Today, I’m excited to share an excerpt from The Admiral’s Wife by M K Tod.
August 1912 – The next hour passed in a blur as Flannigan unrolled and rerolled various bolts of cloth. Her selections made and the account tallied, Isabel gathered her things. “It looks rather stormy,” she said.
“We’re sure to get a big blow today, Mrs. Taylor. You might want to get home as soon as you can.”
Outside the wind was stronger and the sky was thick and menacing. Waves churned the harbor. Sampans lining the shore pitched up and down. The air smelled of lightning. An explosion sounded, the blast echoing in her ears.
Suddenly, the mood of the Praya changed. Chinese workers hurried away; some abandoned the tools of their trade—rickshaws, brooms, wheelbarrows, long poles, rickety chairs and tables—while others pushed, pulled, or carried their belongings with them. Those who made their homes and living on the sampans swarmed the decks of their vessels grabbing this and that, hurrying nimbly along the gunnels, and scrambling up the ladders connecting them to long-fingered piers.
The wind grew stronger. Isabel’s hat blew off, rolling along the Praya like a runaway wheel. Without thinking, she chased after it. Hampered by the bulk of her purchases, she weaved this way and that. Every time she got close, the wind picked her hat up again. It’s gone, she finally admitted as the blue concoction sailed off over the water and rain pelted down—big, fat drops that smacked her skin. I should return to Murphy’s and wait out the storm.
She swiveled around. The Praya was deserted. Several sampans were precariously close to capsizing. The wind that had previously been at her back now buffeted her with such force, she could barely keep her balance. Isabel braced herself against the gale. Murphy’s seemed a long way away.
The wind howled like an animal in distress. The rain grew in intensity. “One step at a time,” she muttered aloud. Left foot, right foot. Left foot, right foot. She caught a glimpse of a man falling from a sampan into the water. Should she try to rescue him? Would her skirts weigh her down so that she would only drown trying? The sky closed in. Day felt like night.
Isabel continued to push forward. Without warning, someone grabbed her arm. She struggled to break free.
“I’m trying to help you, Mrs. Taylor,” Li Tao-Kai said, his voice gruff. “Don’t you realize this is a typhoon?”
A typhoon. She’d heard about typhoons—the Asian equivalent to hurricanes—and had even heard about the devastation caused by one that hit Hong Kong in 1906, but she had no idea what such an event would be like. “How was I supposed to know?” she said.
“The typhoon signal went off.”
“Was that the explosion I heard?”
He jerked his head in a quick nod and she thought he might be a little exasperated with her, although it was difficult to tell. They were both shouting to be heard. Li Tao-Kai held her arm firmly and a few minutes later, pulled her inside the shop.
“I saw a man fall into the water,” she said, as soon as she caught her breath. “He needs help.”
“We can’t go out again,” he said. “It’s dangerous. If you don’t believe me, look out the window to see for yourself.”
With the sun totally obscured and only one narrow window in Murphy’s Fine Silks and Linens, the interior was dim. Isabel hadn’t noticed the men milling about the room when she and Mr. Li had entered, but now she saw that there were about fifteen of them, a mix of Chinese and European. Isabel nodded in their direction, then crossed over to look out the window. Debris skittered along the Praya: bits of wood, sheets of paper, a straw hat, a broom. A table had fallen over and now scraped along the asphalt. She looked for the place where she’d seen the man fall, but everything was so topsy-turvy she could find no trace of him. A crash sounded as something smashed against the building.
“Step away from the window, Mrs. Taylor,” George Flannigan said. “It’s not safe.”
Isabel was so startled that she obeyed without question and took a spot standing next to Li Tao-Kai. Since his role brought him into frequent contact with the British community, she’d seen him on a few occasions following the opera and at times there’d been a chance to talk. He was an interesting man who, to her surprise, didn’t treat her as many men did: an attractive woman worthy of a flirtatious glance or two but unworthy of weighty conversation. She was just musing about whether he spoke to all women in the same fashion, when a bamboo pole shattered the window, flinging glass across the room.
