New York Times bestselling author Paula Brackston's return to her trademark blend of magic and romance is guaranteed to enchant.
An antique shop haunted by a ghost.
A silver treasure with an injustice in its story.
An adventure to the past she’ll never forget.
Xanthe and her mother Flora leave London behind for a fresh start, taking over an antique shop in the historic town of Marlborough. Xanthe has always had an affinity with some of the antiques she finds. When she touches them, she can sense something of the past they come from and the stories they hold. When she has an intense connection to a beautiful silver chatelaine, she has to know more.
It is while she’s examining the chatelaine that she’s transported back to the seventeenth century, where she discovers an injustice in its history. The spirit that inhabits her new home confronts her and charges her with saving her daughter’s life, threatening to take Flora’s if she fails.
While Xanthe fights to save the girl in 1605, she meets architect Samuel Appleby. He may be the person who can help her succeed. He may also be the reason she can’t bring herself to leave.
With its rich historical detail, strong mother-daughter relationship, and picturesque English village, The Little Shop of Found Things delivers a heartfelt page-turner.
About the Author
PAULA BRACKSTON is the New York Times bestselling author of The Witch’s Daughter, The Winter Witch, The Midnight Witch, The Silver Witch, and The Return of the Witch. She has a master’s degree in creative writing from Lancaster University in the UK. She lives in Wales with her family.
Read an Excerpt
It is a commonly held belief that the most likely place to find a ghost is beneath a shadowy moon, among the ruins of a castle, or perhaps in an abandoned house where the living have fled leaving only spirits to drift from room to room. To believe so is to acknowledge but half a truth, for there is a connection with those passed over to be found much nearer home. Every soul that once trod this brutal earth leaves their imprint upon the things that mattered to them. The things that they held, the things that once echoed to the beat of their hearts. That heartbeat may yet be felt, faint but clear, transmitted through the fabric of those belongings, linking us to the dear one long gone through however many years have passed. Or at least, some may feel it. Some can hear its fluttering rhythm. Some can sense the life force that once thrummed through the golden metal, or gorgeous gem, or even the tattered remnant of a wedding gown. Some have the ability, the sensitivity, the gift to be able to connect to those lost ones through these precious objects.
Xanthe Westlake was such a person. The tall, young woman with the tumble of golden curls falling about her shoulders was possessed of that special gift. She had been barely eight years old when first it had shown itself. On that particular day she held a small silver teapot, turning it over in her hands, smiling brightly.
"You like that, Xanthe?" her mother, Flora, asked.
She nodded, running her fingers over the intricate filigree pattern on the cool silver.
"It's a happy teapot," she told her.
"Really? How do you know?"
"Because I can hear it singing," she said, holding it up. "It was a present from a sailor to his daughter. He'd been away at sea for a long, long time, and when he came home he gave her this, and she made tea for them both. She loved her father very much."
"Wow," her mother said. "You got all that from the teapot?"
At the time, she must have thought such a proclamation merely the product of a youthful imagination, but later, when she inquired as to the teapot's provenance and discovered that it had originated in Spain and been part of a sea captain's estate, well, then she began to take notice of her child's opinions. From that day, she started giving Xanthe things to hold to see if they would "sing" to her. And sometimes they did. And so her daughter would accompany her on buying trips to hunt for treasures. There was never any question but that she would go into the family business.
But a family business needs a family, and this one was smashed like a porcelain platter dropped upon a flagstoned floor.
When Xanthe arrived at the little antique shop that was to be her new home, many years after that first teapot, she was not conscious of being watched. As she helped her mother from the old black taxi that was her sole possession of note, she was concerned only with assisting Flora, who had yet to master the cobbles with her crutches. Xanthe was unaware, then, of the pale eyes that were upon her. Had she raised her own to look into the dusty bow window of the shop, she would not, of course, have seen her observer. Margaret Merton, a fine, well-dressed woman in her day, no longer cast a shadow nor reflected the light, for ghosts are insubstantial things.
It was high summer. The shop had been empty for several months, closed after the passing of Mr. Morris, the collectibles left to garner cobweb shrouds, and Margaret left to wander and wait. She held hope to her breast like a tiny bird which must be grasped tightly yet with such care, lest one crush it to nothing through fear of losing it. Hope was all she had. Of late, she had become aware of a change, and her spirit has roused itself from its fitful slumber. She sensed a reason for that hope to live on, to live more brightly. On that morning, in the month of July, she watched through the small window panes as the girl and her mother emerged from the bulky vehicle onto the sunlit, cobbled street. The older woman was perhaps the age Mistress Merton herself had been when she had met her end. Margaret felt a tightening in her chest as she watched daughter help mother, who walked with difficulty and with the aid of sticks. How many centuries had it been since Margaret had felt the touch of her own child's hand upon hers? The pair looked up at the building, smiling, their excitement plain to see.
