Abandoned as a young child, Rebecca Lane has always felt unlovable. Convinced she's too tall and strong-minded to find a husband, she heads West to start a new life on her grandfather's ranch.
Lantree Walker is wary of his employer's beautiful granddaughter. But when Rebecca is threatened, the cowboy does the only thing that will keep her safehe marries her! Lantree may have convinced his reluctant bride to take his name, but what will it take to get her into his bed?
"One exhilarating read Take a deep breath and enjoy!" RT Book Reviews on Rebel with a Cause
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Kansas City, Missouri, April 1882
Despite appearances, Rebecca Lane was not a wallflower.
Glancing to her left, then her right, she watched her passed-over companions sitting primly against the wall of the Kansas City Ladies Cultural Club while the fiddler played his jumpy tune off-key.
While the other ladies might be considered blushing flowers, waiting hopefully for some man to pluck them from disgrace, she was not.
What she was, was a spinster.
If a man did come and pluck her, it would only end in humiliation. There was no disguising the fact that among the dainty wallflowers wilting in their chairs she stood out as bold as a ragweed.
If this were not a charity event, and if Aunt Eunice had not spent the best part of an hour casting frowns at her, she would stand tall, very tall, six feet worth of tall to be exact, and escape this hall of merry, dancing people.
A sigh coming from her right reminded her that not everyone was merry. If she had an ounce of spit, she'd unite her sisters in humiliation and together they would march out the door.
Perhaps not Mary Crowner, though. Willard Phipp had just lifted her from her seat of misery and whirled her onto the dance floor.
Because Rebecca had idle moments with nothing to do but tap her toe and clench her fingers together, she considered her future.
There were a few fates worse than being a spinster, and truth be told, some advantages. She closed her eyes to the colorful skirts twirling past her feet. As she often did, she recited the advantages in her mind.
One, no man would tell her what to say. Two, no man would tell her what to wear. Three, no man would dictate where she could go or when she could go there.
Butand she never made it through the advantages before this thought sneaked inno man would ever tell her that he loved her.
"Rebecca Louise Lane," her aunt's voice hissed in her ear. "Why must you sit so tall? Your head is bobbing above the rest."
Was her head bobbing? No, certainly her aunt had made that up.
"How do you expect to ever get a husband?"
She didn't, of course, but to say so out loud would put the woman who had raised her in a foul mood, so she shrugged instead.
"Now, slouch down and for heaven's sake, smile. I just saw Randall Pile looking your way."
"Yes, Aunt Eunice." She slid her posterior forward on the chair so that her shoulders sunk to the level of the girl sitting beside her.
Sadly, this position jutted her knees out and made her look Well, she wouldn't think about that. She only hoped that no one tripped over them.
She peered through the throng of bobbing, whirling dancers, searching for Randall. Please, oh, please let her aunt have been mistaken about the fellow's interest in her.
Randall, in his boots, was five feet tall.
A yellow skirt whipped out of her line of vision and there he was, staring at her. Not at Martha on her right not at Lucy on her left, but smack, square at her.
He was with a group of young men. One of them elbowed him in the side. Another whispered in his ear. Randall laughed well, smirked more like it.
This could only end in a way that would not please Aunt Eunice.
Martha's shame was suddenly lifted when a young man asked her to dance.
A flash of lavender ruffle settled into the empty chair beside Rebecca.
"Becca, sit up straight." Winded, her cousin Melinda frowned at her and yanked her elbow. "You are far too beautiful to be scrunched up like that."
Melinda was a lively, pretty girl who rarely went without a dance partner. The one whom she had apparently abandoned in the middle of a quickstep stood alone in the revelry looking bewildered.
"I saw Mama talking to you. Don't pay a whit of attention to whatever she had to say."
Rebecca sat up and took a long, shuddering breath.
"If only I could. She's set on matching me up with Randall again."
"I can't imagine what Mama is thinking. Randall Pile is"
"Walking this way," Rebecca groaned.
"If we hurry we can escape outside before he makes it across the room."
For pity's sake, the man was fast. She hadn't taken three steps from her chair before he stood before her, chest puffed and looking arrogant to his boot toe.
