Black Rabbit Hall A novel

Eve Chase

Book - 2017

Amber Alton knows that the hours pass differently at Black Rabbit Hall, her London family's country estate, where no two clocks read the same. Summers there are perfect, timeless. Not much ever happens. Until, of course, it does. More than three decades later, Lorna is determined to be married within the grand, ivy-covered walls of Pencraw Hall, known as Black Rabbit Hall among the locals. But as she's drawn deeper into the overgrown grounds, half-buried memories of her mother begin to surface and Lorna soon finds herself ensnared within the manor's labyrinthine history, overcome with an insatiable need for answers about her own past and that of the once-happy family whose memory still haunts the estate.

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FICTION/Chase, Eve
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1st Floor FICTION/Chase, Eve Checked In
Thrillers (Fiction)
Suspense fiction
New York : G.P. Putnam's Sons 2017.
Main Author
Eve Chase (author)
First G.P. Putnam's Sons trade paperback edition
Item Description
Subtitle from cover.
Contains a conversation with Eve Chase, discussion guide and excerpt eve Chase's next novel, the wildling sisters.
Physical Description
399 pages ; 21 cm
Contents unavailable.
Review by Booklist Review

Lorna and her fiancé, Jon, are driving through Cornwall, determined to fight their way through the driving rain to the last wedding venue on their list. Black Rabbit Hall, the Alton Estate, has been special to Lorna since before she can remember. She still feels a strange connection to the drafty house despite having only a few old photographs of the place. After accepting an invitation to stay for a few days, Lorna ends up uncovering more than she could have ever imagined about Black Rabbit Hall, Cornwall, the Alton family, and herself. Chase has crafted a gothic family mystery, weaving the histories of Lorna Dunaway and Amber Alton together by using both as narrators in leaping between Lorna's present day and Amber's late 1960s. The highly atmospheric setting immerses the reader in rainy, muddy Cornwall as the narrative drifts between musty rooms and uncurls in front of the fireplace. Chase is an imaginative author, drawing out the suspense of long-buried Alton family secrets. Fans of Carla Buckley and Lucie Whitehouse will enjoy this thrilling story of crumbling walls, forbidden love, and family sacrifice.--Turza, Stephanie Copyright 2016 Booklist

From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review

This leisurely paced modern British gothic is the debut novel from journalist Chase. Thirty-two-year-old schoolteacher Lorna and her fiancé, Jon, a carpenter who works for his family construction business, are Londoners in Cornwall to inspect possible venues for their marriage celebration. One place fetching Lorna's eye is the estate Pencraw Hall, better known as Black Rabbit Hall, which has seen better days. Upon their arrival, Lorna feels a close kinship to the sprawling manor house, but Jon has serious reservations and wants to leave. Lorna chats with the current owner, Caroline Alton, an aristocrat who is nearly broke. The book has a second narrative that takes place three decades earlier, further engaging the reader. Hugo Alton lives with his wife, Nancy, and their four young children at the same estate. After Nancy dies in an equine accident, the bereft Hugo introduces his family to his old American friend Caroline Shawcross, a widow, and her son, Lucian. When Hugo and Caroline marry, Hugo's eldest daughter, Amber, falls in love with the older Lucian, and their taboo relationship causes a dark scandal that the Altons go to painful and cruel lengths to shield from the public eye. Lorna accepts Caroline's invitation to stay at the manor house and then gets busy putting together the pieces to discover her ties to the Altons and Black Rabbit Hall. Her exposé of the family secrets paves the way to the upbeat resolution. Chase deserves high marks for her atmospheric setting and vivid prose, and fans of old-fashioned gothic stories will find this a winner. Agent: Kim Witherspoon, Inkwell Management. (Feb.) © Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review

