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Authors: Plum Creek Bride

Lynna Banning

BOOK: Lynna Banning
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A smile tugged at one corner of his mouth,
but his eyes were calm.

All at once she felt light-headed. She couldn’t look away from him.

Was it possible this stiff, unfriendly man had a glimmer of understanding about how she felt?

No, not possible. He planned to send his baby daughter—his own child—thousands of miles across the sea to Scotland. What kind of man would do that?

Still, he had kept her secret. And he hadn’t objectedwell, not too strongly, at least—when she’d spoken up about sending his child away.

Absentmindedly, Erika pressed new patterns into her mounded potatoes while she tried to think about the man who faced her across the table. Dr. Jonathan Callender held her future in the palm of his smooth, aristocratic hand. She had to try to understand him.

More than that, she had to please him.!

Dear Reader,

As the weather heats up this month, so do the passion and adventure in our romances!

Let’s begin with handsome single father Dr. Jonathan Callender and his darling baby girl, who will undoubtedly warm your heart in
Plum Creek Bride,
an emotional new Western by Lynna Banning. Critics have described the author’s works as “evocative,” “touching” and “pure fun!” In this marriage-of-convenience tale, German nanny Erika Scharf arrives in Oregon to care for the Callender child, and finds a grieving widower who struggles to heal a town plagued by cholera. But it is Erika who heals Jonathan-by teaching him how to love again.

Medieval fans, prepare yourself for an utterly romantic forced-marriage story with Susan Spencer Paul’s latest,
The Captive Bride,
about a fierce knight who’ll stop at nothing to reclaim his family’s estate-even marriage! Ana Seymour brings us
Lord of Lyonsbridge,
the daring tale of a sinfully handsome horse master who teaches a spoiled Norman beauty important lessons in compassion and love.

Temperatures—and tempers-flare in
Heart of the Lawman
by Linda Castle, which is set in Arizona Territory. Here, a single mother is released from prison, only to find that the man who mistakenly put her there, Sheriff Flynn O’Bannion, is awfully close to capturing her heart!

Whatever your tastes in reading, you’ll be sure to find a romantic journey back to the past between the covers of a Harlequin Historicals® novel.

Sincerely,

Tracy Farrell

Senior Editor

Please address questions and book requests to:

Harlequin Reader Service

U.S.: 3010 Walden Ave., P.O. Box 1325, Buffalo, NY 14269

Canadian: P.O. Box 609, Fort Erie, Ont. L2A 5X3

Plum Creek Bride
Lynna Banning

Books by Lynna Banning

Harlequin Historicals

Western Rose #310

Wildwood
#374

Lost Acres Bride
#437

Plum Creek Bride
#474

LYNNA BANNING

has combined a lifelong love of history and literature into a satisfying new career as a writer. Born in Oregon, she has lived in Northern California most of her life, graduating from Scripps College and embarking on her career as an editor and technical writer, and later as a high school English teacher.

An amateur pianist and harpsichordist, Lynna performs on psaltery and recorders with two Renaissance ensembles and teaches music in her spare time. Currently she is learning to play the harp.

She enjoys hearing from her readers. You may write to her directly at P.O. Box 324, Felton, CA 95018.

For Suzanne Barrett.

With grateful thanks, to Yvonne Woolston, Andrew and Shirley Yarnes, Leslie Yarnes Sugai, Lawrence Yarnes and my great-grandmother, Mareia Bruhn Boessen.

Chapter One

Plum Creek, Oregon, 1886

T
he searing July heat boiled up from the road as Erika gazed up the tree-shaded street. She shifted her heavy satchel to her other hand. She had walked all the way from the stagecoach stop, and the plain, high collar of her wilted travel dress stuck to her neck. Perspiration trickled between her breasts, and her feet, imprisoned in tight high-button shoes, baked like twin loaves of
Brot.
Bread, she corrected. English words were so hard to remember!

She turned up the street, trudged another twenty paces and stopped. The two-story house occupied the entire corner across from where she stood. A white board fence encircled the meticulously groomed emerald lawn, and a scrolled iron sign hung from a porch rafter. Jonathan Callender, Physician.

