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Tyler wanted Claire's land badly, and ...
Ships from: Chesterfield, MO
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Tyler wanted Claire's land badly, and he planned to own it no matter who got hurt. But her spirited beauty and faith in him unexpectedly touches his heart—and soon this life-long scoundrel finds himself changing his wicked ways. Could it be possible that this small-town girl had stolen his wayward heart?
Send to: Miss CLaire Cavanaugh,Paducah, Kentucky, 1897
c/o Springdale College
Your father has died. Stop.
Bellefleur to be sold. stop.
Come quickly. Stop.
Thunder reverberated up and down the river as Claire hurried her young sister along the dock. Fierce gusts whipped the girls' long skirts around them, binding their ankles and slowing their progress. Claire's grip tightened on her heavy leather valise as she glanced up at the turbulent gray clouds. Within moments the storm would break. She prayed it would not prevent the boat from leaving.
But what if it did? Although the harbormaster had assured her the Lady Luck could make the trip, Claire's frantic mind sought solutions. Could she hire a hansom cab to take them such a distance? Was there a train they could catch, instead?
"Cee Cee, I can walk alone," her twelve-year-old sister insisted in a frustrated voice, trying to shrug off Claire's arm.
"Please, Em, it's dangerous. See that? The rain has started."
As she spoke, heavy raindrops broke from the clouds and battered the wooden planks, quickly soaking through the girls' light spring clothing. Beneath the dripping brim of her hat, Claire squinted at the white paddlewheel steamboat ahead, where passengers were disembarking. Umbrellas unfurled as throngs of people scurried along the dock, seeking shelter. Claire clutched Emily closer so they would not be separated.
"You're squeezing me!" Emily complained, trying to wriggle free.
The protest barely registered; Claire's thoughts were on the telegram she had received from their housekeeper yesterday: three brief lines that had turnedher safe, insulated world upside down. How she wished the telegram had given her more information! But of course, Mrs. Parks had been distraught when she'd sent it. The elderly woman had worked for her father for twenty years, and had been in complete charge of the household since Claire's mother had died four and a half years ago. Her father had always said, "Thank God for Mrs. Parks. I don't know what we'd do without her."
"Don't be a goose, Em. We're almost there," Claire replied, as they drew near the boat ramp.
Emily twisted out from under Claire's arm, straightened her yellow bonnet, and righted the slender white cane she had been gripping. "I can walk alone!" she stated, taking a step forward
Claire choked back a sob. Emily was the only family she had now. If something were to happen to her . . . "Don't be afraid, Em," she cried over the wind. "You're not going to die — I won't let you. Help will be here soon, I promise."
Standing under the protective shelter of the Lady Luck's promenade deck, Tyler McCane was talking with his assistant when he heard a woman's cries for help. He turned quickly, his keen gaze scanning the dock. Stepping to the rail, he saw a slender figure lying on her stomach near the edge.
"Grab a life rope, Jonas," he called, pounding down the deck toward the ramp.
Within moments he was kneeling beside the woman. "Here, I've got her," he said, leaning over to grip the child's forearms. The woman seemed reluctant to release her hold, as though she was in shock. "I've got her-let her go!" he thundered, and she obeyed.
Wind-driven rain pelted his face, and the heavy muscles in his arms shook from his efforts. Tyler blinked hard to clear his vision and gritted his teeth as he hauled the girl up. With a cry the woman clutched the girl to her, murmuring into her ear and stroking her head.
Jonas stepped forward and wrapped a blanket around the child's shoulders. "Let's get you both to shelter," he urged.
The woman stepped back and put a hand over her mouth; her eyes overflowed with tears as Jonas ushered his new charges up the ramp. When they reached the safety of the deck, she covered her face with her hands and sobbed.
Purely by instinct, Tyler put his arms around her, tucking her head under his chin. She was soaking wet and shivering in the May winds. "It's all right," he said with a tenderness that surprised him. "Your daughter is safe."
"I nearly lost her," the young woman wept. "I wasn't vigilant. I have to be vigilant. Emily is my responsibility now. Everything is my responsibility now. How will I ever manage?"
Some distant memory within Tyler responded to the anguish in her voice. "The child is safe, and so are you. Now, let's get out of this rain."
The woman raised forlorn eyes to his. Her eyes were of such a startling cobalt blue that his breath was momentarily taken away. "Thank you for saving her life," she said in a choked whisper. "Emily is all the family I have now."
Tyler studied her small oval face. She was much younger than he had at first thought, certainly too young for the child to be her daughter. Her skin was as smooth and as clear as fresh cream, her bow-shaped mouth pale from fright. Her hat had apparently blown off in the storm, and her hair, freed of pins, draped like sodden black curtains around her face and down the back of her white blouse. Her eyes, framed by long black lashes, spoke of sorrow and anxieties. Yet underneath, he saw a steely determination that he knew all too well.
At a loud thunderclap, Tyler picked up her valise and led her up the boat ramp. "Let's see about a hot drink to warm you."
"Do you know when the boat will leave?" she asked through chattering teeth.