Wednesday, June 26, 2024

A Look at Distant Mountains (Settlers Book 2) Tricia McGill


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My Settlers series was written as a tribute to the magnificent pioneer women who battled alongside their men to open new frontiers in far flung corners of the globe. It was inspired by letters sent from Australia home to Britain by these women who were often torn away from the family and homeland they loved, forced to endure all kinds of deprivation, but faced every struggle with strength and fortitude. In this day of washing machines, supermarkets and homes filled with mod-cons it is difficult to imagine a life without these amenities, let alone to perceive what it must have been like traipsing after your menfolk to settle in unknown parts, often over miles of dangerous territory.

Book Two Distant Mountains carries on from where we left the characters in Mystic Mountains, and tells Jeremy’s (known to all as Remy) story. He has been transported to the settlement of Botany Bay, a town that, although progressing, is still very much a place ruled by the aristocrats and free settlers. Remy makes the mistake of falling in love with the daughter of one of these free settlers who happens to hate convicts, in fact anyone of a lower class. Remy sets out to improve his circumstances but, on the way has to overcome many obstacles before reaching his goal.

While researching this book I needed to delve into the conditions that were suffered by the military along with the convicts in Moreton Bay. Most convicts were sent north from Sydney Town as Moreton Bay was considered so isolated that no convict would try to escape and if he did then would have little chance of survival. It is difficult to comprehend that this settlement became the Brisbane we know today. But over and above all else, Distant Mountains is a story of enduring love.

"Amidst the sweet romance and tenderness, Ms. McGill adds the excitement of spousal abuse, bushrangers, forced marriage, kidnapping, and Remy's imprisonment and torture. She shows that a talented author can take a romance and turn it into so much more.” Brett Scott The Romance Studio.

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 Excerpt from Distant Mountains:


Moreton Bay

September 1828

A kookaburra warbled its silly head off. Laughing, no doubt, at the stupidity of man. And the cruelty.

The sun beat down mercilessly as the cat-o-nine tails whirled and cracked. Dear God! Rem thought. What had he done to deserve this agony? What had brought him to this—fixed to this triangle like a carcass nailed to a barn door.

He tasted blood as he bit down on his lip. Bile rose in his throat. He wouldn’t scream. Through the battering pain, he registered the quartermaster sergeant calling out stroke number thirty-six. Blood flowed freely down his back now, soaking his trousers.

The magistrate used the cat for revenge.  Rem’s offence was so piffling it was laughable—if a man felt like laughing, as the bird up yonder did. Fifty lashes were the most the magistrate had been able to impose for a single offence. Thank God.

Through the lancing pain, Rem knew he must not scream, must not blubber and forever be known as a crawler. Hanging onto consciousness by a thread, he sagged against the bloody, filthy bars of the triangle; a frame tainted by the blood of so many men, and now would carry his.

“Cut 'im down!” the scourger shouted, and through his agony Rem recognized his punishment had ended.

Tripping over the hole made by the scourger’s feet during the vile beating, Rem was kept upright by Scab and Salty, the only two men he could vaguely term as mates in this hell. In a flagrant act of disdain, he spat at the feet of the man who had inflicted the agony he now suffered as he stumbled and was half-dragged away. The man who gave him the “red shirt” swore viciously, and before he lost consciousness Rem warned himself to watch what he did in future. These bastards would soon have him back on the frame if he didn’t toe their line.

Chapter One

June 1826

Freedom was sweet.

The air was pungent after a short spell of rain. It was cold, the chill air biting, but Rem reckoned he’d never really feel the cold again. Not in this country, where the sun shone more often than not; where the coldest day only called for an extra layer of clothing. He had almost forgotten the biting winds and bone-chilling cold of London. The thoughts had receded into some dark corner of his mind, along with the memories that still periodically invaded his sleep. Memories of hunger and desperation; days of despair when he had wondered if life was worth all the bother entailed to get through each day.

“Uncle Remy, where are you?”