Flora Westlake took a key from her capacious shoulder bag and turned it in the lock. The shop door swung open, rattling into life the aged brass bell the previous owner had tolerated for a dozen years or more.
"Goodness!" Flora's nose twitched at the smell of beeswax polish, dust, and stale air. "Looks like old Mr. Morris kept the place well stocked."
"I'm not sure all of it qualifies for the word 'stock,'" Xanthe replied, picking up a battered top hat that had not gleamed for decades. "How much did you say you paid for the contents, Mum?"
"Hardly anything at all, Xanthe, love," she replied, waving one of her sticks as if to dismiss the worry.
Flora stood among her treasures and beamed. It was strange that it was not she who had the gift. Indeed, her daughter appeared largely unmoved by their new home, their new business, or the many, story-filled objects waiting for her touch. Even so, Margaret Merton saw the light that burned deep within the girl. Saw what it was and knew straight away that when the moment came, when those objects began to talk to her, Xanthe would listen. She would have no choice.
As the pair moved through the shop, Xanthe stepped so close to the ghost that her warmth seeped into that spirit. Naturally, the girl felt nothing of the specter with whom she had unwittingly elected to share her home. Xanthe's sensitivity was to substantial things, through their tactile qualities. Margaret, having no substance other than that of a spirit, was undetectable to her. And so she would remain. Until she chose otherwise. Even so, that long-buried sense that humans have allowed to atrophy through lack of use; that instinct that warns of unseen dangers, could not help but respond to such a provocation as Mistress Merton's restless soul presented. Xanthe paused, turning as if in answer to a distant calling of her name. Finding nothing, seeing no one, she shook off the sensation and resumed her inspection of the collectibles.
"There could be an awful lot of rubbish here," she warned her mother, gazing at the jumble of things that filled every shelf and cabinet or sat in unstable heaps upon the floor.
"Well, most of it will probably have to go," her mother agreed, "but there's bound to be some of it worth salvaging. And we can do a bit of work on some of the furniture." She nodded at a shabby chest of drawers which was sagging beneath bulging boxes, many filled with ancient books. "That would paint up nicely," she said. "And that chair ... and look here." She moved forward to a box of sheet music and pulled out a selection. "There might be some material in here you could use, Xanthe, when you start singing again."
"Mum ... I really don't want to even think about that right now."
"OK, OK, just saying. Might be worth considering." She turned to look at her daughter closely then. "You can't just not sing, love. It's part of you, you know that."
Xanthe feigned interest in a rusty set of scales. When she gave no reply, Flora let the matter drop.
"Ooh, look through there," Flora said, pointing with one of her crutches. "If I remember what the brochure said, Mr. Morris kept the second room just for mirrors."
They went to investigate. Moments later they were standing in a narrow, windowless room that was filled wall to wall with mirrors. They were propped up against one another, leaning at all angles, some hung properly, others wedged in a corner or resting against a wall. Xanthe switched on the light. Several of the mirrors were in simple wooden frames, others were ornate, some plaster, some painted, some gilded. The two women stood in the middle of the room and saw themselves multiplied by dozens of reflections.
Margaret Merton stood at Xanthe's shoulder, a singular presence without a single reflection.
Xanthe found the uncommon sight of herself, so repeated and replicated, an unsettling experience. These were not the distortions of a fairground hall of mirrors. The sense was more akin to Alice and her looking glass. Xanthe and her mother were truthfully mirrored, and yet, framed in so many ways, shown at so many angles, glimpsed in so many fogged and silvering surfaces, they looked oddly different. As if they were different people. They had their usual features and characteristics. There was Xanthe's mass of dark blonde corkscrew curls. And those were unmistakably her customary vintage clothes. And she remained a good six inches taller than her mother, who still had a scrap of scarf tied in her fine, fluffy brown hair. Flora had crutches, Xanthe did not. The older woman's feet were tiny and looked still smaller in her flat pumps. The black leather of Xanthe's heavy Dr. Martens boots gleamed dully in the low light. For all the similarities, those multi-Floras and multi-Xanthes were somehow, crucially, not them.
"Bit of a thing with Mr. Morris, then, mirrors," Xanthe said, rubbing a finger over one of the gilt frames. "Do you think he ever sold any or just collected them?"
"I don't know the market around here yet," Flora admitted. "But these'd sell in a week back in London."
They exchanged uncomfortable glances at the mention of the city that was now firmly a part of their past.
The doorbell rang and Xanthe raised her eyebrows. "Our first customer, d'you reckon?"
Returning to the main part of the shop, she found the driver of the moving van.
"Didn't want to risk getting stuck down that narrow street," he told her. "We're parked at the top end. Have to carry things from there."
