“As the velvet cloak of moonlight settled over the ruined towers of Raglan Castle, the shadows beneath them stirred…”
When newly widowed Tess visits Raglan Castle, she experiences an extraordinary vision that transports her to seventeenth-century Wales and a castle on the brink of a siege.
Even when Tess leaves Raglan to return to Merrick Court, her late husband’s home, the strange dreams continue as her life becomes increasingly intertwined with the past. And when the new owner of the estate arrives – New Zealander Josh Owens – the parallels become even more obvious.
But perhaps the visions aren’t just trying to tell their own story, maybe they’re also giving a warning…
Deep in thought, Tess rounded a corner of the brick wall that enclosed the vegetable patch and almost rammed into a man who was bent over, pulling at a sapling that clearly shouldn’t be there.
‘Whoa!’ Tess swerved, then stopped dead as the man straightened up.
Tall, with black hair that was shaggy and tousled, and with matching dark stubble, he had the kind of face that could sell millions of bottles of aftershave. Clear green eyes under perfectly sculpted eyebrows – Tess could picture them staring moodily out of an advert in a glossy magazine – and if he hadn’t oozed masculinity, she would have sworn he was wearing mascara, so thick were his eyelashes. He was lean and rangy, but not too thin – his shoulders and arms powerful – and as he was shirtless she could see that his upper body was nicely defined under a stunningly deep suntan. There was some sort of tribal tattoo high up on his left arm and his faded and torn black jeans showed that his legs were as muscular as the rest of him.
‘Who the hell are you?’ she blurted out, then felt her cheeks heat up. Not exactly a subtle way to greet one of the hottest men she’d ever met, but he had no business being in her garden. Well, Merrick Court’s garden. And she had no business finding him attractive – she was recently widowed, for heaven’s sake, and the last thing she needed at the moment was a man to complicate her life.
‘And g’day to you too. I could say the same, eh?’ He leaned on the spade he’d been using to dig out the root of the sapling and regarded her with his head to one side as if he was wondering what she was doing there. His accent was Australian, or maybe New Zealand – Tess had had both Aussie and Kiwi friends at art college but could never tell which was which. Deliciously Antipodean in any case – she was a sucker for accents.
She ignored his greeting. ‘I’m sure Bryn knows there’s no money to pay for help in the garden at the moment.’ Although in truth she couldn’t actually remember the last time she’d talked to the old gardener. She had been kind of a hermit of late.
‘Oh, yeah? Well, I don’t need paying,’ he said, with a smile that she found both infuriating and amazingly alluring. Yep, definitely model material. Was that why he didn’t need to be paid? He was already rich? But he wasn’t exactly dressed like a millionaire.
‘I’ll have to discuss this with Bryn.’ She picked up the handles of the wheelbarrow and almost overbalanced it in her haste to get away from this man. He was disturbing her equilibrium and he shouldn’t be in her garden. Damn it, Merrick Court’s garden. When would she stop thinking of it as hers?
‘I’ll come with you. I want to hear this.’ The guy fell into step beside her, walking with long unhurried strides. ‘Want any help with that?’ Again, that annoying smile and his eyes were twinkling too as if he was amused by her efforts to stay calm.
‘No, thanks, I can manage.’
She did, but only just, and she ended up panting with the effort of upending the barrow onto the compost heap, which didn’t help. Nor did the stranger, who followed behind her but didn’t offer assistance again. Instead he crossed his arms, making his biceps bunch up in the most eye-catching way. Annoying man, he was probably doing it on purpose so she’d look at him. She didn’t want to but Tess had to force herself not to stare at the tattoo, which was strangely fascinating. By the time they got to the potting shed, where Bryn could usually be found if he wasn’t outside, she was ready for some answers.
‘Bryn, are you there?’
‘In yere.’ The old man’s Welsh lilt was one of the things she loved about him. That and his ready smile. ‘Just making tea. Would you like some, my lovely?’
Tess walked into the shed, closely followed by the shirtless stranger. ‘Yes, please, but Bryn ―’ She didn’t have time to finish her sentence.
‘Oh, there you are, er … Josh. Come and have a cuppa as well, won’t you?’
Bryn looked from one to the other. ‘So you’ve met his lordship then.’ It was a statement, not a question.
Tess swivelled towards the younger man. ‘L-lordship? What do you mean?’
‘The new owner of Merrick Court,’ Bryn explained patiently. ‘Josh, he says to call him, but I don’t know…’ He scratched his balding head.
But Tess wasn’t looking at him. She glared at the newcomer. Josh, Lord Merrick? He couldn’t be, could he? ‘Why didn’t you mention that?’
He grinned. ‘You didn’t ask.’
‘Oh, for heaven’s sake…’ Tess stared at the man. Why hadn’t he told her who he was instead of letting her think he was just some workman? But then she had been rather rude so perhaps he’d wanted to punish her a little? She felt her cheeks heating up, embarrassed now by her lack of manners.
‘And who are you?’ Josh said. ‘I thought no one else worked here.’ He raised his eyebrows at the old man as if they’d been discussing this earlier.
‘Oh, didn’t I say?’ Bryn tutted at himself. ‘This yere is Lady Merrick.’
‘What?’ Josh’s eyebrows shot up even further. ‘But I thought…oh, bollocks.’
‘Er, would you care to explain that eloquent statement?’ It was Tess’s turn to cross her arms.
He looked a bit sheepish. ‘Uhm, well, I was expecting what the lawyer called a “dowager”. I mean…’
Tess cottoned on. ‘Ah, an old-age pensioner? Sorry to disappoint you.’
‘I wouldn’t say I’m disappointed exactly.’ Josh grinned briefly again as his gaze travelled the length of her body, lingering on her curves and long, honey-gold hair which was currently piled on top of her head and fastened with a clip. But then he seemed to recollect that he was talking to a widow and the smile disappeared. ‘That’s to say, your age doesn’t matter to me. I was just surprised, is all.’
‘I should hope not too.’ Tess was annoyed to find that the warmth in his eyes as he’d given her the once-over made her hot and flustered. He was disturbingly handsome. How old could he be? Probably in his early thirties, although possibly younger as he was so fit. It was hard to tell.
‘Come and have some tea and then you can get to know each other,’ Bryn suggested.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Christina Courtenay lives near Hereford, England and is married with two children. Although born in England she has a Swedish mother and was brought up in Sweden. In her teens, the family moved to Japan where she had the opportunity to travel extensively in the Far East.
Christina’s debut Trade Winds was short listed for the 2011 Romantic Novelists’ Association’s Pure Passion Award for Best Historical Fiction.The Scarlet Kimono won the 2011 Big Red Reads Best Historical Fiction Award. Highland Storms (in 2012) and The Gilded Fan (in 2014) won the Best Historical Romantic Novel of the year award and The Silent Touch of Shadows won the 2012 Best Historical Read Award from the Festival of Romance.