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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 Claus 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 hustle her out the exit and to safety, she grabbed a gentleman's bowler hat from his head and threw 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 andinto 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 fought that idea tooth and nail, promising to be on her best behavior, and in the end her sensible mother ruled the 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 have never been caught returning to 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 canceled 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 never 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 roundrobin 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 fullfledged 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.Fires of Paradise. Copyright © by Brenda Joyce. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.