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Диксон Хелен

Mishap Marriage

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«Mishap Marriage» - Хелен Диксон

FIRST COMES DECEPTION…THEN COMES MARRIAGEWhen Captain Zack Fitzgerald sails into Santamaria, with his rugged, dangerous appeal, for Shona McKenzie he’s a ticket to freedom. And then her sister-in-law’s scheming places them in a highly compromising situation.Although Zack is mesmerised by Shona, marriage would destroy his plans to obtain guardianship over his child, so he devises a way to make sure the forced wedding stays a sham. But weeks later Shona shows up on his London doorstep, and Zack must learn to deal with a very unexpected, very defiant wife…
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It was an intense moment for Shona. Her breath caught sharply in her throat.

Suddenly he seemed enormous and very near.

‘Had I agreed to wed you, Shona, you would have had to accept my attentions.’

When she did not move away he lowered his head, his face close and threatening.

‘Shall I show you what you could expect?’

‘I'd rather you didn't,’ she said breathlessly.

His suggestive tone made her uncomfortably aware of the raw sensuality emanating from his long muscular frame, outlined in the closely fitted breeches and white shirt. A muscle throbbed in his neck where his shirt was open. A shudder ran through her as his gaze moved over her face, lingering on her soft full lips before dropping to make a leisurely study of the thrusting curves of her breasts beneath the clinging fabric of her petticoat.

She was unable to move away as his fingers gently brushed the droplets of water away from her cheek.

Running his hands up her arms, quietly he said, ‘Come, now. A kiss is all I want.’

Shona turned liquid inside at the meaning she read into his words.


Today the Caribbean, dotted with myriad islands, offers many blissfully unique experiences for the most discerning traveller. But things were very different in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, when pirates infested the seas. This made me wonder what it would have been like for a European girl born into a powerful family who had chosen to make a Caribbean island their home. The island of Santamaria, which appears in MISHAP MARRIAGE, is my own creation.

Shona McKenzie, who had lived all her life on Santamaria until she was sent to England to be educated, is adventurous, full of life and not afraid of making daring decisions. Her upbringing has given her a resilience that is equal to that of Carmelita, her Spanish sister-in-law, who, yearning to reign supreme over house and island, and jealous of Shona's long-standing influence, wants rid of her. Resentful of her sister-in-law, Shona cannot call upon her brother, Carmelita's doting husband, for support, so she must make her own way or be forced into a marriage not of her choosing—which is why she selects the powerful and devastatingly handsome shipping magnate Zachariah Fitzgerald for a husband when he weighs anchor in Santamaria's harbour.

Zachariah is instantly attracted to Shona, but he isn't looking for a wife. Compromised and coldly sacrificed, Shona is an innocent victim in the hands of her sister-in-law, who employs cunning and duplicity to get her off the island. Shona's brother insists Zachariah marries his ruined sister. Zachariah refuses. Each resorts to dishonest practices in order to find a resourceful solution to a difficult situation.

This provides the basis for the emotional conflicts that my protagonists must resolve when Shona, bent on revenge after Zachariah cruelly deserts her on their wedding night, follows him to London.

Read on and enjoy.



Helen Dickson


HELEN DICKSON was born and lives in South Yorkshire, with her retired farm manager husband. Having moved out of the busy farmhouse where she raised their two sons, she has more time to indulge in her favourite pastimes. She enjoys being outdoors, travelling, reading and music. An incurable romantic, she writes for pleasure. It was a love of history that drove her to writing historical fiction.

Previous novels by Helen Dickson:





And in Mills & Boon® Historical Undone! eBooks:


Did you know that some of these novels are also available as eBooks? Visit www.millsandboon.co.uk


Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

html#litres_trial_promo">Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven


Chapter One


There were few on the tiny island of Santamaria who did not raise their heads to the dull boom of the signal gun announcing the arrival of a vessel approaching its shores. The ship came out of the clouds, her sun-bleached sails gleaming white in the brightness of the day. The sound of the gun stirred the sailors and islanders out of their lethargy in the smoky whitewashed taverns and brothels of the small town to come to the quayside and watch as the immense merchant brig, studded with thirty-two cannon, was guided into the arms of the verdant cove to her goal.

