Love and babies: two things Lucy doesn’t have time for in her life. It’s 1926 and this young West Australian woman is happy as an accountant. And she intends to stay that way.
Until Giorgio, an Italian migrant fisherman sent to Australia in disgrace. The moment their eyes meet across the fish market, he knows Lucy’s the girl for him. If it weren’t for his reputation as a rake, he’s certain he could catch more than just her eye – perhaps even her heart, too.
A tale of crabs, cricket bats and catching your heart’s desire in Jazz Age Western Australia.
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Meet The Author
Demelza Carlton has always loved the ocean, but on her first snorkelling trip she found she was afraid of fish.
She has since swum with sea lions, sharks and sea cucumbers and stood on spray-drenched cliffs over a seething sea as a seven-metre cyclonic swell surged in, shattering a shipwreck below.
Sensationalist spin? No – Demelza tends to take a camera with her so she can capture and share the moment later; shipwrecks, sharks and all.
Demelza now lives in Perth, Western Australia, the shark attack capital of the world.
The Ocean’s Gift series was her first foray into fiction, followed by the Nightmares trilogy. She swears the Mel Goes to Hell series ambushed her on a crowded train and wouldn’t leave her alone.
How To Catch Crabs Excerpt 1
Motion through a shop window caught my eye and I focussed on the source – Mr Paino, peering over a pile of potatoes. When my eyes met his, his waving turned to beckoning as he enticed me inside.
“What are you doing up from the farm?” he asked as a gust of wind slammed the door shut behind me.
“Buying fish. Mum’s got another bun in the oven and she’s insisting on fish for dinner.”
Mr Paino laughed. “Sounds like my Maria was with little Sam. She wanted fish every day. Good thing our shop is only a few streets from the fish markets – she’d walk there in the morning with the children while I worked.” He eyed me. “So when are you settling down and having children, Lucy?”
“Doesn’t that usually require a suitable husband?”
His smile died. “For a respectable girl like you, yes.” Without lightening his dark tone, he continued, “My brother has arrived from Italy. He’s just started working at the fish markets for Merlino, though I don’t know how long he’ll last. Last night he came home swearing that crabs and sardines were the spawn of the devil.”
He wasn’t far wrong, but even if they were, I’d have the devil to pay if I didn’t bring that spawn home. “So your brother and Mr Merlino have crabs and sardines today?”
Mr Paino choked. “I don’t know about Merlino, but I wouldn’t be surprised about my brother. He was quite the troublemaker back home in Sicily, which is why Mama sent him to Australia. She seemed to think that sending him over to the other side of the world might make him turn over a new rock.”
“Leaf,” I corrected without thinking. “Turn over a new leaf.”
His smile turned rueful. “Whatever the expression is, I doubt my brother is capable of changing. The girls all loved him back home and he loved them right back.”
“So you’re warning me that your brother is a rake, Mr Paino?”
He chuckled. “I don’t think you need warning, Lucy. You’re not silly.”
No, but there were plenty of girls who were. I glanced outside and was surprised to see a lance of light pierce the cloud, reflecting off the footpath in blinding white. “Looks like the rain’s let up. See you later, Mr Paino.”
I slipped out of his shop and hurried toward the fishing boat harbour. The market hall was so busy, no one noticed an extra body – least of all one as skinny as mine.
“No, my boys don’t have crabs. With weather like this, they’re off catching big fish and not messing about in the shallows!” a laughing voice cut across the hubbub and all sound seemed to quieten. Maria’s unmistakeable voice was music to my ears and everyone else’s, too, it seemed.
I’d never envied a woman so much in my life. She was the same age as me – but that’s where the similarities ended. Blonde and curvy like some sort of Italian painting of an angel, Maria Speranza was a young widow who could do as she pleased. She worked for the Basile family, but you’d never guess that she was anyone’s subordinate. As Merry D’Angelo’s niece, she had no parents to answer to, and as long as Merry approved of her, she had all the respectability any woman in Western Australia could muster. She’d arrived three years before and showed no sign of taking a second husband, nor needing one…though every man who saw her seemed to think otherwise. She was the uncrowned queen of the fish market.
In the dim recesses of my mind, I registered what she’d said: the Basiles didn’t have crabs. But Mr Paino had said that Mr Merlino did, so I headed for the cramped corner of the market where his counter stood. Like everywhere, there were hierarchies and as Mr Merlino was new here, with no relatives to vouch for him, he had to build his own reputation. Much like my parents had – and many of the other migrants here.
As I approached the counter, he rose from beneath it, unfolding to a height several inches taller than me. And my eyes met…a pair that were much darker than Paolo Merlino’s. Then one of them winked.
