Any Time. Any Place. Any Day. Getaway.

Romancing the Dustman's Daughter
by Ruth J. Hartman

Product Information

Genre: Historical Romance

Length: 150 pages

ISBN: 9781940695044

Heat Level: 1

eBook Price: $.99

Print Price: $7.49

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Augustus Sinclair has a broken heart. His betrothed has dropped him for his best friend. Former best friend. When he meets Anne Balfour, though, he questions whether he’d ever really been in love with his fiancé. Some of Anne’s reactions to what he considers everyday activities are puzzling, but that doesn’t stop him from falling head over heels for the first time in his life.

Anne Balfour is amazed to be a guest at the Shrewsbury’s, one of Mayfair’s most well-to-do families — even if the circumstances are less than ideal. Still, she can’t help but get caught up in the excitement of society life. Especially when in the company of Augustus Sinclair. He makes her believe in love and romance, even if she is just the dustman’s daughter.

Chapter One

Anne Balfour lifted the heavy load, her muscles straining against the weight. Her fingers ached as they clutched the sharp edges of the firewood, tightening so as not to drop any. She took slow steps, winding her way across the room, around the throw rug, out of the way of the sleeping mother cat and kittens curled in a giant ball, and toward the kitchen stove. No sense taking a tumble and breaking a limb. Then Papa might have to do the work himself. And of course that would never happen! She knelt, let the pile of wood spill onto the floor, and sat down in front of it to gain her breath. Such a heavy load. Something cold with a rough texture rubbed across her hand. Anne turned her head and smiled. Her cat bathed Anne’s skin as she would her own fur. “Ah, Kitty, I see you finished your nap. But what of your babies?” A glance at the pile of tiny, fluffy fur across the room showed that all kittens were fast asleep. Anne reached down and pulled Kitty onto her lap. “Sometimes I wonder if you would like someone to just take care of you. Instead of always being the one to nurse your kittens. Groom them. Look after them.” A sigh escaped Anne’s lips as she glanced around the tiny room. Or always being the one to scrub the floor, carry the firewood, and cook the meals. To be able to rest and have another care for her, at least some of the time, would be heaven. To have a man other than her father tell her that he loved her, that she was important and smart and pretty and— But she had not experienced that in… Had she ever? No. It took all of her day simply to keep up with chores. Anne had little or no opportunity to meet someone. Anyone. Except the grocer, and he was old. And married. Or the baker. Also old. Not married but… A shiver ran through her. When she visited there, he eyed her up and down as if she were a warm loaf of bread he’d like to squeeze with his meaty hands. That definitely was not what she had in mind for a love interest. She’d not even been courted, though she was nearly eighteen. Anne dreamed of being held in a handsome man’s arms. Safe. Protected. Experiencing her first kiss. Warm and toe-curling. Being taken care of… looked after. Treasured. Yes, that was the word. By someone who thought the whole world was a better place simply because he knew her. And her father…? What could be said of him? Anne loved him, yes, but he was a dreamer. Coming up with cork-brained ideas. She sighed. A swindler. Always another scheme around the bend. The next one would be the one — the one that would take them from their present circumstance of being among the many poor of London. Would he ever change? No. She knew it in her heart. He was a loveable soul, but he couldn’t be trusted. At least, not if there was money involved. And for him, it seemed that was what always mattered. A furry paw stroked her hand. “Sorry, Kitty. I didn’t mean to ignore you.” Anne ran her fingers through Kitty’s white fur, which produced a loud rumble from the cat. “I’m so glad I can at least please you, my girl.” She tilted her head. “Because no matter how hard Papa works, he still isn’t happy. He always believes something just down the road will be the answer to all of our worries.” She rubbed the fur between Kitty’s ears. Sometimes I wish… The cat raised her head and blinked, as if waiting for Anne to finish her thought. “I wish a handsome, rich gentleman would rescue me from this… life. But how could that ever happen? Why would a man like that ever want me?” The front door slammed. Kitty hissed and ran when Anne jumped up from the floor. “Papa? You scared the life out of me.” “Home early and look what