Read Cassandra Austin Online

Authors: Hero Of The Flint Hills

Cassandra Austin

Praise for Cassandra Austin’s previous titles

Trusting Sarah

“…a truly heartwarming story of love, betrayal and redemption…”

—Award-winning author Anita Mills

“…a rousing western romance…”


Affaire de Coeur

Wait for the Sunrise

“…a stirring, emotionally moving work…exceptional characters…
Wait for the Sunrise
is not to be missed…”


Affaire de Coeur

“…a beautiful story of growth and change and love…characters who latch onto your heart…”


Romantic Times

“This first-time author has a winner here…Enjoy this worthwhile tale…”


Rendezvous

Christian discovered Lynnette descending the ladder slowly above him.

It was a most intriguing view. One he shouldn’t be enjoying. He looked away quickly, but his eyes were drawn upward again. Lynnette’s tight pants showed him just exactly how slender her legs were, how rounded her little bottom was. He felt his groin tighten and took a hasty step backward.

Then her toe slipped off the rung, and Christian found his hands had wrapped around her narrow waist.

If she had let go, he could have swung her to the ground…or into his arms. But she didn’t let go. She caught her balance and continued down the last few steps. His hands didn’t leave her waist until her foot touched the floor. He stepped back and let her turn around.

“Thanks.” She was breathless. The climb down, he supposed.

But what was
his
excuse?

Dear Reader,

At the death of her father, a young woman agrees to marry an up-and-coming politician, but when she moves to the family ranch and meets her fiancé’s rugged half brother, she realizes she has made a mistake in Cassandra Austin’s new ranch story,
Hero of the Flint Hills.
Don’t miss this tale from an author whose reputation for emotional depth grows with every new book.

In
A Wish for Nicholas
by Jackie Manning, a young woman who has been draining the income from her profitable land to improve the lives of the crofters must protect her secret, and her heart, from the dashing naval war hero who has been given her estate as a prize. And Margaret Moore’s popular WARRIOR SERIES is still going strong, as you will discover with this month’s
A Warrior’s Bride
, the wonderful tale of a peace-loving knight and a fiery noblewoman who make an unlikely match in a stormy marriage of convenience.

We are very pleased to have
USA Today
bestselling author Merline Lovelace back in our midst with her new Western,
Countess in Buckskin
, the passionate story of a Russian countess who falls in love with the rough-hewn American lieutenant who has been forced to escort her through the untamed mountains of California.

Whatever your tastes in reading, we hope you enjoy all four books this month.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Hero of the Flint Hills
Cassandra Austin

Books by Cassandra Austin

Harlequin Historicals

Wait for the Sunrise
#190

Trusting Sarah
#279

Cally and the Sheriff
#381

Hero of the Flint Hills
#397

CASSANDRA AUSTIN

has always lived in north central Kansas, and was raised on museums and arrowhead hunts; when she began writing, America’s Old West seemed the natural setting. A full-time writer, she is involved in her church’s activities as well as the activities of her three grown-to-nearly-grown children. Her husband farms, and they live in the house where he grew up.

To Joe, my own special hero

Chapter One

Kansas, 1876

C
hristian Prescott hurt all over. He longed to soak in a tub of hot water. Instead, he sat on the cold hearth where his dirty clothes wouldn’t ruin the furniture and listened to his younger brother extol the virtues of some young woman he had briefly met in Topeka and had evidently promised to marry.

“But you’ll both love her, too,” Arlen said, aiming the current argument at Christian more than their father, presumably because Hugh needed less convincing. “She’s educated and refined. Beautiful like…like a china doll, delicate and pale.”

Christian wanted to groan. When his brother’s buggy had driven up to the house a few minutes earlier, he had been more than happy to turn the ill-mannered mare over to Jake to rub down. Now he wished he was back at the corral having his joints systematically dislocated. It was damn hard listening to Arlen without saying something he would regret.

“She’s educated,” Arlen repeated, pacing across the braided rug like an actor on a stage while the kerosene lamp provided limelight. “Cultured. A lot like Mother, actually.”

