Margaret Hamilton escaped the Irish slums of Five Points as the ward of a wealthy Manhattan widow, but only marriage can make her future secure. Railroad mogul Doyle Kerrigan needs a well-connected wife. It seems a perfect match...until a shocking revelation sends her fleeing from the wedding reception.
Desperate to make a fresh start, Margaret takes on a new identity and heads West, finally stopping in Heartbreak Creek, Colorado, a dying mining town of little interest to anyone. Here, she finds new purpose, beloved friends to replace the family she’s lost, and a home at last.
But two men from Margaret’s past are on her trail. One is seeking vengeance, the other truth. When they both arrive in Heartbreak Creek, she must choose between the town she has come to love, and the man who might finally capture her heart….
March, 1870, New York City
It had been written and talked about for weeks.
“A fairy tale romance,” the gossip columns called it. “Doyle Kerrigan,
dashing railroad mogul brought to bended knee by Margaret Hamilton, ward of
Ida Throckmorton, widow of the late Judge Harold Throckmorton.”
Margaret supposed there was a certain make-believe quality to their
whirlwind courtship—the penniless nobody plucked from obscurity and thrust
into the world of opulence. Who would have guessed that an Irish orphan from
Five Points would someday be mistress of a home as grand as Doyle’s new
townhouse in the most fashionable area of New York?
Hopefully, no one. The only way to protect herself was to ensure that no one ever found out about her Irish immigrant roots. Especially her fiancé. It was
a betrayal on every level—not just of Doyle Kerrigan, but of her homeland, her
parents, and especially little Cathleen Donovan. But she would do it. She would
do anything to stay alive. She had already proven that.
Margaret studied her reflection in the cheval mirror in her third-floor
bedroom at Mrs. Throckmorton’s Sixty-Ninth Street brownstone.
The lilac silk gown Doyle had chosen brought out the green of her eyes.
The diamond and amethyst necklace he had given her shimmered against her skin.
More gems glittered in the pins securing her blond upsweep. Everything was the
finest. Proof of Doyle’s success. At the engagement ball tonight in his lavish new
home, when he introduced his unknown but well-connected fiancé to Manhattan’s
elite, he would be proclaiming to the world that he had reached the highest level
of society that money could buy. And she would finally be safe.
A triumph for the Irish in both of them.
Then why did she feel such a sense of loss?
Irritated that she had let her happy mood slip away, and having almost forty
minutes to spare before Doyle came to pick her up, Margaret moved restlessly
about the room, finally coming to a stop at the tall window that overlooked the
street three floors below.
The day was fading. Smoke from thousands of coal stoves hung in sluggish
layers in the still air, adding bands of deeper gray to the overcast sky. The distant
oasis of the still-unfinished Central Park project seemed less green, as if painted
with a muddied brush, and even the sheep dotting the Sheep Meadow looked
dingy. She scarcely remembered what stars looked like.
“So you’re going through with it,” a querulous voice said from the doorway.
Bracing herself for another argument, Margaret turned with a smile. “Yes,
ma’am, I am. And you shouldn’t be climbing those stairs on your own. I was just about to come down to you.”
With the hand not gripping the ivory handle of her cane, Mrs. Throckmorton
impatiently waved aside the notion that she would need help. “He’s a ruffian and
a thug. Do you know the kind of people who will be there tonight?”
Margaret waited, knowing the question didn’t require an answer.
“Jay Gould, that’s who. And Jim Fisk, and even that Tweed fellow from
Tammany Hall. Crooks, all. The Judge would never have countenanced an
association with such disreputable types. My word, they’re Democrats!”
Margaret knew that despite her criticisms, her guardian had only her best
interests at heart. But she would never understand Margaret’s driving need for the
security this marriage would provide. How could she?
Having been insulated by wealth all of her life, Mrs. Throckmorton had little
knowledge of the squalor that prevailed in the Irish tenements of the sixth ward.
She could never have imagined the kind of depravity that went on behind the
closed doors of the house on Mulberry Bend. Yet when Father O’Rourke had
appeared on her doorstep fifteen years ago with a frightened, twelve-year-old Irish
orphan, Ida Throckmorton had honored her late husband’s debt and taken her in.
But the benign tyrant of this staid brownstone on Sixty-Ninth Street had her
rules, so she did—the foremost being no Irish tolerated.