Pencraw Hall (known quaintly as Black Rabbit Hall to Cornish locals) was once the well-loved home of a prominent family, but by the time Lorna scouts the house as a potential wedding venue, the estate has gone to ruins. Lorna is fascinated and takes childish delight with the hydrangeas popping up through the ballroom floorboards and the pails in each room to catch the rain from the leaky ceilings. Improbably, the manor is still inhabited by the elderly former matron, Mrs. Alton, who is desperate for money to maintain the residence. Mrs. Alton allows Lorna to tease out information about the house and the family's tragic past. VERDICT Chase's heart-wrenching first novel is equal parts romance, mystery, and historical fiction. For readers who are interested in complex period drama such as Daisy Goodwin's The American Heiress, or who enjoy a touch of the gothic such as in Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca or Diane Setterfield's The Thirteenth Tale. [See Prepub Alert, 8/31/15.]-Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL © Copyright 2016. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
Review by Kirkus Book Review

Thirty years apart, two women's secrets unfold within Black Rabbit Hall, a ramshackle ancestral home set in windswept Cornwall. In the late 1960s, Hugo Alton doted on Nancy, his gorgeous and gregarious wife. Indeed, Amber and her twin brother, Toby, often felt a bit like intruders when their parents kissed. Vacations spent at Black Rabbit Halla magical place where slates flying off the roof don't matter because the stars shine more brightly near the stormy seawere the highlight of the children's lives. That is, until Nancy's unexpected death. Yet at Nancy's funeral, a mysterious woman enters the church, a woman Hugo seems to know well. Much too soon for Amber's taste, this icy woman, Caroline Shawcross, and her dark son, Lucian, have ensconced themselves into their lives, with devastating effects. Three decades later, the Hall is in a pitiable state, and its remaining guardian, Mrs. Caroline Alton, is eager to hire it out as a venue for weddings. Enter Lorna Dunaway and her fiance, Jon. Jon questions whether the wilds of Cornwall might be a little far for their London family to travel; he's even more alarmed at the leaky roof, warped woodwork, and layers of dust. Is it even safe? Lorna, however, is absolutely smitten with Black Rabbit Hall, and she seizes eagerly upon Mrs. Alton's invitation to stay for a few nights, much to Jon's dismay. Soon enough, the house begins to weave a spell over Lorna, nudging her to notice relics that seem to point to her own past. Debut novelist Chase weaves together Lorna's investigations with Amber's tribulations, a tapestry embroidered with madness, a horrifying accident, and malicious lies. Compellingly readable and riddled with twists and turns worthy of Daphne du Maurier, Chase's tale will delight fans of romantic mysteries. Copyright Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

Copyright (c) Kirkus Reviews, used with permission.

