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Authors: Diana Palmer

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Amelia

BOOK: Amelia
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v1.5

February 24, 2008

 

Amelia
Diana Palmer

 

He felt her mouth tremble as she yielded. A soft sound came against his body, and he knew that she was lost, completely his.

It went to his head. He groaned, and his hands found her head, cupping it, his thumbs exploring her cheeks, the corners of her mouth, while the hard, hungry kiss went on and on.

She sobbed something against his mouth, and he lifted it just a fraction, his breath jerking out against his lips. "What?' he whispered, half-dazed by the sweetness of her in his arms after weeks of being haunted by the memory of her kisses.

"King… Alan… will come back soon," she choked.

"Kiss me," he said roughly, bending to her mouth again.

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Ivy Books
Published by Ballantine Books
 
Copyright © 1993 by Susan Kyle
 
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. Published in the United States of America by Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and simultaneously in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto.
 
Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 93-90207
ISBN 0-8041-0974-5
 
Manufactured in the United States of America
 
First Edition: August 1993

In Memorium

"Mama Alice" Milakovic

Chapter One

^
»

 

Date: 1900

 

A
melia Howard loved the desert country of west Texas. It might not be as green and lush as the eastern part of the state, and there were dust storms and coyotes, wolves and rattlesnakes to cope with, but it had a fascination all its own. Occasionally there were bandidos who raided across the Mexican border, which was just over the Rio Grande—Rio Bravo del Norte as the Mexicans called it—from El Paso. There were no Indian raids; there hadn't been any for twenty years or more. Still, something was always happening on the border, and Amelia worried constantly about her brother, Quinn, who was a Texas Ranger. Border problems often meant Ranger intervention.

It had been something of a shock for Atlanta-born and bred Amelia to find herself in west Texas. When her youngest brothers had died two years ago of typhoid fever, her father, Hartwell Howard, had suffered a head injury in a buggy accident trying to get the doctor to come and see them. After that, he suddenly changed. His personality became violent, and he had rages that were unbelievable.

Quinn had gone away to fight in the Spanish-American War and then had settled in El Paso. Left in Atlanta with her failing mother and her abusive father, Amelia learned quickly that being docile and obedient was the only way to escape the physical violence that began to accompany her father's personality change. It was worse when he drank, and he had started doing that, too. Presumably he did it because of the worsening headaches.

Her mother had died of pneumonia just a year ago. Amelia felt her loss keenly, as did her father. A year ago, he had still had periods when he acted normally. Now, everything was different.

Hartwell had become suddenly impulsive and restless. Just a week after her mother's funeral, he took a notion to move to El Paso with Amelia, to be near Quinn, who had joined the Texas Rangers and was stationed in Alpine, Texas. Hartwell had abruptly seized an opportunity for dynasty-building in his friendship with a wealthy Texas rancher. The move to work in a Texas bank where the rancher kept some of his fortune was one step in that direction. That it had taken several months to arrange hadn't stemmed Hartwell Howard's enthusiasm, either. In fact, at times it had seemed to be the only thing that regulated his increasingly erratic behavior. The second step in her father's plan was trying to force Amelia into a romantic entanglement for which she had no taste whatsoever.

Her father had suddenly become a money-hungry tyrant. Nor was his cruelty flavored with regret or mercy. But in spite of it all Amelia had stayed with Hartwell. She was intelligent enough to realize that there had to be some connection between the head injury her father had suffered in the buggy accident and his radical personality change. She had loved the man he was. It was not in her to desert him now, when he needed her most. She had always been Hartwell's favorite child, and her loyalty to him would survive anything, even his rages.

But even if she had been hard-hearted enough to desert him, she didn't know what she would have done. She had no source of income, and no way of getting one.

Their father had been so kind when she was a little girl, she reflected. He was forever bringing his children and his wife small presents—small, because his job at the bank as an accountant did not generate much income—but there was always affection and compassion from him. This man he had become was no longer recognizable as her father. But out of the love she had borne him in her childhood, Amelia stubbornly stayed with him, protecting him from the world.

