By: Lynne Connolly | Other books by Lynne Connolly
Published By: Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Published: Dec 05, 2008
ISBN # 9781605042695
Published By: Samhain Publishing, Ltd.
Published: Dec 05, 2008
ISBN # 9781605042695
Word Count: 79,787
Available in: Adobe Acrobat, HTML, Mobipocket (.mobi), Rocket, Epub
Yorkshire by Lynne Connolly - Romance>Suspense/Mystery/ThrillerA passion they never expected…a mystery that could cost them everything.
Richard and Rose, Book 1
Rose Golightly is a country girl who thinks her life will continue on its comfortable course, but a series of events changes that for good. On a visit to the ancestral estate of Hareton Abbey, Richard Kerre, Lord Strang, enters her life. A leader of society, a man known for extravagance in dress and life, Richard is her fate. And she is his.
Richard is to marry a rich, frigid woman in a few weeks, and has deliberately closed his heart to love. Then a coach accident throws his wounded body into Rose’s arms.
With one kiss, Richard and Rose discover in each other the passion they thought they’d never find.
But the accident that brought them together was an act of sabotage. Somewhere, in the rotting hulk of a once beautiful stately home, a murderer is hiding.
Richard and Rose set out to solve the mystery, and find the layers of scandal go deeper than simply determining who is guilty. And that doing the right thing could separate them—forever.
This book has been revised from a previously published edition.
Warning: This series is addictive. Passion and murder are a potent mix.
Reader Rating: 4.3 (3 Ratings)
I sat in my best riding habit in the dirt at the side of the road, a man I hardly knew sprawled next to me, his head in my lap. I looked ruefully at my skirts as blood seeped into the material. I’d bought it especially for this visit, and now it was ruined. Mr. Kerre and the coachman kicked and pulled at the overturned roof of the stricken vehicle. The canvas covering was peeling away with age; its thin top splintered when the men aimed hard kicks at it. Mr. Kerre had pulled out his brother, the man whose head now lay in my lap. They had more difficulty reaching the other occupants.
Our horses were safe enough, their reins thrown over the branches of a nearby tree. The unhurried shifting of their hooves matched the movements of the coach horses standing close by, cropping grass.
Blood saturated my riding gloves as I held the gaping wound together in what seemed increasingly like a vain attempt to stop the bleeding. I daren’t move in case the outpouring worsened. Cramps spread across my back, and the hard pebbles of the road dug into my legs.
My breath misted in the crisp autumn air, and I feared my patient would begin to shiver in that uncontrollable way I’d seen before in others. He might have lost so much blood he wouldn’t recover before we got him back to the Abbey. The thought, rather than the cold air, made me shiver. I hardly knew this man but I might not get to know him any better.
He opened his eyes and looked directly at me, staring uncomprehendingly until he recovered his senses. I saw intelligence return to his face, and then something else. Something warmer.
I stared at him transfixed. No, oh no. This couldn’t happen, to me, not sensible, shy overlooked Rose Golightly. But I had no way to stop it, and I couldn’t look away now. This wasn’t right, but my treacherous heart turned over when he smiled. “It’s you,” he murmured weakly.
How could a visit anticipated so eagerly, regretted so bitterly, end in this?
1752, one day earlier
“Rose, are you feeling quite well?”
I was tired from the long journey and I felt ill, certainly in no mood for polite disclaimers. “No,” I snapped. The nausea didn’t come entirely from the dreadful state of the drive leading to Hareton Abbey, but from my dislike of meeting new people.
I looked past my sister to glimpse Steven Drury, one of our two male escorts, riding by the side of the hired coach. I envied him. I’d have been much more comfortable on horseback and I wouldn’t have had to talk to anyone. “I’ll be well once I get out of this infernal coach,” I said.
“When you hire them you can’t inspect them,” my sister-in-law said in her practical way. “And we sold our travelling coach years ago. When do we travel long distances?”
“This last week.” I shifted on the worn leather seat, futilely trying to improve my position on the lumpy upholstery. I’d been trying to do that for days. The only respite had come when we stopped to change horses and we could get out for a time and stretch our legs.
