Authors: Lily Gets Her Man
Tyler folded his arms across his chest and watched the happy scene.
His giggling daughter ran straight toward… Lily? Tyler blinked and refocused his eyes. He’d been gone close to a month, but certainly he wouldn’t have mistaken Lily, the tall, slender, pale-eyed woman who had saved his life and befriended his daughter.
Only, the Lily he viewed today had curves in places he’d have been sure to remember. He closed his eyes momentarily, wondering if this apparition might disappear. But when his eyes scanned over Lily once again from top to bottom, he knew that what he was seeing was real.
A vibrant smile graced Lily’s face. Her cheeks, rosy from playful exhilaration, only enhanced the sky-blue of her eyes. Light brown hair, shaken loose from its braid and kissed by the sun, was the color of darkened honey. Silken tresses flowed down her back in long golden waves.
Lily was lovely.
Harlequin Historicals is delighted
to introduce Charlene Sands
and her terrific debut book
Lily Gets Her Man
Harlequin Historical #554
#551 THE HIGHLAND WIFE
#552 ANNE’S PERFECT HUSBAND
#553 LONGSHADOW’S WOMAN
Available from Harlequin Historicals and CHARLENE SANDS
Lily Gets Her Man
To my dear friend Allyson Pearlman,
here’s to climbing fences, great childhood memories,
constantly encouraging me to finish the story,
and especially for loving “Lily” as much as I do.
Special thanks to my editor, Patience Smith,
for her kindness, enthusiasm and consistent support.
Sweet Springs, Texas
ily knew she was being followed.
She recognized the distinct jingle of spurs and the sound of boots as they hit the sidewalk in a slow easy gait. With a nervous hand, she packed the bun knotted at the back of her head tighter. Lily scurried faster on the walkway, heading toward her mercantile store. Tyler Kincaide picked up his pace from behind.
She swallowed hard, keeping up her stride. With just a single glance from the handsome rancher, Lily’s brain became muddled and her heart thumped too eagerly in her chest. It was always the same. No matter how many times she called herself a foolish ninny, she couldn’t battle the yearnings Tyler Kincaide brought out in her.
Darn the man.
Too tall, too thin and plain, Lily held no notions of attracting the widower, but his unflinching smile made her feel…womanly.
More than womanly. Almost desirable.
Desperate to disappear from his view, she hastened her footsteps. His resounding thumps from behind made her heart pound. A decided stitch in her side ached like the dickens, but she kept up her rapid pace.
Suddenly the toe of her boot caught in a loosened floorboard and Lily desperately struggled for balance. A gasp escaped when she realized she was going down. She landed on the sidewalk with an ungracious plop. When the chorus of spurs ceased their jingling, dire dread surrounded her.
With eyes downcast, she struggled unsuccessfully to right herself, only to fall rather ungraciously again.
“Oh, pooh!” she exclaimed, then wanted to die right on the spot when she heard a deep masculine chuckle.
“Mornin’, Miss Lily.”
Tyler grinned at her, then offered his hand.
Mortified, she stared at his hand. Strong, large and calloused, Lily couldn’t tear her gaze away. How often she’d envisioned Tyler Kincaide putting those hands on her body. How often she’d daydreamed of him, in her dreary room at the boardinghouse, hoping for things that would never be. For the briefest moments in time, Lily wished she were someone else. Someone Tyler Kincaide would want to hold in his arms on a cold, lonely night. But Lily scoffed at the notion. Tyler would never want her and she…she wouldn’t know how to entertain such a man. Her experience with the male gender was sorely limited.
“Miss Lily?” he repeated.
A flush of blood singed her cheeks. Wasn’t it bad enough she should fall flat on her backside like some pathetic town drunk staggering for balance? Now,
wearing a mud-brown dress that should have been thrown into the hearth along with last winter’s dry timber, she’d made a fool of herself on the main street of town in front of the most appealing man Lily had ever laid eyes on.
When she didn’t readily answer, Tyler crouched down. “Are you hurt?” His dark eyes searched hers.
Lily let out a high-pitched chuckle. “N-no. I hate being clumsy, is all.”
Tyler pried up the guilty floorboard. “Seems to me just about anyone might have tripped on this.”
This time when he offered his hand, Lily accepted. She tried not to think about how his powerful hand felt as he closed strong fingers over hers. “Thank you.”
“Actually, I was coming to see you.” He helped her up. “Let’s walk the rest of the way to your shop, Miss Lily.”
Lily couldn’t help smiling. Aside from her father, Tyler Kincaide was the only man to ever call her
Once inside Brody’s Mercantile she breathed a secret sigh of relief. Familiar territory. She put on her apron and stood behind the counter. “Have you a need for supplies?”
He nodded slowly. “Some.” His eyes scanned her near-empty shelves. “You down on supplies?”
