The Cruel Dark
by Bea Northwick
Publication date: October 31st 2023
Genres: Adult, Gothic, Romance
Millicent Foxboro is haunted.
Not by ghosts, but by the anguish of her past and the uncertainty of her future. After all, even in the progressive year of 1928, most people would balk at hiring a woman who’d spent two months in a mental ward for traumatic amnesia. So when an uncommon assistantship to a reclusive Professor of mythology falls into her lap with an ungodly salary attached, her desperation for stability overrides her cautious nature.
To Millie’s dismay, the widowed Professor Callum Hughes and his estate, Willowfield, are more than she bargained for. The once magnificent home, known for its sprawling gardens and dazzling parties, is falling to pieces after the death of the professor’s fragile wife. What’s more, the staff has been reduced to the only three people not frightened away by rumors of ghosts, leaving the halls empty and languishing in bitter memories.
The professor himself is a grim, intense man with unclear expectations, unpredictable moods, and hungry eyes that ignite Millie’s own dormant passions. The closer she finds herself drawn to Professor Hughes and his strange world of flowers and folklore, the more the house closes in, threatening to reveal her secrets. But the professor is keeping secrets of his own, and the most dangerous of all is hers to discover.
I’d never questioned the presence of my wits more than the moment I stood in the frigid morning air and watched the hired car arrive. The vehicle, sleek and ostentatious, was said to be capable of going fifty miles an hour, and I pretended it was the prospect of that speed making my stomach do somersaults.
The car pulled to a smooth stop, and a tall, ruddy driver unfolded himself from the front seat, introduced himself briefly as Joseph Dempsey, and went to collect my bags. It was short work; I had only one. I wasn’t a woman of means. As the gentleman loaded my valise into the trunk, I ran my bare fingers along the smooth deep sea blue of the wheel hull. This was, undoubtedly, the worst decision I’d ever made, but there were few options, and this was by far the least evil of them.
I glanced over my shoulder to the doorway of the little bookshop I’d come to know as home, where the stooped owner, Mr. Helm, had appeared, his blue eyes uncharacteristically red-rimmed. I’d never seen him on the verge of tears, and my heart constricted painfully. I rushed to him, pulling a thin cotton handkerchief from my pocket. It wasn’t in his character to embrace, so he enveloped both of my hands in his. They were large hands, covered in the ink stains of his trade as an antique book restorer, a business he had been teaching me for the past year despite his once firmly held belief that restoration was not for women.
Mr. Helm had been a tall man in his youth, but the war and many years hunched over a workman’s table had scuttled his stature. I didn’t need to lift my chin to look at his face, which was working to arrange itself into something less aggrieved. I was glad for his trying, because I would call off everything if even one tear rolled down his cheek.
Bea Northwick is a lover of magical, spooky, and romantic things. She owns too much perfume, can’t pick an aesthetic, and loves 80s movies. She lives with her husband, children, dogs, and a black cat in the sunny American South where she dreams daily of Irish cottages and rain swept Scottish castles.
The Cruel Dark is her debut novel.
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