Authors: Mary Brock Jones
Swift Runs the Heart
Mary Brock Jones
Both Geraldine MacKenny and Bas Deverill escaped to the goldfields in search of somethingâfor him, a fortune; for her, independence; for both, freedom. Neither expected the fields to yield so much more.
1860s, Otago, New Zealand
Geraldine finds the life of a wealthy runholder's daughter stiff and constraining. On the goldfields, she has the opportunity to be so much more: independent, responsible, strong. But her freedom is short-lived when she is noticed by notorious bandit Black Jack MacRae
a man who is used to getting what he wants and who never takes no for an answer.
Cheerful, casual, uncommitted
that's the way Bas likes his life on the goldfields. He may be of aristocratic blood, but he thrives on the challenges of commerce and the freedom of the colonies. Rescuing a beautiful girl from the grasp of Black Jack MacRae, however, throws his whole life into turmoil. Geraldine seems to be a magnet for trouble, and the goldfields are a long way from civilisation. Taking her under his wing only makes sense, but Bas has no intention of letting her get any further under his skin. He might want to bed her, but that is no reason to risk falling to the prison bars of respectabilityâis it?
Mary Brock Jones lives in Auckland, New Zealand, but her childhood years in the stunning Otago region of the South Island live on in the romantic adventures of her heroes and heroines.
When not officebound or being towered over by her four grown sons, much to their amusement, she writes historical romances and science fiction.
Her romantic yearnings stem from those early years in a land where history still marches alongside modern farming, stunning tourist vistas and the entrepreneurial endeavours of the modern day. Her love of historicals was born in the pages of great books by writers such as Georgette Heyer and Dorothy Dunnett.
Her parents introduced her to libraries and gave her a farm to play on, where trees became rocket ships and rocky outcrops were ancient fortresses. Is it any wonder she became a writer?
With thanks to all those who have helped me: the wonderful Kate, Julia and Lilia at Escape Publishing; everyone at RWNZ and RWA for their support and help; my editor Una, and most of all my family - my parents who brought me up to love books, and my husband and sons who put up with me forever disappearing into the stories in my head.
Thanks also to the Department of Conservation, the NZ Historic Places Trust and all the committed locals of Otago who keep alive the places and stories of the Otago Gold Rush. A special thank you to the sometimes-bemused locals who were on the receiving end of my myriad of questions and always at least tried to find an answer.
To the men who taught me what it is to love: my husband, my sons and my late father, who always thought I was fine just as I was.
The Dunstan goldfield, New Zealand, 1862
A hand snatched at the cap on Geraldine's head. “You'll do nicely,” said a voice behind her. The accent was the educated English her stepmother tried hard to emulate, the masculine tones too self-assured, and the owner of the voice quite unknown.
Geraldine swung âround to do battle, only to find a strange man standing so close she could not move without pushing past him. She froze, looking for an escape route, even as her mouth opened to tell the intruder into the saloon's kitchen exactly what she thought of his behaviour.
The man showed no sign of shame at alarming her. He was too busy gazing at her uncovered hair with a look of decided satisfaction. Her mouth closed and she groaned silently. Like too many before him, it seemed the stranger was drawn by the hair that was the bane of Geraldine's life. Like living strands of amber, her father used to say. Wild, uncontrollable and a nuisance, was Geraldine's opinion. Too many men had lauded its beauty in the past. She set one foot back in slow retreat, even as his hands began again, hauling at the pins holding her hair in place at the base of her neck.
Her hands reached up, but to no effect. He batted them away and continued to release the vibrant curls she had hoped to keep hidden in this new place. He stepped back to admire his handiwork, the widening grin setting his face alight as he saw the effects of his changes. Too annoyed now to be frightened, she gave him back stare for stare.
It was a mistake. Time became irrelevant as her eyes slowly tracked up the newcomer and a strange fancy took her. His face seemed caught in an instant of endless motion. Taut skin tracing lightly over long bones, bright, sun-kissed hair and laughing sea-blue eyes.
Her world tilted sideways. She breathed hard, striving to fight off a rare feeling of confusion. Control. She must take control of the situation.
“What do you think you are doing?”
“Making you pretty for the gentlemen, of course,” said the stranger. “I need someone to distract the fine fellows awaiting me in the bar while I make my escape.”
“Whyever would I do such a thing?” she said, as she vainly attempted to return her hair to some kind of order and her senses to normality.
“Because if you don't, they will kill me.”
It was said so matter-of-factly that she paid it no heed. His next action drove the words from her thoughts completely. Those wayward hands reached up for the neckline of her plain but serviceable gown and pulled the buttons open, laying back the two sides to bare a voluptuous swelling. His hands lingered in a caress that sent her heart into the oddest of thudding strokes.
“Molly has lost none of her ability to pick staff,” he said in a slow, husky drawl.