I find.” He spread his hands. “Sitting down in the middle of the day. Sluggard. Lazy girl. Good for nothing daughter.” She frowned and placed her hands on her hips. “Now, Papa…” He waved her away and laughed. “You know I don’t mean it.” Anne smiled. “I know. Always teasing me, aren’t you?” He wiped his boots on a rug by the door and then sat down in his favorite chair in front of the fireplace. “Anne, let me ask you something.” She lifted one eyebrow. “Hmm. When you start with that statement it never turns out well.” “Just humor me.” After letting out a sigh, she crossed the room and sat on the rug by the hearth, tucking her dress over her boots. “My ears are open. I’m listening.” He leaned forward. “How can you tell with all of that hair covering them?” She shook her head. “Quite amusing. Now what did you need to ask me?” He steepled his fingers beneath his chin. “Do you suppose that I enjoy working hard, digging in wealthy people’s fireplaces for what’s left behind?” “No. I don’t suppose you do.” “Do you think I look forward to having to collect all that from those same people and take it to the brick maker for hardly any money?” “I’m fairly certain we’ve had this discussion before, Papa.” “And when I have to cart the refuse to the dust yard to be made into manure? Think it smells as sweet as roses there?” Anne wrinkled her nose. “Well, if your clothes smell anything like that place, then no. I’m sure it doesn’t.” Her father’s lips lifted in a smile. But only for a second. Then he forced his expression back into false sternness. “Let me just tell you what happened to me today, my girl.” “Let me guess. You flirted shamelessly with the Williams’ maid?” “That was yesterday.” “Ah. Then you stopped at the coaching inn on the way home for a drink?” “Uh, well, yes, but that’s not what I meant.” “Why don’t you just tell me? I need to finish making your supper.” “Supper can wait.” “But—” “Just listen.” She rolled her eyes. “Very well.” “I was at the Shrewsburys’ house today.” Anne yawned. “Go on.” “Doing what I normally do…” “All right.” “I bent down to get the final scoop of ash from their fireplace, and what do you suppose I found?” “More ash?” “No.” “A dead mouse?” “Not today.” “Papa…” “When I leaned over to finish collecting the ash, there was something off to the side of the grate.” Anne raised her hands to her cheeks. “What was it?” She gasped. “A piece of wood? Oh, the horror.” “Better than that.” “Will this take long, Papa? I really do have chores.” “It was a portrait.” “A portrait. That’s what has you so excited?” “In a gold frame.” “Now we’re getting to it. You’re going to sell the frame for the gold, right?” “That was my first thought.” “I assume you’ll tell me what your second thought was.” “I am so very glad you asked.” “I am so very sorry I asked.” “So I’m looking at the portrait, you see. It’s of a man and a woman.” “That doesn’t sound so odd. Isn’t that common?” “But it was the two people who were in the painting who were odd.” “How were they odd? Did they each have two noses? Three eyes?” “Anne, I don’t think you’re taking this seriously.” “That’s because you always have a scheme. A plan. A sure thing that will give us lots and lots of money so we never have to work again.” “Is that so bad?” “Papa, that’s not the point. Mama gave up her inheritance just to marry you. So money isn’t everything. It’s wonderful to dream. But things like that don’t happen to people like us.” “Maybe that’s about to change.” She stood up. “I must get to preparing your meal. You won’t be happy if you have to go to bed hungry.” He grabbed her hand. “Please. Just look at the portrait.” Anne closed her eyes. If she didn’t humor him, he would just go on and on. And she would never get her work done. Then that work would be added to the work she’d have to do the next day. After she opened her eyes, she smiled. She couldn’t help it. Yes, he was a dreamer, but he was her father. It was so hard to say no to him. Anne held out her hand. “Let me see it.” “There’s my girl.” Papa placed the miniature portrait in her palm. It really was exquisite, even with the scorch marks around the edges. He’d said it was off to the side of the grate, so perhaps it hadn’t gotten too close to the flames. The frame was gold and the painting appeared to have been done on ivory. Anne frowned. “The couple in the portrait doesn’t look odd to me. I’m not sure what you mean.” “Look at it. What do you see?” “A man a woman. She’s sitting and he’s standing behind her with his hands on her shoulders.” “Do you think they are in love?” “How could I possibly know that? But, if they had the picture taken together, then yes, I would guess that they are.” He