Whispers Over Water
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|Thu, 07-20-2000 - 6:33pm|
Whispers Over Water
Hi :o). This is a synopsis of a novel I just completed. I'm looking for a gentle critique. Of course, if you think it sucks, tell me. But I'd also like to know what does work, so I know what to build on. I hope to pitch this to some big print publishers (until now I'm only published in ebook form), so I need to know if it has a fighting chance. Thanks, Holly
“Whispers Over Water” is a historical romance set in 1854. It is about one girl’s struggle to escape oppression, and one man’s fight to regain his identity. A forbidden and reluctant love forges on the sea as this man comes to realize how much trouble this girl, his guileless captive, can be.
Lady Josahnna Wentworth is furious when she discovers she must marry a man her father, Winston Wentworth, the Earl of Windhaven, has chosen for her. When faced with the prospect of being an earl’s wife she declares, “I will not fall prey to such boredom!” And after she meets her betrothed and feels the chill from his touch, she is certain that the only solution is to run away.
Her plans are sufficiently thwarted, however, when she is kidnapped on the very night she had planned to escape from her fate. Forced to board an unknown ship heading to an unknown destination, she must share a cabin with her kidnapper, a man she knows only as Ryan.
She is enraged that this man should interrupt her plans so abruptly. To add to her anguish, he is also the man who danced with her at a masquerade ball a week before. The same man who captivated her with his mystery.
And she refuses to be Ryan’s victim.
Immediately, Josahnna begins to demand answers from her captor, something he is not willing to give. She is a willful young at the blossom of womanhood, a combination that both irritates and enthralls Ryan.
To Josahnna, he is a heartless scoundrel, a barrier to the freedom she desires so desperately. He is a rogue whose eyes hold the pain of a secret past. And even in the midst of a biting hatred, she must face feelings that are too strong to deny.
Ryan had spent years running from a past that threatened his identity. Now, with the opportunity to take back the life that has been stolen from him, Josahnna is his most precious tool. And he must succeed, or die trying.
The turning point in their relationship occurs when the ship is attacked by a fierce storm. Josahnna has always been afraid of storms. Her fear heightens knowing she is on the ocean, knowing she must trust a man she hates. But even then she seeks his comfort. And in this momentary show of weakness, Ryan finds the chink in her armor.
In the reassuring arms of her kidnapper, Josahnna’s heart beats anew. His touch pricks a reluctant passion and she is forced to view him not as a kidnapper, but as a man who would abandon his duties as captain of the ship in order to help her.
Josahnna’s view of Ryan is further skewed when he urgently pulls her to the bedside of a woman in the throes of childbirth. Without hesitation, Josahnna rushes to help, enlisting Ryan as her aide. Together they help bring the child into the world.
The only thing Ryan will tell Josahnna about this woman is that her name is Adeline. Her demands will not sway him to say more. And so, Josahnna has no choice but to assume that Adeline and Ryan are lovers.
Ryan moves out of the cabin to sleep in a hammock on the upper deck. He needs to separate himself from her, and from the desires that must be subdued, else he go mad with wanting her. He has never taken an innocent, and he does not intend to now.
Josahnna assumes he has moved away from her to be with his lover and their new baby. She sinks into a world of self-pity, yet refuses to admit to herself that she is in love with him. In fact, she is quite furious with him. How dare he kiss her when he belongs to another!
Ryan comes to her several days later with grim news. The baby is not thriving. He was born three weeks early to a frail and sick mother. They fear the worst. Her anger toward him cannot overpower the strong desire to comfort him. She consoles him and reveals her thoughts that he and Adeline are lovers.
Ryan immediately corrects her, though he still will not explain who Adeline is and what she is doing on a ship that Ryan claims is not a passenger ship. Later, when they visit Adeline and the baby, they find him well. The baby is nursing happily, his color and breathing have improved, and his mother is beaming.
Caught up in relief and joy, Josahnna coaxes Ryan to take her to the upper deck. He watches her in the moonlight as she prances happily across the old wood planks. And he sees a truth that he can no longer deny, but is not yet able to define. He sweeps her into an embrace and knows only that he can no longer resist the tumultuous urges she evokes within him.