Martha gazed out of the other window, at the overgrown trees bordering the drive. Fallen leaves, so prevalent in October, made our progress even more treacherous.
My sister, Lizzie, turned away from the gloomy prospect outside. “I believe Lord Hareton’s trying to deter visitors.”
“So why,” Martha demanded, in an exasperated tone, “are we really here?”
“To witness the marriage of our cousin, the Honourable Edward Golightly to the only daughter of the Earl of Hareton,” chanted Lizzie, quoting the letter we had received a month earlier.
Martha made a “Tch” of exasperation, turning to stare out the window again. The coach moved slowly, crawling and bouncing up the drive. It was bordered by overgrown lime trees, soaring far above where they should have been curving gracefully over our heads. The other routes of access were probably worse. “What kind of earl leaves his drive in this state?” Martha demanded.
“An eccentric one?” I suggested.
“What sort of man will let his only daughter marry into this?”
“Perhaps the Southwoods don’t know about this either, my dear,” said her husband, my brother. “They arranged the marriage in their children’s childhood, after all. The last Lord Hareton wasn’t like this, was he?”
“Far from it.” Martha glanced again at the picturesque but treacherous scene outside the relative safety of our coach. “He’s probably spinning in his grave. He planned everything for his sons before he died, even this marriage.”
“What do you think Lady Hareton feels about this?” I ventured.
“I’ve never met her, Rose, and she’s never written to us.” I knew the lack of common courtesy irked Martha. “They married in haste. I thought she’d got in the family way, they married so quickly, but it wasn’t so. They’re still childless and my James is still the heir, after the brothers.”
“Do you think he’ll ever be an earl?” asked Lizzie, ever the social climber.
Martha glared at her. “Not for a minute. I wouldn’t welcome it if he were. Just imagine the changes.”
“Yes.” A faraway look came into Lizzie’s eyes. She gazed dreamily at the worn squabs and faded upholstery of our hired coach.
“I think they just want me to witness the marriage contract,” James said. “Then we can go home and get on with our lives. There’ll be an heir here soon enough.”
“Do you think they want to inspect us?” Lizzie asked.
Martha answered her. “No. Why should they? They’ve shown no interest in the last ten years, why should they want to see us now? No, I think James is right. They want us to witness the contract, and to tell us we’re out of the reckoning, as far as the succession is concerned. If the earl’s marriage is barren, perhaps his brother’s won’t be. Thank God, I say.”
Her voice reverberated around the small space for a minute or two, echoing dully.
“The papers say he’s a recluse.” Lizzie read every society paper she could lay her hands on. “They didn’t say he was mad. I can’t understand how there could have been such a change between then and now.” The proposed country house party she’d dreamed of for weeks evaporated before her eyes.
“At least there won’t be a house party like the last time,” Martha observed, not without relief. “If he’s a recluse, he won’t want more people than necessary.”
“You never know.” Lizzie’s pretty mouth turned down at the corners. “He might have invited a few more people.”
Silently, I agreed with Martha, and fervently hoped her predictions would come true. I was as happy as I could be in our comfortable manor house, surrounded by familiarity. I hated meeting strangers. The sight of the neglect in the drive, the lack of any other tracks coming this way had been a relief, not a disappointment, though I was sorry for my sister’s sake. Her angelic beauty deserved more than a provincial audience.
At last, we came to a juddering halt at the top of the drive, nearly throwing us out of our seats. We waited as the steps were let down, which gave me the chance to take a few deep breaths in preparation for the ordeal ahead. James got down and helped Martha, Lizzie and me to alight.
Silence fell, suddenly oppressive. Steven stood by his horse. We stood by the coach. No one spoke, appalled and awed in equal measure by the sight before us.
We stood in the courtyard, before the main part of Hareton Abbey. Two great grey wings stretched out on either side. Elsewhere, they would serve as a protective barrier against the bitter Yorkshire winds, but here they seemed more like a trap waiting for the prey to spring it. No life stirred behind the windows, dulled with begrimed years of neglect.