Xanthe followed him out. It was only a short walk to the point where the cobbled lane met the high street, but even so she was glad their possessions were few. It would take a number of trips to cart them to the shop via the slender thoroughfare. She allowed herself a moment's pride that her beloved taxi with its superior design had made the tight turn required to navigate the route. The movers handed down boxes from the back of the van. There were cases of clothes and a small number of pieces of furniture taken from what had once been the family home. Flora had also demanded four boxes of stock from the auction house, despite her soon-to-be-ex-husband's loud protestations. Xanthe considered her father had been deliberately obstructive, as if he wished to make Flora's new life as difficult as possible. A point made all the more galling as it had been he who had wanted out of their marriage. Flora had been uninterested in shared household belongings, convincing herself she could replace everything when the settlement was finalized. That they were only insignificant things. That they did not matter. But Xanthe argued that they mattered a great deal, and that the reasons they were giving them up mattered, too. She admitted only to herself that not all of those reasons were the fault of her father. When it came to them having to find somewhere new and begin their lives afresh, Xanthe was painfully aware that she was, in her own way, equally to blame.
Carrying a heavy box marked KITCHEN, she made her way back down the tiny street. It was, in every respect, typical of the sort found in many English market towns, of which Marlborough was a fine example. The tarmac gave way to cobbles, smoothed under centuries of feet and hooves and wheels. The alleyway was barely 150 feet long, with small shops on either side. At the end, there was an archway under what had once been part of a coaching inn but was now apartments. It led only to some residents' parking, so there was no through traffic. The shopkeepers had taken full advantage of this, putting out their wares on the cobbles, the tea shop to the right having set up tables and chairs. The little Wiltshire town was well known for its broad high street, its beautiful old buildings, and its antiques. Which was why, fifteen years after that astonishing Spanish teapot, Xanthe and Flora had chosen this place in which to set up shop. The charming town was a popular destination for treasure hunters and shoppers, with its Georgian redbrick town houses mellowed with age, mixed among black-and-white half-timbered shops and homes that were even older, some by hundreds of years. Twice a week a bustling market set up along the wide main street, colorful and tempting, and everywhere there was a feeling of affluent, happy, provincial life.
The shop itself was built of brick the color of fox fur, with a bloom of age softening that brightness. It had a bow window, the frames painted smart white to match that of the glass door with its many small panes. The shop sign had been covered up by the estate agent's notice declaring it SOLD. Sold to Flora and Xanthe. Bought with every penny of their savings and a mortgage begged from a friendly broker. Until the divorce settlement came through they would be surviving largely on their wits, which meant the shop had to be restored, stocked, and opened as swiftly as was humanly possible. As Xanthe approached their new venture, she felt nervousness and excitement in equal measure. This was, for both of them, more than a business; it was a new life, and the modest flat above the shop was to be their new home. Xanthe recalled from the estate agent's particulars that to the rear of the house lay a fair-sized garden. As she followed the movers through the front door and saw again the overflowing shelves and tables, and took in the enormity of the task ahead of them, she accepted that it would be some time before she would be concerning herself with lawns and plants. There was work to be done in the shop, and plenty of it.
What she could not have known was that the ever watchful Mistress Merton had an entirely different plan for her.
* * *
That night Xanthe slept poorly, sensitive to the unfamiliar sounds of her new home, though unaware of the silent figure who kept vigil at the foot of her bed. It was the more mundane, earthly noises that disturbed her: the creaking and sighing of the building as it cooled in the night air; the clicking of the metal guttering as it contracted; the noises of the slumbering town drifting in through the open attic window. Both bedrooms were set into the roof of the house, hot in summer, cold in winter. Marlborough was a genteel and respectable place, and its night sounds were of an entirely different nature to the ceaseless thrum of London to which she had been accustomed. Here, there was only gentle midweek revelry, which quietened at what felt to her like a very early hour. In the dark depths of the night, she heard the occasional distant vehicle, the crying of a baby in another apartment, and the barking of a dog some way off. She dreamed no dreams as such, rather disconnected images passed through her sleeping mind. Pictures of the town and the shop and the mirrors with their endless reflections, seeming to offer so many possible futures.
When the dawn light eventually fell through the faded and flimsy curtains, she rose from her bed. Pulling the curtains open, she sat on the window sill that formed a dusty seat from which to view the rooftops of Marlborough. Her room, being at the top of the house that had no loft space, wore the slope of the roof in its ceiling, and the window was cut in among the tiles. From this highpoint she could see across the uneven roofscape of shops and houses, which was punctuated with church spires at either end of the high street, and faded into the distant, undulating countryside. Below, small birds were stirring in the walled garden, which consisted of a long swathe of unmowed lawn and a tangle of brambles, overgrown shrubs, and flowers. For a moment Xanthe considered sketching what she saw. She had always liked to draw and had developed a fair eye. It had proved useful in the trade, noting details of objects she was trying to authenticate, or taking down requirements from customers looking for something in particular. On that morning, however, the challenge of finding sketch pad and pencils among the packing cases was sufficient to deter her.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Little Shop of Found Things"
Copyright © 2018 Paula Brackston.
Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
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