Sara Luck Tallie's Hero

ISBN 13: 9781451673869

Tallie's Hero

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9781451673869: Tallie's Hero
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A steamy novel set in the American West by Sara Luck, featuring a lady who must decide if she’s better suited to New York society or the Wild West of Wyoming.

After going to a wedding in New York, Lady Tallas Somerset finds herself invited to a friend’s ranch in Wyoming. There she meets Jeb Tuhill, a rancher who makes her heart beat dangerously. But when Jeb realizes Tallie’s socialite status, he believes that he could never be the one she wants. Saddened by the distance between her and Jeb, Tallie realizes she’s more of a Western woman than she thought, and will do whatever it takes to convince him she'd rather be a woman than a “lady.”

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About the Author:

Sara Luck taught school in Alaska for six years, spending much of that time 200 miles north of the Arctic Circle. Married to a retired army officer (also a novelist), Sara and her husband live on the beach in Alabama with a Jack Russell terrier named Charley.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

ONE

Badminton House, Gloucestershire, England—summer 1878

Lord Henry Arthur George Somerset married Tallas Cameron on the Beaufort estate at the Badminton House chapel, a miniature version of St. Martin-in-the-Fields, London, that had been built by the same architect. Following the ceremony, the reception took place in the beautifully decorated twenty-by-forty-four-foot grand hall, the very room where, one rainy afternoon, several of the Duke of Beaufort’s friends returning from military service in India had introduced a new sport to the English countryside.

Among the hundreds of people at the wedding were Lord Randolph and Jennie Churchill, along with their three-year-old son, Winston.

“When do we get to play badminton?” Winnie asked the bride as his mother approached her to offer congratulations.

“Oh, honey, I’m afraid you will have to come another day to do that,” Tallie answered the lad.

“Did you marry Lord Arthur?”

“Indeed I did. I was going to wait until you were old enough, but I decided you’ll probably find someone else by then,” Tallie teased.

“I probably will.” Winnie looked over toward the fireplace where Arthur was leaning against the mantel, watching the mingling of the guests. “Do you know what my daddy said?”

“What did he say?”

“He told Mama that he was surprised that Arthur got married. Doesn’t he like you?”

“Winnie!” Jennie scolded. “Haven’t you ever heard that children should be seen, but not heard?”

“I know that. But I think if I have something to say, I should say it.”

“You have nothing to say. Now you just skedaddle over to one of the serving people and ask politely for a cookie and a glass of punch. I’m going to summon Mrs. Everest to take you to the nursery.”

Winnie looked at Tallie and smiled. “Mama always calls biscuits cookies, because she’s an American.”

“And I’m an American who’s going to box your ears right here in public if you don’t do as I say,” Jennie said.

“Yes, Mama.” With a laugh, Winnie walked away.

“He is a delightful and intelligent child,” Tallie said.

“Yes, though sometimes his precociousness can be a challenge.”

Tallie laughed.

“My dear, I’m so pleased that you married Arthur. You know that the Somerset property he uses when he’s in London is right next to my house. That will give us ample opportunity to be friends,” Jennie said.

“I’ll be looking forward to our visits.”

“Lady Somerset, I’ve not had the opportunity to meet you,” a gentleman said as he approached the two women.

“Maybe she doesn’t want to meet you,” Jennie said, laughing. “Tallie, this is Moreton Frewen. He is one of England’s most noted adventurers, and even if I say it begrudgingly, a very good horseman. I’m sure you will see more of him when the Beaufort foxhunting season begins.”

“Lady Randolph, you can’t fool me. I know you love me.”

“That is wishful thinking, my friend, and now if you will excuse me, I must join my husband. Oh, Tallie, I meant what I said. I hope that we can become friends.”

“I’m sure that we will.”

“You will learn much from Jennie Churchill,” Moreton Frewen said. “She has become one of the most influential hostesses in all of London and a principal member of the social set.”

“Oh, I’m afraid that I will never be more than an observer of the social set.”

“Don’t sell yourself short, my dear. You are a beautiful young woman, and I’m told that you have wit and charm. Those are the prime requisites for being influential in London Society.”

As Tallie and Moreton conversed, Arthur’s father, Lord Henry, the 8th Duke of Beaufort, came over to speak to them.

“Squire Frewen, does my good daughter-in-law need rescuing from your overly abundant charms and exaggerated stories?”

“Your Grace, whatever do you mean? You can’t tell me you haven’t enjoyed my tales of Africa and India. And now I have just returned from America, with even more stories that I’m sure you will find just as amusing.”

“I hope so, Moreton, but if you will excuse us, I would like a word with my daughter-in-law.”

When Moreton was out of earshot, the duke spoke quietly to Tallie.

