The Heiress of Winterwood (Whispers on the Moors Series #1)by Sarah E. Ladd
Darbury, England, 1814
Amelia Barrett gave her word. Keeping it could cost her everything.
Amelia Barrett, heiress to an estate nestled in the English moors, defies family expectations and promises to raise her dying friend’s baby. She’ll risk everything to keep her word—even to the point of proposing to the child’s father—a/b>
Darbury, England, 1814
Amelia Barrett gave her word. Keeping it could cost her everything.
Amelia Barrett, heiress to an estate nestled in the English moors, defies family expectations and promises to raise her dying friend’s baby. She’ll risk everything to keep her word—even to the point of proposing to the child’s father—a sea captain she’s never met.
When the child vanishes with little more than an ominous ransom note hinting at her whereabouts, Amelia and Graham are driven to test the boundaries of their love for this little one.
Amelia’s detailed plans would normally see her through any trial, but now, desperate and shaken, she’s forced to examine her soul and face her one weakness: pride.
Graham’s strength and self-control have served him well and earned him much respect, but chasing perfection has kept him a prisoner of his own discipline. And away from the family he has sworn to love and protect.
Both must learn to have faith and relinquish control so they can embrace the future ahead of them.
“My kind of book! [It] grabbed my attention from the first lines and I eagerly returned to its pages.” —Julie Klassen, Best-Selling, Award-Winning Author
“If you are a fan of Jane Austen and Jane Eyre, you will love Sarah E. Ladd's debut.” —USAToday.com
Read an Excerpt
THE HEIRESS OF WINTERWOOD
By SARAH E. LADD
Thomas NelsonCopyright © 2013 Sarah Ladd
All right reserved.
Chapter OneDarbury, England, November 1814
Amelia knew what she needed to do. In fact, she'd known ever since Captain Graham Sterling returned to Eastmore Hall.
Her plan would work. It must work. She had addressed every detail and anticipated every objection. Now nothing remained but to convince the captain.
Her only regret was sharing her intentions with her younger cousin Helena.
"This is madness. Absolute madness!" Helena's russet curls bounced in animated vigor with every syllable. "Whatever would possess you to even consider such a thing, let alone see it through?" She tossed her embroidery on the small side table and jumped up from the settee. "Captain Sterling will think you are a lunatic, and then where will you be?" Helena waved her hand in the air to silence Amelia's protest. "I will tell you where you will be. You will be without a husband, without money, and without prospects. That is where you will be."
"Oh hush. You are overreacting." Amelia shifted the sleeping baby in her arms. "You will wake Lucy with all of your carrying on. The last thing we want is for her to be out of sorts when she finally meets her papa."
Helena huffed. "Don't you dare change the subject, Amelia Barrett. The child is fine. It's you who is clearly daft. How could you even consider proposing to a manand a veritable stranger at that? It's just not done."
Amelia lowered Lucy into a small cradle. "Captain Sterling is not a stranger. Well, not really. And as I told you before, I am resolved. Let us speak of it no more. Now, will you kindly hand me that coverlet?"
Helena snatched the yellow knit blanket and tossed it in her cousin's direction. "And what do you think Mr. Littleton will think about this, hmm? Five weeks, Amelia. Need I remind you that you are to marry in five weeks? Why, for you even to have a private meeting with another man, let alone"
"Shhh! There's no need to get so excited." Amelia averted her eyes as she coaxed the conversation back to the captain. "There is no impropriety in my meeting with Captain Sterling. He has every right to visit his daughter. After all, she's nine months old, and he's never even laid eyes on her. And my proposal to Captain Sterling will be a business proposition, nothing more. If he refuses it, no harm is done. Edward need never know."
"No harm? No harm!" Helena's hazel eyes widened. "Do you not consider your reputation? I shudder to think what will happen when news of this reaches the gossipmongers. Edward could think"
"He could think a number of things, Helena, and will no doubt do so. But I cannot stand by and say nothing. Do nothing. For if I did, Captain Sterling could take Lucy away from us forever, and that I could not bear. Furthermore, I will not break my promise to Katherine."
A pretty pout darkened Helena's fair features, and she tipped her small nose in the air.
"You and Mrs. Sterling may have grown close, but you had not known her a year before she died. I sincerely doubt she would expect you to go to such drastic measures to keep a promise." She leaned closer, not allowing Amelia to look away. "And need I mention that you have never even met this man, this captain? He could be a monstera scoundrel who will take advantage of your giving nature. Why subject yourself to such a fate and risk your fortune when you already have secured such a fine match in Edward Littleton?"
