Escape to the Remote Coral Islands and Fall in Love With the Southern Seas Series by Gwendoline Ewin
Title: Who is He?
Author: Gwendoline Ewins
Series: Southern Seas
Genre: Regency, Historical Romance, intended for 17+ readers
"I have a cabin booked on the 'Cambray' bound for the Southern Seas," he announces mere hours before they are to be joined as one in the sight of God and Mama and Papa and her very best friend Deborah.
Hester had fallen in love with him at first sight, before she knew his true character. Now his ridiculous prank has forced them into a marriage neither wants. Worse, he intends to set sail immediately after the ceremony leaving her to endure - alone - the pity of so-called friends. Not likely!
Luke warns her the voyage will be long and arduous but she insists on sailing with him. She is green and vomiting before they even board the ship but will not be deterred. All he can do is ensure she constantly drink to replenish the loss of liquid and wrap her in blankets against the cold air.
Yet against all odds they become friends on the ship and when they set up home in Tahiti. Their friendship deepens in a culture far different than they had known, and over the years becomes abiding love as they experience more joy than either had thought possible, more grief than either could bear alone.
“Who is that man?”
“The tall one – with dark hair and eyes.”
“There are lots of tall men here! Many of them have dark hair and every one of them has eyes!”
“But only one with eyes searching the room feverishly as if all will be lost if he fails to find what he is looking for.”
Miss Hester Urquhart and her best friend Lady Deborah Appleby had stopped their slow promenade around the edge of the Pilkington’s dance floor to whisper behind fans they fluttered with well-taught delicacy. It was generally agreed by the guardians of polite society that these two young ladies had risen like cream to the top of the vast quantity of milky maids in London during their very first season: their deportment was perfect, their behaviour demure, their conversation proper. And more than one eligible male had taken notice.
“Oh – that man. Mmm – he is rather handsome, is he not? He is the Wainwright heir. You know, the Earl of Darlinghurst’s cousin ninth removed or some such. The only surviving male in that illustrious family of his. Not that he has ever shown more than a passing interest in the family, except for a desultory attempt to prevent its extinction by pursuing Jane Throgmorton andher fortune. It did not work but perhaps he will have more success now he is returned from the Antipodes.”
“The Antipodes?” Luminous eyes shone with innocent radiance that might – in the right circumstances – darken with passion.
“Yes, Hester, the Antipodes, that land mass at the bottom of the world full of deserts and strange creatures. Apparently he was helping one of the darlings of the botany world collect flowers – hundreds of them. After a while that must have become most tedious -” Deborah followed her pronouncement with the bored sigh she had recently perfected.
For a brief moment Hester almost forgot Deborah as in her mind’s eye she saw the tall, dark-haired figure of Mr Wainwright with his beautiful eyes – which if she were closer to him she would surely be able to confirm were of the deepest blue, sensitive and passionate at the same time - fixed steadfastly on field after field of beautiful flowers of every conceivable hue while above him in an azure sky delicate clouds floated happily towards the horizon. “What sort of flowers is he collecting?” she breathed.
Deborah looked confused. “Is collecting? You mean was collecting, do you not? He was collecting orchids.”
“Yes – apparently orchids grow wild over all the hills around Botany Bay.”
“Deborah! How glorious that sounds and how wonderful it must be to be a man – able to leave everything behind to travel to distant places like Botany Bay and pick armfuls of real orchids.”
Deborah giggled and almost lost the ennui she was trying so hard to perfect. “Unfortunately setting foot on Botany Bay requires a voyage of several months across the oceans of the world, tossing and turning on a narrow cot in a tiny cabin - and regularly losing the contents of your stomach on the floor. I must tell you now, Hester, I am sorry. I cannot find it in my heart to accompany you. You will simply have to find a man who has the wanderlust and travel with him to paradise. I promise faithfully to answer your letters.”
“I think I may have found him.”
Deborah’s fan stopped fluttering as she followed the direction of Hester’s eyes. “Hester - please think carefully before you do anything!” For all her attempted sophistication Lady Deborah was at heart the more compliant of the two. She was also kind-hearted and protective of her far more adventurous friend. “We are no longer children. We have made our come-out. This is not the time for pranks and devil-may-care schemes.”
Hester scarcely heard. Her attention was fixed on Luke Wainwright, who in turn appeared transfixed by one of the dancers who had come to a halt in front of him. “Jane Throgmorton,” Deborah whispered and Hester studied the heiress from behind her fan.
