â€œIâ€™m sorry Shannon. They tried everything they could to save him.â€ Shannon looked at the lips that were still moving, but couldnâ€™t hear anything else that Sean told her. Feeling like she was in a bubble that was out of sync with the world, she
|Mail Order Bride: The Irish Runaway by Catherine Harper|
watched as her neighbour from the old country tried his best to example what had happened to her brother. Hearing that Connor was dead, she didnâ€™t need to know any more of the details. He wouldnâ€™t be coming for her now. Picturing the last time sheâ€™d seen him with that boyish grin on his face, she thought back to the last conversation theyâ€™d had. Heâ€™d promised to find her a great husband out West, someone who could give a life sheâ€™d never have in Ireland. â€œI thought it best if I came to tell you the news,â€ Sean said. Gripping the handle of the broom in her hand, Shannon concentrated on the grain of the wood that lay under her fingers. Right now it was the only thing that felt real to her. Picking at a small splinter that had annoyed her earlier, she smiled as it came free. Looking it over and wondering how something so small could cause her pain, she held it out and smiled weakly at him. â€œDamn thingâ€™s been pestering me all morning.â€ â€œAre you sure you wouldnâ€™t like me to call someone?â€ â€œIâ€™m fine. Thanks for coming Sean,â€ Shannon said, waving away his comment. Hearing the room as if for the first time, she listened to some of the patrons at the bar cheer and laugh. Looking at them, she thought it strange that the closest friend sheâ€™d ever had in the world was gone. Gone, and no one seemed to care about it. â€œShannon?â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œMaybe you should sit down?â€ Seeing him reach out and touch her shoulder, Shannon found his contact bring her back to the real world. Feeling embarrassed about how she must look to him, she grabbed onto the first thing that came to her mind. â€œSorry, Sean, I didnâ€™t ask, how are you? Forgive my manners, how long has it been?â€ â€œToo long, but thatâ€™s not important right now I-â€ â€œWhat was I thinking?â€ Shannon said, looking around her. â€œYou must be thirsty after your long journey. What can I get you--whiskey?â€ â€œEh, whiskey would be fine.â€ â€œTom.â€ Shannon waved her hand at the barkeeper. â€œTwo whiskeys please.â€ Getting a nod in return, she turned her attention back to Sean. Picking a table where they could talk in peace, she pointed him in that direction. Getting there, she sat on her seat and watched as Sean looked her over once more. â€œThought it was better than you getting a telegram,â€ He said, pulling up his chair. â€œI know how close you two were.â€ Seeing Tom come their way, Shannon said nothing in reply until heâ€™d left their drinks and gone back to the bar. Picking up her shot glass, she toasted her brother and downed it in one gulp. Grimacing at the burning sensation of the spirit on the way to her stomach, she smiled weakly as Sean did the same. Now with it inside her and a sturdy chair to keep her upright, Shannon felt the courage to ask what had happened. â€œYou probably already know that heâ€™d joined up with a mining company.â€ Hearing those words Shannon nodded. Heâ€™d written only two weeks ago with news of his new venture. Sending her a portion of his money with the letter, heâ€™d told her that life away from laying railroad tracks would give him a better life. Theyâ€™d been promised a share of everything that came out of the ground, heâ€™d reported. â€œHe said that this was the one,â€ Shannon said, remembering the excitement in his letter. â€œSometimes whatâ€™s promised and what happens can be two different things,â€ Sean said. â€œFrom what Iâ€™d heard, they worked them hard. Connor volunteered to join the demolition crew, a week ago. They promised everyone that if the workload went up theyâ€™d all be in for a big payday. I donâ€™t know what happened, but I can only imagine between long hours and tiredness, someone made a mistake. They tried digging them out, but it was no use, by the time they got to them, wellâ€¦â€ She watched him try to find the right words and nodded that she understood. â€œI thought you might want these.â€ Reaching down for a leather satchel, he lifted it off the floor and put it on his lap. Flipping the lid open, she watched him rummage about inside it. Taking out a small bundle of letters, he placed them delicately on the table. Looking to the pile and afraid to touch them, she watched as he placed a small cross and chain beside them. â€œThatâ€™s all he had, Shannon. Iâ€™m sorry.â€ Ignoring Seanâ€™s apology, she stared at the cross and picked it up. Running her fingers over the small links in its chain, she remembered back to the day sheâ€™d bought it for him. Coming off the boat from Ireland, sheâ€™d seen it at a small market stall and bought it for him. She knew he wasnâ€™t the religious type, but heâ€™d taken it anyway. Remembering how heâ€™d laughed at her for mothering him, she was happy to see that heâ€™d still kept it. â€œI know itâ€™s none of my business and all-â€ Sean apologized. â€œWhatâ€™s not?â€ â€œWell, I suppose youâ€™ll be going home now.â€ â€œTo Ireland? Not a chance.â€ â€œI donâ€™t mean to pry, but I know he was sending you some of his money-â€ â€œAnd?â€ â€œI know youâ€™re in shock and all, but youâ€™ll have to consider how youâ€™ll take care of yourself with Connor gone. I mean life in the city; well you must have been supplementing your wage with what he gave you.â€ Hearing the words Shannon felt another blow. She hadnâ€™t thought of what the consequences of losing her brother would mean to her own life. â€œLook, Iâ€™ll be staying in town for a few more days, got a few things to clear up. But Iâ€™ll be back when youâ€™ve taken it all in--Iâ€™ve also sent word home to your parents.â€ Giving her a hand another squeeze, he left without another word. Still staring at the door long after it had closed, Shannon gripped the bundle of letters to her chest and cried for all she was worth. Chapter 2 Although hard to forget him after his last appearance, Shannon looked at Sean with surprise. Throwing herself into her work and refusing to take time off, sheâ€™d tried everything in the last two days to keep Connorâ€™s death out of her mind. Now like before, he was bringing her back there again. â€œShannon.â€ â€œSean.â€ â€œHow are you?â€ Shannon tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. â€œOK, I suppose, much as I can be.â€ â€œIâ€™m sorry,â€ Sean said, looking to his feet. â€œThat was stupid. I was looking for the right thing to say all the way over here.â€ â€œItâ€™s alright. Youâ€™re not the only one thatâ€™s been tip toeing around me.â€ Shannon nodded to the patrons at the bar. â€œSo, how are you?â€ â€œFine, fine. Is there somewhere we can talk?â€ Looking toward the table, theyâ€™d been at before, Shannon led the way. Getting there before him, she watched Sean walk toward her with a strong limp. Waiting for him to make himself comfortable, she compared his appearance to the last time sheâ€™d seen him. Getting to America six months before them, it was his letters home that had spurned her and Tom to make the voyage here. Now sitting across from her it looked like those words didnâ€™t paint a true picture of his life. Looking a little more than his twenty-eight years, his once black hair bore more than a flicker of grey at the temples. â€œWhat happened to you?â€ â€œLaying rail. Well, I should say it tried to lay me,â€ Sean smiled. â€œA few lengths of it landed on my leg, my own fault I suppose. Anyway, busted my knee. Doc said I was lucky not to lose it. So, I guess I canâ€™t grumble.â€ â€œI didnâ€™t know, sorry to hear that.â€ â€œHey, these things happen. What can you do about it?â€ Seeing him uncomfortable talking about his condition, she tried to get the conversation back on track. â€œSo--you said youâ€™d be here for a few days?â€ â€œIâ€™m going home-â€ â€œReally? Why?â€ â€œWell, as you can see, life out West isnâ€™t all that itâ€™s cracked up to be. Having a dodgy leg kinda puts a limit on what you can do. Plus, Iâ€™m homesick. Looking at miles upon miles of open prairie might suit some, but Iâ€™d swap it for greens fields with stone walls any day.â€ Shannon smiled, remembering where theyâ€™d grown up. Coming from a small rural village in west Cork, her past life had seemed so quaint and small now. â€œItâ€™s funny I was just thinking there-â€ Sean smiled. â€œAbout what?â€ â€œYou remember that time, the time that cow walked in in the middle of mass?â€ Shannon smiled, remembering back to the scene of it having to be pushed out during Sunday morning mass. â€œIâ€™ll never forget the look on Father Flahertyâ€™s face-â€ â€œThat was Connor and I that did that.â€ â€œConnor? Youâ€™re kidding me?â€ â€œWell, it was my idea,â€ he replied, with a look of pride on his face. â€œAlthough heâ€™ll probably have said that it was his.â€ â€œHe never said a word, not even after all those years. I remember the throttling father gave him, but he always denied it.â€ â€œHe was one of the good ones.â€ Shannon nodded her head. â€œYes, he was.â€ â€œSpeaking of your dad, I got word from him yesterday.â€ Hearing her father mentioned, Shannon held her breath and froze. â€œHe wants you to come home.â€ Reaching into his pocket and pulling out a piece of paper, Sean flattened it out and slipped it across the table. Reaching for the telegram, Shannon picked it up and careful read the message. â€œSorry to hear about Connor. Bring Shannon home.â€ Picturing the man behind the words, she was instantly brought back to the life sheâ€™d run from and dropped the telegram with disgust. â€œYou donâ€™t look happy.â€ â€œYou know why we ran away, donâ€™t you? You know what he was like? Domineering, controlling. Americaâ€™s not far enough away from that man.â€ â€œMaybe heâ€™s changed, Shannon. People do-â€ â€œReally? So, that â€˜Sorry to hear about Connor,â€™ itâ€™s just dripping with sentiment, isnâ€™t it? Five words, fives words to sum up his only sonâ€™s death. You know I bet a part of him is glad that Connorâ€™s dead, just to prove that he was right and we were wrongâ€¦â€ â€œI think youâ€™re being hard on him Shannon.â€ Shannon leaned in toward him, â€œYou know the last thing he said to us?â€ Not waiting for an answer, she continued, â€œHe said he had no children anymore. Once we stepped on that boat we could forget about any inheritance. As if that could keep us there. As always using money to keep people in line.â€ â€œBut that was two years ago, Shannon. A lotâ€™s happened since then. Remember he did lose his son. And what about your mother donâ€™t you think sheâ€™d be happy to see you again?â€ â€œThe less said about her the better,â€ Shannon said and flopped back in her chair. â€œIâ€™d use the word â€˜motherâ€™ very loosely to sum up that woman.â€ Looking at his face and seeing him remain silent; she tried to work out what was going on in his head. Then it came to her. Picking up the telegram, she waved at him. â€œThatâ€™s what all this is about. And here I was thinking you were doing the neighborly thing and checking up on me.â€ Seeing him shift uncomfortably in his seat, she knew she was right. â€œHe bought you. Half way around the world and heâ€™s still using his money to control people.â€ â€œYou donâ€™t understand.â€ Folding her arms across her chest, she stared at him. â€œTry me.â€ â€œHeâ€™s promised me some land and a few other things to bring you home.â€ â€œSo, he bought you.â€ â€œBought, is a strong word-â€ â€œItâ€™s the only one Iâ€™d use here,â€ Shannon said and watched him reach in his pocket. â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ Taking out two pieces of small rectangular card, he fanned them out for her to see better. â€œItâ€™s two tickets for the next sailing to Ireland. Iâ€™m sorry Shannon, but Iâ€™m taking you home.â€ Chapter 3 Collecting the empty glass and wiping down the counter, Shannon smiled at the old man. â€œCan I get you another, Thomas?â€ Holding the glass and giving it a little shaking motion, he smiled back at her. â€œSuppose a swift one wonâ€™t hurt, although if my wife comes in-â€ â€œI know, itâ€™s your first.â€ Shannon smiled and placed a full shot glass in front of him. â€œYou know I was sorry to hear about your brother.â€ Thomas toasted and downed his drink. â€œDamn shame if you ask me, young lad like that trying to make a life for himself.â€ Taking his glass away, she replied, â€œThanks. I wonâ€™t be around for much longer myself.â€ Collecting his flat cap off the bar and placing it on his head, he asked â€œHow so?â€ â€œNot if my father has anything to do with it. He wants me to go home.â€ â€œYou canâ€™t stay on?â€ Feeling her cheeks flush a little at the thought of speaking about her finances, she answered, â€œNot on the wages I make around here.â€ â€œSorry to hear that,â€ he said. Looking over his shoulder to see if their conversation was private, he continued, â€œYou ask for a bit more?â€ â€œTried that Iâ€™m afraid. They canâ€™t give me any more hours and my rents paid up until the end of the month, after thatâ€¦â€ â€œSorry to hear that, Shannon. If I was ten years younger and looking for an attractive girl around the house, Iâ€™d snap you up myself.â€ Shannon smiled at the old manâ€™s suggestion. â€œThanks, Thomas. If Iâ€™m ever looking for a sweet man, Iâ€™ll keep you in mind.â€ Watching him climb slowly off his stool and steady himself, he paused for a moment. â€œYou know--you ever consider becoming a mail order bride?â€ â€œMe?â€ â€œWhy not? An attractive red-headed girl like you, and with those green eyes, youâ€™d be taken in a moment. Heck, I could see them all fighting over ya.â€ Shannon thought over what heâ€™d said. â€œI donâ€™t know Thomas; itâ€™s not something I ever considered before.â€ â€œWell, if I was in your shoes and not wanting to go home, itâ€™s something worth considering. Although, Iâ€™ll miss your sweet smile around here.â€ â€œGood job your wifeâ€™s not here to hear that.â€ Shannon smiled and watched him wave the comment away. â€œWell, if youâ€™re not here the next time Iâ€™m in, the best of luck to ya, Shannon.â€ Picking up her hand from the bar, he put it to his mouth and kissed the back of it. â€œGo on you old charmer you,â€ she chuckled. â€œQuick, before your wife catches you.â€ Watching him leave and try his best to fight against his stagger, Shannon thought over what Thomas had said. Maybe he was right. Maybe becoming a mail order bride was just what she needed. ***** Pushing the door open tentatively, Shannon jumped at the bell that jangled loudly above her head. Wondering if she was doing the right thing, she found any possible escape out of the question. Taking a step backwards, she was met by an enthusiastic middle aged lady who pulled her inward. â€œGood day, my dear.â€ â€œEh, good day,â€ Shannon replied, trying to come up with a suitable excuse to leave. â€œThinking of becoming a mail order bride?â€ â€œWell actually, I, I, I think Iâ€™ve taken a wrong turn.â€ â€œAre you sure? A fine looking girl like you would make any man proud having you on his arm.â€ â€œErm, I donâ€™t know.â€ Shannon looked out the main window at the street outside. Shocked to see Sean coming up on the opposite side it, she pushed against the door with her back. Holding it there, and covering her face with her hand, she waited until enough time had passed before looking out the window again. â€œMan trouble?â€ â€œSorry?â€ â€œThat man youâ€™re trying to avoid. Youâ€™re not married, are you?â€ â€œWhat? No,â€ Shannon replied, trying to see which direction heâ€™d gone. â€œEngaged then? Because if you are, Iâ€™m sorry, but thatâ€™s frowned upon here. Ladies coming in that have already been promised to someone elseâ€¦â€ Happy that the coast was clear, Shannon turned around. â€œWhat? No, no. I think Iâ€™ve made a mistake coming here.â€ â€œYou alright, child? Youâ€™re shaking. You know that man? You want me to call for help?â€ â€œNo, no. Iâ€™m OK. Just trying to keep out of his way.â€ â€œWhy donâ€™t you come through,â€ she beckoned. â€œAt least until you get your nerve back. Give him a few minutes to lose himself.