Helena's warning resonated with Amelia. Had not those concerns crossed her mind? The thought of being bound in matrimony to a cruel man sent a shiver through her. But had Katherine not praised the captain's fine qualities? His gentleness? His upright character?
Amelia set her lips in a firm line. This was a risk she was willing to take. "He cannot be that dreadful, Cousin, else Katherine would never have married him. Besides, he is a captain in His Majesty's navy. You've heard the stories as well as I. He will be gone for monthsnay, yearsat a time, at least for as long as England is at war. No doubt we will live completely separate lives."
"But Mr. Littleton, Amelia. Consider Mr. Littleton." Helena's voice softened. "He loves you, I am certain. Why would you treat him so unkindly and risk a happy marriage for a child who is not even a blood relation?" Helena stepped toward Lucy, looked down at her, and smoothed the child's blanket. "It pains me to speak to you so bluntly, Amelia, but I love you too much to watch you proceed in such a fashion without at least speaking my mind. You have far too wonderful a future ahead of you to risk it now."
Amelia opened her mouth to protest but then snapped it shut. She could not deny that her cousin's point was valid. But how could she make Helena understand her dilemma? She would never have agreed to marry Edward Littleton had she not been genuinely fond of the man. Indeed, his handsome face and passionate nature still had the ability to stir her romantic sensibilities. But as their wedding drew closer, her hesitation mounted. His actionsincluding his refusal to allow Lucy to continue to reside at Winterwood after their weddinghad planted questions in her mind regarding his character and suitability as a husband. And the thought of her sweet Lucy being raised without a mother, as she had been, unnerved her.
No, she was certain she was taking the right course, difficult though it may be. She simply had to steel herself for the awkwardness of the coming interview with the captain.
A shout sounded outside the window, followed by the crunch of carriage wheels on the gravel front drive. The women locked gazes. Ready or not, the time had come.
Amelia dashed across the room and grabbed her cousin's hand. "Promise you will not say a word."
Helena offered a weak smile. "I do wish you would heed my words, Cousin, but since you are resolved, you have my word. Just, please, at least consider what I have said." With a sweep of her primrose muslin skirt, she quitted the room.
Amelia's slippered feet made little sound as she stepped over the Italian rug to the window. She lifted the corner of the green velvet curtain in time to see the back of the barouche, shiny and slick from the morning's rain, slow to a stop at Winterwood Manor's front entrance.
She smoothed a curl and forced a slow breath. Like it or not, her task was before her. She must not fail. She hurried to the teak writing desk and checked once again to ensure that Katherine's letter was in its place.
A knock echoed in the paneled room. The door unlatched and swung open, revealing James, the aging butler. "Captain Sterling to see you, miss."
"Will you show him in? And please send Sally in with some tea."
Amelia waited for the mahogany door to close before gathering the sleeping Lucy in her arms. Footsteps echoed on the hall's planked floor. She straightened. James reappeared, but Amelia barely noticed. Her eyes fixed on the tall figure filling the door frame behind him.
Captain Sterling stepped into the light. She had expected him to be fair like his brother or stout like his father had been. He was neither. Sable hair curled over the high collar of his charcoal tailcoat, and his sideburns framed high cheekbones. Stormy gray eyes peered from a fringe of black lashes and darted from Lucy, to her, then back to the baby. His freshly shaven skin, bronzed dark from the sun, gave evidence of months spent on board a ship. She had half expected him to be dressed in uniform, but his dress was that of a gentleman.
At the sight of him, a nervous wave pulsed through Amelia's veins. For weeks she had anticipated meeting this man. She had practiced what she would say and rehearsed it at length. But she had never expected to be affected so by startling smoky eyes. With a deep breath she pushed her anxiety at bay, stepped forward, and forced her best smile. "We meet at last! I am Amelia Barrett."
He bowed and their eyes met once more, but his interest was not in his hostess. His attention fixed on the child nestled in Amelia's embrace. Amelia shifted to give the captain a better view, and at the movement, Lucy stirred and opened her eyes.
Amelia stepped even closer and lifted Lucy into her father's waiting arms. "Captain Sterling, I would like for you to meet your daughter, Miss Lucille Katherine Sterling."
A tentative smile tugged the corners of his mouth. The captain accepted the child in his arms and cradled her against his chest. Father and daughter stared at one another for several moments, until Lucy lost interest in him and found the fabric-covered button adorning his tailcoat. He touched his fingertips to the copper curls that escaped her lace bonnet. "She has red hair."