AMBER Last day of the summer holidays, 1969, Cornwall   I feel safe on the cliff ledge, safer than in the  house, anyway. Afew feet  from  the  coast  path, it's a twenty-minute scramble  from  the edge of the estate, far enough  from  Black Rabbit Hall's watching win­ dows, a secret  place. I hover on the cliff above it for a moment or two, wind snapping my dress against my legs, soles of my feet tingling, then lower myself carefully,  gripping the clumps of grass, sea roaring in my ears.   (Best  not  to  look  down.) One small  heart-stop drop and  I'm perching right  on the edge of sky. Jump too wide, it's all over. I wouldn't do it. But it occurs to me that I like the fact I could. That I have some control over my destiny today.  Pressed  against  the  cliff wall,  I finally catch  my breath. So much frantic searching: woods,  rooms, endless  stairs.  Heels  rubbed raw in too-small tennis shoes.  And   I  still  haven't  found them. Where are they? Shading my eyes from  the sky dazzle  with  my hand, I scan the bottle-green cliff  tops  on the  other side of the  cove. Deserted. Only cattle in the fields. I inch  down then, spine  against the  rock, and  hitch  up  my dress, brazenly,  so that  air tunnels through my bare bent legs.  Still  at last,  I can't  outrun the  events  of the  day any longer.  Even the  sound  of the  waves on  the  rocks  makes  my slapped cheek  sting afresh.  I blink and  there  is the house, silhouetted on the inside  of my eyelids. So I try to keep my eyes open and let my mind loose in the vast pink sky, where the sun  and moon  hang like a question and an answer.  Iforget  that  Iam  meant  to  be searching. That minutes move faster  than clouds at dusk. I think only of my own escape. I don't know  how long I sit there, my thoughts pierced  by a huge black bird diving  over the  cliff, so close its talons might  catch  in  my hair. Iinstinctively duck  in its wing draft, nose meeting the cool skin of my knees.  And  when  I look up my gaze is no longer  on the sky but on flotsam bob bing on the high tide swell below. No, not flotsam. Something more alive. A dolphin? Or those  jelly­ fish that  have been washing up in our cove all week, like a lost cargo of gray glass bowls? Maybe. I lean forward, dipping my face over the edge to get a better view, hair  blowing  wildly, heart  beating a little  faster, starting to sense something terrible shifting just below the shimmer­ ing blue surface, not quite seeing it. Not yet.     Lorna More than three decades later        It is one  of those  journeys.  The  closer  they get to their destination, the  harder it is to imagine that  they'll ever actually arrive. There is always another bend  in  the  road,  a judder  to  the  dead  end of a farm track.  And  it is getting late, too late. Warm summer rain is drumming on the roof of the car. "I say we cut our losses and  head back to the  Band B." Jon cranes over  the  steering wheel  to get  a better view  of the  road  liquefying behind the  windscreen. "Grab a pint  and  plan a wedding somewhere within the M25.  What do you reckon?" Lorna draws a house with  her fingertip in the condensation on the window.  Roof. Chimney Squiggle of smoke. "Don't think so, darling." "Somewhere with a sunny microclimate, perhaps?" "Ha. Funny."  Despite the disappointments of the day so far-none of the  wedding venues  has  lived  up  to  expectation, too  much  over­ priced  chintz-Lorna is quite  happy. There is something exhilarating about  driving through this wild weather with  the man she is to marry, just the two of them  cocooned in their wheezing little  red Fiat. When they're old and  gray they'll remember this  journey,  she thinks. Being young and in love and in a car in the  rain. "Great." Jon  frowns  at a looming dark  shape  in the mirror. "All  I need  now is a massive bloody tractor up  my backside."  He  stops  at a crossroads, where various signs, bent  by the  wind,  point  in directions that  bear little relation to the angle of the corresponding roads. "Now where?" "Are we lost?" she teases, enjoying  the idea.  "The satnav  is lost. We  seem  to have gone off grid.  Only in your beloved Cornwall." Lorna smiles.  Jon's  is a  boyish,  uncomplicated grumpiness, one that  will evaporate with  the first  sign of the  house, or a cold beer.  