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Authors: Candace McCarthy

Irish Linen

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SWEET ANTICIPATION

He didn’t move to kiss her; yet, he was close enough that if she leaned forward an inch their lips would touch … and ignite.

Lucas?
She didn’t realize that she’d said his name aloud … not until he answered her.

“Yes?” He moved away slightly and cupped her face with both hands. “You know I want to kiss you.”

“Aye, Lucas,” she whispered. “Do it. Do it, before I think of all the reasons why we shouldn’t.”

With a groan, he bent his head while he lifted her chin, and then his warm mouth slanted across her lips with hunger. The hot, searing contact made Meghan’s blood rush and her knees weaken.

Lucas lifted his head, ending the kiss too soon. “Sweet,” he murmured in a tone that made her shiver. “So sweet …”

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Elizabeth Lawrence left her pampered English childhood behind to journey to the far-off Colonies … and marry a man she’d never met. But her dreams turned to dust when an explosion killed her new husband at his powder mill, leaving her alone to run his business … and face a perilous life on the untamed frontier. After a desperate engagement to her husband’s brother, yet another man, strong, sensual and secretive Michael Patrick O’ Brian, enters her life and it will never be the same.

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Tess Morgan had journeyed across the sea to Maryland colony in search of a better life. Instead, the brave British innocent finds a battle-torn land … and passion in the arms of Raven, the gentle Lenape warrior who saves her from a savage fate. But Tess is bound by another. And Raven dares not trust this woman whose touch has enslaved him, yet whose blood vow to his people has set him on a path of rage and vengeance. Now, as cruel destiny forces her to become Raven’s prisoner, Tess must make a choice: to fight for her freedom … or for the tender captor she has come to cherish with a love that will hold her forever.

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Irish Linen

Candace McCarthy

ZEBRA BOOKS
KENSINGTON PUBLISHING CORP.

Dedication

For those brave men and women including my great grandparents who came to the New World for a better life for themselves and their families

and for my grandparents and parents who stayed


and for my husband’s ancestors, who came and stayed in America

and made it possible for me to find my own special “Irish” man.

One

April 1847

She would not cry.

He was gone, and she was journeying alone to a strange place and a new life. Tears would solve nothing. Huddled against the cold Atlantic wind, her dark auburn locks whipping about her face, Meghan watched stoically as her father’s canvas-draped body slipped over the ship’s side and into the murky depths of the sea.

She shivered and hugged herself with her arms. Dermot McBride was a good man, and she would miss him, but she would not give in to grief. She was McBride’s daughter after all, and he’d hated displays of weakness. Her one last gift of love for the man who’d sired her would be to stand tall and proud, and to spit in the eye of anyone who dishonored Dermot McBride’s memory.

Ah, Da, ye almost made it

Just a wee bit longer and we would have been home
… A lump formed in Meghan’s throat, despite her efforts to be brave.

Home? she wondered. Would America really feel like home? Until two months past when her father and she had boarded the ship bound for the United States, her home had been Ireland with its green meadows and blue skies.

Meghan frowned.
And with its hunger and disease.

There was no turning back now, she realized. Whether she liked it or not a place called Delaware in the United States would be home to her from this, day forward. Her life would be with her husband-to-be, Rafferty O’Connor, a man she hadn’t seen in over a year and a half.

Oh, Rafferty. What will ye say when you learn of me father’s death?
The two men had been the best of friends. Their small farms had bordered one another; they’d shared the same dreams. But while Dermot McBride had been reluctant to leave his homeland, Rafferty had foreseen the calamity of their future and he’d had no such qualms.

“The damn Saxons,” Rafferty had exclaimed, “they care little or not if we live or die! Their only thought is what our people can give them!”

His green eyes pleading, Rafferty had grabbed his friend’s arm. “By all that’s holy, McBride, look about ye! People are dying. Children! Whole families. Our potato crops have failed us—and when they looked to be a bounty year. With the
Sasanaigh
stealing our grain, how will we survive until the next year?” His gaze had flickered from Dermot to his daughter. “Meggie,” he’d said, “we have little enough here as it is, and what we do have is useless to us. I’ll not stay here and die! America is the place to be. ’Tis said that a man can make a good life for his family there.”

Meghan closed her eyes. “Dear Heaven, but he was right,” she whispered, recalling the horrors she’d seen. Their people were dying, and the English didn’t care!

Rafferty would grieve for his friend while he cursed the British government responsible.

She sniffed as she straightened her spine. Sadness was everywhere, but Meghan was determined to control hers as other passengers were buried at sea. She
stared without flinching as body after body splashed into the mighty ocean.

Dermot McBride, ye’ll be missed, she thought. She blinked to moisten eyes that burned.