She nodded. "Like her mother."
Lucy wiggled in her father's arms and released a shrill cry. The captain stiffened. "Whatever is the matter?" He extended the small body away from him, at which point Lucy's face scrunched and a wail escaped. His eyes widened in what could only be panic. "Why is she crying?"
Amelia masked a smile. Had the man ever held a child? "She is just getting comfortable, I am sure. Here, allow me."
The captain, all too eager to hand over the crying child, deposited Lucy in Amelia's arms and stepped back. She soothed Lucy until the child calmed. With a wave of her hand, she directed the captain to a wingback chair by the fire. "Please be seated."
Amelia placed Lucy in the cradle next to the captain's chair and looked up as Sally, the downstairs maid, appeared with a tray of tea and biscuits. Grateful for the distraction, she turned to direct the servant. But out of the corner of her eye she watched the captain lean over the arm of his chair and stare at his daughter.
As Sally fussed over the refreshments, Amelia feigned interest but kept her peripheral gaze fixed on the father and daughter. For the first time, the captain smiled at the baby, who promptly rewarded him with a grin. He reached into the cradle and pulled out a small wooden horse. Lucy grabbed it and stared in wonder before banging it against a nearby flower stand. Amelia's heart raced. The scene made her feel more like an intruder in her home than heiress to the estate. Desperate to keep her hands busy when she could find no words to speak, Amelia dismissed the maid and moved to stoke the dying fire.
"I must correct you."
Amelia turned from the fireplace, poker still in hand. "Pardon me?"
"You were mistaken when you said, 'We meet at last.' I doubt you remember, but we've met before."
The poker clattered as she returned it to the stand. "Have we?" Amelia pushed her hair from her flushed face and moved to pour him a cup of tea. The task should have been simple, but her hands trembled and the steaming liquid threatened to splash onto the saucer.
"I lived in Darbury for the first twelve years of my life. I remember seeing you when you were not much older than my Lucy."
Amelia handed the captain the tea, poured a cup for herself, and settled into the chair opposite him.
He looked over his shoulder. "Is your uncle not at home?"
Amelia shook her head. "Uncle George has traveled to Leeds on business. He should return tomorrow. My aunt is away also, calling on an acquaintance."
The captain stretched out a booted foot. His posture relaxed. "Well, as I understand from my brother, you are the person to whom I am indebted. Not your uncle."
Heat crept up from the neckline of her dress, and she looked down at her hands. "You are not indebted to me, sir."
"I cannot begin to thank you for the care you showed my wife. And for what you have done for my daughterI could never repay you."
Uncomfortable under the weight of his attention, she jumped up from her chair and crossed to the window. She drew back the curtains, allowing a fresh wave of gray morning light to flood the room. "How long do you intend to stay in Darbury, Captain?"
"Just long enough to find suitable arrangements for Lucy. I must return to my duties within the month. I hope to have everything settled by then."
A month. She sank her teeth into her lower lip and moved to the desk. The letter lay right where she had left it. She tapped it lightly. If she waited too much longer, she might lose her nerve. "I think I may be able to help you find care for Lucy."
Interest flashed in his eyes. "I would be most grateful for any assistance. I have met with two nurses since my return to England. They were unimpressive at best."
At least he is open to a discussion. She took a steadying breath. "Before Katherine died, I made her two promises. The first was to give you this." Amelia picked up the letter and held it at arm's length.
Captain Sterling eyed the correspondence. As he reached to take it, Amelia noticed a wide purple scar that crossed over the top of his hand and disappeared under his coat's cuff. The scar looked fresh. She diverted her eyes and thrust the letter into his hand.
He flipped the sealed letter to read the inscription. His countenance sobered. He stood and took a cautious step in her direction. "This is from my wife?"
"Yes, written a few days before she died. She asked that I place it directly in your hand." When he failed to respond, she continued. "She was afraid it would never reach you if we sent it by post."
The captain stared at the letter, his square jaw clenched, his expression controlled. He looked from the unopened letter, to his daughter, and then to Amelia. But even as his eyes met hers, Amelia sensed his mind was far away. He seemed to look right through her.
He tucked the unread letter in his pocket and sat down again. "You said you made two promises, Miss Barrett. What was the second?"
Amelia returned to the chair opposite her guest. She paused long enough to regain control of her emotions before speaking. "I promised to stay with Lucy always. Never to leave her alone."
