Skip to Main Content


About The Book

An American beauty is stranded by a shattered promise on Australia’s vast shores from “the most outstanding writer of sensual historical romance” (RT Book Reviews) and the author of One Wish.

After sailing to Australia only to find that the man who asked her to marry him has no intention of fulfilling his part of the bargain, Maggie Chamberlain vows to shape a new life for herself in Sydney. Then arrogant, wealthy Reeve McKenna captures Maggie’s untried heart, thrilling her senses with the sweet, dark rush of desire. But Reeve cannot be hers alone, for he is obsessed by his search for his beloved brother James, lost two decades before. Reeve’s fierce hunger for the Yankee beauty is not yet love, and Maggie wants both the breathless pleasure of his passion and the full surrender of his heart—or nothing at all.

One of America’s most romantic writers, Linda Lael Miller brings the white-hot passion of Moonfire to the Australian frontier country in this sensuous story of two lovers bound by desire.


Moonfire Chapter 1
Brisbane—February 1887

EMIGRANTS AND FIRST-CLASS PASSENGERS ALIKE STOOD AT the starboard rail of the S.S. Victoria, agape at the destruction that greeted them. Gone were the wharves that might have held eager friends and family members waiting to welcome the travelers; cargo, washed away from the docks, bobbed in the sun-spattered blue-green waters. Lavatories floated past, along with what appeared to be an upended cottage, and innumerable rabbits shivered on the few patches of land still visible.

The best part of the city was gone, swept away by the flooded waters of the Brisbane River.

Maggie Chamberlin’s heart pounded beneath her dove-gray woolen traveling dress. The thought skittered through her mind that while entirely suitable for the dreary grayness of a London winter, the gown was too warm by half for the heat of February in Australia.

Like the forlorn and frightened rabbits ashore, Maggie trembled. She put her unsuitable frock out of her mind; proper clothing was the least of her problems. Philip Briggs, the man who had persuaded her to make this journey, who had promised to marry her, was nowhere in sight. Suppose he had not survived the disaster?

Maggie realized that she had been clutching the ship’s railing for support and relaxed her grip. Her heavy silver-flaxen hair sagged to the nape of her neck, and she raised one hand to secure the pins, a nervous, unconscious gesture that had become a habit.

“A fine bit of business this is,” complained Tansy Quinn, the one friend Maggie had made aboard the ship in the five weeks since they’d left London. A small, plump girl with plain brown hair, bright blue eyes, and a beguiling chip in one front tooth, Tansy was emigrating to Australia for the second time in her short but eventful life. She was almost as well-traveled as Maggie, despite her poor beginnings in Liverpool, and, until now, she had exhibited unflagging confidence in her ability to make her way in this strange land where the seasons were turned topsy-turvy and flamboyantly colored birds flew free rather than being confined inside gilded cages in the parlors of the gentry. “Looks as though the lot of it’s been washed out to sea.”

Maggie’s knees were suddenly weak; once again she gripped the railing. Her wide, heavily lashed gray eyes scanned the devastation on shore. Dark despair shimmied up and down her throat and settled over her soul in an ebony fog. There were people waving at the ship from rowboats and dinghies, but not one of them was Philip. She was once again a stranger in a strange land, and there was no one to meet her. She closed her eyes and swallowed, unable to respond to Tansy’s comment.

Tansy gave her an oddly reassuring nudge with one elbow. “Don’t be lookin’ so down-’earted, love. It’s a rotten show, but we’ll go on to Sydney. Or we could get ourselves jobs at Government ’ouse, down Melbourne way.”

Maggie opened her eyes and gave her friend a look that was at once wry and dispirited. Tansy had never believed in Philip Briggs, though she hadn’t come right out and said as much; she viewed him with the same kindly disdain older children reserved for St. Nicholas. “Philip specifically told me to meet him here,” Maggie said stiffly. “In Brisbane.”

