by Pauline Saull
When a British heiress discovers her fiancé is not the man he pretended to be she’ll discover her sheltered upbringing has left her woefully unprepared to face a new life in Venezuela. The line between what is right and what you desire blurs.
When charming Carlton Blake convinces Elizabeth Hall to marry him, she is carried away with the idea of a life in 1880s Venezuela. But, when she travels to her new home for the wedding, she discovers her fiancée is only interested in her inheritance and his exotic mistress, Rosita, a beautiful Carib girl. Desperate, Elizabeth accepts shelter from British expatriate and rancher, Theo Furey.
Will the embers her protector ignites within her become a flame Elizabeth cannot deny?
Genre: Historical RomancePurchase links: Liquid Silver Books Amazon ARe Kobo B&N
Release Date: April 1, 2013
Publisher: Liquid Silver Books
Excerpt & More
Venezuela, South America, 1880
Elizabeth Hall leaned over the rail of the steamship Orion, straining to catch her first glimpse of the port, La Guaira. It had been a long tiresome journey from England, and she was now eagerly looking forward to the start of her new life, impatient to be on dry land once more.
“Isn’t this exciting?” She turned to the young woman beside her—Jane Cusp, a governess from Brighton and also Elizabeth’s hired traveling companion.
“A little bewildering, I think,” Jane said. “I shall be glad when we dock.”
Determined not to be daunted, for she was feeling a trifle apprehensive herself, Elizabeth surveyed the harbor scene before them as the ship moved slowly through the throng of bobbing fishing boats, edging toward the dock. With a judder, the engines stopped, and the ship gently slid closer, nudging the wharf, allowing them a better view of the port. Noisy shouting ensued as the thick ropes were thrown from the ship to the waiting dock hands who, in turn, quickly wound the lines around the sturdy stanchions.
Dismayed, Elizabeth surveyed what appeared to be a jumble of rusting tin and forlorn thatch clustered along the waterfront, straggling out along a sandy bay. With a shock, she realized they were, in fact, dwellings. Washing, strung between them, hung listlessly in the still heat, and half-naked children played in a stream which snaked out into the harbor. Jane, she noted, had her handkerchief pressed to her nose. A decidedly unpleasant smell had suddenly pervaded the air. Her grip tightened on the rail.
Had she journeyed thousands of miles for this? It wasn’t at all how Carlton had described it to her.
“Oh, dear.” Jane’s voice quivered. “It looks like a shanty town! My goodness, I didn’t expect this at all.” She fell silent, her distress clear.
Tearing her gaze from the scene, Elizabeth momentarily closed her eyes, swallowing her disappointment.
Heavens above, please don’t let it all be a mistake. Her stomach tightened at the thought, making her feel decidedly ill.
* * * *
And here they were. People bustled past them on the crowded deck, and Jane turned to Elizabeth, her eyes blurred with unshed tears. Elizabeth, her own natural optimism quickly bouncing back patted Jane’s hand.
“Try not to worry. All ports are unsightly, this perhaps a little more than most. However, we must keep a positive outlook, for I’m sure this is not indicative of the rest of the country, I’ve read there are many beautiful places—lakes, vast grasslands, mountains, and the wonderful climate. Why, Caracas is the most vibrant, multicultural, and extremely modern city. Carlton assures me of it.”
“Yes, of course.” Jane sighed. “I do worry about trifles. I can see you are too excited about meeting your fiancé to fret about a silly little port. I shall have to start thinking like you, Elizabeth, if I am to survive here.”
“You will be fine, I know it. To have come so far, and to strangers, is a much braver thing than I have done, my dear Jane. After all, as you said, I will have Carlton to help me.”
Jane nodded. “And you must be so in love, coming all this way to marry.” She smiled, her plain face transformed as she begged, “Do tell me again about Carlton. He sounds so debonair, so dashing. It will take my mind off what is before me right now.”
Elizabeth laughed. “I have told you all, I think, but yes, he is very dashing. I can’t imagine why he picked me.”
“Oh, Elizabeth, you are so pretty. You would have enchanted him.”
“How kind you are.” Elizabeth felt a moments disquiet at the thought of Carlton. Oh, she wanted to see him again, but it was a long time since they had bade each other farewell, and though she hated to admit it, she sometimes found conjuring up his image a little difficult.
