When a pretty spitfire who's down on her luck clashes with a stubborn man in search of a wife, sparks must turn to flames....
A year after the Civil War, courageous former Union nurse Lydia McQuire was gamely scraping out an honest living. But now, as she said yes to marrying a stranger, her knees gave way with fear. Mr. Devon Quade had seemed polite and handsome when she answered his ad for a wife. Only after Lydia had arrived in Washington territory did she learn that her bridegroom wasn't to be sweet Devon Quade, but his older brother Brigham, a widower with strapping shoulders, hands as strong as steel, and an arrogant belief that he was lord and master of his lumber empire, the town of Quade's Harbor, and the woman he married. Lydia's dislike of him was instantaneous...yet Brigham was awakening in her a white-hot passion, and a firm resolve: before she would share his bed, he would have to surrender himself, heart and soul, to love....
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The daughter of a town marshal, Linda Lael Miller is the author of more than a hundred historical and contemporary novels. Now living in Spokane, Washington, the “First Lady of the West” hit a career high when all three of her 2011 Creed Cowboy books debuted at #1 on the New York Times list. In 2007, the Romance Writers of America presented her their Lifetime Achievement Award. Visit her at LindaLaelMiller.com.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Lydia McQuire was desperately hungry, and a night's piano playing had earned her enough for a bed at Miss Killgoran's boardinghouse or a meal, but not both. She squinted to read the bill affixed to the wall outside the supper club, her blue eyes still stinging from the dense cigar smoke within.
WANTED: ONE WIFE FOR A GOOD,
SOBER, AND PROSPEROUS MAN.
CONTACT DEVON QUADE,
ROOM 4, THE FEDERAL HOTEL
Lydia sighed. The Federal Hotel was just a few blocks from where she stood, yet it might as well have been in another world. There, people slept on crisp linen sheets, drank hot, strong tea with all the milk and sugar they could want, ate full meals without first examining the fare for mold and weevils. Perhaps if she went to see this Devon Quade, he would offer her some small refreshment during the interview -- coffee and rolls, perhaps. Even that sounded like a feast to Lydia, who hadn't eaten since the day before, when a kindly bartender had given her two hard-boiled eggs that had somehow been overlooked in the mad scramble of hungry, thirsty patrons.
She started automatically toward the hotel, picking up speed as she walked. It was dawn, and there were only a few carriages and wagons in the brick-laid streets; a Chinaman wearing a round, pointed hat, his trousers and shirt made of black silk, hurried along on the opposite sidewalk. A policeman strolled his beat, looking bored and weary, his nightstick making a clunk sound against each lamp post he passed.
It occurred to Lydia that she would probably rouse Mr. Quade from a sound sleep, arriving at his door so early, but she proceeded anyway. Perhaps he would be impressed by her industry and initiative and overlook her tattered dress, her mussed blond hair, the smell of smoke that had permeated her skin and grown stale there.
Her resolve was beginning to fade, so she walked faster. It was only when she reached the front door of the Federal Hotel that Lydia realized she was holding the advertisement for a wife in one hand. She didn't recollect pulling it from the wooden wall where she'd found it.
Standing on the sidewalk, drawing in deep breaths, Lydia folded the bill into neat quarters and then tucked it into her pocket with the two pitiful coins she'd received for entertaining that lot of sodden, pinching drunks. Briefly, she considered the idea of actually applying for the post of wife to this forthright stranger, but she soon discarded it again. In time she would find an honest position as a governess, or she would scrape together enough money to take a room in a boardinghouse where there was a piano. That way, she could give lessons and earn a dignified if modest living.
The hotel doorman, looking like an officer in an army of rich soldiers in his maroon suit, gold epaulets, and gleaming brass buttons, peered at her from under the brim of his cap. The expression in his eyes revealed both admiration and contempt as he took in Lydia's compact figure, her moderately pretty face and her one glory, her rich, honey-gold hair.
