A Fairy Tale Romance
Charmaine Haley is a modern 19th century woman who plans to return to Boston after a brief visit home to her father’s Kansas ranch. She intends to remain single, teaching other women that there’s more to life than serving a man and having his children. Her father has other ideas.
Neighboring farmer Ash Coleman attends the Haley masked ball with the intention of having a little fun. Nothing more. A dance, a little conversation, and a kiss or two, and his intentions change.
A single boot left behind sends Charmaine’s father on the hunt for the masked man. Can a woman who doesn’t believe in romantic love and a farmer who needs a wife find happiness before the stroke of midnight?
About the Author
After publishing more than seventy books, I’ve finally admitted to myself that I just can’t make up my mind about what, exactly, I want to write. Since 1994 I’ve written romance in several different sub-genres. Historical; fairy tale; romantic suspense; paranormal; fantasy; contemporary. As so many authors do, I write what speaks to me in that moment. Who knows what will come next?
Whatever the genre, I believe the perfect romance should provide a tear and a couple of laughs, a chill or two, and by the time the story is over, the reader should be left with a smile and the feeling that all is right with the world in that moment.
I hope you’ve enjoyed the story you just read. For more information please check out my website at www.lindawinsteadjones.com. You can sign up for my newsletter there, if you'd like. Free to drop me a note at email@example.com, or visit me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/LindaWinsteadJones or www.facebook.com/LindaHowardLindaJones. I'm also on Twitter, @LWJbooks.
Read an Excerpt
By Linda Jones
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1998 Linda Winstead Jones
All rights reserved.
Odd, this flutter in her chest that could only be called excitement. She hadn't expected it at all, but the closer the train came to Salley Creek the more decidedly eager Charmaine felt.
"Isn't it beautiful?" she breathed, turning from the window to her traveling companion.
Ruth looked less than impressed, but then the poor girl had been sour since their departure from Boston, even though Felicity had promised a nice bonus for this service that was above and beyond that of a ladies' maid. Charmaine would have been quite content to travel alone but Howard would have none of that, so Charmaine found herself saddled with a young and inexperienced ladies' maid who evidently didn't like her job or traveling.
Ruth glanced beyond Charmaine's shoulder, as if perhaps she'd missed something in her earlier perusal of the landscape. "It's lovely, in its own simple way," she said tactfully.
Lovely. Charmaine ignored the hint of reservation in Ruth's voice. Green, rolling hills as far as she could see, the tall grasses swaying in the wind. Sunshine touching it all with a gentle golden light. Sky so wide and so bright a blue it nearly hurt her eyes to look at it. Lovely, and she hadn't missed it until this very moment.
Her homecoming was spoiled by the certainty of her father's plans. Yes, she knew exactly what he wanted, what he expected of her. He tried to be subtle, the poor dear, but it simply wasn't in his nature. A few loudly mumbled sentences on his last visit to Boston, terse lines scribbled at the bottoms of her mother's letters — his intentions were quite clear. He wanted her to come home and stay, marry a man who would follow in his footsteps, and have a baby every year until the Haley land — all 720 acres — was bursting with them.
How could she make her father see that she was a modern woman, with ideas and plans of her own? She would forever be the baby in his eyes, she feared, and he would never approve of her plan to stay in Boston and assist Howard by giving lectures and distributing manuals to educate women. Charmaine was certain she was meant for greater things than domesticity, and working with Howard gave her such a sense of purpose. Still, Stuart Haley would never understand why one of his daughters might choose to never marry.
They were almost there. She could see the buildings at the edge of Salley Creek. Goodness, it had grown in eight years, but it was still such a small town. The buildings were rough and low, and only one rose above two stories. The entire tiny town was dusty and crude, in a charming way, and was utterly isolated. How could she convince her father that she could never be happy here, except on an occasional visit?
Charmaine nervously smoothed the skirt of her blue serge traveling suit. Why, she just wouldn't mention it. When he brought up the subject she would be vague and pretend not to understand. She could do that, couldn't she? Pretend not to understand and keep her opinions to herself. Keeping her opinions to herself had never been her strong suit, but in this case she would make the effort. And when her father gave up, as he finally must, she would visit and rest, spend time with her mother, and see old friends.
In spite of her nervousness, she smiled widely. Eula was still in Salley Creek, married to the owner of the mercantile, and the mother of two. Delia was teaching school now, unmarried and living with her brother, since their folks had given up the farm and moved back to St. Louis. Those were the only two she was sure of. So many of her old chums had moved on, searching, as she was herself, for a better life.
Ash Coleman was still there, she was sure, even though her mother never mentioned him in her letters. Maureen Haley had never approved of her youngest daughter's childish infatuation with the son of the farmer whose land adjoined theirs to the west, and Charmaine remembered still that the very idea had made her father livid.
Ash was firmly planted in her mind, an indelible part of her memories, but in the past few years the clarity of his features had faded. Sometimes, for a fleeting moment, she could picture him so distinctly, and then he'd be gone. Ash had been beautiful at seventeen, when she'd last seen him, and for all of her life in Kansas the sight of him had made her heart beat a little faster. She'd even declared — to Felicity and Jeanette more than once and on one mortifying occasion to Ash himself — that one day she was going to marry him.
