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Authors: Brenda Joyce

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Rathe closed his eyes for one bitter moment. “One day that Barclay bitch will be sorry. As for Ford, I'm only sorry I didn't kill him, that I only ran him out of town.”

“Oh, Rathe—I never meant for you to think that I was dead!” She flung herself at him, then stepped back. “Did it mean that much to you?”

He had to laugh, a raw sound. “Mean that much?” he echoed. “Only the difference between night and day, death and life. Grace, without you…” He hesitated, searching
for words. “You are the light in my life, can't you understand? From the day I met you, nothing was ever the same. Without you, there's only darkness and despair.”

She thought her heart might explode from sheer joy. She touched his beautiful face gently. “Are you telling me that you love me?”

“Love you? That word's not strong enough! I love you, I adore you, Grace, I want you.” And suddenly he grinned wickedly, his dimples etched deeply in his cheeks. His eyes glinted. He pulled her close against him. “Right now, in fact,” he said in a low voice.

Grace blushed.

“Marry me, Grace,” Rathe commanded. “Now, today, this instant. Right here. And then I'm taking you to my hotel room and we're going to make love as man and wife.”

“Yes,” she said breathlessly.

He was smiling. “The lady finally said yes—on the third round! Does this mean you are no longer immune to my charm?”

“I was never immune to your charm,” she chided gently, touching his face. “But where will we find a preacher?”

“There's at least a dozen men of the cloth here today. Do you think I'm ever going to let you out of my sight again?”

She smiled. “I hope not.”

Rathe took her hand and practically dragged her to where his parents were standing a discreet distance away, yet unabashedly watching. “Pa, find us a preacher.” He realized belatedly, then, that Stanton had never resumed her speech and the attention of the entire crowd was still focused on them. Now Stanton picked up her bullhorn. “Is there a minister in the house?”

Laughter greeted this, and a dozen preachers came rushing forward.

“We're getting married,” Rathe told his parents,
proudly and unnecessarily. “Then I'm going to spend the rest of my life doing two things.”

Grace held her breath, but she couldn't help shooting him an adoring glance. Just looking at him filled her up with love!

“What's that?” Derek asked, smiling.

“Keeping Grace happy
and
keeping her out of trouble.”

Grace bit her lip nervously, but she was smiling. Miranda came forward and kissed her cheek. “Welcome to the family, dear.” Grace's eyes flooded with tears.

“Okay, let's get on with this ceremony,” Derek shouted, turning and pointing at a preacher. “How about you, good man?”

The minister grinned. “It will be my pleasure.”

Grace and Rathe smiled into each other's eyes, Rathe taking her hand.

“Does anyone have a ring?” Derek addressed the fascinated crowd.

“Is this for real?” someone asked.

Rathe chuckled and Grace smiled, while Derek shouted that it was, indeed, for real.

A dozen people surged forth, offering to lend them their rings. Rathe accepted one with a hearty thanks and took Grace's hand. Derek and Miranda stepped behind the star-struck couple. “Go ahead.” Derek grinned at the preacher.

“Dearly beloved,” the preacher intoned.

Rathe and Grace shifted to face each other fully, gazing raptly into each other's eyes. “This is forever, Grace,” Rathe whispered so only she could hear.

“Forever,” Grace breathed back.

“I love you,” Rathe mouthed. “I adore you.”

Grace beamed.

“Soon,” he murmured, giving her a pointed look.

Grace blushed.

“The ring, Rathe, give her the ring,” Derek urged in a stage whisper.

Startled, Rathe recovered; the crowd laughed softly. Then Rathe placed the ring on Grace's finger.

“I now pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride.”

Rathe pulled her slowly and deliberately into his arms. “Finally,” he murmured. And he lowered his head to hers.

Feeling his blatant erection, Grace came up for air and said, “You, Rathe Bragg, are incorrigible.”

“I'm waiting for you to reform me, remember?” he said.

And they smiled and kissed again.

New York City, 1880

“Look! That's Mama!”

The little red-haired bundle of energy squirmed in her father's arms. “Can you see, honey?” Rathe asked. At the emphatic shake of her head, Rathe shifted his daughter up to his shoulders. “How's that, Lucy?”

“That's my mama!” four-year-old Lucy cried to the gentlemen in the crowd standing next to them.

Rathe smiled, holding her chubby little ankles.

“Mama says women must vote,” Lucy declared loudly.

Despite themselves, the gentlemen smiled.

“Hush, sweetheart,” Rathe said softly. “Let's listen to what Mama's saying.”

