Annabelle yearns for romance. She longs to be like the heroines whose exploits she follows in her beloved Fanny Sparrow novels. When her aunt and uncle invite her to go to Bath for the season, she feels as if her every dream is about to come true.
But reality and fantasy don’t always see eye-to-eye, and even supposed friends can be hiding ugly truths. A chance encounter with a handsome man as she’s attempting to escape a horrible miscreant sets Annabelle’s heart to thumping and her imagination to running rampant.
Her uncle has just inherited Godshollow, a gothic castle hidden in the heart of the Gloucestershire countryside. Is Annabelle’s long-awaited adventure about to begin? And will she survive it?
“Is that them?” At a sound from outside, Annabelle charged towards the window and pressed her face against the glass.
“No, dear. That’s the chickens. Like it was Farmer Johnson before that, and a tree before that. They’ll be here soon,” her father assured her. “They are by no means late. Try to relax and wait for them. You could read one of your books.”
Annabelle glanced at the book that lay open on the table beside her. It was the latest offering from her favourite author, Fanny Sparrow, but she hadn’t gotten very far. She hadn’t been able to sit down long enough to read more than a few lines. A bookmark was settled quite comfortably between the pages, holding the place that hadn’t been changed for at least half an hour.
“I wish they would hurry,” she huffed petulantly.
“I’m sure they’re going as fast as they can, my dear,” her father replied calmly.
Annabelle cast a sheepish glance at her trunks piled out in the hallway. “Perhaps I’ll check my luggage again.”
“Annabelle. Sit down,” her father commanded. “My dear, I think you have packed everything quite meticulously. You have nearly the whole house in there, save for the cat. It will only be for a few weeks.”
Annabelle slowly dropped back into her seat and faced her father.
“I know,” she replied, worrying the sleeve of her dress. “But I feel sure I’ve forgotten something, and I know that I won’t think of it until I am in dire need of it. By then it will be useless to remember it at all.” She sighed dramatically. “What if I meet a dashing young officer only to find that I’ve left my handkerchief behind? How will he be able to introduce himself if I have no token to offer him?”
From her position in the doorway, Annabelle’s mother gave her a worried look. “Annabelle, darling, I know this trip is very exciting for you, but are you sure you aren’t overthinking this? Real life isn’t like novels, even if we wish it to be so.”
Annabelle knew life wasn’t like the novels she loved so much. But a girl could dream, couldn’t she? True, she did have very high hopes for this trip. Deep down she felt this would be the defining experience of her eighteen years of life.
Which was why she was so impatient for her aunt and uncle to arrive.
“Just one last check?” she bartered. Her parents relented and allowed her to peruse the contents of her luggage once more.
“At least it will give her something to do,” Annabelle heard her father comment to his wife.
She was in the middle of refolding her extra-extra pair of stockings when her mother came up behind her.
“I think I hear someone at the door.”
Mrs Knight had hardly finished her sentence before Annabelle was on her feet and rushing away. Seconds later she ran back.
“They’re here, they’re here!”
She promptly returned to her guests—who in the meantime had been admitted—bombarding them with questions.
“When will we be leaving? How long will it take to get to Bath? Yes, yes, it’s good to see you, too, but what will we do once we’re there? How many places will we visit on the first day?”
Her uncle chuckled kindly. “All in good time,” was all he would say.
Mrs Knight soon joined her daughter to welcome the Daniels and led them into the parlour. “Would you care for some breakfast, Colin?” She signalled for the maid.
The visitor shook his head. “We must be going soon. We would prefer to get to Bath today, if at all possible.”
Annabelle stifled a giggle when, behind him, his wife made a pitiable face of disappointment over the loss of breakfast.
“What’s that?” Annabelle asked as Mr Daniels laid a piece of paper on the table. She tilted her head to examine the writing.
Mr Daniels laughed. “It’s a map. Dear me, what are you young people learning about these days?”
“I know it’s a map,” Annabelle pointed out with a smile. Her uncle loved to tease her. “What is it a map of?”
“Ah…” Her uncle tapped the side of his nose conspiratorially. “This is the map for the new property that’s come into my possession.”
Annabelle twisted her neck farther to read the upside-down writing. “Godshollow?” she asked with much excitement.
“Yes,” Mr Daniels replied. “It’s a large Gothic house in Gloucestershire. The estate was originally owned by an old army acquaintance of mine. Seems he’s left it to me in his will. I have no idea why, but I’m never one to look a gift horse in the mouth. We were intending to visit the property for a month or so after we brought you home from Bath. That’s why I have all the paperwork with me.”
Annabelle had been captured by the word gothic, but her face dropped as she did, falling to her knees. “Please say I can come with you?” she begged. “Please! It sounds the most wonderful thing in the world. And I’ve never seen a real Gothic home before. Please, Uncle, please?”
Mr Daniels turned to his wife, then to his sister and brother-in-law. “I can’t see why not,” he said hesitantly. “But it’s your parents’ decision. That would mean an extra few weeks away. Does that sound agreeable, Jack?”
Annabelle shuffled on her knees to face her father, hands clasped together like a woman at prayer.
“Please say I can,” she pleaded, even letting some tears well up in the corners of her eyes, knowing her father could never resist.
Mr Knight looked at his wife, who nodded. “Very well then,” the man conceded. “If you’re sure you can handle her for that long,” he added with a big grin.