That was becoming increasingly difficult. The rages were closer together and now were produced by the smallest things: ashes on his jacket or a misplaced paper.

Amelia was twenty. She had no experience of men. She was lovely enough to marry where she chose. But her father wanted to marry her to Alan Culhane, youngest son of the powerful west Texas Culhane ranching family. The Culhanes did not know what Hartwell was like away from the bank. There was always the risk that they would find out the hard way.

One time Amelia had been frightened enough to try to run away. One night in Atlanta, just before they moved to El Paso, he'd hit her viciously with a leather strap. She still shuddered, remembering what had happened. It was the only time she had reconsidered her decision to stick it out with Hartwell. But her father was in tears the next morning and she gave in and moved with him to Texas. Now, here in El Paso where Quinn was nearby, she felt more confident about her choice.

Amelia had idolized Quinn when she was a little girl. She still did. For all that they were four years apart in age, they looked like twins. Quinn had blond hair, the color of her own, and the same deep brown eyes, although his eyes looked almost black in anger. He had a straight, regal nose, and he was enormously tall. Amelia was only of average height, but she was slender and well made.

Quinn had finished college at the same time as his friend King Culhane, who was five years older than he but who had started college quite late in life. Amelia had only managed to finish high school. Her father felt that women should not be too intellectual, and he'd refused to let her seek higher education. What he didn't know was that Quinn had schooled her in the classics and in languages, not only Greek and Latin, but French and Spanish as well.

She had a facility for languages, and she was fluent, but her father didn't know. There was a lot about Amelia that he didn't know, because she now kept one side of her complex personality carefully hidden. Her temper and spirit were submerged to prevent her father from flaring up when she displayed them. He seemed to grow worse daily. She had consulted a doctor about his headaches once and had been told that his mind might be permanently impaired and that he might even die one day of unseen injuries. The doctor had wanted to see Hartwell, but when Amelia gently suggested a meeting, Hartwell became so violent that she had to put a door between them. Since then she had been afraid to mention it again. Her father had high blood pressure in addition to his headaches, and she didn't want to risk killing him.

Nor had she told Quinn her suspicions. He had cares of his own without being asked to bear hers as well.

She could shoot a gun; Quinn had taught her. She could ride a horse expertly, from an English saddle or a Western one. She had a mischievous sense of humor that popped out when she was in young company and relaxed. She could paint. But the face she deliberately presented to Alan and the rest of the Culhanes was necessarily a dull and lackluster one. To all appearances, she was a rather blank young woman with an absent smile, lovely but introverted and not very bright. Most of all, she was calm and never argued, so that her father would be calm as well.

Hartwell had forgotten the mischievous, fiery Amelia of years past, which suited her very well. Except that Alan Culhane seemed to like her this way, and that hadn't been the idea of the masquerade at all.

In many ways, it was easier to cope with her father here on Latigo, the sprawling ranching empire owned by their host, Brant Culhane and his family. The Howards were in residence for a hunting party, and fortunately her father was more interested in sport than in his new passion for overseeing every aspect of Amelia's life. He was taking medicine for the headaches and drinking very little. He didn't want to alienate the man he was trying to lure into a business partnership, or the man he wanted Amelia to marry. So she was left to her own devices. Life was pleasant enough except for the one thorn in her side.

The friendship between the Howards and the Culhanes was a longstanding one, formed when Quinn was at college with the eldest son and heir. But it was the younger son, Alan, whom Hartwell Howard had chosen to marry Amelia. Alan didn't know it yet. Amelia hoped he wouldn't find out, because while she liked him, she had no desire to become his wife. Not when it would mean living in close proximity to
him
. The thorn. The serpent in paradise. She hated him. And loved him.

Amelia caught a movement out of the corner of her eye. As if she'd conjured him up, there he was. The thorn. He was approaching as she strolled quietly along the trail near the house, a small posy of
wildflowers clutched in her slender hand. She winced with apprehension, because every encounter seemed more painful than the last.

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