A trio of novellas of three strong women who fight to find love through adversity and against all odds... There's Caitlin, whose life as an outlaw brings her to true love with the man she thinks she hates. And Erin who has put the past behind her, or she thinks, until Justin enters her life again. Then Fallon, who defies reason to do as she wishes, finds that the one man she can't trust is the one who not only saves her life, but gives her unyielding love.
A Hard Shell Word Factory Release
Kathleen Suzanne lived in Northern Michigan with her very supportive husband, two of her four sons, and a little black poodle named Nipper. Kathleen passed away on August 14, 2000.
"Three stories. Three loves. Three times. Kathleen Suzanne has created a tender anthology that will prove to be a quick and enjoyable read filled with everlasting love that spans much more than just time."Brenda Ramsbacher -- Just Views
"I found these stories to be absolutely charming. I've always dreamed of love the way Kathleen Suzanne portrays it. She gifts us with strong heroines and strong heroes, beautiful people who can take on any challenge and come out the other side with head held high. I guess you can tell that I loved this book, eh? I would hope so because I know that I loved it from the very first page."Buzz Review News
"Please, tell us your story." Three great-granddaughters aged from twelve to fifteen sat at the feet of an elderly, white-haired woman, wrapped in a soft, Irish, woolen shawl. Although Fallon Claymore was in her late eighties, she was still a handsome woman for her age. It was obvious she had been a stunningly beautiful woman in her youth.
A simmering fire radiated warmth from the fireplace. Winds from the sea whispered quietly around the ancient, Irish manor house as if waiting for the story to begin.
Fallon rocked and smiled lovingly at the youths before her. "I've told you this story a hundred times if I've told it once." But no matter how many times they asked, she loved to tell it.
"Please? Tell it again." They begged.
Fallon got that far away look in her eye and glanced at the portrait of a rakishly handsome man that hung over the fireplace.
"It all started when I was just a little older than you are now." She reached out and cupped the chin of the oldest girl who leaned upon her knee, clinging to every word.
"I can still see the first day I met your great-grandfather as if it were yesterday. A soft wind blew in off the sea, much like today and with it came the ship that brought him from Savannah, Georgia." Her voice was warm with pride as it always was when she spoke of Rafe Claymore.
"He was so handsome." The second eldest granddaughter glanced up at the painting.
"Aye, that he was." Fallon's mouth creased in memory. "And he knew it too. He had the devil's own in him, but he was the most wonderful man I'd ever met." Her smile widened. "And I gave him a run for his money, I did. I was quite a girl, myself, in those days. My father said I was stubborn and willful and I suppose I was."
She closed her eyes in memory. "I can still hear my father's voice as he frowned upon my racing across the lawn to meet that ship...." She settled back in her chair, her hands folded in her lap as she slipped contentedly into the past.
"Calm yourself, daughter," Bradford Ferguson admonished her. "You'll have yourself looking like one of the tenants after a hard day in the field, instead of the fine lady you were raised to be."
She frowned, but did as he bid. Walking serenely toward the landing, father and daughter waited for the ship to dock. The ship that would not only bring goods from London, but an expected visitor as well.
"'Twas good of you to come, Mr. Claymore. I'm sorry to hear about your father's passing. He was a good friend to me." Fallon's father held out his hand. "How are my interests in America?"
The tall, handsome, mustached gentleman shook his head. He took the cigarillo from his mouth and threw it to the ground, crushing it beneath his black, booted foot. "Thank you, sir. Father was ill a long time. I've been looking after your property the best I could. The plantation is in dire straits, I'm afraid. It needs an owner, not the fly-by-night overseer who's been installed there." Although he was speaking to Bradford, his dark eyes were fixed on Fallon.
Ferguson shook his head. "I don't know what I can do. I have this estate to look after. Ireland is our home, after all. My responsibilities are here." His heavy brows knit together as he stopped, deep in thought.
"Oh, Papa, we could go to America together," Fallon begged, tugging impatiently on her father's arm. "I've wanted to see America ever so long."
"No!" Ferguson said with such finality, Fallon had no choice but to drop the matter. "But, I suppose I might have to go and tend things, myself. Perhaps I'll just sell it," he said to the young man, and then to Fallon, "Excuse me, my dear. This is Rafe Claymore from America."
