Wyoming Heart

By: Diana Palmer

“Thanks. You can have as many as you want,” Mina laughed. “I get boxes of free copies.”

“You’re sweet, but you need to let me buy my own so you get royalties,” she teased.

Mina just shook her head. “Money never has mattered to me, except that time my mother forced me to work as a waitress so she and Henry had money for groceries. If it hadn’t been for Cousin Rogan, the whole ranch would have gone on the auction block. He loved my father. It broke his heart when Dad left my mother for another woman.”

“Do you ever hear from him?” Sassy asked.

“No.” Mina drew in a breath. “Mama said she wrote and told him that I never wanted to see him again or talk to him, that I hated him.” She looked down at her hands. “I did say it. He left me at her mercy and never looked back. I understood why he didn’t stay. But he threw me to the lions. I couldn’t forgive him for it.” Her face tautened. “She hated me my whole life. I still don’t know why.”

“It’s never wise to look too closely into the past,” Sassy advised. “You’re going to be fabulously wealthy and well-known, and I can say I knew you when you were a skinny kid in third grade!”

Mina laughed. “So you can! I hope you’re right, about that prediction. I don’t really want to be fabulously wealthy, but I’d love it if the book topped the New York Times list, just for the guys. They’ve been so good to me.”

“You and those commandos,” she laughed, shaking her head. “I can’t imagine running through the jungle in camo carrying an automatic rifle.”

“Actually, it’s a .45 auto,” Mina corrected. “Took me forever to learn how to use it, but the guys were persistent. I spent hours and hours on the gun range.”

“You’re lucky you don’t get shot on those missions.”

“I did, but only once, and it healed nicely,” Mina replied with a smile.

Sassy rolled her eyes. “Just remember, you’ll be more famous alive than dead.”

“I’ll tell the guys.” She sighed. “I really would love to see SPECTRE get to the top,” she added. “I dedicated it to my team, you know. Well, just their first names. They still go incognito in a lot of places, so I had to limit what I said about them.”

“They sound like a good bunch of guys.”

“They are. The very best.”

“Okay, there you go,” Sassy said as she finished with the brush. “And don’t you touch your hair when I walk out the door. You leave it down, just like it is.”

Mina made a face. “It looks, well, wanton...doesn’t it?”

“You have beautiful hair. There’s nothing vulgar about it. Or about your very conservative dress. Stop worrying! You’re Cinderella, and tonight is the big ball!”

Mina smiled blandly. “With my luck, the big ball will roll right over my foot and break it.”

Sassy just made a face and left her there.

* * *

THE MANSION WHERE the party was being held was ablaze with light. It was in the rich part of Catelow, where the wealthiest citizens lived. A huge, two-story building with a flat face sitting on about two acres of land with lodgepole pines framing it against the distant mountains, it was the sort of house Mina’s characters would have lived in.

She gave the keys of her little VW to the valet, grimacing as she noted the new Jaguar XJL that stopped just behind it. Well, she wasn’t rich. She wasn’t sorry, either. Her little car might look out of place here. But then, so did she.

In her black dress, a nicely marked-down sale item from a clothing store, she was hardly going to raise any eyebrows. This crowd would wear couture, and the women she met as she walked in the door certainly didn’t buy their dresses off-the-rack.

She’d never seen such beautiful dresses. She felt dowdy by comparison. But then, she saw a few other women who were dressed much like she was. How obliging of the leading citizens to invite the working poor, she thought wickedly, and smiled as she went down the receiving line. She didn’t know a single face, but a tall, handsomely dressed woman came to speak to her.

“You’re Willow Shane,” the woman said gently, using Mina’s pen name. “I’m Pam Simpson, your hostess. I’ve read that copy of SPECTRE that you gave Bart three times already! He was such a doll to loan it to me. It’s going all the way to the top of the New York Times list, I just know it! I’ve bought copies for all my friends!”

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