Rem grinned as he pushed himself onto his elbows. His nephew had sought him out again. Not that he minded; the boy was good company, always ready for a new lark. Seven come September, Tim was mature for his age. Boys grew up fast out here in this new land. Here a lad like Tim learned early on as they all did that he had to work the land; put every ounce of his energy into it to reap the benefits.

“Over here, lad.” Rem watched Tim, hair the color of ripened corn drooping over his forehead, trotting toward the riverbank. One of the sheepdogs, a black and white mongrel, loped at his heels. Tim always had a dog nearby and it would be strange to see him without one of his perpetual companions.

“What you doing sitting out here, Uncle Remy?” Tim squatted on his haunches by Rem’s side. “Mama was getting all of a fluster because you were supposed to be working on the new barn, and the foreman said you’d disappeared.”

“Not disappeared, boy, just taking a break. And, we both know your ma can get herself into a state over the simplest of things. Don’t the air smell good?” Rem put his head back and sniffed appreciatively.

Tim nudged him, sighing. “Air doesn’t smell, silly. The cattle stink, so do the horses after they do a business, but air hasn’t got a smell.”

Rem ruffled the golden hair. Pushing himself to his feet, he hauled Tim up with him. “Come on, let’s go make my sister happy,” he said, swinging Tim easily onto his back. He strode up the hill with his burden, the dog yelping at their heels. The boy gripped him about the middle with his knees and shouted encouragement at his mount.

His sister, Bella, four months along with her fourth child was at this irksome stage. Her husband Tiger was often off with his shepherds, laborers, or field hands, and at these times she liked to know Rem was near at hand.

Rem had been out here beyond Bathurst with them for a year now, and she still often stared at him as if she couldn’t quite believe they were together. He wasn’t surprised by that—he often had to pinch himself to prove it wasn’t a dream. At times he dreaded he would find himself in the hellish hold of the transport ship. Or worse, at Newcastle where he could even now be with the gangs quarrying stone or working down the coal mine. Worst of all he could be with the lime-burners; the convicts who burned the seashells used to manufacture the lime used as mortar. By all accounts, it was the vilest job a man could have.

Tiger could be a hard taskmaster at times, never letting him get off light with any job. Not that Rem would expect to. He would be eternally grateful for Tiger’s intervention on his behalf. Tiger had seen Rem released into his care when the authorities were just about to send Rem off to the hellhole Newcastle had become. If at times he got itchy feet and the tasks became tedious, Rem only had to recall the awful days spent on the treadmill in Sydney before coming out to Tiger and Bella’s property here, west of the Blue Mountain range.

Tiger had built Bella a fine house of stone, with two floors and a veranda that went right around its sides. It sat proudly on the ridge facing the river, outbuildings now springing up in its surrounds. The barn Rem was supposed to be helping to erect was the latest of these buildings.

“Here you go.” Rem helped Tim off his back as they reached the six steps that led up to the front porch.

“See you later,” the boy yelled as he ran off, his dog at his side.

“Where you off to in such a hurry?” Rem called after him. But Tim was already out of earshot, likely in a hurry to escape his mother’s schooling. Not that he would be able to do that for long, Bella was strict about his lessons and set aside at least three hours a day for that activity.

“Remy?” Bella’s sharp call brought him up short as he turned toward the almost completed barn.

“That’s me.” Changing direction, he grinned and mounted the steps. His sister stood by the open door, wiping her hands on the apron covering the front of her plain blue woolen dress. Rem didn’t think he’d ever get used to having such a beautiful woman for a sister. Those around her didn’t notice the limp she’d had since a bolting horse trampled her in Stepney years ago.

Her rich auburn hair formed a loose bun at the nape of her neck, but tendrils had escaped and framed her expressive face. Her green eyes sparked with merriment “Where did you sneak off to again?”

“I was just taking in the air, love. Isn’t it a fine day?” He half-closed his eyes, looking up to the sky, where not a smidgen of sun peeped through the gray clouds.

“Fine?” She made a disparaging sound in her throat. “You’ve got a vivid imagination.” There was a soft chiding note in her voice. His sister knew more than anyone that any day was fine while they were able to walk free and breathe the air of free men and women.