Miss Throgmorton was a most attractive young lady. Her hair fell in perfect golden ringlets over perfect shoulders revealed by an exquisite – if extraordinarily low-cut – gown of palest lemon. Hester could well understand any man, let alone a man who had spent the past years collecting orchids from the hills around Botany Bay, being overwhelmed by such beauty. However more than beauty was needed to make a man happy, she decided. Among her friends Hester had a fine reputation of reading character. It took but an instant to read Miss Throgmorton’s and pronounce judgment.
“He is making a terrible mistake,” Hester said briskly. “Miss Throgmorton may be lovely to look at but she could never make him happy.”
Deborah accepted the verdict without question. Hester was rarely wrong. “Well, we do not need to worry ourselves about Miss Throgmorton and Mr Wainwright because she has allowed herself to fall for the fortune and dubious charms of that elderly libertine Lord Frankton -”
“Poor Mr Wainwright,” Hester sighed. “He has been out of society and free from the wiles of devious women for years. I think we – you and I, Deborah, should prepare a plan to protect him from Miss Throgmorton.”
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Amelia Yorke is a destitute teacher with a petunia in a flower pot outside her dingy cottage in Sydneytown. Guy Richmond is a botanist seeking orchids in the rainforest and heir to vast lands in New South Wales. Each has experienced tragedy.
They are from different worlds and should never have met, yet come together on the deck of a sailing ship overlooking a spectacular tropical lagoon. Drums on the beach threaten and a man desperately paddles for freedom: a man Amelia has never met but agreed to marry. A man Guy loathes.
By the time Amelia Yorke unlatched the tiny window her armpits were soaked in perspiration and she knew something was wrong.
The cottage was stifling and too quiet - the only sound was the whine of flies competing for crumbs of bread scattered over the table. There was no sign of a sodden Mama in crumpled clothes, hair wildly askew, just a sad empty gin bottle on the floor.
Amelia spun around, searching the cramped living space and even smaller scullery beyond as if Mama might magically materialize on the broken sofa. Or on one of the two wooden chairs. Or under the table.
“Where are you, Mama? Are you all right?” she worried aloud before noticing a thin strip of light around the back door. Rushing toward it she pushed the door wide open.
All-too visible was a figure collapsed in front of the privy in a puddle of vomit and worse. One arm was thrown over head, thighs were revealed in a flagrant disarray of bared flesh, mouth agape and doubtless emitting a ghastly procession of snorts and sniffs and snores.
Bile filled Amelia’s mouth as the horror of it all flooded her eyes with tears because it hadn’t always been like this. There had been a time when Mama was happy, when the two of them picked daisies from a much bigger garden and made garlands for their hair. A time before Papa died and Mama found respite from grief in a gin bottle.
Amelia’s eyelids squeezed shut. She longed to stay behind them forever. She wanted to let her thoughts wander to a place where they became dreams - but it was more and more difficult to allow thoughts to wander, and almost impossible to dream. Money was tight and made tighter by Mama’s uncanny ability to find any cache set aside for necessities while time passed pitilessly - in a month it would once again be her birthday, one dreary year giving way to another just as dreary, two-and-thirty giving way to three-and-thirty, another line on her face, less flesh on her bones, less life in the brown eyes that had once been described as “fine”.
Smothering another groan she ran to Mama’s side, dropped to her knees and began to rub her hands. They were oddly stiff and cold on this too hot a day.
“Mama, wake up,” she urged. There was no response.
She tried to lift the comatose body and failed. “You have to help me, Mama. I can’t lift you by myself.”
“Let me help you, Miss Yorke.” Duncan Blowes - his ever increasing impudence was becoming worrisome, his constant scrutiny distasteful. She shivered at the thought of his watery eyes watching her return from the schoolhouse, and of him following her into the cottage and out of the back door to the patch of grass they called a garden. Now she felt his eyes leering down at her, no doubt hoping to glimpse some private part of her body revealed as she tended Mama.
A quick glance along the long line of cottages confirmed no one else was around. His hand was the only one available. Unease must be swallowed.
“Thank you, Mr Blowes.” Amelia forced the words through a tight throat. “Can you help me carry Mama into the cottage? She has had one of her turns.”
He smirked in triumph. “Willingly, my dear. I’m only too happy to help a sweet young lady like you. Your mama’s health must be of constant concern to you.”
Fussing over Mama’s skirts provided an excuse to ignore his comments. Amelia moved to take the weight of the lower now fetid part of Mama’s body while Blowes positioned himself to take her shoulders.
But instead of lifting Mama he gave a long low whistle.
Amelia jerked up her head.
“She’s gone,” he said.