June sunshine blessed Tilly Kirkland’s wedding. Only the luckiest brides married in June, and Tilly could not believe how lucky she had been. Even though her feet were pinched by the white satin shoes, the boned corset under her silk and organza gown made it hard to breathe, and she had been smiling so energetically for so long at all the well-wishers that the muscles in her face ached, she counted herself the luckiest girl in the world. Jasper had come along at precisely the right moment, and one speedy courtship later, here she was married and on her way to a new life.
The garden of Grandpa’s house in Dorset was lush and green, flowers bright in the soft sun. Two long tables had been laid out with food, and the guests milled around happily, talking and laughing. The warm breeze lifted her hair and cooled the perspiration at the base of her scalp. The sweet-smelling orange-blossom coronet couldn’t contain her wild red curls, and she was constantly pulling strands of hair out of her mouth. A distant and very old aunt related to her in painful detail the unfortunate tale of her old dog’s recent illness and death. Tilly was relieved for a chance to frown sympathetically rather than smile, but the story was very long and she couldn’t always hear the elderly woman’s soft voice clearly over the chatter.
Tilly risked a glance away. Where was Jasper? Where was her husband ? The thought made her glow a little. Jasper, with his stylish tailcoat and gray cashmere trousers. Ever well dressed, handsome, with a dash of panache other men did not have. She returned her attention to her aunt for a few moments, then tried another stealthy glance around the garden.
There he was. The sun was bright in his golden-brown hair and his neatly trimmed sideburns. His body was lithe and erect, and he seemed to stand outside all the chatter and movement, singular and proud. His gaze roamed over the gathering and his eyes took a moment to find Tilly. In that moment, before he registered that she was regarding him, she saw something that made her stomach prickle with doubt. Was it pity in his expression? Or disdain?
But then he smiled and Tilly smiled in return, warily. Hopefully. She told herself that perhaps she was tired and imagining things. He was now the same Jasper she had always known and the shadow passed like a cloud passing over the sun.
A clumsy crash shook her out of her reverie. Voices rang out in alarm behind her, and Jasper’s expression was forgotten.
Grandpa lay on the grass. Sharp heat speared her heart. Dishes and cups had been knocked off the table in his fall, and anxious guests were running towards him. Time slowed. He looked so pale, so old. When did he become so pale and old?
Then she was at his side, asking people to give him room to breathe, ordering cousin Godfrey to run into the village to fetch a physician.
“Grandpa? Can you hear me?”
His eyelids flickered and his right hand trembled as though he were trying to move it.
“No, no, don’t move. Relax. Be still. The physician is coming.” She stroked his forehead gently. “Be well, Grandpa, be well,” she said under her breath. But she could already feel the ship sailing away from her, pulled on a mighty tide she could neither measure nor control. She grasped Grandpa’s hand and waited.
In 1891, Tilly Kirkland is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances. Fleeing to the farthest place she knows, Tilly takes a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to the prison superintendent’s precocious young daughter, Nell. Tilly knows she must keep the past hidden in order to start a new life, but she doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over their rambling manor home.
More than one hundred years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling to complete her next book. A reporter asking questions about her great-grandmother sends Nina retreating to her family’s home on Ember Island, where she hopes to find her lost inspiration somewhere in the crumbling walls.
Though they are separated by years, both Tilly and Nina must learn that some secrets never stay buried, but what matters most is learning to trust your heart.
- Touchstone |
- 448 pages |
- ISBN 9781476743509 |
- April 2014
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Reading Group Guide
Ember Island tells the mesmerizing story of two women, separated by a century, who each discover long-buried secrets in an Australian manor house.
In 1876, Tilly, a recently married young English woman, is reeling with shock and guilt after her tempestuous marriage ends in horrific circumstances on the remote Channel Islands. Determined to get as far from England as she can, she takes on a new identity and a job on Ember Island in Moreton Bay, Australia, where she becomes the governess to a prison superintendent’s young daughter, Nell. Tilly fights her attraction to the superintendent, Sterling Holt, and befriends one the few female inmates, Hettie Thorpe, and a dangerous relationship develops. She doesn’t know that Nell is watching her every move and writing it all down, hiding tiny journals all over Starwater, her rambling manor home.
More than 100 years later, bestselling novelist Nina Jones is struggling with writer’s block and her disappointing personal life. Her poet boyfriend has recently broken up with her, see more