“He’s tall,” she said, as though speaking the words would make the image clearer, “with fair hair, hazel eyes, freckled skin.” Rattling his features off, admittedly from a sepia photograph, made her extremely aware how hazy her memory of him was. What color were his brows and eyelashes? And she couldn’t remember his hands at all!
“Very English-looking,” Jane said enviously. “You are lucky, Elizabeth.”
“Yes, I am.” Elizabeth looked back to the dock. The sun beat down relentlessly, and she dabbed at the moisture forming on her neck, wondering how Carlton’s very light English complexion had been coping in this heat. Although she had blonde hair, her skin loved the sun. Toward the end of the trip, when she’d spent much time on deck, she acquired a healthy color which, while amusing—it was after all the sign of a field worker—nonetheless pleased her.
What did not please her was the fact that now that the ship had entered the harbor, without the welcome sea breezes, her body was becoming uncomfortably drenched in perspiration. A smile pulled at her mouth as she remembered the look on Aunt Grace’s face when she told her what she would be doing.
“Something is amusing you, Elizabeth?” Jane inquired gently.
“Yes. I am recalling a conversation with my aunt.” She looked at Jane’s serious, innocent face. “Though, whether I should tell you…”
“Oh, you must.”
Elizabeth giggled. “Well, as long as you promise not to take umbrage. I told her I would be shaving the hair from my armpits with Uncle Samuel’s razor, and she almost had a fit! ‘Child, what are you talking about?’” Elizabeth mimicked her aunt’s shriek. “She was horrified, more offended by my mentioning such a thing than the deed itself!” She smiled seeing Jane’s face. “Don’t look so aghast, Jane. I’m not talking about something immoral after all. Apparently it’s what fashionable ladies do now in hot climes. In such heat the sweat must be allowed to evaporate. I read about it in a magazine I sent for.”
“Oh, really.” Jane gulped, her face flushed with embarrassment.
“I wish you could have seen Aunt’s face. I love her dearly, but she is so old-fashioned. ‘My dear girl,’ she said to me. ‘Horses sweat, men perspire, ladies only glisten!’”
Elizabeth laughed heartily at the memory, but looking at Jane’s drab brown dress already dark under the arms, she felt a pang of remorse.
“Sorry, Aunt Grace,” she said, “but we ladies definitely sweat!”
Jane smiled wanly. Elizabeth felt for her discomfort, but the girl would have to learn to adapt to the climate if she was to have any sort of life here.
Elizabeth fully intended to do so. The tight-fitting sleeves and bodice of her own dress over the stiflingly tight corset were uncomfortably damp. Her thick drawers clung to her, and her feet, squeezed into shoes which had fit perfectly well in England’s cool climate, were beginning to swell and hurt. She cursed the thick silk stockings which she intended to discard as soon as was decently possible.
She couldn’t wait to live in the home Carlton had bought for them. Uncle Samuel had sent a substantial sum to allow its purchase, and Elizabeth knew he would have spent it wisely.
Oh, the freedom of her own home! And once married, she was determined to ensure he kept his promise about her attire. He did, he said, hate the tight corseting of European women, especially Englishwomen. They looked like stuffed geese to him. Elizabeth had laughed at that, for she felt it to be true also. She, he’d said, would be able to dress as freely as she wished, for he adored the curvaceous bodies of unencumbered ladies in looser clothing.
This last statement had caused her a tiny flutter of consternation at the time, for where had he encountered such women?
It was a thought she’d dismissed then, and she wouldn’t think about it now.
Excitement mounted as the first of the passengers started to disembark. Leaning out over the rail, she scanned the colorful crowds waiting on the dock below. Was Carlton down there among the waving throng? Perhaps he was looking up trying to catch her attention? But it was no good. However hard she tried, it was impossible to pick him out; there were just too many people. And anyway, she would see him soon enough when they walked down the gangplank.
Imagining him calling her name in excitement lifted her spirits further.
“Come, Jane, we must oversee the removal of our trunks, I think. The sooner we find a porter, the quicker we shall be off the ship.”
Gritting her teeth against the pain building from the leather straps chafing her feet, she led Jane below deck.
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