“Your mother left us, Arlen. She hated the ranch.” Christian knew he should have bitten his tongue, but if neither Hugh nor Arlen had thought of that, it was time they did. He risked a glance at their father to assess the damage.

“Yes, well,” the older man said, straightening slightly in the big leather-covered chair. “She won’t be here much, will she? Once Arlen’s elected to the legislature, they’ll be in Topeka all winter. That’s the worst time, Felicia always said.”

“Perhaps she’ll like the ranch if we make her feel welcome,” Arlen said, avoiding eye contact with Christian. “She’ll be taking the train to Cottonwood Station next week. I’ve told her she could be our guest for the summer.”

This time Christian did groan. “What’s she going to do here all summer? You’ll be gone half the time, you know.”

“Mother’s sending Emily out with her.”

Christian tried to imagine Arlen’s cultured china doll enjoying the company of their thirteen-year-old sister. Even Emily was increasingly bored by the few social events of the neighborhood. Now they were to have two bored females with them for three months.

Arlen moved to what Christian had begun to think of as center stage. “Her name is Lynnette Sterling,” he soliloquized. “Lynnette.” His features took on a
look of enchantment. “She floated into Mr. Ditmer’s office like a spring breeze.”

“And it was love at first sight.”

It seemed to take Arlen a minute to snap back to the living room. He cast an annoyed glace at Christian. “Mr. Ditmer was helping her settle her father’s estate. He introduced us then, and that night I discovered Mother had met her once or twice and knew her situation.”

“Which is?” Hugh asked.

“Ira Sterling was one of the early settlers in Topeka. From New York State, I believe. Strong abolitionists.”

That had to be worth a few points with Father, Christian thought, tempted to smile for the first time since Arlen had started relating his “wonderful news.”

“Her mother’s family goes back to the Revolution,” Arlen went on.

“That’s her pedigree, son, not her situation.”

Arlen hesitated. “She’s got no place to go.” Abruptly he changed from the fast-talking lawyer to the boy who had found another stray. “Her mother died when she was a child, and her father’s final illness cost her everything. She’s even had to sell her home to pay the debts.”

Christian nodded, coming stiffly to his feet. At least now he understood. He still didn’t like it, though. “Did you have to promise to marry her, Arlen? Couldn’t you simply have helped her find some kind of work?”

“But she’s beautiful, Christian. I can’t think of her working.”

Christian shook his head. No, of course not. Not a fragile china doll. With a sigh, he offered a hand to Arlen; he couldn’t quite bring himself to congratulate him. “It’s good to have you home, little brother,” he said. He wanted to pull Arlen into an embrace, but his brother wore a fancy suit while he was in dirty work clothes. It seemed to describe the distance that had opened between them a few years before and had been widening ever since.

He started out of the room but turned for another look at his brother. Arlen had knelt beside their father’s chair and launched into further descriptions of the girl’s many talents. Arlen had inherited his mother’s fine bone structure. Christian’s own rugged features more resembled their father’s. In fact, he had often thought of Arlen as his opposite, with big brown eyes to his narrow blue ones, curly brown hair to his straight blond thatch, stringy now from sweat and wind.

They were opposites in more than appearance. Christian supposed that was the secret to their close friendship; they had never wanted the same thing so they were never in competition. Or perhaps the seven-year difference in their age had worked to their advantage. When Felicia had taken the then-five-year-old Emily away, Christian had been a grown man already aware that ranching was what he wanted to do with his life. Arlen had been only seventeen. Christian had helped his younger brother through some difficult times while their father was too hurt and angry at his wife’s desertion to notice the boy’s need.

And for Christian, Felicia hadn’t been the first
mother he had lost He had been three when his mother died of pneumonia. Neither woman had been strong enough for the solitude and hardships of ranch life. And Lynnette Sterling didn’t sound as though she was either.

