Read Love at Any Cost Online

Authors: Julie Lessman

Tags: #FIC042030, #FIC042040, #FIC027050, #Single women—California—San Francisco—Fiction, #San Francisco (Calif.)—History—20th century—Fiction, #Love stories, #Christian fiction

Love at Any Cost

© 2013 by Julie Lessman

Published by Revell

a division of Baker Publishing Group

P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287

www.revellbooks.com

Ebook edition created 2013

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.

ISBN 978-1-4412-4057-6

Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.

Scripture used in this book, whether quoted or paraphrased by the characters, is taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

The internet addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers in this book are accurate at the time of publication. They are provided as a resource. Baker Publishing Group does not endorse them or vouch for their content or permanence.

“With an artist's brushstroke, Julie Lessman creates another masterpiece filled with family and love and passion that compares to none in the Christian market today. Interwoven with themes of betrayal, trust, and God's love,
Love at Any Cost
will not only soothe your soul, but it will make you laugh, stir your heart, and release a sigh of satisfaction when you turn the last page. The next book in the series cannot come soon enough!”

—
MaryLu Tyndall
, bestselling author of
Veil of Pearls

“One of the spunkiest, most endearing heroines to ever grace the page, Cassidy McClare will win your heart right along with her heart-tugging hero. Julie Lessman is a master at writing godly passion infused with spiritual truths. Readers will not be able to part with these characters come ‘The End,' nor will they have to, as
Love at Any Cost
is the start of an unforgettable series, certain to win a place on your keeper shelf!”

—
Laura Frantz
, author of
Love's Reckoning

“This is the most fun I've had reading a Julie Lessman book. I love all her books, but I was so in love with her O'Connor family saga that I was worried if she could create another family that was so engaging. But the McClare clan is wonderful and I loved all of them, especially that little touch of Texas in Cassie and the sparks flying between the widow Cait and the charming Uncle Logan. I can't wait to see what Julie does next!”

—
Mary Connealy
, author of
Over the Edge
,
In Too Deep
, and
Out of Control

Praise for
A Hope Undaunted

“A rich girl and a poor boy find that love can be the great equalizer in Lessman's engrossing tale, which has more awareness and sizzle between the hero and heroine than your average inspirational romance.”

—
Booklist
, starred review

“I have been waiting feverishly for the next Julie Lessman book. I love her work, and this may be the best book yet.
A Hope Undaunted
contains a powerful message, wisdom, romance, and fun, all in one book.”

—
Mary Connealy
, author of
Doctor in Petticoats
and
Wrangler in Petticoats

“Lessman writes my favorite kind of book: the kind I can't put down—a book that has a heroine with unforgettable spunk, a romance with undeniable sparks, and a family that will remain in your heart long after you turn the last page.”

—
Siri Mitchell
, author of
She Walks in Beauty

To the Lover of my soul,
Who taught me about “love at any cost”
two thousand years ago on a hill outside of Jerusalem.
I will love You and worship You
all the days of my life.

But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.

—Matthew 6:20–21

 1 

S
AN
F
RANCISCO
, M
AY
1902

Sweet thunderation—deliver me from pretty men!
Twenty-two-year-old Cassidy McClare peered up beneath the wide feathered brim of her black velvetta hat—legs, luggage, and magazine scattered on the dirty platform of Oakland Pier train station.

“Miss, I'm so sorry—”

You certainly are.
Hair askew, she blew a curl from her eyes along with a broken feather dangling over the rim of the “fashionable” hat Mama begged her to wear. Reining in her temper, she forced a smile at a man in a stylish straw boater who'd just swept her off her feet—
literally
.

A whistle shrieked and the Overland Limited belched a cloud of steam into the air, the smell of smoke and coal wrinkling her nose. Apparently the “gentleman”—and she used the term loosely—hadn't seen her, too busy rushing to wave goodbye to the girl he'd just put on the train. With a deafening screech, the train groaned on its rails, chugging away while people moseyed and milled on the platform, gaping at a girl sprawled on her backside in a House of Worth tailor-made suit. A curious sight,
indeed . . . not to mention embarrassing. Even for a non-prissy ranch girl from Humble, Texas.

The heat of summer asphalt warmed her bottom while the man's gaze warmed her face, his frank perusal sending off warning bells she'd heard before. And, unfortunately, ignored. She issued a silent grunt.
But never again.
Struggling to rise, her lips went flat, not unlike the hatbox her mother had foisted on her, which she'd just crushed on her fall from grace.
Fooled by a pretty boy once, shame on him. Fooled by a pretty boy twice, shame on me.

