Love at Lost Lagoons is the third novella in the linked series Stations of the Heart, set in outback Australia in the 19th century. It can be read as a standalone story or after Lord Muck and Lady Alice and Love and Other Addictions.
This novella tells the story of reclusive bachelor, Walter Jamison, who runs a struggling north Queensland pastoral station he desperately wants to turn into a paying concern. His isolated life is shattered by the arrival of Elizabeth Chesterfield, a young woman determined to escape an arranged marriage being forced on her by her scheming brother. Walter and Elizabeth fall in love while Elizabeth’s brother and her ‘fiancé’ camp on the other side of the flooded river. What will happen when the waters recede?
Read an excerpt:
North Queensland, December 1879
Elizabeth’s rasping breath thundered in the clear night air. Her booted foot snagged a tree root. “Umph.” She hit the ground hard. Dragging air back into her aching lungs, she scrambled to her feet.
Elizabeth stared back along the track, straining to see into the shadows made by the trees in the moonlit night. Did someone move within them? The chill creeping down her spine told her there was something more.
All around her the bush shimmered with the movements of unseen creatures. An owl hooted its haunting sound.
Dread knotted her stomach. Had they discovered she was gone from camp and were following her?
Her heart thundering in her ears, Elizabeth ran on through the dappled darkness along the lonely track. She prayed that by dawn she would be far, far away from them. Surely, if she could follow this path south she would reach the track that led back down the range, back to the coast, back to the port where their long slow journey westward had begun.
There would be a boat to catch. There had to be.
Elizabeth stumbled and fell again. Her long skirt and petticoats hampered every move, but she dared not take them off in case they were found and showed her direction.
She lurched onward. How much further? She must get to the top of the range before sunrise, when they would notice her disappearance.
As dawn’s first blush kissed the eastern sky, Elizabeth leant against the papery trunk of a ti-tree and struggled to silence her heaving breaths.
Ahead, in the clearing where they had camped the previous night, was a four-wheel dray, resting on the grass like an enormous horned beast. Bells hung off the necks of its hobbled bullock team clanged dully amongst the surrounding trees.
The bullock driver lay rolled in a blanket between the dray and a dwindling fire.
Where was he headed?
The vehicle faced towards the track down the range. It must be heading towards the coast. She tried to swallow the lump of fear in her constricted throat.
Could she make it past the man and onto the dray’s load without disturbing him? Her hands prickled with sweat.
Slowly, so slowly, she eased herself across the open ground to the dray. Her heart pounded beneath her chemise.
The man hadn’t stirred. Nor had the huge dog that lay beside him, its paws twitching in its sleep.
Elizabeth held her breath and raised the stiff canvas where its ropes were untied. She hitched her skirt and petticoats to her knees and climbed up the spokes of the wheel onto the close-packed goods underneath. Sacks of something formed a hard layer. She inched forward seeking the centre of the load. She needed to be far from the opening through which she had crawled, when the man awoke.
Her legs ached from the unaccustomed running. Tiredness scratched her eyes. She must stay alert … at least until she knew she was undetected and her transport was on its way to the coast.
The sounds of dawn were louder now. Raucous and chortling birdsong greeted the new day. Surely the man must wake soon.
Within minutes, came the sound of a deep voice and the tell-tale stamp of boots and herding of bullocks through the bush as the bullock driver re-assembled his team, his dog snapping at their heels. The dray rocked and creaked as the beasts were harnessed into their yokes. The job seemed to take forever but eventually the bumping ceased.
The man’s sleep-roughened voice called to the dog. “Stop sniffing around the dray, there’s nothing in that load for you to eat.”
From nearby came the crackle of his renewed camp fire. Soon, a billy can swung through the air with a whoosh. She knew that sound now. Next the stomp and clatter of the camp being broken up. A chink of light showed under the canvas beneath which Elizabeth sheltered as something—probably his bed roll and cooking gear—were restored to the dray’s load.
With the crack of a whip the man called, “Walk on, Perseus, Hector, Hercules.” The dray rocked once, twice, but didn’t move forward. “Get them moving,” the man ordered.
His dog responded with high pitched barks. Bellows of outrage answered the snapping of its jaws. The dray jerked. Elizabeth imagined the animal nipping the bullocks’ hocks and the beasts lashing out with their hooves while the dog dodged their intended blows.
Through the combined efforts of man and dog, the dray soon lurched and creaked into motion. It wheeled in a wide arc, then settled into a steady plodding tempo.
Now the dray was moving, Elizabeth permitted her stinging eyes to close. The rough descent down the range later would keep her well and truly awake. Stopping the dray from ending up down one of the steep gullies that lined the rugged track would take all the teamster’s persuasive powers.
