1840. Miranda Jarvis would do anything to protect her sister – so when Lucy comes down with a fever, she thinks nothing of stealing a loaf of bread from a local landowner. After all, things can’t get much worse: after their father died, they were turned out of their home, and their mother lost her life on the road giving birth to a stillborn infant. Robbed by strangers, the pair of them have nothing, and no one to help them.
Miranda doesn’t count on being nearly brained by the cook’s rolling pin . . . but nor does she count on the house’s owner himself. The seemingly respectable businessman Sir James, known for his philanthropy, takes a keen interest in Miranda and her sister, and they are soon established in his household. But Sir James has quarrelled with his nephew, the rakish but reluctant smuggler Fletcher Taunt, and – little does Miranda know – the hostility between the two men, one of whom she comes to love, will change her life forever . . .
Smuggling is at its peak in Dorset, England in 1840, but the hands of justice are determined to put a stop to it. When their father suddenly dies, Miranda and Lucy Jarvis, and their mother who is ill and pregnant, are left desperately indigent. To make matters worse, their landlord evicts them from the only home they have known. Sadly, their mother dies after giving birth to a stillborn infant, and Lucy becomes ill with a raging fever. Hungry and homeless, Miranda steals a loaf of bread at a local estate, but is caught by the cook who hits her over the head. A chase ensues and Miranda manages to hide her sister in a tree to avoid the search dogs. But Miranda is not so lucky and she is attacked. Sir James Fenmore rides up behind his hounds and is intrigued by Miranda. He offers to take the sister into his home and care for them. But things at the estate do not turn out as expected. And there is something ominous and menacing about Sir James. When Fletcher Taunt, Sir James’ nephew returns and purchases the estate next door, a romance soon blooms. But Sir James has a far reach as he is determined to break apart Miranda and Fletcher’s burgeoning feelings for each other.
This novel picked up speed the more I read, until I found myself flipping the pages and caught up in the story. This novel definitely has a gothic theme, which adds to the suspense. I always love a great villain, and Sir James definitely fills that role. At first likeable, he slowly loses his charm as bit by bit, he turns more sinister, more despicable, more threatening. Although there is a romantic theme to the novel, the suspense and mystery are much, much stronger. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and I highly recommend it, especially for those who love mystery, evil, and a gothic background.