The number of curious onlookers increased as the ship sailed closer and waited as the sails were dropped and the vessel coasted to an easy berth at the pier in the deep harbour. Above the noise of the gulls cavorting overhead, the quartermaster could be heard barking orders to the men on deck as they played out ropes as thick as a sailor’s biceps and the gangplank thudded into place between ship and shore. The crowd of onlookers were quiet, and all focused on the captain, who was the first man to step ashore.

‘Dear Lord!’ John Singleton, the trusty first mate, remarked, squinting his eyes against the sun as they swept the crowd. ‘The reception committee is impressive, I’ll say that for Santamaria. After weeks of ship’s biscuit and salt meat, my stomach craves roast beef and obliging young beauties.’ He doffed his hat and grinned at a delicious creature at the forefront of the crowd, with caramel skin and a veil of smooth black hair that hung to her waist.

The captain sent his first mate, who had the reputation of an incorrigible seducer of women, a wry, assessing glance. ‘In that order, I trust, John.’

‘In that order,’ John affirmed, the wench’s provocative smile having turned his blood to honey.

The third man was dressed in black frock coat, grey wig and black shoes, which were quite old, and his grey stockings sagged. His black breeches were wrinkled and shiny with age, as was the frock coat. The man, known as the Reverend Cornelius Clay, looked like a huge, disgruntled bear that had just come out of hibernation. He noted where Singleton’s eyes lingered and scowled. ‘Have a care, Singleton. That one has a married look about her.’

‘Aye, that she does. Ah well, it’ll make the chase all the merrier.’

‘We’ll take a look around,’ the captain said. ‘Santamaria belongs to a man named McKenzie. He’s a man of some education and the son of Colin McKenzie—the man who made Santamaria what it is today. Apparently there’s a cruel streak to young McKenzie and his harsh treatment to anyone who dares threaten his authority has made him a man to be feared. His word is law on the island, but he has the reputation of being refined and accommodating. It will be interesting finding out just how accommodating he can be for the time we have to spend on the island.’

The reverend looked with interest at the ale houses. ‘Thanks to that damned hurricane we have repairs to make—and stores to replenish. How long before we can be under way, Captain?’

‘Not too long. At a stretch we can afford two weeks, no more. We’re already delayed. We’ve got a schedule to keep.’

* * *

Just past the hour of siesta, Shona McKenzie rode her horse over the hills and through the cane fields, happy to be away from the house and Carmelita, her sharp-tongued sister-in-law, and she intended to stay away until it was time to prepare for the evening meal. Several sailing ships swayed at anchor in the cove and closer to shore small boats skimmed the water. Antony, her brother, often invited officers from the visiting ships to dine at the house, giving Shona and Carmelita the opportunity to gown themselves appropriately and entertain them.

Looking ahead of her, from that vantage she had a good view of the shimmering island. All around her was a luminous expanse of jewel-blue sea, shading to lighter green as it met the reefs on the Atlantic side. Wave after wave of rich green vegetation mounted to tree-covered heights, which stood out against a sky of cloudless blue. The land ran down over two promontories that, like embracing arms, almost encircled the island’s one deep beach of almost-white sand stretching for about half a mile.

Leaving the cool of the high ground behind, she headed towards the large cluster of buildings that hugged the cove. Having seen the brig sail into the harbour, she was as curious as everyone else to know who it belonged to.

Ships plying the islands of the Caribbean, trading fancy silks, baubles and other produce of Europe for the raw material of the islands, put in at Santamaria on a regular basis, but a merchant vessel of this size had not been seen in months, so its appearance was a remarkable event indeed. Not until she was close enough to read its name emblazoned on its prow—Ocean Pearl—did she realise who it belonged to.

It was the shipping magnate, Captain Zachariah Fitzgerald, the merchant-adventurer worth thousands, one of the most powerful men in the Caribbean. It was said he owned large tracts of land in Virginia and had a fleet of ships, with warehouses in every port.

There were rumours that he had shadowed dealings with pirates and others, that he had been a pirate himself, but, fact or legend, Shona had no way of knowing.

