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A Lady for Luke, Lilac City Romance Novella #3

A Lady for Luke, Lilac City Romance Novella #3

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She’s a high-society lady fleeing her family’s shame. He’s a simple rancher.

Amid the frigid challenges of ranching, Luke, once disowned and now reunited with family, is unexpectedly enchanted by Judith, a high-society lady running from scandal. Despite her aloof exterior and his own reservations, their shared responsibilities at the Christmas Fair pull them closer. But as tensions rise and dangers mount, can their budding romance withstand the weight of past wounds and societal expectations?

Main Tropes

  • Social differences
  • Friend's sister
  • Not good enough

Synopsis

After being disowned a decade ago, rancher Luke Hamblin has
worked hard to make it on his own. His younger sisters suddenly join him but he loves having family around him again. He finds himself drawn to his new brother-in-law’s beautiful sister Judith, even though she acts like she’s too good for the lowly folks of Lilac City. When a bitter winter strikes early, he
starts losing cattle to apparent wolf attacks. But why is his herd the only one suffering losses?

Escaping a family scandal that resulted in a broken engagement, Judith Breckinridge has joined her brother in Wyoming. As a protection from further rejection, she holds herself aloof. Luke is the one man she wishes to get closer to, but he keeps calling her "sister." When they're tasked with working together on the Christmas Fair, can she prove to him she’s more than a felon's daughter?

Intro Into Chapter One

As Luke Hamblin stepped out the bunkhouse door, the biting wind shoved him back with a hard thud. Drat the weather.

“I’m all right,” he called to his housekeeper before she or any of the hands came out to investigate the noise.

He stepped away from the building. Another gust hit, forcing him to put both hands on his new Stetson. Severe cold coming in late November didn’t bode well for the winter.

As though the weather had heard his thought, a snowflake smacked his face. A big, fat one. It was a good thing his Thanksgiving company had already arrived. They might need to stay the night. Still holding his hat, Luke ran for the main house.

As he opened the door, another blast of wind hit, rattling the shutters and ripping the door from his grasp. He scrambled to catch it, a tinge of worry for his cattle increasing his unease. It was a good thing they’d already culled the herd.

Luke hung up his heavy coat and hat. He followed the sound of voices to the dining room.

When he entered the room, a cozy scene greeted him, pushing back his previous concerns about the weather. This time last year it’d been his housekeeper, foreman, and their children who’d shared their meal with him. For the first time in almost ten years, he was spending the holiday with his family. Having them around him was something
Luke would be forever grateful for. He swallowed around the lump in his throat.

“Here’s Luke now,” Charles Merrick said from where he stood by the fireplace with Marshall Breckinridge.

Unable to keep back a grin, Luke joined his new brothers-in-law, saying, “What disagreement do you need me to settle this time?”

“I wouldn’t rightly call it a disagreement,” Charles, the peacekeeper, said. That was one of the things that made him such good deputy sheriff for the little town of Lilac City. He had a way of smooth-talking folks, unlike the sheriff with his brusquer manner.

“I would definitely call it a disagreement.” Marshall crossed his arms and leaned against the mantel.

The hint of a smirk in his expression told Luke what was going on. The man was once again egging on Charles, who’d inherited a stud farm from his grandfather back East and was planning to ship the herd to Wyoming in the spring. Marshall enjoyed giving useful advice but also offering dire predictions. Charles had been dismayed to discover he’d have to expand his herd to more than only his grandfather’s hot-headed thoroughbreds if he meant to sell stud services to western ranchers

One of Luke’s cowhands stood to the side, looking very much like he wanted to say something. Nick was probably too intimidated to speak up. The young man regularly ate with the family instead of in the bunkhouse with the rest of the men at the special invitation of Luke’s youngest sister. The twenty-three-year-old man had come to Wyoming earlier that year from a ranch in Texas and often had good suggestions.

“What have you got to say, Nick?” Luke asked, curious.

Startled, the young man’s face flushed. He glanced to the side as though he searched for a quick getaway.

“No, you’re not going to escape.” Luke grabbed his sleeve and pulled him over. “You should tell my brothers-in-law what you’re thinking.”

“Well, uh, you remember I grew up on a cattle ranch in Texas.” When all three men nodded, Nick shifted uncomfortably.