Fallon curtsied, fluttering her lashes coyly and held out her hand. "I am pleased to meet you sir."
Rafe took her small, soft hand raising it to his lips. "The pleasure is all mine." He flashed a rakish smile.
Fallon stifled a giggle as his dark mustache tickled the back of her hand. Modestly pulling away, she again fluttered her long, dark lashes and said, "I'll leave you gentlemen to discuss your business." He was the most handsome man she'd ever met. Her heart felt as if it were turning over in her chest.
Fallon left her father and Mr. Claymore deep in conversation about the plantation, but as she moved away, she felt the burning gaze of the intriguing stranger following her. It was a sin for one man to be so handsome, more handsome than any of the other gentleman who came calling.
Mr. Claymore was from America, making him all the more appealing. She'd been born in America, but her father refused to speak of it very often. What was it about America that made her father sad and angry? When she asked him about his plantation, he got that faraway look in his eye and changed the subject. Oh, how she wanted to go there! Not just to see America, but to visit the grave of the mother she'd never known.
"Hetty, why is Papa so cross about America?" she asked the dark skinned woman hanging the laundry; the woman who came from America and had raised her from an infant.
"Yo' papa know best." Hetty shook out the sheets to hang on the line. "He got bad feelings about his old life and some things are best left alone."
Fallon saw sad longing in the woman's eyes. She prodded hopefully, "Wouldn't you like to go back to America, to see your family and friends?" She clasped her hands together and continued. "After all, you grew up there, surely you would like to go back."
"Oh, no chile. My home is here with yo' and yo' papa." Hetty shook the wrinkles from the sheets. "There be nothin' for me across dat ocean anymo'. I's content to stay here till I die."
"But I'm tired of Ireland." Fallon plopped to the heavy iron seat, a pout claiming her pretty face. "I want to see America. I don't see why I can't."
"Listen, my precious lamb." Hetty tilted Fallon's chin so their eyes met. "Yo' papa know what be best for yo'. He know what be best for us all. Bad things yo' cain't 'magine waits in that awful land. Yo' best be thinkin' 'bout comin' out next year and find yo'sef a nice husband, and get dis foolishness 'bout seein' the world outa yo' head!"
"Feathers!" exclaimed Fallon, pulling away. "I don't want to come out, or find a husband." She jumped up and twirled around in elation, her smile revealing a dimple in her soft cheek. She lifted her face to the warmth of the sun, her arms wide and exclaimed, "I want to travel and see the world. I have to see America, and I'm going to--one day."
"Yo' best get America out o' yo' head chile, and dat be all dey is to it. Yo' papa refuses to let yo' go and yo' just have to make the best o' it."
"Someday, I am going to America!" Fallon defiantly tilted her stubborn chin, tossing her dark curls haughtily.
"Best not let yo' papa hear yo' talk so, not if yo' don't want the wrath o' God." Hetty took her empty basket and moved gracefully toward the house, putting an end to the useless conversation.
At eighteen, Fallon had seen little of the world, and resented it. Her friends had gone away to school in London and Paris, but her father wanted to keep her close. He said he could not bear to be parted from her, so her life had consisted of governesses and tutors. Her father insisted she should receive a proper education.
Lifting her gaze, she saw Rafe Claymore watching her from the front garden. Smiling, she tilted her chin, reveling in the feeling of triumph his attention gave her. She ran her fingers through the length of her rich chestnut brown hair, and fluttered her black lashes, feeling her eyes snap with anticipation. Would he be another heart she might add to the long string of young men who flirted with her?
Leaning on the edge of the fountain, she observed her reflection in it's calm, dark water. Her father said she was the spitting image of her mother. Her face was slender, but her chin was what he always called stubborn, and she was pleased with her generously shaped mouth, which revealed even white teeth when she smiled.
She was comely and knew men found her so, as Rafe Claymore just had. But it was her intense passion for life that usually got her into trouble, a vitality that defied restrictions. She'd only live once and she was going to make the most of it.