Caribbean society had been abuzz with stories of the enigmatic adventurer ever since he first docked in the colonies some years ago, but despite his reputation as a hard-headed businessman, the local society complained that he rarely made appearances at their genteel gatherings. The second son of an earl, on the eventual demise of his father, his elder brother, Viscount Fitzgerald, would inherit the vast estate in Kent, so Zachariah Fitzgerald had left England to wrest his fortune from the untamed sea.

The quayside was an animated scene, alive in a chaos of sight and smell and the laughter of ragged children. Idle sailors loafed about and drab strumpets quite boldly hawked their wares for a shilling or two. Shona shuddered at the squalid scene. At least she had an existence above this. What did it matter that she was neither loved nor wanted as a member of her own family.

As was always the case when Shona McKenzie rode into town—or entered any company—she became the focus of everyone’s scrutiny, male or female. Accustomed to it, she ignored it, and after a moment everyone turned away. Shona was able to observe the activity on board the ship above the heads of the crowd. A man appeared, followed by two others, and by his manner Shona assumed him to be the captain of the vessel.

Tall and full of flare, from his large hat with a quivering white plume in its brim, long scarlet frock coat and roll-top boots, with the easy, sprightly stride of a seasoned seaman and his companions in his wake, Captain Zachariah Fitzgerald strode along the pier to the shore, his long coat flaring about his legs.

The crowd melted a pathway before him as he marched through them. From her place in his path, Shona had a clear, uninterrupted view of him. Her heart fluttered and an indescribable awe—or fascination—came over her as she stared at him. His face under the wide brim of his hat was strong, striking, disciplined and exceptionally attractive. In fact, he was the most handsome man she had ever seen. His expression was cool and guarded. Perhaps thirty years old, he was tall and powerfully built, exuding virility and a casual, lazy confidence. The dusty white trousers he wore that disappeared into his boots seemed to emphasise the muscular length of his legs.

Shona knew full well that a lady ought not to be seen in the town alone, knowing also what was expected of her as the sister of the most prominent man on Santamaria, but today she disregarded the conventions of society and the rules laid down by her brother and her father before him in favour of her own wishes. She hardly noticed anyone else. Her attention was entirely focused on the man walking in her direction.

As he walked he surveyed the onlookers with a lazy interest, his attention suddenly arrested by the stunning young woman astride a white horse. His gaze settled heavily on hers. Shona forgot her manners and stared back. Something communicated from their eye contact and the chaos about them seemed to recede in the strangeness of that first moment of meeting.

The message conveyed from one to the other had a warmth, a recognition, and Shona was conscious of a feeling of disorientation, which surely was not usual in the circumstances.

A slow smile of lazy interest curved Zack’s lips. She was a vision he struggled to grasp as reality and it was all too much for his first mate, who was smitten. Behind Zack, Singleton flushed with pleasure and stumbled in a parody of a bow. Amused by Singleton’s weakness and telling him to pull himself together, then coming to a halt directly in front of her, Zack surveyed the young woman’s fine figure, lovely heart-shaped face and big green eyes. Her long golden mane tumbled down her back, exotic, full of life, and Zack noted how the fair tendrils twined over her delicate shoulders. She wore a light blue dress, which covered her horse’s flanks and revealed more of her shapely sun-kissed shins than was considered decent—not that Zack was complaining. He never had been able to resist a beautiful woman.

For her part, Shona was beginning to feel a little foolish, knowing full well that riding astride, dishevelled and showing a fair amount of bare leg, was hardly how young ladies in England behaved. But then, the four years she had spent in one of the best schools in that country, which had dealt with tedious niceties and courtly manners, had bored her to distraction.

And here she was being stared at by a thoroughly magnetic and compelling man, a man whose direct and confident gaze made her heart beat faster—though that, in small part, might have been due to the hot tropical sun having addled her wits.

As she held his stare, unable to look away, she marvelled at what fascinating eyes he had. They were lively and a piercing silver-grey—eyes that seemed to trap and hold the light. She detected a sparkle of amusement in their depths as he perused her, not quite successful in masking his roguish astonishment.

‘My dear young lady.’ Stepping back, he swept her a negligent bow—which Shona thought a tad mocking. ‘Zachariah Fitzgerald at your service.’ One brow arched, his eyes remained on hers. ‘May I say you are a sight for sore eyes.’