“Philip, Philip, Philip,” Tansy muttered, shaking her head. The late afternoon sunshine shimmered over the freckles sprinkled across her nose, turning them to gold. “Philip this, Philip that. ’Ere you are, pinin’ for that waster after all this time, like some fluttery spinster ’oping for one last chance at a ring and a bed, and you just nineteen!”

“I need Philip,” Maggie insisted, thrusting out her chin and fixing her eyes on some point beyond Brisbane and its plight. Then, as an afterthought, she added hastily, “And I love him.”

“Some Yank you are,” Tansy retorted skeptically. “About as independent as a tit-baby!”

Hot color flooded up over Maggie’s well-hidden but shapely bosom and streamed into her face. Her pewter-colored eyes snapped with weary outrage. “I’m as independent as you are, Tansy Quinn, and I’ll thank you to remember it!”

I,” huffed Tansy with a quick upturn of her nose, “am not dependin’ on some man to make me way easy!”

Maggie bit back a comment about Tansy’s ship-board flirtation with a certain young quartermaster and replied coolly, “I can’t understand why you hate Philip so when you’ve never even met him.”

There was a softening in Tansy’s manner, though she refused to meet Maggie’s gaze. “I don’t need to meet the bleeder to know ’e’s as useless as nipples on a boar. What kind of man drags a girl ’alfway ’round the world and can’t even pay ’er passage? You paid a pound for your kit just like the rest of us, Maggie Chamberlin, and you’d best be recallin’ what you promised to do in return.”

Maggie well remembered her promise: She’d agreed to work at least three years before leaving the country. The contract would be nullified, however, once she became Mrs. Philip Briggs, for if there was one thing Australia wanted more than nannies, servant girls, factory workers, and seamstresses, it was wives for its men. “I haven’t forgotten,” she said softly, turning away from the rail and the tragedy ashore.

She nearly collided with John Higgins, Tansy’s quartermaster. A very tall man with shoulders as narrow as his hips and an eyepatch that gave him a likeness to a pirate, Higgins regarded himself rather too highly for Maggie’s taste.

She stepped back, trying to ignore the way the seaman’s eyes swept over her person before dodging to Tansy’s face. “No point in droppin’ anchor here,” he imparted with a shrug in his voice that seemed to dismiss Brisbane’s suffering as a minor annoyance. “We’re off to Sydney Town on the evenin’ tide.”

“And how far is that?” Maggie asked politely, wishing that she were standing anywhere but down-wind of John Higgins, who gave off an odor reminiscent of rancid chicken soup.

“Two days or close to it,” Higgins answered. He gave Tansy a surreptitious and entirely improper pinch on her lush posterior and proceeded along the deck, tossing back an offhand “Pity you won’t be seein’ your Mr. Briggs as soon as you thought” to Maggie.

“Two days,” groaned Maggie, overcome by this turn of events, the sad fate that had befallen the city of Brisbane, and the tiff with Tansy. She groped her way back to the compartment that housed nearly one hundred women and sat down on her bunk to think.

There was no point in assuming that Philip had died in the flood. More likely, he had heard of the disaster, guessed that the S.S. Victoria would be unable to dock, and very sensibly remained in Sydney, going about his duties in the Royal Theatre.

The heat was oppressive, and Maggie unbuttoned her gray woolen dress and stepped out of it, draping the garment carefully over the foot of her berth. Then, wearing only her butter-muslin drawers and matching chemise, she stretched out on the narrow bunk to rest and to dream.

Closing her eyes, she could see Philip’s handsome face, his golden brown hair and his amber eyes. She dreamed her way back to the seedy theater in London’s West End, back to the tiny dressing room she’d shared with the other players….

Maggie had been powdering her nose when the young Australian she’d heard so much about suddenly appeared in her mirror. His hands—smooth, uncallused hands they were—poised themselves above her bare, creamy shoulders for a moment, then fell gracefully to his sides. “Miss Chamberlin?” he inquired. “You’ll forgive me for intruding, I hope, but I saw your last performance and I just had to speak to you in person.”

