Today I am featuring the final excerpt from a Christian novel, as part of a special promotion by the John 3;16 Marketing Network, of which I am a member. The book is “Gatehaven,” and it is by Molly Noble Bull.
Here is a short blurb:
Gatehaven by Molly Noble Bull is a Christian Gothic historical novel set in a haunting mansion in the north of England where Ian Colquhoun and Shannon Aimee battle a Frenchman with dark secrets—spiritual warfare vs. the occult. Will they learn enough about God’s words to defend themselves and others or will evil overcome them?
Shannon went out the door and turned toward the massive stairway she noticed when they came in.
“No,” Millie said, “not that way.” She smiled. “Follow me. I’ll show ya where to go.”
Shannon forced a smile. “Thank you. You are very kind. But what about my boxes and other belongings?”
“Someone will be bringin’ them down to ya later.”
Down? Down where?
Doubts had been building since she entered the huge double doors of the mansion. Now a lump lodged in her throat, and she found it difficult to breathe. She would have screamed if she’d thought it would do any good.
Millie led her through a maze of long halls to a huge kitchen. Servants were preparing a meal. Still, they took the time to smile when she came in.
The stairwell looked dark. Shannon had always hated the unknown—now more than ever. She hesitated at the head of the stairs before going down. Obviously, it led to the basement of the mansion. This might be a good time to let out that scream she’d been holding in.
“Have ya been working as a maid long?” Millie asked.
Shannon stood at the top of the stairs, trembling internally and unable to move physically. Clearly, a terrible mistake was made. The earl would set things right. She merely needed to try to relax until he did. Nevertheless, she was beginning to wish she’d never left Scotland.
“Well, have ya?” Millie said again in a friendly tone.
“Have I what?”
“Been working as a maid long.”
“No. No, I have not. I—I came from Scotland, and I have never worked as a maid.”
“Well, don’t let it worry ya none.” Millie motioned toward the dark stairwell as if she expected Shannon to go on down. “Maude and I be helping ya all we can. You can be sure of that, and I am so glad to hear ya came from Scotland. My family came from Scotland, too.”
Shannon forced a smile and descended the stairs.
Millie moved ahead and opened a door at the end of the long hall. “This room belongs to you now, Miss Aimee.” Millie motioned for Shannon to go in. “Your key, I believe.” Smiling, she handed her the key.
The room looked extremely small—bare white walls, a narrow bed, and a chest of drawers. In one corner, she saw a table with a candle on it. Besides the candle, a high window over the bed gave the room its only light.
Shannon went over and sat down on the edge of the bed. Then she looked away to keep from allowing her disappointment to show in her face.
“Sure and I would like to stay and visit with ya for a while.” Millie leaned forward and ran the palm of her hand over the stiff quilt that covered the bed. “But I must be going now. Like I said, someone will bring your bags to your room soon.” She closed the door.
Shannon got up, opened the door, and peered down the hall. But Millie had disappeared—probably down one of the other long halls.
She went back inside, slamming the door behind her. She’d wanted to tell Millie not to send her boxes and bags because she would be moving to another room. And she had so many questions she wanted answered. It would seem that it was too late to have Millie answer them —at least for now.
Well, her belongings would simply have to be moved a second time.
She sat back down on the small bed, crossing her arms across her chest.
Where was the earl? He should have come to her rescue by now. She reached down with nervous fingers and smoothed the wrinkles from her skirt, pulling the pale gold material tight against her knees.
Maybe the earl couldn’t find her. She was in the basement. Shannon had no choice but to wait until he finally came for her no matter how long it took.
Ian shifted his weight from one leg to the other as a middle-aged gentleman with a limp made his way to the door of the mansion. Since they arrived, Ian had been standing behind the carriage that Shannon and the earl had traveled in, waiting to be told where to go. He still didn’t know a thing.
He’d expected to stay in the vicar’s cottage. But where was it located? The earl had said that someone on his staff would direct him there. A tall and thin footman in a dark blue uniform stood a short distance away. Ian went over to speak to him.
“I am a guest here and in need of a place to stay the night. Can you direct me to the vicar’s cottage? I was told that I would be staying there.”
“I can direct you, all right, but Pastor Steen—he is gone.”