“Your husband isn’t by your side. This is a very grave social faux pas, and I shall address him about it.”

“Please don’t. This day has been stressful for Arthur.”

“Has it not been equally stressful for you? Yet you are not avoiding your duties. I would think it would be more difficult for you, because Arthur knows everyone in this room, and you are acquainted with hardly any of the guests.”

“Perhaps what you say is true, but Arthur is a sensitive man. Surely, sir, you have seen that about him.”

“Humph. Yes. Sensitive. I cannot tell you how appreciative I am of your sacrifice, and if you are in need of anything, please do not hesitate to just ask. Arthur’s mother and I will be eternally at your service.”

With that comment, the duke turned and quickly walked away, leaving Tallie to wonder what he was trying to tell her. What did he mean by referring to the marriage as her “sacrifice”? She glanced back over toward the fireplace, but her husband was no longer there.

The reception didn’t end until well past midnight. Then, when the last guest was gone and the duke and the duchess had withdrawn to their own chambers, only Tallie and Arthur remained in the great Badminton Hall.

“I was beginning to think no one was going to retire until breakfast,” Tallie said with a big smile. “I’ll just go to our bridal chamber and prepare for you.”

Arthur made no reply. Instead, he poured himself a drink, then looked at her over the glass he lifted to his lips.

Hurrying upstairs, Tallie found their rooms among the 116 in the house. Mrs. Ferguson, who had been Tallie’s governess and caretaker since the death of her mother, was waiting for her when she entered the bedchamber.

“I’m so glad you’re here,” Tallie said as she embraced her friend.

“Let’s get you out of your wedding dress and into some of these pretty things you’ve picked out.” Mrs. Ferguson chose one of the most alluring nightgowns and held it up for Tallie. “I think Lord Arthur will really like this one.”

When Tallie was dressed, she took a deep breath.

“Don’t be afraid, little one. This is a rite that all women dream of, and your husband is a very gentle man. He will love and cherish you as only a husband can love a wife.” Mrs. Ferguson moved toward the door to let herself out.

“Mrs. Ferguson, thank you, for taking such good care of me for the last ten years.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way. Your parents would be proud of the woman their daughter has become, and I’m proud of you, too. Good night, my dear.”

Mrs. Ferguson’s words, your parents would be proud of the woman their daughter has become, played over in her mind. Would they be proud? she wondered.

Here she was, married to a man that she knew she didn’t love. Perhaps that was the legacy she had been left by her parents. George and Millicent Cameron had been married for over thirty years, and not once, in the twelve years of Tallie’s life before her mother died, had Tallie ever seen an expression of love between the two of them.

Her father, a sea captain who had gone down with his ship when Tallie was a teen, was stern and stoic, unemotional, even at her mother’s funeral, held at the parish church at Downe, Kent. Tallie’s neighbors Charles and Emma Darwin had comforted the young girl when she lost her mother, not her father. The one positive thing he had done was hire Mrs. Ferguson.

Mrs. Ferguson and the Darwins had helped to make Tallie the woman she was, not her parents.

Every morning, once her lessons and chores were done, Mrs. Ferguson and Tallie would cross through the shaw of oak trees that separated the Cameron house from the Darwin house.

She still remembered the day Charles Darwin had given her a precious gift—one that had been her refuge since girlhood. Tallie had entered the drawing room where the renowned author, his flowing beard, gray-white and unkempt, was reclining on the sofa. An inviting platter of current-filled pastries sat on a stool in front of him.

“Ah, Tallie, you are just in time. The plum heavies are hot from the oven, and your aunt Emma is just concluding her Bach fugue.”

“My dear, did you practice your piano this morning?” Emma Darwin asked.

“Yes, ma’am.” Tallie took a seat on the floor in front of Uncle Charles, as he preferred to be called. “I loved the piece I played. I believe it is the most beautiful song Beethoven ever wrote.”

“And what would that be?” Darwin asked.

“‘Für Elise.’”

“I know that piece.” Darwin began humming the familiar song, so horribly off-key that one could not recognize the tune at all.

Emma shook her head at her tone-deaf husband’s efforts, and Tallie hid her smile.

“I think we’d better start our new book.”

“What did you choose, Uncle Charles?” Tallie asked as she moved to her favorite horsehair chair in the corner.

“I’ve chosen one I think you will enjoy. It’s one of Jane Austen’s books, Lady Susan.”

When Emma put the book down, it was well past six. Darwin rose from the sofa and, grabbing his cane to assist him, walked into the study.

“This is for you, my dear,” he said, returning to the drawing room. He handed a red book to Tallie.

“Thank you.” Tallie took the book and opened it, seeing blank pages. She looked back to Darwin with a quizzical look on her face.

