Cornwall, England, 1818
Julia Twethewey needs a diversion to mend her broken heart, so when her cousin invites her to Lanwyn Manor, Julia eagerly accepts. The manor is located at the heart of Cornwall’s mining industry, and as a guest Julia is swept into its intricate world. It’s not long, though, before she realizes something dark lurks within the home’s ancient halls.
As a respected mine owner’s younger son, Isaac Blake is determined to keep his late father’s legacy alive through the family business, despite his brother’s careless attitude. In order to save their livelihood—and that of the people around them—the brothers approach the master of Lanwyn Manor with plans to bolster the floundering local industry. Isaac can’t deny his attraction to the man’s charming niece, but his brother has made clear his intentions to court the lovely visitor. And Isaac knows his place.
When tragedy strikes, mysteries arise, and valuables go missing, Julia and Isaac find they are pulled together in a swirl of strange circumstances, but despite their best efforts to bow to social expectations, their hearts aren’t so keen to surrender.
- Sweet Regency Romance
- Full-length novel, approximately 90,000 words
- Second in the Cornwall series, but can be read alone
Praise for The Thief of Lanwyn Manor
“Northanger Abbey meets Poldark against the resplendent and beautifully realized landscape of Cornwall.” —Rachel McMillan, author of The London Restoration
“Cornwall’s iconic sea cliffs are on display in The Thief of Lanwyn Manor, but it’s the lyrical prose, rich historical detail, and layered characters that truly shine. The story anchors the foray into Cornwall’s copper mining legacy with historical accuracy and brilliant heart. Fans of Regency romance will be instantly drawn in and happily lost within the pages—this is Sarah E. Ladd at her best!” —Kristy Cambron, bestselling author of the Lost Castle series
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Julia Twethewey never considered what it would feel like to look down the barrel of a flintlock pistol.
Her blood froze. She could not move. She could not blink.
All she could do was stare at the metal barrel mere inches from her nose.
The masked man snaked closer, his narrow black eyes fixed on her, like a rabid hunter poised to pounce. "Where's your uncle?"
He knew Uncle William? But how?
She stammered, searching for a response. "I — I don't know."
"Ha!" The man, barely taller than she, sneered as he jerked his gloved thumb toward the chairs behind him. "Is he hiding like a thief under the table there? Wouldn't doubt it. 'Fraid o' what's comin' to him, and for good reason."
Two other men, masked and equally as filthy and gruff as the perpetrator before her, emerged from the Gray Owl Inn's darkened corners and approached them. She'd not noticed them before, when she had been sitting at the corner table, sipping her tea, but now the fire in the broad hearth cast flickering shadows over their sloppy forms, and they loomed larger than life.
She drew a sharp breath and scanned the sleepy, low-ceilinged taproom for someone — anyone — who could help her. Two elderly men sat at a table to her left, and a cluster of patrons gathered in the corner. All stared, wide-eyed and aghast, but without weapons they were as helpless as she.
The man drew even closer, and his putrid, unwashed scent encircled her. "Ol' Lambourne must be a bigger fool than we thought. What sort o' man would leave his niece — a lady — unguarded? Tsk, tsk. Somethin' bad might happen."
He nodded toward the small pouch clutched in her fist and stretched out his hand. "Your bag."
She clutched her reticule even tighter until her fingers ached, then slid her gaze from the dark-gray metal back up to the hard eyes of the man holding the weapon. She extended her reticule.
"Ah, there we are!" He snatched it from her, as if it were some great treasure. With a grotesque smack of lips from behind the sullied kerchief covering his face, he jingled the velvet bag before he tossed it to one of the other men, who ripped into the delicate woven fabric and dumped the contents on the table.
Her embroidered handkerchief and two coins tumbled out, clattering against the table's worn, pitted wood.
Her attacker's movements slowed as he assessed the meager contents, and then he whirled toward her. "You 'spect me to believe a lady such as yerself 's got no money?"
She pressed her lips together. How she wished she had more to give him so he would go away, but all of her belongings were still in her uncle's carriage. Hot tears gathered in her eyes, and she struggled to control the quivering of her chin. "'Tis all I have."