Yes, he was still a convict, with five years to go before he could claim his ticket of leave, but compared to life before Tiger rescued him, this was the next best thing to being able to hold his head up as a free man.

Bella’s nursemaid, Agnes, smiled shyly at Rem as she joined her mistress on the porch. Rosie, the eight-month-old and youngest of Bella and Tiger’s brood, rested on Agnes’ hip. Agnes, seventeen and a plain little thing, had been with Bella and Tiger since they set out on their epic journey across the mountains in 1824.

“Isn’t it a fine day?” Rem asked the girl, knowing she would agree with him if he declared it was as hot as hell, and the sun had blistered his skin. It was flattering to be idolized. Bothersome at times, but nonetheless a wonderful thing to have a female willing to do anything he asked. Some devil inside him often wanted to see to what lengths she would go to please him, although his kind heart wouldn’t allow him to do it.

“It certainly is,” Agnes agreed, as he’d known she would. “'Tis a bit cool, but that’s not to be sniffed at. Beats summer when the sun makes you shrivel.”

Agnes didn’t like the hot weather. She complained it burned her fair skin, brought her out in freckles, made her skin go blotchy, and made her feel weak as a dish rag. Although complained wasn’t the right word to use; Agnes never did anything quite so definite. She was too mousy and insignificant. A small apologetic grumble was about as close to a complaint she dared to venture.

Bella nodded to Rem and went back inside the house. Agnes’s skin turned to the color of a beet as she stared at Rem. Her eyelashes were so light they could barely be seen—this only added to her mouse-like appearance. She jerked the baby higher into her arms, and bobbed Rosie about on her ample hip until the child squealed. As if surprised at what she’d done, Agnes crooned soft words of apology to the baby.

Rem knew he shouldn’t do it, but the girl begged to be teased. Moving within a foot of her, he gave her the smile more than one maid told him was appealing. “How’s the little mother today?”

“I’m fine, and how are you?” She nibbled on her lower lip as her eyes adored him.

Rem shrugged. “Tell the truth, Aggie, I’m bored to my high teeth. There are few chances out here to ease the monotony. I know I should be grateful for Tiger taking me on and bringing me here, but I’m not made for the country life. I miss the noise and bustle of the city. Not that I wish to return to Stepney.” When she shook her head and gave him a look of condemnation that he could be so ungrateful, he hastened to add, “But a bit of excitement would add spice to this dull existence now and then. If you know what I mean?”

“Seems to me the city life only brought you into more strife than a body needs,” she scolded softly.

Rem moved in closer and ran a finger over the blush on her cheeks, chuckling at her huffy response. “True.”

Glancing about, he bent in closer, until he almost touched noses with her. He could feel the heat coming off her rounded body, could practically feel the shiver he guessed ran through her at his closeness. “But there’s strife, an’ then there’s other things the town has to offer.”

“Rem O’Shea, seems to me you don’t know when you’re well off.” She hunched a shoulder when he continued to stroke her cheek, but she didn’t step out of his range, as any city miss would have done. She was a sweet little chit, unworldly and naïve.

Rosie reached out to grab at his hair, and he laughed as he took the tiny fist into his hand and kissed the tips of her fingers, which pleased the child, and made Agnes tremble even more.

“Oh, I know well enough. But don’t you yearn for a bit of excitement in your life now and then, Aggie girl?” He watched with a kind of fascination as the blush fluctuated on her face. What a shame she wasn’t more prepossessing. What a pity he didn’t share her infatuation. That at least would ease the boredom that gripped him at times until he could yell. Of course, he liked to think he wasn’t so fickle all he thought of was a wench’s looks, but her temperament was so bland. Rem liked his women with fire and fervor and a temper to match his own.

“Excitement? I get more than my fair share of that chasing after young Tim, Annie, and this little 'un.” She glanced at the babe in her arms, smiling down at Rosie affectionately. The child pinched Agnes’ nose, making it turn an unbecoming shade of red. “Then there’ll be another one come November, so I’ll have my hands full.”

