Captivated… or captured?
Appearances don't always reveal the truth. Grace Latimer knows this better than most. Illusions of commitment and comfort have her trapped—until bohemian adventurer Nick Heysham charms his way into her world. Commissioned to recover a Great Exhibition architect's missing designs, he persuades her to assist in his research. The mystery of the Crystal Palace seduces Grace, and once she discovers clues about a forbidden Victorian love affair, she's lured into the deep secrets of the past… secrets that resemble her own.
As Grace and Nick dig into the elusive architect's illicit, long-untold story, the ghosts of guilt and forbidden passion slip free. And history is bound to repeat itself, unless Grace finds the courage to break free and find a new definition of love…
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I reached Silver Street before the Merricks, and the tarpaulins flapping in the wind led me straight to the schoolroom. Apart from an ineffectual attempt to shelter a part of the roof that had been opened to the sky, it was obvious that the builders had abandoned the site without securing it. I was able to open the heavy front door and wander into the narrow vestibule. This was where the girls would have hung their coats and capes and left their galoshes on inclement days. I should have waited for the Merricks here, but I didn’t. I was being nudged to explore. Another door faced me; I pushed it ajar and was drawn into a wide, open space. The schoolroom had remained much the same as it had when the last child had closed the lid of her desk.
I walked across the scratched tiled floor towards the dais that stood at the very end of the room. Remarkably it still boasted a desk, placed in a position of authority. This was where the teacher would have sat, cane no doubt by his or her side. It was as I approached the raised wooden structure that I first felt the prickling. A definite prickling of the skin that started at my scalp and inched downward to my feet. Then my chest began to feel tight and my breath to come less easily. This is absurd, I thought. I was in an empty room, a space that was entirely innocuous. Was I allowing Leo Merrick’s tale of unquiet spirits to get to me?
I was at the dais and starting up the steps to the desk when I stumbled. My legs felt suddenly heavy, so heavy that I could hardly drag one foot in front of the other. It was as though an invisible force was manipulating me, a force I wasn’t able to control. Somehow I managed to clamber onto the dais and collapse into a seat. The prickling had ceased but my chest was still tight, encased in a steel band. I sat staring down at the desk top for what seemed an age, until its grimy ridges began to flow one into another in a mad crisscross dance. When my pulse gradually steadied, I dared to look around. I’d been fearful at what I might see, but all I gazed on was emptiness. Light from the tall, arched windows fell crookedly across the floor, casting the corners of the room into shadow. But nothing moved, nothing breathed.
I should have walked back to the vestibule then, but instead I lifted the desk lid. What made me do that, I have no idea; I just knew in that instant that I had to. The desk was empty, of course. Except for the scent. It was a scent that was very familiar and for a moment it caught in my throat. Then common sense returned, and I lifted the lid a little farther and glimpsed a patch of white. Scrabbling in the deep well of the desk I brought out a linen handkerchief and put it to my nose. The perfume was unmistakeable—jasmine. I shook the handkerchief out and looked at it closely. Patched with a century’s dirt, it must have been tucked at the very back of the desk for years. One corner held a small, embroidered initial. When I saw what it was, my heart gave a sharp jolt. It was the letter A.
My father was a soldier and most of my childhood was spent moving from place to place, school to school, including several years living in Egypt and Germany. I loved some of the schools I attended, but hated others, so it wasn’t too surprising that I left half way through the sixth form with ‘A’ Levels unfinished.
I became a secretary, as many girls did at the time, only to realise that the role of handmaiden wasn’t for me. Escape beckoned when I landed a job with an airline. I was determined to see as much of the world as possible, and working as cabin crew I met a good many interesting people and enjoyed some great experiences – riding in the foothills of the Andes, walking by the shores of Lake Victoria, flying pilgrims from Kandahar to Mecca to mention just a few.
I still love to travel and visit new places, especially those with an interesting history, but the arrival of marriage and children meant a more settled existence on the south coast of England, where I’ve lived ever since. It also gave me the opportunity to go back to ‘school’ and eventually gain a PhD from the University of Sussex. For many years I taught university literature and loved every minute of it. What could be better than spending my life reading and talking about books? Well, perhaps writing them.
I’ve always had a desire to write but there never seemed time to do more than dabble with the occasional short story. And my day job ensured that I never lost the critical voice in my head telling me that I really shouldn’t bother. But gradually the voice started growing fainter and at the same time the idea that I might actually write a whole book began to take hold. My cats – two stunning cream and lilac shorthairs – gave their approval, since it meant my spending a good deal more time at home with them!
The 19th century is my special period of literature and I grew up reading Georgette Heyer, so when I finally found the courage to try writing for myself, the books had to be Regency romances. Over the last four years, writing as Isabelle Goddard, I’ve published six novels set in the Regency period.
Since then, I’ve moved on a few years to Victorian England, and I’ve changed genre too. The Crystal Cage is my first novel under the name of Merryn Allingham. The book is a mystery/romantic suspense and tells the story of a long-lost tragedy, and the way echoes from the past can powerfully influence the life of a modern day heroine. The next few Allingham books will see yet another move timewise. I’ve been writing a suspense trilogy set in India and wartime London during the 1930s and 1940s, and hope soon to have news of publication.
Whatever period, whatever genre, creating new worlds and sharing them with readers gives me huge pleasure and I can’t think of a better job.
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