Maggie stood up hastily and pulled on her shabby silken robe, a garment inherited from her mother. Now faded, the azure blue wrap had once been a glorious thing, as Maggie’s mother had been glorious. “Yes?” she answered hesitantly. “What is it?”

An angelic smile curved Philip’s soft mouth and lighted his mirthful eyes. “You’re an American,” he observed in a tone of friendly accusation.

Maggie nodded, her heart hammering against the base of her throat. The robe covered her adequately, and she wore a costume beneath it, but she still felt as though she were wholly naked before this man. She flushed because the sensation was not at all unpleasant, and she stammered out some insensible answer that eluded her ever after.

Philip Briggs laughed, his warm-brandy eyes caressing Maggie, and asked how she liked being an actress.

Maggie shrugged, smitten to an appalling degree. “This is a second-rate theater, after all,” she managed to say. And after that, even though she had to be back onstage in less than fifteen minutes, the entire story of her life tumbled out just as though someone had greased her tongue.

She found herself telling Mr. Briggs about her parents, American circus performers, who had died not because of their hazardous acts—Maggie’s mother had been an aerialist, her father a lion tamer—but in a train crash high in the mountains of Switzerland. She even told him about her schooling in the States, how she’d been dropped off at a different orphanage every autumn and picked up again in the spring, when the circus came through town.

“You were adopted by your own parents, then?” Philip prompted when the story had ended.

Maggie smiled—oddly, she was both relaxed and excited. She decided at that moment that she loved Mr. Philip Briggs even though she knew next to nothing about him. “At least eight times,” she answered. “I hated those winters, but boarding school was out of the question—it cost too much—so I pretended to be an orphan once a year.”

Just then another performer peered around the dressing room door, and snapped, “We’re on, Chamberlin!”

Now, after spilling virtually every intimate detail of her unconventional life, Maggie became strangely shy. She averted her eyes as she removed her wrap again, revealing the scanty sequin-covered costume, and started for the door.

Gently, Philip caught Maggie’s arm. A tingle jolted along her bare limb and, traveling by way of her heart, lodged itself in her throat.

“You’ll have dinner with me? After the show?”

Maggie nodded and dashed out of the dressing room into the long, shadowy hallway leading to the wings.

A courtship of the sort only dreamed about by girls of Maggie’s station was to follow. Every night Philip took Maggie to supper. He told her about Australia, where he managed several theaters, and, after a few whirlwind weeks, he offered her the two things she wanted most in all the world: marriage and a leading role in Shakespeare’s Taming of the Shrew. She was entirely too sweet and too pretty for the part of Kate, he assured her, suavely kissing her hand as he made his promises. No, no, she must play Bianca, the gentle sister.

Maggie would have preferred the part of Kate—Bianca seemed to her a dull and dumdazzle character—but she was nobody’s fool and she knew how rare it was for a man to offer not only his name but a real job too.

“Say you’ll do it, Maggie,” Philip pleaded that last evening in a glamorous London supper club she had never expected to enter. “Say you’ll come to Australia. I’ll meet you in Brisbane—the ship docks there first—and we’ll be married the minute you step ashore. We’ll honeymoon in Queensland—they have white beaches there, Maggie, and shells as colorful as jewels—and then we’ll be off to Sydney—”

Maggie’s hesitation was largely pretense; she was certain that she loved Philip Briggs, and there was nothing to hold her in London. She had merely been stranded there after her parents had died in Switzerland; she had no real friends, one good dress, and a tiny room in a back-alley rooming house. She had nothing to lose, it seemed to her.

Opening her eyes, Maggie sighed away the sweet memories and geared herself toward the adventure ahead. Of course Philip was waiting for her in Sydney, ready to marry her and free her from her emigrant’s agreement.

Tansy had returned to the compartment and was sitting on her trunk, her tongue caught between her lips, busily writing in her journal. Apparently sensing Maggie’s perusal, she pulled in her tongue and sat up very straight.

“Thought you was sleepin’,” she said noncommit-tally.