“Mm, my sister and Tiger certainly are helping to populate this part of the world, ain’t they?” He laughed, chucking Rosie beneath the chin. “But looking after toddlers and tots ain’t my idea of fun, Aggie. I had something different in mind.” He eyed her plain garb, scuffed boots, and mobcap. Her clothes did nothing to enhance her round shape. “Don’t you ever want to dress up and traipse around like the gentry?”

“I’m not gentry, and can’t see the point in yearning after the impossible,” she stated pragmatically, shrugging. “I’m happy to have a good home here with the missus and master. And you should be too.”

Rem sighed and turned to stare where the mountains loomed in the distance, like an impenetrable barrier between him and the excitement he craved. She was right, of course.  He should be happy, but he yearned for so much more out of life than tending sheep and building barns and tilling the soil. Tiger was happy enough building his empire, and Bella was content to stand at his side and bear his children. If only Rem didn’t have to wait another five years to gain his ticket of leave, and his freedom.

Without another word he sauntered off to the barn, hands dug deep into the pockets of his breeches.

* * *

Agnes watched his broad back, her eyes feasting on the strong length of his legs, the width of his shoulders, his head of rich dark red hair that reminded her of burnished chestnuts when the sun caught it, turning it to flame. The familiar yearning weighed heavily on her heart. If only she were even slightly pretty. If only she were more intelligent and bright as a penny, as were most other girls of her age. She’d learned a lot sitting in on lessons the mistress gave Tim every day, but knew she was still as unworldly as when first plucked from the orphanage nearly two years ago by the master, to come here over the mountains with them as nursemaid.

There weren’t many young females around these parts, but the few who had come west with their kin were certainly more fetching than she, with her ordinary brown hair and face that wouldn’t stand out in any crowd, large or small. Her bosom was too big for her body, making her top-heavy, or so it seemed. Her behind stuck out so she looked like one of the ducks waddling about. That the babies fitted snugly on her over-large hips was about all that could be said in her body’s favor. Even if she forced herself into a corset, she doubted she would look any more attractive. No, an ugly duckling she was, never to become a swan.

With a drawn-out sigh, she pressed a kiss on Rosie’s cheek. This would likely be her lot in life. To look after other folk’s children, to die an old spinster out here in the wilds; never to know the joy of nursing her own babe at her breast.

“No use pining for things that will never be, eh?” she asked the child as she stepped back inside and walked along the passage stretching from the front to the back of the lower floor of the house. Entering the kitchen, she put a bright smile on her face.

The family’s second child, Annie, who would be two-years-old in a month, sat on a rug near the stove that threw out a welcoming heat; the rag doll Agnes had made for Annie’s last birthday was cradled in her arms.

The mistress was helping Gracie prepare dinner. The smell of roasting lamb filled the air. Gracie, in her fifty-seventh year, was as cheerful as a rooster surrounded by hens, and never seemed to yearn for things beyond her reach. Gracie came over on the same transport ship as the mistress, and the two were as close as two women could get without being sisters.

“'Ullo dearly,” she chirped. “'Ow’s about a cup o’ tea, eh?” That was Gracie’s answer to all ills.  

Agnes pulled a face. Gracie was unmarried and seemed happy enough with her lot in life. She received an offer of marriage in Sydney, but chose to turn her suitor down in preference of joining the mistress in this part of the world the master was slowly taming.

“Thank you,” Agnes said as the older woman put the steaming cup on the table. Bending, Agnes put Rosie in the cradle. She sat down and sipped the drink, one foot rocking the cradle, her mind on the tall man with shining red hair who held her heart in his capable hands but didn’t want it.


Chapter Two

July 2 1826

Rem stared at Sara Greenwood, unable to take his eyes off this beauty. She was, without a doubt, the most entrancing creature he’d ever seen. With hair and eyes as black as sin and flawless skin like pure porcelain, her face was that of a goddess. A bloom on her cheeks gave her face a vital sheen of good health. How his fingers itched to unpin her silken tresses from their neat coils. He ached to touch that skin to see if it felt as soft and downy as it looked.