I blinked furiously, backing up to put some distance between me and this…rake, I realised, as I took him in. Well-muscled arms strained at his shirt sleeves as he folded them across his chest, making his knitted jumper tighten just enough to show the outline of more muscles beneath. He said something in Italian, his voice rich and deep, though he looked much younger than his brother.
His voice felt like it rumbled through my chest as much as his and his second wink said he knew it, too.
Don’t be silly, I told myself. Rakes are good for gardening and that’s it.
“I don’t understand Italian,” I told him. “Where’s Mr Merlino? I need crabs and I understand he can help me.”
His eyes seemed to widen as he heard my broad Australian accent. Had the fool thought I was Italian? “If it is crabs you want, streghetta, I will give you those and much more besides.”
“English,” I insisted. “If you’re going to insult me, then I’ll go elsewhere.” I turned to go, but I had no idea if anyone else stocked crabs. If Maria didn’t have them, I’d be lucky if anyone did.
“I called you a little witch, miss, because you have enchanted my senses. I am at your service.”
How To Catch Crabs Excerpt 2
I smelled smoke faintly on the wind and knew Mum wasn’t the only one brewing up a morning cup of tea.
When my basket was empty, I slipped under the lines of washing until I reached the outermost rank. A quick touch told me that these were far from dry, so I returned to the lean-to laundry to finish up the last load of boys’ clothes. I’d already scrubbed these once, but they were so dirty, I’d given up and decided to soak them for longer.
I wound them around the copper stick – actually an old cricket bat of Dominic’s – and dumped the mess into the rinse water, praying that I wouldn’t have to scrub them again. It wouldn’t kill the boys to wear grey shirts to school, especially after they’d turned them that colour.
I shoved my arms into the tub of water, weaving my hands between the shirts and shorts in an effort to untangle them. The smell of smoke intensified as I touched the bottom of the stone tub. No, this wasn’t the clean, sharp smell of burning jarrah from a neighbour’s chimney. This was the fug of tobacco that shouldn’t be anywhere near my laundry.
“Nick, if you’re smoking again, I’ll tell Mum!” I hissed, glancing over my shoulder.
The masculine silhouette in the doorway was too muscular to be my fifteen-year-old brother. As if to demonstrate this, he removed the cigarette from his lips and blew a stream of smoke at the ceiling. “Who is this Nick, streghetta? Your brother, I hope.”
Giorgio’s deep voice stopped my heart for a moment, before it stuttered back to beating. How could one man have such an effect on me? I only hoped he didn’t notice.
“None of your business,” I snapped. “What are you doing, trespassing here?”
He laughed softly. “I am driving my sister-in-law to see her friend. My brother didn’t trust me to mind his shop, so he gave me his wife and truck instead. So, this friend. Is she your friend, too? Or your sister, perhaps?”
“My mother. And my father is pruning the grapevines, but he’ll be back for lunch any moment, so you should get out of here and leave me to my work.” I deliberately turned my back on him, concentrating only on the task at hand. I willed him to leave.
“But you have bewitched me, streghetta. I’ve thought of nothing and no one else since I met you in the market last week.” I heard the crunch of footsteps on the hard-packed clay as he entered the lean-to.
He’s right behind me, but I won’t give him the satisfaction of paying him undeserved attention, I vowed, lifting a shirt from the suds so I could scrutinise it for stains.
Something warm touched my neck and I dropped the shirt with a splash. Whirling around, I glared at Giorgio. “How dare you touch me without my permission!”
“This new fashion of short hair drew my eyes to your neck, as I’m sure you intended, and I could not resist you, streghetta.” He touched two fingers to his lips. “Your neck tastes of soap and salt, the products of your hard labour. Do your lips taste sweeter?”
I drew in a sharp breath to shout at him again, but he seized my shoulders and kissed me. His lips were warm as he took me by surprise, taking advantage of my open mouth to mingle his breath with mine, before his tongue darted in to dance. It was a kiss that spoke of passion, longing and a desire for more as his body pressed mine against the sink. He tasted of ash and smoke, coupled with the warmth of a fire that could melt even the iciest heart. Even mine, I realised, as my knees weakened. I groped for the sink behind me to stay on my feet and my fingers closed on the copper stick.
All those years of backyard cricket with my brothers was worth it, I decided, as I brought up the bat to hit the rogue for six. Cold, soapy water doused us both, but I didn’t care because I heard and felt the satisfying thunk as the bat made contact with his head.
Immediately, he released me and backed up, touching a hand to his head to see if he was bleeding. Sadly, I hadn’t hit him hard enough for that. My arms were too tired from a morning’s worth of washing.
I brandished the bat. “Don’t do that again.”
He laughed and I almost hit him again. “Only if you promise not to bewitch me any more. Tell me your name.”
“You’ve never had the good manners to introduce yourself, so why should I?” I retorted. I could still feel the heat of his mouth on mine. Heavens – I almost wanted to feel it again.