Such a grand home!

A trio of graceful plum trees shaded the huge grayand-black Victorian structure from the merciless sun. Erika moved past the neat row of scarlet zinnias bordering the gravel path leading to the front porch, unlatched the gate and marched up the cobbled walk. Settling her satchel on the painted veranda floor, she lifted the iron knocker and rapped twice. After what seemed an interminable wait, she rapped again. Someone must be home; a dusty black buggy stood in front of the house.

Another long minute passed, and Erika tapped her foot in frustration.

Abruptly the door swung inward, and a tall, dark-haired man faced her. The sleeves of his rumpled white shirt were rolled up to his elbows, and the collar gaped open at the neck.

“Yes?” His rich, deep voice startled her with the impatiently clipped single word.

Erika swallowed. “My name Erika Scharf.”

“Yes?” he repeated. Weary gray eyes surveyed her with disinterest.

“Name means no-thing?” She winced as she realized her pronunciation error. She had to work hard at English, but thoughts came faster than her tongue could form the words.

“Nothing at all. Should it?”

“You not get my letter? Your wife, Mrs.” She
extracted a slip of paper from her reticule and squinted at it. “Ben-bough?”

“Mrs. Benbow. My housekeeper.”

“She write and—Oh! Your housekeeper? Not your wife?”

“That is correct. Now, Miss Scharf, perhaps you would tell me why your name should mean something to me?”

For some reason the look of the man made her feel hot and cold all at once. “Oh, yes, my name. My papa German. Mama she is—was—Danish. When I come New York, name not Scharf, but Scharffenberger. Too long to write, so they make short. Scharf. Is more American, ja?”

“Ja.
Yes,” Jonathan amended hastily.

“You do not remember name?”

“I do not” What did this chit of a girl want with him? Was she ailing?

“Are you ill, Miss Scharf?”

Two dimples appeared in her sunburned cheeks.

“Nein.
Never ill. Much health. I go to work now?”

“Work?” he echoed.

“Ja,
work. W-o-r-k,” she spelled. “Did not your wife tell you?”

“My wife is.” He could not bring himself to say it. “Tell me what?”

“Mrs. Ben-bough, Benbow, she write to me in
New York and say, ‘Come to help, is baby coming.’ There is baby, yes?”

Jonathan started. A shard of pain ripped into his belly. “Yes, there is a baby.”

Tess must have sent for the young woman months ago. He had never been told.

“Come in, Miss Scharf.”

Erika stepped through the wide doorway. “Baby is called.?”

“Marian. Marian Elizabeth.” His throat tight, he ushered the young woman into the parlor.

“I will see house later,” she said. She did not sit down, but flitted about the room inspecting everything—Tess’s tall walnut harp, the settee she had ordered reupholstered in forest green velvet, the polished oak end table piled high with medical journals from the East, then the harp again. The young woman ran one finger over the dusty surface.

“I would like now to see my room, please.”

Jonathan jerked. “Your room?”

“Yes, please. I come to stay, help with baby.”

Jonathan watched the slim young woman hoist her traveling bag and turn toward the wide mahogany staircase. Tess had not told him about the baby in the first place, and when she did, she hadn’t admitted how risky it was for her. Now he found his wife had engaged a-a what? He already had a housekeeper. A mother’s helper?

He groaned inwardly. Another surprise.

“You cannot remain here, Miss Scharf. My wife is. She passed away three weeks ago. There is no mother, and there is no need for a mother’s helper.”

“But there is baby!” Erika protested.

As if in corroboration, a thin wail drifted from behind a closed door. The honey-haired young woman stared at him accusingly.

“I come all the way from New York, from Bremerhaven on ship. I cannot go back. I have no money for ticket.”

“I will pay your—”

“Besides,” she interjected. “I do not
want
to go back. I like America. And Or-e-gon.” She pronounced each syllable with care. “I like very much. So I do not go back.” She folded her arms across her tiny waist and lifted her chin. “I stay.”

