Gracie now tapped Isabella beneath the chin and grinned again, showing the many gaps in her teeth. "You'll get a good master, don't fret, then all your troubles will be over."
Isabella had a feeling her troubles would never be over.
Dazedly she watched as the boat dropped off the last woman and turned to head back to the ship for the next load of human cargo. The haze caused by the swirling dust gave the scene a sense of unreality. Sweat seemed to seep from every pore in Isabella's skin, soaking her ragged clothing, but she'd grown used to almost every form of human discomfort. What was a bit of sweat? The wind raced across the wharf, the flying dust stinging her cheeks, bare arms, and ankles. The harbour was a cauldron of activity. Longboats ferried cargo to and from the dozen or so ships bobbing at anchor in the cove, most bound for exotic and oriental ports. At first sight of it the startling scenery had lifted the convicts' flagged spirits after weeks of endless ocean, but that first sense of exhilaration had soon dispelled. Gracie nudged her. "Buck up dearie, 'ere's the nobs." Isabella tried to stop her fingers shaking as she wiped at her dry, cracked lips. Soldiers, lined up and armed, stared at the unkempt women as if they were no better than the rats that had swarmed below decks. "Stand to one side," one of the soldiers ordered and another waved his truncheon. "What do they think we are, a load of stupid sheep?" Isabella moaned. "Ah well, we should be used to it by now." Gracie sighed as they all moved to where they'd been directed. "They're looking at us as if we're creatures on display at the fair. You'd think they've never seen a female con before." There were men everywhere, not just the soldiers. They lurked around corners and on rooftops, treating the arrival of a shipload of women as a spectacle. "'Tis a fact that we've been brought here because they have a shortage of women in the colony, Bella. I s'pose that lot's waiting to find out which of us they're gonna own, eh?" Gracie jerked her head towards a motley group of men standing openly surveying them, eyes gleaming. It took some time to bring all the prisoners to shore. Isabella was close to fainting with the heat before the final boatload was set down. At a signal from one of the officials a gentleman came out of a building. Moving with stiff precision to the centre of the dockyard, he stopped, then wiped his face on a white kerchief as he cast his eyes along the row of women. Unsmiling, he announced, "On behalf of Governor Macquarie I welcome you to New South Wales." "God bless me, if he don't sound like 'e's really glad to see us who've come from the other side of the world at the King's pleasure." Gracie chuckled. "Nice of Governor Macquarie to send one of 'is codgers to make sure we're all 'appy to be 'ere." "Yes, happy as larks," Isabella retorted in a sharp whisper.
"As you know," the man went on, "you have been allocated quarters or assigned masters. These good men," he gave the officials a stiff smile, "have spent many hours taking your particulars to ensure that everyone goes to an appropriate place of employment. You will show your allegiance to these masters. If you work hard to prove you're of some worth to the new colony you will earn your freedom as many others have before you." Obviously bored, he ran his eyes along the row of sweltering women. "Many of you will be in far better positions than you would ever have hoped to attain in England." He turned and strode back into the building.
Isabella blew upwards in an effort to cool herself. She'd only taken in half of what he’d said. She was a prisoner, for all his fancy words. Still, in the long run, better to work here, hopefully in some nob's kitchen, than to rot in a prison back home. Or face the hangman's noose. Home? It was so far away and so far removed from where she stood now, that it seemed as if the years before she'd been arrested had been lived by another person. But for all their poverty she'd always known what it was to be a part of a close, loving family. Oh how she missed her ma, and her brothers and sisters. Isabella ignored the leering looks they received from men scurrying to off-load cargo. Her legs felt as if they would give out on her at any moment. Her bad foot with its crooked toes was beginning to ache fiercely and she swayed.
At last they were herded to where a stern government clerk sat at a table, a ledger in front of him and a pen in his hand.
Gracie poked Isabella in the back. "I 'ope I get a strong 'ansome master," she said with a chuckle. "Like that one with the gold 'air over there. Look at 'im. Lord, 'e'd do me fine. E’s been staring 'ard at us since we came ashore. Stands out from the other lot like a boil on yer nose, don't 'e? Rather a dandy, I don't mind saying so. I'll warm 'is bed any time 'e likes." "Can't say I noticed him," Isabella lied. "Oh no, suddenly you're blind, eh?" "One member of the gentry's the same as the other. They can all rot in hell." Isabella shuddered. She detested them all, with their fine clothes, finicky manners, and hearts as cold as stone. "You may sit on the ground, ladies." The officer in charge gave the order then smirked as he marched away. "Cripes, why didn't they tell us that before?" Gracie sank with a huge sigh onto her well-padded bottom. The others followed her. *** Tiger Carstairs removed his hat, then ran his fingers through his sweat-dampened hair. Smiling grimly he pushed the hat back on as he turned his back on the bedraggled lines of women. What a bunch. They didn't get any better. Still, one female had caught his eye. She was a bit short on flesh to cover her bones, but there was a light of defiance in her eyes that the dreadful journey with all its degradation hadn't snuffed. She'd stared right at him from eyes as green as the sea as she'd limped past, her spine straight as a broomstick. He liked that.
