Happy 2020 to everyone! I hope all of you had good, memorable holidays, and I wish you a healthy and wonderful new year!
My first guest of 2020 is one I have enjoyed having visit in the past, the lovely Jayne Bamber. Jayne is back sharing an excerpt and giveaway from her new release, Strong Objections to the Lady. You are going to love this excerpt! I certainly did. It has mystery and romance! Delightful!
Hello! It’s great to be back at More Agreeably Engaged! My newest book, Strong Objections to the Lady is out now, and I’m here today to share another excerpt with you. This variation brings us to a unique new setting, when Anne de Bourgh inherits a castle (and Rosings too!) Humphrey Hall is part medieval castle, part modern structure, where Anne and her friends get up to nocturnal hijinks….
Elizabeth trembled with excitement as she pulled back the black curtain in the dark, quiet corridor. Anne slipped through first, then Jane, and lastly Elizabeth, who glanced back to make sure the curtain had fallen back in place, concealing the flickering light that now lit this side of the hall.
Holding her candle aloft, Elizabeth spun about and took in the sight of the corridor beyond them, and tentatively stepped forward. The long hall extended further than the light, fading to black at the end, and for a moment it was eerily silent. “What grim horrors and ghastly delights await us,” Anne said with a morbid laugh, and Elizabeth shivered with anticipation as she moved out in front. Anne and Jane followed her slow lead, moving through the section of the corridor still connected to the Tudor part of the structure. To their left were wide windows facing to the south, though many had been boarded up. The first door on the right was slowly opened, revealing nothing more frightening than a long-neglected library. Much of the furniture was covered with linens, the flickering of their candles casting wide shadows on the walls as they moved into the room. There were deep wooden shelves on three sides of the room, full of books that looked so old they might crumble to dust if they were touched, and on the other side were several elaborately painted panels depicting curious events that none of the ladies could identify in history.
“How very uncanny,” Jane breathed, moving her candle closer to examine the panel depicting a frigate being devoured by a large sea-monster.
Elizabeth grinned over at Anne. “Excellent.”
The three ladies went back into the corridor, exchanging a silent glance of agreement as they pressed on. The next room was entirely empty, though an alarming skittering sound prompted their swift retreat, and Anne pulled the heavy wooden door closed with a grimace. Jane moved deeper into the corridor. “Where shall we look next?” There was a narrow passage to their right, while ahead the corridor seemed to expand outward, the wooden paneling giving way to older stone walls and floors.
“This corridor must be the one that leads to the north side, where Mrs. Templeton warned us not to go,” Anne said. “I wonder what lurid secrets lay hidden,” she said with a waggle of her eyebrows.
Elizabeth gestured the other direction. “This way must be the old castle – she told us not to go there, either.”
“Oh Lizzy, I am frightened,” Jane whispered.
“Do you wish to turn back?”
Jane giggled, hugging her shawl around her shoulders. “No indeed!”
They chose to explore in the direction of the old castle, and as they moved across the stone floor, the hallway grew wider and the ceiling lower. Elizabeth raised her candle and glanced upward, but as far as she could see, the roof at least remained intact. The stone walls glowed gold in the light of their candles, and in many places the old brick had been patched over, though even the new brickwork looked aged. To their left, the windows grew smaller and farther between. They were cut into the stone, no more than a foot wide, with thin panes of glass that had been added over the rough metal grating, though in some places the glass was broken, and the whooshing of the wind coming through intensified Elizabeth’s sensations as she proceeded anxiously forward.
On the other side of the corridor hung large tapestries, some too ruined to make out, while others remained miraculously intact. It was clear they were all many centuries old, and Elizabeth drew closer to examine one of them. It was a large piece, hand embroidered, depicting a monarch on horseback, surrounded by knights and archers, a great many of them run through with swords. Elizabeth stood in awe of it. There was much detail to take in, for the tapestry seemed to tell a story, and a very horrific one. “But this is magnificent, Anne. Truly, this belongs in a museum!”
Anne glanced back at the tapestry, her eyes wide with fearful mirth, before moving further into the corridor; Jane followed her, their candles illuminating an alcove to one side. Elizabeth trailed behind and joined them in peering at the gleaming suit of armor that had been mounted upright in the alcove, with a sword and a battle axe mounted above it in an ominous ‘X’.
Jane stepped forward to examine it, running her fingers over the white rose emblazoned on the breastplate. “Colonel Fitzwilliam said that the castle was commissioned by the Lancasters, centuries ago. I wonder that they should display York armor.”
Anne grinned. “Perhaps the souvenir of a defeated enemy?”
“The Earl of Warwick would have passed this way on his way to take London,” Elizabeth said, staring at the relic with wonder.
“My, Lizzy, you are quite the bluestocking,” Anne chided her.
“These artifacts are magnificent,” Jane observed. “I wonder that you do not sell them to a private collector.”
Anne made a thoughtful sound. “What a fine idea, though I am still hoping we might find something truly horrid.”
They pressed on together, past a rounded turret with wider windows, and though Elizabeth peered out of them, she could spy nothing in the pitch-black darkness that enveloped the fortress. The windows had the same thick metal grating here, which Elizabeth understood was meant to allow arrows to be fired from within, while preventing enemies from climbing through. It was a structure designed for siege, and the thought made her shudder.
Beyond that was the great hall, and the three ladies let out a collective sigh of awe as they moved into the expansive room. Here the roof was much higher, with wooden buttresses angling upward into the darkness. At the far side of the hall, there was a dais with a long wooden table and ornately carved chairs along one side, facing into the room. Two rows of tables filled the other side, with a wide space in between that fed into a large open area near the dais; guests of old might have danced and made merry here, or minstrels and jesters performed for high lords and ladies.
