In the spring of 1818, twenty-four-year-old Abigail Foster fears she is destined to become a spinster. Her family’s finances are in ruins and the one young man she truly esteems has fallen for another woman — her younger, prettier sister Louisa.
Forced to retrench after the bank failure of Austen, Gray & Vincent, the Foster family optimistically pool their resources for another London Season for her sister in hopes of an advantageous alliance. While searching for more affordable lodgings, a surprising offer is presented: the use of a country manor house in Berkshire abandoned for eighteen years. The Fosters journey to the imposing Pembrooke Park and are startled to find it entombed as it was abruptly left, the tight-lipped locals offering only rumors of a secret room, hidden treasure and a murder in its mysterious past.
Eager to restore her family fortune, Abigail, with the help of the handsome local curate William Chapman and his sister Leah, begins her search into the heavily veiled past aided by unsigned journal pages from a previous resident and her own spirited determination. As old friends and new foes come calling at Pembrooke Park, secrets come to light. Will Abigail find the treasure and love she seeks…or very real danger?
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Mac Chapman stiffened and scowled. “Go in? Whatever for?”
“Why, to show Mr. and Miss Foster around the house. My client has offered to let the place to them for a twelvemonth, if it meets with their approval.”
Abigail did not miss the stunned look father and son exchanged. They were certainly not happy to learn people might be moving into the abandoned house.
Mr. Arbeau returned his attention to the padlock, struggling to unlock the rusted old thing. But Mr. Chapman handed his son the gun and strode forward, pulling a tangle of keys from his coat pocket.
“Allow me,” Chapman said. “That key ye have is for the door itself.”
Mr. Arbeau stepped aside, offense sparking in his dark eyes. “By all means.” Noticing a rusty orange-brown smear on his silky black palm, he wiped his gloved hands on a handkerchief.
Mr. Chapman employed one of his keys, and the padlock gave way. He unhooked it from the heavy chain and pulled the links from between the door handles.
The son offered, “My father has kept the roof and exterior in good repair over the years, as I believe you will see.”
Mr. Arbeau surveyed man, dog, and gun. “And taken it upon himself to padlock the place and act as self-appointed guard?” he suggested, black eyebrows raised high.
“What of it?” Chapman said, setting the chain aside.
“I suppose it is you we have to thank for the barricade on the bridge?”
“There have been attempted break-ins in the past.”
Her father said, “Youthful dares and vandals, I’d guess?”
“No, sir. Ye guess wrong. Treasure hunters. Thieves.”
“Treasure hunters?” Abigail asked sharply.
Mac Chapman looked at her directly, and at such close range, she was struck by his intense green eyes. “Aye, miss. Brought on by old rumors of treasure hidden in the house. In a secret room.” His eyes glinted. “Stuff and nonsense of course.”
“Of course,” she echoed faintly. Treasure? Abigail wondered. Could it be?
He inserted a second key into the door lock. “Stuck eighteen years ago, and I doubt disuse has helped matters.” He butted his shoulder against the wood while pressing the latch. The door released with a shudder, then creaked open.
“Well, Mr. Chapman,” the solicitor said, “would you like to do the honors of giving us the tour?”
“It’s just Mac, if ye please. And no thank ye.”
His son said, “I wouldn’t mind seeing it, Pa. I haven’t been inside since I was a boy.”
Mac gave him a pointed look. “I am sure ye have important duties to attend to.”
He met his father’s steely gaze. “Ah. Yes, I suppose I do.”
Movement caught Abigail’s eye. She looked over her shoulder and saw a young woman step through the gate, accompanied by a girl of eleven or twelve. They crossed the courtyard, then stopped in their tracks at the sight of the visitors.
Mac Chapman tensed. “Will,” he said under his breath, “take Leah home, please. Kitty too.”
The young man looked up sharply at something in his father’s tone. “Very well.” He gave a general bow in their direction, then turned and strode quickly away in a long-legged stride. He put an arm around the pretty woman and took the girl’s hand.
His wife and child, perhaps? Whoever they were, the young man gently turned them, leading them past the stable and out of view.
“Are you sure you won’t accompany us, Mac?” Mr. Arbeau asked again, adding dryly, “Make sure we don’t steal anything?”