Yes, she'd do perfectly.
She was young, if not very hearty, but Thelma had told him to keep his eye out for one who didn't look as if she'd be off in a flash with any man who showed up at the back door. This one hated men, if that glower she'd given him was anything to go by. So blatant was her scorn he'd fully expected her to spit in someone's eye. The sunshine had picked up glints in hair that would probably be reddish-brown after a good washing. But the wench had really taken his fancy, stirred some deep emotion. It was an unnerving sensation, peculiar in its uniqueness.
I really loved this book (previously published as Blue Haze but re-published as Mystic Mountains). It was like Pride and Prejudice...ooops, I mean Arrogance and Obstinacy, meets the Thorn Birds in 1818 Australia. I love realistically flawed characters--perfect romance H/h's are such bores--and both of these were so realistically flawed, the way their life experiences from their past hard-scrabble youth carried over to lead to inappropriate and sometimes foolish judgments in their present was so well developed into the plot of this book. Now I shouldn't love it as much as I did. There were a few things in this book that I really hated, but I can't say without spoilers, that should have made me downgrade my rating--however, any book that keeps me up to 3:30 AM to finish, because I just can't put it down, definitely rates five-stars. This is also the kind of book that will make the next few books I read seem like they don't measure up. Janet Orosz-Kindle
I really enjoyed this book. The writing flows, and the story is compelling. The protagonists in the story are, for the most part, newly-arrived convicts transported from England to New South Wales, Australia, in the early 1800s.
The author explains a great deal about the early history of Australia without being pedantic. The historical details are very nicely integrated into the story, and are never are intrusive. The author clearly did a lot of research, and the historical accuracy adds to the richness of the tale.
The author also points out how crucial New South Wales Governor Lachlan Macquarie was to the development of the democratic Australia that we know today. He insisted on fully integrating convicts into society after their sentences had been fulfilled, thus preventing the creation of a stratified settler society. His policies are crucial to this story, for it allowed former convicts to have dreams of someday owning their own land and having their own businesses.
The hero of the story is Tiger Carstairs. Tiger has a prosperous farm, and dreams of land over the rugged Blue Mountains (the "mystic mountains" of the title), land that will be opened to settlement in the near future.
The heroine is Isabella O'Shea, transported for knifing a member of the nobility in England who attempted to rape her. She arrives in New South Wales scared to death that she will be assigned to serve her sentence in less than desirable circumstances. Nevertheless, in Australia she will have more hope for a decent life in the future than she would ever have had in the slums of London. Isabella is assigned to work for Tiger Carstairs, a man whom she resents because he seems to embody everything that she hates about the English aristocracy.
It really is difficult to describe the story without including too many spoilers. The tale does take unexpected twists and turns, and completely engages the reader.
Why four stars rather than five? Well, Tiger and Isabella were a bit too stubborn and childish a few too many times, in my estimation. But this is just my own opinion, and others may disagree. Their actions did not ruin the book. (I personally cannot stand the plot device of the silly "tragic misunderstanding" that could be cleared up with one short conversation, and thankfully the Hero and Heroine's misunderstandings did not fall into that category.)
Highly recommended. This is a memorable story, and a real keeper. S. Harrison--Compelling story August 27, 2013
I enjoyed this story somewhat. Really took the reader through stages of Hero and Heroine's life/relationships in a time when social class, poverty and struggles, especially for women were palpable.
I must say that both Hero and Heroine were the most stubborn characters I have read to date, more so the Heroine than the Hero. But as every true romance story has it's HEA they eventually found their way back to each other, albeit at a cost.
Missmoone reviewed Mystic Mountains August 27, 2013
" I loved the story will get more of books by Tricia McGill I like how they travelled over the Blue Mountains to get to their settlement. I enjoy the stories about the early settlers in Australia. Joyce Brand 5 ***** on Kindle UK reviews.
"I don't normally write reviews but just had to for this one, I couldn't put it down. I love a book that catch's your heart in the first few pages and sweeps you into the setting which is just what Mystic Mountains does. I will defiantly be looking for more of her books.
5***** Kate on Kindle UK reviews.
"Sometimes we in America forget that Australia is an equally young country, complete with tales of adventure about the settlement of the land. In this story of love adventure and hardship, we see a man and a woman work together to survive and overcome the harsh land that is Australia. A thoroughly enjoyable book, well-written and exciting.”
Deborah Brent for Romantic Times bookclub **** four stars
“Tricia McGill has written a sweeping love story of two people fighting for their places in an unfair world among the wild, untamed vistas of Australia. The strong plot reveals much about the early settlement days of the continent of Australia and is a history lesson in itself besides a sizzling romance. A job well done by Ms. McGill.”
Lani Roberts 5 stars ***** Affaire de Coeur
...Sparks fly from the beginning. Mutual attraction accompanies the fact she hates him being a wealthy Englishmen.
Their passionate encounters, as well as the hurt and anger these to people share with each other, will have you crying along with them. An adventure you will not want to miss. I highly recommend reading this book."