Ever since reading Victoria Holt’s wonderful Gothic romances, I’ve wanted to write one. I’m thrilled to announce my new release, THE BARON’S WIFE, a Victorian, Gothic romantic mystery, set in an ancient abbey in Cornwall. Here is an excerpt and my gorgeous cover designed by Erin Dameron-Hill.
The Baron’s Wife
After Laura Parr marries Baron, Lord Nathaniel Lanyon, he takes her to live in his ancient home in Cornwall. A dark cloud hovers over Wolfram. The death of Nathaniel’s first wife has never been solved, and some of the villagers believe him responsible. Struggling to understand the distant man she married, Laura tries to uncover the truth. With each stone unturned, she comes closer to danger.
Lord Nathaniel Lanyon had decided never to marry again. But when he meets Miss Laura Parr, the daughter of Sir Edmund Parr, one rainy afternoon, he realizes almost immediately that he must have her in his life. And the only way he could was to marry her.
Nathaniel believes that his troubled past is behind him and he can offer Laura a good life at Wolfram. However, he knows he can never offer her his heart. But as soon as they come to live in the ancient abbey, the past returns to haunt him, revealing secrets that he thought had been buried forever.
“In the style of Mary Stewart and Daphne du Maurier, Ms. Andersen’s Gothic novel will grip you from start to finish. You’ll feel the mists on the cliffs and young Laura’s terror and confusion. An excellent read.” Amazon Reviewer.
“A Gothic romance in the classic style, the author is a master at creating ominous atmosphere and multilayered characters.” Coffee Time Romance and More.
“The plot was interesting and the added mystery kept me riveted. The novel kept me wondering until the end.” The Romance Studios.
“It was hard to put the story down as the mystery kept just out of reach, drawing the reader in further to the storyline. [It] kept me up way too late into the night following the puzzle of Wolfram Abbey. I look forward to seeing more from Maggi Andersen.” Siren Book Reviews.
Buy Links: books2read.com/u/3JK7nA
Wimbledon, England, Summer 1899
Heathcliff, a character from Wuthering Heights, came to Laura’s mind after a brief glance at the troubled brow of the dark-haired gentleman waiting silently beside her. They’d come from different directions and sought shelter from the rain beneath a building’s awning. The late afternoon was gray and dismal, the lowering clouds taking on a set-in appearance. Rain dripped steadily from the rim of the cover overhead. She pulled at her hat, which had turned into a shapeless, soggy mass, and discovered wet tendrils of her hair glued to her cheek.
He nodded politely, and she noticed how handsome he was, with a strong, clean line to his jaw, his gray eyes rimmed with dark lashes, his firm lips faintly sensual.
Finally, a hansom appeared, the horse splashing along the thoroughfare. The man beside her stepped out to hail the jarvey with his umbrella.
When the driver pulled up the horse, he turned back to her. “Allow me to assist you.” His beautifully modulated tone heralded a member of the upper class. His fine clothes re-enforced that view.
She hesitated, then offered him a small smile. “Oh, but you were here first.”
He arched his dark brows. “What sort of gentleman would I be to leave a lady standing here alone?”
A chill wind swirled around her ankles and pulled at the hem of her dress. Lambeth wasn’t exactly pleasant, it was true. The hall where she’d attended the meeting was around the corner. It would be empty now, for as soon as it concluded, everyone rushed away to get home before the rain set in.
“Do you want a cab or not?” The jarvey scowled at them from his seat behind the cab.
“Yes, of course I do, my good man.” Holding her skirts above the flowing gutter, Laura stepped down from the pavement.
The gentleman moved forward to offer assistance. About to climb into the cramped interior, she turned. “I’m traveling to Wimbledon. Perhaps I can drop you somewhere?”
“I would appreciate it, thank you.”
“Wimbledon, cabbie, but first, set me down at the nearest railway station.” He joined her inside and, adding his dripping umbrella to hers on the floor, closed the wooden half-doors.