Rafe watched Fallon parade herself, knowing he was observing her. She was an attractive young woman, that was true, but the operative word here was young. If only she were a little older, a little more worldly, he might ask to court her, but he could tell by her flirtatious manner she could be trouble. Real trouble.
He inclined his head when their eyes met. Smiling, he reached into his coat pocket for another cigarillo, all the while his eyes glued on the young woman doing her best to set his blood on fire. Then, her father appeared through the trees and Rafe took his leave.
"Fallon." Her father's voice jarred her from her flirtatious adventure. "Fallon, are you here?"
She scrambled to her feet and brushed the dirt from her hands. "Aye, Papa. By the fountain."
"Ah, daughter, there you are." He frowned at the smudge of dirt on the front of her white dress.
Fallon moved forward, linking her arm through his, ignoring his displeasure of her unlady-like actions. "Papa, please, may I at least go to London this year, if I can't go to America?"
"We'll see child, we'll see." He patted her hand in his usual patronizing manner. "But I have something to discuss with you, right now."
She stiffened. "You're going away, aren't you?" Her voice was edged with disappointment.
"Aye, that I am, but only for a short while. When I return, I'll never leave, again. I promise." He patted her arm.
Fallon's soft lips tightened in anger. "You're going to America, and you won't take me!" She stopped and stomped her little foot. "You always said we should never be parted and now it's you who are leaving me."
Her father shook his head. "It cannot be helped. And I cannot take you. You are safe here."
"Oh, feathers! What can harm me in America?" She fluttered her eyes at him. "Especially with you there to protect me." She was trying to wrap him around her little finger as she usually did, but this time to no avail.
"God's teeth, but your poor mother would turn in her grave if she knew you wanted to go to the land that killed her."
"But she's buried in America. I want to see her grave, to put flowers there." Tears burned in her eyes, but she held them back.
"Your mother would be happy to know you are safe and out of harm's reach. I promised her on her death bed, I'd never let you return to that terrible place." He patted her hand again. "I won't be gone long, and when I return, I'll take you to London. How does that suit you?"
"But Papa...." she pleaded
He put up his hand to stay further argument. "I won't be trifled with, my dear. You will stay in Ireland until I return, and that's the end of it."
Fallon knew it was useless to argue further. Once her father made up his mind about something there was no changing it, not when he felt as adamant about it as he did this subject.
She watched him stroll away, leaning heavily on his silver-tipped cane. Guilt flowed through her. She should be more careful of him. His health hadn't been very good of late, and all she thought about were her own selfish desires. But a little voice deep inside told her, if she were to go along, she would be there to look after him and care for him.
A deep voice penetrated her private thoughts. "This is a lovely spot."
Fallon whirled around to find Rafe leaning against a tree, his arms folded across his broad chest, his wide-brimmed hat in his hand. He looked every bit the rake, a dark, unruly wave falling over his forehead.
"You have the advantage, sir. I did not hear you approach." Her stiff, aloof manner belied the flutter she felt in the pit of her stomach.
He raised a dark brow, his eyes twinkling mischievously. "I'm sorry if I startled you, but I saw you and your father by the fountain ...." He hesitated slightly, smiled and continued. "Really, I wanted to have a word with you."
She tilted her head to one side, her chin jetting up, a secretive smile playing over her mouth as she purred softly, "Really, and why might that be?"
"You intrigue me, Miss Ferguson."
She pulled a long stem of wild grass from its casing and rolled it between her fingers. "I? Intrigue you? I'm sure I don't know what you mean," she purred, her act of simplicity overplayed.
Rafe righted himself as a momentary look of cool withdrawal crossed his face. "Oh, I'm sure you're not as simpleminded as you let on, Miss Ferguson. Let's stop playing games. I'd like to know you better, and I have the feeling you'd like to know me as well."
Cold dignity created a stony mask over her face as she retorted, "I don't know how gentlemen treat ladies in America, but in Ireland a lady is treated with genuine respect, Mr. Claymore." She flounced past him. "I'm sure you mistake my intrest in you, when I am really interested in your America."
Rafe reached out and gently stayed her retreat, his fingers closing around her delicate wrist. "You cannot leave until I express my apology." His eyes snapped a mocking glint. "I think perhaps we've gotten off on the wrong foot. Please accept my apology."