It took only moments for her mind to drift into exhausted oblivion.
Elizabeth jolted awake—her heavy eyelids snapped open, her muscles clenched for flight. Canvas stretched above her, rough sacking scratched her arm. She slumped back onto the load. She was on the dray, not in her brother’s roadside camp.
She heard … nothing … well not silence, but no patient deep voice calling upon the bullocks with their classical names or to the cattle dog to keep them moving. The creak and sway of the dray was gone also. Those background noises and movements, which had lulled her into sleep, were gone.
How long had she slept?
The outside sounds were no longer those of dawn. Instead, waves of cicada song pulsed through the bush. The air around her was stuffy. Perspiration dampened her underclothes. A thirst all the rain in England couldn’t quench parched her mouth. Hunger gnawed at her stomach. The bread and apples she had taken when she escaped her brother had been eaten before sunrise. There might be a few crumbs in her pocket.
She would have to wait until nightfall and the bullocky’s sleep until she could move from her hiding place. There must be food on the dray she could eat. Surely?
Her limbs ached from being cramped in the same position.
What was happening?
Where was the man with the steady voice?
Why had she slept so long? The range descent should have woken her.
Distant voices sounded. And came closer. Brisk steps clumped nearby.
Something was happening to the tarp. Its tight form loosened, and light shafted in from the back of the dray.
Elizabeth wriggled further away, easing herself towards the front. Which corner was furthest from the man who was now taking some of the load from the tail of the dray? She crept to that farthest point.
The tarp there was no longer pulled taut by the ropes that had kept it in place.
She eased the canvas open. Could she get down from this height and run for the bush?
More men’s voices reached her ears. And they were approaching!
She had to move soon or she would be found.
Elizabeth lifted the canvas.
No-one in sight. The men congregated at the rear of the dray. She inched her body round on the sacks until her legs were positioned over the edge of the load, then slid clumsily to the ground.
“Umphf.” She landed in an inelegant heap on the dirt and scrambled under the dray on all fours. Sitting cross-legged on the bare earth, she rubbed the spot where she had hit her head on the vehicle.
Several sets of legs showed at the rear of the dray. They were unloading it. Men with sacks on their shoulders walked towards a cluster of buildings. The deep voice of the bullock driver, commanding and cultured, directed them.
Where am I?
A low-slung slab house stood nearby, overlooking a long lagoon. In the opposite direction were a number of timber buildings and yards erected down a long slope running away from the house.
At a pastoral station.
The men walked closer. Scuffed work boots stood within inches of her hiding place under the dray. At any moment one of them would lean down and see her. She shrank back, body rigid. If she could stop her breathing and the loud beat of her heart, she would.
After an eternity, while the goods were hefted from the flat tray above, the men departed. As soon as the last one disappeared down the rise towards the yards and buildings beyond them, Elizabeth crept from her hiding place. She edged alongside the waiting bullocks. They tossed their heads, as she inched past. Don’t bellow, please.
A line of bush stood about a hundred yards away. If she could make it there without being seen, she would have some chance of escape. Had she been delivered to her brother’s property? Surely not? She hadn’t heard him.
Elizabeth drew in line with the leading beast. It stamped a hoof and tossed its broad head, sending her heart galloping. She clutched a hand to her chest and sucked in a steadying breath. The wide gap to the trees had to be faced and conquered now. Oh, god. Elizabeth gathered her skirts in her hands, swallowed drily past her constricted throat, and ran.
One step, two…
“Oi!” A shout exploded the late afternoon quiet.
She sprinted even faster. The bushes were closer now, but the heavy steps behind her were getting louder. She had almost made the tree-line. Please, please, let me reach safety. Her heart pounded, threatening to burst from her chest.
A heavy hand slammed onto her right shoulder like an axe thumping down on kindling. Elizabeth’s knees buckled. A strangled scream burst from her mouth as she crumbled to the ground.
His long, hard fingers, roughened with callouses, bit into her shoulder.
She struggled with all her might.
He didn’t let go.
Fear, dark and menacing, seized her body, sending her heart thumping wildly.
He hauled her to her feet. “What are you doing here?” he demanded.
She gulped air like a drowning sailor swallowing water. She couldn’t have answered him if she had wanted to.
She could only stare into his eyes, the colour of the tawny port her mother had allowed her to sip when ill. They looked fierce in his tanned face. Bushy auburn mutton chop sidelevers, of the kind that had been popular a decade ago but had fallen out of fashion, framed his face. A shaggy moustache straggled across his upper lip, half hiding the grim line of his mouth.
“Where have you come from?” His frowning face was just inches from hers.