She carried her youth and beauty with a proud bearing missing in so many of the young women in the colony; these women brooded and sulked, despairing of their lot in life after being dragged to this awful continent by their fathers against their will. Most had pasty faces they kept well hidden beneath large-brimmed bonnets to shield them from the sun they saw as an enemy to their complexions.

Rem thanked God it was a Sunday, and they allowed him to join the small gathering. The thought he might have missed meeting this goddess made him shudder. Tiger made a habit of inviting all newcomers to the district to his and Bella’s home soon after their arrival. The Greenwoods had recently settled here after living in Sydney for five years. Bella met them briefly on a trip into town, and Rem knew by her remarks she wasn’t particularly enamoured of Edmund Greenwood or his timid wife Eleanor. Rem couldn’t give a damn about them, but was already half in love with their daughter.

“So charmed to meet you,” Sara was saying to Bella and Tiger, who were decked out in the finery kept solely for such occasions.

Extending her long, slender fingers, Sara took their welcoming outstretched hands one after the other. Turning to Rem, she offered the same delicate hand, and he bowed over it reverently. Her scent filled his nostrils, battered at his senses. Like a garden in full bloom, or a bowl of roses. Not very poetic, he knew, but she would forever remind him of a spring day; an English one, where rosebuds sent out their fragrance to entice the bees, and butterflies were entranced by the colours.

Rem realized his breathing was as uneven as his heartbeat. As he straightened, their eyes met, and for one infinitesimal moment Rem felt sure a message passed between them. Could she be as smitten as he?

“We are delighted to meet you at last,” Bella said, and for a moment, Rem wondered what she was talking about. So entranced was he, everything had gone out of his head, except this vision of loveliness.

“How do you find it here in Bathurst?” Bella asked graciously as they all took seats on the porch.

Sara spread the skirt of her blue dress about her knees, her dainty feet clad in black pumps peeped beneath the hem. Those bewitching eyes, filled with a sort of devilment met Rem’s as Bella continued, “I’m so glad the weather has seen fit to hold.” She looked to the sky, where a weak winter sun tried its damnedest to shine through the gray clouds.

“As I’m mighty glad it’s decided not to rain before we’ve had a chance to settle in our house,” Sara’s burly father said, as he settled his large frame on a chair, and huffed. “I must say I’m also glad we brought plenty of help with us to this godforsaken neck of the woods.” He had a perpetual air of grievance about him, as if the world should have tried harder to do better by him.

“'Tis a good life, once you grow used to it, and if you’re prepared to work hard for what you wish to attain, it’s very rewarding,” Tiger said, looking out over his land. It was obvious to Rem his brother-in-law was no more enamored of this man than he was. Edmund Greenwood was brusque to the point of rudeness and loud-mouthed. How did an ugly brutish man manage to sire an angel like Sara? And how did her meek and homely mother ever produce such a beauty? Perhaps she had been adopted. The thought made him smile, and he glanced over at his angel in time to see her watching him, her delicate brows raised.

Turning to Sara’s mother, Bella offered, “You must call on me for any help you need. We lean on each other out here where months can go by without us seeing anyone from the other side of the mountains.”

 The pallid, insignificant woman looked to be about sixty in age, but was more than likely only in her forties. Rem suspected years of living with a boor had etched those deep lines on her face. Her pinched mouth looked forever on the verge of protest. Though, Rem doubted she would ever dare to come forth with a complaint.

“Thank you.” The words came out on a thready whisper. Glancing up like a scared hare, Mrs. Greenwood added, “I didn’t want to come,” earning a wrathful glare from her husband.

“Balderdash!” Edmund waved an arm, his brows beetling, and she seemed to shrivel even more. “You’ll soon get used to it. And with kindly ladies like Mrs. Carstairs here” —he gave Bella a sickly, condescending glance—“you’ll soon acclimatize.”

“I found it very strange when I first arrived in the colony.” Bella smiled at Mrs. Greenwood, and Rem thought, for the umpteenth time, what a lovely woman his sister was. “And please call me Bella,” she invited. “Everyone does. We don’t stand on ceremony here. Being so isolated we have to become friends.”