The house was rendered in grey Yorkshire stone, formidable and forbidding. It had not been cleaned except by the weather, nor repaired where pieces of the stone had shattered in the frosts of winter. Pieces still lay on the ground. They must have lain there disregarded for some time. The main part of the building towered in front of us. Its air of abandonment was almost tangible: you could almost hear the house crumbling.
“Rose…” Lizzie whispered.
I glanced at her. “Dear God. What have we come to?”
Her face reflected my own apprehension. “I don’t know. This is Hareton Abbey, isn’t it? We haven’t come somewhere else by mistake?”
“It has to be,” Martha said. We spoke quietly; afraid of awakening echoes. “Don’t forget, James and I have been here once before, but it didn’t look like this the last time we came.”
“Lord, no.” James murmured. Martha clutched his arm as if she might never let go. “It’s supposed to be one of the show houses of the county; whatever can have happened?”
The rumble of wheels on the drive behind started us out of our shock. We stepped back to see what was coming, and to get out of its way.
Into the dilapidated courtyard bowled two travelling carriages, as different from our hired vehicle as possible. They were clearly private vehicles, bang up to date in style, bearing emblazoned crests on their doors. The shiny new black paintwork contrasted strongly with the dull, weathered finish on our carriage. The windows were glassed in, but despite their fashionable comfort, the bodies of the vehicles jolted and swung just as much as ours had. The horses pulling them were matched thoroughbreds. They must have cost a fortune.
They came to a brisk halt in front of the house. We watched liveried footmen leap down and run to let down the steps. “The Southwood party,” Lizzie whispered, awestruck. The cream of society, the top of the tree. Her ideal, her dream.
From the first coach alighted a figure that made my mouth drop open in disbelief. A vision of male gorgeousness, a sumptuous feast of a man. Lizzie gasped, but I didn’t turn to look at her. I kept my gaze fixed on the mirage before us.
He wore scarlet velvet, dressed for the Court. He would be sadly disappointed here. His white powdered wig was set just right, his waistcoat was a dream of embroidered magnificence. He swung around to help a lady descend from the vehicle, and when I again glanced at Lizzie, I saw she had temporarily lost all faculties of speech. No doubt remembering her manners, she closed her mouth.
This younger lady was attired—dressed would have been too clumsy a word—in a French sacque of blue watered silk, embroidered down the hem and the robings in fine floss. Frills and furbelows seemed to take on a life of their own, romping over her petticoats. Pearls gleamed at her neck. “Dear God,” whispered Lizzie.
Behind these visions of fashionable excess, another man climbed down. He wore his fair hair simply tied back; his clothes were just as well cut as the other gentleman’s though not as extravagant, and his attitude far more natural. “They’re twins,” Lizzie told me, back in control of her voice.
“I know,” I said. “You told us. More than once.”
To see the Kerre brothers was a different experience to merely reading about them.
The only identical twins in polite society, they made themselves more conspicuous still by creating scandal after scandal. Lizzie’s information continued, “The younger went abroad after eloping with a married woman. He’s only lately returned, after twelve years away. I wonder which one it is?”
“The peacock.” It had to be. The other looked far too sensible.
They glanced at us. The gorgeously dressed gentleman turned back to the coach, and said something only his brother could hear. His twin spun on his heel, the gravel grating under his foot and stared at us for one impolite moment before he looked away. I guessed the popinjay had said something like “country bumpkins”, and I resented the comment while at the same time agreeing with it. We were in a hired coach, and hadn’t thought to make a stop to change into better clothes as the other party obviously had. I smoothed my hand over my worn, brown wool gown.
With a leisurely gait, the peacock approached us and bowed. “You, sir, must be Sir James Golightly. Lord Hareton informed us you would be here.” His voice was faintly musical and touched with a low burr I found unusually attractive.
