A historical romance with its backdrop Australia when it was still a convict colony enticed me into reading this one. I am so glad that I did because I was engaged in the story from cover to cover. The author did a superb job of both telling a story and telling of a historical time that was rough, raw and gritty.
Samuel Biggs, who was once a soft-bodied man of business for his employer, lost his wife and decided to sail for the frontier of Australia to put his grief behind him and start anew. His former employer, James Hunter, an ex-convict, welcomes him and agrees to hire him as an overseer on his farm. James’ wife, Thea, gets that look in her eye like she is planning something like matchmaking, but he has no intentions of ever taking a wife again.
Colleen Malone has had it rough. She is wrongfully accused alongside her cousin, shipped out as a convict to Australia, taken in charge by a man who runs a brothel, and forced to whore herself out. Now that she is expecting a child, Danny, her procurer, has no use for her and sends her back to The Factory where she will do hard labor and likely lose her child and maybe die there.
Samuel is finagled by Thea to choose a housekeeper from the first rate women at the prison, but before they even get inside he is petitioned by a woman breaking up stone outside. He sees the blistered hands and that she is unaccustomed to her task. He does the unprecedented thing and bypasses the first raters for this third rate woman. Unfortunately, the matron informs him that those who have been sent back to prison can only leave when their time is up or they are taken as wives. He reasons that if he has a wife that Thea will leave him be and it can just be an arrangement and not a true marriage.
Colleen can’t believe her good fortune. She has a husband now and her freedom, but then she realizes that it’s not that simple. Samuel has no intentions of a true marriage and she needs that so he’ll believe her child is his own. And then there’s that issue that Samuel’s employer was once one of her customers and the sneaky housegirl convict knows this. Colleen just has to get Samuel past his grief for his wife so that he’ll accept her as a wife in all ways and she has to figure out how to keep that other secret too. So much and why does her tummy flip-flop whenever her big handsome husband is around? It has to be the baby, right?
This story achieved a wonderful balance of character development, romance, plot and pacing along with weaving in the details and descriptions of the time. It’s like a fairytale the way Colleen was wrongfully convicted and had a drudgery life until Samuel came along. Though, Samuel and Colleen are no insipid fairytale characters. Both have seen a lot of life and have a realistic and pragmatic view of things. There’s no freakish behavior when things are at their worst. They display true emotions for what is going on and I loved the slow to build romance between them. They are both so strong and enduring considering all that happened. I just loved spending time in their story and was sad to see it end.
Now, I should say that even though it isn’t noted anywhere that I could see, this is really a sequel story that works best when The Convict’s Bounty Bride is read first. That is James and Thea’s story that carries on a little into this book running as a minor plot thread behind Samuel and Colleen’s story until near the end when it all comes together. I wasn’t into James and Thea’s story like I was this one, but I enjoyed seeing what happened to them after they returned to Australia.
My only real niggle with this book is that it ended abruptly leaving a few things hanging that I would have enjoyed seeing resolved. I felt that way at the end of the first one not realizing there would be another book so with that in mind, I’ll give the benefit of the doubt that there is more to come to finish off the other plot threads.
All in all, this is a fabulous historical romance that is authentic and yet very romantic. Its a perfect blend and will appeal to those who enjoy just a few extra pinches of spice in their romance to heat things up nicely and want something a little grittier and real in the way of their historicals.
My thanks to Net Galley for the opportunity to read this story in exchange for an honest review.