Rem wondered if these people knew his sister and her husband had both been convicts, sent to the colony by the British Government, same as he had. No doubt they did, for news travelled fast despite the great distances. Gossip was rife among the Exclusives and the Emancipists.

“‘Course you did. We all have to learn to change.” Edmund gave his wife a look that said she would have to change, or accept his wrath. Her hands trembled, and she twined them together on her lap.

“And how do you like living so far from the town?” Rem turned to ask the beauty seated beside him.

She shrugged. Her pouting lips were as soft, full, and pink as the rosebuds she smelt of. His insides ached with the desire to see if they tasted half as sweet as they looked. Jesus, he wanted to ravish her, to strip her and taste every part of the delectable body he knew the wool of her garment hid.

Her eyes slid from his dark red curls to the boots he was glad he’d polished for the occasion. Something deep inside him began to shake with his response.

Barely past her seventeenth birthday, so Bella had told him, and already she wore the look of a woman in control of her life and her responses. How he would like to help her lose her cool control. He made up his mind that would be his driving purpose in life from now on; sure in his conceit he would win her no matter what.

“I would have liked to stay in Sydney Town. I have my governess and companion still, who accompanied us over here, so I will have to bear it. For a while.” She sounded utterly bored, and Rem wanted to stand up and shout that he would take her wherever she yearned to go.

Her father gave her another of his wrathful glares and boomed, “Bear it, will you? 'Tis my belief there’s too many wrong 'uns in the town now. Wanted to stay over there, they did.” He jerked his head toward his long-suffering wife and his beautiful daughter and snorted. “You talk some sense into them, madam.” His smile reminded Rem of a conniving crook.

“I wasn’t too happy about leaving the town myself,” Bella said, giving Tiger the special smile she kept for her husband; one that left everyone else out of the loving and intimate world the two shared.

Rem now knew the full story of how Bella lost her first husband, Dougal, and her second-born son Dougie, on the dreadful journey across the mountains to settle over here. She battled Tiger every step of the way in those days, fighting her love for him. Rem knew that now she wouldn’t consider going back to town, even if Tiger was to give her the option, which Rem knew he wouldn’t. His life was here now, with his family, expanding his empire. Oh, they argued often still, but their fights were the quarrels of lovers; and any onlooker, including himself, always knew the rows were made up as only lovers’ tiffs could be reconciled.

“As with all things, it becomes better once you grow used to the isolation,” Bella continued. “We have quite a few families settled here now. Our small community manages to get along despite the differences in our backgrounds.”

“‘Course they do,” Edmund bellowed, as if no one would dare to argue the case with him.

“I hear you left a manager in charge of your business in town,” Tiger said, successfully managing to conceal the disdain Rem knew Tiger felt for this brash man. Rem guessed this was likely now multiplied after seeing the way Edmund treated his wife and daughter.

“That’s right.” Greenwood preened as he smiled condescendingly. Tiger had told Rem and Bella of how Greenwood arrived in Sydney five years ago as a free man and opened a store stocked with merchandise purchased cheaply at ports of call on the voyage over.

“My emporium is one of the largest and most successful now,” he boasted. Grimacing, he shook his head. “If only we didn’t have to put up with so much riff-raff in the people I’m forced to employ.”

Tiger looked toward the mutton, roasting above a fire next to the garden, Bella’s pride and joy. One of the hands signaled it was ready. “It looks as if the meat is about done.”

They strolled to a table laid with cloth and cutlery, where Rem ensured he sat beside his beautiful enchantress. He saw Bella’s raised eyebrows, but chose to take no notice of his sister’s silent warning.

Gracie began to serve, aided by one of the new women brought from Sydney recently to help with the household chores. They served steaming dishes of turnips, carrots, and potatoes.

“You might be wishing you'd stayed in Sydney, but I can’t tell you how happy I am you're here.” Rem gave Sara his most beguiling smile, one nurtured in the past year. Agnes, usually the recipient of such smiles, tended the children at a smaller table set aside for them. Her antipathy toward the beauty at Rem’s side was blatant. If looks were daggers, Sara would have been dead within five minutes of Agnes setting sight on her. Poor insignificant Agnes.