She shrank back. “I … can’t … tell … you.” The words puffed out on short breaths.
“Who are you?”
She would never tell him. He would take her straight back to her brother.
“Are you running away from your employer?
“No!” The word burst out of her mouth, as she rocked forward.
Never. “I’m not married.” And I won’t be if I can do anything to stop it. “I want to go back to Cardwell. Are we close?”
“No, we’re several days’ journey away.”
Despair, bleak and heavy, hugged her. “Can you take me there?”
“No, I’ve just come back from there. The rains are due. Look at the clouds.” He pointed up at the threatening sky to the east where steel grey clouds rolled towards them. “All the creeks and rivers between here and the coast will be over their banks once that rain falls.”
He pulled her, unwilling and resistant, for a couple of steps. With a growl of annoyance, he grasped her about the waist and lifted her from the ground. Elizabeth yelped. She squirmed and kicked him with her heels, and tore at his hands, but it made no difference. His muscular body braced against her back like a wall, as his huge strides consumed the distance to the buildings.
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Love and Other Addictions is the second novella in the linked series Stations of the Heart, set in outback Australia in the 19th century. It can be read as a standalone story or as the second in series, after Lord Muck and Lady Alice.
This novella follows the fraught romance of Robert Dysart and Edith Glendinning who meet and are wildly attracted to each other ... until Edith discovers that Robert really only wants her brother's land and will do anything to get it.
Read an excerpt:
Edith navigated a path across the wagon-filled Quay Street roadway to the river’s roughly boarded edge. In the distance, a ship steamed up the sluggish river. She stopped to watch it approach. Did it come from London? Would she ever see her homeland and her younger sister again? An ache of loneliness and desolation grew until tears needled her eyes. For long minutes, Edith stood beneath her parasol watching the ship until it anchored in the river.
The river wharves were full of ships. Every vessel had come from or was going to faraway places. The nearest ports were hundreds of miles away—Maryborough, the port for the Gympie goldfield, and Brisbane, the colony’s capital, to the south; while to the north were Port Denison and Cardwell.
Around her, workmen unloaded cargo from a steam ship moored at the wharf. A gantry lifted netted barrels from the ship’s hold onto the quay. Nearby, labourers stacked them onto a dray. Harsh voices called orders, goods clattered on the wharf, and gulls squawked. Underlying all the clamouring sounds around her, ships’ riggings hummed to the tune of a fitful river breeze.
Edith loved the excited activity.
A particularly strong blast of the river breeze brought the pungent scent of the brown river water mingled with the smell of horse manure. The unpleasant aroma reminded Edith of her surroundings and she turned away to resume her walk along the quay.
A shout boomed above the noise of the wharf. “Look out below!”
Edith looked upward. Ropes screeched through wooden pulley blocks.
Something collided with her side. The force of its weight and momentum, hurled her onto the wharf’s timbers.
An explosion of sound deafened her. Beneath her the wharf shook with what seemed like the violence of a meteor falling to earth, but must have been cargo falling.
Breath knocked from her lungs, Edith gasped for oxygen. Behind her, raised voices and heavy footfalls sounded.
Something compressed her waist. Edith opened her eyes. She lay clamped against the chest of a large man. He had careened into her. And somehow had managed to take the brunt of her fall.
Tilting her head her gaze tracked upwards to a starched collar, a square chin with a light shadow of stubble, a straight line of mouth, and a nose worthy of a Gainsborough portrait. Two shrewd blue eyes looked at her from beneath straight brows.
It took just a second to recognise her rescuer as someone of consequence. And only a fraction longer for her to realise the muscled body of the most attractive man in the British Empire enveloped her. Her face burnt with a thousand hot pokers of embarrassment.
“Madam, are you harmed?” His deep voice, with its cultured tone, sounded winded from their fall.
She took a moment to check for aches or pains. Nothing. She had been saved from a dire fate and suffered no injury. She shook her head in reply.
His arms encircled her waist still, warming her skin through the layers of muslin, whalebone and linen. A quirk of amusement flickered across his mouth, which he flattened out immediately. “Good. Then perhaps we might arise from this uncomfortable position.”
Edith stammered an apology and hurried to get up. His hands steadied her as she rose, helping her gain her footing. He stood in synchrony with her, until they faced one another, toe-to-toe.
A rash of heat flamed up her neck to her face. Her gloved hands flew to her cheeks to cool them. She had never had such an embarrassing experience before! Nose to nose, in the arms of a man—her body stretched out the length of his—and in public! A man to whom she hadn’t even been introduced. A handful of workmen stood by, eyes curious. A few looked concerned, but most wore a knowing leer. Her face burned hotter.