"There something you want, ma'am?" he inquired, with an acid politeness that stung Lydia. It was obvious even to a woman who'd never had an intimate experience with a man, that he thought she was a lady of the shadows, seeking lowly commerce.
Lydia wanted to run, but her hunger left her too weak and discouragement had robbed her of all aplomb. She took the handbill from her pocket and held it out. "I'm here to see Mr. Devon Quade," she said, with her last shred of pride.
The doorman looked her over again, then smiled. It was not a friendly expression, but he granted her entry with a gesture of one arm.
Lydia walked into the lobby, with its potted palms and brass fixtures and lovely Oriental carpet, and for a few moments she was filled with such aching weariness that her throat closed tight and her eyes filled with tears.
She blinked, and sniffled, looked at the handbill again made a mental note that Mr. Quade was housed in Room 4, and proceeded toward the stairs. The door she sought, prominently marked with a brass numeral, was all too easy to find.
She had only to knock.
Lydia bit her lower lip. She was tired, hungry, and dirty, and the last thing on the face of God's earth she would ever want was a husband, so what was she doing here? She didn't know; there was nothing in her knowledge or experience to explain the strange instinct that had propelled her through grimy streets to this place. It was far more than the hope of coffee and rolls, she concluded.
She raised her hand to knock, heart thundering against her rib cage, stomach grinding out a reminder that it was empty, held her breath and pounded at the door.
The instant she'd done that, Lydia was overcome by terror. She glanced in one direction, then the other, ready to flee down the hallway and escape, but her legs wouldn't take orders. She was frozen there on the threshold of a strange man's quarters, with little or nothing to say for herself.
There was grumbling inside the room. Lydia continued to struggle against her own inertia, but to no avail. She was rooted to the spot like a willow tree planted in good ground.
Then the door opened and he was standing there, tall and classically handsome, his tawny-gold hair sleep-rumpled. His indigo-blue eyes went narrow and he scowled. "Yes?"
Lydia offered the advertisement with a shaking hand. The man was clearly prosperous, as the poster claimed, and no doubt sober, given the hour, but whether or not he was good remained to be seen. Such fine-looking men were often rogues.
She realized she was staring and forced herself to speak. "Mr. Quade? My name is Lydia McQuire and I -- I've come about your...proposal." It was plain he wasn't going to offer refreshment, clad in his dressing gown and barely awake as he was, but Lydia felt she had to make some explanation for interrupting his sleep, so she pretended she wanted to be a stranger's bride.
Ink-colored eyes looked her over speculatively, but not with the same insulting presumption the doorman had employed. "Come in, Miss McQuire," he said, stepping back.
Lydia swallowed. Somehow, perhaps because of her desperation, she hadn't anticipated this awkward development. She intertwined her fingers and twisted them until they ached. "I don't think -- "
Suddenly, a blinding smile burst over his face, like early morning sunshine on the surface of a clear lake. "Of course," he said. "I've been living among lumberjacks so long, I've forgotten my manners. Give me fifteen minutes, and I'll meet you downstairs in the dining room. We'll talk while we're having breakfast."
Lydia's stomach rumbled loudly at the prospect; she could only hope Mr. Quade hadn't heard. She nodded and stood there in the hall, still as a marble monument, long after he'd closed the door. Then, driven by the thought of food, she broke free of her frenzied thoughts and dashed for the stairs.
The dining hall was just opening up for a day's business, and when Lydia told the waiter she was joining Mr. Devon Quade of Room 4, she was immediately escorted to a table. Coffee appeared, sending fragrant steam from the spout of a silver pot, and a crystal plate towering with fresh pastries was set before her.
Lydia's eyes went wide as she watched the rich brown liquid being poured into a delicate china cup.
"There you are, madame," the waiter said kindly. Then he went away.
