Dear Author, Jayne, Grade B
I’m always on the lookout for something slightly different. Different settings. Different eras. Different occupations for the characters. Something to offset the feeling of “I’ve read this so many times before.” CAPTIVE BRIDE fits the bill nicely. In Huiann you’ve created a heroine who is strong, mentally and emotionally. She may be little but she’s not going down without a fight and proves it.
Goodreads, Fani, 4 stars
The story is a wonderful blend of love, passion and suspense. The first part where Huiann and Alan learn to live together, was so heartwarming and tender, it took my breath away. The descriptions of how Alan kept looking forward to go to his previously empty rooms after closing the shop and meet Huiann at the end of the day, made my heart melt.
Goodreads, Dina, 4 stars
This was one of the most romantic books I’ve read. Yeah, romance books are supposed to be romantic, I know, but this one was different. I don’t know how to explain it, I can only say that I was very aware of Huiann and Alan’s love for each other during this read.
A Year Without a Duke, romance adventures outside Regency
This was a really lovely romance between two kind, upstanding people who are trying to do right by each other. Alan never never plays the alpha hole and Huiann makes the best of the very bad situation she’s put, but never in a Pollyanna-ish way.
The carriage lurched to an abrupt stop. Shouts and horses’ whinnies came from the road ahead. Huiann stared blankly out the window at vegetables and fruit in trays under the awning of a shop. Clothing, tools and other goods were displayed in the window.
When opportunity comes, seize the chance. Grandma Mei’s voice sounded in her head as clearly as if the old woman was sitting beside her.
Starting from her daze, Huiann glanced at her companions in the carriage. Liu Dai was craning his neck to look out the opposite window. Madam Teng faced the same direction, asking what was holding up traffic.
Huiann grabbed the latch of the door and opened it. She leaped through, her slippered feet landing on hard-paved road. Hiking her skirt up, she ran, with Liu Dai’s shouts sounding behind her. She zigzagged through the crowd of pedestrians, dodging around stalled vehicles and making an erratic path as a rabbit would when fleeing a predator. Surprise and speed were all she had in her favor. Liu Dai hadn’t expected any resistance. But both he and the driver would be on her heels in seconds and she could hardly blend into this crowd of foreigners, especially wearing a white dress that shone like a beacon.
She darted back across the road between a tall coach and a low wagon filled with barrels. The horse harnessed to the wagon whickered and its warm breath blew against her hair as she scooted beneath its nose. Huiann risked a glance over her shoulder. Neither Liu Dai nor the driver were in sight and Madam Teng would have stayed in the carriage. But Huiann heard her pursuers shouting from somewhere behind her. The only Chinese in a crowd of Yankees, their voices were easy to detect.
Ahead, the bins of bright fruits and vegetables in front of the grocer’s caught her attention. She would be safer indoors. Maybe she could even barter her gown for less conspicuous clothing. But even as she opened the door and slipped inside she realized she could also be trapped here. Why would a foreigner help her? She had no money to offer as a bribe. If Liu Dai pursued her in here, he would tell the owner he was searching for a runaway bride and the man would likely turn her over.
Huiann paused, blinking as her eyes adjusted to the dim interior. The place carried items from food to household goods to tools. The walls were packed with merchandise on shelves or hooks, and more shelving units and bins covered the floor. Huiann smelled leather, pickle brine, starch, tobacco and coffee as she moved toward the back of the room.
A Yankee stood behind a glass-fronted counter in which were displayed small items like candy, pen knives, ribbons and watch fobs. He was tall with big features, a wide mouth and a nose that dominated his face. His strange eyes were bright blue like the sky. She could’ve sworn his eyes widened in recognition as if he knew her.
She pressed her palms together and bowed her head, fearful of addressing him and knowing he wouldn’t understand her. “Please, sir, will you help me? A man is chasing me. I need to hide here for a time until he is gone.”
