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Authors: M.C. Beaton

Annabelle

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M. C. Beaton
is the author of the hugely successful Agatha Raisin and Hamish Macbeth series, as well as a quartet of Edwardian murder mysteries featuring heroine Lady Rose Summer, several Regency romance series and a stand-alone murder mystery,
The Skeleton in the Closet
– all published by Constable & Robinson. She left a full-time career in journalism to turn to writing, and now divides her time between the Cotswolds and Paris. Visit
www.mcbeatonbooks.co.uk
for more, or follow M. C. Beaton on Twitter:
@mc_beaton
.

 

Titles by M. C. Beaton

The Poor Relation

Lady Fortescue Steps Out • Miss Tonks Turns to Crime • Mrs Budley Falls from Grace Sir Philip’s Folly • Colonel Sandhurst to the Rescue • Back in Society

A House for the Season

The Miser of Mayfair

Plain Jane

The Wicked Godmother

Rake’s Progress

The Adventuress

Rainbird’s Revenge

The Six Sisters

Minerva

The Taming of Annabelle

Deirdre and Desire

Daphne

Diana the Huntress

Frederica in Fashion

Edwardian Murder Mysteries

Snobbery with Violence

Hasty Death

Sick of Shadows

Our Lady of Pain

The Travelling Matchmaker

Emily Goes to Exeter

Belinda Goes to Bath

Penelope Goes to Portsmouth

Beatrice Goes to Brighton

Deborah Goes to Dover

Yvonne Goes to York

Agatha Raisin

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden

Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell

Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came

Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate

Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House

Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance

Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon

Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor

Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye

Agatha Raisin and a Spoonful of Poison

Agatha Raisin: There Goes the Bride

Agatha Raisin and the Busy Body

Agatha Raisin: As the Pig Turns

Agatha Raisin: Hiss and Hers • Agatha Raisin and the Christmas Crumble

Hamish Macbeth

Death of a Gossip

Death of a Cad

Death of an Outsider

Death of a Perfect Wife

Death of a Hussy

Death of a Snob

Death of a Prankster

Death of a Glutton

Death of a Travelling Man

Death of a Charming Man

Death of a Nag

Death of a Macho Man

Death of a Dentist

Death of a Scriptwriter

Death of an Addict

A Highland Christmas

Death of a Dustman

Death of a Celebrity

Death of a Village

Death of a Poison Pen

Death of a Bore

Death of a Dreamer

Death of a Maid

Death of a Gentle Lady

Death of a Witch

Death of a Valentine

Death of a Sweep

Death of a Kingfisher • Death of Yesterday

The Skeleton in the Closet

Also available

The Agatha Raisin Companion

Annabelle

M. C. Beaton

 

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd.

55–56 Russell Square

London WC1B 4HP

www.constablerobinson.com

First electronic edition published 2011

by RosettaBooks LLC, New York

This edition published in the UK by Canvas,

an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd., 2013

Copyright © M. C. Beaton, 1980

The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, resold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or to actual events or locales is entirely coincidental.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in

Publication Data is available from the British Library

ISBN: 978-1-47210-127-3 (ebook)

Cover copyright © Constable & Robinson

 

 

 

For Harry Scott Gibbons
and Charles David Bravos Gibbons,
with all my love.

Chapter One

Mr. James Quennell, the rector of Hazeldean, looked thoughtfully across the room at his eldest daughter, Annabelle, and wished for the hundredth time that he had not allowed himself to be coerced into sending the girl to London. This was to be Annabelle’s last evening at home before her departure for the South in the morning.

If only they weren’t so grindingly poor, if only he hadn’t three other daughters to support, if only his good wife was not—well, why not admit it?—such a forceful and pushing woman.

And if only Annabelle were not so strikingly beautiful.

The soft light from the oil lamp in the shabby parlor of Hazeldean rectory cast a warm glow over Annabelle’s features as she bent her head over her mending. She wore a simple round gown of cambric which had seen much wear, but even the shabby dress could not detract from the beauty of her voluptuous figure or take away an ounce of the startling effect of her creamy skin and masses of curly red-gold hair.

His other daughters, Mary, Susan, and Lisbeth, were all grouped around her. But they were as dark haired as their mother and had also inherited her sallow skin. The rector had timidly put forward the idea that one of the younger girls should go since Annabelle’s beauty might prove to be more of a curse than a blessing, but his
energetic wife had pooh-poohed the idea.