Maggie had never had a friend quite as loyal as Tansy, and she didn’t want to offend her. She yawned and sat upright as well as she could without banging her head on the berth above hers. “I was,” Maggie lied. “Will you be seeing Mr. Higgins again after we dock in Sydney?”

“Not likely,” Tansy answered. “A seafarin’ man ain’t for me. Gone too much. I want a bloke what I can cuddle up to of a night.”

Maggie smiled and hugged herself, feeling cool and comfortable in her oft-washed and neatly patched chemise. Soon enough she’d have Philip to “cuddle up to of a night.” She’d find out what came of a passion such as her own when it was fulfilled in the marriage bed. “Do you suppose it feels good—what men and women do together in the night, I mean?”

Tansy gave a rather bawdy chuckle and whispered, “Lordy, I know it feels good. Whether it’s in the night or the broad light o’ day!”

Maggie colored richly. There was a breeze coming in through the portholes on the far side of the compartment and it rippled pleasantly, sensuously, over her arms and legs. Beneath her chemise her plump breasts seemed to swell in response to it. “You’re only boasting, Tansy Quinn! You don’t know any such thing!”

“Oh, but I do,” insisted Tansy, a sparkle in her blue eyes, her voice low. “There’s a groomsman at Government ’ouse, in Melbourne, what can make me ’owl like ’is lordship’s best ’ound!”

Maggie was roundly shocked, just as she suspected Tansy had intended her to be, but she was curious too. Vaguely, she remembered lying in her corner of a colorful circus wagon, as a little girl, and hearing odd, muffled moans in the night. She had assumed that her mother or father had eaten one too many sweet apples and gotten a stomachache, but now she wondered. “Go on!” she scoffed, her cheeks stinging.

Tansy was pleased. “So Philip the Wonderful ’asn’t ’ad ’is way with you, then. That’s something, considerin’ ’ow the bleeder’s duped you up to now.”

“We’re back to that again!” Maggie stormed, folding her arms over her chest and jutting out her stubborn chin. “You’re just jealous, Tansy Quinn, because there’s nobody waiting for you in Sydney!”

“Don’t be too sure of that, miss,” Tansy retorted loftily. “I ’ad me pick of the lads at Government ’ouse, I did.” She paused to sniff. “And I don’t talk through me nose, neither, like certain Yanks I could name.”

Maggie was stung, just as Tansy had wanted her to be. She turned onto her side, with her face to the wall, and ignored her friend until she went away.

When Tansy and everyone else in the compartment had gone off to have supper, a luxury Maggie’s pride forced her to forgo, she got out of her berth and paced. It did bother her, no matter how strenuously she might deny it, that Philip had induced her to travel to Australia as an emigrant instead of as his wife. After all, if something went wrong, if he failed to marry her, she would be obligated to work three years, and since she’d never done anything except perform in second-rate revues in one shoddy London theater, her options would certainly be limited. She would end up scrubbing floors and rinsing chamber pots, sure and certain.

Her fingers trembling just slightly, Maggie pulled her carpetbag from beneath her berth and opened it. Reaching past her spare dress, a woolen even warmer and more somber than the gray one she’d shed a short time before, she brought out her personal papers. There was her birth certificate, proof of her American citizenship—she would need that if she ever decided to return to the United States. That didn’t seem likely, given the great distance involved. Along with the certificate was the advertisement Philip had clipped from the London Times and presented with a pleased flourish.

Alone, sitting cross-legged on her berth like an Indian, Maggie read the smudged print even though she already knew it by heart.

Free emigration.
Wanted for Australia, young men and women.
Must be over eighteen.

“It only makes sense for you to travel this way, Magpie,” Philip had enthused. “You pay a pound for your kit—blankets and sheets and soap, things of that nature. And you’ll need to have an emigration form signed by a doctor and a clergyman and the theater manager, proving that you’re a good sort and all. Shouldn’t be any problem, that. We’ll use the money saved on your passage to buy a set of china plates or a fine new rug for the parlor.”