“You study your lessons for Mrs. Ferguson, you practice the piano for your aunt Emma, and I want you to do this for me. I want you to write something every day. Someday I want you to write a story. And since you know how much I like happy endings, make sure your story has one.”

Since then, Tallie had never been without her red notebook. She had filled many, even writing a book about an orphan girl who had been adopted by a loving family. That story line had closely mirrored her relationship with the Darwins. As she waited for her husband to come to their nuptial bed, she opened a fresh notebook and began to write.

Helen waited expectantly for Lord Londonderry to come to their wedding bed. Lord Londonderry had proven his loyalty to the Queen by his exemplary military service. How lucky she was, a commoner, the daughter of a greengrocer, to have won his love. And now, she was to share his bed, to be deflowered....

Smiling, Tallie lay the book aside. She wouldn’t go any further until she had actually experienced her own deflowering. In anticipation, she strategically placed a few drops of perfume on her body, one drop between her breasts, and another drop on her stomach, just below her belly button. She laughed as she thought of Arthur’s reaction when he discovered the scent of that drop. Then, she lay back in bed thinking of the great mystery that was about to be revealed to her, wondering what it would be like. She waited for Arthur to come to her.

When more than an hour had passed, she began to worry that something might be wrong, and putting on her dressing gown, Tallie left the room to search for her husband.

She found Arthur in the dressing room that joined the bedchamber to a small sitting room. He was fully clothed, sitting in a chair, staring into the flame of a single candle, a glass in one hand, and a half-empty bottle of whiskey in the other.

“Arthur?” she asked, confused and concerned. “Arthur, is everything all right?”

Arthur looked at her, and never had she seen such an expression of pain on anyone’s face. He lifted the glass to his lips and took a swallow before he replied, “No, my dear. Everything is not all right. I have made a huge mistake, and not for myself alone, but for you as well. I have forced you into a position where you must make a choice, and neither choice can be attractive for you.”

“What are you talking about? What choice?”

“You must choose between a life of celibacy, or adultery. There is no third option.”

“Oh, Arthur, what are you saying?”

“I’m sorry, Tallie.” Arthur finished the whiskey in his glass, then, taking the bottle, he rose and stumbled toward the door. “I can’t tell you how sorry I am.”

Texas Panhandle—late spring 1879

Jeb Tuhill, his brother, Jonas, and three other hands who worked for the Two Hills Ranch were separating out some imported shorthorn bulls that were going to stand as sire at El Camino Largo, a neighboring ranch.

“I don’t agree with this,” Jonas said. “Why can’t Falcon de la Garza buy his own bulls?”

“Pop wants all the herds to be stronger. He thinks these shorthorns have a better chance of beating Texas cattle fever, and the more there are on the range, the better we will all be,” Jeb said.

“You could have talked him out of it—that is, if you’d wanted to.”

At that moment Travis Wellborn was prodding a bull, trying to force him into the chute, but the bull didn’t want to go, and without warning it turned and charged the cowboy’s horse. The frightened animal reared up and threw its rider to the ground. As the horse galloped away, the bull turned his attention toward the downed man.

Travis sprinted to reach the fence, but the bull was gaining on him. Seeing what was happening, Jeb urged his horse into a gallop. He grabbed his rope from the saddlebow and began whirling it around his head, making the loop larger and larger, then threw the loop toward the bull.

The loop dropped around the bull’s head, and Jeb wrapped his end of the rope around the saddle horn.

“Dig in, Liberty!” Jeb called to his horse.

The horse, well trained for such things, held its legs out stiff, bracing against the pull of the bull. The bull was jerked up short before he could reach Travis.

By now a couple of other riders were mounted, and they, too, dropped a rope around the bull. Once stopped, he was led into the chute without any further difficulty.

“By golly, Travis! I thought you were a goner there!” Will Tate called.

“I sure would’ve been iffin’ Jeb didn’t snare that bull,” Travis said.

“My brother, the hero,” Jonas teased, and the others laughed, though it was more a laugh of relief than of humor.

Jeb’s rescue of Travis was the talk of the evening as the cowboys gathered around the embers of a low-burning fire, the smell of roasted meat permeating the air. The cook had barbequed a goat, and the men were well fed and satisfied.

“Yes, sir, ole Travis’s goose would’ve been cooked if Jeb hadn’t roped that bull when he did,” Will Tate was telling the others.

“You’re a hero,” Katarina Falcon de la Garza said as she approached the men. When she reached the fire, its glow reflected off her raven hair and caused her flashing black eyes to sparkle.

“I’m not a hero,” Jeb said as he took Katarina’s hand and helped her sit beside him. “Anyone else would’ve done the same. I was just in the right place at the right time.”

Katarina, Felipe Falcon de la Garza’s daughter, moved closer to Jeb and laid her head on hi...

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