Mac looked through the open door and into the hall beyond with an expression riddled with . . . what? Longing? Memories? Regrets? Abigail wasn’t sure.
“No. I’ll wait here and lock up after ye leave.”
The stale, musty odor of dampness met them inside a soaring hall. Some small creature skittered out of sight as they entered, and Abigail shivered. Cobwebs crisscrossed the balustrades of a grand staircase and draped the corners of portraits on the walls. Dust had settled into the folds of draperies covering the windows and into the seams of the faded sofa beside the door. A long-case clock stood like a silent sentry across the room.
Mr. Arbeau pulled a note from his pocket and read from it. “Here on the main floor are the hall, morning room, dining room, drawing room, salon, and library. Shall we begin?”
Their tentative steps across the hall left footprints on the dust-covered floor. They walked into the first room they came to—it appeared to be the morning room. Through it, they entered the dining room, with a long table and candle chandelier strung with crystals and cobwebs. The table held the remnants of a centerpiece—flowers and willow tails and perhaps . . . a pineapple? The arrangement had dried to a brittle brown cluster of twisted twigs and husks.
Next came the drawing room, and Abigail stared in surprise.
It appeared as though the occupants had just been called away. A tea set sat on the round table, cups encrusted with dry tea. A book lay open over the arm of the sofa. A needlework project, nearly finished, lay trapped under an overturned chair.
What had happened here? Why had the family left so abruptly, and why had the rooms been entombed for almost two decades?
Her father righted the chair. Abigail lifted the upturned needlework basket, only to discover a scattering of seed-like mouse droppings beneath. She wrinkled her nose.
Her father posed her unasked question. “Why did the former occupants leave so suddenly?”
Arms behind his back, Mr. Arbeau continued his survey of the room. “I could not say, sir.”
Could not, or would not? Abigail wondered, but she kept silent.
They looked briefly in the shuttered salon and dim library, its floor-to-ceiling shelves crammed with abandoned books. Then they slowly mounted the grand stairway and rounded the gallery rail. They looked into the bedchambers, one by one. In the largest two they found carefully made beds, tied-back bed-curtains, moth-eaten clothes lying listless in wardrobes, and bonnets and hats on their pegs. In the other rooms, they found beds left unmade, bedclothes in disarray and bed-curtains hastily thrown back. In one of these rooms, a chess set waited for someone to take the next turn, as though abandoned midgame. In another room stood a dolls’ house, miniature pieces neatly arranged; clearly a cherished possession. Abigail’s gaze was arrested by a small blue frock hanging lifeless and limp from a peg on the wall.
Again, she shivered. Where was the girl who once wore it now, eighteen years later?
Win One of Four Fabulous Prizes
Three lucky winners will receive one trade paperback or eBook copy of The Secret of Pembrooke Park, and one grand prize winner will receive one copy of all eight of Julie’s novels: Lady of Milkweed Manor, The Apothecary’s Daughter, The Silent Governess, The Girl in the Gatehouse, The Maid of Fairbourne Hall, The Tutor’s Daughter, The Dancing Master, and The Secret of Pembrooke Park, one DVD of Northanger Abbey (2007) and a Jane Austen Action Figure.
To enter the giveaway contest, simply leave a comment on any or all of the blog stops on The Secret of Pembrooke Park Blog Tour starting February 16, 2015 through 11:59 pm PT, March 9, 2015. Winners will be drawn at random from all of the comments and announced on Julie Klassen’s website on March 16, 2015. Winners have until March 22, 2015 to claim their prize. The giveaway contest is open to residents of the US, UK, and Canada. Digital books will be sent through Amazon or Barnes & Noble. Good luck to all!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Julie Klassen loves all things Jane—Jane Eyre and Jane Austen. A graduate of the University of Illinois, Julie worked in publishing for sixteen years and now writes full time. Three of her books have won the Christy Award for Historical Romance. She has also been a finalist in the Romance Writers of America’s RITA Awards. Julie and her husband have two sons and live in St. Paul, Minnesota. Learn more about Julie and her books at her website, follow her on Twitter, and visit her on Facebook and Goodreads.