He frowned and came out from behind the counter. Huiann stepped back. He was so big and strong-looking. What if he grabbed her and…and did what? Could there be a worse fate than what Xie had already planned for her?
She lifted her face, daring to meet the man’s eyes. His frown appeared concerned rather than angry. His held out his hand to her slowly, as though she were a bird he was coaxing to land there. Her hand seemed to rise of its own accord, reaching out to him.
At that moment, the door opened with a jangle of the bell that hung above it.
Huiann glanced over her shoulder, caught one glimpse of Liu Dai, dove around the tall Westerner and ducked behind the counter, where she couldn’t be seen from the front of the store. Her racing heart sped even faster as she squatted on the floor, ready to leap up and run again if he betrayed her.
She listened to Liu Dai speak in English to the man. The shopkeeper answered briefly. Her arms wrapped around her knees and she dug her fingers into her forearms, silently praying to Lord Buddha, all her ancestors and especially Grandmother Mei. You led me here. I trust your guidance. Continue to protect me.
Liu Dai said a few more words before his footsteps headed toward the door. The bell rang as he left the store and the door closed behind him. There was a moment of silence before the American’s boots tapped across the wide wooden boards, the floor creaking beneath his weight. He came around the edge of the counter.
Huiann looked up, so high up, to meet his gaze. He was a giant, frightening in his sheer size, but a small smile curved his lips as he offered his hand to her for the second time. He spoke in that strange, flat language but she could tell he asked a question from the lift of his eyebrows.
Huiann took her arms from around her legs and reached up to him. His big hand engulfed hers and she felt the strength in it as he pulled her to her feet. Even standing upright she had to tip her head back to see his face.
She remembered a childhood story of a giant who terrorized a village. The people feared him and offered sacrifices to appease him. But in the end of the story it turned out that the giant wasn’t the one who’d been ruining their crops or stealing their cattle and children. In the end, he saved the village from a bandit tribe, sacrificing his life for the people. So a giant could be a hero.
Huiann’s hand grew warm in the storekeeper’s grip. She curved her lips to match his—her first smile since she’d reached Xie Fuhua’s house.
Alan felt as if he were in a dream. Not one of his recurring nightmares but a skewed, impossible version of a normal day in the store. He couldn’t believe this woman standing in front of him was the same beautiful creature he’d seen on the dock, the one who’d made his heart beat faster.
Even though she smiled at him, her eyes were worried. He wanted to reassure her that he’d never turn her over to the men who were looking for her. The one who’d come into the store had explained she was a bride on her way to her wedding. The foolish girl had become frightened at the prospect and run away. Her fiancé, the man’s boss, would pay handsomely for her return.
“Sorry. No girl came in here. Hope you find her.” There was no doubt in his mind that the woman was running from something much worse than a wedding.
After watching through the window until the man entered the next shop, Alan had locked the door and flipped the sign to Closed before going to the woman cowering beneath the counter.
She appeared so small, like a child huddling on the floor, but when she looked up at him, her face was a woman’s. How frightened she must be, here in a world where nothing was familiar and those who should’ve been her protectors had her running for her life. The desire to defend and aid her surged through him with powerful intensity. As a boy, he’d read Knights of the Round Table stories and played at being a valiant knight. Clearly some part of him hadn’t left that childish dream behind.
“Are you all right?” Alan offered her his hand to help her to her feet. The woman’s hand was warm and soft in his and he didn’t let go right away. One moment then two slipped away. The air between them was charged with energy and Alan felt as if he was poised on the cusp of a crucial moment. His life would be forever different after this. He’d felt something similar when the mortar blast knocked him off his feet at Chickamauga. In the second before he’d blacked out he’d thought, This is how I die.
Only now he thought, This is how my life begins.
The woman touched her hand to her chest. “Chua Huiann.”
Her hand moved within his and he realized it was past time to let go. As he released her, he glanced toward the front of the store. Her pursuer might come back and, even