Forced marriages are a time-honored trope in Regency romance. Recently there was To Have and to Hoax, by Martha Waters, and then there are classics like Outlander, by Diana Gabaldon, and The Convenient Marriage, by Georgette Heyer. In each of these novels the hero and heroine must marry to save the heroine’s reputation, and or because their families insist upon it because of social or financial reasons. Marrying someone because they need to protect their identity as a spy is a clever twist on the forced marriage trope that is employed in Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey, by Abigail Wilson. However, that surprising plot point is only the tip of the iceberg. This novel is so packed full of mystery, intrigue, and romantic tension that you will be turning pages until the wee hours while your heart hurts from the emotional tension.
Here is a description and an exclusive excerpt from the author only for Austenprose readers. Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey releases on May 26, so be sure to pre-order your little bit of escapist fun with a handsome highwayman living a double life and his emergency bride.
In this new Regency romance, Elizabeth knows she must protect her heart from the charm of her new husband, Lord Torrington. She is not, however, prepared to protect her life.
When the widowed Lord Torrington agreed to spy for the crown, he never planned to impersonate a highwayman, let alone rob the wrong carriage. Stranded on the road with an unconscious young woman, he is forced to propose marriage to protect his identity and her reputation, as well as his dangerous mission.
Trapped not only by her duty to her country but also by her limited options as an unwed mother, Miss Elizabeth Cantrell, and her infant son are whisked away to Middlecrest Abbey by none other than the elder brother of her son’s absent father. There she is met by Torrington’s beautiful grown daughters, a vicious murderer, and an urgent hunt for the missing intelligence that could turn the war with France. Meanwhile, she must convince everyone that her marriage is a genuine love match if her new husband has any hope of uncovering the enemy.
Determined to keep her son’s true identity a secret, Elizabeth will need to remain one step ahead of her fragile heart, her uncertain future, and the relentless fiend bent on her new family’s ruin.
Clearly, the man was accustomed to barking orders and having them performed immediately. By the look in his eye, he had a plan, and considering his presence in my room, it must involve me. A chill swept over me, but I shook it off, adding hurriedly, “Allow me to remind you, this is not a game. I am not some chess piece to be moved at will, my lord.”
He plunged his fingers into his hair, which drew my attention to a small patch of gray residing just above his forehead. “I do apologize if I gave you that impression. I have never been one for tact. In fact, I have spent the last hour or more calculating the best way to tell you what has transpired since the crash. I don’t wish to upset you, however—”
“It is a bit late for that. Be assured, you have upset absolutely everything—my plans, my future.” I sighed. “Simply give me the whole of it, if you please.”
He slumped into the chair beside the bed, his words achingly slow to come. “You have already made the connection that I was posing as a highwayman when the accident occurred.”
“How could I not? You pointed a pistol at me through the window. Did you think I could forget such a thing? And my coachman, dare I ask how he fares?”
Torrington ran his hand down his face as I’d seen my brother, Lucius, do a thousand times when his back was against a wall. “He has a few broken bones, but the doctor assures me he will heal. I’ve paid the staff to see to anything he needs.”
Torrington waited for me to fully digest what he’d said, the shadow of pain evident in his eyes. “Is he a friend of yours?”
“No, although he was quite close with my brother, Lucius, at one time.”
The muscles in Torrington’s jaw clenched, and he shook his head. “As I said before, the whole blasted robbery was a mistake. Listen—” He lifted his finger to point at me, then crushed it into a fist and pressed it against his chin. “I can see you have no intention of making this easy—gawking at me like that.” He took a long breath. “And you had to be Curtis Sinclair’s cousin-in-law. Convenient.” He tapped his fingers on the bed first one direction then the next. “I do realize you deserve more than a well-constructed lie, yet . . . Tell me, has Mr. Sinclair ever mentioned me before?”
“Mentioned you? Good gracious no. Why should he?” The words were out rather quickly, but as I met Torrington’s sharp gaze, my thoughts took a wild turn, back to a year and a half before when Curtis spent time as a British spy. He’d posed as a highwayman to gather information. Could Torrington be involved in something similar? Brook had never revealed anything of the sort.
Torrington dipped his head, watching me with a keen eye for several seconds, then smiled impulsively. He knew I knew.
If only I wasn’t such a terrible liar, I might try to deny what was probably written across my face. My shoulders slumped. “You worked with Curtis?”
A slow nod. “You could say that.”
I narrowed my eyes and took the bait. “For the crown?”