Shona stared at him. His voice was deep and throaty, like thick honey, a seductive voice that made her think of bodies and those erotic engravings in the French books she and her friends had loved to pore over at school, and all kinds of highly improper things. It seemed to caress each word as it came out, she thought, and there couldn’t be many women who could resist a voice like that. If it met her mood, she could enchant and charm any man, but instinct told her this man was not one of the insincere young roués seeking to extend their reputation at her expense.

‘I am?’ she said warily, tilting her head. ‘And how is that, pray?’

Zack frowned. Her self-possessed response surprised him. Her face was perfect, so stirringly beautiful and young. Her eyes were clear green, brilliant against the thick fringe of jet-black lashes. They stared back at him, open, yet as unfathomable as any sea he had ever gazed into. To find herself confronted by a group of ogling sailors who hadn’t laid eyes on a woman in weeks—and certainly not one who looked like she did, which brought home to him the starvation of his own long and forced celibacy—he’d expected her to blush and lower her gaze at the very least. She did neither.

‘By the Holy Blood, young lady,’ he murmured, moving close to her horse and giving it a friendly stroke, his hand suggestively brushing the bare flesh of her leg, ‘you’re a handsome enough piece to tempt any man. I’m mighty flattered to have made your acquaintance. Had I known Santamaria was inhabited by such beauty, I would have made a point of sailing into its harbour sooner. I would like to invite you on board my ship so that we might become better acquainted.’

Amused in spite of herself by his high spirits, yet disliking his attempt at flirtation, Shona raised a full, arching brow at him. ‘That would be highly improper, I’m afraid, Captain. I also think that you should remove your hand from my leg before I find yet another use for my whip.’

The roguish glint that must surely be what had charmed half the females in the Caribbean made his eyes dance with silver lights. ‘I am disappointed that you are so unaccommodating. What can I do to make myself more agreeable to you?’

‘I told you. Take your hand off my leg.’

Reluctantly he slid his hand away, but he continued to stand there, appraising her.

Shona’s flesh burned from his hand’s caress. Suddenly, his direct masculine assurance disconcerted her. She was vividly conscious that all eyes were upon her and of his close proximity to her. She felt the mad, unfamiliar rush of blood singing through her veins, which she had never experienced before, not even with Henry Bellamy, the handsome son of a duke back in England whom the whole school had been in love with. Instantly she felt resentful towards this captain. He had made too much of an impact on her and she was afraid that, if he looked at her much longer, he would read her thoughts with those brilliant, clever eyes of his.

‘You have a smooth tongue, Captain, but save your breath. I am not so easily won over. Santamaria belongs to my brother, Antony McKenzie,’ she said, giving him a haughty look. ‘I am Shona McKenzie, his sister.’

‘Then I am pleased to make your acquaintance, Miss McKenzie.’ Zack was familiar with the name and this young lady’s fabled beauty. Her father had been known in most circles. In that of young men, Shona McKenzie was often the topic of heated debate. She was the ice maiden, unattainable, the heartbreak of many a youth and the professed goal of many more.

He was unfazed by her identity and his smile widened across his beautifully chiselled lips, his white teeth flashing against the bronze skin. His dark eyes gleamed with devilish amusement as he contemplated her as if seeing her anew. Shona could only mark the resemblance he bore to a swarthy pirate.

‘Your island is most beautiful and extremely fertile, I hear. Your brother seems to have made the most of it.’

‘The credit is down to my father—Colin McKenzie. He made it what it is today. When he died my brother carried on his work.’

As if on cue, at that moment the crowd separated to make way for an elegant barouche occupied by Antony McKenzie and his Spanish wife, Carmelita, her face shaded by a dainty parasol. Carmelita was the only daughter of a wealthy Spanish merchant. Spoilt and overindulged all her life, while Shona was in Europe Carmelita had met Antony when she had visited Santamaria with her father. After a brief courtship they had married—which Shona considered was Antony’s undoing.

The carriage halted beside Shona’s horse and Antony, wearing a conspicuously well-cut coat and immaculate linen, climbed out, his expression as he glanced at his sister one of severe disapproval. Finding her on the quay without a chaperon, with tarts and men who had rolled out of the taverns, her hair and dress in disarray, he considered her behaviour unworthy of her birth and breeding and with total disregard to his position on the island.