His broad shoulders touched hers as he settled beside her. At a crack of the whip the carriage rolled forward.
“Are you sure a train is the best course? What is your direction?” she asked, aware she sounded inquisitive.
“The city. I’m staying at a hotel.”
So, he didn’t live in London.
His gray eyes sought hers with a hint of a smile. “What are you doing out on a day like this?”
She flushed. The smell of damp wool, leather, and his expensive cologne filled the small space. “I’ve just attended a meeting. The Women’s Suffrage Movement.”
She tried to interpret what lay behind that single utterance. Might he disapprove? Many men did. “And you?”
“A visit to the Lambeth Workhouse.”
He didn’t look like a doctor. He was altogether too—too elegant. Might he be on the board? Her mother would be appalled to see her sharing a cab with a strange man, well-dressed or not. She was outraged enough that Laura had joined the movement. Mother’s notion of a woman’s role in life was woefully outdated.
He attempted to stretch his long legs in the confined space. His thigh brushed against hers, warm and hard through her brown wool skirt. She glanced at him. Had he done it on purpose?
“I beg your pardon.” He tried to move away, but their shoulders touched again. He half turned in amused apology and offered his hand. “Look, in these close confines, I feel as if I should introduce myself. Lord Lanyon.”
Of course. It was written all over him. She shook his big, gloved hand. “Miss Parr.”
“Women’s suffrage is a worthy cause.”
“It would help our cause greatly if more men agreed.”
She wondered if he meant it, or was he merely being polite? A hereditary peer would have an old-fashioned view. Women were viewed as wives and mothers, required to provide them with heirs to secure the line. And even though much was changing as the new century approached, some things stayed the same.
“I’d like to learn more, if you’d be so good as to tell me.”
She took him at his word and launched into a detailed description of the movement’s aspirations. “We are fighting for the right for women to vote and to have the same work opportunities offered to them as men. Why should women not?” Aware of how animated she’d become, she paused.
Interest flickered in his eyes. “I admire your dedication.”
“Are you a doctor or an administrator of the workhouse?” she asked, to change the subject.
“No, a political matter, Miss Parr.”
“You might know my father, Sir Edmund Parr.” She thought it unlikely. Her father was a member of the Commons.
He nodded. “We have met once or twice.”
The carriage rocked violently as the horse broke from its trot. “We seem to be traveling very fast,” she said with alarm as the houses along the road flashed past.
Lord Lanyon opened the panel to the rear of the roof. “Slow down, driver!”
A loud, rambunctious ditty drifted down.
“Hoy! Slow down, man!” Lord Lanyon yelled, banging on the roof.
A face appeared above them along with the waft of strong spirits. “Right you are, guvnor.”
“The fellow is drunk,” Lanyon said. He banged on the roof once more, but the horse continued at the same frightening speed, the hansom swaying as they careened along the street. Laura found herself clutching Lord Lanyon’s sleeve.
Suddenly, a juddering was accompanied by a loud crash. Laura was thrown forward, banging her knees against the door. Lord Lanyon’s hands gripped her waist.
The carriage shuddered to a stop, the horse whinnying and snorting. People crowded around them yelling curses at the driver. He shouted back at them.
Lord Lanyon removed his hands from her waist. “Are you all right?”
Her breathlessness was not entirely due to the accident. “I think so.”
“At least the dolt has released the doors.”
When Lord Lanyon assisted her down onto the pavement, her knee throbbed and a flash of pain shot through her ankle.
She gasped. “I…I’m afraid I must have wrenched my ankle.”
He placed a strong arm around her. There was now a small crowd gathered around the two hansoms which had locked wheels. A bobby in his dark cloak appeared. The drivers’ voices were raised in a heated argument, the crowd interjecting with their version of events.
“We’d best leave,” Lord Lanyon said. Before she could answer, he’d tossed their umbrellas onto the pavement and had lifted her into his arms.
“Really, I don’t think this is necessary…” She lost her breath as he carried her effortlessly across the road, and she a strapping female who prided herself on being athletic and strong. She was placed gently on her feet beside a lamppost.
