago, and he fell in love. He asked me then for your hand, but you were too young. I told him I would think about it. Last year, I agreed. Your mother didn’t know—but I know she would have liked him.” His voice broke off. “This is for the best, Miranda.”
Although her entire life she had tried—sometimes unsuccessfully—to learn obedience before anything else, she couldn’t accept this. But, God, what could she do? She was so afraid. This man was her papa, and if he wanted to marry her off to some strange barbarian, he could. Miranda closed her eyes and began to pray, even as docile and obedient, as she should have been.
“What are you doing?” her father asked.
“Praying,” she told him honestly.
Edward seemed to hesitate, but then he said, “There is one thing, Miranda.”
What more could there possibly be? Miranda wondered, waiting.
“Your eldest son must return upon his majority to take his title and his lands.”
Miranda shut her eyes briefly. He was sending her to Texas to breed her to some barbarian for a grandson. She could not believe that this was happening. “Papa? Why this man?”
The earl of Dragmore smiled grimly. “There are several reasons, Miranda. Your husband to be—John Barrington—is the grandson of Lord Barrington, the fifth earl of Darby. His lineage is impeccable. He is also a man—not some London fop. You are as delicate as your mother. I want to see you bear strong children, Miranda, not weak, fragile ones.” He turned away, his word final. “You will travel next week with my sister Elizabeth. Your fiancé will meet you in Natchez.”
“Are you daydreaming again, dear?”
Miranda was brought back to the present as her Aunt Elizabeth, a thin, tall, kindly widow, bustled into their room. It was the best lodging in Natchez, although crude compared to what Miranda was used too. Thankfully, their room was clean. Even the town of Natchez was crude, full of big, brawny men—all of whom carried guns—and colored people, so many colored people, all slaves. The very thought of slavery revolted her.
“A man has arrived to take us to your fiancé, child.”
“What?” Miranda gasped. Why hadn’t her fiancé come? What kind of a man was he that he would promise to come and then not appear?
“It seems that John Barrington has suffered a bad accident and could not come. The man who has come for us carried a note for you, and for me. Here, dear.” Elizabeth handed her an envelope.
Miranda’s hands were trembled as she read it. It was brief, but expressive.
My dearest Miranda,
Please forgive me, but I have met with an untimely accident, and temporarily bedridden. My very close friend, Derek Bragg, will escort you to my ranch. I entrust you to his care, knowing he will guard you with his life. You have nothing to fear, for he is a captain of the Texas Rangers. He was born in this country, and thus knows the land it its inhabitants well. I wait with great anticipation of your arrival.
All my love, your betrothed,
Miranda looked up. “When do we leave?” she asked.
“First thing in the morning, dear,” her aunt said kindly.
“At the crack of dawn, I’m afraid.”
Other Cover <graphic>
INNOCENT FIRE was originally published in 1988 and has since been re-issued four times, below find the covers from previous issues including the original cover.
Oringal Cover Reissue #1 Reissue # 2