Harlequin Historical #1055
Available in print and e-book.
A search for gold…
Jack Snow has learned the hard way that the only person he can rely on is himself. With his family fortune gone, he'll don his best jacket and reel out the charm to bag himself an heiress bride!
…could lead to something more precious
The last person with whom he expects to travel across the Yukon is an outspoken, impoverished daughter of an Irish immigrant. Their social standing is miles apart. But Lily Shanahan proves resourceful and dauntless in the face of raging rivers and icy mountain passes, and Jack is forced to admit her passion for life is enough to tempt him from his course…
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"Kernan does a great job of mixing action, suspense, romance and the exciting details of the Alaskan gold rush. She’s created two wonderful characters who readers will root for."
Maria Ferrer, RT Book Review
Lily Shanahan eyed the approaching boats of greenhorns from the muddy beach, fresh from the steamer just arrived from Seattle. Who among them might be willing to accept an unconventional arrangement? The wrong choice would mean the end of her, for God only knew the journey to Dawson was perilous, especially now that the freeze-up had begun.
The ship had set anchor far out in the Taiya Inlet to avoid the bore tide that now rushed down the narrow passage. Trapped between the mountains, the water surged forward in long curling waves, hurling the overloaded scows toward the mud flats. The men clung to the gunnels, their faces grim and their eyes wide.
She had seen many arrive this way and depart for the gold fields soon afterwards, while she had remained anchored like a rock in a stream. Lily had stopped asking the best candidates. They were not stupid or desperate enough to take her. That left only the ones with obvious flaws. So far they had turned her down as well.
Lily heard her mother’s voice as clearly as on that final day. Sell it all, right down to the sheets I’m lying on and have yourself a life worth remembering.
And what could be more memorable than joining of the mad pulsing rush of stampeders pouring north on the way to the gold fields? But somehow she didn’t think her mother had intended for her to be marooned by circumstance in these stinking mudflats.
How could she have known, when she spent her last dollar for her ticket, that Dawson City was five-hundred miles inland over mountains and down rivers to a place so wild there were no roads or trains, not even a telegraph? How could she guess that it was a journey she could not make alone?
So her search for a partner began. But after nearly a month in this swamp hauling freight from the muddy beach to the tent town with her dog cart, she’d made a tidy bankroll and been turned down more times than she could count. Lily longed to be in Dawson by the Spring break up. Instead, she’d been stuck here in this mire carrying goods for the men who left her behind. October now, and already the winds blew colder than January in San Francisco. Would she even see Dawson by next summer?
Lily lifted her collar against the cold wind that blew off the water. If she made it to Dawson City, would she have enough stories to fill her up like a pitcher of milk, with warm memories and satisfaction?
Her purse had never been so large. But her adventure lay over the passes. A life worth living, her mother had said, but what had she meant? Lily wasn’t sure. Death had taken her before Lily could ask.
Stories to tell her children and grandchildren. Lily smiled.
Did you know your old granny once climbed the Chilkoot Pass?
“Did you know she failed and had to go home with her tail between her legs?” Lily pressed her lips together and shook her head. No, she wouldn’t.
Lily lifted her chin and scanned the passengers in the dingy hoping, praying for a chance to do as she had promised.
The first boat scraped up on the mud, beaching as the wave dissipated. The next one rolled ten feet behind. She knew what would happen next. The poor men would lose everything to the greedy water, while the rich ones would buy protection, paying whatever the haulers demanded to move their precious goods to high ground.
Lily chose potential customers with care, seeking a possible match. Her huge Newfoundland mix, Nala, and her small cart could not handle the larger loads.
Most of the men climbed over the sides into knee-high surf, sucking in their breaths or swearing as the ice water bit through their clothing. The first had just reached the wet mud when the crew began tossing their belongings out like so much rubbish.
The newcomers scampered up the beach like crabs—all except one man. He remained in the punishing surf accepting box after box from the oarsman and tossing them, one after another, the eight foot distance to the shore. The undertow should have taken him off his feet, but somehow he held his position.
Lily measured him with her gaze. His clothing looked new and expensive. She judged him to be the kind of idle rich who came north out of boredom, different than the rest, who were driven here by desperate circumstances. He had more gear than any other passenger on the beach. A rich fool, then, with no notion of what to pack and what to leave. Probably had his bloody silver tea service in one of those crates. She hated him on sight, for hadn’t she worked sixteen hour-days for men just like this one? But no more. Now she answered to no one but herself. Her mother would like that.
She expected Pete to cut in front of her offering his mule team to haul the dandy’s gear, but he was far down the beach attending the three launches that had arrived just before this one.
The dandy was all hers. Anticipation coiled in her belly, as she fixed her eyes on the dark-haired man like a hungry rat, eyeing an apple core.
She stepped closer. He certainly was big, with none of the flab she associated with men who could afford to eat regularly. She glanced at his hands, noting their size and substance. His shoulders were more than just wide; they seemed to be hung with some quantity of useful muscle. Did he get them boxing in some men’s club?
The greenhorn had secured the load on shore, but now the next waves shot over his boots to lap at the mountain of cargo, lifting two large crates and dragging them back into the water. He caught both and easily hauled them back to safety. She noted the bulging muscles beneath his fancy new coat as well as the power and agility with which he moved. She estimated the distance of the high tide line and the speed of the current.
