Wednesday, June 11, 2008
Llandrindod Wells, Wales. 1896
Isabelle’s brother tapped on her bedroom door the night before her fifteenth
birthday and, hushing her to be quiet, presented her with his gift. “I thought it best to give it to you now. If mother knows you are keeping a diary she will insist on reading
And so will Father, Isabelle thought.
In the morning she smoothed her hand over the maroon leather cover of the
precious diary, rested her cheek on it, breathed in the scent and slid her fingers along
the glossy gold-edged pages. She had never owned anything so beautiful and hesitated
before picking up her pen to write. It seemed a shame to sully the pages with her boring
thoughts but she had the diary and boring or not she’d start writing in it today.
Taking up her pen, she dipped it in the ink bottle on her desk, opened the diary and
signed her name. Isabelle Rachel Linden. June 21, 1896. Llandrindod Wells. The diary was for her eyes alone. In it she’d write her secret thoughts, special happenings and the dreams she dreamed.
She turned to the first page. Father has hinted he has plans for me. A chill shivered down her spine. She dreaded his lectures. Although she tried to be a dutiful daughter nothing pleased him. Her brother usually escaped his critical tongue because their father expected Evan to study medicine and work with him after graduation.
That was the plan. Their father didn’t know, but Evan had shared his secret with
Isabelle. He intended to study geology. Medicine didn’t interest him. Rocks and stones
“Come for dinner, Isabelle,” her mother called from downstairs.
Carefully blotting the ink she closed the diary, tucked it away on the top shelf of her
wardrobe and hurried to join her family at their midday meal in the gloomy dining
room. Its draperies were closed against the bright June sunshine lest it harm the
furniture. The silver tea service on the oak sideboard was wrapped in blue cloth to
prevent tarnish. The recently installed electric lighting was only switched on in the
evening after dark.
Given the choice Isabelle would never shut out the sunshine or the moonlight and
there would be smiles and laughter during meals.
She took her place at the table and bowed her head while her father mumbled a
prayer. They ate in silence. They always ate in silence unless her father chose to speak.
Isabelle tried to gauge his mood during the meal. No tight-lipped frowns. No lowering
of his brows. Like a wary sailor at sea she kept a weather eye out for signs of his usual
He carved a second thick slice of roast lamb for himself and laced it with generous
sprinklings of mint sauce. He had eaten the new potatoes and broad beans on his plate.
Handling his knife with surgical skill, he cut a small piece of meat, forked it into his
mouth and chewed slowly.
“I have an announcement to make,” he declared solemnly when he’d finished the
lamb. “Something to which I have given a great deal of thought.”
Isabelle, Evan and their mother waited. Interruptions were not allowed.
“I think she has had enough schooling, my dear.”
He addressed her mother, taking no notice of Isabelle although he was referring to
“She is an excellent student, writes extremely well and has a good head on her
shoulders. The patients like her when she occasionally assists me in the surgery. I have
even trusted her to mix some of the simpler medicines.” He sat back in his chair and loosened his waistcoat. He did not expect anyone to disagree with him. Isabelle wished her mother would, just once. She had never contradicted him in Isabelle’s hearing.
“I shall engage Mr. Petersham to tutor her in Latin and French, an hour or two a
day should suffice. I will train her as a nurse. There is no need for her to go away to one
of those nursing schools started by that Nightingale woman. No telling what kind of
people she might associate with. She will do better here with me. I expect to begin
treating patients coming to the spa within the next fortnight and I will supervise
Isabelle while she learns proper massage techniques.”
“That sounds very promising, my dear.” Isabelle’s mother nodded and helped
herself to more potatoes.
Frustrated and angry at not being consulted about plans for her future, Isabelle
wished she had her brother’s opportunities. Two years her senior, he was attending an
excellent grammar school and their father would send him to university in September.
Her mother rang the silver bell beside her plate and their maid hurried in to clear
the plates. On her return from the kitchen, Megan carried a steaming treacle pudding in
a wide shallow bowl and set the dish in front of Mrs. Linden.
