Norah Hawkins wants a new life as far from her old one as possible, but where can she ever find that chance? When a letter arrives promising her the deed to property in San Francisco, Norah packs her bags and flees the broken shards of her troubled past.
With its anything-goes atmosphere, 1906 San Francisco suits Irishman Gerard MacKenzie just fine. He loves tending bar in Norah’s saloon, and verbally sparring with the shrewd businesswoman for more privileges and work. Her beauty, wit and sass make his blood boil with need.
But disaster looms over their promising new lives when a terrible earthquake buries their dreams and threatens to shatter their future. Norah and Mac must rebuild their lives from the ruins and they’ll need each other more than ever, but can their ties to each other save them or tear them apart?
Lord, she must have left her common sense in New Jersey. A man like Mac would prove to be nothing but trouble. Mischief twinkled in his eyes. Back in her hotel room to repack her scant belongings, Norah felt it in her bones. Deeper than your bones, a small voice told her. She felt it in a way unfamiliar to her. It rattled her nerves. It turned her thoughts to him at the most inconvenient times, wondering what sort of man Gerard McKenzie truly was beneath his sharp tongue and wily ways. It robbed her of common sense and self-control, inventing ways to stay near him. When he’d practically insisted she hire him, the thrill running through her both startled and intrigued her. No man had so much as laid a finger on her, not with her permission anyway. Yet she found herself imagining what Mac’s touch might feel like.
In the hallway, he whistled Melody of Love. She imagined him singing the lyrics:
Hold me in your arms, dear
Dream with me
Cradled by your kisses, tenderly
While a choir of angels from above
Sings our melody of love.
What must it be like, to know such a deep love? To trust a man with her heart?
A small laugh burst forth. If she’d learned anything in her twenty-five years, it was that men couldn’t be trusted. Especially not with a woman’s heart. The only time she’d given in to curiosity and let her heart rule over her head left her burning with shame. The thrill of Floyd Enders’s attentions turned to surprise when his fluttering kiss grew forceful, his groping desperate as he pinned her to the ground. Another attempt to prove her cut from the same cloth as Estelle, another whore to be used at his whim and tossed aside.
A bitter chuckle escaped. She’d done the tossing instead, and her kick to his hard groin left him writhing in agony. Too bad it wasn’t the lasting kind of pain, like he’d inflicted on her, claiming she’d begged for it. His lie followed her for years on the whispering lips of other boys who wanted what Floyd supposedly had.
Would Mac treat her so poorly? Of course not. She’d provide him with wages. If she wasn’t careful, he’d woo more from her, and soon she’d have less than nothing. No money, no saloon and worst, a ruined reputation. No man would rob her of that.
She lifted her bag, then thought better of it. Let Mac learn right away to take orders from her. After setting it on the bed, she put on her hat and opened the door.
Mac leaned his shoulder against the wall, one leg crossed over the other, aimlessly twirling his tweed cap in his hands. Glancing up, he straightened and scrunched the cap.
At least he pretended seriousness. “Please get my bags.”
He flashed a smile and winked. “Yes ma’am.”
A more fragile female might be devastated by his charms. Oh, she hoped this wouldn’t turn out to be a terrible mistake.
Hoisting one bag under his arm, he grabbed the handle of the remaining one. “All set.”
“Excellent.” She led the way downstairs, stopping at the front desk to check out and settle her account. Outside, she found Mac wearing his cap and a smile.
The bustle of the busy street made her hurry in excitement. “I wish I had time to explore the city.”
“It’s something, isn’t it? Makes me feel more alive.”
Slowing her pace, she glanced over. “Yes. Exactly.” She couldn’t hide her surprise at sharing that feeling. “Once I make my success, I’ll indulge my curiosity. Until then, I have too much work ahead.” She hurried on. He fell into easy step with her. “There’s always time for work. My mama always said it’s more important to take time to celebrate.”
“Life.” He said it as if she should have known the answer.
Funny, she’d never shared that inclination. Life presented too many challenges, too many obstacles she had to scrabble over.
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About the Author
Cate Masters has made beautiful central Pennsylvania her home, but she’ll always be a Jersey girl at heart. When not spending time with her dear hubby, she can be found in her lair, concocting a magical brew of contemporary, historical, and fantasy/paranormal stories with her cat Chairman Maiow and dog Lily as company. Look for her at http://catemasters.blogspot.com and in strange nooks and far-flung corners of the web.
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