â€ On the verge of arguing, Shannon found herself being taken further into the office. Going from a small desk and reception area, she found herself escorted into a small back room. Looking a picture of chaos, she found folders lying haphazardly on the floor and an untidy desk in front of her. The walls she just as busy, with a notice board covered with letters and small posters. Shuffling some space clear on the floor, and lifting a cardboard box off a chair, the woman apologized and held a hand to the seat. â€œIâ€™m sorry, I have to apologize about the mess. Please sit down.â€ Still getting over her shock of seeing Sean, and her new surroundings, Shannon found her hold out a hand to shake. Seeing her pause as if on the verge of asking a question, Shannon realized she was looking for a name. â€œOh sorry, itâ€™s Shannon, Shannon.â€ â€œWell, Shannon, Shannon. Iâ€™m Martha. Can I get you a cup of tea, or maybe something stronger?â€ â€œNo tea will be fine, thank you.â€ Pointing again to the chair, Martha again apologized about the mess, â€œYou make yourself comfortable Shannon, and Iâ€™ll be back in a moment.â€ Left on her own and with very little else to do, Shannon wondered how many of the women that passed through here ever saw what she did. Feeling her curiosity get the better of her, she found the notice board beside her draw her in. Looking to some of handwritten letters attached to it, she wondered why others had used a mail order bride service. Giving in to her curiosity, she got up from her seat to study them. â€œAll looking for love, they are.â€ Startled, Shannon turned to find Martha coming in with a small tray in her hands. â€œSorry, I didnâ€™t mean to-â€ â€œThatâ€™s fine dear,â€ Martha said and placed the tray on the table. Leaving it there, she joined her at the board. â€œLife out West can be a lonely place. Working long hours and coming home to an empty home. Well, you can imagine the life for those men. Then add the fact that thereâ€™s more gold than ladies out there. Well, you can see the predicament they find themselves in.â€ Shannon nodded. â€œCome on, our teaâ€™s going to get cold,â€ Martha said and directed her back to the table. Going back to her seat, Shannon found a small china cup handed to her. â€œI put a little sugar in, thought it might help to calm your nerves.â€ Lifting the cup to her face and breathing in its aroma, Shannon thought back to the last time sheâ€™d had tea this way. Taking a sip, she remembered the fine china set her mother had at home. The one that she and Connor and been told never to touch. â€œYou look sad.â€ â€œMe?â€ â€œJust there, a moment ago. You looked like you were lost in something,â€ she said, replacing her cup on its saucer. â€œJust thinking of my brother.â€ Martha pointed to the board. â€œGone out West, is he?â€ â€œHe was killed a few days ago, mining accident.â€ Putting her cup and saucer down, Martha apologized. â€œOh, Iâ€™m sorry to hear that. Hereâ€™s me grabbing you in off the street thinking you were interested in becoming a mail order bride. My husband was right about me, always acting first and thinking later.â€ â€œThatâ€™s OK, Martha.â€ â€œAnd the man you were avoiding--sorry I shouldnâ€™t have asked that question. Bit of a habit really, with all the interviewing I do in this place.â€ Martha pointed to the room. â€œThatâ€™s fine; heâ€™s a neighbour from home.â€ â€œBut you donâ€™t want to see him?â€ â€œHe wants to take me back to Ireland.â€ â€œAnd I take it you donâ€™t want to go,â€ Martha said, refilling her cup with fresh tea. â€œAre you sure you donâ€™t want me to call someone, the law maybe?â€ Seeing her hold up the teapot to offer a top up, Shannon shook her head. â€œNo thanks. Itâ€™s my father thatâ€™s put him up to this. Now with my brother gone, my father wants me to go home.â€ â€œBut you donâ€™t want to.â€ â€œI picked America because it was the furthest I could get away from my parents.â€ â€œI see--but thereâ€™s something else, isnâ€™t there?â€ Feeling her cheeks redden, Shannon couldnâ€™t believe how easily she was letting Martha in on her personal life. â€œTo tell you the truth, I canâ€™t afford to live here anymore. With the pittance Iâ€™m earning, and the soaring rent, I might have no other choice.â€ â€œI see.â€ â€œIt was a friend who recommended becoming a mail order bride--I feel so foolish now.â€ Taking her cup and saucer and placing it back on the tray, Shannon rose from her seat. â€œIâ€™ve taken up enough of your time. Iâ€™m sorry, Martha.â€ On the verge of walking to the door, she found Martha leave her seat and cut off her escape. â€œListen, Iâ€™ll tell you what.â€ Leaving to go back to her desk, she picked up a leaflet. â€œWhy donâ€™t you take this with you, look it over. Being a mail order bride isnâ€™t for everyone and I wouldnâ€™t want to force you into something thatâ€™s not right for you. But it could be just what youâ€™ve been looking for.â€ Standing in the door way, Shannon checked both ways before walking out. Turning to thank Martha once more, she headed back in the direction of her apartment. Looking the leaflet over and not paying any attention to what lay ahead of her, she found her way blocked. â€œSorry, I should have watched where I was...â€ â€œHi, Shannon.â€ Looking up from the leaflet, she found Sean there. â€œI was looking for you. For a second I thought youâ€™d left town.â€ â€œMe?â€ Shannon asked, pointing to herself. Realizing what she held in her other hand; she quickly clenched the leaflet into a ball and threw it behind her. â€œIâ€™ve good news.â€ â€œReally, whatâ€™s that?â€ â€œI was talking to your landlord. Sweet guy. He rented me the room right across from you.â€ Hearing those words, Shannon felt a tightness in her chest. Feeling like she was now in a trap sheâ€™d never escape from, he added. â€œBetween now and Saturday, Iâ€™ll know right where you are.â€ Chapter 4 Pulling her shawl tightly around her, Shannon stopped and stared at the door of her apartment. Picturing what lay on the other side, she imagined Sean lying in wait for her on the landing. Unable to sleep all night, sheâ€™d listened to every creak of wood in the hall and assumed it was him keeping tabs on her. Fighting back a yawn with the back of hand, she knew sheâ€™d have to act. Taking a step toward the door, Shannon grimaced as she turned the key in the keyhole. Hoping that going slowly was the best thing to do, she clenched her teeth as the metal workings scrapped together loudly before popping back into place. Putting her ear to the door, she listened and heard nothing react to the noise. Now feeling confident about her escape, she turned the door handle and pulled the door a fraction toward her. Holding it there, she tried her best to check the landing with her limited view. It was empty. Making one final check that she had everything she needed, she opened her purse one more time. Realizing that the contents were the same as the last three times sheâ€™d checked, she scolded herself. â€œCome on, Shannon, move it.â€ Feeling her chiding give her confidence a boost, she pulled the door open and walked onto the landing. Wondering why she was so suddenly afraid of Sean, she realized that it was the look of desperation on his face the day before. Looking like his back was to the wall, she could see that her return was his chance of a better life. Wondering the size of the bounty her father had put on her head, she turned when she heard the doorknob across from her move. Fearing the worst and her body filled with adrenaline from a night of pent up fear, she found herself running down the stairs. â€œShannon!â€ Hearing Seanâ€™s voice call from behind her, she kept going and gripped the banister as firmly as she could. Hoping that she didnâ€™t twist an ankle or fall head first, she held tight on the next bend. Turning and looking up, she found him leaning over the railing. Looking down on her from above, Sean looked like heâ€™d just raced from bed. Standing shirtless and fixing his braces on his shoulders, he looked like as tired as she was. â€œShannon come back, I thought maybe we could have some breakfast together.â€ â€œMaybe later, Sean. Iâ€™ve got an important errand to do,â€ she found herself calling back as she kept going. Seeing his condition and remembering the noises sheâ€™d heard in the night, she now knew how desperate Sean was getting. â€œMaybe lunch, Iâ€™ll be back.â€ Hearing him run back to his bedroom, for what she assumed was the rest of his clothing; she ran out the front door and tried to lose herself in the morning pedestrians. ***** â€œBack so soon. I thought Iâ€™d scared you off.â€ Martha got up from behind her small reception desk and came over to welcome her. â€œSo, youâ€™ve made up your mind then.â€ â€œI have.â€ Shannon smiled. â€œCome through,â€ Martha said and lead the way. Following behind, Shannon paused at the office door sheâ€™d been at before. â€œNo, no, child. Itâ€™s in here,â€ she smiled and opened the door opposite it. â€œBit embarrassed you saw that mess in there.â€ Holding out her arm, she directed Shannon inside and followed behind. Taking her seat behind a large wooden desk Martha apologized once more. â€œIâ€™m surprised you even came back; I must have looked so unprofessional. Please, sit.â€ Taking in her new surrounding before sitting down, Shannon could see what Martha meant. Looking around her, she found the room had been spared no expense on the furniture and fittings. â€œItâ€™s lovely.â€ â€œThank you, although after what you saw last time, a pigs-sty would have been an improvement.â€ Looking to a painting on the wall, Shannon replied, â€œYouâ€™re being hard on yourself.â€ â€œHandsome man, wasnâ€™t he? Thatâ€™s my late husband, Clarence. I like to keep that painting there to remind me of him. He died a few years ago, got a bout of pneumonia and never recovered. It was actually his idea that I start this business--but enough about me, letâ€™s talk about you.â€ Bending down to pull open a drawer, Martha came back up with a form and placed it on the table. Opening it out and lifting a nearby pen, she paused, on the verge of pushing them over. â€œIâ€™m sorry to ask this, but you can read and write, can you? Nothing to be embarrassed about if you canâ€™t. Just that I had a young lady in recently, Mary who-â€ â€œWhatever I can say about my parents, they always made sure we had a good education.â€ Pushing the form over, Martha added, â€œI had to ask. You know how it is. Although not being able to read and write isnâ€™t compulsory it does help.â€ Getting to her feet, she smiled. â€œIâ€™ll leave you in peace to fill it in now. If youâ€™ve any problems, just leave it blank and we can go over it together.â€ Smiling back, Shannon watched her leave and turned her attention to the form. Hovering her pen over it she knew there was no going back now. Hearing the door creak open ten minutes later, Shannon turned to see Martha come in. â€œSo, how did you get on?â€ Finding her seat opposite, she took the form and read through it quickly. â€œLooks all good, to me.â€ Looking up, she asked, â€œHad you any particular type of man in mind? I mean nationality wise, have you got a preference for Irish, American?â€ â€œI hadnâ€™t really thought about that.â€ â€œWell, I've got a portfolio of men of all nationalities and backgrounds. But you donâ€™t really need to make up your mind just yet.â€ â€œSo, what happens now?â€ â€œWell, now we go through a list of men who I feel are compatible and I make contact with them. Youâ€™ll go on a number of dates with each, so you can get to know each other. Then from there, hopefully youâ€™ll both find some common ground you can work on. I know there are some people who think we just slap couples together haphazardly, but not here. I pride myself on the work I do here. Here, let me show you.â€ Leaning back in her seat, Martha reached into a drawer and took out a folder. Placing it on the desk, she took out of some of its contents and fanned them on the table. â€œTestimonials from happy couples Iâ€™ve put together.â€ Picking up the nearest one and scanning through it, Shannon could see from what theyâ€™d written that both seemed happy with Marthaâ€™s work. Stopping to look at the photograph attached, she looked up. â€œAnd this is them?â€ â€œYes. They sent that to me, two years ago I think that was. Last I heard it was a successful arrangement and theyâ€™re still together.â€ Picking up another, Shannon paused at Marthaâ€™s next question. â€œSo, all going well when do you think youâ€™d be available to go?â€ â€œBefore Saturday?â€ See Martha look her over and expect to be let in on the joke, she exclaimed, â€œBut thatâ€™s only two days away.â€ â€œIâ€™m afraid thatâ€™s all the time, I have.â€ â€œYouâ€™re serious, arenâ€™t you?â€ Hearing the bell on the front door jingle, she stopped and looked to the door. â€œDo you mind if I?â€ â€œNo, go.â€ Walking toward the door, Martha paused before turning the handle. â€œIâ€™ll be as quick as I can, and then maybe we can look at this Saturday deadline again.â€ Watching her leave and the door close, Shannon turned her attention to the papers on the table. Reading them and hearing the good words they had to say of Marthaâ€™s work, she heard a man roar from the other side of the door. â€œSHANNON, I KNOW YOUâ€™RE IN HERE!â€ Hearing Seanâ€™s voice call out and Martha argue desperately with him, she ran for cover. Chapter 5 â€œDonâ€™t give me that bull, I know for a fact she came in here.â€ Listening to the raised voice in the hall way, Shannon felt her heart beat like never before. Crouched under Marthaâ€™s table, she tried to make her body as small as possible. Collecting as much of her dress as she could, she frantically tucked it in around her, hoping none of it protruded beyond the desk. â€œWho? Thereâ€™s no one in here but me-â€ â€œListen, I know for a fact that sheâ€™s in here.â€ Hearing the door opposite slam, Shannon gasped as she realized that her form was on the table. Pushing Marthaâ€™s heavy chair back, she poked her head up and spied it. Grabbing it quickly and returning to her hiding space, she heard the door of the room she was in crash open. â€œSee, I told you there was no one in here.â€ â€œShe tell you sheâ€™s going home on Saturday?â€ â€œWhoâ€™s going home?â€ â€œIâ€™m warning you lady, whatever sheâ€™s got planned between the two of you, you can forget about it. Come Saturday, both of us are going back to Ireland.â€ â€œListen--whoever you and this Shannon person are, I know nothing about it. But if youâ€™re not out of here in the next five minutes, I swear Iâ€™m calling the law.â€ â€œSHANNON!â€ Holding her breath, Shannon heard footsteps making their way across the floor. Settling just on the other side of the desk, she listened as the desk above her head creaked under the weight of someone sitting on it. â€œLetâ€™s get something straight here. If I find out she was in here and youâ€™re lying to me, Iâ€™ll be back, you hear me?â€ Shannon listened as Martha whimpered. On the verge of showing herself, she listened to what Sean said next. â€œThe only one sheâ€™s promised to is me.â€ â€œListen, I told you I donâ€™t know this Shannon girl youâ€™re talking about.â€ Hearing the desk creak once more, Shannon looked up and imagined Sean getting off it. Listening to him walk away, she heard him threaten Martha a final time. â€œFor your sake, you better be telling the truth.â€ Wondering what her next move should be, she let out a sigh of relief as the front door of the office slammed shut in anger. Pushing Marthaâ€™s chair free and climbing out from under the desk, she found Martha staring at her with a look of shock on her face. â€œIâ€™m so sorry, Martha. I shouldnâ€™t have come here. If Iâ€™d known, heâ€™d followed me hereâ€¦â€ â€œI donâ€™t know what to say.â€ Feeling that she was the stronger of the two right now, Shannon steered Martha to her chair and made her sit down. â€œCan I get you something, water, tea?â€ â€œBottom drawer,â€ Martha mumbled. Looking to where her hand was pointing, Shannon pulled the drawer open and watched as a bottle at the back of it rolled forward. Grabbing it by the neck, she lifted it and examined the label. Bourbon. â€œThere are a few glasses in the other office. Get two and come back here. I think we both could do with a drink right now.