"Would you care to dance, Miss Lane?"
By George she would not! Sadly, the interested gazes of several people in the room turned her way. She did not wish to make a scene.
Melinda's abandoned dance partner appeared out of the crowd. "Miss Winston, may I have the plea-sure again?"
"Billy!" Melinda exclaimed. "How beastly of me to leave you the way I did. I'd be delighted to continue."
Clearly Billy held no grudge. A grin split his face, as cheerful as the bright quarter moon visible through the window.
Randall grinned as well, but it was over his shoulder at his companions, not at any pleasure over dancing with her. No doubt he had made the offer on a dare possibly money had changed hands.
One of the wallflowers giggled. And why would she not? She and Randall must look like a giraffe and a peacock engaged in some bizarre ritual.
She would give her aunt this one satisfaction, then beg some indisposition and go home.
A slow walk around Palmer's cornfield with the brisk night air brushing her cheeks would cleanse away the humiliation as effectively as a classical melody would.
The fiddler played a twisted version of a polka. Did no one else hear the off-key screech that felt like pinpricks inside one's bones?
She glanced about.
Apparently not. Everyone seemed to be having a fine high time.
Randall, more than most. He stomped on her skirt with every turn. His clutching, sweaty hand was bound to leave a stain on her dress.
Exasperated, she glared down at the top of his head, noticing that his hair was thinning. She had the urge to blow a fleck of dandruff from his scalp.
She might have made all sorts of inappropriate faces at him for all he would notice.
The one and only thing the man cared to look at was her bosom. And not because it was anything more than adequate but because unless he looked up or down, it's where his gaze fell.
His nose began to twitch and sniff. He licked his lips, then for the first time he looked into her eyes. arched one brow.
Why, the little maggot!
She shoved him away. That ought to have been the end of it but he said, "I thought you'd be grateful."
So, when he turned to walk back to his snickering friends she raised her skirt to her knee, lifted her boot and kicked him hard in the rump.
Sadly for Aunt Eunice's reputation, which her aunt valued above anything, Randall lost his balance and skidded belly-first across the floor.
In the chaos that followed, Melinda grabbed her hand. Together, they fled out the front door, down the steps and into the night.
The moment of reckoning came at one minute past midnight, even though Aunt Eunice had arrived home an hour after the unfortunate event.
Summoned, Rebecca stood before her aunt with her head bowed and her hands folded in front of her. She had taken this position many times over the years. The only difference between now and then was that when she was four years old, she had to look up into her aunt's scowl now she looked down at it.
"Kindly explain why you would do such a thing humiliate me and your poor cousins so horribly."
Melinda, clearly, had not been humiliated, but Bethune and Prudence were no doubt sobbing their mortification into their pillows at this moment.
"I never meant to"
"It's Becca who was humiliated, Mama." All of a sudden, her defender stood beside her. "That horrible little man"
"Might have been willing to offer for her hand, given his own limitations."
"Any man would be lucky to have our Becca!"
"Go to your room, Melinda," her aunt declared drily.
Melinda was far too old to be told to go to her room, just as Rebecca was far too old to be taking this scolding. But by George, no one wanted to send Eunice into a temper that might go on for days.
So, Melinda went to her room while Rebecca slouched another two inches.
Aunt Eunice had been distressed over Rebecca's height since the day she had been dropped on her doorstep. At four years old she had towered over Bethune who was five and a half.
"Do you want to be an old maid, Rebecca?" Aunt Eunice arched one eyebrow. "Or worse have people wonder if you grew up to be like your mother that I allowed you to?"
It would be difficult to know whether she committed the great sin of growing up like her mother or not. The memories of her life before coming to live with Aunt Eunice were vague.
She did recall the scent of rose water, and a fairylike woman who laughed out loud but cried even louder. There was always a blur of men's faces in her memory. Sometimes she thought her mother's tears had to do with them.
But just as often she wondered if it was her that had made Mama weep because she was not pretty enough to make Papa stay.
