Trouble with the law, a missing sister, and a growing attachment to the wrong man – Evie Emerson has a dangerous path ahead of her… an exciting and twisty historical mystery and adventure from a bestselling Australian author.
1898: Bendigo, Victoria
Evie Emerson has worked hard to build a fashionable clientele for her hats. But when an ex-paramour employs underhanded tactics after his attempt to coerce an engagement fails, Evie’s reputation is in tatters. On the heels of having to put a case together to defend herself in court, Evie’s life is thrown into further turmoil when the disappearance of her sister takes her to Cobram.
Roving reporter Fitzmorgan O’Shea has troubles of his own: his involvement in uncovering police corruption has placed a target on his back. And while Fitz is hunting a new story in Cobram his problems collide with Evie’s when his research exposes malicious intimidation and threats designed to make local landholders give up their properties.
For Raffety Dolan, he accepted long ago it’s Fitz Evie loves – and his feelings will remain unrequited. But when a disgraced ex-policeman comes searching for revenge, Raff is ready to go save his friends.
There, on the banks of the mighty Murray, with so much misunderstood history and secrets between the three friends – plus the legitimate threat of being shot at – will they survive long enough to discover the truth?
Saturday 10 September 1898
What on earth is it going to take with this man?
‘The answer is still no, Edwin.’ In the parlour, her hand restless on the mantelpiece, Evie took a deep steadying breath and met his imperious gaze. ‘I do not wish to marry you.’
She’d only agreed to consider Edwin Cooper’s proposal, and now that she’d considered it, all of two days, her answer was no.
Yet he continued wheedling while in her parlour, in her house. Hardly gentlemanly.
‘Come along, my dear. You’ve given me no reason why not.’ He tweaked that silly pale waxed moustache of his again.
She scoffed at that. ‘Not a requirement.’
His ginger eyebrows arched. ‘I doubt you’ll find another man with prospects such as mine who’ll put up with your—let’s face it—many odd behaviours.’
Evie challenged him this time. ‘I beg your pardon? What odd behaviours?’ She was quite sure she didn’t have odd behaviours, but just lately he’d begun to slip into their conversation the idea that there was something amiss about her. This was one of the reasons she no longer wished to have anything to do with Edwin.
Tired of it, and refusing to trade insults, she stood her ground. She’d already waited too long. This matter would be dealt with simply and with dignity, and that would be that. It was her right to refuse his offer of marriage.
Although perhaps you’ve been wrong on that subject before. Evie faltered a second. That’d had nothing to do with Edwin, though.
He pounced on her hesitation. ‘Ah, I see that has given you pause,’ he said. ‘We wouldn’t want to call your little eccentricities anything else, would we? A strong husband will ensure they don’t escalate and a solid marriage will keep you on an even keel.’
The benign smile was not fooling her. Little eccentricities! It was a threat, she knew it, and hardly covert at that. How many husbands, how many fathers, had she read about who had put their wives and daughters away in asylums for not much more than little eccentricities? Why hadn’t she noticed this side of Edwin before? Had he flattered her so much she’d been blind to his true character? Anyway, they were empty threats. He couldn’t touch her, couldn’t even attempt to have her ‘seen to’ for madness. He was not her husband and never would be.
Nevertheless, a chill jangled her spine. She was shocked to hear him intimate his perceived power over her and, worse, that he appeared to believe she’d somehow swoon and be swept away by these words.
‘What on earth makes you think you can speak to me of that? You have absolutely no reason, and no right.’ She straightened to her full height, which admittedly was not much past five foot three. Formidable though—to any intelligent person, that was. ‘You don’t know me at all. Three months or thereabouts since I met you, and only odd occasions stepping out, is hardly enough time to suggest anything like it, much less warrant a marriage proposal.’
He waved her off. ‘Neither does a man like to be left dangling,’ he said. ‘Teased, some might say. You’ll reconsider, I’m sure. You don’t want to be wrong about this.’