Knowing now that he does not have a lover, Josahnna allows herself to be consumed by him. But as she is kissing him, the insistent voice inside her head reminds her that she knows nothing of him. She pulls away and pleads with him, demands that he tell her who he is and why he kidnapped her.
Ryan tells her that she knows all she needs to know. In truth, he is reluctant to share a past that has left him brooding silently in pain. As he attempts to woo her back to his arms, the loud sound of a sail tearing erupts from behind him. Ryan hurries to the mainmast and works with the seamen to rectify the damage. In his haste and distraction, he leaves Josahnna free to run from him.
She hides in the cargo hold, trembling as she tries to grab hold of her emotions. How can she love a man she knows nothing of? How can she not love him?
Ryan finds her after a frantic search. Having been convinced that she was compromised by one of the seamen, he is relieved to find her safe. But the relief is short lived and replaced by anger. “Stupid girl! I’ve kept you to your room for a damn good reason. Any of the men on this ship would find it delightful to compromise a lady. I thought…dear God, I thought…” His voice trails as the emotions surface. The fear of what might have happened to her, the war he had been fighting with his own emotions, and the passion he can no longer resist meld together at this one point. It is the point where all thoughts are gone, leaving being a driving, instinctual need.
Josahnna is at first overcome by his ardor. But the primal haste of his touch startles her. She pushes him away and falls back against a stack of cargo boxes. One of the boxes falls on her and injures her leg.
Josahnna’s leg is not seriously hurt, but the fragile bond they had begun to share is severed. And any sliver of trust that may have started to forge is destroyed.
In the midst of intense guilt, Ryan must examine his feelings. He is a man of restraint, a man who never allows himself to be ruled by emotion. He must question why he lost control.
The morning after Josahnna incurs the injury, Ryan is in the galley fixing her a breakfast tray. Barnes, Ryan’s long time friend and the only other soul he trusted with tales of the past, enters the galley. He chides Ryan for attempting to compromise Josahnna’s virtues. Having taken a fatherly liking to the young woman, Barnes becomes her protector. But Barnes’ chides halt as he comes to realize Ryan’s feelings toward their wayward captive.
“Does she know you are in love with her?” He asks Ryan, who immediately denies it and passes Barnes off as a foolish old man. But the thought is planted and it dominates all thought.
As the voyage nears an end Ryan comes to realize that Josahnna will not trust him until she knows the truth. His plan is nearing fruition. Soon he will meet his enemy, Josahnna’s fiancé, in Boston. It should not matter now that this girl thinks him a cad. But it matters entirely too much.
In an instant of urgency that he does not recognize as the fear of losing her, Ryan decides to tell Josahnna his story. Finding strength in her eyes, he speaks of his past for the first time in years. And he reveals the plan that caused him the need to kidnap her.
He explains to Josahnna that the ship they are on is a prison ship, once used to transport prisoners to America for indentured service. Josahnna’s fiancé, Dimitri Langthorne, the Earl of Kirkmere, purchased the ship and uses it to lure desolate people from London slums with promise of work. They are then locked up and transported illegally to America, where they are sold as slaves.
Ryan seized the ship, and the ten prisoners on board, the same night he kidnapped Josahnna. He explains that Adeline was one of them. Another prisoner killed her husband shortly after they set sail.
He plans to use the ship, and Josahnna, to lure her fiancé to Boston, where Ryan will free the prisoners.
Ryan tells her that he is the true Earl of Kirkmere. He and the man known as Dimitri had left as boys to fight a war in the east. Years later, Dimitri left Ryan for dead and returned to England to claim Ryan’s identity.
Because Ryan was a second son, Dimitri murdered the standing earl, Ryan’s brother. William had been one of the first prisoners aboard this ship.
When Ryan returned to England years later, no one but Barnes believed he was the true earl.
Once they arrive in Boston, after Dimitri has faced the fear of thinking that his gentle fiancé has endured the tortures of a prison ship, Ryan will expose the impostor at a public event. Knowing that a well-known English dignitary will attend the event, Dimitri’s angered confession will reward Ryan his identity.