“Hang on there for a minute.” He stepped out into the road and, placing two fingers to his mouth, whistled. Another hansom threaded its way through the bottleneck caused by the accident and pulled up in front of them.
“Allow me to take you home,” Lord Lanyon said.
“Really, that’s not necessary,” Laura said faintly. If her mother found him to be a bachelor, she’d see them married, even if it took the last breath in her body.
Feeling unusually compliant, she allowed him to usher her inside.
He climbed in after her with the umbrellas.
“But Wimbledon is so far out of your way.”
He had a lovely smile. “I am returning to an empty hotel room, Miss Parr, where I shall partake of a lonely dinner. I really don’t mind.”
Laura found herself wondering if there was a Lady Lanyon. “Then you must stay to dinner.” It was the least she could do. She would handle her mother.
“That’s kind of you, Miss Parr.” He laughed. “Did I sound like I needed rescuing?”
She laughed with him. “Only a little.” It was nonsense, of course. The broad-shouldered, strapping fellow in his fine wool coat and French kid leather gloves was anything but.
The cab stopped outside her parent’s home, Grisewood Hall, newly built in the Queen Anne style with a soaring roof, turrets, and bay windows. Shiny carriages lined up along the avenue of dripping beech trees. A pair of gray horses reared nervously as a horseless carriage appeared, belching smoke. The rain had returned, heavier still. Grooms darted about with umbrellas as ladies wearing cloaks over their tea gowns rushed to their carriages with squeals of dismay.
“My parents are hosting a cocktail party. I’d forgotten about it.”
“Then I’d best leave you here,” Lord Lanyon said.
“Do come in,” Laura said. “It will be almost over.”
“I’m not dressed.” He removed his hat and ran long fingers through his black hair, sending droplets flying.
“As if that matters. You need to dry off or you’ll catch pneumonia.”
“How is your ankle? Shall I assist you inside?”
“It feels much better,” she said hastily, not wishing to be swept inside the house in his arms.
Lord Lanyon paid the driver and followed her to where the butler stood at the open front door.
“Good afternoon, Miss Laura.” Barker took their coats and hats.
“Lord Lanyon got caught in the rain, Barker. Could you send a maid for a towel?”
“Certainly.” Barker hurried to give the order.
“Are your clothes damp?” Laura asked, resisting the urge to place her hand on the double-breasted tailcoat covering his broad chest. “My father’s coats are about the same size, although they would be shorter in the sleeves.”
He smiled. “Please don’t worry. My overcoat and hat bore the brunt of it.”
Lord Lanyon disappeared into the powder room with the towel. He emerged with his hair neatly combed.
She was suddenly aware of her own disarray. “Come and meet my parents.” Tidying her hair with her fingers, she led him down the corridor to the drawing room. Entering, she searched for her mother among the guests. She guided him across the expanse of soft carpet while people greeted her, Lord Lanyon nodding to the inquisitive guests. Ladies in their organdie, taffeta and silk gowns, their hats trimmed with plumes, ribbons, and flowers, followed his progress with unbecoming eagerness, it seemed to Laura.
What would such a man make of her parents’ home? The drawing room was suddenly revealed in a new light. Everything was so new it squeaked. Mother had ruthlessly decorated the reception rooms in coffee and cream. A pair of chiffoniers displayed an abundance of porcelain and colored glass. Framed prints covered the wallpapered walls. At the windows, white muslin curtains stirred below their scalloped velvet valances, and the smoke from the gentlemen’s pipes and cigars in the adjacent smoking room fought with the women’s heady perfume.
Laura’s mother rose from the cream serpentine-backed upholstered sofa flanking the fireplace to greet them.
“Mother, I’d like to introduce Lord Lanyon. His lordship and I got caught in the rain and shared a cab. I’ve invited him to dinner.”
Her mother’s frown of annoyance at the state of Laura’s clothes melted away at the mention of his name. She gave him her hand. “How do you do, my lord? You are most welcome.”
