The week, the entire month is slipping away all too quickly. The release date for An Unpracticed Heart is only ten days away (*hyperventilates*) and here I am, twiddling my thumbs like a regular thumb-twiddler.
Today, I bring you an excerpt from the very first chapter, in fact the very first scene, introducing us to our heroine, Charlotte Claridge.
Read on and enjoy!
There was little preamble to the coach’s departure. A loud oath from the old driver’s mouth, the brief, sharp rattle of harness, and then nothing but the wet slap of horses’ hooves and wheels slipping on the damp ground before the vehicle trundled off and disappeared around a bend in the road.
Charlotte stood still, the mud sucking at her boots as she gazed into the distance. Two miles, the driver had said. Two more miles to Ellesferth Castle. She glanced over her shoulder at the darkening horizon. Two miles, without light, on an unfamiliar highway that threatened to pull her into the mire with every step. She took a deep breath, the chill in the air making her nose run and her eyes water. If she moved, she knew she would at least keep some of the cold at bay.
She stayed on the matted line of grass and weeds at the edge of the road, her bag gripped tightly in her hands. There had been no time to pack all of her belongings. Indeed, there had been no time even to mourn her grandmother, barely cold in her grave before the message had arrived that she was to leave Shepherd’s Bush and go to her great aunt in Scotland.
Charlotte reminded herself to be grateful that even this much care had been taken for her future. She had expected less attention from her stepmother, but the attraction of a greater distance between them may have won out over any desire her father’s second wife possessed to simply forget his only daughter had ever existed in the first place.
Twilight faded faster than Charlotte had anticipated. She slowed her steps, doing her best to avoid stumbling over any rocks or impediments that might lie in her path. No moon lit her way, and not even the glint of a few stars came out to reassure her. Only clouds, and mist, and a darkness so thick she thought it would soon prevent her from seeing her own hand in front of her face.
A few more minutes passed before she saw a light, seeming to wink at her from a distance. She didn’t blink, afraid that to do so would risk its vanishing. Her pace quickened again, mud splattering from her heels as she moved towards the glow and the great black mass that loomed up behind it.
She paused at the gate, two stone columns that rose out of the ground like the trunks of ancient trees. Ahead of her, the ground changed from a road pockmarked with dirt and sharp stones to a neat path strewn with a pale shade of gravel. She followed the path for several yards before stepping off it once she realized it would lead her away from the beckoning light. A few more steps and she found herself in front of a shabby wooden door. She searched for a knocker or bell of some sort, but found nothing. With no other recourse before her, she raised her bare fist and gave the door three hard raps.
She heard a shuffling from the other side, before the door was opened wide to her. A grey-haired, wiry woman filled only a small portion of the doorway, but the intensity of the woman’s gaze caused Charlotte to take a wary step backwards into the night.
“What d’you want?”
Charlotte had prepared herself for a heavy Scottish brogue, but the old woman’s accent was more Cheshire than anything.
The woman tilted her head to one side, but gave no indication that she might be the Mrs. Faraday in question.
Charlotte cleared her throat and began again. “I’m looking for a Mrs. Harriet Faraday. My name is Charlotte Claridge. I am your… Well, her niece.”
The woman drew in a breath and held onto it as she took in every detail of Charlotte’s appearance from head to toe. “Wipe your boots,” she said, and stepped aside to let Charlotte enter.
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