Fallon glanced down at his hand, arched her brow sharply, then slowly raised her steady gaze to meet his. "Pardon me?"
Rafe slowly and reluctantly released his hold. "It seems everything I do is wrong. Again, I apologize." He exaggerated a bow from the waist.
"Are you making sport of me Mr. Claymore?" she demanded impatiently, her soft lips tightening into a thin line. "Because if you are...."
"I would never think of doing such a thing, Miss Ferguson." He held up his hand in a sign of peace. "But I do think it would be best if I took my leave now." He inclined his head, turned on his heel and strode toward the house.
Fallon stood with mixed emotions watching him walk away. He was not like the usual, run-of-the mill young men who came to the house. He was different, not someone she could mold to her liking. This was a man in his own right, handsome and mature. This man was a totally new experience; he piqued her interest, and sent a daring through her that excited her being.
Later that day, Fallon found herself taking her favorite walk. She hadn't seen Rafe Claymore all day, but that didn't stop her from thinking about him.
It was too lovely to go inside, just yet. A soft breeze rolled in from the sea, beckoning her to walk on the cliffs above the jagged rocks along the shore. It was her favorite place. This is where her world ended and another began. Somewhere across that vast expanse of water was a new, exciting world just waiting for her.
The sun was setting low, a golden-red ball hanging between the sky and misty horizon. A sudden, stiff breeze carried the scent of the restless sea, filled with magic and wonderment. The mist was rolling in, carried on the breath of evening. It shrouded the rocks, creating eerie statues draped in hazy enchantment.
She whispered into the wind, listening as her voice was whisked away, perhaps to lands across the sea. Should she wait for the first star of evening? Perhaps she could make her wish and it would come true. Perhaps she would go to America after all...if she waited and wished hard enough.
There was magic in Ireland, everyone knew that. It was her turn to have some unknown power grant her greatest wish. Looking up, the first faint star twinkled, beckoning her wish. Closing her eyes, she wished for America and a lover to sweep her away to dreams beyond reason, in a world far away.
Fallon opened her eyes. She stood rooted, unable to move. Thick fog had magically moved ashore and swirled around a human form...a man's form, bathing him in a golden glow. Her breath caught in her throat as excitement ran through her. Her wish for a love had miraculously been answered, at least she thought so until Rafe Claymore emerged through the swirling fog, dispelling her illusions.
His deep voice burst the spell she had been weaving, casting it into the sea, unanswered. "Your father sent me to find you. Our dinner is waiting."
Just before Bradford Ferguson was to leave with Rafe Claymore for America, he held a ball. Strains of soft violin music drifted through the manor house as Fallon moved down the staircase, a vision in emerald green satin. Holding on to the polished bannister, she tried not to show the excitement she felt to find Rafe waiting with her father at the landing.
She was unabale to control the tinge of scarlet that rose in her cheeks as Rafe offered his arm. Why did she always have to blush and show her emotions when she most wanted to keep them hidden? She modestly lowered her gaze.
"You look lovely this evening, my dear." Her father said, leading the way to where other guests waited their arrival. "I've always admired you in green."
"Your father is right. Green suits you." Rafe let his gaze travel the length of her, his eyes stopping at the revealing cleavage above the square neckline. "May I have the honor of the first dance?" He held out his hand to lead her onto the ballroom floor.
"I usually save the first dance for our house guest, but since that is you...." Again, warmth rose in her face. "Aye, you may have the first dance." Why was she acting like a little girl instead of the mature woman she was trying to be?
A smile turned Rafe's mouth. "Your father told me you painted the murals on the ballroom wall. They are exquisite." His eyes gazed upon the paintings of Irish country life, down to the details of the spotted hunting dogs chasing a hare.
"Thank you." She flushed under his praise. "Painting is my one passion."
"I can see that." He patted her hand. "You have a wonderful talent."
A room full of faceless people parted as Rafe swept Fallon across the floor in time to the music. He pulled her close, brushing his lips across the soft skin of her temple, his breath warm, as was his touch and his embrace. It was all so exciting. She was barely able to control the delicious shiver traversing along her spine as her soft curves molded to the contour of his hard, lean body.