The footman shrugged his shoulders. “He got some bad news, I wager, and left the next day. I don’t expect him to return for at least a fortnight.”
Now what should Ian do? Where should he go?
The vicar wasn’t home, and Ian had never even met the man. To stay in the vicarage under those circumstances was unacceptable—at least as far as Ian was concerned.
He’d promised his pastor before he left Scotland that he would try to solve the murder of his cousin, Magdalena Petit. But how could he keep that promise now? The vicar was away from the village of Fairs, and Ian had given his word that he would not discuss the murder with anyone but Pastor Steen.
The footman cleared his throat, interrupting Ian’s thoughts. “I suppose it would be all right for you to stay in the guardhouse with the other guards.” Then he walked off before Ian learned the location of the guardhouse.
He was beginning to wonder why he agreed to come to England in the first place. And where was Shannon’s brother? Shortly before they left Rosslyn, Peter had informed him that he planned to do a little investigating before leaving that village. He was especially interested in learning more about the chapel. But Ian had expected him to catch up with the caravan before they reached the earl’s estate. So far, he hadn’t.
Leon Picard was led into the library instead of the drawing room as he’d expected.
“The earl and his family are having a private conversation at the moment,” the butler had explained. “Please, wait here.”
“Wait?” Leon’s jaw tightened.
“Yes, sir. But the Earl of Northon should be with you shortly.”
Outrageous! The earl owed him money, and Leon was in no mood to be put off.
“Would you care for some tea, sir?” the butler asked.
“No. That will not be necessary.”
Leon glared at the butler as he turned and left the room.
He settled into the earl’s favorite chair with its cushioned back and brown leather arms. The earl could sit in the chair facing him. He knew from experience that it wasn’t as comfortable. He grinned internally. It served him right.
Peter Aimee guided his brown gelding to a slow trot and then to a full stop, exhausted physically and emotionally. If what he’d been told at the fork in the road was true, the earl’s estate was beyond the rise just ahead, and he’d pushed his horse hard to get there. He was eager to reach his destination, but he would never require an animal to go beyond its normal capabilities—a human either, for that matter.
Peter had traveled a long way since leaving Rosslyn, Scotland, and he’d learned a lot while he was there—information that he still didn’t want to believe. If true, some from Rosslyn were devil worshippers, and he’d seen the earl enter their meeting place with his own eyes.
Still, the earl could have gone in by mistake. Peter almost went inside as well in order to see what went on there. But if his suspicions were true, Shannon could be in peril. He would have to tell Ian before it was too late.
Leon had been reading from a book of poems for half an hour when the earl was finally announced. He put the book back on the shelf by his chair without looking up.
“Sorry to have kept you waiting.”
Leon sent the younger man a cold glance. “You should be.”
The earl sat down. “It could not be avoided.”
“So, what have you done to deserve the money I have been sending you for your journey to Scotland? The package I requested is in good condition, I presume.”
“Excellent.” The earl reached for the snuffbox by his chair. “The young woman is in good spirits—and quite beautiful, I might add.” He opened the gold box and dabbed a bit of the white powder under his nose. “She thinks I love her and plan to marry her.”
“She is certainly beautiful. But I would never call her young.”
“She is nineteen, sir.”
Leon froze. “What?” A sudden chest pain made it difficult for Leon to breathe. He covered the pain with his left hand, gripping the arm of the chair with his right.
The earl shot out of his chair, reaching him in two steps. “Are you all right, Monsieur?”
Leon swallowed. “I will be.”
“Let me ring for my butler.”
“That will not be necessary. I have had this previously.” Leon licked his dry lips. “If you would be so good as to hand me a glass of water.”
“Of course.” He glanced around. “Oh, my. The water pitcher is empty. The butler will—”
“Please retrieve the small box of pills in my vest pocket.”
“At once.” The earl reached in Leon’s vest pocket, retrieved the box, and opened it. “How foolish of me. I should have rang for the butler—with the water.”
“Are you an idiot? Forget the water! Just put the pill on my tongue.”
The earl did as he was told. Then he pulled the gold-colored cord that hung from the ceiling by Leon’s chair. “The butler should be here shortly. Now, let me help you to the settee.” The earl reached out and tried to take Leon’s arm. “In this instance, it might be wise if you lie down and put your feet up.”