She reached up, shocked dismay suddenly driving her to urgency, and dragged the cloth back to its proper place. He would have none of it. One of his slim hands seized both of hers and she discovered a new thing. He may be lean and with none of the bulk of a labourer, but he was very strong. The other hand twitched the folds down again.
“No time for games today, my pretty one,” he said regretfully. “There are customers in there needing distracting. Right now, it's your professional services I'm after.”
She gasped, striving in vain to pull away from this madman. Her cheeks were even redder than her hair at the unmistakeable allusion. “Professional serâ¦ No. You're mistaken. I don't serve in the barroom. Molly said I was to be a kitchen maid.”
An eyebrow rose in unimpressed disbelief. “What wages did she promise?”
She told him, and he laughed triumphantly. “That's twice the wages of a kitchen maid, even on the goldfields, as well you must know. Though remind me to increase her cut of the profits. Damn, but you're beautiful.”
“Her cut? You mean, you'reâ¦”
“â¦the owner of this fine establishment? Yesâand therefore your employer. I have no doubt Molly intended you for the kind of work to which your looks are admirably suited, but you can talk to her about that later. Right now, I need you to get in there and amuse those men before they come looking for me.”
A firm hand shoved her hard in the back. Before she knew what was happening, she was through the canvas flap separating the work area from the rough barroom.
She had been in here once only, when Molly had taken her on earlier this day, after her arrival in the raw gold town. She had seen, then, the primitive table surrounded by rough benches, the hastily erected walls and ceiling of canvas and the crudely built sod chimney. However, in the morning it had been empty; now, four men lounged on the benches. Their blackened hands played with tin mugs and grimy beards hid what little of their faces could be seen under the broad brims of their miner's wide-awake hats.
She stood, fixed to the spot, and then felt the unmistakeable hardness of a gun barrel nudging her in the back. The stranger of the kitchen was still here. She moved slowly forward, the scraping of her feet on the stony dirt of the floor bringing the men's heads swivelling towards her.
She stopped short again.
Black Jack MacRae. It had to be him. The scar on the cheek of the largest man was unmistakeable. Remembered words shot through Geraldine's head. Memories of campfires on the long trek up here disguised as a youth, the stars of the clean southern skies, the chill of the inland night even in these early summer weeks, and the stories told by the experienced hands flocking here from the goldfields of California, Australia and Tuapeka to seek their fortune on this latest field of dreams. The Dunstan they called it, stretching for miles along the rugged banks of the wild Molyneux River in the unexplored interior of Otago in New Zealand's South Island.
The name of Black Jack MacRae had featured often in the men's stories. Black of hair and black of heart, they said, the scar on his cheek a relic of an unfortunate miner in Ballarat who had dared to protest when fleeced by Black Jack. The miner was long dead, and Black Jack was sitting just six feet from her.
From somewhere she found her voice. “Can I get you gentlemen anything?”
It was as if her words released the collective breath of the men. MacRae himself looked his fill, his steady eyes moving slowly up and down the length of her. She stepped backwards, his scrutiny too intense to be other than an unwelcome menace. Nor could she ignore the very real threat behind her. The cold barrel of the gun through the canvas prodded into her, demanding she move forward. She plastered what she hoped was a smile on her face.
Black Jack glared round at his men as their eyes drank in the sight of her. “Eyes off. She's mine,” he ordered, and the men looked away as, to her horror, Black Jack himself leaned forward, with what might pass for a smile of appreciation slashing across his dark face.
She coughed nervously. “Perhaps something to drink?” she said.
“Whiskey. And something to eat. We might be in for a long wait,” he grunted. “Unless you can help us?”
“Yes, certainly,” she gasped. Anything to get rid of them.
“Bas Deverill? You seen him?”
The name meant nothing to her. What mattered more was that she get out of this place. She was rapidly starting to question the wisdom of her plan of seeking a new life on the goldfields.
How could she ever have thought this a good idea? Escaping to the bright promise of the wild inland country had sounded so exciting back in the safety of her aunt's house in Dunedin. For eighteen months she had listened to the men talk in the street, ever since the first gold rush in New Zealand had begun at Tuapeka to the south of the town and brought men pouring off the ships and through Dunedin on their way to the fields. She had seen the eagerness in their eyes and longed to join them, to find a place more interesting than the strict world of her widowed aunt. Her marvellous plan did not take into account the likes of Black Jack MacRae, or the stranger in the kitchen. She must get away from here, but to do that, she needed time. She had to stop these men following her.
“He was in here not so long ago, sir,” she managed to get out. “Didn't say where he was going, but did say he would be back soon. Why don't I bring you all a plate of stew while you wait for him?”
All the men looked pleased at that, even going so far as to grin at one another. Their chief looked at them, then back at her and nodded assent. Then added, “Make sure you bring a plate for yourself, lassie. It's a long while since I shared a meal with such a fine young lady.” One grimy hand began to slowly stroke his heavy thigh.