STORY: Isabel Creston never dared to dream that love could be hers. Now, at the edge of a forest filled with dark secrets, she faces a fateful choice between love and duty.
For as long as she can remember, beautiful and free-spirited Isabel has strained against the rules and rigidity of the Fellsworth School in the rolling English countryside. No longer a student, Isabel set her sights on a steady yet unexciting role as a teacher at the school, a safe yet stifling establishment that would provide her a steady environment to care for her younger sister Lizzie, who was left in her care after her father’s death.
The unexpected arrival of a striking stranger with news of unknown relatives turns Isabel’s small, predictable world upside down, sweeping her and her young charge into a labyrinth of intrigue and hidden motives.
At her new family’s invitation, Isabel and Lizzie relocate to Emberwilde, a sprawling estate adjacent to a vast, mysterious wood rife with mysterious rumors and ominous folklore—along with whispers of something far more sinister. And perhaps even more startling, two handsome men begin pursuing Isabel, forcing her to learn the delicate dance between attraction, the intricate rules of courtship, and the hopes of her heart.
At Emberwilde, Isabel will discover that the key to unlocking the mystery of her past may also open the door to her future and security. But first she must find it—in the depths of Emberwilde Forest.
REVIEW: Surrey England – 1817
Mrs. Brathay, Headmistress at Fellsworth School, is calling Miss Isabel Creston age 20, and a junior teacher at the school, to report to Mr. Langsby, the school superintendent. She is told that there is a messenger waiting to see her. Hoping this means she might be offered a position as a governess, she is pleased to meet Mr. Bradford who is the superintendent of the Founding Home in Northrop. That is when Isabel learns that her aunt, Mrs. Margaret Ellison of Emberwilde Hall, wants her to come and live with her. Her sister, Mrs. Anna Creston, was Isabel’s mother. Both of Isabel’s parents have passed away and she and her half-sister, Lizzie, have been at Fellsworth School for some years – Lizzie as a student and now Isabel as a teacher. Isabel is quite surprised to learn of the existence of Mrs. Ellison and is willing to go live with her but insists that she take Lizzie as well.
When Isabel and Lizzie arrive at Emberwilde Hall, Isabel is somewhat taken aback at her aunt’s over-enthusiasm of her. Lizzie was unexpected by Margaret, but is welcomed too. Isabel meets her cousin, Constance, and learns that her cousin has 3 other sisters who are married but not living in the area, and a brother who was killed in the war.
Margaret and Constance help out at the Foundling Home which relies on the Ellison family for most of its support. The Home is on the same property as Emberwilde.
Charles Ellison, the master of Emberwilde Hall, is working with Colin Galloway, who is the magistrate for the area. They have found proof of trespassers on the property, along with some smuggled items hidden there by someone. Not only is Colin the local magistrate, but also a solicitor and owner of Darbenton Court, which has fallen into disrepair. Colin hopes to save enough money to restore his home again. Privately, Mr. Ellison would like to matchup Isabel with Colin Galloway as he likes and respects the man very much. Secretly, the Ellisons are having financial problems. When their own son died, that left them without an heir meaning that Emberwilde will go to a nephew leaving Mrs. Ellison without a home.
Isabel is shocked to find her bedroom windows nailed shut. It has been that way for many years. There is an old legend that says gypsies put a curse on the forest that the window faces. After a fire that killed some of the gypsies, ghosts are supposed to enter through open windows and enact revenge for the deaths of the gypsies so the windows have been kept shut and nailed.
As Isabel and Lizzie settle in, they soon find they enjoy reading to the children at the Foundling Home. When Isabel suggests to Mr. Bradford that teaching the children at the home, not just caring for them, would make their futures better, he agrees. He soon becomes quite possessive of Isabel and she and her aunt tend to push her toward marrying him. This upsets Isabel. She has a good friendship with Colin Galloway and both Bradford and Galloway are at loggerheads with each other.
As the smuggling increases, danger threatens and Isabel realizes that the home she has come to live in is not all that it seems.
This is a rather long novel that was a bit slow in starting, but I think it is because the author was setting the background for the plot. The characters are good, the suspense is nail-biting at times, and the book is clean.
I have enjoyed the author’s books in the past and this is yet another terrific one. I look forward to reading more from her.
Complimentary copy provided by the publisher
Connie for b2b