So today I'm going to tease a little and share an unedited excerpt of my story. This will be the first of many teasers before my book is released. (grins)
** Hannah Forester is determined to find her father’s killer, but is shocked to discover the one man who can help her is not completely human. Forced to work with the mysterious Morgan Thornton to break the curse that turns him into a wolf whenever he desires a woman, Hannah stumbles across dangerous secrets surrounding the manor and Morgan’s family. In search for the truth, Hannah finds not only her father’s killer, but also a hidden strength and the only man she could ever give her heart to.
North Devon, England 1880
No turning back now.
Hannah Forester gripped the plush edge of the coach seat, and stared anxiously through the window as the landscape whisked past. The village of Exmoor brought shivers to her as it was, but when she spotted Thornton Manor looming ominously ahead, chills rushed up her spine as the whispered secrets of this place whirled through her mind.
Hannah’s every instinct screamed to turn tail and run, but her heart told her the answers to her father’s murder lay here.
She glanced across the coach at her French maid, Francine. The younger woman sat ramrod straight with her lips pulled tight, her gaze aimed out the window. As Thornton Manor came more fully into view the color slowly drained from the maid’s face.
“We’re almost there.” Hannah managed a tight smile, twisting her hands in her lap, a nervous habit she’d never managed to break.
Francine took an unsteady breath. “Are you certain this is what you want, Mademoiselle?” A slight tremor shook her. “After all, Thornton Manor is haunted.”
Nervously Hannah laughed. “Don’t tell me you believe all those silly ghost stories.”
“Oui. They are true.”
Hannah arched an eyebrow, suppressing her own trepidations, and taking hold of logic. “Do you have firsthand knowledge?”
With a flick of the wrist, Hannah brushed the maid’s concerns away. “I think the stories are told to keep people away.”
Francine nodded. “It’s working rather well, if you ask me. There aren’t many women who volunteer to stay there.”
“I have no other choice.” Hannah grumbled as helplessness filled her. “According to my father’s journals, Morgan Thornton was the last man to visit him. I need Mr. Thornton’s help if I’m to discover the murderer’s identity.”
“I understand, Mademoiselle, but there has to be another way.” Francine peeked out the window and shivered.
“When I met Mrs. Thornton in the marketplace the other day,” Hannah continued, “and she invited me to the manor to meet her brother-in-law, Jonathan, I knew this was the only way I could get inside to ask questions.”
“Doesn’t Mademoiselle Thornton think you’re coming to court Mr. Jonathan?”
“Yes, and she must continue to believe that.” Hannah adjusted the cloak over her traveling gown. “My father was a close friend with the oldest brother, Morgan. I’ve tried to contact him, but the letters I’ve sent over the past year have gone unanswered. The Thornton’s are purposely keeping secrets. I feel it. Getting inside the manor is the only way to find what I’m searching for.”
“Then I pray you find what you need quickly. I cannot bear the thought of staying longer than a week in such a haun—” Francine flicked her gaze toward Hannah, “dreary place.”
The vehicle slowed as it neared the house. Hannah leaned against the seat and in silence, and collected her wits. If only she felt as brave as the front she presented her maid. Hannah bunched her fingers in the folds of her velvet traveling dress and nibbled her lower lip. She must do this to discover the truth. She prayed she’d be able to accomplish her goal.
The vehicle jerked to stop and her uncle’s footman, Jeffries, opened the door. The older servant helped her down, and as soon as her feet touched the pebbled ground, she glanced up at the towering Thornton Manor. Trepidation clutched her throat.
“I’m not afraid,” she whispered, taking her first step toward the dark, foreboding structure. “And I absolutely do not believe in ghosts.”
For one fleeting moment, the shuffling of the maid’s footsteps fell into rhythm with Hannah’s. Her nerves eased slightly knowing she wasn’t in this alone. Francine would help her through thick and thin. Maid or no, the other woman was Hannah’s friend. Jeffries waddled closely behind the women.
The morning air settled around them still as death. Autumn leaves of red and brown littered the walkway and crunched beneath Hannah’s feet. North Devon’s chilly air nipped at her cheeks and she pulled the bonnet ties more tightly around her ears. The scent of burning fields hung thick as area landowners prepared for another planting season.
The place where she would find answers lay straight ahead, creeping closer with each step. As she walked from beneath the shade of the trees into the sunlight, the estate rose above her in a crescendo of magnitude. She stopped and sucked in her breath.
The red-bricked manor rose with breathtaking splendor into the sky. The distinctive turrets and pinnacles masterfully structured. The manor looked out over acres of parklands, gardens, lakes and woods. Francine’s gasp overrode Hannah’s. Two large rock columns cornered the house, and at least three sections sprawled from the structure. Only a few curtains hung open at the many windows, but most were hidden behind closed draperies. Her curiosity piqued. What secrets did the draperies conceal?
She stood still for several minutes, marveling at the glory before her. Yet a strange eeriness settled around the place. Darkness lurked in the East Wing as if a silent storm cloud resided.
As she studied each window on the left side, her interest grew. The curtains of one window moved. She squinted and stepped closer but was too far away to see anything or anyone.
Slowly she continued toward the manse, gooseflesh rising on her arms with each step. The nape of her neck tingled and Hannah would swear she could feel someone’s eyes upon her.
The bitter cold seeped through her cloak as she moved into the house’s shadow, and the loss of the sun added to the eerie sensations assailing her body. Her heartbeat quickened, and her palms grew moist in the folds of her dress.