“It is imperative,” Grace cried from the platform of the auditorium, “that each and every one of you joins us in our quest! We cannot let Supreme Court decisions like
Minor
and
Bradley
deter us; to the contrary, they must spur us on! Never has the need for a Federal Women's Suffrage Amendment been greater; never has the law and the tyranny of men been so blatantly obvious. Our oppressors are scared, ladies and gentlemen. Why else would Mrs. Bradley be denied her rights as a citizen under the Fourteenth Amendment merely because she is a woman?” Grace paused, her violet eyes sweeping the crowd.

“I implore each and every one of you, not only to sign these petitions demanding a federal amendment, but also
to take a blank petition to your neighbors, families, and friends. Exhort and implore! We need their signatures! The time is now!”

A moment of silence reigned. Then there was a smattering of applause. It was broken by a solitary boo, which was followed by a chorus of them. Someone shouted, “Women belong in the home and I, for one, am sick of listening to you immoral, promiscuous free-lovers!”

More boos and applause followed.

“Ah, damn,” Rathe said, tensing.

“Women are equal, we deserve the vote!” a woman screamed.

“Lady, go home!” a man shouted back.

Voices rose, a cacophony of protest and argument and imminent pandemonium. The crowd rippled and swayed, taking on a life of its own, its energy coiling, seething. Rathe pulled Lucinda into his arms. “No, Daddy!” she protested. “I want to see!”

“Daddy has to rescue Mama,” Rathe said, tucking his daughter under his arm and surging down the aisle. His eyes were on Grace. She met his glare. She smiled sweetly; his glare deepened. At that moment a ripe tomato went flying, and she ducked just in time. It landed on the woman standing directly behind her. Grace started to hurry off the stage.

People were shoving and shouting, and eggs and tomatoes pelted the stage as a dozen National members, both men and women, rushed off. Rathe never took his gaze from Grace as she stumbled down the steps at the side of the stage. He saw a man reach out and take her arm, shouting. A second later Rathe grabbed him, pulling him off with one hand, never releasing his daughter. He shoved the bewhiskered fellow into another man, knocking their heads together. They staggered groggily.

Rathe had Grace's elbow and was spiriting her out the exit when he felt something slap him on the back of the neck, cool and wet, then start oozing under his collar.
They hurried outside and onto the sidewalk. Rathe looked at her.

“Did you like my speech, darling?” Grace cooed to Lucy, forcibly taking her from Rathe's arms.

“We need mending,” Lucy crowed. “We need the vote!”

“That's an amendment, darling,” Grace cried, hugging her. “Oh dear, Rathe, you have tomato on your suit.”

“Grace, do you have to train her this early?” Rathe groaned. “And whose fault is it that I have tomato on my suit?”

She blinked at him innocently, then leaned forward to kiss him. “Why, I just don't know.”

He put his arm around her. “And to think I thought a baby would keep you barefoot and at home.”

“You cad,” she said.

“Let's not start another riot until next week,” he said.

“All right,” she agreed.

“We need mending!” Lucy shouted. “Daddy, I want to riot too!”

Rathe groaned.

About the Author

BRENDA JOYCE
is the bestselling author of thirty-nine novels and five novellas. She has won many awards, and her debut novel,
Innocent Fire
, won a Best Western Romance Award. She has also won the highly coveted Best Historical Romance Award for
Splendor
and two Lifetime Achievement Awards from
Romantic Times BOOKreviews
. There are more than fourteen million copies of her novels in print and she is published in more than a dozen foreign countries.

A native New Yorker, she now lives in southern Arizona with her son, dogs, and her Arabian and half-Arabian reining horses. Brenda divides her time between her twin passions—writing powerful love stories and competing with her horses at regional and national levels. For more information about Brenda and her upcoming novels, please visit her website:
www.brendajoyce.com.

Visit www.AuthorTracker.com for exclusive information on your favorite HarperCollins author.

Avon Books by
Brenda Joyce

A
FTER
I
NNOCENCE

B
EYOND
S
CANDAL

C
APTIVE

T
HE
F
IRES OF
P
ARADISE

F
IRESTORM

T
HE
G
AME

I
NNOCENT
F
IRE

P
ROMISE OF THE
R
OSE

S
CANDALOUS
L
OVE

S
ECRETS

V
IOLET
F
IRE

This book is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

VIOLET FIRE
. Copyright © 1989 by Brenda Joyce Dworman. All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions. By payment of the required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this e-book on-screen. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, down-loaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of HarperCollins e-books.

EPub © Edition DECEMBER 2008 ISBN: 9780061984884

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

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United States

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http://www.harpercollinsebooks.com

BOOK: Violet Fire
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