Torrington paused to appraise the coverlet, then abruptly looked up. “You must realize it goes against my very nature to discuss something I have kept well-hidden for nearly fifteen years.”
I didn’t move.
“On the other hand, if Curtis saw fit to entrust you with his own secret, and considering our situation, I believe I have little choice but to do so as well.” Something shifted in his countenance. Concern? Confidence? It was hard to read Torrington’s slight emotions in the candlelight. His voice, though, took a dangerous dip as he gripped my hand. “What I am about to say must be kept in the strictest confidence.”
I met his steady glare. “You have my silence. Go on.”
“At present and in secret, I work as an agent for the British government.” His eyes flashed. “Moreover, I’m a spy.”
An odd mix of emotions struck me as I processed his confession. Half shock, half interest. I’d always thought of Curtis as selfless and good. How on earth had Brook’s scandalous elder brother become involved in such a noble endeavor?
Torrington glanced down at his hands as he folded them on the bed, his voice low but rushed. “I was sent by a secret division of the government called the special office to rob your coach. You see, the authorities in Dover uncovered information that a document was being moved across England in a carriage matching your coach’s description. I was told this missive, whatever it may be, is of vital importance to the war effort.” He steadied his gaze. “I’ve single-handedly put Wellington in a difficult position after I held up what I can only deduce was the wrong coach.”
“It most certainly was the wrong coach. I haven’t the least notion of any document, and I’ve never had any love for France.”
He closed his eyes. “I’m well aware you are not a part of the spying network we have been playing cat and mouse with over the last few years. My blasted error has ruined everything. For you, for Britain.” He lowered his head. “And when your cousin-in-law finds out what I’ve done . . .”
The silence of the room pressed against my ears. He was right. I could only imagine Curtis’s reaction to all I’d experienced. He was currently in London unaware I’d even left his home, let alone traveled without warning to accept a housekeeping position for a friend. Of course, I planned to write them when I had settled and there was no question of fetching me back.
I cleared my throat. “Your words do have merit, my lord. Curtis can be quite protective of his family. Yet . . .” I glanced up. “He may also be kept in the dark if need be.”
Concern crept into Torrington’s eyes. “Unfortunately, there is more, a great deal more.” He adjusted his position on the chair, and for the first time I thought him genuinely nervous. He forced more of a grimace than a smile as he rested against the seat back. “You see, when the second carriage arrived at the scene of the accident, you’d already removed my mask. I said something to protect my identity that I have now come to regret.”
The dull headache threatened to return, so I waved him on.
His voice dipped into a sort of comical apology. “I, uh, told them you were my wife.”
Chapter 1, pages 12- 15
- “a splendid tale of murder and deception in this fun, suspenseful Regency.,,Wilson strikes a nice balance between intrigue and gentle romance.”—Publisher’s Weekly
- “…the romance and the mystery in this book were well-crafted, and I found this a unique and enjoyable take on the ubiquitous Regency romance.” —Rosanne E. Lortz, author of the Pevensey Mysteries
- “Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey is a wonderful story that I won’t soon forget. If you are a fan of Regency, Romance, and/or Suspense then this is definitely the book for you!”—Nicole Santana, The Christian Fiction Girl
- “I truly enjoyed this tale of love tenuously found against the trial and very real hardship of past betrayals. Two tender hearts must find strength in an unconventional union despite the barriers of the circumstance that brought them together and against the ongoing war with Fance. Intelligent use of espionage, a fully realized and believable world and the cherished bonds of family —at their worst and best— are prevailing themes in this unique Regency.”—Rachel MacMillan, author of The London Restoration
Abigail Wilson combines her passion for Regency England with intrigue and adventure to pen historical mysteries with a heart. A registered nurse, chai tea addict, and mother of two crazy kids, Abigail fills her spare time hiking the national parks, attending her daughter’s gymnastic meets, and curling up with a great book. In 2017, Abigail won WisRWA’s Fab Five contest and in 2016, ACFW’s First Impressions contest as well as placing as a 2017 finalist in the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. She is a cum laude graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and currently lives in Dripping Springs, Texas, with her husband and children.
Masquerade at Middlecrest Abbey, by Abigail Wilson
Thomas Nelson (May 26, 2020)
Trade paper, eBook, & audiobook (336) pages
Cover image, book description, and excerpt courtesy of Thomas Nelson © 2020; text Laurel Ann Nattress © 2020, Austenprose.com