Pushing her red spinner suitcase across the platform of King’s Cross station, Jane Edwards approached the train that would take her from London to Cloverfield. The Virgin super voyager was more sleek in appearance than the Amtrack she was accustomed to seeing back home in America, which probably meant it was faster too.
Excitement buzzed through her as she boarded one of the carriages and entered the first compartment to her right. After stowing her luggage in the allocated space behind the first row of seats, she paused for a second to glance around. It was mostly empty, allowing her to choose a vacant spot by one of the windows. Hoping to dissuade anyone else from joining her, she placed her bag on the empty seat beside her before settling in for the three hour journey ahead. This was what she wanted, she reminded herself for what had to be the millionth time. Ever since saying goodbye to Geoffrey and leaving New York behind.
Briefly, she admired the arched glass ceiling extending across the platforms. Overall, her impression of England was good so far. The station was neat and orderly, in contrast to the filthy New York subway she was accustomed to. She’d even seen a sign marking Platform ¾, which she wished she’d had time to take a picture next to.
Closing her eyes to shut out the world for a moment, Jane leaned back and drew a deep breath. She was going on an adventure, and it was going to be fun. Except nothing about this trip had been fun so far. Few things were when they were done in anger.
Jane opened her eyes and glanced up to find an elderly woman regarding her with a kind smile.
“Do you mind if I sit with you?”
“Not at all,” Jane lied, gesturing to the opposite pair of seats in a manner meant to invite.
So much for solitude.
The woman thanked her and sat before promptly retrieving a pair of spindly knitting needles from her bag. “My name’s Mandy,” she said as she set to work on whatever it was she was making. A sock perhaps, judging from the size of the ribbing.
Mandy nodded and said nothing further, the soft click of her needles filling the silence until the slamming of doors and grinding of wheels drowned out the quieter sounds in the compartment. A whistle sounded somewhere off in the distance. The occasional person who’d come to see their friend or relative off began to wave, and then the train rolled forward, gathering speed as it pulled out of the station.
“So where are you heading?” Mandy asked five minutes later, dashing Jane’s hopes of avoiding conversation.
She glanced away from the brick buildings now streaking by in a blur. “To Cloverfield.”
Understanding flooded Mandy’s features. She nodded. “A fine tourist destination indeed. There are plenty of ancient burial mounds nearby if that’s the sort of thing you’re interested in. Or there’s the glass blower where you can have a go at making something yourself. I did that once and really enjoyed it.”
Jane shrugged one shoulder. “It’s more of a research destination actually,” she confessed, darting a glance out the window. The buildings gave way to more vegetation and trees as they passed through the suburbs. “I want to visit a real English manor and Summervale House near Cloverfield has been highly recommended.”
“It’s certainly very fairytale-like.” Mandy looped the yarn around her finger and started on a new row of stitches. “So that accent of yours…American by any chance?”
“Yeah. I just flew in this morning, actually. Still trying to adjust to the time difference.”
Not that Mandy was likely to care about that bit of information. Jane was simply making smalltalk now, though she wasn’t sure why. When she’d set out from JFk airport last night. she’d been too upset about the previous day’s argument with Geoffrey to consider talking to a stranger. Which was why she’d been blunt to the point of rudeness when the gentleman sitting beside her on the plane had inquired about her reason for going to England. He’d wanted to chat. She hadn’t. Until now, when a charming woman decades older than herself had drawn her into conversation. For reasons Jane couldn’t explain, Mandy made her want to open up – to unburden some of her riotous feelings.
“I’m a writer,” Jane said while Mandy knitted away. “An author actually.”
“Oh? Any chance I’ve read your work?”
The twinkle in Mandy’s eyes prompted Jane to chuckle. “I don’t know. My full name’s Jane Edwards. I write historical romance novels, mostly set in Regency England.”
“Then Summervale really is the right place for you to be heading. If I’m not mistaken, it dates back to the seventeenth century when the first Earl of Camden built it with the intention of using it as his summer residence. He was so fond of the place that he rarely resided anywhere else once it was finished.”
“Do you know if his heirs still own it?”
Mandy shook her head. “Sadly, they were forced to part with it years ago when they couldn’t afford the upkeep. Happens too often these days, unfortunately.” She sighed just enough to convey her regret before applying a more uplifting tone as she said, “But, you’ll find heaps of inspiration for your books there though I have to say I’ve not heard of you as an author. Perhaps if you jot down some of your titles for me, I’ll be able to look them up?”