His dark eyebrows arched, but he remained silent.
"With your blessing, I fully intend to honor this promise, and I have had these nine months to consider how to do so. I have devised a plan that I think will work to the best interest of all involved."
He leaned forward and rested his elbows on his knees. "What do you recommend?"
Her clasped hands tightened in her lap. "Since you are from Darbury originally, you may be aware that I am to inherit Winterwood Manor."
He nodded, his gaze never leaving her face. He no longer looked through her, but at her.
"When my father bought this estate, many years before he died, it was in ruins. He dreamed of restoring it to its former glory, and now I share his dream. I am his only child, and there was no specified entailment, so Winterwood will pass to me when I marry. Until then it remains in the hands of my uncle."
Her next words flew from her mouth in a rushnot at all as she had rehearsed. "I would like Lucy to live here with me. She will want for nothing. She will have the best governesses, the finest clothes. And when the time comes, her dowry will be significant."
The captain's eyes widened. He stared at her as if she had grown a second head. Self-consciousness forced her to lower her gaze. She held her breath and waited for his response.
Finally he spoke. "I confess I had hoped you might offer some guidance in the matter."
Amelia exhaled. She straightened her sleeve, carefully smoothing the lace cuff. She must choose her next words very carefully. They were crucial to the success of her plan.
"Lucy is notand never will bea burden to me. Having said that, there is one barrier to her continuing to live at Winterwood. You see, in order to fully inherit, I must be married by the time I turn twenty-four years of age or the entire estate will pass to one of my distant cousins. If that happens, I will have nothingno home, no money, no means of caring for a child ..."
Her words trailed off. She leaned closer and lowered her unsteady voice. "I am currently engaged to marry Mr. Edward Littleton of Dunton. But Mr. Littleton has made it clear that once we are married, Lucy cannot continue to live at Winterwood."
No longer able to sit, Amelia jumped from her seat and stepped toward him. "Captain, I have raised Lucy these nine months. I could not love her more if she were my own. She is more important to me than a hundred Mr. Littletons and a thousand Winterwoods. Believe me when I say I will do whatever necessary to see her well cared for."
The captain stood to his full height. "You said you had a plan, Miss Barrett."
Amelia's hands shook. It was useless to even try to prevent her lip from quivering as she spoke. "In order to continue raising Lucy when you return to your duties, and in order to inherit Winterwood and have the resources to provide Lucy with what she needs, I would need to marry someone besides Mr. Littleton in the next few weeks."
His eyes narrowed. "What exactly are you suggesting?"
"You, Captain Sterling. You and I should marry. Immediately."
Excerpted from THE HEIRESS OF WINTERWOOD by SARAH E. LADD Copyright © 2013 by Sarah Ladd. Excerpted by permission of Thomas Nelson. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Sarah E. Ladd received the 2011 Genesis Award in historical romance for The Heiress of Winterwood. She is a graduate of Ball State University and has more than ten years of marketing experience. Sarah lives in Indiana with her amazing family and spunky Golden Retriever. Facebook: SarahLaddAuthor Twitter: @SarahLaddAuthor
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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This book was a page turner! It grabbed me from the beginning and wouldn't let me go. I loved how succinct the writing was. The author didn't include any unnecessary descriptions. She included just enough characterizations for me to care about the characters, but not enough to overwhelm. The back story was easily incorporated into the story as a whole. Loved it!
I love Christian books and historical fiction and this book was the perfect combination of both. Loved especially that it was a love story devoid of all the steamy commentary and just focused on God's plan in everything. Cannot wait for book 2!
A WONDERFUL Read! When given the opportunity to review this book I jumped at it. First, it's a regency novel (love that time period) reminding me of Jane Austen or Julie Klassen. Second, the plot was one that I hadn't remembered reading. I sat down during my spring break to get some reading done (wanting to be able to tell my students that I read over break) and I wanted to get ahead on some review reading. I opened my eBook around 7pm. Next thing I knew I had been so thoroughly engrossed, engaged, enthralled with the novel that it was 12:30 in the morning. I wanted to see what became of Amelia, Graham and little Lucy. Would Amelia find her faith? Would she be able to keep her word? What choices would the characters make? I connected deeply with Amelia as I have been struggling in my faith of late. I've said it before but it surprises me when reading a work of Christian fiction and there is a message that within its pages that seems like it was written to speak to me. To my heart. To my doubts and hopes and dreams and fears. This, The Heiress of Winterwood, was one of those books. I saw much of myself in Amelia, many qualities that I want to have. I found Graham to be chivalrous, charming, capable. The background characters were interesting to where you were interested, but not distracting to the main story. They added to it, rather than detracting. The storyline was well thought out, interesting and believable. The characters, relatable and likable. The writing style was engaging and well timed. Would I Recommend This Book? Yes! No hesitation. It was a sweet romantic Christian story. Well written, interesting plot. Why wouldn't you read this one? I'll be reading it again. The only thing I didn't like... was that it ended. I wanted to know more about these characters. I cannot wait to read the next book in the "Whispers on the Moors" series. Rating: 5/5 stars (I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.)