“Are you okay?” Nudging the boater up, he held out a blunt hand attached to a muscled arm that strained beneath a crisp, white pinstripe shirt, its casually rolled sleeves in stark contrast to a meticulous four-in-hand tie and a high starched collar. He could have walked off the pages of
Men's Wear Magazine
, easily six foot one with a boyish smile that lent a roguish air Cassie recognized all too well. A thick curl of dark brown hair that was almost black toppled over his forehead, obviously a stray from the slicked-back style of the day. Hazel eyes the color of coffee with cream assessed her with a crimp of concern wedged between thick, dark brows, reminding her so much of Mark, she cringed.

Make that cold, bitter coffee.

Hand still extended, he eased into a smile that at one time would have generated as much heat as the platform beneath her body, a gleam of white in a chiseled face that sported a California tan. “I beg your pardon, miss, but I never even saw you.” A sparkle warmed his gaze as it slowly trailed down the upturned brim of her hat, past renegade curls from her upswept hair to her white silk shirtwaist, hesitating long enough to prompt a blush in her cheeks. “Which is pretty hard to believe,” he mumbled, almost to himself. His bold look continued to roam her gored navy skirt only to halt with several blinks at the peek of her
forbidden cowboy boots—the ones she'd put on
after
Mama and Daddy left the station. A grin inched across his face and his eyes slowly trailed back up as naturally as his dimples deepened with the lift of his smile. Heat suffused her cheeks, as much from the obscene number of petticoats Mother had insisted she wear as the Romeo's frank perusal.
Flattery will get you nowhere, mister.
Her lips took a slant. Though it'd certainly gotten Mark's ring on her finger. She issued a silent grunt.
A history lesson unto itself,
she thought, the smell of horse manure from buggies lining the terminal oddly comforting.

And appropriate.

Lips clamped, she ignored both the Romeo and the disparaging glance of a passerby and tugged on her trumpet-shaped skirt to hide her socially unacceptable footwear. Oh, how she wished she could have worn her “shocking” jeans from the ranch instead of the fashionable suit Mama requested. Huffing out an unladylike sigh, she accepted the Romeo's proffered hand, feeling like she'd been hit by a train, and not the one on the tracks. His massive palm dominated hers, and she popped up with all the grace with which she'd toppled over her luggage in the first place:
none
.

He stooped to retrieve her magazine, using it to slap the dirt from her skirt as if shooing flies from the rump of a horse, and she waved him away, mortified that a stranger was swatting at her backside. “Please, I'm fine, truly. No harm done, I assure you.”

“No, I insist . . .” Paying her no mind, he collected her blue handbag and dented hatbox after righting her Oshkosh suitcases, cherished gifts from her father when she'd gone to Europe with her cousins three summers past.
Before
the oil wells ran dry, ending life as she'd known it.

Shaking his head, he handed her the purse and magazine, then dangled the sorry hatbox in the air, sucking air through clenched
teeth. “Gee, I'm sorry,” he said, giving her an endearing little-boy grin she'd lay odds had gotten him off the hook more times than not. “But I think this box may have seen better days.”

As have I
. Cassie winced at this brazen man whose casual air, rugged good looks, and wind-tousled hair reminded her way too much of the man who'd broken her heart. But . . . better days were ahead . . . she hoped. She and her cousin, Alli, just graduated with teaching degrees, and Aunt Cait didn't know it yet, but Mark's rejection had sent Cassie northwest for that very reason. Not just for the summer this time, but to join forces with Aunt Cait and Alli in their dreams of a school for poor and disadvantaged girls on the Barbary Coast. For Cassie, San Francisco was not only her chance to put the pain and humiliation of Humble behind, but it ensured she could focus on a teaching career instead of a man. Her lips kinked. Doting on lots of children instead of just one. And girls to boot, because if there was one thing she'd learned in Humble, Texas, it was that boys—little or big—were nothing but trouble.

Squaring her shoulders, she took the box from his hand with as much dignity as possible after picking herself up off the ground. “Thank you, it's no problem, really.” She offered a polite smile, then turned to go, tripping over her luggage till he steadied her with a clasp of her arm.

“Wait!” At her startled look, he slipped both hands in his pockets with a sheepish grin, glancing up beneath the longest lashes she'd ever seen on a man. “I'd like to make it up to you, see you home, buy you lunch, whatever.” His eyes sparkled with humor. “After all,” he said, tone husky, “girls have fallen for me before, but never quite this hard.”