â€ Doing as she was told, Shannon walked to the doorway and stopped. Making sure that Sean was gone, she first went to the front office and edged toward the office window. Scanning the street outside and finding no sign of him, she quickly raced to the front door and put the dead bolt on it. Happy that they wouldnâ€™t be disturbed by any uninvited guests, she made her way to find the glasses. â€œThat manâ€™s an animal,â€ Martha mumbled, taking a drink from her glass. â€œThe look he gave me; I swear he meant what he said.â€ â€œAre you sure youâ€™re OK?â€ â€œIâ€™ll be fine after a few of these,â€ she said, raising her glass. â€œBut you, you have to go home with him?â€ â€œThatâ€™s what he wants to happen-â€ â€œAnd that thing about him and you?â€ â€œI know nothing about it. I donâ€™t know where he got that idea from.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know what to say.â€ Shannon put her glass back on the table. Watching Martha gulp the contents of hers, she apologized once more. â€œIâ€™m sorry for dragging you into all this. The last thing I want to see is you or anyone else getting hurt over this.â€ Getting to her feet, she asked, â€œHave you got a back door or someway else I can get out of here?â€ â€œHuh?â€ â€œI said, have you got another way out of this office. I donâ€™t want Sean or anyone see me leave here.â€ Martha pulled the top off the bottle and refilled her glass. â€œSaturday you said.â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œYou said you had to go before Saturday,â€ Martha said, slapping the bottle top back on and putting it away. â€œYes, but that was beforeâ€¦â€ Martha bent down out of sight and returned with her application form. Looking at it for a second, she put it on the desk and smiled over. â€œWell, looking at your application, you look like a perfect match for any of my new clients.â€ â€œI donâ€™t understand.â€ â€œLetâ€™s just say any man, even a pig, would be an improvement on that man.â€ â€œI donâ€™t want anything to happen to you because of me.â€ Pointing to the empty seat, Martha said, â€œSit down and finish that drink off. Weâ€™ve got a lot to discuss.â€ Taking her seat once more, Shannon took her glass and drank another sip. â€œThereâ€™s something you donâ€™t know about me,â€ Martha started. â€œI was married before. Donâ€™t like to talk about it, not a lot of happy memories there. Seeing the anger in that manâ€™s face brought me back there. It reminded of my first husband, Benjamin. He was an abusive drunk, only I didnâ€™t see it until we got married. He hid it well. But behind closed doors, I spent ten years, slapped, punched, even kicked by that man.â€ Shannon gasped at the revelation. â€œOh my, Iâ€™m so sorry to hear that.â€ â€œIâ€™d given up all hope of happiness until the man above stepped in.â€ Martha toasted with her glass. â€œBenjamin being a drunk, got involved in a fight over something stupid. One day he picked on the wrong guy. Next thing I knew I was a widow.â€ Pausing for a second, she took a drink and continued. â€œYou know what itâ€™s like to see a rainbow after a bad thunderstorm; well thatâ€™s how I felt. Someone up there must have been looking down on me and thought I deserved a second chance. Then I met Clarence, a wonderful man. So loving and caring, he made those bad times seem like a distant dream. We tried to have kids, but it never happened. Probably had something to do with all those beatings I got from Benjamin. Anyway, to cut a long story short, Clarence could see that I had a caring nature. He thought I could put it to some use. So, when the idea of running mail order bride service came upâ€”well, I think you can work out the rest.â€ Shannon took another sip of her drink and watched Martha as she appeared to daydream for a moment. â€œThere was one thing I always promised myself, if I was going to do this, I was going to make sure no woman every signed up for a marriage like my first one. You say youâ€™re not going to marry him, but I wonâ€™t sleep knowing youâ€™re going anywhere with that man.â€ Getting up, Martha left the room and went out into the corridor. Wondering what was going on, Shannon followed her and found her in her office. â€œIs everything OK?â€ â€œJust give me a moment.â€ Watching her pull an envelope from the notice board, Shannon found it placed in her hand. â€œWhatâ€™s this? It says Mary Matthews on it.â€ â€œIf anyone asks, thatâ€™s you. Iâ€™ll find some way to make things up to Mary. Thereâ€™s a paddle steamer leaving this evening and youâ€™re going on it.â€ â€œBut I donâ€™t know what to say. Iâ€™ll have to go and get my things-â€ â€œWill he be there?â€ â€œBut all I have is what Iâ€™m standing in.â€ Shannon pointed to herself. â€œListen,â€ Martha said, putting her hands on Shannonâ€™s shoulders and looking her in the eye. â€œWhatâ€™s more important, getting away, or a few trinkets?â€ â€œI suppose. But if he comes back here?â€ â€œIâ€™ll lock up the office for the day. Itâ€™s only going to be for a few hours. By the time he knows anythingâ€™s happened, youâ€™ll be long gone.â€ Martha smiled. Chapter 6 Seeing the gangplank being pulled up, and the crew members uncoupling the large ropes that held the paddle steamer, Shannon felt her pulse slow a little. Keeping a little distance between herself and the railing, she kept her eyes trained on the faces below. Scanning the faces of the well-wishers, she half expected to see Sean charging through them screaming her name. But that never happened. Feeling the vibration of the large paddle wheels speeding up under foot, she felt like she could finally relax. It wouldnâ€™t be long before theyâ€™d be in the middle of the river and free from New York. Making her way to a bench to the rear of the boat, she stood for a moment and watched the churned up water trailing behind them. Starting off in a parallel path from both paddle-wheels, Shannon watched as the trails combined together and then slowly petered out. Seeing it disappear and vanish from sight, it made her think of her own life. Gone was the old life sheâ€™d lived in New York and now she was moving onto a new chapter. One with a brighter future, she hoped. â€œMary Matthews?â€ Hearing the name, Shannon turned and saw a woman of her own age standing beside her. â€œI didnâ€™t mean to disturb you. Sorry if I did. My nameâ€™s Rebecca.â€ Shannon took hold of the small gloved hand and shook it. â€œI couldnâ€™t help but notice the envelope in your hand earlier. You were three people ahead of me when we embarked. I noticed the hand writing on it-â€ â€œMartha?â€ â€œYes. Youâ€™re a mail order bride too?â€ â€œI am--yes.â€ â€œExciting, isnâ€™t it? Knowing that this boat is taking us to our new husbands.â€ Taking a seat beside Shannon, she excitedly continued, â€œSomewhere up this river my Albert is waiting for me. Romantic, isnâ€™t it?â€ â€œHadnâ€™t really thought about it like that. I suppose you could look at it that way.â€ â€œSo, how come a good looking girl like you ended up becoming a mail order bride?â€ â€œWellâ€¦â€ Putting a hand on Shannonâ€™s lap, she apologized, â€œIâ€™m sorry, Iâ€™ve got a habit of saying things without thinking. Father always says that I should think before I speak--you donâ€™t have to answer that question if you donâ€™t want to.â€ â€œItâ€™s fine. Well, I suppose Iâ€™m looking for a better life for myself-â€ â€œMe too. That and a hunky man.â€ Hearing Rebeccaâ€™s comment, Shannon couldnâ€™t help but chuckle. â€œHeâ€™ll be a lucky man, Rebecca.â€ â€œSo, how far are you going?â€ Taking the cover letter that had been in the envelope, Shannon opened it and gave it to her. Not sure that she should tell Rebecca the truth, she thought sheâ€™d play the part of Mary Matthews for a little while longer. Who knew, maybe using the name from now on would be a lot luckier than going under her own. Watching Rebecca scan through the letter, she found her look up with a disappointed face. â€œThatâ€™s a shame. Iâ€™m getting off two stops before you. Thought maybe you and I could have ended up living nearby.â€ â€œAw well, but at least weâ€™ve three weeks until we get there.â€ â€œTrue. I suppose.â€ â€œSo, whatâ€™s he like?â€ Rebecca asked, excitedly. â€œWho?â€ â€œWhat do you mean who?â€ â€œOh, Dominic?â€ Shannon said, relieved that sheâ€™d paid more than a fleeting glance at Marthaâ€™s letter. Too busy with thoughts of escape, sheâ€™d promised herself that sheâ€™d get to know her future husband better on the journey. â€œSounds like a strong name, so whatâ€™s he like?â€ â€œWell, heâ€™sâ€¦â€ Shannon stammered, until Rebecca cut in. â€œHave you got a picture I could look at?â€ Putting her hand into Marthaâ€™s envelope, Shannon fished around until she pulled out a bundle of hand written notes. Opening them up, she could see that Dominic had been writing to Mary for two months now. Two months of correspondence that she knew nothing about. Scanning the top of the second letter, she found Rebecca get to an important detail before she did. â€œYou told him youâ€™ve got black hair?â€ â€œDid I? I donâ€™t remember writing that down-â€ â€œAnd here he says that heâ€™s sorry to know that you canâ€™t read or write. I donâ€™t understand. Whatâ€™s going on, Mary?â€ Stuffing the letters in quickly, Shannon found her mind clutch for an answer. Remembering Martha mention Maryâ€™s name, she realized what had gone on. â€œNow you know my secret.â€ â€œWhat secret? You canâ€™t read or write.â€ â€œYes. Thatâ€™s why Martha had all my letters. She used to read them to me in the office. I asked her to store them for me. I didnâ€™t want anyone to knowâ€¦â€ â€œOh, Iâ€™m so sorry,â€ Rebecca replied and went silent. Feeling an uncomfortable silence hang in the air, Shannon quickly used the opportunity to change the subject. Slapping her hands on her kneeâ€™s, she asked, â€œYou hungry?â€ â€œWell, now that you mention it.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know about you, but I could do with a little freshening up. How about we meet up in say--an hour? Then we can eat together and talk more.â€ â€œThatâ€™s fine with me.â€ Seeing a smile come back on Rebeccaâ€™s face, Shannon felt like sheâ€™d dodged a bullet. Sheâ€™d only been Mary Matthews for a few hours and already her new identity had been tested. Wondering how she could convince Dominic that she was his new love, she knew sheâ€™d a lot of homework ahead of her. Watching Rebecca leave, Shannon decided that right now was the best time to begin that task. ***** Sitting on her bed, Shannon looked over all the letters Dominic had sent Mary. Feeling like an outsider listening in on a conversation, but only hearing one side, she read through all of Dominicâ€™s letters and tried to build a picture of Mary in her head. Starting off growing up in a small family of two children, it seemed like Maryâ€™s brother had gone off to war and left her behind. Now knowing that she came from a poor family and very little education, Shannon could see why Mary had chosen to become a mail order bride. With little money and poor chance of bettering herself, it looked like a way out of the city for her. Reading on further, Shannon could picture the delight that must have been on Maryâ€™s face hearing the sweet things that Dominic had written to her. Feeling a blush come to her face, Shannon felt like an intruder listening over a garden fence and finding out things that had none of her concern. Pushing that thought to the back of her mind, she continued on. It wasnâ€™t as if she was the only one whoâ€™d read them, she thought. Knowing that Martha had been there before her, helped to take away some of the guilt. Reading on, and swept away in the romance as it blossomed, Shannon felt a change of tone in Dominicâ€™s writing as she got closer to his last letters. Examining his words and thoughts, she found him talk less of their future together and any excitement he exhibited earlier was gone. Wondering how Mary felt about this, or why Martha was continuing to set the pair together, Shannon placed the last letter on her bed and stared at it. Looking at the words and lost for any clue, it suddenly came to her. Maybe Mary was ignoring the fact and going against better advice, Shannon wondered. Remembering back to how eagerly Martha had passed over the envelope, Shannon could now see that sheâ€™d used the opportunity to keep them apart. â€œYou said youâ€™d make it up to Mary,â€ Shannon mumbled to herself. â€œWas this what you were thinking?â€ Looking from the last letter to the others strewn on the bed, Shannon felt a feeling of hopelessness come over her. Thinking that these letters were going to give her a picture into the life of Mary Matthews, she now found herself with more information than she needed. Sheâ€™d thought having the wrong hair colour was her biggest problem, but it wasnâ€™t. She was on her way to meet a man who she knew didnâ€™t want to meet her. Chapter 7 Waving Rebecca off, Shannon couldnâ€™t help but feel a tinge of sadness in her. Not only was she losing a good friend, she felt guilty now that she hadnâ€™t come clean about her identity. Using the past three weeks as practice for her upcoming meeting with Dominic, sheâ€™d kept her own personality in check and put on a strangers. In part relieved that sheâ€™d been able to do it, she watched as her friend waved back at her not knowing the truth. To Rebecca she was waving off Mary Matthews, but for once since theyâ€™d met, Shannon now found herself waving back as herself. Seeing the happiness on Rebeccaâ€™s face and watching her put a handkerchief to her eye, Shannon wished her well. Promising that sheâ€™d try to keep in touch and holding Rebeccaâ€™s new address in her hand, Shannon watched as a man came up behind her friend. Looking tall and well-built, he took up position behind her and nervously started to play with his hat in his hand. â€œRebecca!â€ â€œWhat?â€ â€œBehind you!â€ Pointing behind her, Shannon watched as her friend turned and froze. Smiling to herself, she remembered all the tales sheâ€™d heard of Rebeccaâ€™s new beau. Looking everything like sheâ€™d heard him described in their letters, she watched as the pair stood in silence and stared at each other. After all the talk sheâ€™d heard of Rebecca and what sheâ€™d say and do on their first meeting, Shannon couldnâ€™t help but giggle at what sheâ€™d saw. Standing awkwardly across from Albert, she watched as Rebecca stood motionless. Wondering if they were going to stay like that forever, she felt a sense of relief as Rebeccaâ€™s hand was taken and the back of it kissed. Smiling at the pair, she couldnâ€™t help but feel the connection between them begin. Looking like a couple whoâ€™d fallen in love at first sight, she watched as the world was lost to them. Caught in a glance that neither one seemed wanted to break, the moment was broken by the steam whistle of the boat. Now back to the real world they both looked unsure what to do next. Thinking that sheâ€™d give her friend a hand, Shannon called to her one last time. â€œTake care, Rebecca!â€ Looking relieved with the distraction, Rebecca come as close to the quay side as she could. â€œDonâ€™t forget to write, you hear me?â€ â€œI wonâ€™t.â€ Trying to say anything more, their conversation was muted by the sound of the boatâ€™s whistle and the large paddles wheels in motion. Moving further away from the dock, Shannon watched as Rebecca ran back to join Albert. Lifting her trunk up off the ground, he tossed it on one shoulder and held out his other hand. Watching her friend take it, she found her turn one last time and wave. Smiling at the happy moment sheâ€™d witnessed, Shannon watched the pair until they were lost from sight. Lost in her thoughts, Shannon watched the water and landscape float by. Up until Rebecca had left, sheâ€™d put her new life out of her mind. But with every turn of the paddle wheels, she found herself tensing up. Chatting about future lives and plans had been a game until now, but that game was coming to an end. Docking in port and seeing Rebecca leave for a new life had been a wake-up call. Drifting along on the river, Shannon had felt safe in her cocoon, with land and reality kept at bay. But now with Rebecca gone and knowing her stop was coming soon, the river felt a lot different. Going from a soothing backdrop it now seemed intent on taking her somewhere she wasnâ€™t sure she wanted to go. Looking down at the white crest the boat made slicing through the water, she wondered for a split second if sheâ€™d survive a jump. Could she swim in a dress like this and make it safely to land, she wondered. Gripping the hand rail and closing her eyes, she took a deep breath until the moment of madness had passed. Looking to the river and seeing it for what it was, just a body of water, she scorned herself for her stupidity. It didnâ€™t have a mind of its own, or chosen this path for her. This was all her own doing. Remembering back to a geography lesson sheâ€™d had when very young, she thought over what the tutor had told her. â€œShannon, you know they named a river after you, donâ€™t you?