Maggie sighed and tucked the tattered newspaper advertisement back among her other papers, turning her attention to a tiny photograph of her parents, taken only months before their deaths. Mama, the daring, fair-haired aerialist, fearless and beautiful. Papa, the handsome lion tamer, in truth as gentle as a lamb. How fiercely they had loved each other and their daughter.

Struck by a loneliness that usually overtook her only by night, Maggie held the treasured photograph close to her heart for a moment, her eyes burning suspiciously. Then, firmly, she took herself in hand. Philip would be waiting for her in Sydney, and he would keep his promises too. She had only to keep her chin up and believe.

With a sniffle Maggie took out her tattered copy of The Taming of the Shrew and began to study her lines. It was a largely unnecessary task, considering that she’d long since mastered not only Bianca’s speeches but most of Kate’s and some of Petruchio’s as well, in an effort to fill the long days at sea, but one could not be too thorough when it came to such things.

When Tansy returned from the mess hall, fully an hour later, she brought Maggie’s pint ration of tea, along with the heel of a ham and a buttered slice of brown bread, neatly wrapped in a linen napkin that had doubtless been purloined from the first-class dining room.

“It ain’t as though I’ve changed me mind,” she said with a toss of her head as Maggie began to eat enthusiastically. “I still think Philip Briggs ain’t a patch on a good man like sweet Rory at Government ’ouse, but from ’ere on, I’ll keep me opinions to meself.”

Maggie’s eyes sparkled as she looked up at her friend; she’d believe that when cows sprouted wings, but she also knew an olive branch when she ate one. She finished the bread and ham quickly but took her time with the tea.

“Thank you,” she remembered to say when her friend began to look annoyed.

Tansy was instantly mollified. “Some of the passengers is goin’ ashore,” she confided, “flood or no flood. They’re sendin’ ’em in dinghies.”

Maggie had a sudden picture of Philip standing amid the stranded rabbits and the wreckage of Brisbane, trying to catch sight of her in one of the small boats being lowered from the ship and rowed to shore. As quick as that she was off her berth and scrambling back into her gray woolen dress.

“And where are you off to in such a rush?” Tansy demanded, hands on her hips.

“Why, to Brisbane, of course!” Maggie answered, wrenching her carpetbag from beneath the berth. Her hair was falling about her shoulders in great untidy loops, but there was no time to fuss with it. Carrying all her earthly belongings in that one battered bag, she bounded out of the women’s compartment and onto the deck.

Sure enough, there were four dinghies making their way toward shore. The last dazzling light of a tropical sunset blazed on the water, making it very difficult to see.

Suddenly a head wearing a straw bushman’s hat appeared over the ship’s railing, startling Maggie so badly that she leapt backward a step and gasped, one hand pressed to her bosom.

Aquamarine eyes assessed her boldly from a tanned, ruggedly hewn face, and the man who had climbed the rope ladder dangling down the ship’s side swung deftly over the railing to stand facing Maggie.

An insolent smile revealed straight white teeth, and the hat was swept off with a flourish, to show a profusion of tousled black hair. The man was enormous, and even when he bowed a pirate’s dashing bow, he still seemed to tower over Maggie.

Having recovered much of her composure by then, Maggie dismissed the bushman with a withering glare and started around him, bent on making her way down that rope ladder, into a dinghy, and across that placid-looking water to Brisbane.

“I’m afraid you’re too late, lassie,” said John Higgins as he climbed up the ladder and vaulted over the railing. “The last boat’s gone.”

Maggie’s frustration had reached its peak. She stomped one foot and gestured toward the bushman with her free hand. “If this—gentleman—came aboard, there must have been a boat to bring him across! And if there was a boat to bring him across—” She paused here to look over the railing. The dinghy that had carried this unconventional passenger over the water was paddling away toward shore. “Come back!” Maggie screamed.

“A Yank,” observed the bushman in a tone that bespoke sympathy and tolerance.

“Aye,” agreed John Higgins with a long-suffering sigh.

Maggie stomped her foot again and then kicked at the ship’s side. “Damn, damn, double damn!” she yelled.

