Texas Proud and Circle of Gold (Long, Tall Texans #52) - Diana Palmer

Chapter One

Her name was Bernadette Epperson, but everybody she knew in Jacobsville, Texas, called her Bernie. She was Blake Kemp’s new paralegal, and she shared the office with Olivia Richards, who was also a paralegal. They had replaced former employees, one who’d married and moved away, the other who’d gone to work in San Antonio for the DA there.

They were an interesting contrast: Olivia, the tall, willowy brunette, and Bernie, the slender blonde with long, thick platinum blond hair. They’d known each other since grammar school and they were friends. It made for a relaxed, happy office atmosphere.

Ordinarily, one paralegal would have been adequate for the Jacobs County district attorney’s office. But the DA, Blake Kemp, had hired Olivia to also work as a part-time paralegal. That was because Olivia covered for her friend at the office when Bernie had flares of rheumatoid arthritis. It was one of the more painful forms of arthritis, and when she had attacks it meant walking with a cane and taking more anti-inflammatories, along with the dangerous drugs she took to help keep the disease from worsening. It also meant no social life to speak of. Bernie would have liked having a fellow of her own, but single men knew about her and nobody seemed willing to take on Bernie, along with a progressive disease that could one day make her disabled.

There were new treatments, of course. Some of them involved weekly shots that halted the progression of the disease. But those shots were incredibly expensive, and even with a reduced price offered by kindly charitable foundations, they were still out of her price range. So it was methotrexate and prednisone and folic acid. And trying not to brood about the whole thing.

She was on her way to her room at Mrs. Brown’s boardinghouse. It was raining, and the rain was cold. It was October and cool. Not the best time to forget her raincoat, but she’d been in a hurry and late for work, so it was still hanging in her closet at home. Ah, well, she thought philosophically, at least she had a nice thick sweater over her thin blouse. She laughed hysterically to herself. The sweater was a sponge. She felt water rolling down over her flat stomach under her clothes.

She laughed so hard that she didn’t see a raised portion of the sidewalk. It caught her toe and she tripped. She fell into the road just as a big black limousine came along. Her cane went flying and she hit the pavement on her belly. She was fortunate enough to catch herself on her forearms, but the impact winded her. Luckily for her, the driver saw her in time to stop from running over her. It was dark and only the streetlights showed, blurry light through the curtains of rain.

A man got out. She saw his shoes. Big feet. Expensive shoes, like some of the visiting district attorneys who showed up to talk to her boss. Slacks that were made of wool. She could tell, because she used wool to knit with.

“You okay?” a deep, velvety voice asked.

“Yes,” she panted. “Just...winded.”

She rolled over and sat up.

A tall man, built like a wrestler, with broad shoulders and a leonine head, squatted down, staring at her with deep-set brown eyes in an olive complexion. His jet-black hair was threaded with just a little silver, and it was thick and wavy around his head. A lock of it fell onto his forehead as he bent over her. He had high cheekbones and the sort of mouth that was seen in action movies with he-men. He was gorgeous. She couldn’t help staring. She couldn’t remember ever having a man send her speechless just by looking at her.

“Nice timing,” he mused. “Saw the limo coming, did we? And jumped right out in front of it, too.”

She was too shaken to think of a comeback, although she should have. She checked her palms. They were a little scraped but not bleeding.

“I tripped.”

“Did you really?”

That damned sarcastic, mocking smile made her very angry. “Could you find my cane, please?” she asked.


She heard his voice change. She hated that note in it. “It went flying when I hit the raised part of the sidewalk. It’s over that way.” She indicated the sidewalk. “On the other side, probably. It’s red enamel. With dragons on it.”

“With dragons. Mmm-hmm.”

A car door opened. Another man came around the front of the car. He was older than Bernie but younger than the man squatting