The gentleman—for that he clearly was—reached out to remove her hands from her face and replace them with his own. His thumbs stroked over her cheeks. “You are decorated with dust. And I fear your gloves must be ruined from their rough treatment. At the very least they will need laundering.”
Oooh! Humiliation washed over her. She jerked his hands from her face and turned to flee.
His hand shot out to grasp hers. “Please, don’t hurry off alone. Allow me to escort you to your family.”
Edith halted and looked back at him. To be in such a position. She had been engulfed in this stranger’s arms. Her stomach shrivelled into a hard rock in her midriff.
He released his grip.
“You must think me a perfect idiot!” she said. Still breathless, her hand shook as she reached down to pick up her dropped parasol.
“Indeed, I do not. Although it’s somewhat irregular, I think the circumstances warrant a waiving of society’s rule that strangers should be introduced by a third party. Allow me to introduce myself. Madam, I am Robert Forrester Dysart of Glen View station.” His voice had the slightest Scottish burr. She offered her unsteady hand, in its battered glove, and he bowed over it formally.
She looked up at him, awe-struck. From this new angle, he was tall and broad- shouldered. As she knew from her close examination, his face was tanned and handsome. Had she ever seen such an awe-inspiring figure before? She swallowed the lump in her throat.
“And you are?” he prompted.
“I … am Miss Glendinning.”
“Surely you’re not a local resident? I would have met you by now.”
“Lately, of London,” she replied.
“It is my pleasure to meet you, Miss Glendinning. I truly hope you have come to no harm from this unfortunate accident.” He gestured behind him, where the damaged cargo still lay scattered over the wharf, surrounded by workers.
“I assure you, I’m unharmed. And you, sir, did you sustain an injury?”
He glanced down at this coat and gave it brief brush with the back of his hand. “Nothing to speak of.” His blue-eyed gaze returned to her.
She stared into his eyes. mesmerised.
“Let me escort you to your destination.” He offered his arm.
Edith hesitated then placed her hand in the crook of his arm.
“Where may I take you?”
“We’re staying at the Criterion Hotel.”
Robert Dysart steered her in that direction.
“How long have you been in Rockhampton, Miss Glendinning?”
“Just two days. My brother has business this morning with Mr Russell. I left him there and came away to look at the town.”
“There are precious few sights of interest here as yet, compared with London.” A wave of his arm encompassed the surroundings.
Edith smiled. “No, perhaps not, but I find ships and wharves fascinating.”
He inclined his head in agreement. “And what brings you to this colony?”
“My brother has purchased a grazing property. I’m to accompany him and take charge of his household.”
“Is it a good grazing block?” His face showed interested enquiry.
“I understand it is a very fine property. Stocked with cattle, which supply the market hereabouts, as well as sheep. It has been his intention for some time to go onto the land.”
“I wish him success then.”
“And you, sir, are you a businessman of the town or a pastoral man yourself?”
“I am both. I have a property a few hundred miles to the northwest and business interests here and in Brisbane.”
“I can only hope my brother will have your success.”
“Perhaps I may assist him?”
A rush of gratitude warmed her. Surely only a true gentleman would make such a generous offer of assistance? “That would be most kind of you.” Was he married? Engaged? Oh, why didn’t men wear evidence of their matrimonial state as women did? She must know. “And is there a Mrs Dysart who would befriend me?”
He turned to her with a wry smile. “I have not yet had the honour of finding a woman who would take me on as a husband.”
Hallelujah. Edith barely contained the smile that itched to spread across her face. The colony just graduated to a wonderful place of hope.
They reached the two-storey timber hotel on the corner of Fitzroy and Quay streets, where Edith enquired about her brother’s return, to be informed he had not yet arrived. Edith turned to her companion to thank him again for his assistance, but the words wouldn’t come out of her mouth. She was in no hurry to leave his company now the initial awkwardness of their meeting had ebbed away.
What was it about this man that fascinated her? Granted, he was a fine-looking gentleman, and his faint accent made her curious about his background.
She hadn’t reached a conclusion before he spoke again, “As it’s too early for brandy, even for medicinal purposes, perhaps you would join me in the lounge for tea? We could both benefit from a calming brew.” The look of solicitude on his face, transformed into an encouraging smile.
She hesitated, because myriad reasons why a single woman should not have tea alone with a man she had just met, filled her head.
He placed a hand over his heart in supplication. “I would be grateful for your company. I haven’t had a companion at a meal since I left Marlborough a week ago. Have pity on me, Miss Glendinning.” He looked sincere, although she knew his exaggerated request for pity was said in jest.
All the reasons she should not sit down to tea with a virtual stranger fled her mind. “I would be delighted.”