Oh, spit, Edwin. You’re plain awful. How did I last this long in your company? I must have been desperate or something.
Her jaw set. ‘You’re not left dangling, Edwin.’ You’ve been dropped. ‘Like most people at times,’ she said as coolly as possible, ‘I have been wrong about certain things in the past.’ Oh, finally admitting it, Evie Emerson. Her internal voice again, the nagging one, and it was cutting. She cleared her throat. ‘However, I’m not wrong about this.’
Could she—should she—have married her much-loved friend, that gorgeous man Fitzmorgan O’Shea, and traipsed around the countryside with him? They’d talked about marrying, but no proposal was ever forthcoming. Nor was one sought; it had only been … discussion. At least he was a friend, not like this individual. Although, to be honest, at the time it hadn’t felt right to pursue it—and it had to feel right when marrying, didn’t it? How else to put up with what she knew a wife had to endure for the privilege? She’d have to give up her job. Take up all that cooking. Bear all those babies …
Oh Lord no, I can never imagine babies with Edwin. Her lip curled and she had to wiggle it with a finger to loosen it.
‘Let’s not change things, darling Evie,’ Edwin said. ‘You seemed in such a hurry for us to get to know one another, especially after you were left’—his brows rose—‘in scandalous haste by that last fella.’
God save me. She had not been in a hurry, and certainly hadn’t been seeking someone like Edwin—at any pace—to replace Fitz. It was just that after Fitz left (in a tearing great hurry, true) she’d thought she’d be able to easily fill the gaping hole his departure had opened. But she hadn’t, and she missed the banter, the laughter, Fitz’s easy-going, light-hearted nature. So when her two married friends, Ann and Posie, had introduced her to Edwin and encouraged her to spend some time with him, or at least somebody, she had agreed to placate them and perhaps to entertain herself. And then Edwin had pursued her, which had been flattering at first. Annoying now.
‘What a cad,’ he added, inspecting his fingernails.
‘Don’t talk rubbish,’ she said, the stubborn curl on her lip returning. Fitz had not left her. They were friends, the three of them, she, Fitz and Raff—Rafferty Dolan, his best friend since they were boys. They’d both left, going their separate ways, off to do what it was they needed to. They had left Bendigo, but not her.
‘Perhaps he thought you too old.’
Evie’s teeth clenched. ‘If I’m in my dotage and as yet unmarried, Edwin, it’s because I’m still waiting for a good man.’
‘Ha,’ he burst, surprised, amused. Then shaking his head, he tut-tutted. ‘Now, now, Evie dear,’ he chided, a slim finger in the air.
‘And don’t patronise me either.’
He gave her that smirk of his, no doubt conjuring more of his platitudes. Oily things came to mind. He was certainly no substitute for either of her male friends. ‘I think—’
‘You heard me and I mean it,’ she said. ‘I don’t wish to marry you. That should be the end of the discussion.’ Her chin wobbled; fury had surfaced. Blast it, she wasn’t calm at all. Faced with the exaggerated disbelief now on Edwin’s usually bland face, she closed her eyes a moment and Rafferty Dolan inexplicably appeared in her mind. For goodness’ sake, Raff hardly looked twice at me.
But she missed Raff, she admitted it. He was a sturdy, reliable, still-water-runs-deep man with a warm, green-eyed gaze. Perhaps she’d even venture to say, enigmatic. Mrs Downing, her employer, a local milliner, had remarked the same of him, approval lighting her features.
Raff had left for his home in Ballarat when Fitz left.
Of course. She should— Oh, should, should, should.
PRAISE FOR DARRY FRASER:
‘Fraser’s excellent research makes the reader feel like they are actually back in 1898 with her richly detailed settings: bustling train stations and port docks, flies and dust…’ – GLAM Adelaide
‘A fabulous storyteller who underlies this compelling plot with strong female characters who challenge the status quo … an authentic, seamless and riveting tale.’ – Better Reading