At thirty-five years of age, Antony was tall and fair-haired, distinguished-looking rather than handsome. He was shrewd and calculating and unbending, a man who would do anything to wrest what he wanted from life. In four months’ time Carmelita was to be delivered of their first child—a boy, Antony hoped, to carry on after him.

Antony’s stern features were set in an unsmiling expression of severe disapproval as he regarded his sister.

‘Might I suggest you go home, Shona. It is unbecoming for you to be in town unattended.’

Meeting his exacting eyes, Shona felt her face burn at his public censure. ‘I was about to do just that, Antony, until I saw the ship. I simply had to be here when it docked.’

Antony turned from her and faced the newcomers, his disagreeable scowl quickly replaced by a smile of welcome.

With sharp, cold eyes Carmelita surveyed Shona’s flushed face, taking in her unbound hair and dishevelled appearance at a glance. She leaned over the side of the carriage to speak to her with her eyes narrowed like a cobra about to strike. ‘Just look at you, Shona—you are inappropriately dressed and your hair is all over the place,’ she said with quiet reproach, her voice heavily accented with Spanish and her eyes as dark and cold as a Scottish loch.

‘That’s because I’ve been riding, Carmelita.’

‘Madam,’ Captain Fitzgerald said coolly, ‘the young lady is not deserving of criticism. She is by far the comeliest maid I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting.’

Carmelita opened her mouth to utter a harsh rejoinder, but seeing the hard look in the captain’s clear eyes, she closed it quickly. She smiled a bitter smile, tempted to inform him that Shona McKenzie was the Devil’s own child, but thought better of it. Shielding her face from him with her parasol, she continued scolding her sister-in-law. ‘You’re growing quite impossible, Shona!’

‘I’ll try to be better,’ she promised in a matter-of-fact way.

Carmelita’s cold stare stabbed Shona with deadly equality. ‘Are you mocking me?’

‘Of course not, Carmelita. I wouldn’t dream of it.’ The best way to deal with her sister-in-law, Shona found, was to ignore her when possible and treat her with cool civility when not.

Carmelita gave her one of her dangerous looks. ‘You seem to have a predilection for mixing with seamen and the common folk. It is not how a well-brought-up young lady should behave—how your brother wants you to behave. You are nothing but a liability. How dare you embarrass Antony in this manner. You really should know better.’

Shona tossed her head, her chin thrust out with defiance. Certainly she owed it to Antony to treat Carmelita with polite deference, but filial duty only went so far. Antony said his wife was headstrong, which, Shona thought with asperity, was too nice a word for the woman. Grasping, shrewish and on occasion even vicious was how she would best describe her.

‘Please leave it, Carmelita,’ she replied with chilling politeness, returning her attention to Antony, who was introducing himself to Captain Fitzgerald. ‘I hardly need you to remind me how to behave. I answer to my brother, not you.’

‘Don’t be impertinent, Shona. You’ll get yourself talked about.’

‘Is that so? No more than I am already.’

Carmelita seemed to recognise her limit, for she said nothing else on the matter, but the toss of her head with haughty Latin arrogance told Shona that it was not forgotten.

Antony introduced himself and his wife to Captain Fitzgerald and welcomed him to the island. The captain did likewise, presenting his first mate and the reverend—slightly stressing the word reverend.

‘Aye,’ Singleton explained with a merry twinkle in his eye as the reverend sidled off to the nearest waterfront tavern. ‘The captain considers it necessary to have the crew’s spiritual needs taken care of on a long sea voyage.’

Antony nodded, not having noticed that there was anything untoward in the first mate’s words. ‘And does he keep their spirits up?’

‘Oh, aye—when there’s enough faith aboard.’ And enough rum aboard, he almost added, but thought better of it.

‘When I was informed of your ship entering the cove,’ Antony said, addressing himself to the captain, ‘I thought I would come and greet you myself. I have heard of you, of course. Your name is well known throughout this part of the world.’

The captain raised an eyebrow. ‘Indeed? You flatter me, Mr McKenzie.’

‘Your ship looks as if it has taken a battering.’

‘A few days out of Virginia a storm blew—by ill luck the severity of which was quite exceptional in those latitudes for this time of year. We were blown over two hundred miles off course and lost the convoy we were with. The damage you see is minor and can soon be mended.’

