Ship of Dreams
I hope I won’t need my fire extinguisher, but here goes – I found the romance in Titanic to be contrived and artificial. So when I began this book, a romance set aboard another real life doomed sea voyage, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Thank goodness Brenda Hiatt created the characters of Kent and Della rather than another Jack and Rose, because Ship of Dreams is neither contrived nor artificial – it’s a fine read.
Della Gilliland is fleeing a false accusation of murder when she stows away on a steamer out of San Francisco harbor. She sells patent medicines, and a rival has accused her of killing one of his patients. With the police hot on her trail, she slips aboard the boat and brazenly presents herself as the new wife of a handsome stranger, deep in conversation with another man. Her Irish luck holds out – the man doesn’t give her away. But why not?
Kenton Bradford can’t afford to have anyone suspect him of being anything other than what he is, a respected man of business and wealth. So when a stunning redheaded woman sidles up to him and acts as if they’re married, the last thing he wants to do is look like a fool in front of a prospective financial backer. Reluctantly, he goes along with the deception, fully intending to end it as soon as he can. Della’s desperate, however, and she convinces Kent to continue the act.
Much to their mutual surprise, they discover an attraction that’s increasingly difficult to deny, especially when they have to share a cramped stateroom. Should they continue to resist the pull between them? Can Della trust Kent with the truth about herself? Will Kent tell her about his fiancee in New York? When the steamer moves in the path of a hurricane, all other considerations are forgotten. Nothing will matter if they don’t survive. And if one survives without the other, then nothing else will matter, either.
Hiatt uses an actual historical event for her story’s setting to good effect. The SS Central America was a ship that sank in a hurricane in 1857. Hundreds of lives were lost; it was the maritime disaster of the day. She weaves her two characters into the disaster with skill, having them interact with the people who were really there. It’s very believable. Would that Jack and Rose’s story had been as credible!
I like Della and Kent. They grow and change in the course of the story. Della learns to trust again, after so many years of having no one she can depend on. Kent starts out as a real stuffed shirt, but the more time he spends with Della, the more he comes to see that there’s more to life than money and power. Their motives are always clear to the reader, but I never felt as if I was being swamped in their thoughts. There’s a nice balance of internal monologue and actual story.
What kept this off the keeper shelf for me? At times the dialogue sounds a little stilted, and some of the fictional secondary characters veer toward cardboard. The depictions of real historical characters, by contrast, are good, especially the captain of the ship and the group of women Della befriends. But the plot is never becalmed, and the two main characters keep the reader’s attention anchored on them and their romance. Take a cruise aboard this ship – it’s worth more than the ticket price.