“I’ll just fetch in the custard and tea, ma’am.”
“Thank you, this is Dr. Linden’s favorite sweet and you make excellent custard.”
Although Isabelle loved treacle pudding, she was too upset to eat and swallowed
some tea to wet her dry throat.
Disagreeing with her father was out of the question. Her parents never consulted her about anything. Her mother chose her clothing but allowed Isabelle to decide on the color of ribbons for her hair. For her birthday, she had received several and secured her long black hair at the nape with one of pale blue silk.
Her father rapped his fingers on the table. “Isabelle, you will commence working in
the surgery on the first of September. Your mother or Megan will braid your hair and
twist it up around your head. Like this.” He circled his hands on his bald pate.
“Father that is too old a style for me.”
He banged his fist on the dining table rattling the cups in their saucers. “You will
do as I say. When you are working in the surgery or at the spa, the patients will not
want your hair hanging over them.”
Isabelle stood and stamped her foot. “I will not work at the spa or the springs and
be looked down on by those English people. I heard several of them in church last
Sunday. They were laughing at our Welsh accents. They think we are country fools and
I won’t have it!”
Her mother clutched her throat and cast a pleading glance at her daughter. “You
must obey your father, Isabelle.”
“But you know how I hate having my hair in braids. I never liked it when I was
little. Please speak to Father.”
Shoulders sagging, her mother's face paled and she rose to her feet. “Your father
knows what is best for you. If you’ll excuse me, I’ll rest on my bed. One of my
headaches is coming on.”
He nodded and waved her off. “Sit down, Isabelle, while I finish my dinner.”
Hands clenched, anger twisting her stomach, Isabelle obeyed and watched her
father finish his pudding and drink two cups of tea. He pushed away from the table and
“Come to my study. I wish to speak with you.”
Evan stood and waited for their father to leave the room. “He’s really angry. Don’t
cross him, it will only make things worse.”
“It’s all right for you, you’re escaping to university in September and I’m to remain
at home and do as Father says.”
“Isabelle! At once, do you hear?”
She plucked up her courage and walked slowly to the study. Her father paced up
and down, hands behind his back. Isabelle sank into a chair, bowed her head and
waited. He stopped in front of her and dragged her up. His hands brushed against her
small breasts and he recoiled like someone touching a flame.
“Listen to me. There will be no further discussion. Your hair will be braided on top
of your head. You will assist me in the clinic at the spa. I am having two white uniforms
made up for you. I will allow you one free day a week. Sunday, of course, we do not
work.” He gripped her shoulders hard. “Is that clear?”
Fuming inside, Isabelle dared to meet his eyes. Dared to risk his anger. Knowing it
would infuriate him, she asked. “Which day, Father? Which day shall I have free?”
His face livid, he struggled for control and Isabelle had the satisfaction of making
him lose his temper again.
“I will tame that wild spirit of yours, my girl.” He paused, breathing hard. “Until
you learn better manners, there will be no days off.”
He struck her across the face and Isabelle stumbled away from his raised hand. “Go
to your room and have your mother come here at once.”
Isabelle paused at the door. Fearing for her mother’s safety, she hastened to
apologize. “It is not Mother’s fault, I am sorry for being rude. I will have my hair
arranged as you suggested and accept whatever punishment you think necessary.” She
hated groveling to him but had no choice otherwise he’d turn his fury on her mother.
He drew his brows together. “I accept your apology but do not make me lose my
temper again. I regret striking you.”
His voice softened. “You must learn more genteel manners. More accommodating
manners. It is not becoming for young ladies to speak their minds and disobey their
fathers. Your future husband will not tolerate the kind of behavior I have just
Isabelle could not imagine a husband much less one who resembled her bullying
father. Her hand on the doorknob, she faced him. “Shall I call Mother?”
“No, I will speak to her later.”
