The Masterton Family Series
Winning the Shearer
Don’t compromise me!
Alex, disguised as a lad works with her brothers shearing. Their name has been slandered, so restoring the Barlow reputation is imperative but trouble has a way of finding me. Extra attention from the boss is the last thing I need. The threat of discovery haunts me. How will I avoid it when Jacob is forever close by?
Absently Alexandria swiped at a buzzing fly, her eyes glued on the gathering of the town of Dandenong’s elite near the church doors on the other side of the main street. Today the eldest of the Masterton sons from one of the town’s premier families married. But Alex was drawn to his brothers. They were as fine fellas as her own three brothers.
Jacob, the second son had hired her brothers to shear his sheep. She could see him in the crowd. That dark wavy mass of hair he’d slicked down in honor of the occasion, a blade straight nose and serious face were distinctive. So much so, that she had no trouble knowing where he was at any given moment. Not that she meant to notice. Not at all, but he was a fine looking fella.
The Masterton family had wealth and security, stability and respect. She could only dream of that. Now her pa was dead, life on the road with her brothers was even more lonely and dangerous.
From behind the baker’s shop the view of the church was perfect, the town’s excitement irresistible, the folk’s finery enticing. With her curiosity finally satisfied, and the sun descending she turned to leave before her absence worried her brothers. Their smothering protectiveness meant she had to steal away at times.
When she spun around three good-sized lads were fanned out around her, mischief glinting in their eyes. She nervously rubbed sweaty palms down her calico trousers. She should have left when the wedded couple emerged instead of delaying to stare at her new boss.
“What do you want?” The quiver in her voice shamed her.
“What ya’ doing?” asked the leader. His pig-mean eyes watched her with a disturbing intensity. “See what he’s lookin’ at around the corner, Titch.”
The tallest, a solid-built lad hurried to obey. “Woohoo! It’s that dandy’s weddin’.”
“What? He’s lookin’ at a gent and his dame?” said the smallest lad, spitting disgustedly in the dust just beyond her toes.
“Give us yer coin,” said the scruffy leader, his tone was hard, his eyes callous.
Bumps rose over slick skin. Her heart’s thunderous beat drummed in her ears. Panic crawled through her veins.
She scanned her surroundings for any escape route, but the lads hemmed her in. Two were bigger, all of them poorer with cold pitiless eyes.
Her throat was sawdust dry. These boy’s clothes, her everyday disguise had to remain even if freedom could have been rung from them by revealing she was a girl. Alex feared her admission of empty pockets would be taken as an affront. Dread crawled up her spine.
Finally, she forced out through trembling lips, “I have none.”
The atmosphere took a bitter downward turn. The leader’s eyes frosted.
“Aw, don’t hold back. We’re taking it anyway,” said Titch with unnerving pragmatism.
“I’d give it if I could. I would. My brothers don’t give me any,” Alex confessed, not entirely truthful. But this day she had naught in her pockets. She wasn’t going anywhere but to peek at the town hierarchy dressed up. With no need for coin, she had left what little she had back at camp.
She pulled the lining of her pockets out. “See, nothing.”
The look that passed between the lads had the knots in her stomach tightening. Her pulse raced when they stepped closer. She stepped backward coming up hard against the wooden wall, her hands out to ward them off.
“I’ve got nothing. Leave me alone, please.”
“Going all sooky are you?” mocked the littlest.
Alex knew that even a shilling would not satisfy them. The trio stank of trouble. They circled her like pack animals.
There was only one place for help, which required she reach the main street where people still gathered. Her jaw tightened. She dug for courage, then dashed for the corner and the alley that ran between the shops.