‘Where are you bound?’

‘Martinique—and then London. Rather than delay for another month or even two, awaiting the gathering of another convoy, I will take my chance on being able to catch up with the one I was parted from.’

‘Very wise,’ Antony agreed. A merchant vessel as large as the Ocean Pearl, weighted down with cargo, would be lucky not to attract the attention of privateers of all nations. Not by the score, but by the hundred they swarmed in both European and American waters. In consequence, except for especially fast ships, a system of convoys had long been organised.

‘We’ve put in for a general replenishing—to take on supplies and fresh water—and then we’ll be on our way. I am indebted to you, Mr McKenzie.’

‘You are most welcome, Captain Fitzgerald, and still more so if you will accept my invitation to dine with us tonight—while you give me news of what is happening in the colonies. I do have newspapers delivered from Virginia and London—old news is better than no news at all—but there’s nothing like hearing it first-hand. I shall send a carriage for you and Mr Singleton later.’

Captain Fitzgerald turned away, his gaze again falling on Shona still in the same spot. His eyes narrowed, half-shaded by his lids as he coolly stared at her. Something nagged at the back of his mind, telling him that she represented the worst kind of danger to a freedom-loving bachelor, warning him that there might be repercussions should he accept McKenzie’s offer to dine at his house, but she was so damned lovely he ignored the warnings.

Shona straightened her back, her chin moving slightly upwards in an effort to break the spell he wove about her with his eyes.

He threw her a salute, bowing ever so slightly, then headed off towards the town.

Without waiting for Antony to order her to be gone, Shona turned her horse about and headed in the direction of the house.

* * *

The evening was gentle and warm, with a soft quality known only on the Caribbean islands. Overlooking the bay stood Melrose Hill, the McKenzie residence, the long curved drive lined with huge coconut palms. Melrose Hill was a two-storeyed, sprawling white mansion. It was sheltered by the rise of the land and by the trees surrounding the house. Swathed in native flowers, a wide veranda ran the whole of its length, riotous colours of frangipani and bougainvillaea clambering in profusion over trellising. The sun had already gone down behind the hills so the house was now in shadow, but a number of large lanterns had been lit along the veranda.

On entering a wide, airy hall, Zack was impressed. A long, crystal chandelier was suspended from the lofty ceiling, the shimmering prisms setting the hall aglow with myriad dancing rainbows.

The house smelled of resin and wax polish. Through the door into the dining room, finishing touches were being put to the large oval table by two dark-skinned footmen under the supervision of a mulatto major-domo.

The French-style furniture and gilt-framed paintings were elegant, and throughout the house rich Aubusson carpets, rugs from Persia, marble from Italy, lacquers, jade and ivory from the Orient and other treasures from around the world embellished the rooms. Floor-to-ceiling French doors opened on to the flower-laden terrace and the gardens at the back of the house, and filmy curtains wafted in the night breeze, cooling the stately dining room. In fact, the setting was as civilised and luxurious as any Zack had seen in the houses of noblemen who owned great estates in the sugar islands.

* * *

As she prepared for the evening, Shona sat at her dressing table as Morag painstakingly arranged her hair in an elegant coiffure. For some reason she wanted to look her best—could it be the extra guest Antony had invited? Her corset had been clinched tightly over the shift, pushing her bosom upwards until its fullness strained against the gossamer fabric. Everything was in readiness and equally blended portions of tension and excitement grew in Shona’s breast as she donned her gown.

The satin bodice was covered with lace, the scallops of which overlapped on to the bosom. The low sleeves were full, ending just below the elbow, and were attached to the bodice beneath the arms to leave the shoulders bare. A wide deep blue sash was tied about the waist and trailed in streamers down the back of the ivory lace and satin skirt.

‘You look grand,’ Morag remarked as Shona studied her reflection with a critical eye in the long mirror, giving a slight adjustment to the neckline. Miss Shona’s was that rare beauty which was almost never at a loss. If she could find herself a husband, she would stir his heart to burgeoning pride, if not open lust. ‘A sight for sore eyes you are.’

Shona smiled at the maid who seemed to have been with her family for ever. Born in Glasgow, Morag had come to the island as a young girl as maid to her mother. On her death she had transferred her devotion to Shona, and since returning to the island she attended to all her personal needs. ‘It’s funny you should say that, Morag. Someone else said the same thing to me earlier.’

