Mortified hardly described Evelyn's current state.
She drew her candle closer, leaned near the looking glass in the privacy of her small, darkened attic chamber, and scrubbed mud from her face with a cloth.
Being discovered helpless on the moors was humiliating enough, but to be discovered by Wyndcliff's new master, let alone a handsome stranger, was more than she could bear.
Burying her embarrassment, Evelyn exchanged her soaked shift for a dry one before attempting to brush the tangles and bits of mud from her damp hair. She should be grateful Ada had not been more seriously injured. The pony was not young, and Mr. Twethewey had been right. Many a pony—and horses and humans, for that matter—had endured harm in the moor's deceptive bogs.
Footsteps echoed on the stairs outside her chamber, and she turned as Bertie bustled in, the new servant girl Grandfather had recently engaged to look after them at Wyndcliff Cottage.
"Here's your gray gown." The maid shook out the folds of the garment as she approached. "'Tis wrinkled, but at least it's dry."
Evelyn turned to allow the young woman to help her don the gown over her dry shift and stays.
"It will take quite a bit of work to get that mud out of your blue one," Bertie muttered as she smoothed the fabric. "How on earth did you manage to get it in such a state?"
Evelyn pivoted so Bertie could tie the fastenings at the back of her neck and between her shoulder blades. "Ada spooked and ran toward the marshland. You know how nervous she can be during storms. She got caught behind Aaron's Rock."
Bertie tsked and shook her dark-blonde head. "Your grandfather's warned you about riding out in the moors by yourself, especially in such weather. I've heard him say it a dozen times or more. He'll be powerful angry when he finds out you were out there alone."
Bertie was right, of course. Grandfather was not shy about sharing his opinions, and he loathed disobedience. Bertie had only been at Wyndcliff a few weeks and already understood their unique relationship. Evelyn forced brightness to her tone. "Then let's hope he won't give it much of a thought now that Mr. Twethewey has arrived."
Once the fastenings were tied, Evelyn resumed the uncomfortable task of brushing mud from her hair. She needed to hurry. Marnie, Wyndcliff Hall's housekeeper, would need assistance—or at least moral support—with the new master's unexpected arrival.
"Now then, what's he like?" Bertie gathered the discarded shift and dirty linen cloths. "I saw only the back of 'im, and even then he was clear across the courtyard."
Evelyn's brushing slowed. She hardly knew how to respond. In truth she'd been startled by Mr. Twethewey. It was rare to run across strangers on that stretch of moorland. And yet she was impressed by him. He was young with striking black hair and brilliant blue eyes, and that alone was arresting. And he'd been kind to her. Many men might have passed her by to deal with the pony on her own. After being discovered in such a perilous position, she felt small. Silly. Incapable.
She tossed her damp hair. It would do no good to wallow in self-doubt. And as for Bertie's question, she was not willing to share her personal feelings with someone she'd known for such a short time. "I suppose we shall all find out soon enough. But for now I must go to Marnie. She is no doubt beside herself."
Bertie chuckled and looped the dirty garments over her arm. "She was already wary of his arrival when she thought it was a month hence. But for him to show up sudden-like, with no warning..." Bertie's words faded into the small chamber's deceptive stillness.
For it was not still at all.
The entire fabric of Wyndcliff Hall was rippling and evolving, even now as Mr. Twethewey roamed Wyndcliff grounds. She'd be lying to say she did not share Bertie's curiosity about the new master. As far as Evelyn was concerned, any change to Wyndcliff's sleepy patterns was welcome.
In that moment she could not help but wonder what Mother would think of Mr. Twethewey. Surely she'd think him a handsome man, as Evelyn did, and since he now possessed such expansive property, she'd surely consider him an ideal suitor—if it weren't for the fact that he was associated with Wyndcliff. Mother hated everything about Wyndcliff, and Evelyn doubted that any amount of money would change her mind.
After instructing Bertie to return to her normal evening duties, Evelyn adjusted the long sleeves of her clean gown, donned a fresh cloak of brown wool, and made her way from the cottage across the mist-laden cobbled courtyard to Wyndcliff Hall's kitchen entrance.
Light glowed from deep-set windows that on any other night would be dark at this hour. She pushed open the timber door. Warmth and spicy scents met her.
Marnie Taymer whirled from the fire, her wiry white hair hanging from beneath her dingy cap, her dark eyes wide. "He's here! An' without a proper warnin' neither."
"I know." Evelyn stepped farther into the room and closed the door behind her, barring the swirls of wind determined to make their way indoors. "But consider, Marnie. It's his home."
"Home or not, a bit of notice would've been sorely welcome. Probably just came early to catch us all unawares, I'd wager."
"Oh, I doubt that." Evelyn removed her cloak and hung it on the peg next to the door. "Besides, if you were Mr. Twethewey, wouldn't you be eager to lay claim to your estate?"
Ignoring Evelyn's reasoning, Marnie bustled across the kitchen to grip a copper pot. "And now we've got an entire house to get ready. La, my soul! Dusty an' dirty—we ain't even seen the inside of some of these chambers in years, what with naught but myself to see to it."
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book The Christmas Swap by Melody Carlson.