“I’d be interested to know how you might do things differently there than we do it here in Wyoming,” Marshall said, the teasing now gone. There was a good reason he was so successful s the owner of a working dude ranch.

“It’s not that y’all do things so different, but that we have some breeds I ain’t seen here.” Nick shoved his hands in his pockets, once again looking as though he’d prefer to be somewhere else.

“Such as,” Luke encouraged.

“Have you ever heard of a steeldust?”

“Yes,” Luke and Marshall said at the same time.

“A what?” Charles asked.

“Go ahead and explain,” Luke said with a nod.

“It’s a breed of Quarter Horse. Comes from a horse by the same name.” Nick seemed to relax as he warmed to the topic. “They got small ears, a big jaw, and are heavy muscled. They’re right smart and run like lightning in a quarter-mile race. It’s the only breed my pa will have on his ranch. We usually just call them cow horses because they’ve got an instinct about cattle. So, if you’re looking to breed good horses for ranch use, Deputy Merrick, you might want to consider a steeldust.”

“Well, I’ll look into them. They might be just what I need.” Charles rubbed the back of his neck, glancing toward the door to the kitchen where they could hear the womenfolk talking and laughing. “It’s been a disappointment to discover what my grandfather spent his whole life building isn’t a great fit out here. I’ll have to stay on as deputy longer than I’d hoped.”

“The sheriff will be glad even if your wife isn’t.” Marshall clapped Charles on the back.

“Says the man whose new bride is perfectly happy with his job,” Luke said.

“Who’s not happy with your job?” Frances asked, striding into the room. Nick looked relieved she’d finally joined them and moved to stand by her.

“Have you snuck out of the kitchen again?” Luke asked his youngest sister.

“Hey, I did my share.” She crossed her arms and leaned toward Nick, who’d taken a matching position, so their stances were like a mirror image.

If it hadn’t been so obvious she had no romantic interest in the young man, Luke might have been nervous. His three half-sisters, upon the death of their father, had fled to Luke to escape marriages arranged by their uncle. Luke had been glad to finally have family around him again, but two of the girls had already made matches of their own, to Charles and Marshall. Luke wasn’t in a hurry for Frances to leave his home too.

“I’ll have you know I peeled every one of the potatoes you’ll be eating today.” Frances sniffed. “How come you men don’t get stuck in the kitchen like the women?”

“If you really believe my lovely Doris would have preferred to be out with me and my men this morning feeding the herd...” Marshall dragged out the last word for emphasis.

“That’s right. Mention the Lancaster sister who’s the least willing to get dirty.” Frances straightened. “I’ve been sent out here to see that you men set the table right. Now, let’s get busy.”

“She’s going to lead one man a fine dance someday,” Charles said, his voice low.

That she was. Luke glanced at Marshall and wondered how the man was doing with his own sister challenges. Judith had come to Wyoming to serve as his hostess and help with Marshall’s young daughters. Now he’d remarried, he had two adult women to keep happy. While Luke found Judith intriguing, she had a disdainful air about her that would put off any man. It had sure kept him from inviting her to go for a buggy ride with him, in spite of how often he’d thought about asking her. With her being his sort-of sister-in-law now, it might make family gatherings like this one awkward if she were to turn him down.

“How’s everyone settling in?” Luke asked.

“You mean between Doris and my sister?” There was an encouraging touch of humor in Marshall’s question.

“Well, if anyone can get along with another woman under the same roof, it’d be my sister.”

“True that.” Marshall let out a breath. “I’ll be glad when Judith is settled in a home of her own. She was just beginning to find her way as my hostess. She’s made every effort to welcome Doris as my wife, but there are still awkward moments on occasion. My sister looks lost again, the way she did when she first came to me. I haven’t mentioned this before, but now we’re family I feel I can. Her fiancé broke off their engagement after our father as convicted.”

Luke hadn’t known that particular detail, surprised at a powerful urge to smash her fiancé’s face for hurting her. No wonder the beautiful woman could be so waspish.

“Hey, you two slackers,” Frances called. “Get your lazy hides over here. There’s work to do.”

Luke exchanged an amused glance with Marshall, and the two men headed to join Charles. Frances brooked no nonsense from any man.

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