By far, this is one of the best books I have read-period. I highly recommend this work to anyone who enjoys historical romance, and I look forward to reading future works by Sarah Ladd. I love this book because it is well written and engaging. You feel like you are in 1814 England, walking the halls of the Winterwood estate or standing on the docks in Liverpool as Amelia and Graham figure out their relationship, which includes Graham's infant daughter, Lucy, whom Amelia has been caring for since Graham's wife passed. A mystery ensues when Lucy and her nurse are kidnapped just before Graham and Amelia's wedding. Is it her former fiance? Her uncle? His brother? Someone else? Basically, in a sea of mediocre works, this one stands heads above the rest. Note: I received a review copy of this book from the publisher, Thomas Nelson.
It was very boring, full of religious references and Bible passages that impeded the story. It should be pointed out in the overview that it contains lots of religious content irrelevant to the story, so people not interesred in this type of reading don't waste their money.
98% of the reviews are all plot spoilers bragging how they all got THEIR book for free for their 'honest' review. First off, getting your book for free from the publisher, author or whoever tells me right off the review will be a brown nose gusher. Secondly, a review does not have to divulge the ENTIRE storyline. You simpky state if you like the book or not and why. Giving away the entire story and ending is just rude. We dont get the book for free. We have to buy our books, and who wants to waste money on a book when you rude, inconsiderate, hateful, egotistical ppl have ruined it for us? Bn,please ban these ppl....please!!!"
Was easy to read and interesting enough to keep you engaged.
Sorry, I just don't get the 4.5 stars rating for this book! I found it the bland and formulaic ...I guess I got taken in by the cover and imagined I might get drawn into a Downtown Abbey style saga! No, more like a Barbara Cartland novel. Not recommended at all.
I have not finished this book yet but wanted to post to warn others . The blurb the publisher put on this book is too brief and the sample reading is misleading . This is shaping up to be a decent romance but is definitely Christian Fiction first and foremost . If you aren't into Christian Fiction don't buy it . I have no problem with Christian Fiction but want to know what I'm getting when I buy a book . And now , thanks to the reviewers who have SPOILED the ending for me I don't have to finish this at all .
Pray and it will happen is just to easy. I'm frequently disappointed by novels that rely on this formula .
I was hesitant to purchase as many reviews stated the bok was "preachy". I found this not to be the case. This is a nice Regency romance where the hero and heroine turn to God when trouble comes. I liked that they are not your standard characters. I recommend this book
I would have given this 5 stars but the ending didn't quite satisfy me. I wish the author would have included an epilogue. Nontheless it was a very good read and I enjoyed it immensely.
Inspirational book as to how to hold onto your faith and sanity with the help of God in heartbreaking and stressful life moments! Thank you for a wonderful faith based book filled with adventure!
This book had a pretty good start and then went downhill with a very predictable plot, poor dialogue, reading like a Barbara Cartland novel with lots of "praying" by the heroine every few pages. The biggest character flaw was with the sea captain. Yuck....
Really enjoying this book.
I'm so glad I can find a romance that is more than lust. You can watch the love grow throughout the book. I was also pleasantly surprised to find it contained Christian faith. A book like this is hard to find.
This was good summer reading--light and easy.
I enjoyed this book for a short distraction.
Nice clean - read it for fun novel. It is well written.
Highly recommended! I loved it! This was the first book I read of author Sarah Ladd. I intend to read more of her books..She makes you feel what the characters are feeling. Like you have been transported into their world. Great read!
I really did enjoy the story, thought it was well written. It was a bit expensive for a book less than 300 pages.
Great story. Could see it made into a movie.
Clean interesting story. kept my interest to the last page
The plot caught my attention as did the female lead. Her need to protect and love the baby led her to drastic measures. I just wish the baby's father had been more inclined to say yes and be romantic.
It was a goood book