â€ heâ€™d joked. â€œOver two hundred miles long and cutting through eleven counties. But hereâ€™s something I bet you didnâ€™t know about your name?â€ â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ Smiling back, he answered, â€œThe name Shannon came from the Celtic goddess, Sionna.â€ Recalling that conversation and how it had made her feel, she smiled to herself at what heâ€™d said next. â€œSionna was the possessor of wisdom. So, not only are you a goddess Shannon, youâ€™re a clever one too.â€ Now years later she found that piece of information comforting. She mightnâ€™t be the goddess of wisdom she thought of as a child, but she was no fool either. Sheâ€™d known what she was getting into becoming a mail order bride. No one had twisted her arm or forced her to do it. She knew what was expected of her and she was going to see it through to the end. Sheâ€™d play the part of Mary Matthew as best she could and if things didnâ€™t work out, well, sheâ€™d work out a new plan for herself. Feeling a little more confident, she strode back to her room to prepare for what lay ahead. Chapter 8 Bowing his head, the dock worker took Shannonâ€™s hand and helped her off the gangplank, â€œWelcome to San Francisco, Miss.â€ â€œThank you.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s a nice Irish girl like you doing coming to a place like this.â€ Smiling at the comment and his Irish accent, Shannon wondered how many other females heâ€™d used that line on. Seeing him look around for any luggage to help her with, he remarked, â€œWhat no luggage? You travelling light, Maâ€™am?â€ â€œYou could say that, but Iâ€™ve already sent it ahead,â€ Shannon smiled. Moving away to allow the next passenger to come ashore, she took him aside. Reaching into her purse and taking out her new address, she showed it to him. â€œYou wouldnâ€™t happen to know where this hotel is, would you?â€ â€œSure, Maâ€™am. Lovely place from what Iâ€™ve heard. For a second I thought maybe you were heading over to the north east side of the city. Thereâ€™s a growing number of us setting up there now. Those that arenâ€™t in boarding houses.â€ Taking the piece of paper, she put it away. â€œNo. Iâ€™ll be staying at the hotel, thank you.â€ On the verge of asking about directions and walking distance, she found the dock worker turn and let out a loud whistle. Looking to see who he was gesturing to, she found a horse and small buggy being driven their way. â€œAnd this is?â€ â€œHeâ€™s very reasonable, I wouldnâ€™t want you to get lost on your first day here, Maâ€™am,â€ he smiled. Seeing the glint in his eye, Shannon again wondered how many people heâ€™d told that lie to. â€œItâ€™s OK, Iâ€™ll walk.â€ â€œBetween you and me, look around you,â€ he said, pointing to all the activity going on on the dockside. â€œThis isnâ€™t the place for a lovely lady such as yourself walking around. Anything could happen to you, and as my mother would say-â€ Fighting the urge to smile at his charm, she couldnâ€™t help herself. â€œWhat would she say?â€ â€œSheâ€™d say, Michael, I canâ€™t believe you let that poor girl walk through that busy place, have you got no brain in that head of yours?â€ â€œSo, youâ€™re getting me a ride because of what your mother would say?â€ â€œLovely woman, but not as beautiful as yourself.â€ â€œSo, who is he?â€ â€œWho?â€ â€œThe ten-year-old with the horse and buggy. Is he doing it for his mother too?â€ â€œAye that, and a few coins in his pocket.â€ Knowing that she was being scammed, Shannon found herself smiling and going along with the deal anyway. Handing over the address, she found the dock hand give the destination before she could show it. â€œGet this young lady there and get back as quick as you can. Thereâ€™s another boat pulling in in the hour.â€ Helping her aboard the buggy, he put his hand to the peak of his cap and nodded. â€œHeâ€™s a lucky man, the fella youâ€™re going to.â€ Lost for words, Shannon found the young driver take off at a quick pace. Heading out of the docks, they narrowly missed a loaded cart coming the other way. Looking at the youngster and getting over her shock, she asked, â€œI thought you were supposed to get me there safely.â€ â€œSorry Maâ€™am, wonâ€™t happen again.â€ Hooking a thumb over her shoulder Shannon asked, â€œAnd what did he mean, lucky fella who gets me?â€ â€œItâ€™s the hotel Maâ€™am. It's well known for mail order brides.â€ â€œYou think Iâ€™m a mail order bride?â€ Looking her over, the youngster asked, â€œWell ainâ€™t ya?â€ â€œNever mind, you just keep those eyes of yours on the road and donâ€™t get me killed.â€ Now moving from the harbour and into the outskirts of the city, Shannon was relieved to see the horseâ€™s speed slow. Wondering if it was because of her words or change of scenery, she felt herself start to enjoy the ride. Remembering back to the last time sheâ€™s been on buggy like this, she thought of the time Connor and her had taken her fatherâ€™s for a joyride. â€œSo who was he--back at the docks?â€ â€œMichael, heâ€™s my brother.â€ â€œAnd you are?â€ â€œStanley, but people call me Stan,â€ he smiled and flicked the reins. â€œSo, how long have you been living here, Stan?â€ Shannon asked, watching as he expertly cut his way through the slower moving city traffic. â€œAll my life I suppose. Came over when I was a baby, I donâ€™t remember much about Ireland. San Franciscoâ€™s my home nowâ€ â€œMany in your family?â€ â€œSix. Michaelâ€™s the eldest and I come second from bottom,â€ Stanley answered in a distracted way. Looking forward ahead, he caught sight of something of great interest to him. â€œYou see that, Maâ€™am?â€ Looking to where the young lad was pointing, Shannon saw a large buggy go by them in the opposite direction. â€œThatâ€™s James Murphy, one of the wealthiest men here. Came here with nothing and made himself a fortune. Iâ€™m going to be like him one day.â€ Watching the buggy disappear, Shannon turned and cried out. Grabbing the reins in time, she pulled the horse to a stop just as a woman stood in its path. Looking at the shocked face that looked back at them, it wasnâ€™t long before the woman found her voice. â€œYou maniac, you could have killed me!â€ â€œSorry Ma'am, I didnâ€™t see you there,â€ Stanley apologized. â€œYou didnâ€™t see me, are you blind boy?â€ Watching bend down to pick up her brolly and purse, Shannon could see she wasnâ€™t going to leave it at that. Charging toward Stanley, she stood to her full height and cracked him on the arm with her umbrella. â€œYou could have killed me, you young fool. The way you were driving this thing youâ€™d almost think youâ€™d stolen it. Maybe I should call the law on you, boy?â€ Shannon watched as a few passers-by stopped on the sidewalk. Fearing the situation might escalate, she jumped from her seat and joined the woman on the street. â€œIt wasnâ€™t his fault it was mine, Maâ€™am. Forgive him; he was only doing me a favour. Iâ€™d just got news that my husband was seriously hurt in an accident. We were rushing over there right now.â€ â€œAccident?â€ â€œYes, Maâ€™am, a fire. Heâ€™s in a bad way,â€ Stanley added. â€œYour husband?â€ â€œYes, Maâ€™am.â€ Shannon clutched her handkerchief to her eyes and sobbed into it. â€œOh my. What are you thinking, boy? Get down here this very instant and help this young lady.â€ Blowing her nose, Shannon felt Stanley put an arm around her and steer her back to her side of the buggy. Climbing in and sitting down, she felt a reassuring hand take hold of hers. â€œI do hope heâ€™s OK.â€ Wiping away a tear, Shannon forced a smile. â€œI hope so too, thank you.â€ â€œAnd you. If I ever see you charging down the street again like a maniac; youâ€™ll be in a world of trouble young man.â€ Climbing back on board and letting her step back out of the way, Stanley took off at a quick trot. â€œI wonâ€™t, Maâ€™am, and thank you.â€ Putting her handkerchief away, Shannon repeated what Stanley had said. â€œFire?â€ â€œIt was the first thing that came to mind, Maâ€™am.â€ â€œAnd if sheâ€™d said anything about not seeing smoke?â€ â€œHadnâ€™t really thought of that,â€ he smiled. Shannon shook her head and put her handkerchief away, â€œWell it worked, thankfully.â€ â€œThank you, Maâ€™am. You wonâ€™t tell anyone about this, will you?â€ â€œNo. But next time keep your eyes on the road, Stanley. I donâ€™t think your brother would be too happy knowing this is how youâ€™re ferrying his customers around.â€ â€œYes, Maâ€™am,â€ Stanley said, not taking his eyes off the road. Smiling to herself that heâ€™d learned his lesson, she paid more attention to the sights and sounds of San Francisco. Watching couples strolling together, she tried to picture herself in their shoes. Would she be the same in a few weeks she wondered. Lost in a fantasy that made her smile to herself, she felt the buggy slow and turn to the edge of the street. Pulling up tight to the sidewalk, she heard Stanley say, â€œThis is it, Miss.â€ Looking at the large hotel that loomed high above her, Shannon found herself leaning back to take in the view. Coming back down to street level, she found Stanley had come around to her side and was waiting for her. Holding up his hand, he helped her down until sheâ€™d found her footing. Wondering if Dominic was nearby and could see her, she quickly fixed and flattened down her dress. Looking to Stanley she found him smile at her. â€œMichael was right.â€ â€œAbout what,â€ she asked, taking out her fare and handing it over. â€œHeâ€™s a lucky fella.â€ â€œLetâ€™s just hope heâ€™s happy to see me, Stanley.â€ â€œHeâ€™d be crazy not to.â€ Giving his hand a squeeze, she smiled and left him. Walking up the steps of the hotel, she hoped that their near accident earlier would be the only drama sheâ€™d face this day. Chapter 9 Standing at the hotel reception desk, Shannon rang the bell and waited. â€œYes, Maâ€™am?â€ â€œI came in yesterday. Mary Matthews is my name. Have there been any messages left for me?â€ Watching the attendant go through the pigeon holes and sort through the morning mail, he returned and shook his head. â€œAfraid not, Maâ€™am.â€ â€œThank you. You will let me know as soon as something comes in, wonâ€™t you?â€ Smiling back, he nodded. â€œIâ€™m here all day; youâ€™ll be the first to know.â€ Shannon stood in the lobby and wondered what next to do with herself. Not feeling very hungry due to her nerves, she fought the urge to skip breakfast. Maybe being among the hustle and bustle of a busy dining area would take her mind off things, she thought. Making her way to the dining area, she was met at the entrance. â€œBreakfast for two, Maâ€™am?â€ â€œNo, Iâ€™m dining alone this morning.â€ â€œVery well.â€ Following in step behind the waiter, she was led to a corner table. Helping her with her seat, he handed her a menu and promised to return. Now left to herself she gazed around the room and took in the other diners. Other than herself there was only one other woman dining alone. The rest were filled with couples. Thinking over what Stanley had said the previous day, it was easy to see why this hotel was known for its mail order brides. Everywhere she looked she could see relationships in their various stages. Going from the first encounters where the two sat in an awkward silence, to the couples who looked as if theyâ€™d been together all their lives, it was all here. Wondering where sheâ€™d fit in in that scale, she found the waiter return and flip open his notebook. â€œAnd what would you like Maâ€™am?â€ â€œJust tea please.â€ â€œI canâ€™t tempt you with anything else?â€ â€œTea will be fine for now. Thanks.â€ Left alone and wondering what sheâ€™d do with the rest of her day, Shannon turned her attention to the window beside her. From what sheâ€™d seen of San Francisco it seemed to be a bustling city in the making. Remembering back to the stories sheâ€™d heard on the paddle steamer, she could see that those stories werenâ€™t an exaggeration. Hearing of its growth from a small town, she gazed at the building work that was going on and wondered if it would ever grow to the size of New York. Wondering what Connor would have thought of the place, she turned hearing the clink of fine china placed on the table. Smiling at her the waiter said, â€œIf you need anything moreâ€¦â€ â€œThatâ€™s fine. Thank you.â€ On her own again, Shannon got to the task of sweetening her tea and gazed at the street outside. Wondering when sheâ€™d hear anything of Dominic, she watched a small carriage pull up outside. Waiting until the space ahead was clear, it slotted into place at the entrance of the hotel and a man climbed out. Turning and closing the door shut, he paused for a moment and laughed back at the carriage. Wondering what the joke was, Shannon watched as a woman leaned her head out and kissed him. Holding her head in his hands, he kept the kiss going even as the carriage started to move away. Letting it go when he couldnâ€™t keep up, he laughed once more and waved her off. Now standing outside her window, Shannon watched as he paused and turned her way. Wondering what to do next and embarrassed for being caught watching, she stared open mouth as he gave her a bow. Feeling her face blush and seeing him laugh at her reaction; she quickly turned her attention back to drinking her tea and hoped no one else saw what happened. ***** â€œOh, Miss Matthews.â€ Pausing at the hotelâ€™s front door, Shannon held the handle and looked behind her. Forgetting her new identity for a moment, she watched as the receptionist sheâ€™d been speaking to earlier came running her way. â€œIâ€™m glad, I caught you before you left, Maâ€™am.â€ â€œIs everything OK?â€ â€œYou were asking if there were any messages left for you-â€ â€œAnd?â€ â€œThe gentleman you were looking for is here-â€ Shannon scanned the faces of the men nearby. â€œHe is, where?â€ â€œHeâ€™s in the day room, Maâ€™am. I tried finding you and-â€ â€œThatâ€™s OK, thank you.â€ â€œHeâ€™s right this way.â€ Following behind in a quick trot, Shannon hoped he hadnâ€™t been waiting long. The last thing she needed now was making a bad first impression. Pausing to look at herself in a nearby mirror, Shannon tied back a loose piece of hair and fixed her dress. Catching up again with the attendant she found him smiling at her. â€œYou need a moment?â€ â€œI think Iâ€™ve left him waiting long enough. Where is he?â€ â€œOver in the corner, Maâ€™am, the seat over there with its back to us.â€ Seeing the seat and thanking him again, Shannon headed there as quickly as she could. Weaving her way around the chairs and tables that were placed around the room, she paused behind the seat and took a deep breath. Wondering how their first conversation would go, sheâ€™d made sure to rehearse it many times on the boat. Going over all the details Dominic had written about, sheâ€™d made sure she had answers to any questions he might ask. Feeling confident about her performance, she cleared her throat and announced her presence. Seeing the man stand up and turn to her, Shannon felt like sheâ€™d been punched in the stomach. Standing in front of her was the man sheâ€™d seen at the window. â€œYou?