James bowed in response, and introduced us. The gentleman in turn introduced his party. The beautiful gentleman was Lord Strang, heir to the earldom of Southwood and not the one who had caused the scandal after all. The other gentleman was Mr. Gervase Kerre, Lord Strang’s twin. Despite Lord Strang’s heavy maquillage, the resemblance between them was remarkable. Perhaps smallpox or his sojourn in the tropics had marked Mr. Kerre’s face, but Lord Strang’s makeup was fashionably thick, and his skin could be similarly rough underneath.
“From—Devonshire?” Lord Strang’s voice held a fashionable drawl, but the tones were soft and low.
“Indeed,” Martha answered. “It’s been a long journey.”
“Only to find this at the end of it?” With one elegant gesture, he indicated the hall behind him. “Hardly the gold at the end of the rainbow.”
“Hardly,” I said.
His clear blue gaze rested on my face, making the hot blood rush to my face, heating my skin. I wasn’t sure why, unless my reticence was getting the better of me. “Miss Golightly. The elder daughter?”
“Yes.” I replied too shortly for politeness. In truth, my sensitivity on this subject bordered on the obsessive. I’d reached the ripe old age of twenty-five and hadn’t raised hopes in any male breasts that I knew about, while Lizzie, five years younger, was sought by all. My dark looks couldn’t compare to her golden loveliness and I was too tall for the petite beauties currently in fashion.
“Have we met?” This from Miss Cartwright, the lady in blue.
“No; I would have remembered.” Miss Cartwright raised a haughty eyebrow, but smiled frostily as if I’d paid her a compliment.
Lord Strang looked at the tightly closed front door. “Do you think they’ll let us in?” His frown and sharp tone clearly showed his displeasure. “Or should we just get back in the coaches and return to York?”
I wondered where his father was. This gathering was, we understood, to celebrate the nuptials of Lord Southwood’s only daughter. At first, I had thought she was the lovely lady, but she had been introduced to us as Miss Cartwright, Lord Strang’s affianced bride. The older lady who had stepped down unaided from the coach was her duenna, another Miss Cartwright, presumably an aunt or more distant relative.
As though set in motion by his lordship’s words, the front door creaked open. Its once smart black paint was peeling away; the double flight of steps leading up to it were crumbled, stained and cracked. Nevertheless, it seemed to be the only other alternative to returning to York, so we moved towards it.
We, the Golightlys, followed closely by Steven went up the steps first; cautiously, as the stone was none too safe. At any moment a piece of decayed stone might break, crumble away, and take the unfortunate person with it.
We walked into the Great Hall. Or something that had once been the Great Hall. It took some time for my eyes to adjust to the relative darkness inside. The great space felt gloomy and cold, clammy with disuse. Martha had described Hareton Abbey’s great marble entrance hall to us, but this couldn’t be the same place.
The staircase with its crimson carpet soared in front of us. Myriad life sized marble statues ranged around the upper storey. Dirt obscured the finer features of the marble, and turned the pure white on the gods and goddesses of a different age to a murky grey. Cobwebs stretched from fingertip to hipbone in a weird parody of the fine lace sported by the Southwood party. The once smart black and white tiles, laid in a chequered pattern, were blurred with dirt. Shuddering in revulsion, I took Lizzie’s arm. We held each other tightly and looked around in silence; all affected by the tomb-like silence of the once Great Hall.
Suddenly, shockingly, the stillness shattered. “My God, I wonder which bedroom Sleeping Beauty rests in.” A male voice, quiet, low but penetrating. I knew without looking that it was Lord Strang.
The man who had let us in waited for us by a small door at one side of the hall. He must be a servant, but his role wasn’t easily identifiable either by his appearance or demeanour. He wore no livery nor the quiet, smart clothes of an upper domestic, but a rough country coat, such as a gamekeeper might wear.
Lizzie glanced at me, eyebrows raised in a tacit comment. When I looked at her, I caught Lord Strang’s glance. He smiled. I looked away.
We moved towards the servant, who led the way through the door and along a passage, where we entered another world. The magnificence and filth changed to Puritan cleanliness. No paintings hung on the wall here, no ornaments adorned the well-polished country furniture, just plain, gleaming floors and whitewashed walls. Our feet clattered on the uncarpeted wooden floor.
