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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