Josahnna’s quick loyalty overcomes any doubt that lingers on her mind. She believes him with all her heart and falls ever more in love with him.
Trusting him completely now, she reveals that she never wanted to marry the earl, that her father forced the betrothal.
Ryan is not surprised, but he is touched by her show of trust. Especially since she had, at the start of the voyage, adamantly sworn that she and her fiancé were very much in love. And he sees in her eyes that she believes him. Now that the barrier of secrets is gone Josahnna and Ryan are free to pursue the passion that has haunted them throughout their journey.
But they know they cannot keep each other. Josahnna’s goal had always been freedom. And Ryan sees himself as a rogue, unable to grant her the love she desires. He accepts the fact that he must set her free once they arrive in Boston.
It would take just one thing for Josahnna to stay with him. But Ryan will not admit his love for her. It is a weakness he refuses to allow.
But at the Boston docks, after they share a bittersweet goodbye, Ryan watches her walk out of his life. And the prospect of a life without her crumbles all resolve. He goes to her and admits this love in a catharsis of emotion.
Josahnna agrees to keep their love a secret and she fakes a joyous reunion with her fiancé and her parents, who also came to Boston. As they wait for passage home, Josahnna waits for Ryan to set the trap.
But a raven haired prostitute named Veronica, a remnant from Ryan’s wandering days at sea, is waiting for him. Seeking to sink her claws into him, she intercepts Josahnna on the way to meet Ryan for a secret rendezvous. Veronica tells Josahnna that she and Ryan are married, and that they have two children. Josahnna is shocked and does not fully believe it. But the remaining shroud of doubt effects her thoughts. After all, the man did kidnap her. Was she a fool to believe his story so readily? And when she later watches Ryan from afar, and sees him playing with two children, she believes he is a liar.
Josahnna goes to Ryan, slaps him, and runs away before he even knows the problem. He sends her a letter asking her to attend the town square play that night with Dimitri, when he will expose the impostor. Josahnna ignores the letter, a fateful mistake that will cost Ryan everything.
As Ryan waits for Dimitri and Josahnna to arrive at the play, a boy hands him a note. It is from Dimitri, claiming that he is holding Josahnna captive on the ship. And their game of cat and mouse has changed hands.
Ryan runs to the docks and searches the ship. But no one is there. He attempts to light a lantern, but discovers that the wick has been rigged to a barrel of gunpowder. The ship explodes and Ryan is believed to be dead.
Josahnna returns to England with Dimitri. Although she believes Ryan lied to her, she knows she will never love another as deeply as she loved him. She plans to marry Dimitri because there is no longer hope for a better future.
Shortly after her return to England Josahnna discovers she is pregnant with Ryan’s child. Her father sends her away to the country, where she will have the baby in secrecy. She will return and claim it as the maid’s child and she Dimitri will offer to adopt the baby.
Dimitri is furious that he must raise a bastard. But the Earl of Windhaven’s persuasions are forceful. It is revealed here that Josahnna’s father has known all along that Dimitri is an impostor. He threatens to reveal Dimitri’s secret to all of London if he does not marry Josahnna and accept her child as his own.
Two months after the child is born, as Josahnna is preparing for the wedding, she receives a caller. An angry and battle scarred Ryan enters the parlor with hate in his eyes.
He returned to England to finish what he began, but he has no plans to woo Josahnna back…until he sees their daughter and the love that never truly faded. He comes to realize that he had never given her much reason to trust him.
Josahnna is shocked to see the ghost of the man she loved. But he is real. He is alive. As she clutches their child to her chest she struggles to keep his anger from penetrating her resolve. She battles with her heart, but to no avail.
Later, when Ryan sneaks into her bedchamber, she realizes the full scope of the situation. Her love is alive. And the truth is an indisputable force, proven first by his anger at her betrayal, and then by his ardent declaration of love.
Ryan and Josahnna now join forces to overcome Dimitri and to grant Ryan his identity. She marries Dimitri, knowing the contract will no be legal once Ryan exposes the bridegroom at the post wedding celebration ball.