He escorted her through a garden to the hotel’s wall-papered coffee room. Edith allowed him to seat her in a quiet corner beyond the busy room full of customers. “Here we will be able to talk unconcerned about making ourselves heard over them,” Dysart said with a nod toward the crowd.
“What brings you to Rockhampton?” Edith asked once their order for tea and cake had been given.
“I’m on my way back to England—for the first time since I arrived here in 1858.”
Leaving! Edith smoothed the frown of disappointment from her face and schooled herself to take an interest in his travels. “You haven’t been home in fifteen years? Why?”
“It has taken me that long to be in a position whereby I can leave my property in my overseer’s care and afford to travel home.”
“So long?” Beneath the table, she curled her fingers into the material of her skirt. Her hopes of visiting England again in five years with their fortune made and Harry cured of his addiction, collapsed. At least their father would be with them within the year, but her younger sister wouldn’t leave England now she had married and started a family. A wave of envy and longing engulfed her. Edith missed Sophie and her young nieces. It would be a long time before she met them again. Perhaps never. She stifled that sad thought.
“It takes quite some time to establish oneself here, even with capital to invest. This is a raw and challenging country. Overcoming those things is a constant struggle.”
Edith must have looked stricken, because he reached across the table to pat her gloved hand sympathetically. “I didn’t mean to frighten or upset you, Miss Glendinning. It is a challenge that has many rewarding aspects, not least the rugged beauty of the country, and the sense of achievement that comes with success.” He sounded triumphant, as though he had won against huge odds after many years dedicated to his goal.
Hopefully Harry would respond to the challenge of running a pastoral property in this testing environment, so different from England. He was so much better now—in control of himself and focused on the future. There was no reason an outdoor, active life in the bush wouldn’t bring him satisfaction. She would get used to it, for her brother’s sake, and she would be happy. Harry needed her to be so. Her homesickness would pass.
The tea things arrived. Although her hand still shook slightly, Edith poured the scalding black tea, then helped Mr Dysart to scones.
“Will your brother be alone in his pastoral pursuits or are there other family members to join you?” he asked.
“Our father will arrive from London within the year. He stayed in England to finalise his business affairs.”
“Good. You can’t have enough assistance from family, I believe.” His tone was earnest.
“What about you, Mr Dysart, has your family been involved with your pastoral property?”
“My mother lent me the capital to start and about three years ago my cousin and I became partners.” A small smile lent politeness to his brief response, but he didn’t offer any further details. Sliding his empty cup beside Edith’s, he said, “If your brother has not returned, perhaps I may escort you on a short tour of Rockhampton in the interim … or would you prefer me to leave you so you may return to your room to rest?”
No! “I can think of nothing I would prefer less than returning to my room. Believe me, Mr Dysart, after weeks in a small cabin onboard ship, I crave only open spaces and lots of exercise. Please show me all there is to see in this town.” She smiled as she stood.
Robert rose and offered her his arm. Once outside, they set off along Fitzroy Street.
Edith was ready to be charmed by all there was to see, no matter how raw and unvarnished a place the town proved to be. After a few minutes of walking, Edith asked, “When do you depart Rockhampton?”
“This afternoon on the tide. I had just seen my luggage onboard when I bowled you over.”
Today! Disappointment slid its heavy tentacles through her body. They had only a few hours to become acquainted. She wanted to know as much about him as possible before he left.
“How long will you be gone, Mr Dysart?” She had to know when he might return. When to look forward to.
“For at least six months, maybe twelve. I hope to spend most of that time with my mother, whom I haven’t seen since I left England at age eighteen.” His eye held a faraway look.
“She writes often though?” Edith asked.
“Never a month goes past in which I don’t receive a letter from her, filled with the doings of my sisters!” He chuckled.
“Ah, so you have siblings.”
“Four younger sisters, all married now. And you?”
“Apart from my brother, Horatio … we call him Harry, I have a sister, also married with children.”
They had walked along dusty Fitzroy Street, but Edith scarcely noticed her surroundings. Why wouldn’t she be distracted when she accompanied the most attractive man in Rockhampton and surely the Colony, if not the entire Empire?
Eventually their time together must end, but how she wished it wasn’t soon. Midday had been and gone when they arrived again at the Criterion Hotel, but Harry had still not returned. A niggle of concern wormed through her mind. She tamped it down.
She must have seemed distracted because Robert asked if she was unwell.
“Just a little worried that my brother hasn’t returned.”
“I’m sure he has come to no harm in Rockhampton.”
