by Allison Merritt
His love is the key to her release.
Sentenced to seven years of servitude in the penal colony of New South Wales, Bridgit Madden is thrust into a world unlike anything she's known, dangers she never imagined and enemies with their own interests at heart. Certain that the conviction has ruined her chances of ever having a real family, she is fearful of her future.
Despite his reluctance to take in a convict, Jonah Andrus, a grazier and pioneer cattleman, needs a servant to care for his orphaned niece. When presented with Bridgit, who is far too beautiful and distracting, he initially tries to refuse. However, with a busy cattle station to oversee, he needs help right away.
Upon her first meeting with Jonah's niece, Bridgit immediately falls in love with the girl and becomes entwined the mystery surrounding her birth. As she gets to know her employer better, Bridgit makes it her mission to remind him that family is priceless. When it seems as though she might have found the place she truly belongs, their love is threatened by lies and deceit, and both of them might lose everything they hold dear for a second time.
“There, there. Bridgit will be along any second. She knows how to take care of you. Uncle Jonah will drop you. You’re too small.”
Surprised by his own admission, he stared helplessly at Olivia. When was the last time he’d paid her any attention? She’d grown and he hadn’t noticed. Babies did; he knew well enough from watching his calves during the summer. The baby he remembered was tiny, wrinkled and didn’t look like anyone. Charlotte, exhausted, but elated, had smiled proudly.
“Isn’t she beautiful, Jonah?”
Recalling her voice made his heart pound. The silly girl didn’t have a sense of shame. She’d been nervous when she admitted her tryst and the subsequent pregnancy, but she had defended her child. Not unlike one of his cows. They protected their young fiercely.
He hadn’t found the words to answer her question. All he saw was Rob Langnecker’s face. The desire to kill him had blotted out everything else. Langnecker had ruined his sister, left her alone with a bastard child and went off chasing other skirts. She’d died in the room where Bridgit slept, believing he’d come back for them.
If I ever catch him.
Jonah ran his hand down his face.
“Is something wrong?”
Bridgit’s warm hand closed around his. Pity shined in her eyes.
“The chores are waiting.” Clammy sweat dampened his shirt.
She tugged his hand. “You need to stay. You’ll regret it if you don’t. Go sit down.”
He didn’t understand why he obeyed, but he sat in the rocking chair by the window. His father had crafted it for his mother years before Jonah was born.
Bridgit lifted Olivia, nestling her into his arms. The cries eased to a whimper.
“Hold your arms like this. You’ve got to support her head.”
“I know.” Charlotte had insisted he hold Olivia hours after her birth. He remembered it clear as day. Accepting the chubby baby, he was surprised at her weight.
She’d been so small. “She’s healthy.”
It was more a question than a statement. Olivia gazed at him, eyes wide. Her fingers toyed with one of his buttons.
“Aye. Growing like a weed. She’s learning to roll over.” At his confused look, she explained, “That’s good. She’ll be crawling before long. She talks to me and follow things with her eyes. Everything she’s supposed to do.”
“Good. Charlotte would be glad.” His voice sounded choked and he cleared his throat, hoping Bridgit hadn’t noticed.
She lifted the bottle. “Here. Feed her. Tip it up, so the air gets in the bottle.”
He let her show him what to do, surprised again when Olivia grasped the bottle with her tiny hands. Her features were clearer now. Charlotte’s nose and chin. Those couldn’t be his ears, could they? Dark blue eyes stared up at him, then drifted shut as she suckled greedily. Her eyes were the only resemblance he could find to her father.
Bridgit kneeled beside the rocking chair and swept dark locks from the baby’s face. Her hand settled on his knee. “There. She’s happy now.” A wistful smile played across her face.
A jolt ran through him. With Olivia snuggled against his chest and Bridgit beside him, the moment belonged to a family man.
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A love of reading turned Allison Merritt into an author who writes historical, paranormal and fantasy romances, often combining the sub-genres. She graduated college with a B.A. in mass communications that's gathering dust after it was determined that she's better at writing fluff than hard news.
She lives in a small town in the Ozark Mountains with her husband and dogs. When she's not writing or reading, she hikes in national parks and conservation areas.
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