As the minister announces them man and wife, Josahnna presses an old leather cross into Dimitri’s palm. Dimitri’s already present suspicions heighten. He hadn’t seen the cross since he gave it to Ryan years ago. But the frenzy of the celebration prevents him from questioning his new wife.
Josahnna feigns innocence as she waits for Ryan to make his entrance. But as the evening nears an end, and Ryan remains gone, Josahnna knows that something is wrong.
Winston, Winston Wentworth had knocked Ryan unconscious and has him tied up in a library at the London estate. Having silently walked in on Josahnna and Ryan just before the wedding, Winston is desperate to keep Ryan from ruining his plans.
In this scene, the true villain of the story is revealed.
Convinced of his own superiority, Winston is eager to explain his plan. With the gun held to Ryan’s head, he tells Ryan that he forced Josahnna to marry her brother.
Meredith, Winston’s wife and Josahnna’s mother, was in love with another man before the marriage to Winston was arranged. Several months after they were married she gave birth to this other man’s son. Once the boy was old no longer depended on his mother for food, she sent him to live with his natural father.
Winston had endured great shame, and so he would make them all feel shame. When he found Meredith’s son after years of searching, and discovered him to be an impostor, Winston used this information as blackmail to force the marriage. Dimitri was not made aware of his true lineage.
Ryan manages to keep cool through Winston’s madness, discreetly working on the knots that bind him. Once he frees himself there is a struggle. It ends when Ryan pushes Winston through a third story window in attempt to save himself.
His body lands in the courtyard outside the ballroom. The guests hear a scream and come running out, their curious minds eager for gossip. Dimitri, who knew nothing of Winston’s recent doings, tries to play the devoted husband to a frantic Josahnna. As he attempts to calm her and pulls her away from her father’s lifeless body, she struggles with him and the leather cross falls from his coat pocket.
It lands near Meredith, who immediately recognizes it as belonging to the man she loved all those years ago. With her face pale and her eyes riddled with confusion, she picks up the cross and looks at Dimitri. In his eyes, she sees the boy she once knew.
Meredith declares to Dimitri that she is his mother. They realize then that Josahnna had married her brother. Dimitri is further thrown askew when Ryan emerges from the crowd.
Dimitri is first shocked, then outraged to see Ryan alive. His anger and confusion take control and he falls into the trap. When Ryan goads him, he angrily and victoriously admits to a large portion of London that he is an impostor.
Pleased with Dimitri’s confession, Ryan wants only to go to Josahnna. He needs to explain everything to her, and to share the victory.
But a distraught and desperate Dimitri pulls out a gun, aiming it first at Josahnna. Ryan intercepts and takes the bullet in his shoulder. He blacks out for only a moment and wakes to see Josahnna kneeling next to him with the barrel of the gun pressed to her forehead.
Not able to move very much, Ryan sweeps his foot to Dimitri’s leg, causing the man to falter. During the instant of Dimitri’s distraction, Ryan takes the gun he snagged from the library out of his pocket and slides it across the slick grass.
Dimitri mistakes Ryan’s move as a failed attack. “You’re all a bunch of fools, standing there so terrified. Pathetic.” Dimitri says to the large crowd and then turns to Josahnna, the madness shining in his eyes. “Your lover is a fool, a weakling. Who is going to help you now, sis?”
Dimitri turns to find Meredith holding the gun on him. To save her daughter, she shoots her son between the eyes.
In the epilogue, Josahnna is sitting on a porch swing watching a South Carolina sunset. Ryan comes from the house with their daughter perched on his hip. He lets the girl down to play and sits next to Josahnna. Placing a hand upon her belly, he feels their second child moving inside her.
Josahnna reflects on Ryan’s decision to take her and Meredith to live in America, where the past is no longer a shadow. He had gone through such extreme measures to reclaim his earldom, only to give it all away. But she realizes that it was never about the earldom, it was about his identity, about knowing who he is and where he belongs. It was about not letting the man who took everything from Ryan keep a life that was not his.
As they go into the house, Josahnna looks back at the darkening sky and smiles. She too had reached her goal. She is finally free.