Jane smiled. She appreciated Mandy’s kindness. “I’d be happy to.” She reached inside her purse and pulled out her notepad, then paused. “Thank you for this.”
Mandy tilted her head. Laugh lines crinkled around her eyes. “For what?”
“For taking my mind off of things.” When Mandy said nothing, Jane gave her attention to the notepad and wrote down the names of her three favorite books. She handed it over and waited a moment, struggling with the decision of whether or not to share her troubles with this woman she’d only just met.
Inhaling deeply, she chose to forge ahead.
“I broke off my engagement two days ago and booked a ticket to England before I could change my mind.” It had been a mad decision prompted by a broken heart and other emotions she’d yet to untangle.
Mandy set her knitting aside and gave Jane her full attention. “You ran away?”
“No.” Yes. “I don’t know. My fiancé and I had a fight which ended badly.” Clasping her hands together Jane recalled Geoffrey’s angry accusation. This hobby of yours has destroyed us Jane. When will you realize you can’t survive on your stories? And now you want to go to England? Do you have any idea what such a trip will cost?
Guilt and doubt and the hollowness she’d felt in response to his lack of belief in her, had been like a punch to the gut.
“He didn’t approve of my writing or of the genre in which I write. In the end his lack of support and my unwillingness to sacrifice what I love for our relationship tore us apart.”
“So here you are. Protesting his opinion.”
Jane didn’t comment. Perhaps because she knew Geoffrey had a point. Her books had not been selling as well as she’d hoped. Her royalties were barely enough to get by on, never mind enough to help Geoffrey with the down payment on the home they’d been hoping to buy before the wedding. Without her chipping in, the cute little house in the suburbs had remained but a dream. And Geoffrey had resented her for it. He’d said as much.
“Maybe it’s best this way,” Mandy said, pulling Jane back to the present. “Perhaps this trip will give you a fresh perspective or even a new beginning. Perhaps it will lead to that bestselling novel you’ve yet to write.”
Grateful for Mandy’s positive outlook, Jane smiled. “Yes. Perhaps it will.” If such a thing were possible, she’d certainly welcome it with open arms. Because if there was one thing she desperately needed right now, it was to prove Geoffrey wrong.
In the meantime, she meant to enjoy every moment of her visit to England. She already looked forward to drinking tea in the afternoons and going for walks in the historic village where she would be staying. The pictures online featuring thatched roofs and cobblestone streets had been inviting. So had the quaint old posting inn where she’d booked a room.
It was well after lunch by the time she arrived at Cloverfield station. Saying goodbye to Mandy with a promise to stay in touch, Jane climbed down from the train and set out on foot, wheeling her suitcase behind her. The inn wasn’t far, no more than a five minute walk, and she was grateful for a little exercise after sitting for hours. She also enjoyed her first glimpse of the village bakery and bookshop and made a mental note to visit both right after taking a look at Summervale.
After a short walk, Jane stepped inside the Hound’s Tooth Inn, where a friendly gentleman old enough to be her father showed her up to her room. As with the rest of the inn, history vibrated all around the chamber, clinging to the antique furniture and the worm-eaten beams above her head. It was perfect. The view of Summervale House from her bedroom, more so, with its sweeping façade a sprawling front lawns firmly nestled between the surrounding fields in the distance.
“How far is it?” Jane asked the man, who remained in the doorway.
He seemed to consider. “Perhaps a twenty-minute walk.”
His response sent a wave of energy through her. It was only two in the afternoon. She had plenty of time to take her first look at the manor she’d crossed the Atlantic to see. “In that case, I’ll come down for a bite to eat before setting out.” She was actually starving. “The room is splendid. Exactly what I hoped for.”
“Glad to hear it, luv. My name’s Mr. Barnes, by the way. Once you’ve settled in, I’ll introduce you to my wife. She makes excellent fish and chips.” He left with a nod, closing the door snuggly behind him.
Jane turned back to the window and stared out past the neat little cottages and toward the grand estate in the distance. History was there along with cartloads of inspiration. She could feel it calling to her, demanding she go and explore it as soon as possible.
