#1 in the Australian
'Redwoods' series. A young woman in nineteenth century London yields to temptation and commits a crime. Fearful of punishment by the harsh laws of the day, she flees to Australia, taking her mother with her. She marries to find security for them both but her tyrannical husband makes life miserable. When she has a chance for love and happiness she must make a difficult decision that will affect the lives of others.
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It is often a spur-of-the-moment decision that can become a turning point in life.
So it is for Kitty Morland, a young woman in London in 1878. When she yields to temptation one fateful day the consequences of her action force her to flee to the other side of the world, to the small timber town of Bulahdelah in the mid-north coast of New South Wales, home of the giant cedar trees.
On board the ship carrying her to the other side of the world Kitty meets three men who will influence her future.
Beautiful and spirited, Kitty needs all her courage and determination to survive the ordeal of marriage to a bullying husband, but when she has a chance for love and happiness she must make a difficult decision.
Kitty Morland stopped as she turned the corner of the dimly lit hallway, surprised to see light spilling from the open doorway of George Arnold’s study. What was her employer doing up here when he should be downstairs with his guests at the ball? Voices in the study came to her above the faint sound of music from below as she tip-toed forward, wondering if she could slip past without being seen. She stopped in the shadows before reaching the door. Inside the room she saw George Arnold standing with his personal servant Craddock. Arnold bent and picked up something from his desk with tweezers and held it aloft. It gleamed and flashed as he turned it first this way then that to catch the light.
‘This is a diamond of rare perfection,’ Kitty heard Arnold say.
‘Yes, I’m sure it is. Now I wish to examine it myself,’ answered a man’s voice. It came from a part of the room just outside of Kitty’s line of vision. As she took a step forward to see who spoke, Craddock turned and his eyes caught hers. He moved swiftly to close the door.
Kitty hesitated. Perhaps she should return to her room now she had been seen, but then she shrugged and continued on her way. As she neared the gallery she fancied she glimpsed a figure ahead of her, but when she reached the gallery it was empty. Her imagination was playing tricks on her.
She moved across to the balustrade and leant on it, watching the dancers below. In no time her foot was tapping in time to the music. The colours of the silks and satins of the ladies’ gowns, the flash of jewels sparkling in the gas lights, created a moving kaleidoscope of colour as the elegantly dressed men guided their partners around the floor.
Looking down at her own neat, grey cotton dress, she smoothed it over her slim hips, then raised her hand to touch her hair, pulled back now in a no-nonsense bun to tame the dark honey-gold curls. How drab her appearance now, compared to those she watched below. Resentment simmered inside her. How different things should be. She belonged down there with them, not up here, an onlooker.
Catching a whiff of something like cigar smoke she turned, but the gallery of the elegant Knightsbridge house, in semi-darkness now, was empty. The doors to the balcony at the side were open on this warm night, and the darkness revealed no-one beyond.
Her gaze took in the portraits lining the walls of the gallery and her lips twisted. The owners of the house described them to all as their ancestors, but she knew better. The Arnolds were nouveau riche and their ancestors had no portraits. Turning back she resumed her watching.
‘Ah, Charlotte, I wondered why you were skulking around the house in the dark. Was it just to come and watch the gaiety, eh, or did you have something else in mind?’
Whirling around, Kitty saw Craddock, tall and sharp, standing close beside her, his eyes narrowed as he leant towards her.
She took a step back. ‘Oh, Mr Craddock, you startled me. I didn’t hear you coming. I just came down to watch the dancing,’
‘I guess you’d love to be down there with them, wouldn’t you? You look lonely, standing here all on your own in the half dark. Now that I’ve found you, I’ll keep you company.’
He moved closer and she stepped back again. ‘I can assure you I’m not at all lonely. I’m just enjoying watching the party.’
Craddock’s eyes glinted. ‘We could have a little party all on our own.’ He sidled closer and slipped his arm around her waist, holding her firmly. ‘I have some gin in my room, good stuff, not your cheap rubbish. We can go up there and have a little drink and…’
Kitty cut him off before he could finish. ‘Thank you, but I have no desire to go to your room…’ her voice dripped ice, ‘for a drink, or anything else.’ She tried to remove his arm but he held her tighter.
‘Come on now, don’t be like that. We can have a good time together, you and me, and you’ll find me a good friend to have in this house.’ He spun her around. His hot breath fanned her face.
Struggling to free herself she found his grip too strong. Both his arms were around her now, pinning her arms to her sides. Bending closer, pushing her back against the rail, his mouth came down on hers.
Revolted by his wet lips she twisted her face away. ‘Let me go.’
‘Be nice to me, Charlotte. I’m not going to hurt you, we can have some fun together.’
‘Let – me – go, you pig.’
He took no notice as she twisted, trying to escape from his grasp. His mouth slid down and kissed her neck.