“On the contrary, Miss Scharf. This is my house and my child. I can do whatever I feel necessary.”

“But—”

“When the infant is six months old, I intend to send her to my mother in Scotland.”

“You cannot,” Erika exclaimed, her blue eyes widening. “Baby needs father.”

Jonathan raked the fingers of one hand through his hair. “Baby needs—” He cleared his throat. “The child needs a mother. Someone to care for it, feed it. In Scotland—”

“In Scotland is not mother.
Or
father. Here in Plum Creek is family. You. Papa.”

A smile flashed across her face, lighting the sapphire blue eyes from within. In the next instant, the curving lips pressed into a thin line and the sparkle in the wide-set eyes faded. “Next best thing to mama is mama’s helper. Me. Erika Scharf.”

She brushed past him, leaving the scent of lavender and travel dust in her wake. “I work now.” She headed toward the staircase. “I will put on apron and then meet baby.”

The doctor stepped forward. “You will not!”

Erika paused on the first polished riser. “And why not is that?” She suppressed a smile of triumph at so many correctly pronounced w’s today. She was learning! But the English came slowly.

Dr. Callender’s hands closed into fists. “Is there something wrong with your hearing, Miss Scharf? I said I intend to send the child to Scotland.”

“Nein.”
She met his gaze with an unflinching stare of her own. “Hearing good. Seeing also good. Thinking—” she tapped a forefinger against her forehead “—best of all! Baby stay here, with papa.”

He drew himself up to his full height. “Now, look, miss. You may stay the night, and that is all. In my home, I decide what is best.”

Erika tipped her head to meet his gaze.
“Ja,
of course,” she agreed. “But baby not on Scotland ship
now. Later maybe, not now. Now, baby is here. I am here. You—papa—are here. Is for the best, I think. You will see.”

She spun and started dragging the satchel up the stairs. “Which room, please? I put on apron now.”

Erika did not look back at him on purpose. She didn’t want to give the frowning man at the bottom of the stairs one second to open his mouth and stop her ascent to what was surely the closest to heaven she’d ever been in her twenty-four years.

A house! A big, welcoming house, with beautiful furnishings and lace curtains at the windows—and so many windows, the glass sparkling clean, not dingy with soot as in her parents’ tiny cottage at home. Mama would be so happy for her! Mama had always wanted a window.

A house in America!
It was almost too good to be true. America. Land of the free, Papa had said. Where people were equal. It was all he’d talked about before he died. In America, even a poor German cobbler could eat.

More than that. An unmarried woman could work hard and save money, could stay respectable even if she did not marry. A young woman in America had a future.

And now that she was finally here, nothing—not fire or flood or Dr. Jonathan Callender—would keep her from starting her new life. It was what Papa had
wanted for her. It was what
she
wanted. In fact, it was the only thing she wanted—to live in America.

She reached the last door in the long hallway and tentatively laid her hand on the polished brass knob.
This one?
she wondered. The door was smaller than the others.

Now at last she was here, at the home where she was needed. She quailed at her defiance of the formidable-looking physician, but she would never, ever give up her only offer of employment. Or her dream. And, she resolved, she would never, never admit how frightened she was.

She twisted the doorknob and walked in.

Erika stared at the lovely room. A Brussels carpet in tones of rose and burgundy spread over the floor, and on top of it, centered between two tall multipaned windows, stood a narrow bed swathed in ivory lace. There were few other furnishings except for an imposing carved walnut chiffonier and a night table next to the bed. On it sat a white china basin and matching pitcher.

The small, simple room looked comfortable and inviting. It was sumptuous, by Erika’s standards. Surely she must have opened the wrong door! Mrs. Callender had promised she would have her own room, but this—this seemed far too grand for a servant’s quarters. This was luxury indeed, compared with the threadbare boardinghouses and dirty hotels
she had occupied this past month of traveling from New York across the plains and mountains to Portland and then south to Plum Creek.

In spite of herself, she took a cautious step onto the richly patterned carpet. Mercy, her travel-stained shoes would surely soil it! Quickly she unhooked the laces, stepped out of the brown canvas shoes and edged onto the patterned carpet in her stocking feet. The thick, soft wool caressed her toes. What heaven!

