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A Fella for Frances Lilac City Romance Novella #4

A Fella for Frances Lilac City Romance Novella #4

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Never underestimate a woman who has a rifle and is seeking justice.

Amidst family betrayals and dark secrets, nineteen-year-old Frances Lancaster is on a quest for justice. With the help of Nick Reynolds, who harbors a secret love for her, they enter a daring charade to unmask a murderer. But with every revelation, their bond is tested, blurring the lines between love and loyalty.

Main Tropes

  • Friends to Lovers
  • Fake Marriage
  • Innocent cohabitation

Synopsis

It’s a new century, and Frances Lancaster is determined to take control of her future. She’s tired of being a pawn in her uncle’s odious ploys—especially now she
suspects him of poisoning her father. To complicate her plans, her older siblings keep treating her like a child. She might only be nineteen, but with the help of her best friend, Nick, she’s determined to make the murderer pay. That means she’s going to have to do something outrageous and unexpected.

 Nick Reynolds has been in love with Frances for months. She might have declared she’ll never marry, but he’s a patient man. He’ll settle for being her best friend because, for him, it’s either Frances or no one. When she asks him to help her by becoming her “temporary” husband so she can claim her inheritance, he can’t refuse. He’ll do whatever she needs to bring her conniving uncle to justice. But will Nick’s heart survive when he has to let her go?

Intro Into Chapter One

“Do that again Nick, and I’ll shoot you,” Frances Lancaster growled as she made a face at the mud he’d splattered on the hem of her ankle-high split skirt. She’d worn it instead of trousers expressly because she didn’t want to get muddy again today.

“I didn’t do it on purpose,” he said with his own growl.

“This January thaw is a nightmare. That’s one thing I miss about Indianapolis—its paved streets.” Frances shook out her skirt. Sometimes it seemed God was punishing her for wishing all women in the new century wore pants like the men. “If it doesn’t freeze hard and snow again soon, hate to think of what a mess the mud will make of Luke’s wedding.”

Nick Reynolds gave a snort. “A mess? The mess is going to be all the highfalutin’ guests from England who are coming for the wedding.”

The only thing either of them was sure of was how crazy her brother was about the high-society lady he was going to marry in a few weeks. Checking on the fabric for Judith’s gown was one of their reasons for coming into town.

“And we get to deal with this mud all over again in the spring?” Frances asked.

“That’s what they tell me.” They’d finally reached the boardwalk, and Nick gave a sigh of relief. “This is my first Wyoming winter too, remember.”

“We should have just tied the horses instead of leaving them at the livery.”

“I’m not sure that would have worked.” He glanced up and down the street. “Lilac City’s roads are wider than most small towns I’ve passed through. I wonder how much it would cost to pave them. Since the Spindletop gusher, they’ve been trying out new ways to use oil for all kinds of things, including asphalt.”

“Hey there, Frances, Nick.” The deputy sheriff extended his hand to the young man.

“Hello, Charles,” she said to her brother-in-law. “We were just talking about how they should asphalt these roads.”

“They may have to with more people talking about buying those new automobiles. Doc was just saying he wants one, and you can imagine him trying to drive it in all that mud. But he needs to do something since getting more women in town has meant more marriages and then babies.” Charles grinned. He and Frances’s sister were expecting their first child some time in June, and their other sister was increasing too.

Frances exchanged a glance with Nick, but his expression was thoughtful rather than humorous. as he fretting about his trip to Texas for his kid sister’s wedding in a couple of weeks? Frances hated to admit it, but she wasn’t looking forward to his absence either. Since the day she’d arrived in Lilac City last spring, her brother had put Nick in charge of watching over her. The cowhand from Texas had become a dear friend.

“What brings you two into town?” Charles asked.

“Iodine.” Frances scraped the last of the mud from her boot on the boardwalk as she watched the nervous behavior of the saloon owner across the street. “Luke wants us to look into some coal tar too in case he needs it.”

“Mud makes it tough on the cattle,” Nick added.

“I don’t envy you,” Charles said. “At least it’s keeping everyone busy, even if only cleaning up.”

“Maybe not busy enough.” Frances met her brother-in-law’s gaze and made a subtle gesture toward the saloon owner. “Looks like old Billy is up to something again.”

“What’s that?” Nick asked, looking the way she was gesturing.

“Idiot.” She smacked Nick’s arm. “You have to be more subtle. Sherlock Holmes would never do that.”

“Sorry,” Nick mumbled, his ears under his Stetson turning red.

“It’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Charles said, watching the older man. “Old Billy knows I’m watching him now, so he might decide not to do something stupid.”

“Besides sell rotgut?” Nick asked.

From his expression, Frances guessed he spoke from experience. She found herself a little impressed he might have done such a thing, but it disappointed her too that he’d go into a saloon. Though that might be a little unfair. A lot of her brother’s cowhands liked to frequent the place, and she considered them her friends. Few of them were churchgoers like Nick, though. Him sitting in church every Sunday listening to a sermon didn’t match the image of him carousing in a saloon.

Had he gone a little crazy when he first got to Lilac City, completely free to choose for himself without worrying about his father or brothers and sisters and their spouses always watching over him? Frances understood the feeling, since she was the youngest. It’d helped a little when she and her sisters had fled to Wyoming. They weren’t trying to force Frances to play the part of a proper lady anymore. Except on Sundays.

“You’ve drunk his booze?” she asked.

“Only once, not long after I got here.” Nick crinkled his face in disgust. “If I wanted to kill myself, there’d surely have to be a more pleasant way to go about it.”

“I hear that stuff’s enough to drop a man dead,” Charles said with a chuckle.

A memory from her dream the previous night hit Frances, and the corners of her vision blurred. Once again, she helplessly watched her father rise from the dining table and collapse. She clenched her fists and willed herself not to cry out, grateful for once for the lump in her throat. Uncle William would pay.

Two weeks ago, she’d made the connection between a visit from him and the subsequent fading of her father’s health. Her uncle had wanted something from his brother who’d refused to give it to him. The conclusion had been simple for her: Uncle William had
gotten someone to poison Father.

When she’d told Nick, he’d agreed with her but said there was no way to prove it. Well, Frances meant to do just that. Now, while she drifted to sleep each night, she went over her memories of the weeks prior to her father’s collapse. She knew, eventually, she’d remember something important or make a connection that she’d missed.

Last night she’d dreamed again of her father handing her a letter of acceptance to a new music school in New York. The image of the letter kept flashing through her mind; she’d read it so many times it was imprinted on her memory. What was she supposed to remember?

Frances closed her eyes, forcing her taut muscles to relax. She held the image in her mind and allowed her mind’s eye to flow where it wanted. It drifted to the bottom of the second page. The letter he’d submitted with her application. Her mind went to her father’s signature. Why—

Another memory hit her, this one from the train ride to Wyoming when she and her two sisters had fled Indianapolis and the marriages their uncle had meant to force them into. For probably the hundredth time, the three of them had been commiserating how their father had left them in the care of his heartless brother. Their Aunt Hortense, though estranged from her brothers because of her marriage, would have been a better choice.

Frances popped open her eyes and blurted, “The will!”

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