After her husband's untimely death, Elizabeth Foley vowed to maintain a good life for herself and her children--but despite her considerable wealth, it hasn't been easy. Her attempts to manage her late husband's estate have proven downright disastrous--and those who spread vicious rumors about her when she was a wife are openly contemptuous now that she's a widow. Lizzy's luck starts to change, however, when her friend Kathleen Quaid "lends" her a man to help out? Conor McDermott is convinced his employer's wife, Kathleen, is his own long-lost half-sister. But before he gets the chance to break the news to her, she sends him to work for Elizabeth Foley--a dismal prospect if there ever was one. Like everyone else in their small Maryland town, he's heard that Elizabeth is a heartless gold-digger, a wanton woman with a scandalous past. Before long, however, Conor gets to know Lizzy's tender touch and sweet spirit-and finds himself forgetting the gossip and following his heart...
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Baltimore, Maryland, 1844
"Marry me, Elizabeth. You need a father for Jason, and I need a mother for my daughter Emma. You'll not want for anything. You'll have a good life."
Lizzy gazed at John Foley with uncertainty. The older man had become her friend over the last several months. A regular customer at the Bread and Barrel Inn where she worked, he would come in for a meal and a mug of ale, and they would talk. She had learned through the course of time and many conversations that he was a widower who came from Kent County across the Chesapeake. She had suspected that he had initially come to find female companionship and an escape from the loneliness he suffered after his wife's passing two years before. From the way he had spoken of Millicent over time, it had been clear that he hadn't been interested in finding another wife. He had been visiting a woman for the physical comfort she afforded him. And now as a result of that relationship there was a child out of wedlock ... a child unwanted by her mother.
"John, I..." She shook her head. "You're speaking of marriage..." After a wary glance at the waiting customers, she got up from the table to return to work. "Why me?"
Those words still lingered in her mind as she hefted heavy ale mugs and brought food to a table.
"Woman! I'm still waitin' for me mug!" one ill-mannered patron shouted from the other side of the room. Lizzy cringed. She was tired of such treatment. Tired of working long hours for little money. Tired of wondering how she would provide herself and Jason with decent food, lodging, and clothing.
"It's right here, Mr. Jones," she said as she came up to the man'stable. The customer stank of sour sweat and stale liquor.
Jones scowled as he impatiently grabbed a mug, nearly unseating the filled tray from her hands. "About time," he snarled. "Farley," he called to the manager as the man came out of the back room, "when are ya going to hire a decent girl?"
The innkeeper glared at Lizzy as she flashed him a brief glance while she served the rest of the ale.
"Woman! Can't ya see I've an empty glass! I'll have another!"
Jaw tensing, her anger building, she nodded. "Yes, sir."
The smell of cheap ale and greasy food made her stomach tighten as Lizzy went back to the bar with the empty tray. She filled the requested mug and grabbed two dinners for the couple sitting at the table in the corner.
She swayed a bit as she got a whiff of the poorly prepared and malodorous food on the plates she carried. As she made her way toward the table, a wave of nausea overcame her.
"Lizzy." John Foley's soft voice reached her as she passed by. "Stop on your way back." His smile was a welcome change from the other present, grumbling customers at the Bread and Barrel. "Please. We have to discuss this."
"If I can," she replied. How could she discuss marriage?
As she studied her surroundings and found them depressing, she thought, How can I not?
While she delivered the food and drink, she thought of John's tempting offer. John was old enough to be her father. But she had a child to provide for, and John knew and was willing to provide for the boy as if Jason were his own.
Working at the inn was the last thing she had wanted to do, but what other choice did she have before? Now John Foley, a kind man, was offering her a better life. Shouldn't she take it? She wanted to, but marrying him would mean giving up the dream of marrying for love. Could she accept that? Accept John?
As John had asked, she stopped by his table. He gestured for her to sit down. After a quick glance to see that the manager had gone in the back room, she wiped her hands on her apron and sat.
John's fingers surrounded the hand she rested on the tabletop. "Elizabeth," he said quietly. "Beth ... I'll asking you again to marry me." His smile was gentle. "I'm not ask anything from you but to be a mother for my child."
"You can trust me to take care of you."
She knew John was sincere. "I know." Still, what of his needs? Would he expect her to--?
"You'll have your own bedchamber," he said.
She blinked up at him, startled. Had he read her mind?
"You were wondering, weren't you?"
"Yes." Her cheeks burned as she blushed.
"Then, set your mind at ease." He squeezed her hand. "I only ask that you run the household as a wife should." He smiled. "Pretend a mild affection for me in public. And, to be a good mother to Emma and Jason. In return, you'll have a good home, whatever you need for you and the boy, and my undying gratitude that you've agreed to be my wife."
"And that's all?"
His smile reached his eyes. "Aye. I'll not ask you to share my bed. I loved my wife. She was everything to me. The arrangement I'm suggesting allows me to be married for the sake of the children without betraying the love I had--have--for my dear late wife."
What more could she ask?
She fought the tiny notion that again sprang to mind that she would be giving up the hope of true love. "Beth?" He looked at her expectantly.
Her back hurt. Her heart ached. But she had to think of Jason. "Yes, John," she whispered. "I'll marry you."
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
When Elizabeth 'Lizzy' Foley's elderly husband died, the people who had been spreading vicious rumors about her became openly contemptuous. Lizzy took very good care of her two children, but knew nothing about managing her late husband's estate, 'Milly's Station'. (Named after John Foley's first wife.) ................ Kathleen and Rian Quaid was Lizzy's dearest friends and neighbors. Their estate, 'Green Lawns', was doing well. They offered to lend their foreman for a month or so to help Lizzy get everything in order and to teach her how to manage 'Milly's Station'. Lizzy agreed gratefully. ...................... Connor McDermott had heard all the rumors about Mrs. Elizabeth Foley and, like everybody else, he believed her to be a gold-digger and a wanton. Yet when asked by his employers to help her, he agreed. However, Lizzy was nothing like the rumors said and the children slipped quickly into Conor's heart. ......................... ***** A spicy romance with a hint of danger and a sweet sub-plot that will keep its readers engrossed. Terrific reading here! *****