Isabelle prayed he would not put a stop to the last few weeks of freedom she’d
enjoy before starting work in September. Exploring the high moorland and hidden
valleys with Evan brightened her life. They’d pack bread and cheese and a bottle of
water in their school satchels and picnic along the way. One of their favorite walks took
them miles from town to a huge standing stone, a relic of some ancient time.
While Evan collected rock samples, she studied birds and noted everything down
in exercise books. Often they came across Owen, a weather-beaten old shepherd, black
and white border collies at his heels. An old-fashioned storyteller with the Welsh gift of
hwyl, he’d long been a favorite of theirs. He’d hunker down and entertain them with
long complex tales of life on the moors, storms he had witnessed and the times he
worked with the drovers taking sheep to market.
Isabelle always gave a wide berth around the peat bog where, according to the
shepherd, a man had lost his way on a dark night, stumbled into the muck and
disappeared deep down into its depths.
“When the moon is high,” Owen had told her and Evan, “the man’s ghostly spirit
wanders the moors crying out for help.”
If you'd like to read the whole chapter, go to my web site, www.anitabirt.com for my e-mail address. I'll be pleased to e-mail you the complete chapter. You will also find excerpts and reviews of all five books on the site. Thanks for dropping by.
Tuesday, June 10, 2008
The waitress frowned and peered over her glasses. “You’re mistaken, miss,” and turned to greet an elderly couple at the door. “There’s late you are. I’ve some fresh-baked currant scones to go with your coffee.”
The rooks scratched the ground searching for a few crumbs. Just like me, she thought, searching for clues and finding nothing. So how would a detective handle the problem? Begin at the beginning.
Monday, June 9, 2008
Her shoulders hunched against the storm, Catherine wiped her stinging eyes with a gloved hand. Gale force winds swept drenching rain through the bare branched trees bordering the drive to Glenmore Manor. Why had no one met her at Abbeyleigh station as promised? She hadn’t mistaken the day. Her duties were to commence on March first. Lady Glenmore’s letter had confirmed the arrangements.
She was too fatigued to climb the wall again and return to the road. The village,
three miles distant, might as well be thirty or three hundred—there’d be no shelter this
late in the day and no London train until morning.
Her mother had begged her not to accept employment as a companion. “You’ll be
spurned by society, gossiped about at parties. You’ve been out for a year and you’ll not
find eligible gentlemen in a country parish. I don’t know what’s to become of you.”
A sudden gust snatched Catherine’s bonnet and hurled it into a puddle. She
swooped down, grabbed the bonnet and battled the weather to save it from total ruin.
The pretty violet posy she’d pinned under the brim before leaving London flew across
the grassy park and disappeared into a rising mist.
Huddled into her sodden coat she trudged on. Freed from the bonnet her tangled
wet hair dripped chilly water down her neck. Wretchedly unhappy she peered ahead
into the gathering gloom. Distant lights flickered in the manor windows.
A hound bayed in the distance, joined by another close by. Terrified they might
attack she picked up her feet and ran, praying the storm would throw them off the
Close to collapse, gasping for breath she stumbled up the stone steps to the manor
and pulled the bell. Within minutes a liveried footman opened the door. Nose
twitching, lips pursed, he studied her.
The last of Catherine’s strength gave way and she burst into tears. “I’m Catherine
Thurston, engaged as a companion by Lady Glenmore. No one met me at the station.
The manor gates are locked. I had to climb the wall to get in. I’m wet and cold and I
want to go home.”
“Oh dear, oh dear. What is this?” A white-haired elderly gentleman with sparkling
blue eyes peeked around the vestibule door.
“The young lady says she is Miss Catherine Thurston.”
Stepping around the footman, the gentleman approached Catherine. “Are you
really Miss Thurston?”
Too shivery to speak, Catherine nodded. Tears and dribbles of rain trickled down
“My goodness child you are dreadfully wet. Come inside at once. We must dry you
Shaking with cold Catherine followed her savior across a huge entry hall. Ahead
was a magnificent staircase sweeping up to the second floor. Scarcely conscious of her
surroundings she faltered and almost fell.