She expected Dysart to leave her at the foot of the staircase leading to the guest rooms. Instead, he escorted her to the door of her room upstairs. “It has been a great pleasure to spend these few hours with you, Miss Glendenning. May I call on you upon my return?”
“I would be delighted if you did, Mr Dysart.” And devastated if you didn’t. She opened the door to her room.
He took her hand in his and kissed it lingeringly, like a homage. Her heart leapt into high speed. She looked up into his clear blue eyes and read longing and regret there, mirroring her own emotions.
Their lips touched softly, gently, his firm lips brushing hers with a feather-light caress.
Within moments, his lips stroked hers to life.
His arm encircled her waist, drawing her against his chest. Her right hand remained in his, crushed between them, but her free hand found its way to his nape where it nestled in his soft curling hair. Her fingers explored its dark auburn strands.
Blood pounded in her head. The tang of his shaving soap tickled her nose. His tongue explored her mouth and she gave a little moan of pleasure.
They stood body-to-body, clasped in each other’s arms. His warmth heated her, yet she shivered. Layers of material separated them and she wished it wasn’t so. Dysart nudged the opened door wider and guided them through it. It clicked shut. He eased her back against its hard timbers. Her hand slid beneath his waistcoat to caress the warm, hard muscles of his back covered only by his linen shirt.
She wanted to convey every nuance of her unbidden yearning for him.
He tasted of scones and tea and untried pleasures. She had never behaved in such a bold way before. Had he leant forward, or had she raised herself on tiptoe to place her lips on his? She had always behaved with such propriety no-one could have ever besmirched her name. But she felt no shame, no twinge of guilt, no thought that she did something wrong. It felt so right. So wonderful. And she wanted this experience never to end.
In the distance, the hall clock chimed the hour. They drew apart; her mind misted with arousal. She drew steadying breaths into her lungs.
Why did he have to leave?
For her to find him, only to lose him immediately, made this now even more important, more necessary, more fitting.
“You will come back? I will see you again, when you return?” She had to ask. She had to know this connection was not just a brief, one-sided, never-to-be-repeated, moment in time.
His answer was definite, his voice filled with the same emotion as hers. “Everything I care about is here. I will come back. Wait for me.”
The intensity of his gaze re-assured her. Surely, he was sincere.
“Where will I find you when I return?” he asked.
“My brother’s property is called Riverview. It’s on the Mackenzie River, out from Marlborough.”
Something flickered across his face, then he smiled at her again, his gaze fixed on her, making her feel she was as important as the air he breathed.
He lifted her hand to his lips and placed a warm kiss on her upturned palm. “I look forward to meeting you again, Miss Glendinning. Think of me in my absence.” His gaze held hers, seeking an answer.
“Every day,” she breathed.
“Don’t marry anyone while I’m gone.”
“Never,” she whispered.
He pulled her into his arms again and kissed her thoroughly, leaving no doubt in her mind that he felt as attracted to her as she was to him. Too soon he was out the door, his footsteps receding as he strode down the hallway.
Edith slumped against the wall, her legs as wobbly as a new-born foal’s.
He was gone—leaving just the memory—of his saving her, charming her, kissing her.
She would wait for him … dream of him.
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I'm thrilled to share the cover for Regency Treats - ten romance short stories in a boxed set.
A smorgasbord of sweet and spicy Regency short stories...
Regency Treats comprises ten Regency romance short stories to warm your heart, from: Regency Rescues, Gentleman Wanted, Forbidden Valentines, and Wanton Widows.
Regency Rescues - Three gentlemen save the women they love from perils of Regency life.
Gentleman Wanted - Is what a widow needs, really what she wants?
ForbiddenValentines - Three spicy, heart-warming Regency stories of forbidden love that breaks the rules.
Wanton Widows - Three Regency-era widows seek new partners in unconventional ways.
To celebrate the cover reveal, I am giving away two ebook copies to two lucky winners! To enter, scroll down below.
14 February 1814
On 14 February 1814, Caroline Medworth decided to commit social suicide.
For miles, she had idly looked out the window of the carriage, twisting a strand of auburn hair around her index finger, wishing she was anywhere else but listening to her snobby cousin Rachel recite the advantages of Caroline’s forthcoming marriage to Baron Strathmorie. Every so often, her father would add his voice in support of Rachel’s.
They were travelling to the baron’s estate in Scotland for the wedding.
It wasn’t the baron’s first marriage or his second or even his third. And evil rumour had whispered in her ear that he’d had scores of mistresses in his seventy years.
And now he wanted her as his fourth wife!
Her father was a wealthy, social-climbing merchant with his own country estate, growing richer by the year. It was her job to catch a title so his grandchildren would be members of the aristocracy.