From that moment on, Cathleen Donovan had ceased to exist. Margaret
Hamilton had taken her place—a distant relative of some twice-removed cousin of
the late Judge. She had been fed, clothed, and patiently tutored in academics and
deportment and elocution until all her rough edges had been buffed away and she
was able to pass for one of her guardian’s own class.
It hadn’t been that difficult. Most of Margaret’s Irishness had been beaten
out of her by Smythe during the two years she had spent at Mrs. Beale’s. And with
her blond hair and rosy cheeks she looked more English than Irish.But sometimes, in that dark hush just before dawn, when the silence was so
heavy it pressed like a weight on Margaret’s chest, the ghost of Cathleen Donovan
would come calling, bringing with her a confusing mix of good memories and
choking terrors that would send Margaret bolting upright in her bed, gasping and
clawing at her throat as if Smythe’s hand was still there.
Those were bad nights. Hopefully they would plague her less frequently
after her marriage.
The thump of the cane heralded Mrs. Throckmorton’s progress across the
room. “I wanted you to be taken care of when I’m gone. But not like this. Not in
marriage to this upstart Irishman. Perhaps I can break the trust, or arrange for—”
“You mustn’t,” Margaret cut in. “The Judge wanted his estate to benefit his
charities, and so it shall. Please don’t fret. Doyle and I will do well together.”
“Unless he finds out you’re not the blue blood he thinks you are.”
“He won’t. You did your work too well. He’ll never guess I’m as Irish as
Margaret almost laughed at the irony of it. In transforming an Irish orphan
into a proper society miss, Ida Throckmorton had also created exactly the sort of
wife Doyle Kerrigan wanted—a non-Irish, n impoverished but genteel woman on
the fringe of the upper class who was willing to marry an immigrant Irishman in
exchange for a life of wealth and privilege. Fate was full of tricks, it seemed.
“I can see you won’t listen to reason and are determined to marry the man.”
Leaning onto her cane with one hand, Mrs. Throckmorton reached into her skirt
pocket with the other. “So you might as well have these.” She thrust out her
hand. Resting in her palm were two diamond pendant ear drops. “Call it my
wedding gift, if you must.”
Margaret blinked in astonishment. “My goodness, Mrs. Throckmorton. I-I
don’t know what to say.”“Then you may hug me instead.”
Margaret did, noting how frail the small, thin frame felt against her own.
“You’re too kind to me, ma’am.”
“I agree.” Pulling back, Mrs. Throckmorton waved her away. “Now stop
fussing about and help me to the chair so I can get off this foot. It took me forever
to climb those stairs.”
As the elderly woman settled into the cushions of the armchair by the coal
stove, her gouty foot propped on a damask footstool, Margaret went back to the
mirror to put on the diamond drops. She turned to show them off. “They’re
beautiful. Thank you so much.”
“At least when you come to your senses and decamp, you’ll have something
of value to see you through. Turn. Shoulders back.”
Margaret twirled a slow circle, then awaited the verdict.
“Humph. That neckline is too low. It was highly improper of him to pick
out your gown, but at least he was right about the color. You look lovely. Too
lovely for the likes of that parvenu.” With a sniff, she turned her head away. A
dab at the long aristocratic nose with the hanky, then a deep, labored sigh. “I
suppose because he’s Irish, you feel some sort of absurd connection.”
Margaret was taken aback. They never spoke of her Irish roots. After
fifteen years of silence, all that remained—other than the horrors of Mrs. Beale’s
and her night terrors—was the memory of endless hunger, living in a dark,
windowless room with three other families, and an abiding hatred for the Irish
runner who had hastened her father’s death. If that was her connection to Doyle,
it wasn’t a good one.
“He’s uncommonly ambitious,” Mrs. Throckmorton mused, coming at her
from a different direction.
“If so, it has served him well.”“I hear he has a temper.”
“Does he? I’ve never seen it.”
“Ask the workers building his railroads. And what kind of man would
exploit his own people the way he does?”
“He’s not exploiting. He’s providing jobs to the Irish when no one else will.”
“Stubborn girl.” Mrs. Throckmorton’s expression soured even more. “I
thought you were too intelligent to be so blinded by love.”
