Silent, ruthless, protected by an unknown ally in Whitehall, he smuggles gold across the Channel to Bonaparte. When flimsy evidence points to the Essex coast, three men are given secret orders to find these traitors. One of those men, Julian Ashford, has his life transformed into debts and disgrace and sent back to Halton Hall, and Katherine the woman he loved and lost. What Julian discovers within the walls of his ancestral home is much deeper and more sinister than he thought possible, but nothing could prepare him for the betrayal when he finally faces the mastermind behind this sordid operation.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
Among the many stories of smuggling between England and France during the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, I was surprised to learn gold crossed the Channel to support Napoleon Bonaparte's quest to dominate Europe. A story of traitors, blackmail and secrets was irresistible.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
A chance remark that 'we aren't the same person we were ten years ago' clicked for the characters I wanted for this story. Julian and Katherine were in their twenties when their illicit love affair ended in anger. Life was not kind to either of them and when they meet again, they are very different people.
Julian felt a sliver of shock when he opened the door to his bedchamber. He couldn’t remember how he got here. Swearing softly, he walked to the window overlooking the front courtyard and rested his head against the glass. He’d fathered a child, a daughter. For nine years, his daughter had lived in this house as Charles’s daughter. His vision blurred. Ten years of hard living had buried those deep painful scars and all it took was one look at Katherine and that small girl’s face to peel it all away. Like peeling an onion, his eyes were stinging like hell.
He remembered the night he met Katherine as if it were yesterday. Charles was in France and he was in London attending a debutante’s ball. Bored out of his head with the simpering young females and strutting males he was looking for an excuse to depart when his cousin’s tall, elegant wife, Katherine was introduced to him. The orchestra began playing and he asked her to join him on the floor. It was a waltz; he took her in his arms, her eyes met his and he knew he’d met the only woman he’d ever love. They’d set off murmurs behind fans for dancing twice and they didn’t leave each other for a week. They’d made intense, passionate, love, they’d laid in each other’s arms and talked for hours, they were as one. She’d confided Charles was a hard, brutish man but she would not leave him because she’d lose all rights to her four years old son. He’d begged her, made promises he knew he couldn’t keep. She’d shaken her head in despair. As soon as Charles returned to London they would go home to Halton Hall.
He’d prayed Charles’s ship would sink to the bottom of the Channel. She’d cried in his arms; he’d cried in her arms. The day before Charles was due to arrive in London they became tense with each other and finally, distraught, he’d accused her of selling herself for the title and privilege. She’d thrown a heavy teapot at his head. When it struck, he’d seen stars for several seconds before shouting more insults. She’d furiously told him he couldn’t afford to keep her on his army pay. He’d walked out.
Julian barely remembered the following months of heavy drinking and angry self-pity until the army knocked his arrogance and selfishness out of him and saved his sanity. He knew damn well his army pay wouldn’t have kept her and he knew damn well she’d have lost all rights to her son. Knowing Charles, he would have demanded she be brought back to him and the law and the church would have supported him. Her life would have been worse than hell. Now this, Christ, never in a million years did he expect this. He wanted to walk away but he couldn’t because the whole damn top secret investigation would crumble or blow up in his face.
He sat down by the fire and put his head in his hands. He didn’t know it then, but that night fourteen months ago, changed his life. Benjamin Bloomfield, aide de camp to His Royal Highness, the Prince Regent, had ordered Brigadier Sir Ian MacDonald, Sir Henry Whitton and himself to meet at a nondescript location on the outskirts of London. On their arrival, they’d been momentarily lost for words to find a sober and serious Prince Regent waiting for them. Senior government officials had drawn the Regent’s attention to the alarming amounts of gold leaving England. Well-placed sources in France had reported English gold was being smuggled across the Channel to help finance Napoleon Bonaparte’s army. Intensive investigations along the east coast had failed to find any solid evidence but the Regent was not satisfied. He and Bloomfield were convinced someone in the upper echelons of power and influence was behind it or protecting the smugglers. That night the five men present decided that from now on the Prince Regent would shrug it off as rumours and lose interest.
That night MacDonald, Whitton and Julian agreed to begin their search for the source. The Prince Regent named the secret investigation Spider’s Web. The three men thought the name childish but they dutifully indulged His Royal Highness. Not one word of the meeting was recorded and at the conclusion the Prince Regent instructed the three men to meet on the first day of each month and report their progress to Bloomfield the day after. Their investigations were secret and painstaking and gradually they began to close in on this part of the coast. They had observed from a distance, they had moved a little closer and then, as with every other investigation, the scent disappeared. However, they were convinced and MacDonald decreed Julian was the only suitable person to come and go around the Ballingford estates and the coast without raising suspicions.
Julian stretched his feet towards the fire, remembering his furious refusal to return to this place he despised intensely and how he nearly resigned his commission when summoned to a private audience with the Prince Regent. High Treason was involved and as an officer of the Crown he was expected to do his duty. He’d reluctantly bowed to HRH’s orders and it was agreed that to be convincing he’d have to be in dire straits to return. His debts, scandals and fistfights were carefully and authentically orchestrated culminating in him being bawled out by Ian MacDonald who’d conveniently forgotten the raw young corporal and scandal loving clerk in his office. Then their one reliable informer, who’d only agreed to meet him under strict conditions of anonymity, was found with his throat cut. He and Baker had arrived at Halton Hall with no idea of where to start or where to look for the needle in the haystack of boats and fishermen and identify whoever was behind this well organized group of traitors. When he did find evidence, his orders were to send a coded message to MacDonald and Whitton and the net would close in.
No matter what was thrown at him now, he could not walk away. They were so close and if the web was broken it could not be repaired. Nor could he let down Ian MacDonald, his uncle and mentor, to whom he owed so much.
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Jan Selbourne grew up in Melbourne, Australia. Her love of literature and history began as soon as she could read and hold a pen. Her career started in the dusty world of ledgers and accounting then a working holiday in the UK brought the history to life. Now retired, Jan can indulge her love of writing and travel. She has two adult children and lives near Maitland, New South Wales.
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