Chapter 1

May 1875

“Pauline, ma’s going to skin you alive if she sees you still haven’t gotten dressed for dinner.”

“I plan on begging off with a headache,” Pauline O’Malley said as she clambered up the bank of the creek with her fishing pole in one hand and four good-sized trout in the other.

Her brother, Jimmie, looked at the fish and smiled, “You always did know where to catch the biggin’s.”

“I thought I could use the fishing as an excuse to beg out of dinner,” Pauline explained.  “The sun was pretty hot today. I can say I’m suffering from heat exposure.”

“While standing, mid-calf, in a creek of cool, running water?” Jimmie laughed. “Ma wasn’t born yesterday.  Besides, she invited this fella especially to meet you.”

“She and da still don’t intend to go ahead with their plans to marry me off to that Texas rancher, do they?” she gasped with horror. “It isn’t him who they’ve invited, is it?”

“This is the guy who was hired by the Texan to bring you to him,” Jimmie explained.

“Over my dead body,” she bellowed.

“That might happen if you try to defy pa,” Jimmie said sadly. “When you marry this fella, it will solidify pa’s business dealings.  He’s our biggest cattle supplier.  Pa wants this alliance real bad.”

Pauline handed her fishpole and the fish to her brother and then untied the rope she’d fastened around her waist to hold up the length of her skirt and let the fabric fall around her ankles.   She traded the wide brimmed hat for the frilly bonnet Jimmie brought with him.  If her mother had any idea how she adjusted her wardrobe to accommodate her tomgirl interests, she’d be locked in her room for a month.  After pulling free the ribbon that held her curly, and often unruly, hair in a knot on top of her head, she shook out her dark, sun kissed locks and let them fall around her shoulders.   Smoothing her tangled hair with her fingers as best she could, she positioned the bonnet on her head and nodded for her brother to lead the way.


Aiden handed his coat and hat to the prune faced butler as he stepped into the vestibule of the plantation’s mansion. It was clear the grey-haired servant was aware of who he was and did not approve. He stood quietly, holding Aiden’s coat and hat, while openly eying the gun and holster on his hip with disdain until Aiden rested his hand on the gun handle and shook his head to indicate the holster stayed exactly where it was.

With a heavy sigh, the old servant gave the coat and hat to a young man who’d scurried up to fetch them and then asked Aiden to follow him into the parlor where the mistress of the house awaited.

Having trained his eyes to miss nothing over the years, Aiden took in the luxurious décor as he was led out of the vestibule and down a wide hall to a cozy, well-furnished parlor.

“Mr. Kennedy,” the butler said in a voice that was crisp and clear as he bowed and left the room.

Aiden inspected the petite red-haired woman standing in the center of the parlor with eyes that had witness far too much over the last fifteen years of war, change, and rebuilding.  He guessed her to be approaching forty. She’d managed to hang onto a youthful figure. Her skin looked fresh and supple; which he found surprising, considering the fact that she lived in the south where the sun assaulted Caucasian skin with a merciless fury.  Of course, being a wealthy family living on a plantation on the outskirts of New Orleans afforded opportunities to obtain lotions and creams from all parts of the world that the ladies in Northern Texas could only dream about.  His ranch was not far from the port of Brownsville, so he had access to a good deal more worldly goods than the average Texan as well.  He made a mental note to find out what Josephine O’Malley used to keep her skin so young looking and obtain it for Maggie. Her skin had already suffered years of the ravages of the Texas sun and heat, but perhaps the cream could help a little.  If nothing else, it would make her feel special to receive a gift.  Lord knows, the woman could use a bit of reminder that she’s a woman once in a while.

Josephine’s eyes darted from Aiden’s deep-set blue eyes -that threatened to look into her soul and bare all of her deepest secrets and desires- to his carefree auburn hair. He stood an easy foot taller than herself, with broad shoulders and a narrow waist that still wore a gun and holster.

As she extended her hand in greeting, she said, “It’s a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Kennedy. Although, I question why you feel the need to wear firearms in my home?”

“It’s habit, ma’am,” he replied.  “I can’t remember the last time I took these off before bedtime.”