Love? Hardly that. Although Margaret might want to love her fiancé, she
had little expectation of it. Which was certainly not his fault. Blond, hazel-eyed,
generous—at least with her, less so in business—and so full of life he seemed to
draw all the air from a room, Doyle Kerrigan was a man who easily inspired
female admiration. But Margaret wasn’t sure she was capable of love, or that it
would even be wise to open herself to that possibility. If she had learned anything
during those first devastating years in this great land of opportunity, it was that
love was an illusion, and God didn’t care, and the only thing lower than the
immigrant Irish were the despicable runners and procurers who preyed on them.
Another deep sigh caught Margaret’s attention and she looked over to see
Mrs. Throckmorton dabbing at her eyes. She refrained from snorting. Bribery,
condemnation, and now guilt? What ploy would the crafty old woman try next?
Full-blown hysteria? Margaret couldn’t even imagine such a thing.
“I know why you’re doing this.” Watery blue eyes looked up at Margaret
out of a face that suddenly looked old and defeated. “It’s because of what that
vile woman did to you, isn’t it? You don’t think you deserve true happiness, so
you’re punishing yourself by marrying this man.”
Shame rose in a hot flush, even as a dark coldness closed around Margaret’s
heart. How much did Mrs. Throckmorton know about what went on at Mrs.
Beale’s? And why speak of it now? After avoiding the subject for fifteen years, why did she bring it up on what was supposed to be one of the happiest days of
Margaret’s life? So angry she couldn’t find words to express it, she glared at her
guardian, hands fisted at her sides.
“If only I had known—”
“How could you?”
“Your papist priest should have told me.”
“It doesn’t matter, ma’am.” Realizing she had grabbed handfuls of her silk
skirts, Margaret forced her fingers to straighten. “It’s all in the past.”
“I’m so sorry.”
Shocked to see real tears roll down those wrinkled cheeks, Margaret let her
anger go. Crossing to the chair, she put her arm around the thin shoulders and
leaned down to kiss the cool, papery cheek. “Nothing happened, ma’am,” she
lied. “No one touched me. Father O’Rourke found me before the auction.”
“I never thought I’d be grateful to a Catholic priest.”
Irish and Catholic were synonymous in the elderly woman’s mind, and she
had scant liking for either. It still vexed her that Margaret had chosen Father
O’Rourke to officiate at her wedding rather than her own Lutheran minister.
A few more tears, then with a pat on Margaret’s arm she gently pushed her
away. “Do stop hovering. You know I can’t abide it.”
Grateful to escape, Margaret went back to the window. To rid herself of the
emotions still churning inside, she took several deep breaths, watching the cold
glass fog with every exhalation. Closing her eyes, she reached deep into her mind
for happier memories—rolling emerald hills, misty dales, waves crashing in frothy
disarray against treeless bluffs. Instead of the strident voices of the newsboys
hawking the late edition three stories below, she heard the call of terns on a chill
north wind, the warble of her father’s tin whistle, her mother’s soft laughter.
It frightened her how hard she had to work to recall those memories now,and how much they had dimmed over the years. Even Cathleen appeared to her
less and less frequently. When those memories faded altogether, would she be
more or less whole than she was now?
Pringle suddenly appeared in the doorway. “Mr. Kerrigan’s carriage has
arrived, madam,” he said solemnly, his bushy white brows raised in his usual
expression of disdain whenever he mentioned her Irish fiancé’s name.
“Very well, Pringle,” Mrs. Throckmorton said. “If you are finished
eavesdropping in the hallway, you may send a cup of warm milk and a piece of
toast to my room.”
“Very well, madam.”
As the sound of Pringle’s slow footsteps receded down the hallway, Mrs.
Throckmorton heaved a great sigh. “I should turn him out, the old fool. But he’s
been in love with me for years, you know, and I haven’t the heart to cast him onto
the streets like he deserves.”
“You’re too kind, ma’am.” Biting back a smile, Margaret crossed to the
mirror. Her mood lifted as excitement gripped her, making it hard to take a full
breath against the stays around her ribs. This was it. Her night. “I wish you
would change your mind and come with me,” she said over her shoulder to the
woman watching from the chair. “I wouldn’t be so nervous if you were there
“Nonsense. You will be a stunning success. I have trained you too well for
it to be otherwise.”
A last look to be sure everything was in order, then Margaret turned to face
the woman who had been almost like a mother to her for over half of her life.
“Well? How do I look, ma’am?”
The pinched lips thinned in a reluctant smile. “Like a princess.”
Kaki Warner Website
Love this series and can't wait to read this book!!! :)