"You dance divinely, my dear." He picked up the pace and she followed in perfect step.
"Thank you, sir, as do you."
His gaze never left her face, but as the music came to an end, he guided her to the table that held the silver punch bowl. "Care for some refreshment?"
Fallon accepted the drink just as her father approached. "I'm afraid my neighbor insists you meet her daughter." He threw an apologetic glance toward Fallon and ushered Rafe to the edge of the room.
Fallon's heart constricted as Rafe walked away. Taking her punch, she went out to the veranda for fresh air. The ballroom seemed suddenly too close.
She drew the fresh scent of spring deeply into her lungs. Glancing up, she studied the stars that twinkled from afar, wondering if the same stars could be seen from American soil.
Rafe's deep voice came from behind her. "Penny for your thoughts."
Her blood raced along her veins, and a smile turned her mouth. He had, once again, sought her out.
"I do believe this next dance is ours." He stood beside her, barely touching, but sending vibrations of excitement racing through her body.
"I'm not so sure I want to dance," she replied peevishly, moving down the veranda, keeping her back to him. "Besides, I'm sure you'd have no trouble getting one of the other young ladies to dance with you. Perhaps my neighbor's daughter."
He reached out and turned her to him. "I want to dance with you, Miss Ferguson."
His touch burned through the green satin of her gown. Never had she felt such stirring within the deepest recesses of her being. She raised her gaze and was instantly captured in the depths of his dark, smoldering eyes. These feelings were new and exciting. Of course, she should pull away and pretend his touch and forward manner had offended her, but she could not.
"Perhaps we can dance out here, in the moonlight." He gathered her into the circle of his arms, pulling her against his broad chest.
This wasn't supposed to happen. She had never gotten dewey-eyed and defenseless before. It was the gentleman who was supposed to dance at the end of her string like a puppet, yet here she was, feeling foolish and vulnerable. These feelings were intensified by the manly smell of tobacco and the sweet scent of sandlewood, which mingled together, created havoc with her senses.
Swaying gently to the music drifting from the house, he swept her across the veranda. His head dipped low, his warm, sensual breath brushing her face. She shivered as delicious sensations traveled up her spine. Never had she felt this way, nor had her breath come in small, raspy gasps, leaving no doubt she was no longer in control.
Before she knew what was happening, his mouth claimed hers as he pulled her ever closer. The kiss deepened, his tongue twisting its way between her lips, a delicious penetration. She moaned involuntarily.
His kiss covered her mouth, made a hot trail down her chin, to the pulsating hollow of her throat. Her arms twined tightly around his neck, pulling him closer. She had an insatiable need to be closer, to touch him, have him touch her. Arching forward, she curved to him. It was then she felt him stiffen.
Lifting his head, he stared deeply into her eyes. "I suppose I shouldn't have done that, but I wanted to taste your sweet lips. I can't in all honesty apologize because I'm not sorry for what just happened."
Fallon backed away, her hand touching her kiss-swollen lips, as sanity slowly returned. "You should be sorry, sir. No gentleman would take advantage of a lady as you've just done."
Tilting his head to one side and lifting a heavy brow, he let out a deep, long laugh. "Oh, Miss Fallon, you are something." He laughed again. "You should be an actress. Your talents are wasting away, here, with your father."
Fallon tossed her dark curls, ignored his mocking remark and slipped her arm through his. "Please, let's forget what just happened. Tell me about America." She knew she was playing with him, and she had no intention of forgetting anything about him. But that wasn't something she wanted him to know.
Rafe smiled indulgently at how suddenly the atmosphere had changed. "I don't think I can forget what happened, but what do you want to know about America?"
"Anything, everything!" she cried breathlessly, excitement racing along her veins.
They strolled through the garden, the moonlight bright as day when Rafe replied, "I live on the large plantation that belonged to my father before me. We raise cotton."
Her expression stilled and grew serious. "Is it true you own slaves?"
"Yes, we have slaves, but let me assure you, we treat them very well."
"I think owning another person is disgusting."
"A lot of people do, but let me tell you about the land."
"Aye. Is America like Ireland?"