â€ Shannon said, not believing her eyes. â€œI could say the same about you, peeping tom,â€ Dominic grinned and gave her a wink. Looking at his shifting stance, Shannon could see that heâ€™d had a few drinks in him. Three weeks sheâ€™d spent on a boat to come to this. Her skin crawled at the thought. â€œWelcome to San Francisco,â€ he said, bending down to take a glass from the table. Saluting her with it, he knocked it back and smiled. â€œBy the way your hair, I might have a few drinks inside me--but itâ€™s not black.â€ â€œLooks like weâ€™re both turned out as a surprise to each other,â€ Shannon replied. At first feeling like fleeing the scene, she found her anger hold back her tears. â€œI mightnâ€™t be your wife, but donâ€™t you think itâ€™s a bit early for drinking?â€ â€œEarly? Iâ€™d say this is late my dear, but then I have been drinking all night. Care to join me?â€ he asked, drunkenly. â€œYou think this is a joke? Leading me on and making me come across the country when you havenâ€™t got the slightest intention of marriage.â€ â€œWhat put that idea in your head? If the right lady came along-â€ â€œWhat, like the one that left in the carriage?â€ â€œHer? She was only a friend I met last night. Come to think of it now, I donâ€™t know what her name was--Grace or something. Never mind, please sit,â€ Dominic said and pointed to the seat opposite him. â€œYouâ€™re a pig, you know that? Itâ€™s men like you that-â€ â€œFeisty little thing, arenâ€™t you Mary. From reading your letters you didnâ€™t come across like this. I was expecting a church mouse, please sit.â€ Shannon stood in angry silence and stared him down. The last thing she going to do was sit down with this man. It was bad enough sharing the same air as him. Looking at him as he took the seat heâ€™d offered her, she could see him look her over. Seeing him look at her like a piece of meat, she picked up a nearby vase and pulled the flowers from it. Walking over, she threw the contents of it over him. â€œYou filthy pig.â€ Not waiting for his reply, she stormed off. Now seeing through eyes filled with tears, Shannon heard him call after her. â€œI take it thatâ€™s no on the drink then.â€ Knowing that heâ€™d probably take great relish in seeing her crying, she pushed past a couple in the doorway. Rushing through the reception area and feeling like all eyes of the hotel were on her; she covered her face and ran the stairs to her room. Once inside, Shannon locked the door and threw herself on her bed. Now knowing no one could see her, she cried her heart out into her pillow. Chapter 10 Dominic put his hands to his temples and fought against the fireworks that were going off inside his head. Lying on his back, he allowed his eyes to get accustomed to the brightness of the room and focused on the ceiling fan that spun over his bed. Feeling like he was going to be sick, he put the back of his hand to his mouth and fought to control the volcano that threatened to erupt. Closing his eyes again and taking a few deep breaths to calm it, he stared at the ceiling again and tried to keep his focus there. Realizing that he couldnâ€™t stay that way forever, he rolled over on his side and took in his surroundings. Wondering where he was for a moment, he caught sight of a monogram on a nearby towel. Realizing that he hadnâ€™t made it out of the hotel, he replayed the last few hours over in his mind and groaned. Not just for the fool heâ€™d made of himself, but also the strain he was putting on a brain that was functioning way below par. Thinking back to the last moments before he blacked out, he distinctly remembered William carry him to his bed. Before that there was her, Mary Matthews, the red head who wasnâ€™t supposed to be a red head. Wondering if it was all some crazed alcohol fuelled dream, he touched his waistcoat and still felt it damp. Having trouble piecing together their conversation, the one thing that had stood out in his mind was the contents of a vase being thrown over him. Cursing his stupidity, he covered his eyes and berated himself. â€œYou fool, Dominic, you stupid, stupid, fool.â€ Remembering his last moments with Mary and knowing he had to put things right, he finally got the courage to stand on his feet. Standing with only a slight wobble at first, he found his stomach looking for his attention once more. Still in a fragile state, his body hadnâ€™t been impressed with his sudden movements. Gripping a nearby table for support, he ran to the bathroom just in time. Allowing his stomach to get its contents out of the way, he stood up and looked at the face that looked back at him. Looking far from its best, he stared into the mirror in front of him and wondered how heâ€™d got in this condition. Dominic knew if asked he could come up with a dozen reasons, but none would be the truth. There was only one reason heâ€™d come to the hotel in the condition he had, it was fear. Fear of meeting a woman who he knew wasnâ€™t right for him. Fear thatâ€™s heâ€™d not told her weeks ago that heâ€™d chickened out. And fear of getting married. Looking back at him was a man who was scared, but hadnâ€™t the guts to come out and say it. Heâ€™d turned up drunk wanting to repulse her enough that sheâ€™d run for the hills. But the joke had been on him. Expecting to meet a church mouse, heâ€™d met a woman who looked like more than a fair match for him. That, and she was beautiful. Remembering the last thing sheâ€™d said to him, Dominic ran to his room and searched frantically for his boots. ***** Not feeling hungry for breakfast and ashamed to show her face, Shannon stared at the packed bag that sat by the door and wondered what her next move would be. Far from home and without a friend to call on, there was very little that came to mind. Trying her best to focus on something she could do, she found her mind constantly distracted by him. Thinking back to the moment when she had the vase in her hand, sheâ€™d scared herself with how close sheâ€™d come to smashing it over his head. â€˜Redheads and their temper,â€™ her brother had teased her. Growing up with a prankster of a brother, heâ€™d found out what it was like to be on the receiving end of her wrath. Remembering the look on Dominicâ€™s face, she found herself smile a little. It was only a small victory against what sheâ€™d suffered, but sheâ€™d take it for now. â€œYouâ€™d be proud of me Connor,â€ she smiled. â€œHe didnâ€™t know what hit him.â€ Turning to the door on hearing it being knocked on, Shannon ignored it. Thinking that it might be Dominic,â€™ it rapped again and a voice she knew spoke on the other side. â€œMiss--Miss Mathews?â€ â€œYes?â€ Going to the door and pulling it open a crack, she found the hotelâ€™s receptionist standing there. â€œIâ€™m sorry to disturb, Maâ€™am.â€ â€œYes?â€ â€œWell, itâ€™s this.â€ Reaching out with his hand, he held out what looked like a note. â€œI was asked to pass on this message to you.â€ Refusing to take it, Shannon asked, â€œIs it from him?â€ â€œYes, Maâ€™am.â€ â€œI donâ€™t want it, thank you,â€ she said, getting ready to close the door. â€œIâ€™m sorry Maâ€™am, but he was most insistent that you take it.â€ â€œAfter what he said to me, no thank you.â€ Expecting him to give up and walk away, Shannon found him look to the left and right of him and speak in a hushed tone. â€œI donâ€™t like to talk about matters like this out in the hallway. You never know whose listening in.â€ Feeling sorry for him and curious at his actions, she opened the door and waved him in. â€œCome in then.â€ â€œThank you, Maâ€™am.â€ Watching him walk to the centre of the room and face her, Shannon watched as his eyes fell on her packed bag. â€œThinking of leaving?â€ Letting out a sigh, Shannon put her back to the door and pushed it closed. â€œIâ€™d be gone by now, if Iâ€™d anywhere to go.â€ â€œIâ€™m sorry to hear that.â€ â€œYou want me to leave the room? Now that thereâ€™ll be no marriage, I suppose I canâ€™t stay here anymore-â€ Holding up his hands, he exclaimed, â€œNo, thatâ€™s not why Iâ€™m here.â€ Holding out the note, he offered it to her one more time. â€œYou donâ€™t mind me being honest, do you?â€ â€œIn what way?â€ â€œI donâ€™t like to say it, but youâ€™re not the first mail order bride Iâ€™ve known to run to their room in a flood of tears. In all my years working here, Iâ€™ve seen my fair share of drama-.â€ â€œYou donâ€™t understand.â€ Holding out the letter further, he added, â€œI do. I know what he said to you, he told me when I carried him to his room in a drunken stupor. The man that wrote this note--was a different man to that. Iâ€™ve known Dominic many years and-â€ â€œBut he lied to me, I saw him-â€ â€œYouâ€™re not, Mary, are you?â€ Hearing those words and knowing that he knew the truth, Shannon felt her argument start to lose its power. â€œIâ€™m not one to get involved in anything thatâ€™s outside my business, but I think you two have more in common than you think. You came here pretending to be someone else, and so did he. Iâ€™m not one to take sides, but I know the man you saw yesterday isnâ€™t the man you think he is.â€ Leaving it at that, he took the note and pressed it in her hand. â€œThereâ€™s a young man with a parcel in the hallway for you.â€ Shannon watched him leave and stared at the closed door. Looking to the note she carefully opened it. I donâ€™t know if youâ€™ll forgive me. But if you can find it in your heart, Iâ€™d like to take you out to dinner. Dominic. Shannon repeated the words expecting to find some sign of the man sheâ€™d met and found none. Now curious, she walked to the door and opened it. Standing in the hallway, she found one of the hotelâ€™s bellboys with a large package in his arms. Waving him in and waiting until heâ€™d gone, she took the lid off the box and stared at the emerald green dress and matching shoes now in front of her. Chapter 11 Shannon stepped out of the elevator that evening and found Dominic waiting for her. Looking impeccably dressed, she hadnâ€™t noticed how handsome he was until this moment. Standing tall with broad shoulders, his stance was a lot straighter than the last time sheâ€™s seen him. His blue eyes were also a lot clearer too. Standing nervously, he pulled a small bouquet of flowers from behind his back. Handing them over, he said, â€œI thought maybe it was better not putting them in a vase.â€ Smiling at his nervous joke, she said, â€œProbably wise.â€ â€œYou donâ€™t mind me saying this, but you look beautiful in that dress.â€ â€œThis old thing?â€ Shannon grinned. â€œI found it in a box in my room.â€ â€œI hope it fits OK.â€ â€œPerfectly.â€ â€œI had a little help.â€ Nodding his head in the receptionistâ€™s direction, Shannon found him nod his head and smile back. â€œTo tell you the truth, I was afraid that I was going to insult you even further by getting the size wrong. But William there, well he-â€ â€œAnd the colour?â€ â€œThat was me. I do hope you like it--I just thought with you being a redhead and all, and with an Irish accent that Iâ€¦â€ Smiling at him as he tried explaining his case, Shannon found herself warming to him. â€œYou did good. Itâ€™s beautiful, Dominic.â€ â€œThank God for that then. Or this would be a very short first date.â€ â€œIt would.â€ Dominic paused and looked to his feet for a moment. â€œI donâ€™t know how to say this and I donâ€™t want to ruin this little moment between us, but.â€ â€œBut what?â€ â€œWell, you know my name, but I donâ€™t know yours.â€ â€œItâ€™s Shannon.â€ â€œShannon. Shannon can we start all over again. I donâ€™t know about you, but Iâ€™d like to put yesterday far behind me.â€ â€œAgreed.â€ â€œDominic Campbell,â€ Dominic smiled. Taking hold of her hand, he put it to his lips and kissed the back of it. â€œA pleasure to meet you, Shannonâ€¦?â€ â€œBarry. Shannon Barry.â€ Shannon replied, feeling her cheeks redden. â€œSo, Miss Shannon Barry, could I be so bold as to ask as where youâ€™re going tonight?â€ â€œTonight? Well, I was supposed to be going to dinner with some tall, dark, stranger. You havenâ€™t seen him anywhere, have you?â€ â€œI think I did, he left a moment ago.â€ Dominic cocked his thumb over his shoulder. â€œSaid he couldnâ€™t stay. Between you and me, I think he saw how beautiful you looked tonight and chickened out. Looked like a nervous type of guy.â€ â€œPity.â€ â€œYou know, Iâ€™m at a bit of loose end myself. I was just heading out for something to eat; you wouldnâ€™t care to join me, would you?â€ â€œNo thanks, youâ€™re not my type.â€ â€œFunny.â€ Hearing his dead pan reply and look on his face, Shannon couldnâ€™t help but laugh. â€œIâ€™m sorry, Dominic, I couldnâ€™t help it. Yes. Yes, Iâ€™d love to go to dinner with you.â€ Holding his hand out, Dominic locked her arm in his and walked them towards the hotelâ€™s front door. â€œWeâ€™re not eating in the hotel?â€ â€œWhat in that dress? Iâ€™d be afraid youâ€™d make all the menâ€™s heads turn and all their ladies jealous. I couldnâ€™t have that happen. Especially with you having to share the hotel with them. No. Iâ€™ve got somewhere else I think youâ€™ll like.â€ Pulling the hotel entrance door open, he gestured her to pass in front of him. Standing on the sidewalk, Shannon found a two horse black carriage and driver stand waiting on them. â€œFor us?â€ Opening the door, Dominic held her hand and helped her inside. â€œYou didnâ€™t think Iâ€™d let you walk, did you?â€ Reaching across the seat, he took a small parcel and placed it in her hands. â€œI was afraid you might get a little cold.â€ Shannon opened the box and found a silken shawl inside. Taking it out, she excitedly put it on and got Dominicâ€™s approval. â€œIt really suits you. Now letâ€™s go eat.â€ Giving the order to the driver, Dominic slid back in his seat and took hold of her hand. â€œI do hope you enjoy yourself tonight, I know Iâ€™ve got a lot of making up to do. Heck, if I do a good enough job, I might even take your mind off that tall dark stranger of yours.â€ Looking at Dominicâ€™s smiling face, Shannon thought sheâ€™d settle for what was beside her. But she wouldnâ€™t let him know that for another while. ***** Shannon put down her knife and fork and pushed her plate away a fraction. Looking over at Dominic, she saw him grin at her. â€œI take it, you enjoyed that. I could tell by the lull in the conversation from your side of the table. I told you, you were in for a surprise.â€ â€œYou also could have warned me,â€ Shannon whispered loudly. â€œThis dress is having its stitching put to the test. You know I swear if I sneezed right now, I think this thing could fall apart.â€ â€œLetâ€™s hope you sneeze then,â€ Dominic smiled and topped up her water glass. Beckoning to the waiter, he pointed to their empty plates and at once the table was cleared. Once done the waiter hastily returned with a menu. â€œWould you like to see the dessert menu, Mr Campbell?â€ Seeing Dominic look at her, Shannon shook her head. â€œMaybe another time, Nathan. I think youâ€™ve filled this young lady to capacity.â€ Watching him smile in reply and leave them, Shannon asked, â€œYou wine and dine many women here? I mean you know all the staff by name and it looks like weâ€™ve got the best table.â€ â€œI should do, I own it.â€ â€œWhat? Youâ€™re kidding. You own this restaurant?â€ â€œWell, that--and the hotel youâ€™re staying in.â€ â€œAs well? I donâ€™t understand. From your letters you said youâ€™d done well with your mining, but you never mentioned real estate.â€ â€œIt was something Iâ€™d been keeping out of them. I didnâ€™t think Mary needed to know that yet. Truth be told I never liked mining. After all the work it took finding and taking that gold from the ground, the last thing I wanted to do was invest it back there again. Iâ€™ve seen others do that and never recreate their success. The last thing I wanted was to go through all of that again. People say that thereâ€™s a fortune in the ground here, but I look at it differently. I say itâ€™s over the ground. Building is where the wealth is in San Francisco now. This town is booming, and with every new person that comes here, thatâ€™s another person whoâ€™s going to need somewhere to stay and eat. So, why not put my money there, I thought.â€ Shannon listened to the tale and tried to take in what she heard. â€œI donâ€™t understand? Then why look for a mail order bride? It doesnâ€™t make sense. There must be a hundred women whoâ€™d love to be on your arm.