Goodness, why was she wasting her thoughts on such childish memories? Ash Coleman was probably already married and raising a brood on his father's farm. After all, he was twenty-five years old.
They were slowing down, approaching the station at last. Charmaine fluffed the oversized bow at her throat and checked her fashionably small felt hat to see that it was seated properly. She couldn't believe that she was so excited about a two-week visit in a town where nothing ever happened. There would be no seminars, no heated discussions of the latest manuals over coffee and cake, no theater, no concerts. Why, if she were to discuss the latest thoughts on women's rights, she would likely shock all of Salley Creek. If she were to discuss the latest findings on the more intimate aspects of marital relations, she'd likely be run out of town on a rail. This was, after all, a sleepy town where nothing ever happened and time stood still while the rest of the world marched forward.
Oh well, in her heart it would always be home. And it was, after all, just for two weeks.
She saw her father's head towering above the rest as she stepped down onto the platform. He was wearing a great smile, a grin that deepened the wrinkles on his weathered face. Less than a minute later she was lifted from her feet in a great bear hug.
"I can't believe you're finally home," he said as he set Charmaine on her feet.
It sounded so permanent, finally home, but she wouldn't argue with him now and ruin this homecoming. Her mother's hug was gentler, but no less loving.
After Ruth was introduced and arrangements were made for the luggage to be delivered, they all walked from the depot to the house. Charmaine was positioned comfortably and closely between her parents.
"You're too durn skinny," her father said as he slipped his arm over her shoulder.
"She is not," her mother said with a despairing sigh. "She's perfectly lovely and looks very grown up."
Charmaine didn't correct her father with the admission that she was far from skinny, nor did she tell her mother that at twenty-one she was grown up. She was too busy looking past her parents to the bustling town that was familiar and at the same time very unfamiliar. There were two mercantiles and a feed store, and with customers coming and going they all seemed to flourish. The bank had doubled in size, and there was a restaurant right next door. The post office now had its own building, leaving the funeral parlor the lone occupant of a building they had once shared.
The boarding house, the single three-story building in town, had expanded and was freshly painted. Right next door to the boarding house was a small pharmacy, and there was a sign in the window that advertised ice cream. At the end of the street stood the newly built stone schoolhouse, a building that had recently replaced the log cabin where the children of Salley Creek had attended school for thirty years.
There were lots of people out and about, most of them strangers to Charmaine. Some of the faces that turned her way were vaguely familiar, but names eluded her. Eight years hadn't seemed like such a long time until this very moment.
Ruth was evidently unimpressed. She kept her eyes on the boardwalk and followed silently.
Memories flooded Charmaine as she walked down the boardwalk, sandwiched between her parents who were chattering happily. The move from the original ranch cabin to the big house at the edge of town, when she was six years old. That crotchety old schoolmaster, Mr. Warren. Her first heartbreak at the age of ten, when Zachary Middleton had told her he didn't play with girls. She could almost taste the lemon drops her father had always bought for her when he purchased his tobacco from the mercantile.
She remembered Ash Coleman laughing at her when she declared she was going to marry him one day, and how well she recalled watching him ride away with his father, laughing still, a man at sixteen while she was still a puny and unformed twelve.
He'd called her Runt, after hearing Jeanette use that dreaded nickname once as they left church. It had always been the bane of Charmaine's existence that she wasn't tall and willowy like her sisters. She'd always been short, and though she'd been a late bloomer, her breasts and hips had rounded quickly. Even now, she wished for a leaner and taller frame, a more austere silhouette. There were some people who simply refused to take you seriously if you were short, and rounded in the wrong places.
A squeal that was uncannily familiar after all these years made Charmaine stop in her tracks. She whirled around in time to catch the woman who hurled herself forward.
"I can't believe you're really here!" Eula said as she squeezed once and then stepped back, her hands resting comfortably on Charmaine's arms.
The voice hadn't changed, but Charmaine was sure she wouldn't have recognized Eula if she'd passed her on a Boston street. Not only was the dark-haired woman considerably taller than she'd been at thirteen, but she'd put on several pounds with each of the two children she'd given birth to, a fact she'd complained about in her frequent letters. Charmaine, to her own dismay, had barely grown an inch in height since leaving Salley Creek. She stood a mere five-feet-one-inch tall, if she stretched out as much as possible. She had to look up into Eula's face.
"Neither can I. Can you come home with me now? Talk to me while I settle in? We have so much to catch up on." A visit with Eula would also postpone the inevitable confrontation with her father.
Eula shook her head quickly. "I can't. This is a busy time of the day for us. The only reason Winston allowed me to run out here and greet you is so I can give a message to Mrs. Haley."
Eula straightened her spine and turned to face Charmaine's mother. "Winston is certain he can have those supplies for you in two weeks, and Mrs. O'Neal is going to help me with the masks."
"Two weeks?" Maureen Haley repeated, obviously disappointed.