But not without freshening up first. In fact, a shower would likely work wonders. As would a change of clothes. It was certainly one extra thing she could do to put Geoffrey out of her mind. So she unzipped her suitcase and threw it wide open while trying not to think of the man who’d walked away from the life they’d dreamed of sharing.
She’d made it easy for him when she’d said she was going to England whether he liked it or not. Because in one of those crazy moments, when clarity flashed through her mind, she’d realized one thing. England mattered. Summervale mattered. She needed this trip, and if he could not see that, if he could not support her decision to go, then he wasn’t the right man for her. Because he hadn’t asked her to be sensible, to wait a little and get the house first and perhaps take a job and write in the evenings. A suggestion like that would likely have cut through her stubborn decision. But no. He’d made her choose. Him or the writing. She could not have both. Which meant he couldn’t have her.
Still, it hurt that it had come to this, the realization she did not really know the man with whom she’d been planning to spend the rest of her life. As it turned out, she hadn’t really known herself either. She would not have thought herself able to toss such a meaningful relationship aside in the blink of an eye, pack her things and get on a plane, all within a few short hours.
But here she was. In England. Without Geoffrey. She’d even checked her phone to see if he’d tried to call her or text her, but no, there was nothing but silence. Which was probably for the best. After all, what more was there to say without making matters worse? He would move on and so would she. Which meant they’d been wrong for each other right from the start, no matter how much they’d loved each other. But sometimes love was not enough.
Riffling through her things, she grabbed some clean underwear and went to run the hot water in the bathroom. At least if this trip paid off, she’d feel better. If it led to a bestselling novel, that would be great! She would send Geoffrey an autographed copy then and sign it with a smiley. That would show him not to doubt her.
Of course, the problem was she had begun doubting herself. Her lack of success had made her question how long she could stay the course before having to give up her dream of making a living as a full-time author. Geoffrey, as blunt as he’d been, had only spoken the truth – a truth she’d been trying desperately hard to ignore. But having him lay out the facts and force her to acknowledge them had been painful.
Sighing, she undressed quickly and stepped under the shower, savoring the soothing feel of the water splashing over her body. Geoffrey was in the past now. Their argument was just an excuse to end a relationship that had been over for months. The spark was gone and she…she would not think of him anymore. At least not while she was here. The problems she’d left in New York could wait until she returned.
With this in mind, she pushed all thought of her broken engagement from her mind and thought of Summervale while washing her hair and rinsing off soap. What must it have been like to live in such luxury, surrounded by servants and vast amounts of wealth? She chuckled softly and shook her head while turning off the tap. She would not want any of those things if it meant giving up on modern plumbing and all the other conveniences one could enjoy in the twenty-first t century. Like toilet paper and Wi-Fi. She reached for a towel and laughed. Of all the things to pop into her head first. Wi-Fi. Really? Would it not be better to mourn the loss of antibiotics?
After drying her hair and getting dressed, Jane grabbed her purse and went downstairs to enjoy a plate of the fish and chips Mr. Barnes had recommended. It was delicious, dissolving in her mouth like butter and perfectly complimented by a pint of pale ale.
Thanking her hosts for the perfect meal, she headed out toward Summervale. Excitement buzzed in her veins with every step she took, the prospect of actually stepping inside this magnificent edifice quickening her pace. She’d written about such buildings countless times, her imagination crafting them and transposing them onto the pages of her novels. They’d made the backdrops of all the balls she’d written about. They’d been the homes of her heroes and heroines. But she’d never actually visited such an extravagant place before. Her descriptions had always relied on pictures alone, not actual experience.
Leaving the village behind, Jane followed the winding road. She loved how neatly the hedges were trimmed and the colorful display of wildflowers dotting the fields on either side. Although it wasn’t the most practical thing to wear when out walking, she’d chosen to put on a long floral dress with pretty puff sleeves and her ballerina flats. It was more romantic than jeans and sneakers and would perhaps more easily allow her to feel a connection with the past. Fanciful thought that, but there it was.
The walk turned out to be longer than she’d expected. Thirty minutes at least. But when she arrived, she had no regrets. Coming here was worth every dollar she’d spent. The impressive façade of Summervale rose, a feast for the eyes with its columns and trim and sweeping front steps leading up to the largest front door she’d ever seen. Flung open, it invited her into a tall foyer where a woman roughly her own age stood behind a front desk.