There was a row of long, narrow windows on the back wall, arranged in such a way as might have filled the room with shafts of sunlight during the day, though the cuts in the stone were high above their heads. Below the windows were more tapestries, some drooping and others falling out of place entirely.
Elizabeth set her candle down on one of the tables and looked about; she smoothed her skirts and gave way to her imagination, wondering what it must have been like to be one of the courtiers who would have visited the castle when it was new, reveling and feasting in the great hall of an imposing medieval fortress.
A sudden noise cut through the silence – footsteps, and then a great thundering voice, “Boo!”
Anne let out a shriek and Jane jumped with fright; both ladies dropped their candles in surprise, and they were extinguished on the cold stone floor.
As Elizabeth’s eyes adjusted to the dimmer light, she saw another flickering flame, and heard a familiar guffaw. Colonel Fitzwilliam lifted his candle as he stepped closer. “Did we frighten you?”
“Damn and blast, Richard,” Anne cried. “I hoped you might be a real ghost!”
Richard laughed at her, but approached Jane. “And you, Miss Bennet?”
“I am very relieved that you are not a ghost,” Jane said with a nervous laugh.
“I am sorry about your candle. You may have mine, if you like. Darcy dropped his, too.”
Mr. Darcy stepped into the light, looking very much like a figure from a gothic novel as he came out of the shadows. “I did not mean to frighten you – I cannot speak for my cousin.”
Anne laughed at them. “Yes, I daresay you have come to keep us from mischief, though Richard may rather be seeking it.”
The colonel shrugged. “I suppose I should like to see a ghost as much as anybody, but we really did wish to make sure you were safe.”
“This part of the house is dangerous,” Mr. Darcy said. As if to punctuate his point, there was a tremendous peal of thunder, and a moment later a flash of lightning lit the sky, white light flickering through the windows above before everything fell dark again.
Anne laughed again. “Perfect.”
A moment later came the sweeping sound of heavy rain beginning to fall, and Elizabeth darted to the side as a cold stream of water poured down her sleeve from an unseen leak above. Mr. Darcy was quickly at her side, lifting her candle and pulling her out of the way – she found herself clinging to his arm for longer than necessary in the near-darkness, as the sudden storm closed in around the castle.
Anne picked her candle up from the floor and relit the flame from Elizabeth’s, while the colonel did likewise for Jane’s candle. “I am not so easily frightened,” Anne said. “I think you would not have come all this way if you did not secretly wish to have a look about yourselves.”
“It is a magnificent structure,” Mr. Darcy breathed. “So much history has unfolded in these halls, it feels almost irreverent to come seeking frights and thrills.”
Elizabeth peered up at him with a teasing smile. “And ghosts,” she whispered.
Jane and Colonel Fitzwilliam had moved away to examine one of the torn tapestries, which depicted a scene of medieval lords and ladies dancing, and they whispered together for a minute. “Look here,” the colonel said a little louder. “It seems this is just the place to come in search of thrills and amusement.” He caught Jane by the hand and twirled her under his arm, and then did the same with Anne, who spun merrily, her skirts whooshing about her. She laughed and spun again, spinning Jane with her, and the two of them reached out for Elizabeth, who gave in and danced about with them, laughing at the sheer madness of it all.
Anne twirled Elizabeth under her arm with a playful giggle, and then Jane again, as the colonel leaned back against the wall and regarded them with amusement. Anne gave Elizabeth another dizzying spin, and this one sent her reeling, arms outstretched, directly into Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth began to instinctively recoil but he caught her hand in his and drew her nearer, before making a little bow. A smile played across his lips in the candlelight, and his dark eyes drank her in. He slowly lifted her hand, their arms forming a graceful arc as he spun her, first slowly, and then faster a second time, the two of them moving in a smooth circle together. He stepped closer, and the candle flickered – Elizabeth thought he might have blown it out himself, and then he slowly lifted her hand to his lips and placed a gentle kiss there. Elizabeth froze in place as she looked up at him, dizziness overtaking her again. To her mortification, the sensation was far from unpleasant, and she studied the curve of his lips in the darkness as he stared back down at her.
Behind them, Jane and Anne were still laughing and dancing together as the colonel looked on and teased them, but for an instant Elizabeth could think of nothing but the nearness of Mr. Darcy. Some strange longing had pushed her onto the tips of her toes, and she had just raised her fingers to brush the lapels of his coat, her lips pursing, when another great burst of thunder rolled across the sky. The very room around them seemed to rattle and shake, and bits of stone clattered down from above this time.
Mr. Darcy drew a protective arm around Elizabeth, who was too caught up in the air of mystery about them to protest. She leaned into the warmth of him, faintly humming. He let out a ragged breath. “We had better get you ladies back to your rooms before any ill befalls us here,” he said.
Elizabeth trembled and nodded her agreement, almost disappointed when he released her. Perhaps he was right, for she began to feel she might be in some danger after all.
I hope you enjoyed this excerpt! I will be sharing more excerpts throughout my blog tour, and there is an e-book giveaway. You can enter by clicking here. You can also follow me on Facebook and my new blog [Link to blog] for more updates!
Now for the giveaway, it is for an eBook of Strong Objections to the Lady. There is a Rafflecopter as Jayne already mentioned. Be sure to click on the link above or you may click here. Good luck to all and thanks for stopping by! Thank you, Jayne for visiting my blog and for including my readers in your giveaway!
If you missed any stops on the blog tour, you still can stop by.