“I b-beg your p-pardon . . . ,” she sputtered, heat scorching her face. She leaned in, her Texas Irish going head-to-head with
his California dimples. Her pride bucked as much as that prize filly Daddy had to auction off with most of his herd. “
Stampeded
is more like it,” she said, painfully aware this was
just
the type of man for whom she tended to “fall.” A fact that only steamed her temper more, giving the high-pressure steam locomotive nothing on her. She gesticulated with a shaky hand, making her fluster all the more obvious, but she flat-out didn't care. Anger hog-tied all Christian kindness, vibrating her words with more fury than warranted. “M-manhandled by some . . . some . . . Casanova chasing a train to say goodbye to a woman.” She reloaded with a deep breath, then gave it to him with both barrels, unleashing her fury at Mark and every man just like him. “And then, great day in the morning, you have the nerve to . . . to . . . ogle
me
while the tracks are still warm?” Boots wobbling, she nodded at the train with a fold of her arms. “I suspect your
sweetheart
would have a few choice words to say about that!”

The dimples took on a life of their own. “First of all, miss,” he said with a half-lidded smile, obviously enjoying the scold, “if you'd been manhandled by me, trust me—you'd know it. Secondly, my ‘sweetheart' would say nothing because I don't have one, which,” he said with a mock grimace, “suddenly doesn't seem like such a bad thing. And thirdly . . . ,” he hiked a thumb toward the departing train, heating her cheeks with a wink, “that was my cousin.”

“Horse apples!” The whites of her eyes expanded while her cheeks flamed red hot, which, given the flush of heat beneath her blue suit, might be considered warmly patriotic. Sweet chorus of angels, did he think she just fell off the turnip truck? She'd
seen
him—watched him swallow the girl up in those ridiculously muscular arms, heft her up like a sack of grain while he twirled her high in the air. Cassie fumed, feeling her blood pressure
rise.
Talk about manhandling!
And now he wanted to take
her
to lunch? Her chin snapped up. “And I'm the Queen of England,” she hissed, suddenly wondering why she was berating some poor dope whose only sin had been to accidentally mow her down and look good doing it.

Giving a slow whistle, he stepped back with two hands in the air. “Look, miss . . . uh, I mean,
your majesty
. . . I didn't mean any harm—either by knocking you down or my offer to make it up to you.” He gave her a quick salute. “I think it's best if I just take my leave, but before I do . . .” The dimples returned in force as he nodded his head behind her. “You might want to brush off your posterior really well, because I think you may have a burr in your saddle.” Giving her a wink, he strode away, hands in his pockets and a whistle on his lips.

Cassie stared while what was left of her anger seeped out of her gaping mouth. Sweet soul-saving mercy—Mama would tan her hide but good had she seen how Cassie just acted. Never had she been so rude in her entire life. She slumped and put a hand to her eyes. “God forgive me,” she whispered. “What in the world is wrong with me?”

But she knew the answer before the words even left her tongue. The pretty boy was right. She had a burr in her saddle, a pebble in her boot, an ache in her heart. Heaving a weary sigh, she brushed the back of her suit, wishing more than anything she could tell Pretty Boy she was sorry for lashing out. That it wasn't him personally, just men like him.

Men like Mark.

Inhaling deeply, Cassie blasted out her frustration along with the acrid fumes of oil and grease. Retrieving her pocket watch, she checked the time, fingers grazing the smooth, cool casing of the men's gold timepiece Nana had given her, a cherished keepsake
of a great-grandmother Daddy said she reminded him of. Nana McClare had been as unconventional as a woman could be in an era that focused on a pretty face instead of a keen mind. And like Cassie, Daddy reminded, a woman as solid, dependable, and unfrilly as the watch in Cassie's hand. “Always remember,” Nana would say, “life is an adventure and every day a fresh start . . . especially with God by your side.”

“Oh, Nana, I hope so,” she whispered, praying for a summer to help her forget. Forget the ridicule of young boys because she was different. Forget the high-society matrons who'd thumbed their noses at her from little on. Forget the whispers of their daughters when the new bachelor in town courted Cassie instead of them. Her chest squeezed, having little to do with the corset as tears stung her eyes. Then forget when that same bachelor cast her aside like everyone else had.

Shaking off the hurt, she put a hand to her forehead, shielding her face from the glare as she scanned for a sign of her cousins or their driver. Her lips quirked as she arched a brow at the sky. “I prayed
I
would forget, Lord, not them.” She shook her head and smiled, and in the shrill wail of a faraway train, faith suddenly whooshed through her like a prairie breeze, so strong and powerful she felt it clear down to the tips of her pointed boots. She breathed in deeply, noticing the scent of San Francisco for the first time since she debarked, its crisp bay air, salty sea spray, and faint smell of fish. It smelled like change and she closed her eyes, thrilling at the tangy breeze that feathered her face. “Oh, Lord, let it be so,” she whispered, a smile curving her lips. “Let me forget the past and start anew.” A gentle wind tickled her hair, and her smile bloomed into a grin because somehow she knew, as sure as the dimples on Pretty Boy's face.

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