He’d never save it all—not alone anyway. What was in those boxes? Would he do anything to save them?
He looked strong enough, but stamina was needed as well and a drive born from the fear that rich men lacked. A man foolish enough to come here with this many boxes might be foolish enough to accept her offer.
She took a definitive step toward him and then pulled herself up short. What if he turned her down, too? Her cheeks burned with humiliation at the thought. It was one thing to be cast off by one of her own, quite another to have this gentleman send her packing.
He had not noticed her yet, intent as he was at single-handedly bringing his belongings to high ground. He continued his frantic dance for many minutes, finally coming to complete stillness as he stared out at the inlet. He’d seen it now, the second wave of water reaching ten feet as it rushed toward him. His chin nearly touched his chest. Ah, now that was an expression she recognized—for hadn’t she seen that look in the faces of so many hopeless men and women when the jobs dried up back there?
It was a rare thing to witness one of his class brought so low. She savored the moment.
He glanced up. Their eyes met and held. He recognized the truth now; that even he couldn’t save it all. She would offer her services and see just what sort of a man fate had cast in her path. It wasn’t the offer she wanted to make, but best to test the waters first. She stooped to pat Nala, who sat with her long pink tongue lolling.
Part of her hoped he would turn her down. But he couldn’t tell by looking at her what she was or where she had come from. She wore fine clothing now and had paid good money for lessons to help eliminate the traces of her Irish heritage that had clung to her every word like cold porridge to a bowl.
She set her jaw, gathering her courage. Her desperation eased the next step.
“Would you like help moving your belongings?” She had concentrated hard not to drop the H in help.
“You’re a hauler?”
His clipped New England accent held no hint of the gentle brogue of the Irish. He managed his h effortlessly while simultaneously adding a definite inflection of skepticism. She inclined her head, dignified as a queen.
She took in his black hair and a straight nose that spoke of a childhood which did not include being clouted in the face.
Lily fingered the bump at the bridge of her own nose then dropped her hand, suddenly very self-conscious. All the Shanahan’s were fighters. No shame in that.
She met his gaze, inhaling sharply at his soulful whiskey colored eyes. The man was handsome as sin, but Lily forced herself to breathe, if a bit more quickly that customary, for she not be caught gawking at him like a child at a candy store window.
“How much?” he asked.
This time she noticed the rich timber of his deep voice which seemed to vibrate through her insides. She pressed a hand to her middle to gather her flagging resolve.
“I’m not interested in your money.”
He frowned. Was he so used to buying everything he needed? She pushed back her indignation. No time for that now.
He quirked a brow, finally fixing her with those arresting eyes before taking the bait. “What would you have from me then?”
“I find myself in need of a partner to Dawson.”
His jaw dropped and then he recovered himself and grinned.
“You’re joking.” He cocked his head. “Are you serious?”
“Well, I rather think you would be a liability.”
She didn’t argue, but only glared at him as another three foot wave beat against his legs, rocking his foundation.
“Well, you’re a dark horse, yourself, but I’m in a gambling mood.”
His eyes widened at the insult. “You think I’m a liability? How so?”
How so? She wanted to smack the smug arrogance off his handsome face.
“A greenhorn dandy, with not enough sense to secure his own supplies. Did you think that servants lined the rivers here with the nuggets?”
He lifted his hands to stop her as another wave hit. Two crates smashed together, spilling wood shavings onto the mud.
“Not to worry,” she called, “with luck that bore tide will drag you right back to Seattle.”
That seemed to strike a nerve, for his face reddened.
A vicious wave crashed into his goods, washing away his indignation. He scrambled to keep hold of his possessions. The ten foot tidal wave had made half the distance to the shore, rolling a hundred yards beyond the steamer. Lily hoped they had placed the vessel on a long line. She’d seen similar tides take down ships even larger than this one.
“Come, Nala.” She placed a hand on her dog’s harness and her hound rose.
“A trade,” he offered, his voice tinged with desperation. “I have goods.”
She turned away.
Damn him and his ten dollar words. Liability, her ass. Doubtful he’d keep his word anyway. Few ever did. Lily gripped Nala’s harness and started off. She had wasted enough time.
She didn’t, making him run after her.
He blocked her path, wet to the waist and panting with the exertion of keeping what was more than any one man had a right to hold.
“Be reasonable,” he begged.
She laughed, making no attempt to hold down her brogue. “To hell with dat!”
Another wave hit, cresting her boots. It swept away one of his boxes, taking it too far for him to recover, but he tried, rushing into the surf to his knees, preparing to dive and then thought better of it. That showed some sense. Water this cold could cramp the muscles of even the strongest swimmer. She bet he could swim. Probably had private lessons in a pool in Newport, while she had learned when her brother had thrown her off a pier one hot July afternoon.
She watched his shoulders droop.
“You need dat?” she called, forgetting her lessons on diction.
He glanced back. His entire face had changed. He looked like a man standing beside an open grave.
“I can’t succeed without it.”
“If you take me to Dawson, I’ll get it ‘fer you.”
He glanced at the box, already twenty yards out and drifting fast. He shook his head in bewilderment. “Yes. I will.”
“All the way to Dawson?” she clarified.
With speed born of practice, Lily released Nala’s harness and pointed at the box. “Fetch, girl.”