Escaping a brutal father, Briony runs to James, the man she loves.
With his family's blessing, they marry and prepare for a new life in a new country – America. A wedding gift of two tickets to travel on an ocean liner is a wonderful surprise. Full of anticipation and hope, they set sail.
Only, fate has sent them a challenge that tests, not just their strength and love, but their very survival.
Late February 1912
The slap from her father’s hand sent Briony Stewart careening into the sideboard, knocking plates and rattling the serving dishes. Pain bit deep. Her jaw throbbed so violently it made her whole body shake.
Hatred filled her. It sizzled along her veins eating up all her thoughts until the loathing for him was the only thing in her head. Only moments ago she was thinking of James, remembering the way he smiled at her, kissed her. But as usual the brutality of her world smashed those dreams, banished those musings.
Briony straightened and waved away the attentive Roberts, the butler, and he immediately set to righting the plates. She faced the man who sired her, the one who sent her mother to an early grave with his cruelty. Had she always hated this man? Yes, she had. From her earliest memories she could recall cowering away from his raised voice, his temper, his lifted hand, his contempt.
“So,” he said now as she stared at him unflinchingly. “Who is he?” Red in the face, his fury made his bulbous nose turn from crimson to purple. He slapped the letter he held. “Who is J. O.?”
He had James’s letter.
“I can explain.” Ignoring her trembling, Briony knew she had to pretend, pretend and perform like the greatest actress who ever walked the stage. Lifting her chin, knowing how he played the game, she gave the note a fleeting glance. “J. O. is a friend of Bessie’s,” she lied. “I’m sorry, Father, that it has caused you concern.”
“Bessie Trindale?” he sneered the last name as though it was filth on his tongue.
“Yes, I know you don’t like that I am friends with her. But she begged me to help and I didn’t know how to say no.”
“How do you help her?”
“She beseeched me to accept John’s letters on her behalf and then post them on to her. None of her family would be suspicious of Bessie receiving my letters.”
“So Trindale is being hoodwinked by his own daughter, hey?” Speculating eyes stared at her for a moment more as he digested this information about a family he detested.
Briony didn’t move, not wanting to trigger a reaction in him. Past experiences had taught that these scenes had to be stage perfectly with her father as the puppet master.
“How long has this been going on then, you lying and being secretive?” he blustered, not willing to back down now his anger was up.
“A few months only. I saw no harm in it,” she forced lightness to her tone. “Silly of me, really, to have agreed to the charade. We aren’t even very close.” Her father made sure she didn’t have any close friends at all.
“You will have nothing more to do with that family, do you hear? They look down on us, even though I could buy him out ten times over.”
“Of course, Father. I will cease instantly.” An easy submit for she didn’t like Bessie anyway.
Slightly mollified, her father regained his chair and piled bacon into his mouth. “Stupid Trindale, the man doesn’t know he’s being played for a fool. It’s laughable that it’s his very own ugly, brash daughter who is doing it. Yes, very funny indeed.”
“I shouldn’t have become involved. Mr. Trindale is a business associate of yours and—”
“But no friend!” His fist banged the table, rattling cups on saucers. “That backstabber stole a deal right from under me last month. Blackguard.” He piled more bacon into his flabby mouth.
Briony quietly eased onto a chair and Roberts poured coffee for her, his eyes sad. Cheek throbbing, she wanted to cradle the pain in her hands but knew better than to alert her father that she was in pain. While he ate, she tried to think of nicer things, of stolen moments with James, the strolls in the park, meeting him at his parents” country home near Thorner, and dancing at parties. Such sweet moments, but there were not enough of them. Letters had kept their love alive, made their dreams reachable. He believed they would be together, be married, and she had to believe it too. She couldn’t let him down.