He scoffed. "I'm sure you had some fancy teacher what taught you 'tis a sin to lie." He straightened suddenly and shifted his attention to her cloak's lacy trim.
Julia flinched as he reached out to touch it.
"Give me your cloak," he barked.
"Your cloak! Or should I take it off you meself?"
With jittery fingers she loosened the satin ribbon at her throat to release the article. She couldn't pull it from her shoulders fast enough, and once it was free she hurled it in his direction.
He seized it as it dropped to the ground, rubbed the fine wool fabric between his dirt-caked fingers, then tossed it to the man behind him.
He stepped nearer still.
Uncontrollable trembling seized her. She had nothing left to give him.
Why was he not leaving?
She wanted to look away, wanted to look at anything besides the fearsome, ugly beast before her, but her gaze was locked on the man whose trigger finger could affect her mortality.
He lifted a hand toward her face, and Julia winced, as if bracing for a strike, but instead, he pinched a long, black tendril that cascaded from beneath her bonnet.
His eyes, their muddy depths invasive, were inches from hers as he studied the lock. "Yes, very pretty."
Julia refused to be a woman who succumbed to fainting spells, but at this moment, with this foul creature before her, she feared it would come to that.
Suddenly a baritone voice boomed from her left. "Enough. You've got what you wanted. Now go."
Her assailant released her hair and stumbled back, smacked by the interruption.
A tall, blond man stood paces from them, his stance wide, his shoulders broad, his hands fisted. The fire's light illuminated his jaw's firm set. No fear wrote itself into his features. Instead, annoyance and anger radiated from his eyes as they latched on to the robber.
And yet regardless of his bravery, the blond man was still at the mercy of the assailant with the pistol.
They all were.
The masked man aimed the pistol at the newcomer and swaggered toward him. He snatched a pocket watch from the blond man's waist, visible from beneath the cape of his greatcoat, held it up, flipped it over, and read the inscription. "Joseph Blake? That you?" The blond man's shadowed eyes narrowed. "No. My father."
The thief looked over his shoulder. "D'ya hear that lads? We got ourself a high-and-mighty Blake here." He chuckled and stuffed the timepiece in his own pocket and raised an unkempt brow. "There now, Mr. Blake. I know of you. The family what runs Wheal Tamsen. But I doubt you know who I be."
"No, I don't. And I'm not sure I want to."
"Soon you'll know my face well enough, and you'll not forget it either, especially when the day of reckoning comes and you and your kind rot for what you've done to decent, hardworking folk."
The hammer on a rifle clicked behind her. Julia whirled to face the sound. The gray-headed barkeep seemed to have materialized from nowhere and now stood behind his counter, rifle pointed at the man with the pistol.
Within seconds he took aim.
A ball whizzed through the air — loud. Unearthly. Acrid. Julia screamed and collapsed to her knees, covered her head, and squeezed her eyes shut, as if by doing so she could shut out the sounds, the scents.
More shots rang out.
White smoke choked her.
Strong arms shoved her the rest of the way to the ground, and a heavy weight covered her. At first she resisted, but as lead balls flew above her and glass shattered around her, she let her body go limp.
"Stay down," Mr. Blake ordered.
Then, as suddenly as it began, the shuffling stopped. The shouts and voices retreated.
Then everything was still.
"Stay here." The man pushed himself off of her.
She did not respond, she did not even move, until he was several paces away from her. She lifted her head in time to catch a glimpse of the back of his wide shoulders as he hurried into the gathering night. Julia pushed herself up, there on the dirty floor of the Gray Owl Inn, and blinked as she looked around.
She was alone.
And terribly, terribly frightened.CHAPTER 2
Heart thumping, pulse hammering, Isaac burst from the confines of the low-ceilinged taproom out to the inn's muddy courtyard.
Dusk was falling, bringing with it a damp, thick mist that shrouded High Street running through the village of Goldweth. It mingled with the lingering smoke making it nearly impossible to see anything at a distance, and the sharp, bitter wind did little to dissipate the sulfuric scent of gunpowder burning his nose or the perspiration beading on his brow. Chest heaving, Isaac straightened his hat and looked left, then right.
But he was too late.