Christian laughed at himself as he turned toward the washroom. Arlen’s wife wouldn’t be a ranch wife, as their father had pointed out. He needed a political wife, which was something else altogether. Still, what kind of woman became engaged to a complete stranger? Arlen was handsome and certainly as cultured as his china doll. In all probability, Miss Lynnette Sterling was at this moment singing the praises of her future husband.

“A handsome young attorney! I’m so happy for you, Lynn.”

Lynnette Sterling watched her friend do a gleeful little dance around the study. She had interrupted the sorting of her father’s books when Amanda Norberg arrived and had thought to continue as she told her friend her plans, but Amanda was in no mood to help.

“The house and all the furniture are sold,” Lynnette said, lifting another stack of books from the shelf and placing them on the floor beside the step stool. She sat down before she added, “I have to get my personal belongings out and leave next week. Mr. Prescott was nice enough to offer me a place to stay for the summer.”

“Oh, Lynn, I will miss you terribly.” Her serious expression didn’t last. “My Bill has known your Mr. Prescott forever, you know.”

Lynnette grinned at her friend. “Why didn’t you fix me up with him instead of Julian?”

Amanda cringed. “I’m sorry about Julian.” She took a book from the shelf and read the title before adding it to Lynnette’s stack. “And I would have gotten around to Mr. Prescott sooner, but he’s in and out of town a great deal.”

Instead of going for another book, Amanda sat on the floor in front of her. “I can hardly believe it, Lynn. And to think you told me a hundred times how useless husbands are!”

Lynnette had to laugh at the memory. “That was before I was about to be thrown out on the street. Suddenly one seems very useful.”

Amanda leaned away, obviously shocked by her words. “That’s cold, Lynn. You should love your husband.”

Lynnette watched her friend scowl at her. Relationships came easy to Amanda. Lynnette had always been less confident of her own appeal. When Amanda tossed a brown sausage curl over her shoulder, Lynnette smiled. Her own brown hair would never have held a curl like that and tended to turn red when it was exposed to the sun. Amanda had known since childhood that she would have her pick of men.

“I do love him,” Lynnette ventured. “Or I think I do. He’s really very sweet.”

She meant to be a good wife to Arlen, but she couldn’t help wishing something she wrote would sell. She would be bringing something to the marriage that way. It occurred to her that if she could sell her writing she wouldn’t need a husband.

She mentioned none of this to Amanda, who considered her ambition to be a writer foolishness. As far as Amanda knew, nothing Lynnette had ever written had earned her a penny. Praise, occasionally, but no money. Lynnette’s one success she hadn’t shared with anyone. The dime novel,
Passion’s Secret
, by Silver Nightingale had paid a great many bills and helped her keep her home nearly a year longer than she would have otherwise.

Lynnette lifted the rest of the stack of books onto her lap, but Amanda took them and moved them back to the floor. “Does his touch make your blood sing? Does his voice speak to your very soul? Do you look into his eyes and feel yourself floating up to heaven?”

Lynnette couldn’t resist laughing. “You should be the writer.”

Amanda squeezed her hands. “I’m serious, Lynn. If that’s not what you feel, you shouldn’t marry him. I’m afraid you’re going to be miserable.”

“You’re afraid I’m going to argue with him until
he’s
miserable.” Amanda didn’t laugh. Lynnette rose to her feet pulling her friend up with her. “If that’s what you and Bill have, I’m thrilled for you, but I suspect that kind of joy only comes to a lucky few who believe the moon makes plans for young girls.”

“I quit believing that years ago,” Amanda said, pulling Lynnette into her arms. When she let her go, she continued. “But I still believe in love.”

Lynnette stepped away. “I believe in love as well, Amanda, but perhaps most of us have a different kind of love.”

Lynnette listened to Amanda’s deep sigh and knew
her friend had given up. “Just remember, if there’s anything I can do…”

“You’re already helping me so much. I can’t thank you enough for letting me store some things at your house. Now, you’d better hurry home to Bill before he starts to think you’ve decided to run away with me.”

Lynnette saw her friend to the door, then returned to her father’s study. It seemed too soon to be going through his books, deciding what to save, sell or take to the country for the summer. Several volumes had made the rounds to all the piles. If she couldn’t decide what to do with a book, how could she decide what to do with her life?