â€ â€œTrue. But then they all know me for what I have. I wanted a relationship with someone who didnâ€™t know these things. Someone who could like me for being me.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know what to say.â€ â€œGuess weâ€™re both in the same situation then.â€ â€œI donâ€™t understand.â€ Pushing his glass away so he could take hold of her hand, he said, â€œHere I am looking at a beautiful woman and I donâ€™t know who she is. I know youâ€™ve read all my letters, which is a bit embarrassing. You, knowing all my innermost secrets and I know nothing about you. Apart from your name.â€ â€œWhat would you like to know?â€ â€œWell, the first thing that comes to mind is how you came to replace Mary.â€ Feeling a little uncomfortable at first, Shannon pulled her hand to her and found Dominic hold tighter to it. â€œPlease, Iâ€™m not mad. In fact, Iâ€™m glad you did, I was dreading meeting the woman. Donâ€™t get me wrong, she seemed lovely, but the more letters we exchanged the more I knew she was wrong for me.â€ â€œSo, you turning up drunk?â€ â€œIt was my way of trying to repulse her. I would have paid for her fare home. I tried getting in touch with the lady in New York.â€ â€œMartha.â€ â€œYes, Martha. I sent a telegram to tell her that there was a change of plan. I donâ€™t know if she got the message, but she didnâ€™t reply to it. But by then it was too late. She, or rather, you, were on your way here.â€ Feeling better that things werenâ€™t going sour between them, Shannon asked, â€œSo what do you think my story is?â€ â€œHmmm. What would make a woman like you run across the country?â€ Shannon found him look her over. â€œThereâ€™s something youâ€™re running from.â€ â€œYouâ€™re getting warm.â€ â€œA man.â€ â€œHe wished, but no.â€ â€œIf itâ€™s not a man, Iâ€™d say money. Or maybe looking for a better life. So which is it?â€ Knowing that her life story wouldnâ€™t be the great mystery he was expecting to hear, she came clean. Starting with her life in New York and her brotherâ€™s death, she filled him in on why sheâ€™d left Ireland and Seanâ€™s insistence that he was taking her home again. â€œSo, when Martha gave me the chance to come here as Mary, well I couldnâ€™t say no.â€ â€œBut didnâ€™t you think Iâ€™d notice,â€ Sean asked, pointing out her biggest flaw. â€œI mean the red-hair for starters. That and Mary had never mentioned Ireland before.â€ â€œListening to you put it that way, it does sound crazy. I guess I wasnâ€™t thinking straight. All I knew was I had to put New York and my old life far behind me.â€ â€œSo, where does this put us?â€ Dominic asked. â€œDo I seem like the type of man youâ€™d like to be married to?â€ â€œWell, I have to say itâ€™s a vast improvement on yesterday?â€ â€œSo, you do like me.â€ Shannon smiled at his cockiness. â€œI never said that.â€ â€œYou said vast. That has to mean youâ€™re looking at me in a whole different way, right?â€ â€œMaybe.â€ â€œMaybe nothing, Iâ€™m starting to grow on you.â€ Seeing him grin, she couldnâ€™t help herself smiling back. â€œAlright, maybe.â€ â€œSo, have you any plans for tomorrow?â€ â€œYes, Iâ€™m taking the first boat back to New York.â€ â€œYouâ€™re too witty for you own good, you know that?â€ â€œItâ€™s been said before,â€ Shannon grinned. Placing his two hands on the table, he took hold of hers. â€œWell, Miss smarty pants. I thought maybe I could take you on a tour of this city. Then once you see how great it is here, I might be able to sway you on that, maybe. How does that sound?â€ â€œSounds like you fancy me.â€ Dominic laughed and sat back in his seat. â€œIâ€™m never going to win with you, am I? â€œLetâ€™s see how tomorrow goes and then Iâ€™ll decide,â€ Shannon replied with a smile. Seeing him smile in return, she couldnâ€™t help but feel a connection growing between them. Chapter 12 Taken on a whirlwind ride of the best sightseeing places in San Francisco, Dominic had been true to his word. Dazzling her with sights and another wonderful meal at his restaurant, Shannon found that she hardly had a moment to catch her breath. Leading her back to their transport, he patted her gloved hand and smiled. â€œYouâ€™re going to love this next place.â€ â€œWhereâ€™s that?â€ Helping her back into their buggy, he gave the address to the driver. â€œThe Gardens please, Charles.â€ Taking his seat beside her and taking her arm, she asked, â€œWhere are we going, a park?â€ â€œNot one like youâ€™ve ever seen before, Shannon. I swear youâ€™ve never seen anything like this.â€ â€œYou think Iâ€™ll like it?â€ â€œProbably not, but I know I will.â€ Shannon punched him playfully in the arm. â€œI thought this was my day.â€ â€œAnd thatâ€™s another thing Iâ€™m going to have to watch out for,â€ Dominic said, overplaying his injury and rubbing his arm. â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ Taking hold of a piece of her hair, he playfully made a moustache with it. â€œThat fiery red headed temper of yours.â€ On the verge of a witty comeback, she found her chance interrupted as Dominic announced their destination. â€œLast stop of the day, Woodwardâ€™s Gardens.â€ Hearing the name, Shannon leaned out to see a large bricked wall ahead of them. Looking down from the large letters that spelled out its name, she found a throng of people making their way in and out through its large iron gates. â€œCome on, weâ€™ve a lot to see.â€ Looking toward Dominic, she found him already dismounted. Standing with his hand held out for her, he eagerly waved her to hurry up. â€œCome on, weâ€™ve got four acres of amusements to go through.â€ Shannon took his hand and smiled. â€œIâ€™m beginning to think you did come here for yourself.â€ â€œMe?â€ â€œWell, with that goofy smile on your face it certainly looks that way.â€ Waiting until Charles had moved off, they made their way to the entrance and joined the queue. â€œSo, how many times have you come here?â€ â€œMaybe once or twice.â€ Seeing him with his fingers crossed behind his back, she punched him playfully in the arm again. â€œLiar.â€ â€œAlright, maybe two or three times a month.â€ Holding up his hands as if to explain his case. â€œWell, I was a single man at the time and you know it can get a bit boring at the weekends.â€ â€œYou said, â€˜was a single man.â€™ Has something changed in your life?â€ Going to the cashier, Dominic paid for two tickets. â€œWell Iâ€¦â€ Seeing him stew, she couldnâ€™t help but laugh as his face blushed. â€œYou think youâ€™re doing a good job today?â€ Not wanting to make his agony last any longer, she continued, â€œIâ€™m just kidding you, Iâ€™m having a great time today.â€ Wiping his forehead, he let out a whistle. â€œPhew, thank God for that then.â€ â€œCome on then big kid, whatâ€™s your favourite part here,â€ she asked and linked his arm in hers. Seeing his enthusiasm as he explained all the attractions theyâ€™d see, Shannon couldnâ€™t help but fall in love at the little boy that was still inside him. ***** â€œWell, was I right, or was I right?â€ Dominic asked, before finding a free bench to sit down on. â€œYou didnâ€™t see all that in New York, did you?â€ â€œYou mean some crazy guy putting all this in his garden and opening it to the public? Itâ€™s one way to spend your wealth all right.â€ â€œYou donâ€™t like it?â€ â€œWell, itâ€™s-â€ â€œAnd here was me thinking of selling everything and buying a share in this place. Can you imagine it? Me and you working here. You would have to be prepared to work with the monkeys though.â€ Shannon looked at Dominicâ€™s face and found it without a flicker of humour. â€œYouâ€™re kidding me, right?â€ â€œI mean could you imagine all this? If you were to become my wife and all-â€ â€œYou have kept that boat fare to New York somewhere handy, havenâ€™t you? I mean you havenâ€™t bought a dancing bear I should know of.â€ Hearing the comment Dominic couldnâ€™t keep the joke going any longer. Seeing the look on her face, he broke out laughing. â€œIâ€™m sorry I couldnâ€™t resist it. Honestly you should have seen the look on your face. But, I was thinking of buying a monkey.â€ â€œTaking care of one ape would be enough.â€ â€œSo, youâ€™ve changed your mind about me.â€ â€œI never said that.â€ â€œYour lips might lie, but your eyes donâ€™t.â€ On the verge of coming up with a witty rebuttal, Shannon found Dominic edge closer. Taking a gentle hold of her chin, he leaned in and kissed her softly on the lips. Moving slowly backwards, he added, â€œI think the lips are agreeing now too.â€ â€œApe.â€ Smiling at the comment, she found Dominic move in once more and kiss her. Taking it slower and longer this time, she joined in it as enthusiastically as he did. Pulling away, she looked at the eyes that looked back at her and felt the spark of love sheâ€™d felt earlier grow in intensity. Seeing Dominic look like he felt the same, she found them both meet again for another long and lingering kiss. Breaking away after what seemed a lifetime, she found Dominic tuck a piece of hair behind her ear. â€œYou know with all the fortune Robert Woodward spent on this place, thereâ€™s no exhibit that could beat what Iâ€™m looking at right now.â€ â€œNot even the dancing bear?â€ â€œNothing.â€ â€œNot even the sea lions?â€ â€œNot even the sea lions.â€ Taking her hand, Dominic stood up and pulled her to her feet. Holding her close to him, he remarked, â€œI donâ€™t know about you, but I had a good time today.â€ â€œMe too.â€ â€œIâ€™ve also never met anyone like you before.â€ Shannon toyed with her hair coyly. â€œNever?â€ â€œYouâ€™ve not making this easy for me, Shannon. A few days ago I never even knew you existed, but now, now I couldnâ€™t see myself with anyone but you. I know you came here to be a mail order bride, but I wouldnâ€™t want you to have to stick to that obligation if you didnâ€™t want to. Shannon, what Iâ€™m trying to say isâ€¦â€ â€œYes.â€ â€œYes, what?â€ â€œYes Iâ€™d love to marry you. For better for worse, for whatever.â€ Taking her in his arms, he held her tightly. â€œHow does tomorrow sound?â€ â€œHmmm, tomorrowâ€¦â€ â€œBut if that doesnâ€™t suit. I donâ€™t want to put pressure on you.â€ â€œIâ€™d marry you right now, Dominic.â€ Shannon found him take her once more in a long and lingering kiss. Coming back up for air, he asked. â€œYou donâ€™t want to see anything more here, do you?â€ â€œLike you said, they couldnâ€™t find what I have on my arm.â€ Pulling her by the arm towards the exit, he remarked, â€œGood, because weâ€™ve a lot of organize, a pastor, dress, and what else is thereâ€¦?â€ â€œYou know if we donâ€™t get it organized by tomorrow thereâ€™s always the next day,â€ Shannon called after him. â€œNot a chance, thereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m letting any man come and snatch you away from me.â€ Lost in a fit of giggling and swept away in love, Shannon and Dominic ignored all the looks they got as they raced all the way back to their buggy. ***** â€œCongratulations. I knew she was the perfect match for you.â€ William smiled on hearing the news. â€œI told him that the first day he met you.â€ Giving Shannon a wink, he continued, â€œI told him what a fool he was letting a lady like you slip through his hands.â€ â€œI know, I know, you were right,â€ Dominic said, holding up his hands. â€œSo you think you can get things organized by tomorrow.â€ â€œHave I ever let you down before, Dominic?â€ â€œWell no, but itâ€™s not every day a man gets married.â€ Shannon watched William smile at her. â€œYou see this? This is what you donâ€™t see. He looks like he has everything under control but--as you can see for yourself--look it would suit you better to get this young lady up to her room. I bet sheâ€™d like a good nightâ€™s sleep to be at her best.â€ Turning to Shannon, he continued, â€œIâ€™ll send one of the bell boys around to the best boutiques in the city and bring back some of their best wedding dresses. Save you the bother of going out.â€ â€œThank you, William.â€ â€œYouâ€™re welcome, dear.â€ Shannon watched him turn to Dominic. â€œNow let me to do my work and Iâ€™ll talk to you later.â€ Leaving them, Dominic remarked, â€œHe likes you. From the first moment he met you he knew you were right for me. If it hadnâ€™t been for him talking sense into me-â€ Shannon didnâ€™t let him finish off the sentence. Taking the lead this time, she kept him silent with a kiss. â€œNow escort me upstairs. As the man said, I want to be looking my best on my wedding day.â€ â€œAs if you could look any other way,â€ Dominic said, taking her arm in his and leading her to her room. Chapter 13 â€œHello Shannon.â€ Shannon heard the voice behind her and felt her blood run cold. Disbelieving her ears, she turned and found Sean standing in the corner behind her. Stepping out, he made sure her path to the door was blocked. â€œIs that him?â€ â€œWho?â€ â€œThe one you came to marry.â€ Sean asked, taking the door key and putting it in his waistcoat pocket. Scanning the room for any chance of escape, she found him walk closer to her. â€œI donâ€™t know what youâ€™re talking about.â€ â€œDonâ€™t give me that bull, Shannon, I know why youâ€™re here. Dominic Campbell, the lady in New York said. Although it took a bit to get it out of her. Three broken fingers before she came up with the name.â€ Going from fear to anger at what might have happed to Martha, Shannon threw herself at him and pounded on his chest. â€œYou monster, what did you do to her.â€ â€œSit down.â€ Shannon felt Seanâ€™s strong hands grab her shoulders and shove. Flying backwards, she found herself fall back on the bed. â€œAlways like that about you, you always had plenty of spirit in you.â€ Seeing him edge toward the bed, she scurried backwards. â€œWhat did you do to Martha?â€ â€œYou donâ€™t want to know.â€ â€œOh God, is she dead?â€ â€œLetâ€™s just say she was very determined that I didnâ€™t find out where youâ€™d gone. I warned her, but she wouldnâ€™t listen. If sheâ€™d just handed you over the first time, I wouldnâ€™t have needed to do what I did.â€ Now on the other side of the bed and back on her feet, Shannon asked, â€œWhat do you want Sean?â€ â€œWhat Iâ€™ve always wanted, you.â€ â€œThereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m going back to Ireland with you.â€ â€œThatâ€™s not going to happen.â€ â€œYouâ€™ve changed your mind?â€ â€œLetâ€™s just say I had to use the boat fare for Ireland chasing after you. Right now Iâ€™m back where I started, back in this shit hole and broke again.â€ Trying to think with a panicked mind, Shannon tried to find anything that she could to appease him. â€œMy father. Get in touch with him. I bet heâ€™d give you a loan.â€ â€œWhat, you want me to tell him that I lost you? That I wasted all his money chasing you down and then go and ask for more?â€ â€œWell maybe, he might-â€ â€œYou just couldnâ€™t do as you were told, could you? You just couldnâ€™t come home with me. We could have been so happy together.â€ Trying to keep the distance between them, Shannon felt herself backed into a corner. Looking at Seanâ€™s face, she could see a madness she hadnâ€™t noticed earlier. Reaching behind him, she caught a glimpse of shining metal. Holding it in front of him, she stared at the blade of a hunting knife. â€œI swear Sean, Iâ€™ll scream.â€ â€œGo on, do it. You scream and Iâ€™ll gut the next person that comes through that door. Maybe Iâ€™ll get lucky. Maybe your new fella will be the first to come in?â€ â€œPlease Sean, whatever you want, Iâ€™ll do it. Iâ€™ll go home with you, whatever, just let me make this up to you. Nobody else has to get hurt.â€ Lowering his knife, he paused. â€œYouâ€™d do that?â€ â€œWhatever Sean, Iâ€™ll go home with you. Make my father do right by you. Whatever the deal was, the land he promised.â€ â€œAnd you.â€ â€œWhat do you mean?â€ â€œYour father promised you as part of the deal.â€ â€œMe?â€ â€œYou didnâ€™t think I killed that lady for a piece of land, did you?â€ Hearing of Marthaâ€™s fate, Shannon pushed that thought to the back of her mind. Now wasnâ€™t the time to tackle that problem, she had to find some way to get herself out of the room. Right now it was best if she kept him talking. â€œWhat did he promise you, Sean?