Authors: Debra Glass
Ransom Byrne has been ravaged by
guilt since an illness rendered his little sister blind. The former Confederate
cavalry officer has resolved to make amends by hiring a Yankee tutor who’ll
hopefully restore order to his sister’s life. Once that’s accomplished, he’ll
be free to leave Byrne’s End.
From the moment she steps off the
train in Tennessee, Cathleen Ryan makes a startling first impression. With her feminist
ideas, the irrepressible Bostonian quickly outrages everyone—especially Ransom.
He deems the bespectacled teacher too uptight and prim for his tastes.
Appearances, however, are deceiving. She tenders decadent proposals that shock
and intrigue him, and sultry nights spent submitting to his every illicit
request offer them both love and redemption.
But when her steadfast convictions
attract the attention of dangerous men, Cathleen risks losing her chance of
becoming more than just a lover for Ransom.
nineteenth-century tale contains mild violence, spanking, sloppy puppy kisses,
more spanking, fiery suffragette speeches and an attitudinal horse named String
historical erotic romance
from Ellora’s Cave
Of course this book couldn’t have been written without the
amazing help of prolific author A.J. Llewellyn, with whom I consulted regarding
teaching the blind and the many challenges the blind and their families face.
Special thanks to my friend Laura Thrasher, who supplied me with her vast
library on all things horses, and to Megan Williams, the ultimate feminist, who
helped give my heroine moxie. As always, I’m indebted to my friends and colleagues,
Civil War military historian Heath Mathews, and plantation life and slave
historian Amy Batton. And last but never least, the world’s best editor (who
fully realizes this, by the way), Kelli Collins; and my friends and expert
critique partners, fellow plotters and insightful readers Stormy Pate and Naima
Simone. Each person on this list has enriched my life in myriad ways. Thank you
for brightening my world.
“The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be
seen or even touched. They must be felt within the heart.” ~
Thompson’s Station, Tennessee
Even though violet twilight blanketed the gently undulating
hills of Middle Tennessee, Cathleen Ryan squinted behind her black-lensed
glasses. Two surgeries had improved her vision enough that she could read, but
bright light still hurt her eyes.
Tennessee was a long way from where she’d been born in
Boston, Massachusetts—and her dark, dismal childhood. After her mother died and
her father turned to liquor, she’d been sent to the state poorhouse in
Tewksbury. The matrons there had recognized how bright she was despite her
blindness and had sent her to Perkins School for the Blind, where she’d
flourished. It was there she’d garnered connections to supporters of equality for
women, and though she’d mingled with wealthy suffragettes, she’d never seen
anything the likes of the grand Southern mansions that had dotted the rolling,
rich farmland since her train had crossed the Kentucky state line.
Cathleen sneered. The Northern papers bragged about how the
South had been brought to its knees. If this was ruin, she hated to think about
how opulent this place must have been before the War Between the States.
She hadn’t wanted to come south. She’d argued vehemently
with Mrs. Stanton about the matter but in the end, Mrs. Stanton had convinced
her that the Southern women needed her to show them the way out of the shackles
of male oppression. “Why, Southern women are no better than the slaves we just
fought to free!” Mrs. Stanton had been adamant that Southern women should band
with Northern suffragettes to secure the vote before black men were given the
right. “If they are given the right before we women, then I fear the voting men
of both races will band against us,” Mrs. Stanton had said.
But what had really swayed Cathleen was the fact she’d been
recommended by her former teacher at Perkins to come and educate a teenaged
girl who’d recently lost her sight.
Cathleen knew all too well the horrors of having so vital a
sense suddenly ripped away.
She pushed her glasses up higher on her nose and gazed
through the drawn curtains at the depot. The engine hissed as the train lurched
to a stop. Northern railroad stations boasted throngs of men and women dressed
in the garb of their homelands, immigrants who barely spoke a word of English,
a mishmash of people who went about their business with their heads down.
These Southern faces consisted of a sparse sea of black and
white. Cathleen bit her bottom lip as she studied a little boy whose face was
every inch the color of India ink. Clad in a pair of dungarees rolled up at the
cuffs, the child stood barefoot. A ragged straw hat sat perched on his head,
the brim pushed up. As soon as people stepped off the train, the child
approached, offering to carry bags for money.
One lady in a wide hoop skirt bent to press a pair of coins
in his palm before she handed him her valise.
Cathleen stood, her back and knees aching from the long
hours of sitting. She stooped to pick up her carpetbag, straightened and took a
deep breath. How would the Southern family receive her? What would they think
of her, an outspoken, half-blind Yankee girl?
A conductor reached to take her hand as she descended the
steps onto the platform. “I can manage,” she said, gripping the railing
He eyed her black attire and, obviously summing up her
accent, he reached out and took her hand anyway. “I’ll not have you falling on
your face on my account, missy.”
