The Road to Magnolia Glen

By: Pam Hillman
Prologue





THE LADY GALLANT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ATLANTIC OCEAN

JANUARY 1792

“Keep your brother away from my sister!”

Quinn O’Shea spread his feet wide and tried to keep his balance on the deck of the Lady Gallant. After weeks on board, he’d just begun to get his sea legs. A violent storm had kept all the passengers confined for days on end, the coffin-like spaces in steerage hardly fit for pigs, let alone humans.

But now the storm had passed . . . well, except for the one that stood in front of him, blue eyes blazing, strands of blonde hair blowing in the wind, and pale cheeks stained cherry apple red.

She was sky blue and golden, from the top of her head to the peach-and-cream silk gown she wore. He’d seen her on deck twice before, but her kind didn’t mix with the masses stacked like cordwood in the belly of the ship.

He grinned. “Ah, now which o’ me brothers would that be, lass? Rory or Patrick?”

In response to his teasing, her brows, three shades darker than her hair, descended into a frown. She stood taller, looking down her haughty little nose at him.

“Don’t tell me there’s more than one of the scoundrels?”

Her tone and the tilt of her chin gave her the look of sniffing something foul on the wind. He scowled. Her accent was British with a wee hint of the homeland that she tried hard to hide. One of those, eh? Just enough British aristocracy flowed through her veins that she’d squashed her Irish heritage to death, much like the British landlords had done to him and his.

“Scoundrels they be, fer sure.” Quinn stepped closer, his gaze on hers. She blinked, stepping back. “And aye, there’s more than one. So I shan’t be knowing which of the rascals you’re referring t’, now shall I?”

Two well-dressed gentlemen taking a constitutional around the deck stopped nearby, eyeing Quinn with suspicion. One turned to the girl. “Miss Young, is this—” the middle-aged man tossed a condescending glance toward Quinn—“gentleman bothering you?”

“No, Mr. Marchette.” Her day dress rustled as she dipped into a curtsy, the creamy skirt falling in silky folds across the deck, then pooling over Quinn’s broken-down boots. “He was helping me look for my sister. But thank you for your concern, sir.”

“Of course. Good day, miss.”

Before they were out of sight good and proper, the haughty miss whirled back to Quinn. Like a dog worrying a bone, she didn’t miss a beat. “I don’t know your brother’s name, but ever since the storm broke, the two of them have been roaming this ship from stem to stern, and I’m at my wit’s end.”

“And I’m supposed t’ keep him away from her? Mayhap your sister needs t’ keep her distance, eh?”

“I’ll see that she does.” Her blue eyes snapped. “And if you would be so kind as to—oh!”

The ship lurched sideways. She grabbed for the railing but missed. Quinn snagged her around the waist just before she pitched forward onto the rough planking.

Those blue eyes stared into his, no longer narrowed in anger, but wide in shocked surprise. Her full pink lips rounded into a surprised O before just as quickly compressing into a thin line, her displeasure returning full force.

She pulled away, straightened her dress, and crawled right back on her high horse. “My sister is too young—” Twin spots of color polished her porcelain cheekbones. “She oughtn’t be dallying with boys.”

“Ya mean poor Irish trash?” In spite of his teasing, Quinn held his temper in check.

“I never said any such thing.” She sighed. “Look, Mr. . . .”

“O’Shea. Quinn O’Shea.” Quinn touched his hat and gave a short nod.

“Mr. O’Shea. The truth is that within a few weeks, we’ll land in Natchez, and well, I’m to be married, you see, and . . .” She bit her lip, the fire in her gaze banked to a worried simmer. “Megan’s already a handful, quite the tomboy, and the less drama I have from her, the better off we’ll all be.”

“A tomboy? And you’re worried about her and me brother Rory?” He squinted at her. “Just how old is this sister o’ yours?”

“She’s eight—”

“Eight?” Quinn threw back his head and laughed.

“I fail to see anything funny about the situation.” The glare returned with full force.

“As I said, I have more than one brother, and I do no’ think ya should worry o’er Patrick and the lass. They’re both eight. What harm can they do?”

“That’s where you’re wrong. Do you even have a clue where either of them are right now?”

He frowned. “Well, no—”

“So they could have fallen overboard and you wouldn’t even know it—”

“That’s a wee bit far-fetched, Miss . . .”

“Young. Kiera Young.” She crossed her arms. “And on the contrary, it’s very likely. Do you know where I found them yesterday?”

“Where?” Quinn asked, not sure he wanted to know, but just as sure that she was going to tell him.

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