â€ Shannon watched as he reached into a pocket and took out a piece of paper. Tossing it to her, Shannon unwrapped it and read it. â€œI guess he never forgave you and Connor for showing him up. Probably the talk of the parish for a long time. I didnâ€™t think you needed to see that telegram. Once we were home, Iâ€™d get twenty acres and a small farm house. Plus, your hand in marriage. But now thatâ€™s all gone.â€ â€œI donâ€™t know what to say-â€ â€œStill think you can make things better?â€ â€œWhat do you want, Sean, money? I can ask Dominic, maybe he might lend you some.â€ â€œWhat, borrow money off lover boy? As if thatâ€™s going to happen.â€ Raising his knife once more, Sean smiled. â€œI came here to take you and Iâ€™m going to take you.â€ â€œBut you said-â€ â€œI said I was going to take you; I didnâ€™t say I was taking you anywhere. I didnâ€™t come all the way for nothing.â€ Waving his knife, he smiled. â€œStrip.â€ Shannon heard the word and for a while couldnâ€™t believe what sheâ€™d heard. â€œWhat?â€ â€œYou heard me, strip. You didnâ€™t think I came all this way for nothing, did you? As if I could drag you back cross this God forsaken country and then put you on a boat. No, Shannon, if anyoneâ€™s to blame for whatâ€™s about to happen to you, itâ€™s you. We could have been so good together, but you had to spoil it all.â€ â€œSean, please.â€ Holding the blade higher, he waved it at her. â€œRight now youâ€™ve got two choices, Shannon. Either you take that pretty little dress off, or Iâ€™m going to cut it off you.â€ Shannon looked to the door. â€œDo it, I dare you. By the time, anyone comes in here youâ€™ll be dead and theyâ€™ll be on the sharp end of this knife. So whatâ€™s it going to be?â€ Looking to the door once more, she knew sheâ€™d no choice. Reaching to her left shoulder, she pulled her dresses strap off it and let it hang. Working on the other side and doing the same, she watched as Seanâ€™s eyes grew larger at the thought of what was yet to come. â€œLooks like even heâ€™s not around to help you.â€ Confused at first, Shannon looked to where Sean was staring and found his eyes fixed on the crucifix that hung around her neck. Conscious that it was her brotherâ€™s, she held it tightly in her hand as if to block out what was about to happen. Trying in some way to keep it separate from her, she tore it from her neck. â€œLet me help you with that.â€ Holding the blade in view, Sean took hold of her and spun her around. Grabbing at her dress, he tore apart the fasteners on the back and let it fall to the floor. â€œSee, that was easy wasnâ€™t it?â€ Shannon felt a finger run down between her shoulder blades. Shaking at his touch, she then felt a warm breath on the back of her neck. â€œSo, how would you like it, slow and steady or rough and fast?â€ Keeping silent, she felt a hand come around to the front of her and squeeze her chest. â€œHow about we let those tits of yours out?â€ Shannon stared at the pattern of the wallpaper in front of her and focused everything she could on it. Feeling a tear roll down her face, she felt Sean undo her corset. Working slowly, he stopped when he was halfway there and loosened it open. Then taking her by the shoulder, he turned her around and stared at her. â€œLet me see them.â€ Shannon looked at his face and could see that the man she knew was gone; in its place was an animal that had only one thing on its mind. Looking at the eyes filled with lust, she took hold of the cups that supported her chest and pulled them down. Now topless, she watched as he gazed at her breasts. â€œA fine pair if I do say so myself.â€ Walking forward Sean put his knife in the back of his waist band. Now with both hands free, she found herself pressed back up against the wall as he cupped and kneaded them roughly. Then moving his head down, he sucked and licked at them. Turning away, Shannon tried to put the image of what he was doing to the back of her mind. Looking for something to focus on instead, she found she was still holding onto the small metal crucifix. Opening her hand, she stared at it and hoped it would all be over soon. Chapter 14 Dominic hovered his finger over the escalator button and wondered if heâ€™d press it. Heâ€™d only seen her five minute ago. Would going back up to sneak another kiss off her seem a bit desperate, he wondered. Deciding that heâ€™d look silly, and possibly interrupt any preparations Shannon was making for their wedding day, he walked out and allowed the doors to close behind him. Wondering how else to spend his last night as a single man, his eyes fell on the sign for the hotelâ€™s bar. He knew it probably wasnâ€™t the best decision to make, but he needed something to calm his mind. Filled with thoughts of their wedding day and hoping everything worked out OK, he knew sleep for going to have a hard time finding him tonight. It wasnâ€™t every day you took a beautiful woman for your wife. Holding that thought, Dominic made for the bar and pulled up a stool. Beckoning the barman over to him, he asked. â€œWhiskey, Robert.â€ With a nod of his head, Robert went to the back counter and looked for a bottle. Rubbing a light dusting of film off it, he took it and placed it on the counter. Picking the bottle up, Dominic gazed at its label and smiled. It was one of the rarest brands of whiskey around, and one heâ€™d thought had long gone. â€œWell, itâ€™s not day every you get married, is it Dominic?â€ Robert asked. Holding the bottle, Dominic said, â€œCare to join me?â€ â€œIf itâ€™s only one, and youâ€™re asking-â€ â€œBelieve me Robert, it's only one. Anything more and sheâ€™ll have my guts for garters.â€ â€œYouâ€™re sounding like a married man already.â€ Robert smiled and topped up two shot glasses. â€œI guess I am, arenâ€™t I?â€ Dominic said, picking up his glass. Seeing Robert hold his out, he clinked his glass off it. â€œTo a happy marriage,â€ Robert saluted. â€œA happy marriage.â€ â€œIâ€™m surprised to see you here.â€ Dominic looked around and found William coming his way. â€œYou sure thatâ€™s a wise decision? You do remember what happened the last time you were drinking in here?â€ â€œBelieve me, William, itâ€™s my first and last.â€ Looking to Robert, he nodded for support. â€œTrue, Iâ€™ve got permission to toss him out of here after this,â€ Robert replied. â€œGood. Iâ€™d hate for anything to go wrong after all the preparation I put in this evening. By the way, I ordered those flowers she likes.â€ Dominic nodded. â€œThank you. I donâ€™t deserve you, you know that?â€ â€œYouâ€™re right you donâ€™t. Now get to bed and Iâ€™ll see you in the morning,â€ William replied, walking away. Pausing at the door, he turned. â€œOh before I forget, did Shannon meet up with her Irish friend?â€ â€œWhat Irish friend?â€ â€œThe gentleman that came in earlier, he seemed very happy that she was here. Said he wanted to see her before she got married.â€ Getting off his stool, Dominic put one foot on the floor. â€œWhat did he look like?â€ â€œAverage height, black hair, greying a little. Oh, and he had a limp.â€ Hearing the last part Dominic broke into a sprint. Pushing past William, he ran for the stairs. Reaching the third floor, Dominic stopped for a moment to catch his breath. Wondering what heâ€™d say to her if heâ€™d let his imagination get the better of him, he put that thought aside and ran to her room. Sheâ€™d understand his concern. Standing outside, he tapped on it and waited for a reply. Hearing nothing, he put his ear to it and listened. Thinking at first that sheâ€™d fallen asleep, he strained to hear a man speaking. â€œShannon, are you alright in there?â€ â€œDOMINIC HELP ME!â€ Hearing the woman that he loved on the other side of the door and unable to protect her, he slammed his shoulder into it and bounced off it. â€œBE CAREFUL DOMINIC, HEâ€™S GOT A KNIFE!â€ Using that image to pull strength from places he didnâ€™t know he had, Dominic stepped back, raised his foot and kicked out at the door lock. Relieved to see the door burst open, he found another and larger problem on his hands. Standing facing him, he found Shannon clutching a torn corset to her chest and Sean with a knife to her throat. â€œSo this is him. This is the one you ran off to marry,â€ Sean gloated. Dominic walked into the room and pushed the door closed behind him. â€œAnd you must be Sean.â€ â€œDonâ€™t take another step or Iâ€™ll cut her, I swear I will.â€ Turning to Shannon he sneered into her ear. â€œSo, what has this Yank got that I donâ€™t?â€ â€œDrop the knife, Sean-â€ â€œAnd what, youâ€™ll just let me go? I thought he was a clever one, Shannon.â€ Dominic held out his hands to show that they were empty. â€œWhy not be a man and drop the knife. Letâ€™s just settle this between you and me.â€ Waving his knife for effect, Sean said, â€œMaybe another time, but as you can see my problem isnâ€™t with you, itâ€™s with her. How about you come back in half an hour after we finish our business? What do you think Shannon?â€ â€œI donâ€™t think youâ€™d last that long, Sean.â€ Dominic heard the reply and looked at her. Seeing a look of fear on her face earlier, he found it replaced with a look of defiance. Wondering what was going on in her head, he watched as she turned and rammed a small metallic object into Seanâ€™s eye. Seeing him distracted and his hands go to his face, Dominic ran at him and took him down. Knocking the knife from his hand, he pulled the man toward him and sent his head back toward the floor with a punch. Holding his fist and wanting to inflict more pain, he watched as Seanâ€™s head fell slack to the side. Climbing off the body, Dominic turned and found William appear at the door beside Shannon. Looking at the scene for a second and guessing at what had happened, Dominic watched him take his jacket and place it around her shoulders. Joining the pair, he threw his arms around her and held her tight. Now safely in his arms, he felt her knees buckle as the shock of everything settled in. Scooping her up and taking her in his arms, he looked to William. â€œAny roomâ€™s free?â€ â€œTwo doors down, Iâ€™ll keep an eye on him until the local law turns up.â€ â€œThanks, William.â€ Carrying her in his arms, Dominic made his way to the empty room and turned the handle. Once inside he turned on the light and placed her on the bed. Pulling back the bedclothes, he helped her cover herself and made her comfortable. Sitting on the edge of the bed, he looked at how small and fragile she now seemed and wiped away a tear. He couldnâ€™t believe how close heâ€™d come to losing her. In only a few short days this complete stranger had come into his life and changed it forever. Bending down, Dominic kissed her on the forehead and kept his lips there. Feeling his heart swell, he took them away and looked at the eyes that gazed back at him. â€œThank you, Dominic.â€ â€œIt should be me thanking you.â€ Looking at him with a confused look, she asked, â€œFor what?â€ â€œFor everything. For coming into my life and making me the happiest man in the world.â€ â€œYou still want to get married?â€ â€œIf youâ€™ll have me.â€ Sitting up, she threw her arms around him and held him tight. â€œGood.â€ Holding her, he smiled. â€œBut Iâ€™ll have to break one tradition.â€ â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ â€œThereâ€™s no way Iâ€™m leaving you alone until we stand in front of the pastor. I donâ€™t care what anyone says.â€ â€œAgreed.â€ Pulling back the sheets Dominic kicked off his boots and climbed in beside her. Putting an arm under her head, he placed it on his chest and held her tightly until she fell asleep. Chapter 15 Shannon stood in front of the full length mirror, turning to see how the back of her wedding dress looked, she heard William say. â€œYou look wonderful.â€ â€œThank you.â€ â€œIâ€™m glad you like it. So, how are your nerves?â€ Holding out her hand, she watched as her hand shook a little. â€œIâ€™d say thatâ€™s a good sign,â€ William added. â€œIf you werenâ€™t nervous, Iâ€™d worry.â€ â€œAnd Dominic?â€ â€œHonestly, I donâ€™t think he got a wink of sleep last night,â€ William smiled. â€œI know he wanted to stay with me until we got to the pastor, but there was no way I was letting him catch a glimpse of me in this dress.â€ â€œOh, before I forget.â€ Shannon watched as William reached into his pocket and took out a small piece of jewelery. â€œIâ€™d heard how close you and your brother were, and well, with you being alone here--I thought youâ€™d want this.â€ Opening his hand, William held Connorâ€™s crucifix in it. â€œI cleaned it up andâ€¦â€ Taking the cross, she clutched it in her hand and then threw her arms around him. â€œThank you, William you donâ€™t know how much that means to me.â€ â€œHere let me put it on.â€ Taking the small chain, he placed it around her neck and fixed the clasp. â€œNow youâ€™ve got a little piece of family with you.â€ Shannon put her hand to her eye to mop up a tear. â€œHey, hey, come on, heâ€™d want you to see happy.â€ â€œI am, William, I am. Iâ€™ve never been so happy--can I ask you something?â€ â€œWhat is it?â€ â€œWill you do something for me?â€ â€œNo problem, whatever you need.â€ Shannon paused. Sheâ€™d only known William for a few days, but in that time heâ€™d became more than a good friend. â€œWould you give me away?â€ â€œWell, I donâ€™t know what to say?â€ â€œSay yes.â€ â€œIâ€™d be honoured, Shannon. Thank you.â€ Hearing a knock on the door, William went and answered it. Looking back at her, he smiled, â€œTheyâ€™re ready.â€ Shannon took one last look in the mirror and gazed at the face that looked back. In an hour from now, sheâ€™d be Mrs. Shannon Campbell. Thinking of the journey sheâ€™d been on, she couldnâ€™t help but remember the woman that had made it all possible for her, Martha. Hoping that she was at peace now and in the arms of her loving husband, Shannon hoped that she knew sheâ€™d done another good job. Giving herself a quick look over, she joined William at the door. Linking her arm in his, she smiled. â€œLetâ€™s go. Iâ€™ve got a husband waiting for me.â€ Chapter 16 One year laterâ€¦. Shannon held Dominicâ€™s hand to her bump and felt the baby kick against it. â€œHeâ€™s got a helluva kick there.â€ Pulling herself up in her bed to a seated position, Shannon remarked, â€œAll right for you, itâ€™s my insides that are taking a beating. And why is it every man thinks his wifeâ€™s having a boy. You know it could be a girl.â€ â€œIf sheâ€™s as beautiful as her mother, youâ€™ll get no arguments from me.â€ Dominic leaned over and kissed her softly. Looking back at her large swollen belly, he remarked, â€œYou donâ€™t think itâ€™s twins do you?â€ Slapping his hand, she chuckled. â€œDonâ€™t you dare joke like that.â€ â€œI couldnâ€™t resist it just to see the look on your face. To tell the truth the closer itâ€™s getting to the end, the more Iâ€™m getting a little scared of it all. Me, a father?â€ â€œYouâ€™ll be a wonderful father, Dominic.â€ â€œBut I mean the early days. I havenâ€™t got the first idea of what to do. Feeding them, changing them, heck, I donâ€™t even know the right way to hold them.â€ â€œItâ€™s a good job weâ€™re getting help then, isnâ€™t it?â€ â€œFrom where?â€ â€œWell, you remember Rebecca. You know, the lady I met on the boat.â€ Dominic nodded. â€œWell, her husband is heading back east to sort out some family matter. Heâ€™s going to be gone for a couple of weeks. So I said why doesnâ€™t she come here. Itâ€™s been a long time since weâ€™ve seen each other and she said sheâ€™d love to help out--plus she can stay at the hotel. So this way you wonâ€™t have to worry about me, and she can get to see San Francisco at the same time.â€ â€œYouâ€™ve it all worked out, havenâ€™t you?â€ â€œNot just a good looking woman,â€ Shannon beamed and watched him smile in return. â€œAll right then.â€ Taking his hand, Shannon put it back on her bump. â€œThere is another thingâ€¦â€ â€œWhatâ€™s that?â€ â€œWell, if itâ€™s a girl, Iâ€™d like to call her Martha.â€ â€œAnd a boy?â€ â€œWell, I thought Iâ€™d leave it up to you,â€ Shannon said. â€œHow does Connor sound?â€ Holding his hand there, and feeling the baby kick back against it, she leaned across and kissed him. â€œThank you.