It had been the dolls that made her think that. Mama carried a collection of blue-eyed princesses to whichever place they happened to be living. Papa had bought them for her, Mama liked to say, because they reminded him of her. Back then, they reminded Rebecca of angels. Later on when she thought of those pretty porcelain gifts, it hurt dreadfully.
In all their travels, Mama had never left a doll behind. She'd left Rebecca behind without a backward glance.
"I have accepted the fact that I will, in all likelihood, remain unmarried." It stung that her aunt continued to fear that she would suddenly become promiscuous. "But I am nothing like my mother and have gone to great pains to show that I am not."
"As this evening would attest? Really, Rebecca, I've done my best with you but sometimes I fear that no matter how strict I am, you rebel You are my sister all over again."
Whether that was true or not, she couldn't say. Mama had become a distant memory, buried so deep that trying to recall her face was like painting with mist.
"Aunt Eunice, the mother I remember is you." A woman who hid rare, tender feelings behind a starchy demeanor. She could only recall one instance when her aunt had showed her unguarded affection. When she was six years old, Rebecca had been seriously ill with a fever and her aunt had sat up with her for two days and nights, wiping her brow and crooning lullabies. During the worst of it she had even called her Becca.
"I regret that I shamed you, but Randall was behaving like a lewd goat. I merely defended myself."
"And as usual, you dragged my Melinda into the mess."
Anyone acquainted with her cousin for more than ten minutes knew that there was no dragging Melinda. She dove into life headlong, laughing while she did so.
The clock on the fireplace mantel ticked off long silent seconds while her aunt stared up at her.
"You need a husband," she declared at last. "I hoped it would be Randall since you are of an age. But after tonight that is unlikely. But mark my words, Rebecca Louise, you will marry and marry soon."
Aunt Eunice sighed loudly, glanced at the clock then back up at her.
"Mr. Fielding, the butcher, has asked for you. He believes that with your size, you will be helpful in the shop. Count your blessings, young lady, that the man wants a hefty girl."
Hefty? Why, she was no such thing. She was slender, and if not delicate, exactly, she was by no means strapping.
"You may go to your room now."
There were many things that she would do to keep peace with her aunt. After all, she did owe her a great deal. A widow after only five years of marriage, she had managed to raise four girls all on her own. She truly did deserve respect for that.
But showing her aunt respect stopped a good deal short of marrying the butcher.
"Rebecca." Her aunt's voice caught her just as she made the turn from the parlor to the hall. "As horrified as I am at how you behaved tonight, I'm glad that you did not let that pitiful Randall make improper advances. Once you are under the butcher's care, you'll be safe from that sort of conduct."
"Yes, Aunt Eunice," she said, but it was the last thing she meant.
A footpath crossed the backyard then sloped downhill toward the creek behind the house. Rebecca followed the trail of daffodils growing beside it, watching them nod their pretty yellow heads in the glow of the low-hung moon.
It was dark in the wee hours, but that didn't mean the flowers did not continue to flash their color. She decided to be like those bold little beauties shine even during the dark hours.
Sitting on a bench that she had placed beside the creek three years ago, she drew her violin from its case and began to play.
As the sound filtered through the cottonwoods, her nerves began to settle. With each draw of the bow across the strings, despair melted hope took its place.
After a few moments she was smiling. The instrument always had this effect upon her. Learning to play it had come naturally.
"Do not, under any circumstances, marry the butcher." Melinda plopped down beside her, out of breath. She must have run all the way from the house. "I'm certain his first two wives were perfectly miserable."
Melinda, her fair hair loose and tumbling, her nightshift a soft white glow in the dark, was everything lovely. Her lively, engaging spirit had a way of drawing people to her. If she decided to postpone marriage for years, she would still be snatched up in a heartbeat. Her cousin might live to be a hundred years old and still not be considered an old maid.
"Your mother can be very determined."
"But not as determined as us You wouldn't consider it? Please say you wouldn't!"
Rebecca placed her violin in its case then cradled it across her knees.
"I would not, not in a million years."
What was she going to do, though? Become a lifelong burden to her aunt? Eventually, when they were both old, become her caregiver?
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