Cathleen would have snatched her hand away but for his tight
grip. She gasped as two quick steps had her on the platform.
The conductor blew a sharp whistle through his teeth and
then muttered something about the stubbornness of Yankee women before turning
to help the next passenger.
She resisted the urge to demand to know what he’d said. She
definitely had her work cut out for her here. Biting her tongue, she turned,
suddenly finding herself face-to-embroidered waistcoat with the tallest,
broadest man she’d ever seen. She would have taken a step backward but for the
throng of people embarking from the train behind her.
Two big hands clamped down on her arms, holding her upright
as a boisterous child swept by.
“Johnny Ross!” the man called after the boy. “You slow
yourself down. You nearly caused the lady to fall. If your momma was to see
you, she’d take a cornstalk to your hide!” His drawl was that of the educated
Southern aristocracy. Easy and languid, edged with confidence. Swagger.
She blinked as she assessed her unwelcome reaction to this
very virile, very male Southerner whose proximity caused her to feel small and
Cathleen Ryan did not like feeling small. Or weak.
She opened her mouth to speak, but the man turned to face
her. She stared, stunned by the sparkle in his light-colored eyes. Her initial
assessment was that this man affected every woman with whom he came into
contact—and worse, he knew it. Even though she, too, had been
she was loath to let him realize it. Breaking free of his grasp, she took a
His gaze drank her in, as if all at once. “You must be none
other than Miss Ryan, come to teach my little sister.”
Cathleen lifted her chin. “I am.” She extended her
hand—immediately regretting it.
He took it and instead of shaking it in greeting, he peeled
down her black kid glove and bowed to press a kiss to the back of her hand. A
shiver tore through her and his gaze met hers as if he knew—
damn well knew
effect it had on her.
“Ransom Byrne,” he said, straightening. He introduced
himself in the same sinful drawl he’d used to scold that child. He squeezed her
hand before he released it. “How was your train ride down?”
She cleared her throat. “Long.”
“Luckily, Byrne’s End isn’t too far from here.” Without
asking permission, he reached and took her bag.
“I’m sure I can manage my valise, Mr. Byrne.”
“Nonsense,” he said, looking over her head to scan the
length of the train for the porters. “Ah, here they come. Which trunk is yours,
Cathleen turned. From here, she could vaguely make out that
the figures were people. She couldn’t have identified her trunk had her very
life depended on it. “I apologize,” she said, gesturing toward her glasses. “I
can’t see that far.”
He didn’t flinch. “Well, what does it look like? Any
“It’s rectangular and black with a lock on the front and handles
on the sides.”
He laughed heartily—the sort of laugh produced by a man who
possessed inordinate amounts of self-confidence. “You’re nigh the card, Miss
Cathleen didn’t know whether to laugh or be insulted.
He slipped his arm through hers and started toward the
porter, leaving her no choice except to follow. Given his long legs, he could
have taken giant strides, but instead his gait was easy. Patient.
At first sight, Cathleen had wanted to dislike the handsome,
wealthy Southerner, but he was making it increasingly hard to do.
“I won’t lie to you, Miss Ryan. We have high hopes for
Jenny,” he said.
“I understand she went blind after an illness?”
His expression blackened. “Typhoid,” he ground out. “We lost
my grandfather. Pretty near lost Jenny too.”
“I don’t remember what it’s like to see clearly, Mr. Byrne.”
“Blind all your life?”
“Close to it. As a child, I contracted a bacterial infection
and suffered from trachoma. After I was removed from a poor house, I was taken
to the Perkins School, where I was educated. Luckily, I attracted the attention
of a doctor and was fortunate enough to have been chosen for two experimental
eye surgeries. I can read print now, but my eyes grow weary easily.”
“Hence the black glasses.”
Cathleen pushed them up higher on her nose. “Hence the black
glasses,” she repeated.
“I suppose there’s no better teacher than an experienced
student,” he said. “Now, which of these trunks belongs to you?”
Cathleen slipped free of his arm, instantly missing the warm
strength. She’d never been so bothered by a man’s presence before, and it irked
her to no end. Ransom Byrne was not the sort of man a woman like herself should
find attractive. Admittedly, his appearance was more than pleasing, but
doubtless, he was one of those men who coddled women and thought their place
was in the home. He was the type of man who didn’t find a plainspoken,
plain-faced woman like herself attractive.
Not that she would have desired him to.
She approached the stack of trunks, removed her glasses and
leaned to peruse them. “Oh dear, they all look so much alike.”
