26 February 2015

Excerpt Thursday: THE VAGABOND VICAR by Charlotte Brentwood

This week, we're welcoming author Charlotte Brentwood, whose latest title is THE VAGABOND VICARJoin us again on Sunday for an author interview, with more details about the story behind the story. One lucky visitor will get a free e-book copy of The Vagabond Vicar; this giveaway is offered worldwideBe sure to leave your email address in the comments of today's post or Sunday's author interview for a chance to win. Winner(s) are contacted privately by email. Here's the blurb. 

William Brook is an idealistic young cleric, desperate to escape dreary England for a mission adventure in exotic lands. It's his worst nightmare come true when he is posted to a parish in a small backwater village, populated with small-minded people and husband-hunting mamas. He’s determined not to form any ties and to escape the country as an independent single man.

A free spirit, Cecilia Grant is perfectly content to remain in her family home in Amberley village - when she's not wandering the countryside at all hours painting. Marriage options are few, but that won't stop her mother from engineering a match with one of the ruling family's sons. Cecilia attempts to win the man, but what is it about the new vicar and his brooding ways that is so appealing? Could he be the only one who has ever really understood her, and can she discover what he is running away from?

As William struggles not to fall in love with the lady's intoxicating beauty and mysterious eccentricity, he finds himself drawn into the lives of the villagers, despite their best efforts to alienate the newcomer. When he makes it clear he's not sticking around, Cecilia strives to restrain her blossoming feelings for him. Just when it seems love may triumph, dark secrets are revealed in Amberley and a scandal from William’s past may see the end of not only his career, but his chance at finding an everlasting love.

**An Excerpt from The Vagabond Vicar**

Cecilia slipped out after breakfast on Saturday, intent on painting the late summer wildflowers. On her way back home, she saw a distant view of the churchyard, and some movement caught her eye near the vicarage. There appeared to be someone working in the pottage garden next to the house. She moved closer, with the intention of striking up a conversation with the worker, asking about what he was planting.
She walked down around the base of a mound, and through a grove of trees. Upon emerging from behind a large oak, she gave a start. It was Mr Brook working in the garden, furiously tilling the hardened soil. He hadn’t seen her, and though she felt she shouldn’t disturb him, she found herself stealing closer, pressing herself behind another oak only about twenty feet from the plot. She couldn’t help but examine him closely, as the sight of him was unlike she’d ever seen a gentleman before.
            William had worked up a sweat. His dark hair was tousled across his forehead, and dirt was caked on his cheeks and neck. His torso and arms were only clad in a shirt, with no coat, cravat or waistcoat. Apart from her father and brothers, Cecilia had only ever seen gentlemen in jackets or coats. And she had never seen a shirt, or the man within it, in such a state as this. He had torn it open at the neck, and she could see a broad chest speckled with hair. The damp fabric clung to his shoulders and well-formed arms. Cecilia watched him drive his hoe into the soil again and again, breathing hard with the effort. She swallowed, realising she had been gaping with an open mouth, which had suddenly dried out. She knew there was no way she could talk to him, her agitated mind flitting from one thought to the next. She emerged from the tree, intending to creep past the vicarage and on her way home. Her heart beating wildly, she began to shuffle through the grass.
            William chose that moment to pause in his work, stretching backwards and causing his shirt to pull out from his breeches. The glimpse of the muscles of his stomach made Cecilia gasp, and she clamped a hand to her mouth, too late. He bolted upright, and instantly his eyes were on her, freezing her steps. He held her stare for just a moment, before conflicting emotions washed across his face. First he smiled, then frowned, and then mumbled something as he looked down at himself. Even from her distance she could see colour creeping up his neck to his face, and she felt remorse for embarrassing him. He was working his own land, after all. She had no business spying on him.
            “Oh Miss Grant, I do apologise…” William looked about the yard frantically, locating his coat hanging on a fencepost. He started towards it, but did not advance two steps before he landed on his rake. The instrument jumped up and smacked him squarely on the nose.
            “Mr Brook!” Cecilia started towards him, coming to the low stone fence and hesitating for only a moment before sitting on it and swivelling into his plot. “Oh my goodness, you are bleeding!”
            He touched a hand to his nose then observed the thick red liquid on his fingers. With dazed eyes he took in her advancing frame.
“I am so sorry, Mr Brook. I was on my way back home from the meadows and elected to cut through the glebe. I never thought… oh do let me help you.” She hovered close to him as he produced a handkerchief and held it to his nose. She regarded his injury pitiably, her eyes widening at the sight of the blood in close quarters, before her gaze drifted irresistibly lower.
“Really Miss Grant, I am quite all right. You should be on your way immediately. I did not consider female passers-by when I reduced myself to this state.”
“Well, I shall go then,” Cecilia said reluctantly, her eyes clinging to the tail of his shirt. “But are you sure you will not let me attend to your wound? I feel terrible for causing you pain.”
William stifled a laugh. “It will only bleed for a few moments more, I am sure. Then I will resume my work. Your concern is most kind, but I am afraid it is wasted. And I must be grateful to you for teaching me a lesson about leaving my rake lying on the ground.”
Cecilia went back over to the wall, pausing as she sat.
William averted his eyes as she swung her legs over, and said, “Good day, Miss Grant.”
She turned back as his eyes met hers. He looked a little woozy, but magnificent. “Goodbye,” she breathed.

As Cecilia looked up at the vicar in church the next morning, she tried to keep her mind on the words he was saying. But it was no good. All she could see was the dishevelled young man she had encountered the day before. Instead of the confident authority which masked his eyes at this moment, she remembered the shy sparkle she had glimpsed, and the dark curls which had strayed across them.
Mr Brook pressed his fists on to the lectern as he spoke passionately about Jesus being every person who needs help. The message impacted Cecilia for several minutes and she was moved by his kind spirit and conviction. Then she also remembered the toned arms that had worked the earth, and as she watched his fists she was sure his muscles must be flexing under his jacket. When his eyes connected with hers, heat washed over her body. As the crimson rose over her chest and crept up her neck, she yanked her eyes away from him.
She blinked hard and looked down at her hands. Cecilia! she scolded herself. You cannot have impure thoughts about a man of God! This must be a sin.

Learn more about author Charlotte Brentwood

Charlotte developed serious crushes on a series of men from age fifteen: Darcy, Knightley, Wentworth and Brandon. A bookworm and scribbler for as long as she can remember, Charlotte always dreamed of sharing her stories with the world. The Vagabond Vicar is her debut novel.

She lives in beautiful Auckland, New Zealand. When she's not toiling at her day job, writing or procrastinating on the Internet, Charlotte can be found snuggling with her cat Sophie, warbling at the piano, sipping a hot chocolate or enjoying the great outdoors.