“I don’t know which is worse, to be candid. I wished we’d never come out to this country of savages, but my father was convinced a fortune was waiting to be made.” She flicked a glance at her father, now boring Tiger with a discourse on trading practices. Tiger’s expression clearly showed his indifference to her father’s monologue.

“And has he made his fortune yet?” Rem didn’t take his eyes from her face. Every move she made entranced him more and more. He couldn’t give a brass farthing for her father’s possessions, but anything that got her talking was worth the effort.

“He’s wealthy, if that’s what you mean. My mother and I are allowed to purchase whatever we need to make us presentable in society.”

“Society?” Rem laughed, glancing about. “Hardly that out here.”

She picked sparingly at the food set before her. “You’re right. We could all walk around in plain clothes and not give a fig for our appearance, and who would know or care? It really is a land of savages.” The poignancy of her quiet statement struck him in the heart.

“I would care.” Rem stared at her hard, and thought, such a hothouse plant should be pampered and spoiled, brought up amongst the society in London, not dragged to a godforsaken place like this. “Never change, sweet Sara. Always stay as beautiful and elegantly attired as you are now, no matter the cost or effort. Promise me.”

“All right. I will promise you that.” Her small laugh made his gut wrench. “Will you show me around the property?” she asked, glancing down the table.

The meal was almost at an end, and the others were still engrossed in a debate on the merits of sheep farming versus trading; Tiger enthusing about the price of fleece on the English market.

She had a way of fluttering her eyelashes that sent Rem’s heart into a spin. Trying not to show his eagerness, and thus appearing like a smitten schoolboy, Rem rose slowly, bowing over her hand. “I would be honored.” He pressed a kiss on her knuckle and was pleased to see her soft cheeks turn delightfully pink.

“Where are you off to?” Edmund bellowed, interrupting their discussion, as she settled her skirts about her with a pat of the hand.

Rem held his breath, expecting her father’s annoyance to deter her, but then she said sweetly, “Rem is going to show me around, Papa,” and gave Edmund a peck on his florid cheek. She smiled demurely at Bella. “And I need to walk after such a splendid meal. Thank you, Mrs. Carstairs. It was most enjoyable. But I shouldn’t have eaten so much.”

“Please call me Bella,” Bella insisted, waving them on their way. “Go on with you, and enjoy your stroll.” Rem grinned at Bella’s meaningful look. A look that clearly stated he was to watch his step with this beauty, or bear the wrath of her father.

Rem knew Greenwood wouldn’t make a scene in front of Bella and Tiger and smiled to himself. “Come, I’ll show you the orchard Tiger planted soon after they arrived here.” Offering his arm, he inhaled her fragrance as she hooked her hand in his elbow.

When they were out of earshot of the others, he said softly, “You smell as sweet as a garden full of blooms.” 

She tapped him on the chest with her fan and smiled, showing dear little dimples in her cheeks. “Hmm.” With a chuckle, she wrinkled her nose pertly. “I’m surprised I don’t stink like one of the horses, considering our mode of transport.”

“There’s no decent lanes or carriage ways yet. It’s difficult for you to be jolted over the stubble in your wagon. Tiger’s working hard at improving that. Soon there’ll be a passable road connecting the properties on this side of the river. You should have seen it last year when I arrived.”

“Is that how long you’ve been here?”

“Eighteen months to be precise. The house was half-built, and we lived in sod huts.” He grimaced.

“Don’t you get bored out here in the middle of nowhere?” she asked as he led her around the almond trees toward where the stone-fruit trees grew. They were well away from the house now, and he looked over his shoulder to see if they could be watched from the table.

“Truth is, bored out of my head, Sara.” With a hand on her back he propelled her to a seat Tiger had positioned for Bella in the shade of what would eventually be a flourishing apple tree. She shivered, and he asked, “Are you warm enough?”

“It is cooler here.” She hugged her arms across her chest.

“Would you like to go back?” he asked, praying she would say no.

“No, would you?” Slanting him a provocative look, she flashed him a wicked smile, her dimples more pronounced.