‘You’re lovely,’ he muttered as his hand came up and fondled her breast.
Taking advantage of having one hand free Kitty pushed him with all her strength, but she was still pinned against the rail. He raised his head, fumbling with the buttons on her bodice, and moved back momentarily.
Raising her free arm she hit him a stinging blow on the face, then raked her nails down his cheek.
Uttering an oath, he released her and stepped back, his hand at his cheek. When he took it away he looked at the blood on it. ‘You little hell cat,’ he snarled. ‘Look what you’ve done, you’ve drawn blood.’ He raised his hand as if to strike her, then dropped it and reached into his pocket for a handkerchief to hold at his face. ‘Think you’re too good for me, with your hoity-toity manners, do you? Well, we all know you’re poor as a church mouse,’ he sneered, ‘in spite of your airs and graces.’
Kitty panted, struggling to regain her breath. ‘If you ever touch me again I’ll hurt you where it’ll do a lot more damage.’
‘You’ll be sorry for this, mark my words. I’ll see you suffer for it.’ Spinning around he hurried away, holding the handkerchief to his cheek.
Breathing heavily, Kitty crossed the gallery to sit on a bench near the open doors as she composed herself, checking her buttons were done up, and tucking one of her curls back into the bun it had fallen from in the scuffle.
Needing a breath of fresh air, she stood and walked towards the balcony. As she neared the open doors she jumped with fright. Some one was already out there.
A tall man in evening dress sauntered through the doors into the gallery. ‘My, my,’ he drawled, ‘you do have a temper, but I don’t think I’d go so far as to call you a hell cat, even if you did draw blood.’
‘Who…who are you?’
‘Just a guest for the ball.’
‘What were you doing out there?’
‘I went out earlier to escape the crowd for a while and smoke a cigar in peace. I didn’t know I was going to witness such an interesting exchange.’
Kitty detected amusement in his voice. ‘If you saw what was happening then why didn’t you come to my aid?’
‘You were managing quite well on your own, I thought.’
‘Any gentleman would have helped me.’
‘Ah, you English wouldn’t consider me a gentleman, I’m afraid.’
‘Obviously you’re not. If you were you’d pretend you hadn’t heard the exchange, instead of trying to embarrass me.’
His eyebrows rose. ‘Are you embarrassed?’ he asked with a hint of a smile.
‘Of course I am.’
He laughed. ‘I think not.’ He dropped his bantering manner. ‘Look, why don’t you come downstairs and I’ll get you a glass of champagne. I’ve always found there’s nothing like champagne to raise a young lady’s spirits.’
Suddenly Kitty remembered her circumstances.
He was a guest for the evening, while she should not really be here, watching the festivities. It would not be viewed kindly by her employers if they knew one of their guests had witnessed the scene between her and Craddock. If it came to that, Craddock would twist things around to make it seem as if she was in the wrong. She was under no illusion as to who would be believed if it came to a confrontation.
Kitty looked up at the stranger. Even in this dim light she could see he was not what she called the ‘usual insipid upper-class Englishman’. She judged him to be in his early thirties, lean, with dark hair and eyes and regular features. He was clean-shaven except for a neatly trimmed moustache and his skin showed he spent time in the sun. But it was something else that made him different, an air of self-confidence, of energy and vitality. He was the sort of man she would enjoy getting to know, under different circumstances. But now was not the time.
Regretfully she shook her head. ‘Thank you, but no. I must go.’
‘At least come and have a dance with me.’
How she would love to be able to do that. Her heart raced at the thought of this dashing stranger’s arms around her as he swept her on to the floor. If only things were different, if only she could meet him as an equal.
Forcing her voice to remain neutral, she replied. ‘Surely you can see I’m not dressed for a ball.’
‘You look beautiful.’ He sounded as if he meant it.
Kitty shook her head again. ‘I really can't.’
At that moment the music started again, playing a Strauss waltz. ‘Then we'll have our own dance floor up here,’ he said lightly, taking her into his arms and sweeping her around the floor of the gallery.
As her feet followed his, her heart began to pump with excitement, bringing a flush to her cheeks. As he held her close she relaxed for a moment or two, allowing herself to experience the dizzying sensations before she pulled herself from his arms. Whatever was she thinking of? If she was seen she would surely be dismissed.
‘I must go.’
He put out his hand to detain her. ‘Stay just a while, please.’
She shook her head. ‘No, I can't.’ Turning, she moved away.
‘Please, Charlotte, wait.’
At hearing herself addressed by name, Kitty sped across the gallery. He made no attempt to follow her.
For several days she was apprehensive, expecting some repercussion from the events of the evening, but there was none.
The disturbing stranger had evidently made no mention of their meeting. Regret filled her as she realised she was unlikely to see him again.
Craddock kept away from her. Not knowing how he explained the scratches on his cheek, she did not care. She knew she had made an enemy, but tried to put it from her mind.