Lily swallowed the lump in her throat. “I’m closing up shop. Since my father died, business has been trailing off, I’m afraid. Folks don’t especially like doing business with a woman. And that grand new shop opened up on the other side of town.”
“I heard something of it. That’s why I’m here. First, let me say I’m sorry things haven’t worked out. Jonah
was a good man. Me and some of the other townsfolk would’ve tried to keep your business going if you had a mind to stay on.”
“Thank you, Mr. Kincaide, but that’s not possible.” Pride kept her from explaining that after she’d paid her father’s debts, there was very little money left.
Jonah Brody had been a wonderful father and a decent man, but he’d had a weakness for gambling that had cost him his savings. Of course, he hadn’t planned on taking sick, leaving his daughter pretty much to fend for herself these past few months. Once he’d realized his blunder, he’d apologized each and every day they’d had together until his passing. Lily had forgiven her ailing father, which had seemed to ease his mind some but still presented her with one monstrous problem. Survival.
“Miss Lily, we’ve known each other since your daddy opened this store some years back. I’ve asked you to call me Tyler.” He removed his black felt hat treating her to a view of dark shaggy hair.
Her cheeks blazed pink. “Oh, well, Ty—Tyler.”
He grinned and her heart did a little flip. “That’s better.”
She put her head down, intent on straightening out a crease in her skirt. “Now about those supplies you’ll be needing. I’ll do my best, but as you can see, I haven’t reordered any stock.”
“Appears you have what I need. But, I have a question for you—if you’re not opposed to answering.”
“No, Mr. Kin—Tyler. What’s your question?”
“What will you be doing, now that you’re closing up shop?”
“I—I promised my father I’d look up his brother.
My uncle Jasper lives in Chicago with his family. He’ll take me in.”
Lily’s promise to her father was to contact her uncle Jasper and make a home back east. It had been the one thing Jonah Brody had really asked of her. Knowing his daughter would be cared for had given the dying man his only real sense of peace. Tearfully Lily had promised as she’d watched her loving father take his last breath. She would keep that promise. But the thought of leaving Brody’s Mercantile and Sweet Springs made her stomach clench and her heart hammer almost as much as it did when she gazed into Tyler Kincaide’s deep soulful eyes.
She felt at home here, even though she had few friends. She had a mind to keep the store operating—to see if she could make a go of the place on her own. It would be a welcome challenge—the store always turned a profit, but her father’s weakness for gambling had kept them pretty much on the brink of poverty.
“I see.” Tyler frowned, slapping his hat against his knee. “What if he doesn’t?”
She gasped. “I—I haven’t given that a thought. He will take me in.” Her hand flew to the knot at the back of her head. “I’m…sure he will. I’m paid up at the boardinghouse until the end of the month, then I hope to be heading east.”
The door opened and Joellen Withers entered. “Mornin’, Joellen,” Tyler said with a charming smile.
“Why, Tyler, mornin’,” the neighborly woman said, a note of surprise in her voice. “Hello, Lillian.”
She walked up to the counter and Lily nodded her greeting. A pair of aged deep-set eyes twinkled when Joellen spoke. “Tyler Kincaide, you’re a sight. My
Letty Sue was just saying the other day how she doesn’t see much of you anymore.”
“How is Letty Sue?”
The woman placed a gentle hand on his arm. “She’d be a mite happier if you came callin’. She’s always had a soft spot for you.”
Tyler shook his head and chuckled. “You know, Joellen, your daughter’s a beauty. She’ll find herself a fine husband real soon.”
Joellen Withers put her hands on her hips. “I know. My Letty Sue has more beaus than a cat’s got whiskers. But you can’t blame me for trying now, Tyler. You and that adorable little girl out there on that ranch. Makes a woman hanker for grandchildren. How is Bethann?”
“Growing faster than a wildflower and just as pretty.”
“My, my. I bet she’s the image of her mama. Bring her over to the house Sunday. I’ll fix fried chicken.”
“Will do. Thank you, ma’am.” They watched Joellen wander down a near-barren aisle before Tyler turned to Lily. “I have business to tend to over at the bank. How about I come back and we go to supper at Emma’s Place? I need to ask you something.”
Lily’s hand went to her chest. Her breath caught. “Why—I…” She’d never taken supper with a man before. No man had ever asked. And she was more than a little curious. What brought handsome Tyler Kincaide into her mercantile, asking probing questions, inviting her to supper?
“I’ll come by for you in two hours.” He shoved his hat onto his head, flashing white teeth in a broad smile, and sauntered out the door before Lily could say another word.
“Howdy, Emma. We’ll have two of your daily specials and two lemonades. That is, if Miss Lily agrees.” He cast a quick look her way. Lily nodded.