The three brigands were gone, and all was eerily silent. With the exception of the Lambourne carriage, the driver attempting to calm his harnessed horses, and a small gathering in the center of the courtyard, everyone else who'd been present had dispersed.
He expelled his breath in one swoosh of frustration. This was not what he'd expected when he and Charlie Benson left their work at Tamsen mine and entered the unassuming Gray Owl Inn for their supper. When they'd arrived at the narrow courtyard, Benson had been detained at the courtyard gate by a talkative friend, but Isaac had proceeded to the taproom and entered the inn at just the right — or wrong — time.
The wind caught the folds of his greatcoat as he approached his friend and the innkeeper, who stood at the courtyard's gate.
Benson's gruff voice cut the uncustomary silence, and his breath plumed white in the cold air. "Theivin' vagabonds."
"Did you recognize any of them?" Isaac turned his attention toward High Street, searching for signs of anything out of the ordinary.
"Not a one." Benson ran a thick hand over his bearded jaw. "Did ye get a good look at their faces?"
Carew shook his head. "Nay. They all had kerchiefs tied over their mouths the entire time I saw 'em, like a bunch o' cowards. But mark my words, I saw their eyes and I'll not forget them. Like a snake's eyes they were, beady and evil. If one of 'em dares to step foot inside here again, they'll be met with this rifle. And I'll not miss either."
"I'll go after them," interjected Isaac. "Join me, Benson?"
Benson burst out a laugh. "Yer daft. This fog's thick as mud, and they got quite a lead on us. Not much to be done now."
Isaac's gut sank. Benson was right, of course. The vagabonds would have cleared the village by now and could have fled anywhere. The murky fog would be in their favor, and now falling darkness shrouded all. Without hounds to trace their scent, pursuing them in such conditions would be futile. Irritation flaming, Isaac removed his hat and pushed his fingers through his thick hair.
They'd had enough trouble over the last six months over the closing of Bal Tressa, Lambourne's copper mine, and instead of getting better, the tension in the nearby villages was mounting to the point of attack. Isaac looked back through the inn's window. "Who's the woman?"
"Lambourne's niece, come o'er from Braewyn." Carew tucked his rifle under his arm, pointing the barrel downward. "Arrived about an hour ago with him. Lambourne said he had business with Rogers right up the street there and said he'd be right back. Left her sittin' all alone like too. No doubt the vagabonds saw Lambourne's carriage and thought to trap him. Surely if he was at Rogers's, he'd a-heard the shots and been here." Carew angled his head to peer through the window, where his wife could be seen wrapping a blanket around the niece's shoulders. "I bet she'll quit Goldweth before dawn's first light."
"Can't say as I blame her," Benson added. "Not exactly a welcomin' reception."
Isaac assessed the petite lady from a distance. Long, dark curls hung in disarray, blocking his view of her face, and the barkeep's wife was helping her to a table. He'd heard that the Lambournes were expecting a guest to stay with them at Lanwyn Manor, and evidently everyone in the countryside knew about it as well.
"Before you got out here, I sent my stable boy over to find Lambourne," Carew said, "and I sent Trent to fetch the constable."
"A lot of good a constable will do now," Benson scoffed. "Any thoughts on who the footpads might be?"
"Wish I knew, but one thing's certain — they were on the hunt for Lambourne. Heard 'em sayin' the name as they talked amongst themselves, and they knew she was his niece — asked for him right to her face, they did. I'd say they were hired, most likely. If they were from here, someone'd recognize somethin'."
"But who around here has enough money to pay for that?" Benson asked.
"Well, apparently they got paid with a timepiece." Isaac let out a sarcastic huff, patting the pocket of his waistcoat where his watch chain used to hang, careful to mask the gravity of the loss. To most, the piece would appear nothing more than a replaceable trinket, but to Isaac, the pocket watch was the last gift his father gave him before his untimely death. "If it was a targeted attack, can't say I'm surprised. The longer Lambourne leaves Bal Tressa closed, the angrier — and hungrier — the villagers will get. "'Tis a matter of time before they lash out."