The manservant led us to a door at the end that opened onto a modest parlour. Here the Earl and Countess of Hareton and the Honourable Edward Golightly waited for us. The men stood while the lady sat in a hard chair before of them. They were all completely rigid. No smiles marred their stern features. They wore perfectly plain garments, the men simulacra of the manservant, the lady in dark blue and white with no lace, only plain linen cuffs to her sleeves and no jewellery.
Nothing approximating comfortable domesticity spoiled the austerity of the little room. No ornaments decorated the old fashioned carved oak mantelpiece, no cushions added comfort to the hard chairs. I found the obsessively spotless parlour as disturbing as the abandoned magnificence we had just left.
Our hosts bowed rigidly, and the lady stood and curtseyed with an awkwardness that indicated she didn’t do it very often The answering bows from the Southwood party were awe inspiring, especially Lord Strang’s, which combined precision and elegance in one graceful gesture. It seemed more elaborate than the bow he had given us in the courtyard, mocking the Haretons with its perfection.
“Welcome,” said Lord Hareton. I felt anything but welcome here. The door opened to admit the manservant returning with a large wooden tray. It held a large teapot and several tea dishes.
There weren’t enough chairs for everyone in this small room, so the ladies sat and the men remained on their feet. Lady Hareton saw to the tea, practically and without comment. The brown teapot, like the one we had in Devonshire for the servants to use, contained a weak infusion, but we found it welcome all the same. The heated cup warmed me in this unfriendly place. Despite the chill outside, the fireplace was cold, the fire unlit.
“I am pleased to see all of you. I thank you for coming.” Lord Hareton’s tones were exaggeratedly formal, perhaps a legacy of his childhood. The formality of the Hareton household had been famous in the last generation; the children forbidden to sit in their father’s presence.
“I am surprised not to see Lord Southwood and his daughter.”
Lord Strang gave him an easy smile. “He sends his apologies. A minor disposition has delayed his arrival with my sister, but he sent me ahead as a token of his good faith.”
Lord Hareton nodded, his mouth a tight line of disapproval. “It is to be hoped that he doesn’t keep us waiting long. I have made arrangements for our family lawyer, Mr. Fogg, to visit us tomorrow. Also, my minister will arrive. I intend to collect him personally in the morning. He uses public transport. He deems private carriages an extravagance, and I tend to agree with him. I do not wish for a long betrothal period, and I would like the contract fulfilled as soon as possible.”
His glance at Lord Strang asked for complaisance, but he didn’t find it.
“Can the lawyer’s visit be deferred?” the younger man asked calmly, but I could hear the passion beneath. Lord Strang was in a temper.
“No, sir, it cannot. There is—”
Lord Strang lifted his chin. “I don’t know if my sister would be content here.”
“Contentment is in God’s hands, not ours.”
Lord Strang ignored the comment and continued to speak. Although his demeanour was rigidly polite, his low tones quivered with the anger beneath. “The betrothal was never a done thing; your father and my grandfather arranged it, but left it to my father and you to fulfil it. I am here as my father’s representative, and if I dislike what I see, I fear I cannot recommend the betrothal to him.”
Hareton smiled. It appeared malicious, but this interpretation surely must be wrong. I preferred the stern look; Lord Hareton had lost most of his teeth, and what remained weren’t in good condition. “Perhaps you need some time to reflect.” He used a soothing tone that made me want to slap him. “I would welcome an opportunity to bring your sister to God’s family. I hope, once you have met Mr. Pritheroe, our minister, you will come to see the error of your ways and join our family.”
Lord Strang stared, his eyes wide in anger and astonishment, momentarily transfixed. Abruptly Lord Hareton turned away and smiled at James. Now our turn arrived.
“I am pleased to welcome you back to my house, Sir James. I’m sorry not to see all of your family, as I requested, but it is not entirely necessary.”
“My younger brother, Ian, had a fall and injured his foot. He sends his apologies.” Lord Hareton nodded in response to James’s explanation. “My younger sister, Ruth, is barely out of the schoolroom and my children are too young to embark on such a long journey.”