Tyler knew Emma was trying as she might to size things up. Nothing happened in town that Emma Mayfield wasn’t privy to and it appeared today would be no exception. “How are you today, Miss Lillian?” Emma asked in a sugary voice.
“Fine. Thank you.”
Emma looked from him to Lily before stalking off. It was clear Emma’s curiosity was sparked. So was Lily’s, judging by the way her pale blue eyes widened every time Tyler uttered a word. And she appeared as skittish as a baby calf searching for his mama, constantly tugging at that damnable knob of hair on her head.
Tyler wanted to ease her nervousness. He’d bet his best Hereford heifer, she’d not had any experience with men. He wished to hell she wouldn’t keep looking at him as if he were some two-headed monster. Hell, he wasn’t courting her. That’s the last thing he’d ever want to do, with any woman. The notion made him shudder. No, he needed Miss Lillian Brody for more practical reasons.
He smiled. “Emma’s got about the best food in town.”
Stiff-shouldered, Lily placed her hands primly in her lap. Her eyes darted around the room. She did have pretty pale blue eyes, he thought, when they weren’t fluttering around like an energetic butterfly near a honeysuckle bush.
“I haven’t eaten here since before Father died. We
would come,” she added quietly, “every Saturday night.”
Tyler leaned back in the chair and stretched his legs. He studied her for a moment. She hadn’t had an easy time of it. Tyler remembered Jonah Brody’s penchant for gambling. He’d been as good a man as they come, but his weakness for placing a bet was known throughout the town. He’d aim straight for the Golden Garter after supping with his daughter and, word had it, he’d not leave until the wee morning hours, usually with his pockets more threadbare than when he’d first arrived. Tyler had witnessed his run of bad luck a time or two.
Must have been hard for her.
Now he had a chance to help her out. If only she’d accept his offer.
“Do you miss Emma’s cooking or are you a good cook yourself?”
She let out a tiny laugh. “Oh, I can cook. Been feeding my father since Mama died, but I don’t cook anymore. Mrs. Anderson’s meals at the boardinghouse are really quite good. More food than I can bear to eat.”
Tyler swept his gaze over her slim body. Somebody ought to put some meat on her bones, he thought. She was far too thin to appear healthy. He glanced away before she figured out what he was thinking. She was so fragile-looking with light skin and the palest blue eyes. But when she smiled, her eyes held warmth that portrayed her heart. She had a childlike vulnerability. But she was no child. If he recalled correctly she was three years shy of his twenty-eight.
“Tell me, Miss Lily, are you happy here in Sweet Springs?”
“Well, yes. I love it here.” She eyed him skeptically. “Of course, now that my father’s gone, it’s..”
Tyler sighed, knowing about the kind of loneliness that can consume a body. He’d felt it, too, since Lizabeth’s death. He’d nearly drunk himself into oblivion for months, thinking about how she died. If it weren’t for Bethann and the ranch, he might not have survived. But with the help of loyal friends, he’d pulled himself together.
Since Lizabeth’s passing, he’d had no use for any female, except the occasional lady at the Golden Garter Saloon. But now he needed a woman. Desperately. And he knew of no better choice than Miss Lillian Brody, a proper lady. “Do you want to go to Chicago?”
Lily crossed her arms over her chest, bringing in loose folds of material enough for Tyler to see she did have some womanly attributes. She straightened in the seat. “Mr. Kincaide, I have little choice. Uncle Jasper is my only family and from what I remember of him, he’s a dear man.”
“Tyler, remember?” he asked, curling his lips up.
She nodded with a tense smile.
“But, what if you had another choice?”
“A choice? I don’t understand.”
Judging by the tone of her voice, he’d obviously perplexed her. Leaning in, he rested his elbows on the table, eyes intent on her. “Sorry. I got something to ask you, but first I wanted to know the situation. I have a proposition for you.”
Lily’s back went rigid. “A proposition?” She swallowed
and lowered her voice. “What kind of proposition, exactly, Mr. Kincaide?”
“A very respectable one, Miss Lily.”
Emma brought their lemonades, slowly lowering them to the table. She swept her sharp gaze from one to the other. “Thank you kindly, Emma,” he said with a quick nod and watched patiently for her to move on.
“I’m just going to come out and say it.” Tyler raked a hand through his hair. He was a man who wasn’t comfortable with words. He believed actions spoke more clearly. “I need a woman to come out to the ranch to live with me.”
Lily gasped, her pale blue eyes going wide. She started to rise. Tyler realized his blunder immediately. He grabbed her arm and held her gently.
“Ah, hell! I said it all wrong. Sit down and let me explain.” Lily stared at the arm he held. He released her reluctantly hoping she’d not dash away. “Please.”
Lily hesitated, then looked him in the eye. He reassured her with a nod. Frowning, she slowly sat down. Tyler let out a silent sigh of relief. He knew he’d better get to the point quickly. This was too important to him.