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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Darcy had never been invited to supper without her father. She went through her trunk and bureau twice, searching for an appropriate dress. In the end, she chose one of the only two dresses she owned that didn't have reinforced cuffs and necklines. She didn't spend what little she squirreled away on clothing. She saved every shilling for the day when she'd need it to travel.
She thought about leaving Castleville often. Sometimes Darcy wondered if her father would look for her after she'd gone, or if he'd simply occupy himself with work and hire a housekeeper. She wasn't indispensable. She wouldn't be surprised if he sought a wife to take over her duties.
An oval-framed daguerreotype stood atop her bureau, and she paused to pick it up and study her mother's sweet face. Darcy traced her finger over the glass. Poignant memories of her mother's soft voice and gentle touch comforted her. Life had been different when she'd been alive. Her father had been different back then, too. Or so it seemed now. Perhaps without her he'd be forced to hire a housekeeperor find a new wife.
She thought of Vaughn thenwould he find someone else? Would he take a wife and be happy? Her plans had been settled before Rory and Vaughn had entered her life. But now departing consumed her daily thoughts. Leaving wouldn't be as simple or as easy as she'd once imagined.
Gathering her brat around her shoulders, she exited the cottage and made her way to Vaughn's in the growing darkness. Vaughn met her along the path, and her heart warmed at the sight of him, tall and bare-headed, wearing a familiar smile. "Good evenin' to you, Darcy."
He walked her along the path to the cottage and ushered her inside. "I went to the wharf for fresh mussels today. I got kale, too, and made a pot of colcannon."
"I had no idea you were a good cook."
"I'm not sayin' I'm good at it, but we make do."
Shad greeted Darcy and ushered her to a chair.
"I could help," she offered.
"You're our guest. And it's ready." Vaughn ladled buttery mussels, creamy kale and potatoes into each bowl, then reached for her hand. "Lord, we give Ye thanks for this food. Thank Ye, Lord, we 'ave strong backs and hands able to work. We pray for our neighbors who aren't so fortunate and those who are ailin', especially our friend Jack Murphy, Lord. Give his daughters strength and bless them in Jesus's name."
Darcy's fingers tingled where Vaughn had touched them during the brief prayer.
"Jack's not been able to work 'is land," Shad said as they ate. "We may't take them fish and milk tomorrow."
"I'll go see what needs t' be done around the place," Vaughn agreed.
Darcy had never heard her father pray for the welfare of others, and she'd certainly never known him to share anything with the villagers. The Donnellys' generosity touched her. "I'll take them bread," she offered.
There was a knock at the door, and Vaughn got up.
From the other side of the door, a feminine voice called, "I made you a pie." A pretty dark-haired lass Darcy recognized as a girl from the village offered Vaughn a cloth-covered plate and glanced into the room. Spotting Darcy, her surprise was evident. "Evenin' to ye, Darcy."
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