‘Well now! Anyone I know?’ she asked, fluffing up the lace on the sleeves.

Shona lowered her head to hide the sudden flush that sprang to her cheeks, which the mere thought of Captain Fitzgerald brought about. Knowing she would be in his presence in just a short while caused her pulse to leap and a thrill to rush through her. Morag’s question summoned her back from her lovely reverie.

‘I’m afraid not—but we are expecting him to dine with us tonight. He’s the captain of the Ocean Pearl—Captain Fitzgerald.’

‘And is he handsome, this Captain Fitzgerald?’ Morag thought that he must be if the glow in Shona’s eyes was anything to go by.

Raising her head, Shona flashed a brilliant smile. ‘Oh, yes, Morag, he is very handsome. Very handsome indeed.’

‘Then it’s a good thing you’re looking your best.’

Morag was fastening the tiny buttons down the back of her dress and they failed to note Carmelita’s entry into the chamber.

‘Are you finished, Shona?’ Carmelita enquired sharply, concealing her envy as she glanced at her sister-in-law in her stunning gown.

Morag quickly fastened the last button, then stepped away and quietly disappeared from the room.

Carmelita was petite and sultry, with long black hair and deep brown eyes. Ever since Shona had returned from England to find Carmelita married to her brother, they had never got along. When they had first set eyes on each other, Carmelita’s back had stiffened, her shoulders arched and her hair had seemed to bristle. Like a cat, Shona had thought. A suspicious, angry, threatened cat.

‘You made quite a spectacle of yourself this afternoon,’ Carmelita reproached, giving her an accusing stare. ‘Really, Shona, your want of conduct is embarrassing your brother dreadfully. He was most displeased.’

Shona stiffened at the rebuke, but she said nothing, knowing any argument would only make Carmelita more determined to be unpleasant. Carmelita resented the responsibility Shona represented and Shona resented her tyranny, but open hostility between them was rare. Much easier to endure, ignore and count the days until she could return to England.

‘If you insist on behaving so disgracefully,’ Carmelita continued, ‘I’m afraid Antony will have to ask you to refrain from visiting the town. Were you not his sister, you would never be welcomed in polite circles. It’s high time you put your mind to settling down instead of gallivanting about the island at every opportunity.’

The months of schooling her features into a polite mask around her sister-in-law were forgotten—the anger Shona was feeling showed clearly on her face. When she didn’t speak, Carmelita took a step towards her, her sultry eyes narrowing. ‘We cannot both run this house,’ she said, her voice holding a quiet, dangerous threat and resentment. ‘You must see that. I intend to be mistress in every sense and I will not let you stand in my way.’

While Carmelita was obviously willing to fight, Shona did not intend to make it easy for her. ‘You may rest assured, Carmelita, that I have no intention of marrying just to please you. Melrose Hill is still my home.’

‘Perhaps it is, but I am mistress here now. If you dispute that, then you know what you can do.’ She turned to the door. ‘The house is large, but not large enough for both of us. So don’t push me, you wretched girl, or you’ll find yourself without a home in short order. Much good your stubborn pride will do you then!’ In a swirl of light blue chenille, she marched across the room. ‘Here is Antony now.’ She gave her husband an exasperated look. ‘You speak to your sister, Antony. She won’t listen to me. The sooner she is wed with a husband and children to occupy her time, the better we shall all be.’

On that note Carmelita went out, determined to have her way in this. She meant what she had said. There was no room for two mistresses at Melrose Hill and, while ever the servants deferred to Shona, Melrose Hill would never truly be hers.

When Carmelita had left, Shona finally allowed her defences to crumble. Her shoulders slumped.

It was at times like this that she missed her father. The suddenness of his death had stunned her—even now she found it difficult to accept. He had seemed so full of life for a man of sixty-five. Yet however much she wished otherwise, he was dead and buried, for ever gone from her sight and company. She had sailed from England to Santamaria only to find on arrival that Melrose Hill was no long her home, her one sure haven. Having loved the time she had spent in England and missing the friends she had made, she was desperate to return and would do almost anything to bring that about. But she was honest enough to admit that her life on Santamaria could not be described as unpleasant.