Yes, it must be the wrong room. But so beautiful. So welcoming, as if waiting just for her. On impulse she slid one bureau drawer open. Empty.

She slid it closed and opened another. Empty, except for a spray of dried lavender scenting the flowered paper lining. If the room belonged to someone, would not the drawers be full? With a gasp of pleasure, she realized Mrs. Callender’s intention: the room was to be Erika’s!

She felt as if she had died and floated up to live with the angels. A room to herself! A private, quiet place where she could be alone! Never in her life had she had a door she could close to keep the world out.

And a bed covered in lace, like a wedding cake! She plunged her hands under the bedclothes. And a real mattress!

Hers! Her throat closed with emotion. Hurriedly she scrabbled in her satchel for the clean, white apron
folded at the bottom and dumped the remaining contents into the open bureau drawer. The doctor had to let her stay! He had to!

With shaking hands she removed her straw hat and drew the apron neckband over her head, fashioning the ties into a wide bow at her waist. Smoothing out the sharp creases in the starched material, she surveyed herself in the oval mirror propped on the chiffonier.

She pinched her cheeks with both hands to make sure she wasn’t dreaming, then reinserted a hairpin into the loose bun of honey-colored hair piled on top of her head. Tomorrow she would braid it into a crown as she had in the old country.

Hastily she flicked her cambric pocket handerchief over the dusty shoes and was bending to pull them on when a piercing cry penetrated the quiet.

Erika jerked upright The baby. Casting a quick look at the pristine, feminine bedroom, she bolted for the door and pulled it shut behind her.

A lusty wail rose from below, punctuated by a man’s impatient voice and the thump of footsteps as he apparently paced back and forth. Erika paused at the bottom of the stairs, consciously straightened her spine and drew in a fortifying breath. She was ready.

She moved toward the crying that rose from behind a closed door. Just as she lifted her hand to knock, the door jerked open.

“It’s about time,” the physician barked. “What the devil were you doing up there?”

Erika took an involuntary step backward. Perspiration beaded the doctor’s high, tanned forehead. Tendrils of black hair curled awry, as if he had combed his fingers over his scalp. The penetrating gray eyes narrowed into shards of slate as he awaited her response.

“I was putting on my—”

“I can see that,” he snapped. With a sigh he turned away, gesturing toward a wrinkled wraith of a woman in a severe black dress, seated beside an unadorned white wicker cradle.

“This is Mrs. Benbow, my housekeeper. Erika. what was it again? Ah, yes. Scharf. Erika Scharf.”

The older woman fanned herself with one corner of a tea towel and pinned snapping black eyes on her. “What church are ye?” she demanded over the baby’s cries.

“Church?” Did she dare admit she did not regularly attend church? All she knew was that the service was not conducted in Latin, so she could not be Catholic. “Why, Protestant, I suppose.”

“You suppose? Don’t you know? How were ye raised, if I might ask?”

“I was brought up in Germany,” Erika replied, trying to keep her voice steady. “Papa Catholic.
Mama Lutheran.” She did not add that her grandfather, her father’s father, had been a Jew. Papa had converted before he met Mama.

“Well, that’s a fine muddle!” The woman jostled the edge of the wicker crib. “Hush now, child.”

Erika risked a peek into the cradle. A tiny pink mouth stretched open, emitting screams of anguish. At Erika’s touch, the crying stopped abruptly, and two startled, tear-filled blue eyes gazed up at her.

Mrs. Benbow sighed. “The wee thing’s hungry. Again,” she added with a grimace.

Erika glanced at Dr. Callender, who had resumed his pacing. The tall man tramped back and forth before a huge mahogany desk littered with papers and journals.

“The child cries constantly,” he growled. “Likely cannot yet. tolerate cow’s milk. I cannot see patients with all this din and uproar, and Mrs. Benbow cannot cook and clean house and care for a child as well. She must be sent to Scotland, and the sooner the better.”

BOOK: Lynna Banning
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