Charles Wheatly, Duke of Murnane, accepts an unofficial fact-finding mission to the East India Company’s enclave in Canton, China, on behalf of the queen. He anticipates intrigue, international tensions, and an outlet for his grief over the death of his young son. He isn’t entirely surprised when he also encounters the troublesome offspring of his mentor, the Duke of Sudbury, but the profound love he discovers for the determined young woman is unforeseen and untimely. Charles certainly doesn’t expect to also face his troubled marriage in such an exotic locale. The appearance of his estranged wife in the company of their enemy throws the entire enterprise into conflict, and tensions boil over when the woman he loves is put at risk by his wife’s scheming—and the beginnings of the First Opium War.
Zambak Hayden seethes with frustration. A woman her age has occupied the throne for over a year, yet the Duke of Sudbury’s line of succession still passes over her—his eldest—to land on a son with neither spine nor character. She follows her brother, the East India Company’s newest and least competent clerk, to Macau to protect him and to safeguard the family honor—if she also escapes the gossip and intrigues of London and the marriage mart, so much the better. She has no intention of being forced into some sort of dynastic marriage, and she may just refuse to marry at all. The greed and corruption she finds horrifies her, especially when her brother succumbs to the lure of opium. She determines to document the truth. When an old family friend arrives, she assumes her father sent him. She isn’t about to bend to his dictates nor give up her quest. Her traitorous heart, however, can’t stop yearning for a man she can’t have.
As an epic historical drama unfolds around them, both Charles and Zambak must come to terms with a love that neither expected.