rubbed his hands together. “Now we’re getting to it.” “To what? I still don’t understand.” He laughed. “You will. Oh, you will.” What on earth is he doing? Is he foxed? But then it wouldn’t be the first time, would it? “Are you going to tell me what this is all about?” “Yes. But take a closer look at it.” “It’s a… portrait.” “Do you know who?” She glanced again at the man and woman portrayed on the smooth piece of ivory. “No, I don’t think so.” She held it out to him, ready to be rid of the thing. There wasn’t time to stare at an image of strangers. If Anne didn’t get the chores done, who would? He gave it back to her. “That man is Mr. Shrewsbury.” She frowned and looked again. “It is? But how do you—” “I go to his house, don’t I?” “Yes, but I’m sure he’s never—” “Usually it’s the servants I deal with. A couple of times, though, he happened to be in the room while I collected the ash. I took a peek at him.” Anne shrugged. “I don’t see where that’s—” “So the man is Mr. Shrewsbury, see, but that woman isn’t the missus. Get my meaning?” She shook her head. “What it means is this. Mr. Shrewsbury had an affair with someone not his wife. I’m thinking he either got angry with the woman and tried to get rid of her portrait, or his wife found it and tried to destroy it.” “Oh.” But what did that have to do with her and her father? “I had me an idea, you see. I figure whoever tried to get rid of this portrait wouldn’t want anyone to know about it. And might just pay someone a lot of money for it to stay that way.” He meant to blackmail the Shrewsbury family! She widened her eyes and gasped. The horror of what he was suggesting filtered through her. He couldn’t mean it. It was wrong. “Now don’t go getting all high and mighty on me, Anne. You’re not a saint any more than I am.” He’d surely gone round the bend. Her father meant to take the portrait to those people, those well-to-do rich people, and attempt to threaten them with something they had intended to burn up. Well, he could do what he pleased. There was no way for her to stop him. But she’d have no part in his scheme. No sir, she wouldn’t. She crossed her arms. He tapped the picture frame with his finger. “Here’s what we’re going to do.” “We?” Anne frowned. She had no plans to— He leaned closer. “We’re going to visit the Shrewsbury family, you and me.” “But—” “And show them this portrait.” “Why would—” “And tell them that if they want it kept quiet, they have to do something for us.” “Papa, you’re going to ask for money?” “I think there may be something even better than money.” Better than money? Was that her father talking? She swallowed hard. He really had gone mad. He winked at her. “All those fancy people have those balls and parties and such.” She nodded. What was he talking about? Did he want to go to one? “And at those balls, young ladies find themselves rich, well-to-do husbands.” Her breath caught in her throat. Oh. No. No. He couldn’t. He wouldn’t! “So, Anne, daughter of mine, we’re going to show them that we have this picture. And if they want to keep it quiet that Mr. Shrewsbury is with this woman in the portrait who is not Mrs. Shrewsbury they’re going have to take you in.” “What?” “And make sure you get fixed up.” He smoothed his hand over her hair. “And get some new dresses.” He plucked at her sleeve. “And then—” “Papa, no… I don’t want to! It’s wrong.” “Then, they’ll take you to those dances and make sure you find a rich husband who will take care of us, so I don’t have to work so hard to take care of you anymore.” She shook her head. Back-and-forth. Back-and-forth. No… no. He couldn’t mean it! How could he ask it of her? “This is our way out, Anne. You’re going to get us a better life.”

Ruth J. Hartman spends her days herding cats and her nights spinning sweet romantic tales that make you smile, giggle, or laugh out loud. She, her husband, and their three cats love to spend time curled up in their recliners watching old Cary Grant movies. Well, the cats, Maxwell, Roxy, and Remmie, sit in the people's recliners. Not that the cats couldn't get their own furniture. They just choose to shed on someone else's. You know how selfish those little furry creatures can be.

Ruth, a left-handed, cat-herding, Jeep driving, farmhouse-dwelling romance writer uses her goofy sense of humor as she writes tales of lovable, klutzy women and the men who adore them. Ruth's husband and best friend, Garry, reads her manuscripts, rolls his eyes at her weird story ideas, and loves her in spite of her penchant for insisting all of her books have at least one cat in them. Or twelve. But hey, who's counting?

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