That was fine, except the only titled person willing to offer for her was … hideous. Her father and everyone else in her family were delighted.
She was not.
Her skin crawled at the thought.
Then, out the window, Caroline saw something she had never expected, no matter how much she had wished otherwise.
Cousin Rachel’s excited voice prattled on. “When you are Lady Strathmorie you will—”
“Stop the carriage!” Caroline screeched.
Her companions looked at her in confusion.
“Whatever for, cousin?”
Her heart pounding as though she was dancing the Roger de Coverley, Caroline’s mind raced to find a believable reason. “I don’t feel well.” She clutched a hand to her midriff. “My stomach.” . . . .
As soon as Caroline could extract herself from her cousin’s zealous, fluttering concern, she left the private dining room of the Bull and Pig Inn on the pretext of visiting the ladies’ withdrawing room.
Instead of making her way there, she walked right out the rear door into a courtyard where lines of washed sheets hung, then hurried along the alleyway beside the inn until she reached the main street of the town, busy with market day.
Swiftly, she ducked down a side street to avoid the crowd and kept walking. She knew exactly where she wanted to be. She looked over her shoulder repeatedly in case she was being followed. Her heart raced, pounding in her chest, its beat loud in her ears.
At the edge of the town on the London road stood a modest whitewashed house set back from the roadway. To one side stood a large low-set building, open at the front. Inside, the fire of a forge burnt brightly. Under a spreading tree nearby stood a grey draught horse awaiting its shoeing.
At the forge inside, a boy worked the bellows. A tall young smithy, dressed in workman’s garb with rolled up sleeves and a leather apron, tempered a horse shoe. With each blow of his hammer the muscles of his arms rippled. His curling brown hair and chiselled features made him look like an Adonis. Even after all this time.
Caroline swallowed against the lump in her throat. She hadn’t imagined what she’d seen from the carriage window. It was him.
Mesmerised, Caroline took a step across the road towards Gideon—towards her past and her longed-for future.
When she looked again at the blacksmith’s shop she saw the commotion had interrupted Gideon’s work. The horseshoe was now forgotten and cooling on the anvil.
Gideon, with a hammer in his hand, stood immobile in the doorway.
A look of astonishment, open-mouthed and wide-eyed, froze on his face. He took a step forward then stopped.
Caroline watched him in fascination, blood beating in her ears. He was bigger, stronger, more riveting than before.
With deep breaths to calm her racing pulse, Caroline searched for an opening in the traffic on the busy road from London, then ran across its cobbled pavement.
On the other side of the roadway, soft green grass beneath her half-boots rushed by as a blur as she hastened towards the blacksmith’s shed.
A sob escaped her throat. Her eyes misted with tears.
Gideon took another step and halted. The hammer dropped from his grip.
Caroline covered the last few yards towards him. She yearned to throw herself into his muscle-corded arms, to feel the love and comfort she had felt five years before.
Before they were wrenched from each other.
When Gideon made no further move to meet her, didn’t raise his arms to envelope her, didn’t smile to greet her, her confidence and momentum faltered.
She stood frozen, just three feet from his tall, muscular form. From his gentle touch. From his loving embrace.
Hope you love it as much as I do!
Is what a widow needs really what she wants?
Widow Selena Hartnell is deep in debt and faced with prison. Her managing friend, Barbara, Baroness De Ritz, decides Selena needs a wealthy husband – fast!
Guy, Viscount Rushcroft, needs a wife to manage his six motherless children who are running wild.
Barbara decrees Selena and the Viscount are perfectly suited, and launches into matchmaking mode. The outcome of her scheming surprises them all.
Release date: 8 September.
#Historical Romance #Romance #Bath #books #novella
I'm excited to tell you about my latest Regency short stories:
Regency Rescues: Three Short Sweet Romances.
Can three gentlemanly heroes save the women they love?
‘Gentleman to the Rescue’: Clarissa Lanstone has been dragged to the altar by her cousin to marry old Squire Barns. Will Captain Tom Whittlesea, the love of her life, arrive in time to save her?
‘An Officer and a Gentleman’: Marianne Chaseley receives the worst news a mother can hear. Can Major Oliver Hurst convince her to let him help her one last time?
‘A True Gentleman’: Lady Emma Blanche is trapped in a situation no woman should endure. Her husband’s valet, John Wright, knows he must help her, but can they escape Sir Henry Blanche?
Regency Rescues is due out on Mothers' Day and available for pre-order now.
24 Symbols: http://bit.ly/2q08UCw
Thank you to all the readers who have supported me over the years. As a way of thanking you, for the whole of February all of my books are available for 99c USD. You can grab your copies here:
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/2jBQMId
also available at Tolino, 24Symbols, Scribd & Inktera.
