Good sense tempers passion in the era of Jane Austen.
Peggy Shawe, 17, is the only child of the Shawes, of Exmoor’s Foxwell Farm. At her father’s funeral, she meets Ralph Duggan, the eldest son of Josiah Duggan, who, in addition to owning a prosperous shipyard, also makes money as a "free trader," smuggling goods from France. Their love-at-first-sight collides with her parents’ long-standing plan to marry her to James Bright, son of a neighboring farmer. Although she’s loath to hurt James, Peggy is determined to marry Ralph. Despite her doubts, Peggy’s mother sends her to live with the Duggans for six weeks so she can see how much her life would change off the farm. Peggy is delighted until the disappearance of flighty Maisie Cutler, who’s courted by Ralph’s younger brother Phillip and another man. After a massive search, her body is found in a bog, and Phillip’s accused of her murder. Josiah uses his shipping connections to send Phillip and Ralph to relatives in Antigua. Refusing to consider her engagement broken, Peggy begs to go with Ralph, but Josiah insists that she return home. Her heart is broken when Ralph writes to tell her that he must stay in Antigua and she must not wait for him. Unable to resist her mother’s never-ending pressure, she finally agrees to marry James Bright, who still wants her but whose jealousy will forever taint their marriage. What will the future bring for the star-crossed lovers?
Fans of Buckley’s Elizabethan spy mysteries (A Traitor’s Tears, 2014, etc.) had better prepare for this novel's leisurely pace and more decorous tension.