"In what way?" He stopped beside the flowing fountain, and seated himself on the wooden bench, pulling her down to join him.
Her voice grew dreamy. "Oh, like trees and grass and the sea."
Rafe laughed. "My plantation is outside Savannah. After the ship docks, I have to travel several miles by coach to the plantation. But let me see," he mused, gesturing with both hands. "We have large oak trees with branches that spread wide, giving cool, comforting shade from the summer sun. And the soil is red...."
"Red? Red dirt?" Fallon shifted so she could look into his eyes, to see if he was telling the truth. "Surely, you jest?"
"Well, really it's an orangish red dirt, not like the black soil of Ireland. But we do have green grass and rolling hills and tall, yellow Southern Pines. I'm sure you'd like it there."
Fallon expression saddened. "I would dearly love to see it, but Papa refuses to let me go." A pout claimed her sensuous mouth.
"I'm sure he has his reasons." Rafe reached into his pocket and pulled out a cigarillo. "Do you mind?"
"No, not at all," she said, her mind trying to imagine red soil and large spreading trees. "More, tell me more," she appealed as an inquisitive child.
Rafe blew smoke skyward. "I don't know what more to say, except it's a peaceful place to live. During the day, the song of slaves can be heard as they work, and at night at certain times, they celebrate to the sound of African drums and dances. It's quite a sight to see." He was silent for several moments, then he went on. "Of course, we don't have so many stones there as you do here. When I first saw Ireland, I thought it must be completely made of rocks." He laughed gently.
Fallon rose to her feet, her arms crossed angrily over her heaving breast. "Oh, I wish Papa would let me go. I'll just die if I don't get to see America."
Rafe rose beside her, his smile deepened. "I'm sure he has his reasons, and as for dying, well...I'm quite sure you have many years to live, yet."
Fallon's face brightened into a calculating expression. "You could persuade Papa to let me come along." She fluttered her long, dark lashes. "Please, say you will."
"I'm afraid I can't do that." He threw his cigarillo to the ground, crushing it beneath his booted foot. "I make it a practice never to get in the middle of other people's affairs."
"Oh, feathers!" Fallon stomped her foot. "I know Papa would listen to you." Her face puckered into a frown, tears glistening in her eyes. "If you wanted, you could help me." She gulped a sob, peering at him from beneath her heavy lashes.
"I'm quite sure you'll make out without any intervention from me." He smiled indulgently.
"But I do need you," she appealed flirtatiously. "Papa never listens to me. He thinks I'm still a child who needs his protection. Please, give me your word as a gentleman, you will." She prodded.
"I'm sorry you've mistaken me for a gentleman." His dark, devilish eyes twinkled in the moonlight.
Fallon whirled and grabbed the first solid thing she touched. Fury rose in her breast as her fingers tightened on the small, potted plant. She hurled it at him. "The Devil take you, Mr. Claymore!"
"Whoa!" The amusement died in his eyes. "I don't wish our friendship to end like this. Please, be reasonable and walk back to the ball with me."
"I'd rather walk with the Devil." She strode away, her head held high. She gave a strangled cry, staring at the man suddenly towering over her. His hand touched the softness of her lips, stroking her as light as a summer breeze. He lowered his head and captured her lips with his, causing her pulse to jump. White-hot heat twisted in the pit of her stomach. Never had anyone made her feel like this, certainly none of the fumbling young men she'd known.
She arched her body closer, standing on tiptoe, giving herself up to him. Her body throbbed with new, exciting desires, demanding to be satisfied. Yet, she hated the feeling of vulnerability these new desires caused.
"Oh, God...." Rafe moaned. "What kind of spell have you cast over me?" His mouth moved over hers, his breath hot and tobacco sweet. He licked the tip of his tongue over her lips, and she responded in kind, savoring a delicious exploration beyond her wildest dreams.
Tilting her head to one side, pressing her breasts against him, she whispered, "Can you honestly say you want to leave for America without me?"
He pulled away and whispered in a voice emotionally strained and totally consumed by the heat of the moment. "Sweet Fallon, God help me. I'll speak to your father."
Fallon smiled, her lips still trembling from the thrill of his kiss. "You won't be sorry."
He raised a dark brow. "No, but you might.