Alone with her brother, she looked at him and decided to ask him directly. She looked into his eyes and said, ‘Are you as desperate as Carmelita would have me believe for me to marry, Antony?’

He hesitated. Shona saw regret in his face for a moment. Then his expression hardened and he said firmly, ‘Yes, yes, I am.’

His words nipped Shona’s pride and she stared at him, feeling tears prick the backs of her eyes. He held her look. She saw that he meant what he said and she was deeply disappointed.

Sensitive to his wife’s condition and determined not to have her upset in any way at this time, heedless of Shona’s distress, Antony said, ‘It must be settled soon. You know what Carmelita is like. There will never be peace between the two of you, so I am of the opinion that it would be best if you were to leave. Ever since you came home you’ve been living a sense of reproach to Carmelita. Listen, Shona—’

‘No, you listen, Antony. You wouldn’t be talking about reproach if you hadn’t wed Carmelita. She called me a liability earlier. So I deduce that means she wants rid of me.’


‘Yes, rid of me, disable me, pack me off somewhere, anywhere, as long as it’s far away from Santamaria.’

Antony’s face became flushed with anger. ‘Stop this, Shona. There is very little I can do about your disagreements, is there?’

‘Except take her side.’

‘I don’t want to take her side. I don’t need to. I have a high regard for both of you. But Carmelita does have a point. Damn it all, Shona! Are you set to be a spinster who rejects every man that comes courting? You have the looks and the wealth to choose among the finest families in Europe and the Caribbean, but you dally like some dreamy-eyed girl waiting for her knight on a white charger who will never arrive.’

‘I am not a silly girl, Antony, and nor am I fanciful,’ she retorted sharply.

‘Be that as it may, the subject can no longer be put off indefinitely. John Filligrew is an unattached, wealthy young man who is smitten by you. He won’t wait for ever.’

Shona gave him a look of disdain. ‘Me and John Filligrew? He is personable, I grant you, and having known him all my life I am very fond of him and we are good friends, but I really would rather die a spinster than attach myself to him for the rest of my life. Let me go back to England, Antony. I would like that and I would be far enough away from Carmelita not to trouble her.’

‘Absolutely not! Father stipulated that you were not to return to England until you have a husband to take care of you. I intend to abide by that. I know what you are like, don’t forget. Away from my protection and without a husband to guide you, I shudder to think what you might get up to.’

‘Thank you for the vote of confidence,’ Shona said drily. ‘But I will not give up on this. I will go back—even if I have to wait until I am of an age when you no longer have any control over me. You could write to Aunt Augusta or Thomas and ask them to keep an eye on me,’ she suggested bravely. Thomas was their cousin, at twenty-nine he was six years younger than Antony and a minister of the church. As a boy and then a youth, he had visited them on Santamaria on two occasions with his parents, Aunt Augusta and Uncle James. Shona adored him and missed him terribly. She had so enjoyed seeing him when she had been in England.

‘As far as I am aware Thomas is having time off from his work, and, since coming out of mourning, Aunt Augusta is too involved with her social life to take charge of an unattached female. He gave her a hard look. ‘Before you go down to meet our guests, I must ask you not to anger Carmelita further.’

That look made Shona shrink. ‘I’ll try not to.’

Antony nodded as if there was no doubt about it.

Having had her fill of reprimands for one day, Shona brushed by him and proceeded along the long corridor to the stairs. She needed to reflect on her options before she took any further steps to resolve her future. One thing was certain. Things could not go on as they were. She had no illusions about her brother. Her greatest fear was that if she failed to find a husband of her own choosing to marry, he would find one for her.

Yes, she longed to return to London. She wanted to dance in ballrooms where gliding, beautifully attired couples waltzed about the floor. She wanted to shop in all the fashionable shops, to promenade in Hyde Park and have handsome bucks falling over each other when they turned to look at her. But, she reasoned with the hard-headed practicality that usually balanced out her dreamy side, she could not have any of that without a husband by her side.

Being in England with time spent in London had given her a taste for an independent life, but like most young women she was a romantic at heart and had long since accepted that she would have to marry eventually. She had no objection to this. Indeed, she welcomed it, providing she could marry a man of her choosing—a man she loved.


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