Best wishes, Isabella Hargreaves
All this week you have chances to win one of five ebook copies of ENTHRALLED: A Viking Romance
Just visit one or more of these sites to enter:
the book enthusiast: http://facebook.com/bookenthusiastpromotions
My Chaotic Ramblings: http://www.mychaoticramblings.info/2016/11/enthralled-by-isabella-hargreaves-blog.html
A One-Click Addict's Book Blog: http://aone-clickaddictsbookblog.blogspot.com/
All Things Dark and Dirty: https://allthingsdarkanddirty.wordpress.com/2016/11/08/isabella-hargreaves-enthralled-blog-tour/
deal sharing aunt: http://www.dealsharingaunt.blogspot.com
Lauries interviews: http://lauries-interviews.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/enthralled-by-isabella-hargreaves.html
Angees afterthoughts: http://www.angeesafterthoughts.com/2016/11/enthralled-by-isabella-hargreaves.html
The Bookworm Lodge: http://thebookwormlodge.com
Teatime and Books: http://teatimeandbooks76.blogspot.com.au/2016/11/blog-tour-enthralled-by-isabella.html?zx=4c0c285b969eb77f
book girl's thoughts: https://bookgirlsthoughts.wordpress.com/2016/11/11/enthralled-by-isabella-hargreaves-blogtour-isabellahauthor/
Stephanie's Book Reports: http://www.stephaniesbookreports.com
910AD, a convent in Mercia in 'England'
Someone pounded on her cell door. “Wake up, Lady Eadlin! Wake up!”
Eadlin shook her head to clear her sleep-befuddled mind. “Cenric! What’s wrong?” Dread balled in her stomach.
She tugged her habit over her shift and wrenched the door open.
Cenric burst in. He held a sword and small knife. His face was grim, set into harsh furrows.
“Raiders, Lady Eadlin. You must flee at once. They’re in the village and heading this way.”
Now Eadlin could hear distant screams and shouting. The acrid smell of smoke floated on the night air.
Fingers of fear crept amongst her guts like ice spreading across a pond in winter. “I can’t leave the sisters. Can we defend ourselves?”
His jaw dropped. “Not against armed raiders.”
“Are they Vikings?” Her words were high-pitched and breathless.
“Probably.” His voice was severe.
Her heart pounded in terror. Oh God, not that! Eadlin pulled on her veil and boots then upended her reed mattress and took an ancient engraved dagger from beneath it.
The old warrior gestured at her with his sword. “You would prefer to die defending them?”
He grimaced in distaste. “Then get them into the chapel. It’s the strongest building.”
Eadlin ran out to beat on the doors of the nuns’ rooms yelling, “Vikings! Go to the chapel!”
The abbess, veil askew, joined her in shepherding the sisters into the stone building adjacent to their sleeping quarters. A few squat candles burnt on the altar, casting ghoulish shadows across the walls.
Fear haunted the abbess’ eyes, but her voice held its usual calm and commanding tone.
Cenric secured the door and stood ready with his sword. As he waited he pleaded, “Flee, Lady Eadlin, flee! There’s still time! It’s what your father would want you to do. Go while you can!”
Blood pounded loud in her ears. He was asking her to abandon these gentle women who took her in, to leave them defenceless. “I can’t, Cenric. There’s nowhere to go. This is my home, and this is my family now.”
Sounds of timber splintering and pottery breaking shattered the air. A dozen nuns huddled on their knees before the altar.
The abbess led them in prayer, “Domine, libera nos a furore normannorum….” Lord, save us from the fury of the northmen, but most, Eadlin saw, were distracted by the screaming and shouting coming from the village across the river and the noise outside the chapel door.
Some sobbed, and Sister Ælthgifu held a trembling novice in her arms.
The door to the chapel reverberated with the force of a shoulder or foot against it.
“Open the door or die!” yelled the attacker in English, his voice harsh and authoritative.
Surprised, Eadlin exchanged a glance with Cenric across the doorway.
Who were these attackers who spoke their language?
Were they the king’s men, come for her, or were they Vikings as Cenric had thought?
Neither she nor Cenric moved. Either way, danger stood beyond the door and would be in the chapel soon enough without their aiding it.
In seconds the cleaved door hung tattered from its hinges, and their attacker towered before them.
He was tall. Very tall.
His form filled the doorway.
Smoke and the sweet tang of blood clung to him. An iron helmet with nosepiece and a ragged blond beard hid all but his cold blue eyes, harsh cheeks, and bitter mouth.
Eadlin knew then-
#romance, #historicalromance, #Viking, #HistoricalFiction, #historical