unsociable, Kathy was as emotional as her mother, and Lily was terribly spoiled. Bennet was loath to admit that he bore some responsibility for this sad state of affairs; he had found young children uninteresting and had given his attention only to his eldest.

Samuel, oh Samuel! he thought again. The loss of his heir would cost his family more than they knew.

Bennet cleared his throat. “My dears, I have an announcement to make.” The Bennet women turned their attention to him. Bennet inwardly grimaced in anticipation of the uproar to come. “For quite a while we’ve lived in comfort. Working the land with my brothers has adequately provided for us for these many years.”

“Adequately provided?” cried his wife. “It’s all right for you to say so, Thomas, if you believe having five unmarried daughters with no dowry to speak of ‘adequate,’ or even enough money to have but one store-bought dress each, but I don’t believe it is so!”

“Indeed, my dear. And now with the return of my nephews from the war and their growing families… Forgive me, Fanny.”

Mrs. Bennet wiped the tear from her eye. “Please, Thomas, say no more about that, or I will think of our poor, lost Samuel again.” She could say no more as she wept, and Kathy joined in. Jane and Beth consoled the others, Mary sighed in disapproval, and Lily looked bored.

Bennet held his tongue until his wife was tolerably composed. “My dear, now that our nephews are having families of their own, the Bennet Farm will not produce enough for all of us. Therefore, I have spoken to my brothers, and they have agreed to buy me out.”

“Buy us out! But, Thomas, what shall we do?”

Jane spoke up. “Are you buying another farm, Father?”

“Yes, I am—a place of our very own.”

“Will we have to leave home?” Kathy gasped.

“Yes, we will—”

Fanny cut him off. “Oh, who cares about this old house; we inherited it from Grandmother Bennet! A house of our own! How delightful! Is it near the river, dear? I hope it is near the river.”

Bennet glanced down at his plate. “It is near a river, Fanny.”

Beth frowned. “But, Father, how much did our uncles pay? Land near the river is so very dear. They surely couldn’t pay that much.”

“They paid enough, Beth. We will have a new farm near a river, but it will not be here.”

“Not here!” Mrs. Bennet looked at her daughters. “But where? Is it nearby?”

“No, dear.”

That got Mary’s attention. “We will have to change churches?”

“I am afraid so, child.”

“I know!” Mrs. Bennet claimed. “You always knew I favored the next county. So lovely, and I have family there…”

“Pooh! I don’t care for them!” cried Lily. “Last time we visited, the boys pulled my hair!”

“That was three years ago,” said Jane gently. “Surely they will be kinder now.”

Bennet raised his voice. “Please, enough of this! We are not moving to the next county.” The women all stared at him. “I have found a wonderful place where we can grow vegetables and corn almost year-round and still have room for cattle.”

“Year-round! Thomas, you tease me. One cannot grow vegetables in Ohio in winter!”

“One can in Rosings.”

“Rosings! I never heard of such a place. Where in Ohio is this paradise?”

Bennet took a breath. “It is not in Ohio; it is in Texas.”

Bennet was surprised. The room was quiet much longer than he anticipated. But the explosion that followed was all he expected.

“Texas!” Beth cried again for the countless time. “How can Father make us all go to Texas?”

Jane sighed as she brushed Beth’s hair, their nightly routine before bed. “He’s doing the best he can. The farm he described is large enough to take care of all our needs. We’ll have farmhands to help. It sounds delightful.”

Beth was not appeased. “If Samuel were here, he would talk Father out of this!”

“Beth, if Samuel were here, we might be buying out our uncles. But he is not. We must try to persevere. Father needs our support, not our censure.”

Beth bit her lip as she recalled her mother’s unkind exclamations at table. “You’re right. Father is trying to care for us. But… oh, Jane! Texas! I can’t believe it. I hate it!”

“It is very far away from here—that’s true.”

“It’s not Texas that I’m talking about, but the Texans! I haven’t forgotten that they turned their backs on the Union and most disgracefully took up arms against us, all to preserve their vile practice of slavery!”

“Beth, we are taught to forgive. Perhaps they have seen the wickedness of their ways and have repented.”

“Perhaps,” Beth said, but to herself, she thought, You may forgive them, Jane, for you are good. But I will never forget that if not for them, Samuel would still be alive. I will never forgive them. Never.

Chapter 1

Rosings, Texas—September, 1870

A lone figure SAT astride a tall, black Arabian under a single oak tree atop a ridge. It was a hot day, and in the early afternoon sun, the shade was welcomed by horse and rider alike, standing as still as a statue. He was a tall man in a white shirt with dark trousers and black boots, his unbuttoned vest flapping in the slight breeze, a tan, wide-brimmed, ten-gallon hat pulled low over his brow. Before him stretched a sea of prairie, dotted with hundreds of cattle, lowing and grazing. They were not alone; a handful of wranglers carefully moved their cowponies around the vast herd, keeping an eye out for trouble. The movement of the horses disturbed the man’s mount, and he reached down to gently stroke its neck.

“Whoa there, Caesar, rest easy,” William Darcy cooed. “We’ll just stay here under the shade for now. Enjoy the cool.” The stallion nodded his head in apparent agreement and bent to take a few nibbles of grass. The man’s attention returned to the scene before him, his bright blue eyes taking in every detail.

A flash of moving white caught his attention. He turned away from his perusal of the herd and twisted in the saddle. There! Across the ridge of hills was a rider, moving fast. Darcy narrowed his eyes in concentration. The horse was a brown-and-white paint, and none of his riders had such a horse. A stranger—on his land! Caesar began to prance in place, feeling his master’s tension through the reins.

The rider seemed to be alone, and while Darcy had left his gun belt and Colt revolver at the house, he did have a rifle holstered to his saddle. “What say we go check that out, boy?” The horse agreed, and they loped down the hill.

Darcy moved at an angle to the stranger, holding Caesar back until necessary. The intruder was at a full gallop, flying across the crest. Darcy lost sight of the paint as he reached the valley between the hills, and he allowed Caesar his head. The stallion dug in and moved quickly up the rise, and Darcy saw with confidence that he was in the proper position to cut off the paint. Caesar spotted his quarry and headed toward the other horse, waiting for direction from his master.

As they grew closer, Darcy could see that the rider and paint moved in perfect harmony. The horse was rather small, but so was the rider. A boy? Darcy thought, before noticing the wild, curly hair flying on either side of the rider’s hat. As Darcy pulled to a halt, blocking the paint’s progress, a shock of realization coursed through him. That’s no boy—that’s a girl! A girl in men’s clothing!

He pulled his hand away from his rifle, and unarmed, raised his palm in an unmistakable sign. “Hold on,

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