Jane moved toward her and the woman looked up from the book she was reading. “Welcome to Summervale House.” She gave Jane a broad smile and produced a pamphlet. “Are you interested in taking a tour of the manor?”
“Absolutely.” Rummaging through her purse, Jane produced the three pound admission fee required and handed it over to the woman, accepting the proffered pamphlet in return.
“We close in another couple of hours,” the woman said, “which should give you just enough time to see all the rooms and the garden. As long as you don’t read every information piece along the way.”
Thanking her for the information, Jane crossed the black and white marble tiled floor while craning her neck to admire the coffered ceiling. Flowers had been painstakingly carved into the gleaming wood, not by machine, but by hand, in a magnificent display of craftsmanship.
Retrieving her cellphone from her purse, Jane took a picture before heading down a wide corridor with rooms on either side. She entered the first one on her left and immediately froze on a sharp inhalation of breath. This was so much more than she’d ever expected, a parlor dressed in blues and creams, with silk upholstered chairs threatening to make any antique dealer salivate.
It was tasteful and had been, according to the sign on the wall, decorated by Lady Tatiana, the tenth Earl of Camden’s sister. A portrait of the lady in question hung upon the wall above the fireplace. She’d been a beauty, her dark curls framing an oval face with inquisitive eyes and a pretty smile. Jane sighed, aware the woman had died no more than a year after this very portrait had been painted. How such an event must have darkened the mood within these walls. And yet right now, with the sun gleaming in through the windows bathing the room in a golden glow, it was easier to imagine a lively tea-party or perhaps a romantic assignation taking place.
Grinning, Jane shook her head and moved on. Of course she’d be considering the perfect place for a young, enamored couple to slip away for a moment or two in private. Or a seemingly innocent place for a scoundrel to lure a woman into seduction, as was often the case in the books she wrote, even though reality had likely been less scandalous than that. Finding a portrait of a handsome young man in the library, she doubted he had been anything other than civil. Not at all the classic romantic rogue, judging from his looks, but rather a gentleman through and through.
She studied his facial expression, the deep intensity of his gaze, before reading the bronze inscription attached to the frame. Lord Camden himself had been just as fetching as his sister was pretty. His lips edged slightly toward the left where a dimple added a boyish element of charm to his otherwise serious demeanor. Dark hair fell across his brow, accentuating the deep blue eyes that held her in place.
Jane tried to steady her breathing, yet her heart beat as though he were just as real as she, as if he were actually watching her, holding her captive with his presence. Ridiculous. The man had been dead for almost two hundred years. And yet, a deep ache filled her. Logic told her she was being silly, but there was no denying the strange regret and feeling of loss now swamping her.
Intent on shaking it off, she tore her gaze away from him and resumed her tour. Each room proved more impressive than the last, the dining room set as though guests were expected to arrive at any moment. Taking note, Jane jotted down her impressions in the notebook she’d brought along. She could already envision her next novel, bringing Summervale back to life. Her characters would find love here amidst this opulent splendor. And the garden! Spotting the finely kept flowerbeds and walkways, Jane headed toward a pair of French doors and walked out onto the wide expanse of terrace. It was the perfect setting for a masquerade ball and…was that a folly over there? Jane stared. She’d read about these creative structures paying tribute to either medieval or ancient times. This one in particular appeared to consist of a Roman or Greek ruin.
Hastening down the steps to the gravel path below, Jane ignored the gathering clouds now obscuring the sun and the increasing chill in the air. Instead, she all but ran toward the man-made ruin, not halting until she was able to reach out and touch one of the fallen columns. She snapped another picture and admired the work. It would have provided the Summervale residents and their guests with a very romantic destination for their afternoon walks. Perhaps the earl had taken a young lady here to declare his feelings for her? Jane knew he’d never married, and yet she could not help but wonder.
Her chest tightened in a puzzling way she could not explain. Recognizing the feeling, the surge of envy that clawed its way through her, she cast the thought aside. What on earth was wrong with her? What reasonable woman would feel any jealousy for a potentially fictitious girl who’d lived in a different century than herself?
Shaking her head, Jane started back toward the manor. Her breakup with Geoffrey had obviously affected her more than she’d thought. Because here she was, visiting an English manor and falling for a man from a bygone age – a man she didn’t even know anything about.
