09 February 2012

Excerpt Thursday: Trencarrow Secret by Anita Davison

This week on Excerpt Thursday, we're welcoming historical fiction author Anita Davison. Her novel, TRENCARROW SECRET, is a coming-of-age tale that brings the Victorian Age to life, with memorable characters and a truly unexpected ending.  Join us Sunday, when Anita will feature a Q&A will one of the characters of the book. She's also giving away a copy of this title. Here's the blurb:

Isabel Hart is afraid of two things, the maze at Trencarrow where she got lost as a young child, and the lake where her brother David saved her from drowning in a boating accident. With her twenty-first birthday and the announcement of her engagement imminent, Isabel decides it is time for her to face her demons and ventures into the maze. There she sees something which will alter her perceptions of herself and her family forever. The house party gathers and as more secrets are revealed, Isabel doubts she has chosen the right man, although her future fiancé has more vested in this marriage than Isabel realizes and has no intention of letting her go easily. Will Isabel be able to put her preconceptions of marriage behind her and take charge of her own life, or is she destined to be controlled by others and a past she cannot break away from? 

**An Excerpt from TRENCARROW SECRET**
“What are you doing cowering here?” David joined Isabel on the terrace. She moved aside to make room for him, taking care the rough wall didn’t snag her skirt.
He rested his forearms on the stonework, his boyish grin intact. “As you know, parties aren’t my favourite environment. But I couldn’t miss this one.”
“I’m glad. It wouldn’t have been the same without you.” Isabel nodded to where their parents stood among a knot of guests. “Mother is the centre of attention, as always. She looks happy doesn’t she?”
“As long as Papa can keep holding her up.”
“I thought we weren’t going to pretend anymore?” His hard look silenced her.
“Let’s not talk of it tonight.” She covered a sudden rush of sadness with a playful nudge.
Laura and Nicholas stood on the edge of the dance floor, their gazes locked. They didn’t so much as dance, but swayed together in each other’s arms.
Isabel studied Nicholas, bemused. Had he changed in the last few days? Or had she? His touch when he came to wish her a happy birthday no longer made her squirm, and those blue eyes, so penetrating at their first meeting, seemed bland, and empty of malice. He looked simply young and socially clumsy in his expensive new suit. Not a dangerous rake at all.
Following her gaze, David grinned.  “Laura doesn’t look like a woman recently frog-marched to the altar, does she?” A low laugh rumbled in his chest and he folded his arms as if to keep it trapped.
“Aunt Margot claims sole credit. Anyone who comes within earshot is treated to a lecture on what a wonderful, well-bred young man he is.”
“Talking of well-bred young men, I saw you dancing with Lord Strachan. You make a handsome couple.”
 Isabel fiddled with her pendant, running the weight of the stone through her fingers as her self-doubt returned in a dismaying rush. “Don’t look at me like that. It doesn’t matter one whit how I feel. He’s going to make an offer for Evaline.” An image of the two of them in the garden with the soft moonlight behind them invaded Isabel’s head.
David’s eyebrows rose into his hairline. “He doesn’t love Evaline.”
“Love has little to do with it. His family has expectations. Even so, after the events of the last few days he must think I’m a liability.”
“If you mean George’s accident and the episode last night, you’re hardly responsible. I credit you with better instincts than that.” His gaze swept upward from her feet to her head. “And if above a hundred pounds of Mr Worth’s expertise cannot do it, nothing will.” He gave a soft, derisive laugh. “Do it, Izzy. Claim him. He’s yours for the taking.”
“Do you really think so? But can I compete with Evaline? She’s beautiful and accomplished. She would never fall into a faint at the site of a privet hedge.”
David’s chuckle was cut off when he glanced up. “Oh, Lord, she’s coming this way.” He braced his hands together, cracking his knuckles. “Pardon me if I abandon you, Isabel.”
Before she could prevent him, he was gone.
Encased in sapphire silk, Evaline tripped across the terrace on fairy feet to envelop Isabel in a powdery embrace. The unmistakable scent of “Joy” tinged the summer air.
“Isabel, what a wonderful ball, and I so love your gown!” She tucked her arm through Isabel’s as if her spiteful behavior had never been. 
“Thank you, Evaline. I’m glad you’re enjoying yourself.”
“Have you seen Lord Strachan?” Her voice rose, apparently for the benefit of nearby listeners. “He promised me the next dance.”
“No, I haven’t.” Isabel made to walk away, but Evaline grasped her arm.
“Oh, there he is.” She tugged Isabel along with her, making a bee line for Henry across the lawn.
Standing like a wheatsheaf in a field of daisies, Henry loomed above a group of simpering young women who giggled behind their fans.
“Henry, there you are,” Evaline grabbed his arm like a drowning woman and the girls melted away, varying degrees of disappointment on their faces.
“Er- yes of course. I would like a word with you actually.” He directed his words at Evaline but his gaze had stayed satisfyingly on Isabel.
“Really? Well now you have my attention. Oh, by the way, thank you, Isabel, for finding him for me.” The words, ‘you may go now’ hung in the air as she tugged his arm. “Do let’s get some punch before the music begins again, I’m so thirsty.”
Sighing, Isabel eased her way through tightly packed bodies, murmuring ‘excuse me’, and ‘thank you’ repeatedly. Some she recognised and greeted warmly, but others she barely knew at all. Where had they all come from?
Hot and thirsty, Isabel found she was reluctant to follow Evaline and Henry to the punchbowl, so she slipped away from the main pathway and circled the shrubbery outside the kitchens where she knew a table with lemonade stood.
The music and chatter receded as she entered the darker part of the garden where swallows soared and dipped to the birdbath on the side lawn, filled their beaks and swooped off again. Bats performed a silent dance amongst the topmost branches, hovering for a second at the edge of her vision, but were gone before Isabel could be sure they were there.
A silent shadow detached itself from a towering rhododendron and stepped into her path.
“How fortunate to find you alone, at last.” An alcohol-fuelled voice brought her to a startled halt.
“Jared! My goodness, you scared me jumping out like that.” Lit by a lantern from above, his features looked sharp with flat, dark eyes. She glanced round to see if anyone else stood near, not knowing quite why. “Are you enjoying the ball?” Her voice came out higher than she intended.
He lifted a brow and took a slow gulp from his champagne glass, and held it out. “A toast, Isabel. To you, on your birthday.”
“Thank you, Jared, but I cannot join you. I don’t have a glass.” Suspecting he was halfway drunk, she made to brush past him, but his hand shot out and encircled her upper arm with strong fingers.
“Have you enjoyed your summer of flirtation with Strachan?” he said, slurring his words.