Miss Annabel Ashton is a teacher at the Rogers School for Young Ladies in Winchester when she takes a brief visit to her family home, Highcliffe Hall at Milford-on-Sea. She believes her stay will be short but soon learns that she will not be returning to the safety of the school. Instead, she remains at Highcliffe, at the mercy of her cousin, Edward Everedge.
Annabel protests, but as the illegitimate daughter of a woman who died in an insane asylum, she has little say. Edward is running out of money and puts the house up for sale to avoid financial ruin. He insists that Annabel marry, promising her to a sinister, frightening man. But as the house gets packed for sale, it begins to reveal disquieting secrets. Jewelry, artifacts, and portraits mysteriously appear, suggesting that Annabel may be the true heir of Highcliffe.
She has only a few months to prove her legitimacy, perhaps with assistance from the handsome but troubled Maltese Captain Dell’Acqua. But does he have Annabel’s best interests at heart?
And then, a final, most ominous barrier to both her inheritance and her existence appears: a situation neither she nor anyone else could have expected. Will Annabel regain her life and property—and trust her heart—before it’s too late?
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Bride of a Distant Isle: A Novel (The Daughters of Hampshire)
Annabel Ashton is the illegitimate daughter of an English woman, and an unknown Maltese man. To her dying day, her mother insisted that she was legally married, but had no proof. When Annabel was only six, her mother was committed to an insane asylum, where she later died. Now an adult, Annabel works as a teacher, while also depending on her cousin Edward’s charity.
When Annabel is visiting Highcliffe Hall, her cousin’s home, Edward informs her that she will not be returning to her teaching position. There are hints that she may be forced into marriage with Nigel Morgan, a man she dislikes and fears. Edward also informs her that he wants to transact business with a Maltese captain, Marco Dell’Acqua, and he expects her to learn all that she can about him in social situations when they encounter each other. Annabel finds Captain Dell’Acqua very attractive and compelling, and enjoys the time she spends in his company.
Reluctant to be forced into an undesired marriage, Annabel attempts to seek out another position on her own, but is thwarted by Edward at every turn. Then strange things begin to happen. Items belonging to her late mother appear in Annabel’s room. A painting turns up that hints that her mother may have indeed been married. If that marriage is legal, Annabel is the heir, not her cousin Edward. Then Annabel begins acting strange herself. She hears voices, becomes dizzy and disoriented, says strange things. Her worst fear comes true – Edward has her committed to an asylum, just as her mother was.
Author Sandra Byrd skillfully portrays Annabel’s helplessness and hopelessness while being confined. A woman in her position had no power, and was totally at the mercy of the man who was head of her family at that time in history. Annabel had hoped that Captain Dell’Acqua had begun to have feelings for her and would help her, but she learns that he has left the area. Now she has no allies. Is it her fate to be confined until she dies here? This is the strongest part of the story to me, as sometimes Annabel even begins to doubt herself, and it seems there is no hope.
BRIDE OF A DISTANT ISLE has a distinct gothic feel, with a supposedly friendless heroine, who is a victim of unknown entities wishing her harm. There are all the intriguing questions – is she legitimate? Is her cousin the true villain? Is the Captain toying with her? While I know in this type of story, there is supposed to be strong doubt about whether the hero really IS the hero, I found the romance to be somewhat lacking. There were too few meetings of the hero and heroine, and I didn’t feel a true spark between them. Yet, the hero proves his devotion, and the resolution is arrived at by way of some compelling twists and turns, making this a satisfying read for fans of gothic fiction.