“Perhaps you should have marked yours with a colored
The fact he possessed so much common sense vexed her just as
much. She’d prepared herself to be sympathetic to the child she was to teach, but
had known—just known—she would feel disdain for these people. Thus far, Ransom
Byrne had been nothing but…charming.
At last, she recognized her own trunk by a nick in the
handle. “This one,” she said, standing and turning.
But Mr. Byrne was nowhere to be found.
Cathleen’s hands found her hips. The crowd had thinned but
there were still so many people, and at a distance the faces appeared blurred.
She blinked, focusing on a tall figure that could be none other than Byrne. He
stood talking to a woman wearing a lemon-yellow frock trimmed in black.
Pursing her lips, Cathleen blew out a breath through her
nose. She didn’t like the twinge of jealousy nagging her. She hadn’t expected
to find romance in Tennessee. Far from it. But for Mr. Byrne to have so rudely
turned his attentions to someone far prettier without so much as a word was
Cathleen couldn’t help but compare her simple black mourning
gown, her no-nonsense coiffure and plain black bonnet to the stunning vision
who looked like sunshine against the gray backdrop of the depot.
“Excuse me, miss,” a porter said. “Can I take your trunk to
Cathleen’s gaze swiveled to the throng of carriages and
wagons to the side of the depot. “I’m not sure which one belongs to Mr. Byrne.”
“I know, ma’am,” he said and then pulled the trunk onto a
two-wheeled hand truck.
“Thank you,” she said, uncertain whether she should follow
the porter or rejoin Mr. Byrne.
The woman in yellow preened shamelessly, making Cathleen
wonder if she herself had looked so hopelessly foolish as she’d lolled under
Byrne’s attentions. The jaunty feather jutting from the fashionable black hat
perched on the blonde’s head bobbed as she flirted with Byrne.
Dismayed, Cathleen turned to follow the porter. With a
grunt, he hefted the trunk onto a buckboard and a little black boy, who could
have been no more than seven years old, climbed onto the driver’s seat. He
gaped at Cathleen as if she’d just sprouted horns.
“Are you that Yankee tutor come to teach Miss Jenny?”
“Yes, I am. And what is your name, sir?”
A grin claimed his little round face. “My name’s Charles
“Charles Hunt,” Cathleen exclaimed. “That’s quite an
impressive name for a little fellow like yourself.”
His expression turned serious. “I’m seven and I ain’t so little.
You should see my brother. He’s way littler than me.” Charles’ eyes brightened.
“Mr. Ransom, can I drive?”
“Of course you can,” Byrne boomed, and before Cathleen could
draw her next breath, he swept her off her feet.
Instinctively, she clutched at the lapels of his frock coat.
“What on earth are you—!”
Her protest ended abruptly when her bottom plopped down on
the back of the buckboard.
“Sorry,” he said. “It’s not that we’re too proud to
transport the Yankee hired help in the good carriage. The axle broke.” His wink
indicated he’d intended the jibe as a joke, but Cathleen knew behind every jest
lay at least a partial bit of truth.
He climbed onto the buckboard beside her. “Now don’t you go
bouncing through any ruts, Charlie. You wouldn’t want to fling Miss Ryan off
into the mud.”
“No sir,” Charles said and then giggled. “Giddy-up!”
The wagon lurched forward and again, Cathleen seized Mr.
Byrne’s arm. “Are you certain he can handle this contraption?” she asked under
“Charlie?” The man seemed unfazed. “I taught him to drive on
the way here.”
“On the way here?” she asked, aghast. “That hardly inspires
confidence, Mr. Byrne.”
He chuckled. “The farm’s just over the hill. Besides, the
horse knows what to do.”
Cathleen twisted to peer at the giant draft horse pulling
the wagon. The animal plodded along, stepping around ruts and potholes in the
dirt road. She turned back to Mr. Byrne. “I can’t say as I put much confidence
in dumb animals either.”
“Dumb animals?” He drew back in mock offense. “If you mean
horses, then you and I will have a score to settle on that one, missy. Horses
are second in loyalty to dogs and a far sight smarter, in my opinion. You’ve
never been around horses have you?”
“To be honest, sir, I have not,” Cathleen admitted. “In
Massachusetts, I mostly walked or took a train wherever I needed to go.”
“If you spend any time at Byrne’s End, you’ll be a regular
horsewoman in no time,” he promised.
“I don’t know about that,” Cathleen said. An image of
galloping about the rolling hills alongside this handsome man fleeted through
her brain, but she quickly tamped the vision down. She hated that his easy
manner caused her to entertain such flights of fancy. She’d come here to
teach—and to show Southern women the error of their ways.
Fantasizing about her employer’s son, handsome though he
was, was ludicrous. She’d never been prone to such behavior and was shocked at
herself for letting a pair of dimples and sparkling eyes confuse her