“I’m sure an extra guest will prove a great nuisance, Lady Parr.”
“Not at all. With my husband’s work, we always expect an extra guest or two,” her mother said briskly. “Sir Edmund will be delighted. Laura, take Lord Lanyon through to the conservatory.”
Her father held court among the ferns and orchids with the other smokers exiled from the drawing room. Laura paused at the door. “If you’ll excuse me, Lord Lanyon, I must do something with my hair.”
His gray eyes studied her auburn locks. “Don’t let me keep you.” He smiled. “I shouldn’t like you to come down with pneumonia either.”
She resisted tucking the damp hair which sat heavily against her nape into place. “I’ll just introduce you.”
After her father greeted Lord Lanyon, Laura left them. Her intention to hurry to her room was halted when a lady approached her. “Hello, Laura.”
“Mrs. Courtney-Smith, how nice to see you.”
The politician’s wife was dressed in a plum silk gown, her pigeon breast adorned with several rows of Venetian glass beads. Her gaze swept over Laura’s disordered hair and down to the damp hem of her dress.
Mrs. Courtney-Smith made it her business to know everyone who might be of benefit to her husband. “I don’t believe I’ve met your escort?”
“Lord Lanyon, Mrs. Courtney-Smith.” Laura resisted explaining how they’d met. She was already aware of the necessity to avoid facing the lady’s censure. One word from her and her mother would clamp down on her activities with the suffrage.
She raised her eyebrows. “The baron? I believe I read about him in the social column of the Times. A widower. But not for long I suspect.”
He was a widower? Laura wondered what the article had said about him, as Mrs. Courtney-Smith launched into a potted version of her day. As soon as she could extricate herself politely, Laura made for the door. Fortunately, no one else sought to detain her. Her father invited many new acquaintances to their home. He worked hard and was an ambitious member of the government who hoped to become prime minister. Father had always encouraged Laura to pursue her dreams. His support had allowed her to sit in on lectures at the university while accompanied by her maid. But although she finished the degree, she could not claim it as hers.
Laura returned after changing into a cream silk tea gown embellished with opulent lace, a tight corselet at the waist and a low square-cut neckline. She found Lord Lanyon still closeted with her father in the conservatory. They were talking politics, and she would have loved to join them. Annoyed that women were excluded, she returned to the drawing room.
Mother beckoned her from the sofa, a sherry glass in her hand. “Well! That is an improvement, I must say. Did you really have to appear in such a disheveled state?”
“I can’t control the weather, Mother.”
Her mother was not in the mood to argue. “Lord Lanyon is an interesting man. Where did you meet him?”
“We shared a cab. There was an accident. The driver was drunk.”
“Sharing a hansom?” Her mother took a sip from her glass. “Simply not done in my day.”
Her mother had a knack for passing over details which did not interest her. Annoyed, Laura resisted mentioning that her mother had never been in a hansom.
Lord Lanyon was not placed near her at the table, and as fashion was discussed on her right, and staffing problems on her left, she found the whole affair quite tedious. When she later saw Lord Lanyon to the door, she offered her hand. “It has been a pleasure to meet you, my lord.”
He held her hand in his for a long moment. “I have tickets for a concert at the Royal Opera House on Saturday evening—the pianist, Paderewski. The person accompanying me cannot attend, and I don’t wish to go alone. I hope you’ll take pity on me once more.” He tilted his head with a smile. “These occasions are so much better shared, don’t you agree?”
Paderewski! She would love to hear him play. How could she resist? It was only a concert after all. “I’d be pleased to come. Thank you.”
He nodded. “I shall telephone and ask your father.”
“Yes. Good night.”
He opened his umbrella and hurried out to the cab her father had ordered for him. What had she done? Her mother would never give up now until she married the man.
I hope, should you read it, that you enjoy The Baron’s Wife.
Maggi’s Website & Newsletter. http://www.maggiandersenauthor.com