“I want nothing more than to be here with you.” Rem took off his jacket and draped it across her shoulders. “Is that better?”

“Much.” She shrugged into its warmth. “Now you’ll be cold.”

“Me? Not while I’m this close to you. You set my blood afire, did you know that?” Rem longed to plant a kiss on one of those indentations on her cheek, to explore it with his tongue. He held her gaze and reached for one of her dainty hands.

Her chuckle was charming as she tapped him again with the fan. “Gentlemen aren’t supposed to say things like that to ladies,” she admonished, but he got the distinct impression she wasn’t the least affronted by his bluntness.

“I ain’t a gentleman, Sara. I’m a convict, plain and simple. Does that bother you?” Sitting beside her, he pressed his thigh to her skirts. She didn’t move away, although her look said she was slightly shocked.

“No, it doesn’t bother me. Unless, of course, you intend to act like one and be brutish. What did you do to get transported?” she asked.

Rem shrugged. “Same as most. Not a lot. Pinched food to help my family. Most convicts are just like me, ordinary men and women charged with transportation for petty crimes.” The memories, dulled in the past year, resurfaced. “Papa died in prison, our mum died the year I was sent out here, and one of our sisters died of starvation and the cold.” Rem grimaced as he remembered the awful winters they had to endure; winters with no food, no heat, and the threat of disease a part of their everyday existence.

“How sad.” She seemed genuinely appalled by his plight. “So is Bella all the family you have left?”

“No. We have another two sisters and two brothers still in Stepney, although Carlos, the eldest, will more than likely end up here soon. Likely the others will too eventually. It’s the way of things. A fact of life.”

“Carlos? What a foreign-sounding name. Why would your brother be named such?” Her limpid eyes turned on him inquisitively.

“Our papa was Spanish.” Her eyes widened, and Rem quickly asked, “Does that bother you?”

“Bother me? Why no.” With a careless flick of the hand, she said, “But it does surprise me. Although it shouldn’t really, for your sister’s name, Isabella, is Spanish, is it not?”


“And now that I look at you closely, I can see you do have the appearance about you unlike most of the English men here in the colony.” Her gaze roved over his face. He sincerely hoped she liked what she saw.

“And is my different look distasteful to you?” Rem knew he was seeking compliments from her, but couldn’t help himself. How he yearned for her to be as entranced as he was by everything about her.

“Distasteful? Why of course not.” Leaning closer, she said in a husky tone that set his pulses to racing and his heart pounding at a fierce rate, “You're extremely handsome of face. But I expect you’ve been told so by countless women.” With a sniff, she looked swiftly away.

Rem chuckled, feeling ten feet tall. “A few have assured me I’m not ugly. In truth, you’re the first to tell me I’m handsome,” he lied. “And I can’t say how much it pleases me to know you admire my looks, for I must tell you that I find you the most entrancing woman on earth. You’re beautiful, clever, witty…”

“Stop.” With a laugh, she held up both hands then tapped him on his knee. “You’ll turn my head with your compliments.”

“I only speak the truth.” Rem bent his head to whisper near her shell-shaped ear, “I love you with all my heart. And when I’m out of my term and a free man; then I’ll ask your father for your sweet hand.” He placed a kiss on her knuckle, and a tremor raced over her skin. He hoped it wasn’t just the cool air causing it.  He hoped she was as enamored of him as he was of her. “Will you wait for me?”

Her eyes widened at his impudence, but he knew without being told that his words captured her interest. “What nonsense. How can you speak of love, Remy? You’ve only just met me. How can you possibly have such strong feelings for me on such a short acquaintance?”

“Love knows no boundaries, of time or place. I’ll feel the same fifty years from now as I feel at this moment,” he swore with fervour, cupping her chin with his palm. Strangely, he knew his words were true. He had felt a strong attraction for a few women before, but nothing like this all-encompassing devotion that seemed to fill all his senses.

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  1. I enjoyed these books and learned much from reading them.

  2. Great writing. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Your descriptions and dialogue are so real, I was 'inside' your book. Great writing, Tricia 😊


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