“Oh dear, oh dear, let me take your arm. You are in a bad way.”
He tugged her into a brightly lit room its walls lined with book-laden shelves. A fire
blazed in the hearth. Flickering sparks whirled up the chimney. Seated in a chair close
by the fire a lady worked at her embroidery. Startled by Catherine’s sudden
appearance, she removed her spectacles and leaned forward to study the intruder. Her
beautifully coifed hair gleamed red gold in the firelight.
“Who is the young lady, Edward?”
“You’ll never guess, Marie Claire. This poor child was left out in the rain. Just look
at her. She’ll catch her death of cold if we don’t dry her off and find some warm
Catherine peeled off her wet gloves, dropped a small curtsy and offered her hand to
the lady. “I am Miss Thurston. No one met me at the station. I left my trunk at the
Goods Office and walked here.”
Eyes blurry with tears, her gaze drawn to the crackling fire and its life-giving heat,
Catherine edged closer to the hearth.
“Miss Thurston, your hand is icy cold. Edward, please ring for the housekeeper.”
The lady stood and helped Catherine out of her coat. “My dear girl, you are almost
soaked through to the skin. Warm yourself by the fire lest you catch a chill. I am Lady
Glenmore. It seems there’s been an unfortunate mistake. Did you not receive my letter
canceling the arrangements?”
Canceling the arrangements. Catherine sank to her knees on the rug in front of the
fire and held out her hands. Chilled to the bone, her teeth chattering, she shivered
uncontrollably. Surely she’d not heard rightly. Lady Glenmore had confirmed the
arrangements. The Glenmore solicitor had assured her all was well.
Catherine struggled to speak. “I have your letter in my reticule. I am engaged for
three months as a companion to a young person injured in a riding accident. You’ve
kindly paid my wages. The arrangements are very clear. I don’t understand what has
happened. Are my services not required?”
Her mouth dried. She had read Lady Glenmore’s letter offering her employment
twice on the train journey from London. It spelled out her duties very clearly.
“I am very sorry, Miss Thurston.”
Catherine’s thoughts spun dizzily around the dreadful words. Canceling the
How could it be?
The room faded into strange darkness.
She tried to rouse herself. “But…”
“The poor child has fainted.”
Fainted? She had never…
If you would like to read the first chapter, please let me know and I'll send it to you. Check my web site, www.anitabirt.com for my e-mail address.
Thanks for dropping by.
Wednesday, June 4, 2008
"When Ellie Paxton accepted the position of Nanny with Computer Skills to care for three month old, Nicki Blesnicoff she cheerfully moved to her employer's mansion located deep in the Cascade Mountains in
What she hadn't factored into her new job were threats of rape, torture and death by armed thugs who invaded the mansion during the absence of Nicki's parents. A city girl not given to feats of derring-do, Ellie wrapped Nicki in a soft blanket and escaped with him into a dense, terrifying forest. At midnight.
As dawn light filtered through the trees, Jack Merano and his two tracking dogs found Ellie huddling with the baby. A nanny and a baby. What could be more innocently appealing? Rescuing her and the bay from the dangerous forest was the easy part but soon enough Jack learned there was a price on Ellie's head and a master criminal stalking her."
I have had a great review from Manic Readers for my book. Here is a quote. "Oh my, talk about suspense and action all the way. TOO YOUNG TO DIE is a roller coaster of adrenaline, bullets flying everywhere and a big strong gorgeous guy to protect you ... Anita Birt does a beautiful job in this action packed story as she keeps your heart running with Ellie wondering if if her life will ever be back to normal. Great book and can't wait for more from this talented author."
Whew, what more can I say. Thanks so much for coming by. If you want to learn more about me and my books, check my web site www.anitabirt.com. Too Young To Die is my fifth book with Cerridwen Press.Anita