Blurb: A haunted past, a marriage of convenience…a love for a lifetime?
After a tragic accident leaves Loyal Redfearn alone and pregnant, she writes to her deceased fiance's ne'er-do-well brother, August OíDell. Her hope is he’ll help save her beloved home. What she doesn't expect from him is a proposal so soon on the heels of his brother's death. Although they grew up together, she’s never thought of August as the man she would marry, even as a means to save face with her family and friends.
Although returning to the township where August spent his troubled youth means facing the past, he sees an opportunity to redeem himself in the eyes of the woman he's loved since boyhood. They agree the marriage is in name-only, but August works to earn Loyal's trust and waits for the day she'll see his hard work as proof that she didn't marry the wrong brother after all.
When evidence from a crime committed years ago points to August as the culprit, he and Loyal must face the reality that their newly forged family may be torn apart.
Excerpt: One could go wrong with bringing a convict into his life. Especially when the prisoner in question was a young woman. It was only out of necessity Jonah Andrus sat in the hot, cluttered office. Three thousand women in Australia, give or take, and his last option was hiring a convict in lieu of a civilized nursemaid.
“I’m afraid I don’t have an older woman at the moment, Mr. Andrus.” Mrs. Bell, the factory matron, folded her leathery hands on the scarred desktop. Her mouth pinched in a frown. “The inmate I’ve arranged has the experience you specified. I’ve personally observed her work. You can’t go wrong with her.”
“That isn’t acceptable. There are a thousand women alone in this factory. You couldn’t find one old crone who’d be suitable?”
Her eyes narrowed. “May I ask why you desire an older woman?”
The answer appeared obvious. He failed to understand how she missed it. “I won’t have some tart tempting my men. I can’t have them thinking about women while they should be working cattle.”
Mrs. Bell’s frown grew. “In the six weeks since her arrival, I’ve never seen her spare more than a passing glance at any of the guards or male convicts.”
Playing hard to get, no doubt. He ignored the matron’s assurance. “You failed to mention her crime.”
“She has no record prior to her arrest in Dublin. The prisons there are overcrowded, as they are in much of the isles.”
He drummed his fingers against his leg. “Mrs. Bell, her crime.”
The matron looked insulted. “I’m not excusing her actions. Merely trying to place a woman in a decent job so she can be properly rehabilitated before her sentence is completed. I try to place the qualified ones as soon as possible after they arrive.”
The flesh beneath her eye twitched as he stared.
“She attempted to relieve another woman of a few coins. It’s not as if she’s a murderess. Will you at least agree to look at Miss Madden? You can see for yourself if she’s up to your standards.”
All their stories were alike. Thieves, beggars, whores or murderers. Few women in the budding country were decent, proper ladies. Jonah ground his teeth. He’d come this far. There wasn’t time for a journey to one of the other factories. “Fine. Let’s see her.”
Relief fluttered across Mrs. Bell’s face, softening the lines around her mouth. “A moment more of your time then, sir.” The robust older woman rose, hurried to the door and disappeared.
Jonah rubbed his forehead, willing away the headache caused by the tension in his shoulders. The words of his cook came to mind, sharp as when they’d passed through her lips. Her daughter was of proper English bloodlines. Her daughter was of age to marry. Her daughter could provide heirs for his empire. Calling the girl ugly would be a compliment. That she was of a better temper than her mother was her saving grace.
Opening his eyes at the sound of footsteps, he observed the room Mrs. Bell dared call an office. A weak patch of sunlight peeking through the single, grimy window only served to make the dust-covered room drearier. Tattered, stained papers and leather-bound books with broken spines covered all but the smallest spot on the desk. A filthy, unraveling rag rug lay in front of the door. The floor was dirt, but he felt certain it hadn’t been swept in a very long time. Bits of litter hugged the sandstone walls.
He loathed being inside the gaol walls. The smell of unwashed bodies, rotting food, mildew and God alone knew what else made him nauseous. He didn’t care for the way some of the prisoners looked at him, either. There didn’t seem to be a woman among the lot with a shred of decency. The sooner he had Parramatta behind him, the better.
A slight figure appeared in the doorway clutching a stained, battered valise against her chest. She looked like she might bolt at any minute. Mrs. Bell pushed through the door after her.
Jonah suppressed a groan.
The matron gestured at the girl. “This is Bridgit Madden. She’s been working at carding wool these last three weeks, but she assured me she can clean or do whatever else you might require.” Her voice was hearty, as if attempting to sell him a show pony.
Jonah’s mouth tightened. Her brown serge dress appeared clean. Her wrists stuck out of the sleeves by a couple of inches, revealing pinkish scars left behind by the manacles. Bits of straw clung to her tangled blond hair and a smudge of dirt stood out against her sunburned cheek. Light green eyes were set in a smooth face, although her expression was grim. Her tongue slid over her lower lip, drawing his attention to the full set. With the right amount of attention, she’d be a pretty girl. Not what he needed on a station with ten full-time jackaroos.
She didn’t meet his gaze. He needed help, but did he need it this badly? How dare Mrs. Bell think he could take such a scruffy person into his home?
“Thank you for agreeing to employ me. You won’t be disappointed. Whatever it is you need done, I can do. I don’t look like much, but I’m useful around the house. I can read and write, as well.”
Her soft voice took him by surprise. After taking in her appearance, he’d expected something coarser. She was ashamed of how she looked, of her crime, and her presence in Australia. He heard it in her Irish lilt, pleading with him to take her out of this hellhole. He stared at her until she raised her gaze. Pear-colored eyes framed by golden lashes only met his for a moment.
His will weakened like a tidal wave washing over him; he was powerless to swim against it. Turning her away would be like kicking a mangy pup in the street. And the matron knew it. Her knowing smile gave away her thoughts. A paper appeared in front of him as if by magic, gleaming in the low light.
“This is Bridgit’s contract. How long can I expect her to stay at your station?”
Again he looked at the pitiful girl standing by his side. Whatever trouble she brought him, there was no leaving her here.
He snatched the pen out of Mrs. Bell’s hand and signed his name. “A month, give or take.”
“We’ll mark it as a month.” Mrs. Bell nodded, her small eyes on the convict. “Take care, dear. Behave yourself. And you, Mr. Andrus.”
It sounded like more of a warning than a pleasantry. She marched away, no doubt feeling clever. Jonah faced Bridgit. Weariness descended on his shoulders. He hooked a thumb toward the door. "Let’s get to the bloody buggy, then.”
Available for purchase at: Amazon
Author Bio: A love of reading inspired Allison Merritt to pursue her dream of becoming an author who writes historical, paranormal and fantasy romances, often combining the sub-genres. She lives in a small town in the Ozark Mountains with her husband and dogs. When she’s not writing or reading, she hikes in national parks and conservation areas.
Allison graduated from College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri with a B.A. in mass communications that’s gathering dust after it was determined that she’s better at writing fluff than hard news.
Be sure to visit Allison at: Blog