“Good heavens!” she exclaimed. Her eyes wide with shock.
“Are you all right?” Li Tao-Kai asked.
“I think so.” Isabel spoke slowly. Nothing in her life had prepared her for a storm so fierce it left the surroundings looking like a bundle of jackstraws.
“Careful, I see something on your clothes.” He reached over and plucked a shard of glass from the sleeve of her dress.
The howls of the storm were deafening—like a train charging through a tunnel. Beyond the wind was the thumping and banging of debris tumbling past the warehouse. Without thinking, Isabel crossed to the window once more and peered out. Pellets of rain whipped her face.
“We have to help,” she said. “I can see women on the dock trying to save their children. They can barely stand. Look at them,” she urged.
“It’s too dangerous outside,” George Flannigan said.
“But we can’t just think of ourselves. Surely there are enough of us here to help.”
“You don’t understand how deadly typhoons can be,” Mr. Li said. “I’ve seen men blown down the street and trees uprooted by the force of the wind.” He shook his head. “It’s dangerous outside.”
“But those people could die without our help. If we were to form a human chain, each person standing close to the next person in line, we could rescue them. Whoever heads the line will help these people off their boats and hand them over to the next person in line and so on. Surely we can at least try.”
“It could work, Mr. Li,” George Flannigan said. “The wind has eased a bit, so we may have a few minutes before it strengthens again. Now might be the perfect time.”
“All right. We can try. But Mrs. Taylor remains in the shop.”
“I’ll do no such thing,” Isabel declared.
Li Tao-Kai drew his lips into a tight grimace. “If you’re determined to help, perhaps you will agree to be at the end closest to the shop.”
Isabel debated the benefit of further argument. “All right,” she said.
One by one, they stepped outside. When it was her turn, the wind tore at her clothes and rain pummeled her face. From all around she heard the clang, clatter, and smash of items hurled by the wind.
Here’s the blurb:
The lives of two women living in Hong Kong more than a century apart are unexpectedly linked by forbidden love and financial scandal.
In 2016, Patricia Findlay leaves a high-powered career to move to Hong Kong, where she hopes to rekindle the bonds of family and embrace the city of her ancestors. Instead, she is overwhelmed by feelings of displacement and depression. To make matters worse, her father, CEO of the family bank, insists that Patricia’s duty is to produce an heir, even though she has suffered three miscarriages.
In 1912, when Isabel Taylor moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Henry, and their young daughter, she struggles to find her place in such a different world and to meet the demands of being the admiral’s wife. At a reception hosted by the governor of Hong Kong, she meets Li Tao-Kai, an influential member of the Chinese community and a man she met a decade earlier when he was a student at Cambridge.
As the story unfolds, each woman must consider where her loyalties lie and what she is prepared to risk for love.
Brief sex scenes
“Family secrets and personal ambitions, east and west, collide in this compelling, deeply moving novel.” — Weina Dai Randel, award-winning author of THE LAST ROSE OF SHANGHAI
“Irresistible and absorbing.” Janie Chang, bestselling author of THE LIBRARY OF LEGENDS
Meet the author
M.K. (Mary) Tod’s interest in historical fiction began as a teenager immersed in the stories of Rosemary Sutcliff, Jean Plaidy, and Georgette Heyer. In 2004, her husband’s career took them to Hong Kong where, with no job and few prospects, Mary began what became Unravelled, her first novel. The Admiral’s Wife is her fifth novel.
Mary’s award-winning blog, www.awriterofhistory.com, focuses on reading and writing historical fiction. She’s an active member of the historical fiction community and has conducted five unique reader surveys on topics from readers’ habits and preferences to favorite historical fiction authors. Mary is happily married to her high-school sweetheart. They have two adult children and two delightful grandsons.
Connect with M K Tod