Before the Dawn
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by Denise A. Agnew
Description: A fallen woman must decide to stay down, or rise and fight? Elijah McKinnon has been found innocent of a heinous murder, but it doesn't erase the hellish years in prison he endured. He boards the train to Pittsburgh a changed man, certain he will never feel free until he's wreaked revenge on the brother who ruined his life. The passenger who catches his eye is intriguing, but he's seen her kind before. The kind who puts on airs--and looks down on Irishmen. Still, he can't seem to stop himself from stepping between her and a pack of ruthless cads. Mary Jane Lawson is grateful for the handsome stranger's help, but her journey has a higher purpose: to rise above her shattered reputation and declare her independence, come flood or famine. Propriety says she should refuse Elijah's suggestion they pose as husband and wife--for her own protection, of course. Her practical side says it won't hurt to pretend, just this once. Come nightfall, though, their little charade must be carried all the way to shared sleeping quarters, where their vulnerabilities become painfully clear. And when danger past and present threatens, trusting each other becomes a matter of life and death. Warning: A hot Irish accent mixed with high adventure may cause combustion. Beware of falling for this hunk. The heroine says he's hers.
eBook Publisher: Samhain Publishing, Ltd., 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: July 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [405 KB]
Reading time: 255-357 min.
As she stood, the Irishman caught her gaze once more. "Come on, darlin'."
The mysterious man urged her to move into the aisle in front of him. Men around them heard his accent. Some looked at him with distain, others polite indifference. Two red-haired twins, handsome and stoic, left the carriage ahead of them.
She played along as his wife, an anticipatory shiver adding to the adventure. The devil on one shoulder found this thrilling while the angel on the other berated. Soon they alighted from the car, and the man in front of Mary Jane waited at the steps and held his hand out to her.
"Thank you, sir," she said out of habit for a gentleman's chivalry.
As he helped her down to the platform, she took in the sights and sounds with curiosity. The town certainly did not boast the size of Philadelphia or Pittsburgh, but it hummed with activity. On the outskirts, one-story buildings dominated, but she could see a square populated with three-story brick buildings. Various transports lumbered down the streets, from omnibus, curricle and numerous freight wagons.
To her surprise the Irishman took her upper arm in a possessive grip. Though his touch in no way bruised, he urged her along. "This way, darlin'."
The Irishman stopped in a secluded section of the station. Before she could squeak a protest, he slipped his arm around her waist and drew her into his body. They pressed chest to chest. Hip to hip. The intimate contact filled her face with heat.
Indignant, her hands landed on his chest as she started to push away. "What on earth are you doing?"
He held tight and leaned close, his mouth hovering near hers. His breath was refreshingly clean, his voice low. "Those men from the train are watching. Play the part or those scoundrels will know you're not my wife."
Caught in his embrace, her senses took in the hard, long length of his body, his wide shoulders and chest evident even through his worn waistcoat. Without hat and with wild hair, he seemed more the rounder than upstanding citizen. He looked thoroughly capable of debauching a naive woman. But the last thing Mary Jane considered herself was naive.
"I do not know who you think you are, sir, but I will not be treated like a piece of meat to haul around. You will release me immediately."
"After I know you're safe and not before." His declaration rumbled deep, his voice filled with a husky flavor she found maddening. It infuriated and fascinated her. "While we're on this trip you'll need to play along, or I guarantee those men will see you as fair game. I don't trust them, and my instincts about these things are straight and true, darlin'."
Darlin'. The endearment whispered against her ears with an intimacy that started warm, treacherous tingles low in her stomach. How dare he make her feel...she could not identify the dangerous feeling.
"How do I know you are not one of them?" she asked.
One corner of his mouth lifted, and a wicked twinkle entered his eyes. "Think a moment with your heart and not your head. What do your instincts tell you?"
Astonished, she almost shoved at his chest again. Instead, that enticing gaze gathered her almost as closely as his grip. His powerful body and secure hold let her know she could not escape. She could scream and someone would come to her rescue. But who? She glanced around and saw the two blackguards watched from a distance.
"Those men are watching us," she said with apprehension.
"As I said." He cupped her cheek. "Trust me."
His mouth closed over hers, and pure, sensual pleasure engulfed her. Her eyes closed as his mouth tasted with a ruthless but tender exploration. All her senses pinpointed to the moment, caught in a whirlwind. The strength of his fingers as they slid away from her cheek to cradle the back of her neck, his clean scent of soap and some unknown spice, the cautious yet strong grip of a powerful arm around her waist. The crinoline proved no barrier to this man. She felt surrounded, cherished, utterly disarmed.
Surprise and dismay slammed her. Absolutely not. She would not allow this.
The last time she had let a man kiss her like this...well, disaster had ensued.
But this man...oh, his kiss was different. Delicious. So beguiling that she felt her inhibitions crumbling, rolling down a rocky slope.
Before she could pull away, he lifted his head. He assessed her, his gaze hot and hungry. He looked as if he wanted more. Much more.
"Release me." Her throat felt tight. "Release me or I will scream."
His gaze still simmered, but now she saw anger there as well.
Ashamed that she stood like a placid child, she pulled out of his arms. "That, sir, is just the reason why I should not trust you."
"Take my protection. Those other men will do far more than kiss you, and I guarantee you won't like it."
She gasped in indignation. "I knew you were not honorable. Why, I do not even know your name."
"McKinnon, darlin', just as I said on the train. Elijah Jonas McKinnon. And your name?"
Half tempted not to give it to him, she said, "Mary Jane Lawson."
"A proper name, indeed."
"You are Irish."
"Dirty Irishman, darlin'?" His voice held sarcasm, his accent more pronounced, his eyes hard.