When Isabella O’Shea is sent to the penal colony in what is now Sydney, Australia, she never dreamed it would be an improvement. In 1818, female convicts usually became bed warmers for their masters or prostitutes in the factories. However, Tiger Carstairs, a successful ex-convict, senses her potential and insists upon having her assigned to him as a kitchen maid. Their immediate mutual attraction is alternately indulged and denied as they seek to make the most of their lives in the new land.
The Australia penal colony is an interesting backdrop for this traditional romance. McGill explores the class system of convicts, ex-convicts, and freemen and the livelihood options available to women at that time. This provides fodder for many misunderstandings, crucial to any romance novel. Unfortunately, Bella’s mistaken assumption that Tiger thinks disparaging of her becomes tiresome and drags on well past its obvious conclusion. Even Tiger says “..let’s not go over that boring path again…” when being accused of snobbery for the umpteenth time.
As a romance novel, the requisite happy ending is barely reward enough for enduring these frequently unlikable characters. But the glimpse into the hardships of Australian life in the early 1800s may be worth the effort.