Natasha Rowlands is renovating her dream home – the last thing she needs are builders frightened by ghosts or a murder in the yard. But even worse is the worryingly attractive man in her drawing room who says he lives in 1810.
The complex conversion of a down-at-heel Georgian house in the market town of Welhampstead is a dream come true for Tash and the discovery of a door that takes her back to 1810 is not going to scare her away, even when five minutes after meeting Matthew Sheldon a murdered man is discovered in the stable yard.
Matthew has enough problems preparing the Clock House for occupation by his legitimate half-brother, son of Viscount Halwell, but he cannot ignore a dead man in the woodshed, nor the other crimes that follow, all with a worrying connection to his own family. Now he has to get his head around time travel, independent women and the sight of Natasha in jeans.
There had been a time – quite recently, in fact – when he had been a decent, hardworking, respectable gentleman. One who did not break the law and did not lust after respectable young ladies. One who had never seen a murdered person or imagined that time did anything but flow in one direction like a river.
That, Matthew thought as he attempted to make himself invisible under what had proved, unfortunately, to be a holly bush, was before he had met Miss Natasha Rowlands.
Book One of the Clock House Mysteries and linked to the Time Into Time series.
I stepped through, the board fell back against the wall behind me, and I was in a different world.
It smelt different, it looked different, and it even sounded different. Quieter, for one thing – no hammering, no sounds of power tools. Voices, yes: male, in loud exchanges from the yard to the rear. From outside on the road I could hear the sound of hooves and wheels on a rough surface.
My brain was sending very clear messages that it wanted to get out of there now and my legs were in total agreement. I took one step back, then made myself look around. I was not going to be frightened out of my own house. Out of what would be my home.
The drawing room was empty of all but furniture, most of it draped in dust sheets. There were pale rectangles on the walls where pictures must once have hung above the panelling and the rods at the windows had no curtains on them. The nineteen seventies doors that should have been to my right and left had vanished and the door in the rear partition was no longer modern. The walls were perfect, with mouldings and panelling intact.
I tried pinching myself. ‘Ouch!’ That was no help, so I attempted some rational thought. Everything else in my day so far had been logical. This wasn’t, I was certain, a dream. It certainly wasn’t wishful thinking – the last things property developers want are archaeology in the garden, skeletons under the floorboards or local legends that the place is haunted. Ghosts are a complete no-no.
My pulse rate had settled to merely frantic, so I took a careful look around without moving from my position a couple of feet inside the door. Everything I could see dated from the late eighteenth or early nineteenth centuries. Nothing suggested fussy Victorian taste, so it was probably before the eighteen forties, if not earlier.
It was 1830 when the property was sold by the local bigwig. That was when it became a lodging house and began its long slide down the social scale.
This was enough, I decided, much to the relief of my legs, which were decidedly weak at the knees. I’d just back out and have hysterics at Vic, but first I’d take photos. I took my phone from its pocket in the big messenger bag that goes everywhere with me and managed half a dozen shots before my hand began to shake too much. I stuffed it back in my bag.
That was when the man walked in.
I screamed. It was soundless, because there wasn’t any air in my lungs.
We stared at each other.
I took a deep breath. ‘Who the hell are you? Get out of my house.’
‘Who are you and what the devil are you doing in here?’ he said at the same moment.
I was used to the look of Regency-style clothing because I sometimes help Jack, and one of his costumed YouTube films is about the Regency kitchen. I had played the lady of the house giving orders to the cook (Jack) and I’d done some research. Well, I’d looked at a lot of pictures. Plus, of course, you can’t switch on the TV these days without finding a Regency costume drama.
This man was in what I assumed was everyday male attire for anyone middle class or above. Brown breeches and boots, a darker brown coat with tails and, under it, a glimpse of dark green waistcoat. His neck cloth was plain and he was bareheaded.
He frowned at me, seeming more puzzled than angry, and took a step closer. ‘You are trespassing.’ Then, ‘You are a woman?’
‘The last time I looked, yes,’ I said sarkily. I was wearing my usual on-site uniform of chinos, safety boots and sweatshirt, topped off with a high-viz waistcoat and a white safety hat with TASH in wonky felt-tip across the front. None of that hid the fact that I go in and out in all the right places, that I was wearing mascara and lipstick and my hair was in a plait over one shoulder. You dress to stay safe on a building site, but I can see no reason for looking as though I’ve been digging sewer trenches.
My mystery man took another step and I took a good look at him. If I had to describe him to the police I was going to sound like an idiot because, just then, all I could say was he’d got excellent boots and damn fine legs.
I forced myself to concentrate. He was a smidge under six foot with dark hair and strong features. Not a pretty boy and no pin-up looks either, but still good to look at if one wasn’t concentrating on other things – like fleeing the room or reaching for a hefty spanner.
If this character wanted to play at being Mr Darcy, I’d test him. ‘What’s the date?’ I asked.
He blinked, close enough now that I could see that he had blue-grey eyes. ‘June the twentieth,’ he said.
Correct. ‘What year?’
His eyebrows went up, but I could almost see his decision to humour me – presumably until he got close enough to pounce. ‘Eighteen hundred and ten.’