Not the whole truth, but it would do. Ian’s injury was far from serious, Ruth was too headstrong and excitable and the thought of those lively children in a coach on a long journey made me shudder. Not to mention the odd rumours we’d heard about the state of the Abbey. We hadn’t imagined matters would be as bad as this, but it had given Martha and James pause.
Lord Hareton continued to speak. “I have asked you here as a witness to the betrothal, and to give you the opportunity to do something for God’s people.” James remained silent. Hareton ignored the rest of us. As women we were probably beneath his notice. I sipped my tea in an effort to appear unconcerned, waiting for the next bombshell. I had no doubt it would come.
“I have asked Mr. Fogg here for another reason. I wish to break the entail.” Seemingly oblivious to the sensation he caused, he continued calmly, “I do not wish to be known as the earl, and I do not wish for the wealth and privilege that go with it. I wish to live as a private citizen. If the entail on the estate is broken, I am free to do that. I cannot prevent or deny the earldom, but I do not have to use it or encourage people to use the title.”
James couldn’t speak. He stared at Lord Hareton rather in the way a rabbit watches a snake, fascinated, waiting for the final, killing stroke.
“Mr. Fogg informs me that in order to break this document, it must be signed by the heir, and the next heir, in line. That is my brother, and you, Sir James.” Our host smiled, as if this explained everything.
“And you want my sister to marry into this?” Mr. Kerre, who had up to now remained silent could no longer keep his indignation to himself. “Not only to live in a mausoleum, but to lose her standing in society, the privileges she has a right to expect?”
“Only by birth,” Lord Hareton responded.
“That is true.” Lord Strang’s quiet, low voice cut through the air, like the voice of reason. “And among those men born to high state, there are a few who deserve it. I don’t want to leave Maria here because it would make her unhappy. She wasn’t born to this. From what I have seen here, I don’t think I can recommend that my father brings her here.”
He paused, glancing around the comfortless room. “I, however, am strangely intrigued by your minister, and I’d like to stay a little longer, if I may.” His brother shot him a sharp glance, but remained silent.
“I am delighted to hear that, sir,” Hareton replied. “Perhaps I can persuade you to change your mind.”
Hareton’s brother, the prospective bridegroom, showed no emotion at all. Intrigued, I wondered what other surprises this strange place held.
Hareton excused himself, saying it was time he went to pray. He looked askance at Steven in his dark clerical garb, but Steven said nothing, avoiding his gaze. I didn’t blame him.
After they left the room, we breathed a collective sigh of relief, and looked around at each other. Lizzie and I exchanged a smile, then a laugh as we felt the oppressive atmosphere slide away. The exotic Kerres seemed normal, next to the extraordinary figures of our cousins.
“When did you last come here, Martha?” I knew, of course, but needed the confirmation. Something to remind me of my normal life, my normal home.
“Ten years ago. The last earl sent for us when we were married. It was different then. Our rooms were magnificent, even though we didn’t have the best ones and a footman stood at every door.”
“A stickler for ceremony by all accounts,” said Lord Strang. “I have to confess there is no indisposition. My father sent us ahead to form an opinion. He has heard some odd rumours about Lord Hareton, and has serious doubts about the match. Society thinks Hareton is a recluse—they don’t know the half of it.”
“Indeed,” agreed Martha. “It’s all very shocking.”
James looked up from silent contemplation. “I don’t know what to do about this entail. If I refuse to sign it, will it still go through? It’s not that I expect to inherit. Indeed, I don’t wish for it, especially now I’ve seen the property, but I don’t think it’s right. I’ve never heard of such a thing before.” I hated to see my beloved brother so worried. I would gladly have consigned the Haretons and the Abbey to perdition, if it would help him.
“I’m sure I’d feel the same.” Mr. Kerre studied James, his finely shaped lips pursed in thought. “In truth, sir, from what I’ve seen, I think the Hareton estate is bankrupt. He may talk of God and his minister all he likes, but I think his father bankrupted the estate with his extravagance.”