Leon pushed his hand away. “Stop treating me like an old man. I will be as good as new long before the water arrives. Besides, I fear you brought the wrong woman from Scotland. Where is she?”
“In her room, of course.”
“I must go and see her for myself.”
“Are you sure you are feeling well enough?
“Would I have suggested it, if I thought otherwise? Besides, I am already feeling better. I wish to meet the woman you brought at once.”
The earl hesitated. “That might not be possible, sir. She is tired from her long journey and went to her room. Until she is feeling more rested, why not investigate our gardens? We have some new plants, and the fresh air will do you good. I will invite my mother and grandmother to go with us. I am sure they would enjoy an outing, and they always delight in visiting with you.”
“I am very displeased.” Leon glared at the earl. “Have one of your servants tell the woman to join us as soon as she is able.”
Still standing near where the carriages were parked, Ian watched an attractive young woman in a white maid’s cap as she stepped out a side door of the mansion. She poured water from a bucket—probably dishwater—onto the grass by the small porch.
Ian moved toward her. Maybe she could provide him with information.
A footman started across the grass straight for her as well. He wore a gray uniform that was nothing like the blue ones worn by the earl’s footmen, and he was quite plump. In fact, he looked as if he might pop out of his jacket at any moment. Ian waited a moment before moving forward as the maid and the rotund footman talked in whispers. Then they started toward a group of men in blue uniforms.
“Wait!” Ian hurried to catch up with them. “I need directions.”
The couple stopped and turned.
“Might I help you?” the young maid asked.
“Yes. I need for someone to direct me to the guardhouse.”
“I’ll help you if you’ll first help me.” The portly footman had a heavy Scottish accent. “One of the earl’s guards is sick and cannot deliver boxes to the servant’s quarters below stairs. I promised to do it.” He motioned toward Shannon’s belongings on top of the second carriage.
“Are you sure those bags and boxes go to the servants’ quarters?” Ian asked.
“Yes, sir,” the woman said. “I took the pretty lady to her room meself.”
“What does the pretty lady look like?”
The woman shrugged. “She is not tall—about my size—but a wee bit thinner. She has auburn hair and green eyes.”
“And her name?”
What was Shannon doing in the servants’ quarters? Ian planned to find out.
“I will be glad to help you with the boxes.” Ian smiled at the attractive young maid. “And on the way, one of you can direct me to the guardhouse.”
Shannon heard a knock at the door. Had the earl come to her rescue? Or had someone arrived with her bags? She hoped it was the earl. She produced her prettiest smile and opened the door.
Ian stood in the hallway outside beside the large box where most of her belongings were stored. A plump man she didn’t know in a gray uniform stood beside him.
Her smile fell away. “Ian, what are you doing here?”
“Helping deliver your box from home. May we come in?”
“Of course.” She motioned for them to come inside.
“Where should we put this?” Ian asked.
Shannon looked around. “Against the wall next to the bed will do. It will have to be moved anyway.”
“Why must it be moved?” Ian asked as he and the Scot dragged the heavy box inside.
“Look around you,” Shannon said. “Obviously, I was assigned the wrong room.”
“I see.” Ian motioned toward the box. “So is this where you want it?”
“For now, yes. But you could have put it anywhere because as I said, I will not be staying here long.” She tossed back her curls. “This is the servant’s quarters, and I am the earl’s future wife. He will have me in a better room upstairs soon enough.”
“I will go and get the other bags, sir.” The portly footman headed for the door.
“Yes, that is a good decision. Thank you.”
“No, wait!” Shannon shouted.
She’d wanted to tell the footman not to bring in the rest of her bags. But the door was already closed.
“Why were you given a room in the servants’ quarters, lass?”
She tossed her head with all the indignation she could muster. “The earl’s mother and grandmother made a mistake. They must have thought I was hired as a maid. But I am sure the earl will clear it all up.”
“Either that or they plan to make you their servant,” he said under his breath.
Shannon heard what Ian said but didn’t want to start an argument.
Ian glanced around the room. “It is a little stuffy in here, and I know how much you like flowers. Would you like to go outside and take a turn around the garden?”