With a sigh, Lynnette sat on the step stool, placing a stack of books in her lap. Her decision had already been made, and she would honor it. And the books had to be sorted. She vowed to be ready when Mrs. Prescott and her daughter came to take her to the train station.

Early Wednesday morning, Lynnette stood in her nearly empty front room beside the large trunk and two small valises that were to make the trip to the ranch. More of her belongings were stored away in Amanda’s attic. She tried not to look at the things she was leaving behind forever.

Amanda had come to see her off. “Write me every day like you did when you were in college,” she said, pulling the curtain aside to look out the front window.

“I won’t be able to post a letter every day,” Lynnette reminded her.

Amanda dropped the curtain and turned toward her. The sorrow on her face told Lynnette the carriage had arrived. Amanda gave her a quick hug before letting Mrs. Prescott’s servants in and directing them to the trunk.

Amanda sniffed into a white handkerchief as the two women followed the men out the door. Lynnette tried for a brave smile. “I’ll send you all my stories.”

Amanda’s laugh was a choked sob. Lynnette gave her friend a parting hug before climbing into the coach with Mrs. Prescott and her daughter, Emily. One last look at her home and a wave to Amanda, and Lynnette was on her way.

“I’m sure you’ll have a lovely summer, both of you,” Felicia Prescott said, reaching across to pat Lynnette’s hand. “I feel certain that you’re perfect for my son. I’m so happy for you, I almost wish I were going, too.”

Emily’s head snapped up. “Do come, Mama!”

“No, dear.”

The older woman’s attention turned to the buildings visible through the window. Emily watched her a moment and shrugged. Lynnette smiled sympathetically at the child. Of course she would want her parents together. It must be confusing to shuttle back and forth. From Arlen’s conversation she knew the breakup had come a long time before.

At the station, Felicia sent the driver to see to the trunks and turned to say goodbye to her daughter. Lynnette looked away to give them some privacy. In a moment, Emily stepped to Lynnette’s side, and they walked to the train together. Just before they boarded,
Felicia called, “Give Christian an extra hug from me.”

“I will, Mama.” Emily climbed to the platform and turned to blow her mother a kiss.

Lynnette waved as the whistle blared. “We’d better find some seats,” she said.

The car wasn’t crowded. They were able to find an empty pair of seats, and Lynnette flipped the back of one so they were facing each other. It wasn’t until they were settled in and their valises stowed on the floor between the seats, that Lynnette gave any thought to Felicia’s last request. She knew that Christian was the older brother, who ran the ranch with their father. Was he so openly the favorite that Felicia didn’t care if her other children knew about it? Poor Arlen. It seemed strange, since Lynnette was sure this was the first she had heard Felicia mention him.

She had known Felicia socially since she, at sixteen, had begun attending functions at her father’s side, her mother having died when she was a baby. She had, in fact, met Arlen a time or two in the past, though she was sure he didn’t remember.

Emily’s voice brought her out of her speculation. “Do you like to ride horses, Miss Sterling?”

“I’ve never ridden.” She smiled at the girl. “Please, call me Lynnette.”

“Lynnette.” Emily seemed pleased. “Riding used to be my favorite thing, but I’d rather go to dances now. They hardly ever have any in the country, though. Do you like games—checkers and cards, I mean?”

“I haven’t played much. I suppose because I had no brothers or sisters growing up.”

Emily seemed disappointed. “Do you like books?”

“I love books.”

The girl’s face didn’t brighten. “Then you’ll love Papa’s library. I bet he’ll let you read anything you want.”

Other books

Playboy's Lesson by Melanie Milburne
The Element by Ken Robinson
Half Past Midnight by Brackett, Jeff
6:59 by Nonye Acholonu, Kelechi Acholonu
The Devil in Pew Number Seven by Rebecca Nichols Alonzo, Rebecca Nichols Alonzo
Taken by You by Mason, Connie


readsbookonline.com Copyright 2016 - 2020