"Strange truths blossom on the Scilly Isles"
Reviewed by Clare O'Beara
Posted October 3, 2021
Romance Historical | Romance | Inspirational Historical
If holidaying in the Scilly Isles southwest of Cornwall is the best fun we could expect to have over summer, reading this exciting romance adventure would be the next best way to enjoy the islands. In THE NATURE OF A LADY, Lady Elizabeth Sinclair and her lady’s maid Mabena Moon, leave the stuffy Society events for summer and head off for nature study in the peace of the Scillies. Elizabeth wants to work on her botany without tiresome brothers trying to marry her off in her supposed best interests.
Oliver Tremayne, the well-bred new reverend of the scattered sub-tropical islands, is slightly acquainted with Elizabeth, or Libby, as her friends know her. Oliver is more interested initially in finding another young Elizabeth from the islands, who was renting the same cottage but has now vanished after contacting strangers. Libby is then mistaken by the outsiders for the original tenant of the holiday cottage, and she starts receiving odd packages. Like a ship’s cannonball, and a mysterious letter. She turns to Oliver for help.
A sub-plot shows us that Mabena, originally from the Scillies, still has an admirer here, though not one she wishes to acknowledge. Through the eyes of the self-possessed maid and her mistress, we meet the good salty folks and climb the rocks, view the flowers and sail in the small boats. As the tale is set in 1906, such miracles as the telegram have arrived, but not yet the electricity being fitted on the mainland. Old piracy is long remembered, and anything sinister turns into a ghost story among superstitious people. At the end the author Roseanna M. White explains her researches in a note, making writing this book sound like the third best way to enjoy the Scillies. Honestly, I want to go.
Today the Scilly Isles produce flowers, such as daffodils picked before the blooms open and shipped to mainland England, so people can enjoy the flowers weeks before blossoms open in their locality. The author assures us that THE NATURE OF A LADY is the first book in a series called ‘Secrets of the Isles’ so we can look forward to more adventures for some time to come. She has previously written several historical romance novels, and brings great expertise to weaving a tight story with many strands.
Lady Elizabeth "Libby" Sinclair, with her love of microscopes and nature, isn't favored in society. She flees to the beautiful Isles of Scilly for the summer and stumbles into the dangerous secrets left behind by her holiday cottage's former occupant, also named Elizabeth, who mysteriously vanished.
Oliver Tremayne--gentleman and clergyman--is determined to discover what happened to his sister, and he's happy to accept the help of the girl now living in what should have been Beth's summer cottage . . . especially when he realizes it's the curious young lady he met briefly two years ago, who shares his love of botany and biology. But the hunt for his sister involves far more than nature walks, and he can't quite believe all the secrets Beth had been keeping from him.
As Libby and Oliver work together, they find ancient legends, pirate wrecks, betrayal, and the most mysterious phenomenon of all: love.
His gaze tracked, as always, to the hill above town, where Tremayne property came into view as it tumbled down into the sea. Well, not that it was technically theirs—the Duke of Cornwall owned all the Scillies. But some long-ago duke had granted the Tremaynes a permanent lease of this little slice of heaven, and for generations it was where they’d all chosen to stay, rather than on the small estate on the mainland that they did own. That other land produced enough in rents and income to provide what Tresco couldn’t. But this was where the Tremayne heart had always belonged.
And that hill was where Morgan had always stood to watch the morning races—or sat, if it was a bad day. He’d always been there, always cheering for whichever team Oliver was on. And when Oliver reached the crest, he’d always say the same thing. “I daresay my little brother is the best athlete in all of Cornwall.”
More brotherly pride than any truth, but Oliver had given up arguing with him long ago. He’d just laugh. Clap an arm around Morgan if he’d been standing or take hold of the handles of his wheelchair if not. They’d go together back to the house, where Mamm-wynn and Beth would be just stirring, where Mrs. Dawe would have breakfast ready on the sideboard.
But Morgan wasn’t on the hill. Would never again be on the hill. And Beth wasn’t inside mumbling about whatever odd dream she’d just had. And Mamm-wynn . . . He frowned when movement on the hillock did catch his eye—the flutter of a shawl in the ocean’s perpetual breeze.
What was Mamm-wynn doing out in the morning damp? Muttering something that was half frustration and half prayer, he kicked his pace from walk to run, feet eating up the well-worn path through the waving seagrass.
She looked like a wren perched there, slight and small and so dainty he was afraid she might just spread her arms wide and let the wind carry her off. His chest squeezed tight, so tight he could scarcely breathe.
What would he do when she left him too?
Not yet, Lord. Please. But she was ninety-five last February. It would happen. Someday it would happen. And how Beth could leave now, knowing how fragile their grandmother had grown—
No, he mustn’t think that way either. His sister had a right to live her life. And if that meant a summer away, rubbing elbows with the incomers visiting St. Mary’s . . . well, he didn’t see the allure. But he prayed every day it would be enough to satisfy her. That she’d come home in September and forget all her fool ideas about needing something more, something bigger, something else.
She was always after the else, Beth was. Despite it always disappointing her.
“Mamm-wynn.” It emerged breathlessly as he crested the hill and neared her.
His grandmother smiled and held out a hand toward him, all delicate bones and paper-soft skin. Her eyes were clear. It eased him some. Until she asked, “Where’s Beth? She isn’t where she ought to be.”
The tightness turned to heaviness, weighing him down until he was sure he’d sink straight through the sandy soil and all the way to bedrock. “She’s just over to St. Mary’s, Mamm-wynn. Remember? She wanted to spread her wings a bit this summer.”
“My little rosefinch, always wanting to fly.” She smiled, though it fluttered down into a frown. “Are you certain she’s there, Ollie?”
“Of course I am.” Though even as he said it, worry slithered through him. She was supposed to write twice a week—it was his one request. He’d sworn he wouldn’t even step foot on the big island from May until September unless it was necessary for business, that he’d give her this semblance of independence so long as she wrote to him every Tuesday and Friday. A quick note to say all was well.
It had been a perfectly reasonable request, hadn’t it? Better, as he’d pointed out, than simply asking all the neighbors who boated between the islands for an update on her.
So why had it been two weeks since her last note?
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