“I’m not so sure,” said Lord Strang. “Why would they leave all the treasures in the Great Hall to rot if that’s the case? I’m sure they could fetch a good price. What’s the rest of the house like?”
James frowned. “You have a point, but on the way here I studied the land. Some of the fields are uncultivated, the animal population is scarce and what buildings I saw are sadly in need of repair.”
“Yes,” agreed Mr. Kerre, “I saw that too. I think you’re right, sir. The Hareton estate is bankrupt.”
My brother heaved a sigh. “So you think I should sign the entail away?”
“I would never presume to tell you what to do, sir,” said Strang, “but in your place, I would seriously consider it. The situation intrigues me. I want to see more of it, but be assured, sir, there will be no wedding. Please feel free to shake the dust of Hareton Abbey from your heels as soon as you wish.”
A maid chose that moment to come in and offer to show us to our rooms. It was early, but we accepted. When I passed James, he murmured to me, “Don’t unpack.”
My room was spotlessly clean, but contained no comforts, and the fireplace was distressingly bare of kindling. All the drapery had gone, just like the parlour downstairs, and when I looked under the bed, it was as spotlessly clean as the rest of the room. I didn’t know which I preferred; the decayed luxury of the Great Hall or the obsessive, bare cleanliness of this wing. Both chilled me to the bone.
My luggage stood in the middle of the floor completely untouched; a very unusual thing in a well-regulated household. However, I wasn’t entirely helpless. I lifted the lid of the trunk and began to unpack. Remembering my brother’s warning, I left most of the items in the trunk. I sighed when I looked at the gown I had bought in Exeter for this visit, and decided to leave it, after fingering the fine silk regretfully. This was no place for finery. Not for me, at least.
When two o’clock arrived, I could dress properly for dinner with some semblance of respectability. I wanted to go down with my sister, but at half past two, I was still waiting for her. It never took me long to dress; I didn’t think overmuch about my appearance any more. I’d reached the advanced age of twenty-five without raising any hopes, but my sister, at twenty, was at the centre of the marriage market. I left her in front of the spotted mirror in her room, as she primped and pouted at her undeniably lovely reflection.
Only when I left the room did I recall that dinner wasn’t for another half hour.
I didn’t want to meet all those strangers on my own, so I decided to explore a little instead.
I wanted to see more of the Abbey. Like Lord Strang, I felt sure there was a mystery here; this great house held more than bankruptcy. Deliberately, I turned in the opposite direction to which I had come. My romantic soul demanded it and my curiosity rampaged across my more sensible emotions.
At the end of the passage, it turned dark. I soon discovered why. The windows here hadn’t been cleaned for an age. They were begrimed with years of dirt, misting the light that fought its way through them. I wished I’d brought a candle, but someone might see me, and realise I shouldn’t be there. Who would have thought I would need a candle at this time of day?
I turned a corner and opened a door at random, drawing a deep breath when I saw what lay inside.
I recalled Lord Strang’s earlier comment because this room came straight out of Sleeping Beauty’s castle. No neat covers hid any of the fine furnishings from the obscuring dust. It hadn’t been a State Room, but a small room which contained some fine objects, the sort of treasure room often found in great country houses. Cobwebs covered the chandelier above me, adding their own ghostly comment on the scene below. The air smelled of damp decay. I drew my handkerchief over a small round table, revealing the elaborate, expensive marquetry that decorated it. Damp had raised the fine woodwork to irreparable ruin. Even the ornaments remained in their places on the mantelpiece, dotted about the room in casual, gruesome disarray, as if their owner had just stepped out, never to return.
I went to the window, careful not to let my skirt touch the exquisitely filthy furniture and rubbed a viewing hole in the window.
Suddenly, a pair of hands seized me from behind. One went round my waist and the other over my mouth. I froze in terror.
Reader Reviews (1)
Submitted By: lhwhite on Oct 16, 2011I absolutely loved this book. Not as obvious with the erotica aspect, the author nonetheless built the heat between the two main characters in such a way that I was totally hooked!