A drop of water fell on her hand, then another as she turned to snap some more photos of the folly, and another still as she put her phone back in her purse. Before she knew it, the clouds were spitting with increased fury until they suddenly split apart, drenching her in seconds.
Where on earth was the sunny sky from an hour ago? It seemed unfathomable for a climate to change this drastically in such short time, but apparently it had, so rather than ponder the impossibility of it, Jane started to run. Her flats hit the gravel, crunching it beneath her feet as she darted straight for the terrace. It was going to be a long walk back to the village if this rain persisted, but perhaps the manor had a cafeteria where she could stop for a hot cup of tea until it passed.
She was almost at the steps, water streaking over her head, when a crack of lightning tore through the air, the silver-blue glow spearing the ground before her. Gasping, Jane came to a halt. Then a bellowing rumble descended upon her. It was followed by a thunderous roar that propelled her forward once more and with such great haste that the tip of her shoe caught the edge of the step and she tripped. Another flare of lightning lit the sky and flickered across the terrace as Jane went down, dropping her purse in order to break her fall with her hands. And then the world exploded with light, and Jane bent her head to brace herself against the thrashing wind.
The stone slabs were cold and wet beneath her palms, and her knee ached in response to the hard landing it had endured. With droplets of water sliding rapidly over her face, Jane waited until the storm had eased a little, then rose and bent to pick up her purse. But it was gone. She blinked, searching the steps but finding nothing. Perhaps it had fallen into one of the flowerbeds? She started to go and look when lightning zigzagged its way through the air before her, and she hastily turned away with a new thought in mind. She would seek shelter first and look for her purse later. Because if there was one thing she didn’t plan on doing, it was getting struck by lighting and dying on the steps of Summervale House.
So she started back up the steps with the skirt of her dress tangling around her legs, impeding her progress. Darkness descended once more, resembling night rather than day and obstructing Jane’s vision. Still, she continued forward, so eager to get inside that she almost tripped once again, this time over the body blocking her path.
With a jolt, her heart slammed against her chest. A chill pricked her skin. Dear God. Was that..? She swallowed hard, rain streaking over her hair and shoulders as she stared down at the twisted limbs. The glow of occasional lightning eerily highlighted details: an expensive gown draped over a female form, long hair spread out on the shimmering granite slabs, a face Jane had seen only a short while earlier.
It can’t be.
And yet, she recognized Lady Tatiana’s appearance immediately, the blood pooling close to her neck as real as the wetness numbing Jane’s bones. Shouts sounded from inside the manor. They were followed by the thud of footsteps approaching at a rapid run. The French doors flew open and several people appeared. Jane stared, her attention now fixed on the man who marched toward her. His face conveyed his fury, the rage he would no doubt unleash upon her at any second. It bore no semblance at all to the charming expression conveyed in his portrait.
Although her mind struggled to accept the reality of it, Jane knew who he was in an instant. Not an actor, but the actual Earl of Camden himself, in all his aristocratic glory.
“I will have you hanged for this,” he snarled while glaring down at her upturned face.
Jane flinched. “What?” She’d been so dazed by the strangeness of the situation in which she found herself, her mind attempting to comprehend it – to logically explain it – she’d forgotten about Tatiana and how her own presence would likely be construed.
“Who are you?” Camden demanded while two other people remained a few steps behind him. His hands gripped Jane’s arms, shaking her slightly as if to force her to speak. And yet, in spite of his obvious hatred toward her in that precise moment, she could not help but appreciate his strength. Which was probably the most useless thing for her to be thinking about at the moment.
“I’m…” Jane stared at him through the falling rain. This wasn’t possible. It simply wasn’t. And yet the evidence was in Tatiana’s lifeless body, the blood, and the very real earl who addressed her. “What date is it?”
Camden’s brow knit with obvious frustration. “Are you mad?” She shook her head and his grip on her tightened. Turning, he addressed one of the men behind him. “Take her to my study, Hendricks. Keep an eye on her until I arrive.”
Without further ado, Jane was handed over and led away. If she had indeed been transported back to 1818, she dared not think of what might be in store for her. Tatiana’s murder had never been solved, the villain never found, yet Jane was now the prime suspect, and she had no idea how she was going to change that without convincing everyone here that she belonged in Bedlam.