by Cheryl St.John
Vaughn Donnelly's work as a builder has taken him to many different villages over the years, and he's never regretted having to say goodbye to anyone in them. Until he promises to help Darcy Keegan rescue an orphaned boy from prison and he realizes that with her, he's found the one person he never wants to leave.
But Darcy is not planning on staying in Castleville, either. She wants to start a new life far away from the small townand far away from her father, who makes her feel more like a servant than a person. Only, the more time she spends with Vaughn, the more she dreams of something else entirely a family, a home, a husbandVaughn.
But Vaughn's nomadic lifestyle isn't going to change. How can he stop Darcy from leaving when he's got nothing to offer her?
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Vaughn approached the kitchen and rapped on the wood. The door opened. "I'm here to fix the oven," he said to the portly woman guarding the entry.
"What's wrong with the oven?"
"I got a report about loose bricks," he replied.
He peered beyond the woman's shoulder to where Darcy stood at a long wooden table peeling potatoes. She glanced up.
The cook frowned. "I didn't report a problem."
"This the oven?" he asked, stepping around her.
"'Twas me, Mrs. Cullugh. I sent for the mason." Correctly interpreting his ruse to get into the kitchen, Darcy wiped her hands and ushered Vaughn toward the enormous brick wall. "Right here, it is."
"'Tis plain enough where the oven is," the other woman muttered, and lumbered to another table where mounds of dough waited. She pounded one energetically.
Steam from whatever boiled in a huge pot over the fire made the kitchen uncomfortably warm. Darcy's cheeks were bright pink and tendrils of escaped hair stuck to her neck.
Vaughn made a pretense of checking the bricks and mortar. "I made my own visit to the Lord Lieutenant this morning. I thought of a solution you didn't."
Her eyes widened. "What's that?"
"I've nearly taken over the business from my father, but as of yet I have no sons."
Darcy wrinkled her brow in interest and confusion. Two lasses entered the kitchen and gave him curious looks. The older cook instructed them to mind their chores.
Vaughn kept his voice low. "A boy may be removed from a workhouse if he is apprenticed to a tradesman."
"But Rory is no longer at the workhouse."
"I can pay his fine for the theft and have the debt cancelled. He then becomes my responsibility."
"So you're taking him on as your apprentice?"
He nodded. "I've made all the arrangements. The papers will be signed tomorrow, and then I can remove him from Castle Carraig."
Darcy's blue eyes filled with tears. Impulsively, she touched the sleeve of his sweater, but immediately drew back her hand and glanced toward the other women. "God answered my prayers," she whispered. "Bless you, Vaughn. I can't thank you enough."
He felt better about delivering this news than he had about anything in a long time. He had helped save a child from a hard and probably short life. Taking Rory as his apprentice was also a step toward completely taking over the business so his father could remain in Castleville where he was more comfortable.
Freeing Rory had meant a lot to Darcy, and he would have done anything to make it happen for her sake. "Your father is still in County Galway, is he not?"
"Then tonight you must come to supper. We'll celebrate this piece of good news."
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