Lydia's hand trembled as she reached for the pots of sugar and cream. She treated the coffee with generous portions of both and took a noisy slurp, too eager to honor convention by sipping. A gray-haired matron, the only other customer in attendance, gave her a look of censure.
Lydia took two more gulps of the coffee -- oh, Lord, it was delicious -- then reached for a pastry. Her mouth was stuffed full when Devon Quade materialized in the doorway of the restaurant, looking so startlingly handsome that she nearly choked. With frantic haste, Lydia began to chew and swallow; her face bright red when Mr. Quade reached the table, because she knew she hadn't deceived him for a moment. He'd clearly guessed that she'd put three-quarters of a sweet bun into her mouth in a single bite, and he was amused.
The same waiter reappeared, as if by magic, to draw back Mr. Quade's chair before he had even reached the table. Menus were presented, more coffee poured.
Although Lydia still had plenty of room for breakfast, she was no longer quite so ravenous. For the moment, her stomach was occupied with the roll she'd just consumed, and she could study Mr. Quade as he scanned the menu.
He startled her by looking up suddenly and catching her staring. "You are a very lovely woman," he said. "I confess to wondering why you haven't found a husband in a more traditional way."
Lydia blushed and was momentarily overwhelmed by an acute yearning for long-gone, innocent days. "The war didn't leave many eligible men," she said. "Those who did survive are wounded, either inside or out, or already married."
Mr. Quade seemed sincerely chagrined. "Of course. I'm sorry." He gestured for the waiter, who came instantly, and Lydia felt a sting of envy, wondering what it would be like to be so effortlessly important as her breakfast partner. He ordered a large meal for the both of them, and when they were alone again, studied Lydia with a pensive frown. "Tell me about yourself," he said.
Her natural tendency toward rebellion made her want to counter with a demand that Mr. Quade tell her about himself first, but she wanted to eat her breakfast before she took any such risk. That way, she could use her pitiful night's pay to hire a bed and bath.
"I'm twenty-five," she said, squaring her shoulders. "I was born in Fall River, Massachusetts. My father was a doctor, and my mother died when I was very young. I am educated, and I can cook and clean as well as the next woman, though I admit I'd rather read or go out walking. When the war began, my father felt compelled to join upon the Union side, naturally."
"Naturally," Mr. Quade said benignly, one side of his mouth tilted upward in a semblance of a grin.
Lydia resettled herself in her chair and smoothed her disgracefully rumpled skirts. "Papa hadn't been gone a week when he wired me from Washington City that he was in urgent need of my assistance. I immediately answered his summons. I worked side by side with my father and the other surgeons, as a nurse." She paused a moment, remembering the horrors that had eventually become commonplace. "We followed the battles, and it was in Virginia that Papa suffered a fatal heart seizure and collapsed. He died within a few hours and I -- I -- " She stopped again, took a few deep breaths, marveling that she'd reached such depths that she would willingly endure such wretched recollections for a few scraps of food. "I stayed on with the hospital corps, having no reason to return home."
Mr. Quade was silent for a long time. He looked deep into her eyes. The meal was delivered, and Lydia used the last of her self-control to keep from scooping eggs and sausage and toasted bread up into her hands and devouring them like an animal.
"Your father must have owned a house in Fall River," Mr. Quade finally said.
Lydia shook her head, her mouth full of fried potatoes, which she gulped down before she answered, "Papa was never a practical man. We had rooms above a butcher shop, and we were two months behind in the rent when he enlisted."
Mr. Quade began spreading jelly on his toast, averting his eyes. "How did you end up in San Francisco?"
It was agony to hold her fork suspended, with all that delicious food sitting before her, fragrant and hot, but Lydia succeeded long enough to say, "I came around the Horn with an elderly lady, acting as her companion. I'd planned to start a music conservatory once I'd settled in California and saved the necessary funds, but Mrs. Hallingsworth died and her son and daughter-in-law had no need for my services. I was, in a word, stranded."
