Title: The Woman Behind the Mirror
Author: Jan Selbourne
Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance
Betrothed by her father to a man twice her age, Sarah Forsythe does the unthinkable—she runs away with the son of a Methodist minister. Not to Gretna Green, to colonial America—the New World. For Sarah, a “new world” of broken promises, abandonment, poverty and shame. Around her, the American Revolution is quickly developing, and the siege of Boston worsens by the day. As British soldiers seek out traitors and treason, a desperate Sarah breaks open a safe looking for cash. Instead, she finds a box holding Bank of England documents. Through willpower, bitter determination, and lying through her teeth, Sarah manages to make her way home to England. What she doesn’t know is that two men follow, and they will do anything to claim those documents.
Bank investigator Neil McAlister faces an almost impossible task—to determine the true owner of the documents by deciding who is lying. Most of all, as danger creeps ever closer, he needs to know who wants the secretive, beautiful Sarah dead.
Laugher, clinking glasses, colours and heady perfume filled the ballroom. When Lady Webber signalled the orchestra to begin, Sarah moved back as couples formed for the first cotillion. She could barely remember the steps of any dance and would make a complete fool of herself. Inclining her head to an elderly woman wearing a hideous turban, she retreated further to the potted plants and statuettes.
A voice from behind made her jump. “Why aren’t you dancing?”
Sarah whirled around. “Because…” She didn’t know what to say.
“No one asked? I can barely believe it.”
Feeling stupid and awkward, she remained silent.
“Don’t tell me you can’t dance,” Neil taunted.
“Take care of your bank business and I’ll take care of my shortcomings,” she bit back.
“I can’t take care of my bank business if you won’t allow me to take the documents to London.” he said sharply.
“I told you I want a written assurance of a reward. I know and you know I will never see them again.”
Neil leaned closer. “I told you we can apply to the courts for a warrant to seize them.”
“You will seize a pile of ash.”
“You could go to prison,” Neil replied coldly.
“Really? I should have burned them in Boston to keep warm.” She shrugged. “I believe they are quite genuine, otherwise you wouldn’t be in such a fuss.”
“They must be examined properly. Forgeries are the bank’s biggest headache.”
“If they are genuine, the bank can hold them for Claude Westfield and give me an appropriate reward for bringing them safely to you.”
“You are not shy in demanding money,” Neil said caustically.
“No, I’m not. I rely on my brother for a roof over my head and it—” She broke off as her cheeks flushed. “Go and enjoy yourself and leave me alone.”
As she moved away Neil put his hand on her arm. “There is no need to be unpleasant. If they are genuine, we will discuss it further.”
“Nothing more to discuss,” Sarah’s eyes never left his. “Remove your hand.”
Neil’s face hardened. “You think you hold all the cards, madam, but rest assured, until you are more amenable, you’ll get nothing.”
“Neither will you, sir. Beneath your smooth bank exterior, you are no better than your forebears who loaned their gold at outrageous interest.”
Neil’s fingers dug into her arm. “You are no better than a street hawker yourself.”
“Get your hand off me,” Sarah’s voice rose as she wrenched her arm away. “Leave me alone!”
Neil’s expression changed from irritation to disbelief to shock. “Good God,” he breathed. “It was you.”
Sarah felt the blood drain from her face.
“I knew you were telling me a pack of lies,” he said quietly, “But there was something else I couldn’t put my finger on. For all my faults, I rarely forget voices or faces. It’s your voice. It was you inside Griffins clubrooms.”
He pointed to the small scar under his eye. “Your fingernails left me with a permanent reminder.”
“I don’t know what you are talking about,” she said stiffly.
“Oh yes you do. Not only quick with your fingernails and boots but very adept with a knife as well. I thanked the gods it wasn’t shoved into my innards.”
Fear lanced through her. “You are insulting and outrageous, sir. Is this the way you converse with other ladies of your acquaintance?”
“No, but don’t worry, I won’t say anything because no one would believe me,” he smiled slightly. “You look pale, let us sit down.”
His hand was under her elbow guiding her to a bench seat and he sat beside her.
“You can’t spend the night hiding behind plants. My aunt and the old matrons will see we are missing and assume we are up to no good.”
Sarah couldn’t look at him. “Then go away and save your reputation.”
“I’d like to but… Oh hell,” Neil muttered as a flushed Malcom Webber and a blonde woman pushed through the plant fronds.
“I say Neil, are you hiding from us?” Malcolm smirked at Sarah. “I hope my cousin isn’t making a nuisance of himself.”
“Not at all, Mr Webber,” Sarah replied evenly. “I was just remarking to Mr McAlister what a delightful evening this is.”
“Why are you sitting here for heaven’s sake?”
“Malcolm,” Neil chided. “Mrs Langford isn’t acquainted with our guests and felt a little shy. However, she has consented to join me in the next dance, whatever it is.”
Malcolm blinked owlishly at Sarah. “Shy? We can’t have that. Now come along. I’ll make sure you know everyone.”
Taking the blond girl’s arm, he weaved his way back to the crowd.
“Three drinks and he won’t shut up, so you’d better join the throng and pretend you are enjoying yourself.” Neil stood up. “A glass of champagne?”
Sarah stood up beside him. I’ll need more than one.
Neil led her into the crowd and plucked two glasses from a passing servant. “I need a hefty shot of whiskey. Never thought I’d meet the woman who fought me like a man.”
Sarah almost choked on her champagne. “Enough, I will not tolerate your insolence!”
“Insolence? My dear lady, you invented the word. However, tonight I am more worried about you crushing my toes on the dancefloor. Now smile, people are looking at us.”
Dumbfounded, she swallowed another mouthful of champagne, breathed deeply and drained her glass.
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What’s your favorite activity to shake off the winter doldrums?
Cooking a roast dinner. A glass of wine, a thick rug and a good book. Watching for the first spring buds on trees and bushes.
Why is your featured book a cure for the winter blues?
A young woman’s impulsive naïve decision to elope to the other side of the world was a recipe for disaster. When Sarah hits rock bottom, she has two choices - go under or grow a hard shell to survive. It takes a lot of intestinal fortitude and, behind closed doors, a lot of tears, but she doesn’t give in until trust slowly comes back into her life.
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