A fine rain began to fall, soaking the deck and the passengers on board the
Mary Freedom
within minutes. Meghan stood, unmoving, staring at the spectacle of grieving families bidding farewell to their deceased loved ones. A wild wail drew the young Irishwoman’s attention to a middle-aged woman struggling to break free of another’s hold to get to the enshrouded body that was being shoved over the ship’s rail.

Meghan’s eyes were dry, but her throat felt so tight that she could barely swallow.
I will not cry.

She forced herself to think of Rafferty and their new life. As old as her father, Rafferty would be a good husband, she thought, closing her eyes, and she’d be a contented bride. Meghan didn’t believe in passionate love, but she believed in a marriage based on respect and friendship to a man she’d known most of her life.

The burials at sea completed, the passengers were ordered by the ship’s captain to return to their cramped quarters on the lower decks, and the crew resumed their duties. The sobbing continued, but the sound became muffled to Meghan as the sorrowful family members descended below deck to escape the rain.

Ignoring the officer’s command, Meghan moved to the rail, where she stood, staring off across the sea at the dismally dark sky. Her hair was soaked, and water ran beneath her rough, homespun shawl and down the back of her woolen gown, but still she stayed.

Drenched, her chest tight with pain, she gazed, unseeing, over the mighty ocean. If she’d stayed in the steerage instead of the cabin she shared with three
other women, could she have somehow saved her father? Would she have seen just how ill he’d been?

“Gerl,” a gruff voice said, “what are you doing here?” A strong hand clamped on her arm, yanking her about to face a man whose eyes leered at her from beneath a wide-brimmed tarpaulin. She recognized the hat and pea jacket of a crew member.

His face was shadowed, but Meghan saw his gaze widen as he studied her wet face. She had seen that look in a man’s eyes before, and she realized how vulnerable she was with her father dead and none of her kin left to protect her. She swallowed and attempted to pull free, but the man’s grip firmed.

“Ah, lass, you should be nice to Ned Fellows. A gerl as sweet of face as you will need someone to …” He cleared his throat. “Watch out fer you.”

“I need no one,” she breathed. “I’ve me family to—”

“Liar,” he growled. “If you’ve family to care fer you, where are they?” He glanced about the deck, his gaze feral as it returned to her. His study fell to her mouth, lust contorting his features, and Meghan’s heart thumped with new fear. She was alone, unprotected. Who would care if this man misused her?

Meghan struggled, and the sailor gave an angry cry and wrenched her close. Cupping her head, he pressed her face into the dirty front of his coat, while his other hand caressed her buttocks.

Immediately, she started to gag. He smelled of whiskey, tar, tobacco, and a man who desperately needed a bath. She tried to scream, but her cry was muffled in the wet fabric. His fingers wove into her hair, and he jerked her head backward until she was eye to eye and nose to nose with him.

“You like it rough?” he said, sounding pleased. His breath was as rank as the rest of him.

“Let me go!” she gasped. “I’m a passenger. Your captain—”

The man laughed. “The captain and I are well acquainted. You might say we’re friends—he and I.”

“No,” she breathed.

“Yes.” He tugged hard on her hair, and she cried out with pain. “Yes, my Irish lass. The captain needs me more, you see, and should I want something …”

Meghan tried to see beyond her captor. Where were the crew and other passengers? The man was lying. Surely, the captain wouldn’t permit the ravishing of a female passenger.

“Mr. Fellows, sir!”

The man grunted and looked up past the woman he held to the young sailor who waited uncomfortably to speak with him. Meghan tried to turn, to speak, but Fellows’s grip tightened threateningly. Her scalp burned at the roots of her hair. He jerked her so close that she could barely draw breath.

“Christ, Jamie!” he growled angrily. “Can’t you see I’m busy?”

“I’m sorry, sir, but the second mate wonders what to do with the—”

The rest of his words were lost to Meghan as blackness threatened to steal her consciousness.
The mate? Dear God! This man was the first mate!

The pressure about her back eased, and she gasped as the fresh moist air filled her lungs, nearly choking her.

“Now, sweet Irish, where were we?” Fellows said.

She gazed up at him with a sudden surge of fury.
“Let me go.

He blinked at her show of spirit and then laughed with delight, a chilling sound that frightened her more than his anger had. From the outer edges of her frantic mind, Meghan heard the tread of feet; someone
walked along the deck not far from where they stood. She opened her lips to scream, and Fellows bent and took her mouth, filling it with his tongue.

Bile rose in Meghan’s throat while she fought the dizzying blackness that again threatened. She felt his hand at her breast, and she whimpered as his fingers groped and painfully squeezed her tender flesh. The mate refused to relinquish her mouth, and her lungs hurt with the need for air.