"When did this happen?"
"Last month." Lydia got in a few hasty bites, then went on. "I've been surviving by playing piano in supper bars."
Mr. Quade sipped his coffee. "I see," he said finally. "Is there anything you'd like to ask me?"
Lydia swallowed more eggs. "You must not live in San Francisco, or you wouldn't be staying in this hotel," she observed. "Where are you from?"
He sat back in his chair, hooking his thumbs in the pockets of a brocade vest. "My brother and I operate a timber concern up near Seattle, in the Washington Territory."
She gave a small, involuntary shudder. The territories were filled with bloodthirsty Indians and highwaymen, she'd heard, and in the mountainous places there were said to be wildcats in every tree, waiting to pounce on the unwary sojourner.
"You couldn't have grown up in Washington Territory," she said. "It hasn't been settled even twenty years, and you are an educated man."
He smiled. "Brigham -- that's my brother -- and I were raised in Maine. We came out here by wagon train as soon as we were old enough to claim our small inheritances."
"Aren't there any women in Seattle?" Lydia asked. She immediately regretted the indelicacy and bluntness of the question, but it was too late to call back her words.
"None to speak of," Mr. Quade replied. He really was handsome, with his leonine head of golden hair and strong jawline, which might have been carved, like his nose, by a master sculptor. He was cultivated, too. He would probably be very kind to the candidate he selected for his wife. "Women are at a premium in the Northwest. Why, I'll bet you couldn't walk from the harbor to Yesler's Mill without getting at least six marriage proposals."
Lydia swallowed. She had only bargained for coffee and rolls, not a barrage of amorous lumberjacks and mill workers. "Did you have a large response to your...advertisement?" she asked, unable to look at him. She was staring down at the few remaining crumbs of her breakfast.
"The majority of them were unsuitable," he admitted. "The Puget Sound area is still largely untamed and very primitive. It's no place for timidity or a hysterical temperament. On the other hand, it's beautiful country, and a woman bearing the Quade name would lack for nothing of any true significance."
The whole insane idea was beginning to sound good to Lydia. Appealing as this man was, she felt no particular attraction to him, but she imagined she could adjust to being his wife. That would certainly be preferable to some of her other options, like starving to death or taking up the lewd profession.
Mr. Quade reached for the silver pot, refilled Lydia's coffee cup with as much elegant deference as if she were a duchess instead of a homeless wretch with two tarnished coins in her pocket. "Would you like to come to Quade's Harbor with me, Lydia?" he asked. "We'd be sailing in three days, and I would, of course, put you up here at the hotel in the interim. I would give you an advance on your allowance, as well, since you'll probably need a few things."
Lydia just sat there, gaping. This proposal had been unlike any she'd read about or heard of, but it wasn't without appeal. She could eat, sleep in a safe, warm, clean place, even buy herself "a few things." She didn't think beyond that; she was too dazed by the sudden turn her fortunes had taken.
"Yes," she said, bold in her desperation. "Yes, Mr. Quade, I would like that very much."
"Very well," he replied, with another of his boyish, endearing smiles, taking a wallet from th...
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Book Description Center Point Pub. Hardcover. Book Condition: GOOD. Spine creases, wear to binding and pages from reading. May contain limited notes, underlining or highlighting that does affect the text. Possible ex library copy, thatâ€™ll have the markings and stickers associated from the library. Accessories such as CD, codes, toys, may not be included. Bookseller Inventory # 2832368500
Book Description Center Point Large Print. Hardcover. Book Condition: Fair. Bookseller Inventory # G158547195XI5N00
Book Description Center Point Large Print, 2002. Book Condition: Good. Largeprint. Former Library book. Shows some signs of wear, and may have some markings on the inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP8494079
Book Description Center Point Large Print, 2002. Book Condition: Fair. Largeprint. Shows definite wear, and perhaps considerable marking on inside. Bookseller Inventory # GRP97345068