“I would love to. But I have to be here in case the earl comes.”
“Well, if you’re looking for the earl, I can tell you where he is.”
“Strolling in the garden with a distinguished-looking gentleman with a cane and two arrogant-looking women. I noticed them just before I came inside.”
Shannon laughed. “The women are the earl’s mother and grandmother. And we cannot know for sure that they are arrogant. Can we?”
“Maybe not. But considering what I have seen and heard so far, they are not two sweet little ladies. I can tell you that. In fact, the older one is anything but little. She is quite large.”
Shannon laughed again. “Shame on you. You should never say such things.”
“Then why are you laughing?”
“It was wrong of me to laugh.” She felt her cheeks warm with embarrassment. “Let us go outdoors. I want to talk to the earl.”
Despite the foreboding tone of the rock mansion with its shadowy exterior and dark inner walls, Shannon thought the manicured garden in the front of the house looked green and lush. Lined with trimmed hedges and flowers in a variety of colors, the cobblestone walkway comforted her as well.
Papa put down walkways like this around our house at the farm.
Shannon heard a rustling in the trees nearby. She whirled around. Was someone watching them? She saw a black flash. A man in dark clothing went behind a tree.
The warmth she’d felt an instant before evaporated. “Who was that man?”
“What man?” Ian asked. “I see no one.”
“Neither do I. Now. But someone was hiding behind that tree. I saw him.”
“I agree that this mansion is rather morbid, lass. But please refrain from telling me you saw a ghost. I see no such thing.”
“The man I saw was no ghost. Besides, he is gone now. Still, I know what I saw. Furthermore, I dislike it out here. I want to go back inside.”
“We cannot go back.” He motion toward three people standing on the opposite side of the yard. “I just saw the earl and the two women standing beyond those hedges. I think they might have seen us.”
The earl stood with his mother and grandmother amidst a riot of pink and red flowers. As soon as Shannon saw him, all interest in going back inside disappeared.
“There he is. There is my beloved.” She started toward the earl, sensing that Ian was right behind her. The earl looked right at them. But instead of rushing toward her as Shannon so wanted, he simply stood there—watching them.
“My lord.” She waved.
He glanced back at the two women for a moment as if asking their permission, and then he strolled slowly toward her. When she hastened her steps, he moved a little faster.
“Miss Aimee.” The earl stood in front of Shannon as if he was trying to keep his mother and grandmother from seeing her. “What are you doing here?”
“Looking for you. What else?”
“I thought you would be unpacking or something.” He glanced at Ian. “Mr. Colquhoun, I hope you are settling in.”
“Not yet, I am afraid.”
Shannon thought the earl looked mildly surprised.
“You might not have heard but the vicar is on holiday,” Ian said. “I have no place to stay.”
“Sorry. I was unaware of your problem. But you need not worry. I am sure a bed can be found for you in the guardhouse until the vicar returns.”
“That is exactly where I hope to stay.”
The earl looked back at Shannon. “And you, Miss Aimee. Are you all settled in as well?”
“I am afraid not. My room is unsuitable.”
“Your room does not meet your needs? I am sorry to hear that.”
“My room, as you call it, is down in the basement, my lord, and it is miles from my chaperone. My parents will be very displeased should they learn that I am not situated near my chaperone.”
Shannon didn’t like the earl’s attitude. He seemed cold and distant again. Where was the man she fell in love with back in Scotland?
She managed a weak smile. “You will find me a new room as soon as possible. Will you not, my lord?”
“Of course.” The earl glanced toward the two women waiting near the maze of hedges. “But first, I must get back to my family. My mother and grandmother are discussing something important, and we have a guest.” He glanced around. “I do not see him now, but he is here—somewhere in the garden. I must go at once.”
Are not my needs important? Shannon wanted to say. Somehow, she knew that they weren’t important—at least, not today.
“You and Mr. Colquhoun should take a long walk, Miss Aimee. Explore the grounds. And if you get hungry, there is food in the kitchen. Just tell Cook, and she will fill your plates.
“Later,” the earl went on, “perhaps I will take you to your new room or have one of the servants do it.”
The earl smiled. Shannon didn’t.
“Until then, I hope you both will enjoy your walk.” The earl turned back to his family and hurried away.