“Then, perhaps we can make history and you can remove them before dinner,” she suggested forcefully.  When he didn’t immediately unbuckle his gun belt, she continued with, “I understand it is your profession to carry a gun and protect those around you, but, surely, there is no need to protect me in my own home?”

He studied the room as if he was waiting for someone to jump out from behind the billowing floor to ceiling moiré draperies at any moment.  Once satisfied, he slowly removed his gun belt and set it on a nearby side table.

“Mr. Kennedy,” bellowed Dennis O’Malley as he bounded into the room with is hand extended. “’Tis a pleasure to meet a fellow Irishman.”

“Just because his name is Kennedy, doesn’t mean he’s a fellow Irishman. He could be of Irish heritage. For all you know, he was born and raised in Texas,” Josephine snapped while still smiling and studying Aiden to the point he felt uncomfortable.

“Do ye think I’d leave the safety of me daughter in the hands of a man I didn’t investigate first?  He’s a fellow Irishman, alright.  In fact, I knew his family,” Dennis said as he pumped Aiden’s hand up and down enthusiastically. “Well, I didn’t exactly know them, but I knew of them.”

Aiden stepped back at the mention of his family. It was just a small step that went unnoticed by Dennis, but not by Josephine.

“You are an immigrant, Mr. Kennedy?” Josephine asked with her sweet southern drawl.

“Most everyone in this country is, ma’am,” Aiden drawled.

“You speak like a Texan,” she added.

“Comes from living there so long, I guess,” he replied.

“I can still hear a hint of brogue in there,” Dennis said.  “I can’t for the life of me understand why ye’d give up your native tongue, lad.  I’ve been here since eighteen-fifty-four and I still talk like the folks back home.”

“Would ye prefer I reverted back to me brogue?” Aiden asked. He’d worked so hard to shed his Irish accent that it felt foreign to resume it for the benefits of the O’Malley family.

Dennis cocked his head as he studied Aiden for a moment and smiled. “The Texas accent suits ye, lad.”

Aiden was taken by surprise when he found himself smiling.  It was years since he’d felt relaxed around strangers.  In Texas, relaxing around strangers without your gun on your hip could prove fatal.  Yet, here he was with his gun belt resting on a nearby side table and a broad smile displaying his perfectly straight, white teeth.

The butler entered the room with a note for his Irish mistress.  She excused herself to read it and then, with a scowl on her lovely face, she excused herself from the room.

Dennis seemed not to notice as he poured them both a brandy.  It was Aiden’s habit to drink very little, but he accepted the brandy from his host and sipped it out of politeness. There was something about Dennis O’Malley that made him miss his homeland. Perhaps it was because it was the first he’d heard his native tongue since the war took him to Texas.


Pauline lay on her bed, feigning sleep, as her mother stormed into the room. 

“Headache is it?” Josephine hissed as she pulled the cord to summon Pauline’s attendant.  “We’ll get you some powders to take the edge off, but you will attend dinner. Is that understood?”  When Pauline’s assistant, Mary Anne, meekly entered the room and stood waiting for her orders, Josephine gave her a formidable looked and said with emphasis, “Get her some headache powders. Then, have her in the purple dinner dress and fix her hair as best you can.  Dinner is in fifteen minutes and I expect to see her seated at the table.”  As she headed for the door, she turned and added, “This marriage means a lot to your father’s business.  I expect you to behave and not do anything that would make Mr. Kennedy wire Mr. McCann that he’s making a mistake.  Do you understand?”

Pauline let out an exasperated huff as she grudgingly watched her mother leave the room as quickly as she entered it. “No need for the powders, Mary Anne, I was trying to get out of dinner tonight.”

“You need to cover your skin better when you are outside,” Mary Anne clucked. “You are getting a bonze tint.  If you are not careful, people will think you are mulatto.”

“One more thing for mother to fuss about,” Pauline sighed.  “Can I help it if I brown easily?”

“I will order some lemons for a bath this evening,” Mary Anne offered.

“That’s probably a good idea,” Pauline replied as she poured some water in the bowl that sat waiting on the nearby wash stand.  She grabbed a jar of scented soap and quickly washed away the evidence of her afternoon of fishing.

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