Following on from the success of Lady Ambleforth's Afternoon Adventure, the Harlequin Historical authors are writing another round robin story and the chapters will be published here over the next month.
Each day an author will write a chapter following on from the previous one, having never seen it before. No one knows where the story is going, or where it will end up.
This is a busman's holiday for the eleven authors involved. We all lock ourselves away in our private worlds to write our own books, creating a complete story from beginning to end. Here we are letting our imaginations fly as we each contribute two chapters to this story, never knowing where we will be going until we get there!
Our story is a time-travelling epic. We started with the premise of a magnificent castle, a priceless necklace and of course a brave and heroic lady. Oh, and heroes to die for (yes, dear reader that is heroes – it is not a typo).
Come with us on this adventure of a lifetime – or, maybe several lifetimes…………………..
Eve stared at her reflection. She could hardly believe that she, little Eve Wells, engineer's daughter, coalminer's granddaughter, was here in Meryngham Castle. With her golden hair piled up and in a new and elegant ball gown, she was about to attend the midsummer ball with Sebastian Richard Edward Daubenay, son and heir of the 14th Earl of Meryngham. Also, she was pretty sure Sebastian was going to propose tonight – why else had he given her the Meryngham emeralds to wear?
They had met at a conference on research and preservation of Britain's major historical buildings. She had seen Sebastian coming towards her during a break, tall, dark and so very, very handsome. She looked up into his blue eyes and the world fell away. She shook so much that her cup rattled in its saucer and Sebastian reached out and took it from her, saying with his devastating smile, 'Here, let me take that before you drop it.'
That was six weeks ago and since then they had been together as much as their respective work would allow.
'Eve? You ready?' Sebastian came in, breath-taking in a dinner jacket as black as his raven hair. He gave a low whistle. 'Gorgeous. I knew it, those emeralds are a perfect match for your eyes, and your gown. Come and meet the parents before the party gets started. They're waiting for us in the great hall.'
He took her hand, smiling as he felt her hesitation.
'Of course. I am not in the habit of going to parties and meeting dukes and earls and the like – '
Sebastian laughed. 'No dukes, I promise you! Although there might be the odd viscount. Don't worry, they will all love you as I do.'
Eve’s heart did a somersault as he led her out of the room. Had he really said that? Did he really mean it? The thought thrilled her, but it was a little frightening, too.
Sebastian led her through a mind-numbing succession of passages. There was no time to admire the many portraits they passed, or even to ask about the unusual one of a man in full Highland dress. However, when they reached the great hall with its colourful tapestries and hunting trophies she did come to a stop.
'Buffalo? Buffalo, Sebastian?' She pointed to the horns displayed proudly between the more traditional antlers.
Sebastian glanced down at her, a smile quirking his mouth.
'One of my ancestors decided to try his luck in the Wild West. Come on, Ma and Pa are over there, by the door. I'll introduce you.'
The earl, an older version of Sebastian, kissed her cheek and the countess held out her hand.
'Eve, isn't it? Welcome, my dear. Sebastian tells me you are a genealogist. There will be plenty to interest you here. The Daubenays go back to the Conquest, with all sorts of rakes and rogues in their history.' Lady Meryngham cast a laughing glance at her husband. 'That was the reason I married into the family.'
'Ah, but I made Eve promise to leave work behind for the weekend.' Sebastian put his arm around her and she relaxed, reassured by his presence.
She said, teasingly, 'I can't help taking a professional interest in your ancestors, Sebastian.'
His arm tightened. 'There is only one member of this family I want you to be interested in.'
His words, murmured in a voice as deep and rich as chocolate, sent a delicious shiver running through her.
It was a magical evening. Sebastian was obliged to socialise, of course, but he never left Eve alone for long and just before midnight he took her out onto the balcony.
'Happy?' He slid his arms around her.
'Oh yes.' When he was near she felt her world was complete, but – six weeks! Could it really be love, or was it merely that she felt like Cinderella, beguiled by his looks and his wealth - and the fact that he was to inherit this massive, wonderful castle? If only she could be sure…
'Good, because there's something I want – hell!' Sebastian's sexy murmur ended abruptly. 'Sorry, your shoulder strap is broken. I was sliding my finger beneath it when it just…came away.'
'That's strange, I made a point of checking the stitching because I didn't want to embarrass myself with a wardrobe malfunction! Never mind, I've a sewing kit in my room.'
'I'll show you the way, don't want you getting lost. This place has been rebuilt and expanded so much over the centuries there are places that even I know nothing about.' He whisked her back through the dancers. Minutes later they reached her room.
'Do you need any help?'
The look in his eye told her that if he stayed they would not see the end of the party. Tempting, but not allowed.
She shook her head.
'No, I will be fine now. You should go back to your guests.'
'As you sure you can you find your way?'
'Of course, I've done it several times already today.' She gave him a little push. 'Now go and do your duty. '
With a final, lingering kiss he left her and, smiling, she set to work mending her strap.
It was almost midnight when Eve left her room again. She must hurry. The passages looked different, somehow. Longer and darker. Why had she not noticed before that they were lit only by candles? Soon she had to admit that she was lost. Perhaps one of these doors would lead her to the stairs. Only one way to find out.
She grasped the handle of the first door and pushed…….