â€ â€œYou know Iâ€™d do anything for my little Irish runaway,â€ Dominic replied. Love On The Line - Chapter 1 Elizabet met Charles at the door and shook his hand. "Good to see you, my dear. How are you?" he asked. On the verge of answering, Elizabet found herself quickly ushered into the room. "Come in, come in." Looking around, she noticed the difference in the room since the last time she'd been there. "You've gotten rid of the rifle?" "What that?" Charles looked to the spot on the wall where it used to hang. "Ah yes. I didn't think it suited being in a lawyersâ€™ office. Kind of gives people the wrong impression if they come in here and see a rifle strapped to the wall. Has it been that long since you've been here?" Elizabet nodded. "I think I was six the last time I was here." "Really? How time has flown. When you get to my age, all those memories seem to gel into one great big ball. Half the times something I think happened a few days ago was twenty years ago. Guess that's the problem with getting old," Charles shook his head. Realizing that she'd nowhere to sit, he quickly took hold of a chair from the corner of the room and pulled it to his desk. "Sorry. It's not often I get visitors to the office nowadays. Please sit down." Taking her seat and placing her purse on her lap, she watched as her father's oldest friend took his position on the other side and stood behind his chair. "Can I get you a drink? Tea, maybe?" Elizabet shook her head. Taking his seat, he pulled it out and sat down. Then making himself comfortable, he said, "He was a good man your father. He'll be sorely missed around here. I don't think there's one person that had a bad word to say about him. Did you know he was one of the first people who hired me?" "I didn't know that." "Funny story that. I'd ripped my trousers, snagged them on a nail or something or other. Of course it happened as I was making my way to an important client. Not the kind of thing you want, turning up with a hole in your breeches." Charles smiled. "I suppose not." "Luckily I spotted your father's store and dropped in on the off chance that he could do something for me. I thought maybe I'd be able to get a quick stitching done and asked himâ€”but not father. No, he lent me a pair, right off the rack. He said he'd have mine fixed by the time I got back. But I think he knew what he was doing-" "How's that?" Elizabet asked, not remembering her father mention the story to her. "Well, could I honestly go back and hand those trousers in after I'd used them? He was being generous and all, but he probably spotted it as a way to sell me a pair." "And did you?" "What do you think?" Charles smiled. "But I can't complain. For the price of a pair of pants I made a good friend, and one of my first clients." "He never told me that." "That was your father,â€ Charles said and shook his head. â€œStill hard to believe he's goneâ€”so you know why I called you in today." "His will." "His will," Charles repeated and pulled open a drawer to his left. Taking out a folder and placing it on the table, he opened it. "Did he mention much about it at all?" "I knew he had one, but it's not something we talked about." "That's true," Charles said, pulling out some pages. "Not something we like to think of, leaving this place and going off to meet our maker. You'd be surprised how many people don't take the time to make a willâ€”but enough of me waffling. Let's get down to business." Elizabet watched Charles go through the motions of reading out the will. Starting off with a small statement of her father being in fit mind and body, he quickly read through all her father's possessions. Beginning with the larger items, he paused only once as he got to the part about a small cash donation. "Said he'd wanted to help the church out with that leaky roof of theirs," he smiled. "Don't worry we're coming to the end soon. I know how boring all this legal talk and jargon can beâ€”now where was I?" Scanning the page, he continued reading. "And finally I bequeath that my daughter get a share of my store and all its contents." Elizabet listened to the words and thought she'd heard wrongly. â€œI'm sorry, but did you say, â€˜a share?â€™" "Yes my dear. That's what's written here. Your father left you a share of his store." Hearing the words, Elizabet tried her best to digest them. Being an only child, and her mother gone too, she'd assumed that she'd get full ownership of it. "I don't understand." Charles put the will on the table and spun it around. Pushing it across this desk, he got out of his seat and joined her. Looking at the words, Elizabet found Charles place his finger on the document. "If you look here, you'll see his wishes for the ownership of the store." Elizabet read the name and spun to face him. "You?" "That's right. Your father gave me the controlling share of his store." "Now hold on a minute, there's something wrong here." Taking the will from her hand, Charles pointed to the signature at the bottom. "As you can see your father signed off on it." Elizabet shook her head and got to her feet. "No, no. There's something wrong here. I know for a fact that my father wouldn't do this-" "It's all there in his own hand and signature, Elizabet. Your father gave me a majority share of his store-" "He wouldn't, he couldn't. He never mentioned it to me before-" "Maybe he was afraid of how you'd react-" "You did this. You confused him, you tricked him." Pulling back her chair, he pointed her to it "Please sit, Elizabet. I know how you must be feeling; it must be a shock to you." Elizabet picked up her fallen purse and pointed her finger. "I'm going to challenge this; you're not going to win here-" "Elizabet, please," Charles said, holding out his hand. "You're not thinking straight; I know it must be a shock to find out this." Elizabet slapped the hand away and edged backwards toward the door. "I swear; I'm going to challenge this. You're not going to win; you hear me? You're not going to win." Grabbing the handle of the door to open it, she found it pushed closed again by Charles hand. Looking back, she found him standing uncomfortably close to her. "You can say and do what you want, Elizabet, but you're forgetting things. I know the law a lot better than you do. There's not a court in the land that would see things your way-" "Maybe, but I'll tell everyone how you cheatâ€¦" Cut off short, Elizabet fought against the hand that pushed her back against the door. "You could, but I know you won't. You might think that because I'm a lawyer that I only work above the law, but believe me I know some people who could make your life very difficult. Nod your head if you understand." Nodding her head slowly, Elizabet took in the man she now faced. Looking far from the frail gentleman she saw earlier, she found him smile as he took his hand away. "I'm so glad we've come to an amicable agreement. And remember, if I hear one single word of this. Well, I think you'll know what'll happen." Moving his hand away, he took hold of the door handle and opened it. Stepping back, he nodded his head to her. "Now you have a good day, Elizabet." Chapter 2 Running out the door of Charles office, Elizabet picked the first direction that came to her and ran that way. Not thinking of anything, but putting distance been herself and his grinning face, she now found an outlet for her adrenaline. Pumping her arms and legs as best she could in her dress, she dismissed the onlookers she passed by. What they thought of her didn't matter. The only thing that mattered was the great injustice that had been done to her and her father. One that no one would ever know about. Angry that her father's last wishes had been tarnished, she rounded a corner and slammed head-first into another pedestrian coming the opposite way. Bouncing off them and finding herself lying in the street, Elizabet cursed how this day was going for her. "Elizabet, is that you?" Groaning from both pain and embarrassment, Elizabet found a hand held out for her. Looking up to see who owned it, she found a familiar face grin back at her. "Alice?" Smiling down, as if their collision didn't matter, Alice asked, "Where's the fire?" "Huh?" "The fire. The way you rounded that corner, I thought you were running for your life." Picking up her purse, Elizabet apologized once more. "I'm sorry I should have watched where I was going-" "Are you sure, you're OK?" Dusting herself down, Elizabet ignored the question. "I'm sorry. I don't know what you must think of me." "It's fine, no harm done," Alice grinned widely. "After the news I got today, there's nothing that could get me down." Grabbing onto Elizabet's hands, she ran on the spot with excitement. "I've just met the man of my dreams. Oh, Elizabet, he's gorgeous." Seeing the excitement on her neighbourâ€™s face, Elizabet found herself taken in by it and smile back. "Right. So who's the lucky guy, anyone I know?" "Maybe. That's if you know many men in San Francisco," Alice smiled. "San Francisco?" "Oh, I'm just bursting to share my news. Can we go somewhere to talk?" "Well, I-" "Unless you're in a hurry, that is? The way you were running there a moment agoâ€”I wouldn't want to make you late for your appointment." Elizabet looked at Alice's face and knew there was no way she could refuse. Feeling that a cup of tea and a conversation would help her also, she agreed. "Alright, love bird. How about some tea at Henley's then? It's not far away." Putting her hand under her skirt, Elizabet felt the wet patch that was starting to grow at the knee of her stocking. Knowing that she was going to have a nasty bruise there in a day or two, she found Alice still sitting across from her with a starry look in her eyes. "Doesn't it get tiring?" Lowering her cup of tea, Alice looked confused. "What?" "Smiling like that," Elizabet asked, picking up her own cup and taking a sip. Watching her friend try her best not to smile, she found it come back again. "Am I still doing it?" "Believe me, it's come to the point now that I think you're suffering paralysis in your face," Elizabet joked. "I don't think you've stopped smiling since I bumped into you." "How are you, are you sore?" "Just a cut knee and hurt pride," Elizabet said, waving away the question. "We're not here to talk about that. Come on, tell me about him." "Oh, Elizabet, wait until you see him." Elizabet watched as Alice pulled open her purse excitedly. Taking out a photo, she looked at it for a moment before handing it over. "What do you think?" Holding the black-and-white photo, Elizabet gazed at the man that looked back at her. Reminding her of someone else she'd known, his clean-shaven face and rugged looks definitely put him in the attractive category. Handing it back, she watched as Alice held on to it and started to lose herself in the photo again. "Well, I have to say, Alice, I can see why you're so excited." "Three more weeks until we meet." "You never did tell me, how did you met? Was he visiting New York?" Putting the photo way, Alice answered, "Heavens, no. He was looking for a mail-order bride." "Really? So you've-" "Did it a few weeks ago," Alice said, helping herself to a pastry. Biting down on it, she smiled, "Oh, those are divine. You've got to try one." "So, go on, fill me inâ€¦" Dusting the powdered sugar from around her mouth with a napkin, Alice continued, "Well, I saw an ad in the paper and thought I'd look into it. At first it was as a joke, you know, just out of curiosity." Elizabet nodded, having the same thoughts herself. "I'd heard so many stories about women heading out West and wanted to see if it was all it was cracked up to be," Alice took another drink from her cup. "And?" Putting her cup down on its saucer, Alice leaned in closer as if she didn't want anyone to overhear her next words. Seeing her do this, and expecting to hear something juicy, Elizabet found herself mirror her friend's movements. "You know, I had three men interested in me," Alice giggled. Elizabet found herself repeating the number and not believing it. "Three?" Squealing with delight, Alice added, "Imagine, three men fighting to have me as their wife. When was the last time that happened to you?" Thinking of her own life, Elizabet knew how hard it was to find one decent man in the city. Most of the eligible men she knew, were either too old, or married. The ones her own age had hightailed it out West to seek a fortune. "Nice dream all right-" "And I'm not talking about some rough neck living in a dirt hut in the middle of nowhere. I'm talking about a banker, a store owner, even a doctor." Looking like the cat that had got the cream, Alice sat back and pointed to herself. "Imagine, three men fighting over me. Me? Heck, if I got three men with the way I lookâ€”can you imagine how many you'd have to fight off?â€ "Stop that, you're a good-looking girl," Elizabet found herself arguing. Although a little on the plump side, Alice's attractive face and sweet nature would be welcomed by any man. "My problem is too many of these," Alice said, holding another pastry in her hand and taking a bite. "I'm afraid me and food are too good of friends. Oh, you've got to try one of these Alice. I swear I'd marry the person that made it." Picking up a pastry, Elizabet saluted her and laughed, "Here's to a happy marriage, Alice." Seeing her friend cough as she inhaled a crumb, she found the pair of them laugh until tears flowed from their eyes. Taking a napkin and dabbing it to her eyes, Alice remarked, "Next time, warn me OK? You could have killed me with that wise crack." "Thought that's the way you would have wanted to go out, killed by a pastry," Elizabet smiled and took a drink from her cup. Giggling along and taking a drink of her own, Alice asked, "So, you never told me, why were you in such a hurry earlier?" Hearing the question, Elizabet found herself taken back to her predicament and fell silent. "What is, Bet?" Worried about getting Alice involved, she shook her head. "It's nothing." "I know you too well, Elizabet-" "What's that supposed to mean?" "You're too proud to ask for help." "Am not." Smiling over her cup before taking a drink, Alice said, "You always have been. I know you too long." Elizabet felt herself squirm knowing that Alice was right about her. She's been told enough times by her father on how it reminded him of her late mother. Thinking of her father, she was instantly brought back to the threat by Charles. Seeing the happiness on Alice's face, and not wanting anything bad to come to her, Elizabet bit her lip. This was one problem that wouldn't get better by being shared with others. "It's nothing, really. I just heard some bad news today, that's all." "You sure?" "I'm sure, thanks, Alice." "I know what you need," Alice said, taking hold of the teapot on the table and making herself busy filling both their cups. "You need a man in your life-" "Yeah right." "Seriously. With your father gone, God bless his soul. But with your father gone, there's nothing to keep you here, other than the store. Why not sell up and head West? One sugar or two?" Alice asked, hovering a loaded sugar tongs over her cup. "One please. I hadn't really thought of it-" "Well, you're not getting any younger-" Holding her hand to her chest and putting on a look of shock, Elizabet answered. "I beg your pardon; I'll have you know-" "You're scared." "What made you say that? I am not." "You're scared of leaving this place and meeting the man of your dreams-" "If he exists." "I'll tell you what, give it a go," Alice said and took a card from her purse. Sliding it across the table, she added. "What's the harm? A few weeks from now, you could be far from this place and in the arms of a loving man. That is unless you're too proud to ask for help in the romance department." Elizabet held the card and read the name. "Martha Williams." "Sweet lady. I know you'll like her. Just let her do her magic and see what she happens. Heck, if she can find me a husband, you'd be a walk in the park. You eating that last pastry?" Elizabet looked from the card to the smiling face that waved the last pastry at her and shook her head. Could it really be that easy, she wondered? Was becoming a mail-order bride her chance to get away from Charles and make a fresh start? Putting the small card in her purse, she decided she'd pay a call on Martha Williams the following day.