A burst of laughter from Benson shattered the tension, and he slapped a heavy hand on Isaac's shoulder. "Can't believe you approached a man with a pistol with naught but yer bare hands to protect yerself. Carew here told me about it. Either you be a reckless fool, or yer the luckiest man to draw breath on God's earth. Can't decide which."
The rigidity in Isaac's back relaxed, and he shrugged. "Carew signaled toward his rifle as I entered, so I created a diversion so he could reach it without being noticed, 'tis all." He nodded toward the horses. "Come on."
"Where we goin'?"
"If they went to the north, we'll cut through the wold to try and cut them off at the crossroad. At least see where they're headed."
"You know me." Benson rubbed his hands together, his enthusiasm contagious. "Always up for adventure."
They bid farewell to Carew and mounted, but as they rode out of the courtyard, Isaac cast a glance back at the young woman still visible through the window. He thought he saw her narrow shoulders shake, as if she was crying, and anger at the fact that a man could treat a woman so horrifically welled within him.
He refocused his attention — and indignation — on the road stretching before him. He'd need a clear head in the coming days, for no doubt this attack was just the portent of things to come.CHAPTER 3
Julia gripped the threadbare blanket the innkeeper's wife had given her numb fingers and tightened it around her. Try as she might, she could not stop shivering.
She stared, unblinking, into the hearth's leaping orange flames. Surely, the warmth should be enough to still her trembling limbs and chattering teeth, but shock and fear had left their icy fingerprints on her. Even though her mind knew she was out of danger, her muscles poised for peril.
She drew a deep breath and surveyed her surroundings with a cautious eye. Now the inn's taproom was relatively empty. No men wielded pistols. No blond man shielded her from danger. All that remained were the portly constable, the innkeeper, Uncle William, and a few unassuming-looking men.
She took a sip of lukewarm tea and then returned the cup to the table. The bitter liquid soured in her stomach, and nausea swelled. Oh, she wanted nothing more than to leave this little village inn, with its smoke-stained rafters and dense, musty air. Regret for having ever left her home at Penwythe Hall coursed through her veins, and her head throbbed with the unbelievability of it all.
She flinched as her uncle's sharp words echoed from the low ceiling.
"This is an outrage!" Uncle William's face flamed crimson as he stabbed his thick finger toward the constable. "I demand to know what's to be done."
The constable shifted, the wooden planks beneath his feet groaning with the weight. "We'll hunt 'em down. Such villainous actions will not be tolerated."
"That's supposed to satisfy me?" His throaty voice rose an octave. "They accosted my niece!"
The stoic constable slid a dark glance in her direction before he adjusted his dusty coat and returned his focus to her uncle. "With all due respect, your niece will recover from this episode. No harm's been done. I want to catch these men as much as you want me to. We'll find them, and when we do, justice will be served."
Uncle William thudded his walking stick on the floor. Never had she seen him so irate.
"I will be satisfied, Constable Thorne. Since the magistrate did not feel this an important enough incident to warrant his presence, you be sure to communicate that I will expect his call tomorrow." Uncle William stomped over to Julia, reached for her elbow, and guided her to her feet.
Eager to be free of the pungent, poorly lit inn, she looped her hand around his offered arm and followed him toward the door and out into the damp courtyard.
Once she and her uncle were settled in the lavish Lambourne carriage, it groaned and lurched forward. The faint glow the village had afforded faded, and once they were underway, harsh slivers of fleeting light from the carriage lamps illuminated his full cheeks, robust side whiskers, and bushy gray brows.
As he stared out the window, he worked his jaw like a man contemplating his next move, and the drumming of his fingers on the seat's edge rose above the clamor of the wheels crunching over the rutted ground. He said nothing — no words of consolation, no words of comfort — but only stared into the night, the darkness of which emphasized the stormy shadows beneath his eyes.
Even though William Lambourne was her uncle, he was essentially a stranger to her. In all of her nineteen years, she'd only been in his presence a handful of times. It had been two and a half years since she last visited her relations at their London home to attend her cousin Jane's wedding, but he was rarely present. His stern expression and sharp tongue had frightened her as a child, but as an adult, she regarded him more with curiosity than uneasiness.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Thief of Lanwyn Manor"
Copyright © 2019 Sarah Ladd.
Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson.
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