“It can’t be as bad as all that,” said the bushman, presuming to stand beside Maggie at the railing. His grin was beguiling in an obnoxious sort of way, and there was a faint Irish lilt to his voice.

“It ain’t,” Tansy put in suddenly with a sigh. She had linked her arm through John Higgins’s. “That ’orse’s—”Tansy paused, clearly remembering her earlier promise to keep her opinion of Maggie’s betrothed to herself. “That Mr. Philip Briggs of’ers will be waitin’ in Sydney, I’ll wager.”

The bushman arched raven-black eyebrows and returned his hat to his head with a deft and innately masculine motion of one sun-bronzed hand. “You’ve come all this way to meet up with Philip Briggs, have you?”

Maggie’s eyes widened as she met the stranger’s quietly contemptuous gaze. “Why, yes. Do you know Mr. Briggs?”

A muscle in the Australian’s jaw bunched into a knot and then went slack again. “Aye. I know him. He works for me.”

Maggie searched her memory and came up with a name Philip had mentioned in passing. “You would be Mr. McKenna, then.”

The answer was a nod, so brisk as to be terse and quite ill-mannered. Mr. McKenna’s straw hat shadowed his eyes. “I would,” he answered. A brassy-gold charm gleamed among the dark swirls of hair visible in the deep V of his shirt.

Maggie realized that she’d been staring, and blinked. She felt oddly alarmed at the coldness the mention of Philip Briggs had engendered in his employer and called upon all her stage experience to smile with confidence. “Then you must know that Philip and I plan to be married.”

“Do you now?” asked Mr. McKenna with polite interest. “I’m sure that will be news to most of Sydney.”

Maggie had been at sea for five long weeks and now, at last, she’d reached Brisbane, only to be denied the meeting with Philip she’d looked forward to with such bright hopes. And here was her future husband’s employer, offering not a word of encouragement or welcome. Was it possible that Philip hadn’t mentioned his plans to marry?

A lump formed in Maggie’s throat and she gazed toward Brisbane in near despair as the S.S. Victoria chugged onward toward Sydney. Tansy and her beau wandered off down the deck, but Mr. McKenna remained, his gaze following Maggie’s, his huge frame braced against the railing.

A flock of gray-white birds with lovely pink breasts soared past, a wondrous sight against the twilight sky. Maggie smiled despite all her uncertainties.

“They’re called galahs,” Mr. McKenna said.

Maggie could not and would not look at her unwanted companion. If she did, she might see pity in his blue-green eyes and that would be unbearable. “They’re quite lovely,” she said, still watching the beautiful birds as they soared off toward the land. “Are you fleeing the flood, Mr. McKenna?”

“Not really,” came the gruff yet gentle reply. “I have business in Sydney.”

Maggie drew a deep breath and made herself look into those incredible eyes. “I will find Philip Briggs waiting for me in Sydney, won’t I, Mr. McKenna?” she asked.

“You’ll find him,” the Australian sighed, pulling his hat down farther over his brow.

Hardly more enlightened than before, Maggie squared her shoulders and walked with dignity across the deck and back into the sleeping compartment.

About The Author

Photo Credit: Sigrid Estrada

The daughter of a town marshal, Linda Lael Miller is a #1 New York Times and USA TODAY bestselling author of more than one hundred historical and contemporary novels, most of which reflect her love of the West. Raised in Northport, Washington, Linda pursued her wanderlust, living in London and Arizona and traveling the world before returning to the state of her birth to settle down on a horse property outside Spokane. Published since 1983, Linda was awarded the prestigious Nora Roberts Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 by the Romance Writers of America. She was recently inducted into the Wild West Heritage Foundation's Walk of Fame for her dedication to preserving the heritage of the Wild West. When not writing, Linda loves to focus her creativity on a wide variety of art projects. Visit her online at and

Product Details

  • Publisher: Gallery Books (February 13, 2021)
  • Length: 384 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781982184490

Browse Related Books

Resources and Downloads

High Resolution Images

More books from this author: Linda Lael Miller