"Masks?" Charmaine looked to her mother for an answer.
"Two weeks, ma'am, and that's paying extra freight costs for the materials that are coming in from San Francisco."
Maureen Haley had always been unfailingly practical, and she was calm now. "That doesn't leave us much time for preparation, does it? Oh well, we'll just have the party in three weeks."
Eula turned her smiling face back to Charmaine. "Why, everyone's so excited they're about to bust. Just think of it, a masked ball right here in Salley Creek. I've already started working on my gown."
"I'm supposed to return to Boston in two weeks." Charmaine directed this statement to her mother, who continued to smile serenely.
"Another week or two won't make all that much difference, now will it?" she replied.
"Not a bit," Stuart Haley thundered.
Charmaine rolled her eyes at her father's hearty and much too jolly interruption. Fortunately, no one saw but Eula, and her only reaction was a slight lifting of dark eyebrows.
"There's nothing in Boston," he declared with finality, "that won't still be there in a month or two."
Charmaine sighed. Had her two weeks already turned into a month or two?
Eula hurried back to the mercantile and to her husband, Winston, and Charmaine was physically turned about by her father's big hands on her shoulders.
The air that drifted through the open window was cool, almost cold, but Ash didn't make a move to close it. Fall was a busy time of the year for him, though he always enjoyed it while it lasted. Winter was close behind, and that meant bouts of snow and ice, and wind that was truly cold.
In the moonlight, the farm was peaceful. The barnyard was quiet, the fields beyond were perfection in the soft light of the moon. In the house all was quiet as well. No one stirred but him. He was the restless one, the one who roamed the house or stood at an open window long after dark.
He heard it, a soft peal that carried on the wind. Midnight, struck on the Salley Creek clock that old Randall Salley had erected before his death. His gift to the town, he said, a monster of a clock that sounded each hour of the day. Ash couldn't always hear the chimes from miles away, but when the air and the wind were right, the sound carried to his window like a soft and plaintive cry in the night.
The peal of midnight reminded him that another day had begun, another day that promised to be just like the one that had passed.
He closed the window softly.
She'd been home five days, and already she was beginning to feel like the child her parents treated her as. They refused to accept that she was no longer thirteen, that she had thoughts and plans of her own.
There wasn't a single ally in this house, not even the one person who shared her predicament. Ruth was quite unhappy with the change of plans. An extended visit to Salley Creek, Kansas, was not on her agenda, but like Charmaine she saw no way out. Instead of joining forces and commiserating, Ruth preferred to take her frustration out on Charmaine.
These evening meals were becoming a tedious routine. Her father went on and on about how wonderfully the ranch was doing, and how great some man or another was, and how splendid it was to have his baby home.
After the first three nights, she'd quit trying to tell him that she was not his baby any more.
She wanted to go home. Home to Boston. It wasn't just her father who had her distressed. Eula, her oldest and dearest friend, was so changed. She had become everything Charmaine had preached against in the past two years. How could poor Eula be truly happy? She was a virtual slave to her husband's whims, working in his store, keeping his house, bearing and raising his children. And yet she seemed to be happy, poor thing.
Charmaine had at first had such hope for her other friend, Delia. She was a schoolteacher, a dedicated professional, and an independent woman ... but a brief visit had quickly revealed that Delia had one desire in life. To find a man, get married, and settle down into the same drudgery Eula groveled in.
It had been Eula who'd shared the news about Ash Coleman, remembering that Charmaine had once been smitten. John Coleman, Ash's father, had passed on last year, and Ash was sharing the ranch with his stepmother — a woman Charmaine had never met or heard about — and two stepbrothers.
It occurred to Charmaine, then and now, that she really should stop by the Coleman farm to pay her respects to Ash and perhaps meet the rest of the family. That would be, certainly, the civilized and proper thing to do.
Her father was going on again, as he speared a large chunk of beef, about the plans for the masked ball. He really seemed to think that if he threw a party she would stay. Goodness, he didn't understand her at all.
"Stuart, you should see the dress we're making for Charmaine," her mother said between delicate bites of beef. "It's the most gorgeous creation, snow-white with just a touch of peach in the bodice and skirt ornamentation. Seed pearls are sewn into the neckline and into a floral motif on the full skirt."
Her father winked at her and smiled widely. "Sounds like a wedding dress to me."
Charmaine took her napkin from her lap and placed it, slowly and gently, on the table by her plate. She couldn't go on this way, not for better than another two weeks. Her father had to understand who she was and what she wanted. Now was as good a time as any to get this over with.
"I've made a very important decision, recently." Charmaine's voice was low and composed, but the calm was all an act. Her heart pounded, and her palms began to sweat. "I do hope you'll understand and support me." She straightened her spine and took a deep breath before continuing. "I'll probably never marry."
"What?" her father leaned forward, head tilted to bring one ear closer to this unthinkable statement.
If she explained, surely he would understand. "Women are meant for more than breeding and submission to a man's pleasure, and what other reasons —"
Excerpted from Cinderfella by Linda Jones. Copyright © 1998 Linda Winstead Jones. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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