Mrs. Quennell had said in her usual strident manner, “The only thing we have in the bank is one beautiful daughter, and she should be used to the best advantage. Why send one of the others when you know they would not take?” This was all said with Mrs. Quennell’s usual insensitivity to the feelings of her other, less-favored daughters.

The rector, as always, bowed to his wife’s stronger will. Annabelle was to visit her godmother—a remote aristocratic connection on her mother’s side of the family—and have a Season in London. She must catch a rich husband, or she would not be doing her duty as a Christian. Annabelle had meekly agreed to all plans for her future as she had meekly agreed to her mother’s dictates from the day she was born. Even in the surrounding neighborhood, girls were married off every day to “suitable” gentlemen, and never once did the question of love or mutual esteem arise.

The only thing to raise doubts of any kind in Annabelle’s eighteen-year-old mind was the fact that her mother shied away from any discussion about Annabelle’s godmother—an unusual attitude in one so generally forthright. Godmother was Lady Emmeline, Dowager Marchioness of Eversley. What was she like? Mrs. Quennell had looked positively furtive. She couldn’t remember. She had not seen the Dowager Marchioness in years.

Annabelle’s last evening at home seemed like any other. Very few of her belongings had been packed since her godmother had written to say that a new wardrobe would be furnished.

And apart from the fact that her trunks were lying corded upstairs, no one would have guessed that one of the family was about to make a long and adventurous journey on the morrow.

Annabelle longed to have
someone—anyone
—to listen to her fears. What if she did not get married? What if her godmother should take her in dislike? But her sisters had banded together in their usual mutual envy of her beauty, and her mother had called her missish when she had tried to voice some of her doubts. Her father had merely pointed out that God would protect the innocent, leaving poor Annabelle to worry the more. Would He lean down from far above the clouds to protect a young girl during her first Season? Surely He had more important things to take care of than mere frivolities.

Annabelle looked round the shabby, cluttered parlor, at her three sisters tranquilly sure that life would be the same tomorrow as it was today, and her eyes misted with tears. The wind sighed in the old trees outside, and the grandfather clock in the corner seemed to tick away the seconds, faster and faster and faster, carrying her along on its racing heartbeats into the unknown tomorrow.

The Squire, Mr. Ralston, had kindly offered the use of his ancient and cumbersome travelling carriage and one of his wife’s maids as chaperone.

That much, at least, was known. But what of the long miles to London? What of London itself? And what of her mysterious godmother?

Her detailed measurements and one of her old gowns had been posted to London months ago so that her wardrobe would be ready for her on her arrival. What her mother had written about her, Annabelle did not know, but in one of her letters of reply, the Dowager Marchioness had expressed her relief that the girl was “not an antidote.”

The hollow chimes of the clock striking the hour roused Annabelle from her troubled thoughts. Her sisters were gathering up their sewing and yawning and stretching.

Mrs. Quennell indicated that it was time for bed but
signalled to Annabelle to remain after her sisters had gone upstairs.

She then fixed her daughter with her rather protruding stare. “This is the last chance I shall have to talk to you for some time, Annabelle,” she began. “I must make sure that you understand the honor that is being done you. You
must
—it is
imperative
that you marry well. God has given you the advantage of beauty, and it must be put to use for the benefit of the family. You will obey your godmother
implicity
since she has assured me if you do exactly as she says, then you will be affianced by the end of the Season. I trust you have not filled your head with nonsense from romances and expect a young and handsome gentleman to fall in love with you. That is not the way of the world. Often girls of your age are comfortably married to men much older. Believe me, love fades when there is no money.”

A look of pain passed over the gentle features of the rector. “And did your love fade?” he asked quietly, but his wife paid him not the smallest attention.

Annabelle shifted restlessly on her seat. She was used to lectures on her duty and young enough to look upon the task of marrying some man despite his age or manner as simply another kind of household chore. But she could not help wondering if her stern mother had ever felt any of the gentler passions. Often when her mother was lecturing her, Annabelle’s mind slid away onto some more pleasant topic, seeing her mother silently forming the words as if on the other side of a thick pane of glass. As usual her brain blocked out the words of the lecture, but this time she studied Mrs. Quennell as if looking at a stranger.

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