He groaned as he continued to violate her with his kiss. Meghan prayed for the darkness to overtake her, welcomed a release from horror, but she could still feel his hands … fumbling, invading.

His head rose, but she was too weak to fight. She felt him shift his hold. Then, he was dragging her across the deck toward the dark shadows of sail and riggings, to a place out of sight where a woman could be subdued and violated. He stopped abruptly, and Meghan’s mind filled with a silent scream as he shoved her against something hard and lifted her skirt. Cool air touched her legs and thighs, and Meghan cried out and fought to cover herself.

Fellows laughed, stilling her movements with his brute strength, and she felt his weight pressing her to the deck. The mate’s breath rasped against her neck as he pried her legs apart, and Meghan screamed until her world darkened.

Suddenly, she was free of his weight, the pressure. She heard angry voices followed by harsh grunts and then the thuds and thumps of men fighting. Rain poured over her prone form. Struggling to sit, Meghan fought to see past the downpour. Her gaze saw two dark blurred forms locked in deadly conflict The air filled with the enraged cry of one of the two men as he rammed the other into a massive coil of rope.

Meghan started to stand, only to sink back down
quickly as the men fell, rolled in her direction, and scrambled to their feet again. She recognized Ned Fellows as he circled his opponent, a man she’d never seen before.

“You touched my wife!” the strange man said.

Fellows’s laughter was demonic. “Yer wife, you say? What was she doing topside without yer protection then?”

“My bride-to-be,” the stranger said. The man’s eyes seemed to burn fire as he stared at his opponent. He had a startling face beneath fair hair darkened by the rain. Water glistened on his features harsh with anger.

Meghan observed the scene, wondering who the man was, grateful for his appearance, and wondering where his betrothed had gone. Then, the hot black eyes seared in her direction, making her heart thump harder.

“Love,” he said, holding out his arm. “Come here.”

She stared at him blankly until understanding dawned. For whatever his reasons, the strange man had saved her by claiming to be her intended. It seemed the most natural thing in the world to run to his side. Immediately, the man encircled her with his arm. She felt the heat of him through their wet clothing. Adrenaline pumped through her veins as she stared at the man who’d attacked her.

From the haven of her rescuer’s embrace, Meghan saw Ned Fellows’s stunned expression and the skepticism that slowly transformed his features. She turned, burrowed her head against the man’s chest, and the arm about her tightened protectively.

“Irish!” Fellows said. “You never said you were betrothed.”

Startled, she raised her head to glare at him. “Ye never asked me!”

“You seemed willing enough—”

She gasped with outrage, and the stranger gave her a reassuring squeeze, as if telling her that he believed in her innocence and that he would handle the man. “I would thank you to stay away from my intended, Mr. Fellows.” His voice was soft with an underlying edge of steel.

The mate stiffened. “And who are you to threaten me?”

“Ridgely.”

Fellows paled. “Lucas Ridgely?”

“At your service.”

Ned Fellows cleared his throat. “I’d no idea, Mr. Ridgely. I thought she was a common enough wench.”

“Oh? Do you often misuse your
common
female passengers?” Meghan could feel the tension in the man who held her. His anger sizzled in the air, fairly scorching the man before him. “Apologize to my fiancée, Fellows,” he said, ignoring the man’s mumbling excuses.

The mate offered Meghan his hand. “Lass, let me—”

She ignored his apology and his outstretched hand. “May we leave?” she asked her rescuer. She was suddenly weary. Her head and back hurt, and she felt dizzy. “I’m not …” Her voice trailed off; she turned her face against the man who held her.

“Are you all right?”

She tried to nod, but the movement was too weak to be reassuring. He stroked her hair. “Yes,” he said. “Come. I’ll take you below.”

Meghan was assailed by dizziness as she and her rescuer reached the hatch to go below deck. She cried out and grabbed hold of the man’s arm.

“Are you all right?” His deep voice came from a distance.

She shook her head, unable to respond or focus her
gaze. Suddenly, her rescuer lifted her into his strong arms. Ignoring her weak protest, he carried her down the steps, out of the rain. Cold, she laid her cheek against his chest. He was wet, but warm, and she leaned into his heat.

The next thing she knew she was in a cabin, and he was setting her in a chair. Her trembling was violent as he released her, and she murmured her displeasure at the loss of warmth. The room spun, and she was blinded by bright lights. As if sensing that she was about to faint, her rescuer exclaimed with concern and pushed her forward until her head was between her knees.

The blood rushed to her face, and she struggled to take in air. The blackness receded, and she became conscious of the smell and rough texture of wet wool.

She sat back. “Thank you.”

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