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A Match for Maude, Lilac City Romance Novella #1

A Match for Maude, Lilac City Romance Novella #1

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Charles is hired to safeguard three sisters on their journey to Wyoming, but he doesn’t expect one of them to steal his heart.

After her father's death, Maude Lancaster and her sisters flee their manipulative uncle in search of their estranged brother. Charles Merrick joins them as their unexpected protector, and he finds himself torn between a promising job and growing feelings for Maude. Will Maude and Charles find the courage to defy the odds and seize the love that beckons to them?

Main Tropes

  • He's her protector
  • Damsel in Distress
  • He's not staying

Synopsis

In the wake of their father's funeral, Maude Lancaster and her two sisters are faced with a dire ultimatum from their conniving uncle. Refusing to succumb to his schemes, the courageous trio embraces the newfound freedom of the new century and sets off on a journey to reunite with their older brother. Fearful for their safety, their resourceful aunt hires a former Pinkerton agent to accompany them on their perilous journey.

Charles Merrick is looking forward to working with a friend in San Francisco. However, his path takes an unexpected turn when he agrees to escort Maude and her sisters across the country. As they travel together, Charles finds himself undeniably drawn to Maude. With his dream job on the line, Charles faces a heart-wrenching choice: he can move on, or he can stay to see if she is the one.

He can't do both.

Intro Into Chapter One

Burying her father wasn’t how Maude Lancaster had imagined spending her twentieth birthday. As the final guests left following the funeral meal, she brought her damp handkerchief to her eyes. She couldn’t start crying again. It irritated her uncle who couldn’t abide any show of emotion, even while at home. Hearing another lecture about female sensibilities was more than she could bear at the moment.

Uncle William closed the door and turned to face them. He had the same blue eyes as her father’s but lacked the warmth. How could their world have come crashing down upon them like this?

“It’s time to read the will.” Her uncle’s tone held an edge that sent a little shiver down Maude’s spine. He didn’t say anything else but simply strode toward his office, expecting the girls to follow him.

Sniffing, Maude glanced at her younger sisters. Doris was silent as usual, her face red from crying. Frances glared in their uncle’s direction.

“This way girls.” With a sympathetic almost-smile, their aunt indicated they should precede her to their uncle’s office. If not for her, Maude didn’t know how they’d have gotten through the last few days.

Uncle William stood in the corner, arms behind his back, watching as they entered the room. She’d never been comfortable with the man. He was always too rigid, unmoving. Unfeeling, especially when it came to his business. Maude had once overheard her father call his brother ruthless in his pursuit of amassing his fortune.

A man Maude recognized as their father’s attorney sat at the desk, a pair of spectacles perched on his nose. He wore a black band on the sleeve of his jacket, she assumed out of courtesy to her father. The lawyer had an agitated twitch she couldn’t remember from before, and he kept wiping his forehead like he was nervous. It appeared the years hadn’t been good to him. She’d only met him a few times, when she was younger. She’d never forget when he’d come after their mother’s death to write their brother out of Father’s will.

Tears burned Maude’s eyes again, and she blinked rapidly to keep them from falling. If she lost control so would Doris.

“Sit down, girls,” their aunt said softly, pointing to the three chairs facing the desk.

Maude and Doris sat down primly, as they’d been taught. Frances, still glaring at their uncle, flopped into her chair, slouching with her legs spread like a man’s, her long skirts pulling tight against her knees.

“Sit up,” Maude hissed. Both she and Doris had chastised Frances about acting like a lady, but the girl refused. She’d made it clear that when she turned twenty-one in three years that she fully intended to seek out their brother, Luke, who’d gone out West. She glanced at Maude.

“I told you before,” Frances shifted her glare to the two men, “we’re five years into a new century, and it’s ridiculous that women are still being held back.”

Their uncle matched Frances’s glare with one of his own, but she didn’t move. He still hadn’t learned that one could never force her to do something she didn’t agree with. At least Father never had because he’d been unwilling to break his youngest daughter’s spirit. Maude worried that Uncle William wouldn’t have the same care, so when he turned to the attorney, she let out the breath she’d been holding.

“Get on with it.”

“I won’t trouble you with the inconsequential details,” the lawyer began.

“What do you consider inconsequential?” Frances asked, her tone belligerent as she straightened. “I’m not going to let you or him—” She shot their uncle a hard look. “—decide what’s inconsequential to me.”

“If you say another word,” their uncle said, his voice soft and menacing, “I will have you removed from the room. You are a minor and female; you will do as I say.”

“Frances, please,” their aunt said, her eyes pleading.

For a second Maude wasn’t sure her youngest sister would obey. Over the last week since they’d been living under their uncle’s roof, they had all learned the hard way that he ruled his home with a heavy hand. If the girls didn’t do as he wished, his wife paid the price because he said she was responsible for keeping them in line. Frances’s face flushed and her jaw clenched, but she didn’t say anything else.

“The executor of your father’s will is your uncle, and he now has responsibility for you.”

Maude and her sisters startled at that statement, but their uncle held up his hand, shaking his head. They didn’t speak, but Maude felt ill. Their father’s sister could have been made their guardian with her husband the executor. While she’d been estranged from her brothers since her marriage, surely she’d have taken her nieces in. That would have been a much more acceptable choice to the girls. Why had he not chosen her?

“Your uncle has responsibility for your inheritances,” the attorney continued, “and it is up to his discretion how to distribute the funds to you until you are married or twenty-five, at which time you will receive your full portion. Until that time, your uncle has authority over you as though he were your father.”

A smug expression crossed their uncle’s face. Frances shifted, and Maude reached out to put a calming hand on her arm.

“That is essentially all you need to know. Good day.” The attorney closed his folder, stood, and left the room.

Frances was mumbling under her breath. It was a good thing she didn’t have anything in her hands, because Maude was afraid she might throw it at him. Glancing at Doris, Maude found her watching their uncle, a look of horror on her face. What did she see in the man’s expression?

“You girls needn’t worry,” Uncle William said, coming to stand in front of his desk. “I have no intention of being responsible for you for three years.” He shot Frances a dark look. “So, I’ve arranged a marriage for each of you. As soon as you have made your vows, responsibility for you will transfer to your new husbands.”

“What?” Frances jumped to her feet, while Maude and Doris gasped.

“You’ll do as I say or you’re out on the street. Wail all you wish. I’m deaf to you. Your aunt will explain.” Their uncle strode from the room.

Maude sat in her chair, stunned. How could he do this? She turned to their aunt.

“Aunt Ann, how can you allow this?” Frances cried.

“I’m afraid I don’t have any say in the matter.”

“Well, he can’t force me to say ‘I do.’ Not now and not ever.” Frances stuck out her chin. “What’s he going to do, tie me to a chair and bind my mouth so someone else can say the words for me? That’ll look pretty in the society papers.”

“You heard what he said. If you don’t marry as he has chosen, he said he’ll put you out on the street.” Their aunt’s face was pale, and Maude knew the woman would be punished as well.

“We can move to New York,” Maude said. “I’m sure Aunt Hortense would take us.”

“Your father had previously spoken with her,” Aunt Ann said. “It seems that since they have no children, her husband has no wish to take on the responsibility of someone else’s. I am sorry.”

Maude looked at her two sisters. What were they going to do?

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