THE CURSE OF MORTON ABBEY by Clarissa Harwood - Excerpt
Will Vaughan escape Morton Abbey with her sanity intact or be cursed by the secrets within? Enjoy a peek at Clarissa Harwood's "atmospheric gothic novel," The Curse of Morton Abbey.
The Curse of Morton Abbey
Solicitor Vaughan Springthorpe knows perfectly well that Sir Peter Spencer’s offer of employment seems too good to be true: he hires her sight unseen, offering a suspiciously large salary to prepare the sale of Morton Abbey, his crumbling Yorkshire estate. But few people in late-Victorian England will entrust their legal affairs to a woman, and Vaughan is desperate to prove herself.
Once at Morton, Vaughan discovers that someone is determined to drive her away. An intruder tries to enter her bedroom at night, gunshots are fired outside her window, and an eerie crying echoes from the uninhabited second floor. Even Netherton, the nearest village, seems odd: the picturesque houses and perfect-looking families are haunted by dark secrets connected to Morton Abbey itself.
To complete her work and solve the mystery at the heart of Morton, Vaughan needs the help of Joe Dixon, the handsome gardener, and Nicholas Spencer, her employer’s irascible invalid brother. But with her questions diverted, her progress thwarted, and her sleep disrupted by the crying, will Vaughan escape Morton Abbey with her sanity intact or be cursed by the secrets within?
“A pacey Victorian Gothic full of suspense, romance, and a refreshing amount of feminist sensibility. A resounding five stars!” —Terry Lynn Thomas, USA Today bestselling author
In the author's words . . .
The inspiration for this novel came to me many years ago in a most unlikely place: a stuffy campus classroom where my students were feverishly writing the final exam for my children’s literature course. I watched them fidget and stare into space or at the ceiling as if hoping the answers would magically appear there, likely dreaming of the summer and freedom awaiting them on the other side of the door. Some students finished early, unable to resist the siren song of freedom even though their answers would likely be incomplete and rushed. I started marking those. One essay answer was about Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Secret Garden. In the middle of the essay I looked up and stared into space myself, arrested by an idea: What if the child protagonists of Burnett’s novel were adults? What would they be like? And my brain exploded with the first ideas for what became The Curse of Morton Abbey.
Enjoy an Excerpt from
The Curse of Morton Abbey
I flung myself through the open doorway, shut the door, and with shaking fingers, locked myself inside.
“Miss Springthorpe! Open the door at once!” Bedford demanded.
I ignored him and took in my surroundings. The warmth was the first thing I noticed because every other part of the house, except the kitchen, was cold. There was a crackling fire on the hearth, and though it was daylight outside, the heavy floor-to-ceiling velvet curtains were firmly closed. A tray of untouched food was set on the night table by the bed. Sitting on the bed, propped up by pillows, was a man. Not much of him was visible. Despite the warm room, he was wearing a heavy dressing gown, a night-cap pulled low over his brow, and a thick muffler around his neck. Nevertheless, I believed his gaunt face was the same one I had seen looking out of the window the morning after I had arrived at Morton Abbey.
“Good God,” he said. His voice was stronger than I would have expected from an invalid.
I took a step closer to the bed. My feet sank into a thick carpet, and the firelight played on the polished mahogany furnishings. Instead of the sickroom smells of medication and unpleasant body odours I’d expected, the room smelled faintly of sandalwood.
“I’m Miss Vaughan Springthorpe,” I said.
“I’ll be damned if you are. Come closer so I can see you.”
I limped towards him, stopping a few feet from the bed. Whether he was mad or just ill, he didn’t look strong enough to hurt me.
“What’s the matter with your leg?” he demanded.
“Nothing that need concern you.” To avoid his asking further unwelcome questions, I added quickly and unnecessarily, “I assume you’re Mr. Spencer.”
Now that I was closer to him, I noticed that his eyes were unusually light-coloured and fringed with thick black lashes. It was impossible to determine his age. From Mrs. Wilson’s mention that she had known Nicholas and Peter Spencer when they were boys, I assumed they were both relatively young, but even in the dim light cast by the fire, I could see that this man’s skin looked strangely like old parchment, and his beard was streaked with grey. Perhaps Mrs. Wilson had been only a girl when she first came to work for the Spencer family. If that were the case, the brothers could be in their late fifties or even early sixties.
“If you tell me your real name, I’ll tell you mine.” He looked towards the doorway, from whence the sounds of Bedford’s protests still issued, and shouted, “For God’s sake, Bedford, cease that racket! I’ll take care of this.”
“I told you my real name,” I said.
“I’ve never heard anything so idiotic. Vaughan is a surname. Have you no Christian name?”
“I don’t know why you should care one way or the other.” I did indeed have a Christian name, but nobody ever called me by it, and I wasn’t about to tell him what it was.
“I don’t care. Perhaps you could suggest an appropriate subject for conversation between a sick man who is trying to get some rest and an intruder who has locked his trusted servant out of his room.” He coughed, then pointed to the glass of water on his bedside table. “Give me that.”
Although I was irritated by his imperious manner, I handed him the glass, felt icy fingers brush mine, then stepped out of reach. I didn’t want to be caught off guard in case he lunged at me. “What’s your illness?” I asked.
“It is none of your business. What are you doing here?”
“By ‘here’ do you mean in this room or at Morton Abbey?”
“In this room, of course. What sort of fool do you take me for? I know you are at Morton for my brother’s money. That’s why all the so-called solicitors come here. You’ll last no longer than the others. A few more days at most.”
“You’re wrong,” I said firmly. “I’ll stay until I’ve completed the work, no matter what you or anyone else in this house does to try to frighten me away.”
End of Excerpt.
Excerpt Copyright © Clarissa Harwood. Shared with permission.
"Clarissa Harwood proves herself to be a mistress of romantic suspense in The Curse of Morton Abbey, a delectably gothic page-turner. With echoes of The Secret Garden and the Brontës, The Curse of Morton Abbey will keep you reading late into the night to uncover its dark final twists. Fans of Hester Fox and Mimi Matthews will want to devour this one!”—Kris Waldherr, author of The Lost History of Dreams and Doomed Queens
Clarissa Harwood is the author of Impossible Saints and Bear No Malice. She “deftly blends social realism with fairytale lyricism,” according to the Historical Novels Review (Editor’s Choice). She holds a PhD in English Literature with a specialization in nineteenth-century British literature and lives in Ontario, Canada, with her husband and three neurotic cats. Find her at clarissaharwood.com.
Genre: Historical Mystery
Publisher: Thornfield Press
Release: October 26, 2021
Content Rating: PG-13 (2): No Sex; Some Violence | 2 Hearts: Our hearts are aflutter. This author knows how to turn up the heat with some passionate kisses. Nothing graphic here!
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