As Stuart Haley grew older, year by year, he worried more and more about the security of his famous Cattle fortune. He had raised his daughters in the lap of luxury--they wanted for nothing--and all three girls had matured into lovely young women. But as he aged, Stuart craved the security that only a proper heir could provide. The two older daughters had fallen in love and left him--Stuart's only chance was that his youngest daughter, Charmaine, marry a local man and carry on in the family tradition. But that wasn't going to be easy? Independent and brash, Charmaine Haley had a life of her own, far away in Boston. It would be up to her father to make her return to Kansas so incredible that life in the North would pale in comparison. A masked ball, on par with the greatest of fairytales, would be the event of a lifetime. But to succumb to passion from behind a mask could be a cruel twist of fate--leading Charmaine back through the torment of old mistakes she thought she'd left behind forever. Could the specter of true love be only old pain in disguise?
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August 04, 2008
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Excerpt from Cinderfella by Linda Winstead Jones
It wasn't just a ranch, it was an empire. It wasn't just land, it was his kingdom.
Stuart Haley shoved his hands into his pockets and squinted against the golden sunset's radiance that poured through the window. The setting sun shone on this fine house, lit the study that was his domain in this, his castle.
What would become of his empire when he was gone? Felicity, the eldest and most practical of his three daughters, was firmly settled in Boston with that physician husband of hers and a little girl of her own. Jeanette, who had been flighty all her life, was now content to make a home in Philadelphia with her husband, a lawyer for God's sake! They had their own lives, families of their own. It seemed neither of his older daughters had any concern for their childhood home.
He never should've allowed them to go East. His wife, Maureen, had been so insistent on seeing her daughters properly educated, and one after another his girls had headed from home for a so-called better life. Hogwash! He should've insisted that one of them stay here and marry a local boy who would become the son he'd never had, but he'd never had the heart to deny Maureen anything.
Charmaine was his last chance. If he was to see this kingdom passed on to his own blood, it would be through her. His youngest daughter was his last chance to save this empire.
"Where are your thoughts, Stuart?"
Maureen's soft question wiped the frown from his face, and when he turned to see her standing in the doorway of his study his heart beat a little faster. She was nearly forty-five years old, he was just past forty-eight, they'd been married twenty-seven years--and the sight of her still took his breath away.
"I was just thinking about Charmaine. She'll be here in three days."
Maureen's smile was brilliant. If anything, she was more beautiful today than she'd been at seventeen, when he'd met her and fallen instantly in love. Her hair was no longer a pale blond, but was a light brown streaked with touches of gray. Her body had matured with the birth of three children and the passing years, but she was slender and graceful as ever. "I'm excited, too."
He'd never uttered a word of displeasure to Maureen about not having sons. He'd rather have her than a dozen sons to follow in his footsteps. The girls had come not much more than a year apart, each more beautiful than the last, and then--nothing. Not because they hadn't tried. The doctor had no answers, and Maureen had finally accepted her inability to have more children as the will of God. It had rarely been mentioned in the past fifteen years.
"Maybe she'll decide to stay," he said hopefully.
Maureen crossed the room, gliding gracefully across the thick carpet and stepping past his polished walnut desk until she stood beside him. She slipped a slender arm around his waist and leaned against his side. "She might not, you know," she said softly. "This is just a visit, and she agreed only because your letters have been so insistent. She'd just as soon wait to see us when we can make the trip to Boston."
"She does like the city, doesn't she?"
Maureen nodded. "Remember her last letter? It was three pages long and exclusively about that masked ball she attended. Felicity and Howard evidently thought it much too foolhardy, but Charmaine had a grand time."
Charmaine was his only hope. Somehow he had to convince her that there was nothing in Boston that she couldn't have in Salley Creek. "We could throw a masked ball right here."
Maureen laughed lightly. "Here? Why, there's never been such a thing in Salley Creek."
"There's got to be a first time for everything." He would show Charmaine that Salley Creek could be just as exciting as Boston. There would be music, food, people from miles around. Men, lots of good, solid, Kansans who would be happy to marry into the Haley family.
"I don't know...."
"Let's do it." It was the perfect solution, and his mind was made up. Maureen would try to change it, but the decision had already been made. "Why, Charmaine might even meet a man who can convince her to stay here where she belongs."
"Stuart!" Maureen stepped away from him and stared up with shock in those big blue eyes of hers. "You're not thinking...."
He couldn't stop the grin that spread across his face.
"And why not?" He pulled her back into his embrace. "If I put out the word that I'm looking for a husband for Charmaine, every eligible man for a hundred miles will be here. There's bound to be one--"
"One man who can convince Charmaine to stay here where she belongs." It was a chance he had to take. "Dammit, Maureen, what have I worked for all my life, if not for my family? What's going to become of this place when we're gone?"
Those blue eyes softened. "I should have given you a son."