1867. Euphemia Boothby is orphaned at the age of eighteen. With no other guardian, she goes to live with her adopted uncle Tristan and his three sons—Joshua, the intense, scholarly eldest, Jacob the mild, sensual middle one and Jack the hedonistic, impulsive youngest.
Something is amiss at the Manor however. Raised voices in the night, secret conversations, strange visitors…Effie does not know who to trust. Which brother will be her friend, which her enemy and which her lover?
Adventure, romance and death ensue as she realises her new family has secrets and plans which will change her life forever.
As the Brougham carriage crept slowly along the rough tracks of the moors, the daylight slowly faded into murky dusk. Miss Boothby shivered, pulling her shawl around her tightly. The bleak, harsh countryside outside matched her mood. What would become of her? Orphaned at the age of eighteen, she was still not at the age of majority and she had no guardian. Therefore there was no choice but to live with her only uncle, Tristan, and his sons, far away in Yorkshire.
In actuality, Tristan was not her uncle by blood. Her mother had been adopted by the family of his wife, Philomena. Now both women were dead, Tristan was the only family she knew.
Throughout her journey, she imagined him as a tall saturnine man, bleak in aspect and surly of manner. Surely he would not welcome an addition to his household, especially a mere woman who could bring nothing to the family coffers.
Looking again out of the window, she could not see any sign of civilisation. No reassuring lights, no dwellings, no evidence of human life at all.
The carriage suddenly jerked to a halt and Miss Boothby was thrown forward.
“By ‘eck, ‘tis more than a man’s patience can stand,” grumbled the coachman, jumping to the ground. “Be off wi’ you, bairn!”
Miss Boothby peered out of the window and gasped. A small, pale faced figure cowered in front of the surly coachman, who was gesturing impatiently. The lady hastened out of her seat.
“Mr. Smith!” she barked. “How dare you threaten that child!” She knelt down and held out her hand to the little girl.
“What is your name dear?”
“Alice,” quavered the faint voice.
“Are you lost?”
“Yes, Miss, I can’t find my ma.” She began to cry.
“Come with me, I won’t hurt you.” The lady gathered the child to her, and with a glare at Smith, carried her into the safety of the carriage interior.
“T’master willn’t like you bringing a stray to his home, Miss, make no mistake,” grumbled the coachman.
Miss Boothby ignored him and the carriage started again.
“Why were you alone on the moors at night?” she asked Alice. “You must only be aged five.”
“We were walking home from t’market, Miss. I’ve ten brothers and sisters so I suppose Ma forgot me.” She didn’t look surprised. “I am nearly six,” she added proudly.
The lady was filled with sympathy and cuddled the girl to her, realising how chilled they both were. Alice going missing from her parents certainly made her own problems shrink into insignificance.
After another torturous hour, the carriage made its way up a drive, the wheels slipping on the surface.
“Maythwaite Manor, Miss,” announced Smith. He assisted her out of the carriage without meeting her eyes.
The Manor was built of local stone, which was grey and harsh. Part of it seemed to be built as a castle, with turrets. No doubt a folly of some previous owner. The main part was older and more practical with a huge arched door led up to by an ornate set of stone steps.
Holding Alice’s hand, the lady made her way up the steps, ignoring the gargoyles glaring down at her. She knocked forcefully on the front door knocker.
After many minutes, the door creaked open to reveal a gentleman, probably about a year older than herself. Dressed in fine but well-worn clothes, he had dirty blond hair, a thin, uncombed moustache and a wine bottle in his hand. Striving to hide it behind his back, he smiled.
He in turn saw a well-dressed, raven haired young lady holding the hand of a small, thin child. Miss Boothby wore her travelling outfit, practical but well cut.
“And who might you be, Miss?”
“I am Euphemia Boothby. I believe Lord Maythwaite is expecting me.”
“Aha! Cousin!” Relief came over his face. “I thought—” he glanced from Euphemia to Alice. “No matter. Come in.”
“Oh, my apologies. I am Jack Marriott, the youngest son.” He gave an exaggerated bow. “Pleased to meet you, Miss Euphemia.”
“Everyone calls me Effie.”
“Come in, then Effie, and your companion.” He ushered them in with a sweeping gesture. “My father is expecting you.”