He doesn't internalize things, like she does, or make obstacles symbolic  of other stuff. "Right." He nods at the map on Lorna's lap, which is scattered with biscuit  crumbs and  folded  haphazardly. "How are your  map-reading skills coming along, sweetheart?" "Well  ..." She scrabbles the  map open, bouncing the crumbs off to join the empty water bottles rolling on the sandy car floor. "According to my rough  cartological calculations, we're currently driving through the Atlantic." Jon  huffs  back in  his seat,  stretches out  his legs, too  long for  the small car. "Brilliant." Lorna leans  over, strokes his thigh  where muscle fades the denim. She knows  he's  tired  of driving down  unfamiliar roads  in  the  rain, touring wedding venues, this one, farthest away, hardest to find,  saved for last. They would  be on the Amalfi Coast  if she hadn't insisted that they come  to Cornwall instead. If Jon's  patience  is wearing thin, she can hardly blame him. Jon proposed back at Christmas, months ago, pine needles crunch­ ing beneath his bended knee.  For a long time,  that  was enough. She loved being engaged,  that state of blissful suspension: they belonged  to each  other, but  they  still  woke  up  every  morning and  chose  to  be together. She  worried about   jinxing  that   easy  happiness.  Anyway, there  was no mad rush.  They had all the time in the world. Then they  didn't. When  Lorna's   mother died  unexpectedly in May, grief punched her  back to earth and  the  wedding suddenly felt inescapably, brutally urgent. Her mother's death  was a reminder not to wait. Not  to put things on hold or forget  that  a black date is circled  on everyone's calendar, flipping ever closer.  Disorienting but also oddly life-affirming, it made her want to grab life in her fists, totter through the litter of Bethnal Green Road  on a drizzly Sunday morning in her lucky  red  heels.  This morning she  wiggled  herself  into  a sunshine­ yellow vintage sixties sundress. If she can't  wear it now, when?  Jon changes gears, yawns. "What's the  place called again, Lorna?" "Pencraw," she says brightly,  trying to keep his spirits up, mindful that  if it were up to Jon  they'd simply stuff his large, sprawling family into a marquee in his parents' Essex garden and  be done with it. Then they'd move down  the road,  near  his adoring sisters-swapping their tiny  city  flat   for  a suburban house   with  a  lawn  sprinkler-so  his mother, Lorraine, could  help with  all  the  babies  that  would  swiftly follow. Thankfully, it is not up to Jon. "Pencraw Hall." He runs a hand through his corn-colored hair, sun-bleached almost white at the tips. "One more shot?" She beams back. She loves this man.  "To hell with it, let's go this way. We've got a one-in-four chance of getting it right.  Hopefully we'll shake the tractor." He  presses his foot hard on the gas. They don't shake  it.  The  rain  continues to fall. The windscreen is mashed  with  cow­ parsley petals,  pushed  into snowy drifts by the squeaking wipers.  Lor­ na's heart  beats a little  faster  beneath the crisp cotton of her dress. Even  though  she  can't   see  much   beyond   the   rivulets  of  rain running down the  window,  she  knows  that  the  wooded  valleys, river creeks,  and deserted little  coves of the Roseland Peninsula lie beyond the  glass,  and  she  can  sense  them  already,  hulking out  there  in  the mist. She remembers being on these roads as a kid-they visited Corn­ wall  most  summers-and how  the  sea  air  would  rush  through the wound-down window,   blowing  away the  last  trapped bits  of grimy Greater London, and  the stitch  of tension on her mother's face. An  anxious woman, her  mother suffered from  insomnia all  her life:  the  seaside  seemed  to  be the  only  place she could  sleep.  When Lorna was little, she wondered if the Cornish air swirled  with strange sleepy  fumes,  like  the  poppy  field  in   The Wizard of Oz.   Now  a small voice in her head cannot help wondering if it swirls with family secrets. But she decides to keep this thought to herself. "Are you sure  this  old pile actually exists,  Lorna?"  Jon's arms  are straight and stiff at the wheel, eyes reddening with strain.  "It exists." She pulls up  her long, dark  hair, twisting it into  a top­ knot.  A few strands escape, fringing her pale neck. She feels the heat of his glance:  he loves her neck, the soft baby skin  just below her ears. "Remind me again." His eyes return to the road. "Some old manor house you visited with  your m urn while on holiday down here?" "That's right." She nods  enthusiastically. "Your  mum  enjoyed  a stately, Iknow that."  He  frowns up at the mirror. The  rain  is falling in undulating silver sheets  now. "But  how can you be sure it's this one?" "Pencraw Hall popped up  on some  online wedding directory. I recognized it straightaway." Already so many  things have faded-the hyacinth notes of her mother's favorite  perfume, the exact click of her tongue as she  searched for  her  reading glasses-but  in  the  last  few weeks other memories, long forgotten, seemingly random, have come into unexpected bright  focus. And this is one of them.  "Mum pointing up at this  big old house.  The  look of awe in her eyes. It sort  of stuck with  me." She  swivels  the  diamond engagement ring  on  her finger, remembering other things too.  A  pink-striped paper   bag  of fudge heavy  in  her  hand. A  river.  "Yes,  I'm  almost   certain it's  the  same house." "Almost?"  Jon shakes his head, laughs, one ofhis big belly laughs that rumble against  his ribs. "God, I must love you." They drive  in companionable silence  for a moment, Jon thought­ful. "Last day tomorrow, sweetheart."  "I  know." She sighs, not  relishing the thought of returning to the hot, crowded  city. "If you wanted to do something non-wedding-related?" His  voice is disarmingly soft.  She smiles, puzzled. "Sure.  What sort  of thing?"  "Well,   I  thought if  there   was  anywhere of ... significance  you wanted  to visit?" The words fall awkwardly.  He clears his throat, seeks her dark  eyes in the driver's mirror. Lorna  won't  meet  his gaze.  Her  fingers  are  loosening her  hair  so that  it swishes down,  hiding the  flush  of her cheeks. "Not really," she mumbles. "I  just want to see Pencraw." Jon sighs, changes  gears, lets the subject go. Lorna wipes the scrib­ ble of a house  off the clouded  window  and  peers  through the cleared porthole, nose to the cold glass, looping in her own thoughts. "So. The reviews?" he asks.  She hesitates. "Well, there  aren't  any reviews. Not  exactly" He raises an eyebrow. "But  I did  phone  and  speak  to a real  live human being,  the  lady of the  house's  personal assistant or something. A woman called Endellion." "What sort  of a name is that?" "Cornish."  "Are you going to use that  as an excuse for everything?"  "Yeah,  yeah." Lorna laughs,  slides  her feet  out  of her  silver  flip­ flops  and  rests  them  on  the  hard  gray plastic  of the  glove compart­ ment,  pleased  by the  tan  marks  and  that  her  pale  pink  nail  varnish hasn't  chipped. "She explained that  it's a private  house.  First year it's been hired  out.  So no reviews. But nothing dodgy, promise." He smiles. "You can  be such a sucker sometimes." "And you can be so bloody cynical,  my darling." "Realistic, realistic." He  glances  into  his  mirror, eyes hardening. "J esus." "What?"  "That tractor. Too close. Too big."  Lorna tenses  in her seat,  twists  a strand of hair  around her finger. The  tractor does look menacingly large for this  narrow road, which  is more like a tunnel now, sealed by steep verges of solid rock and a roof of interlocked tree canopies.  She grounds her feet on the floor of the car. "We're going to stop at the next field gate and see if we can manage aU-turn," Jon says, after a few more tight  minutes. "Oh, come on ..."  "It's dangerous, Lorna."   "But-"  "If it's any  consolation, the house  is sure  to be like all the  others, some  B and  B chancing it. A dodgy conference center. And  if it's any good we won't  be able to afford  it." "No. I've got a feeling about  this house." She tightens the coil of hair, pinking her fingertip. "A hunch." "You and your hunches." "You were a hunch." She puts a hand on his knee  just as the sinews of his muscles contract and  his foot slams down on the brake.  It all seems to happen at once: the squeal  of rubber, the skid to the left, the dark form  leaping across the  road into the  bushes. Then terri­ ble stillness. A clatter of rain on the roof. "Lorna, are  you  okay?"  He  touches her  cheek  with  the  back of his hand.  "Yeah,  yeah.  I'm fine." She  runs her  tongue around the  inside  of her mouth, tastes  the  metal of blood. "What happened?" "A deer. Pretty sure just a deer." "Oh, thank God. Not  a person." He whistles beneath his breath. "Close call. Sure you're okay?"  A rapping on  the  driver's door.  The  knuckles are  hairy,  the  skin raw red. The tractor driver is a dripping mountain of orange anorak. Jon  winds down  the  window apprehensively. "Sorry for  the  hard braking, mate." "Bloody deer." A man's  face, as battered as  the  landscape itself, veers up to the window.  He  peers over Jon's shoulder and fixes his dull stare  on Lorna.  It is a stare  that  suggests  he doesn't come across many petite thirty-two-year-old brunettes  wearing yellow  sundresses. A stare  that  suggests  he doesn't come across many women at all. Lorna tries  to smile  at him  but  her mouth  feels twitchy  at the cor­ ners. She might burst into tears instead. It hits her how close they've just come  to catastrophe. It seems all the more  unbelievable because  they are  on holiday. She's always felt immortal on holiday, especially with Jon, who is protective, secretly rather sensible, and built like a hammer. "They get in through gaps in the  hedging.  Caused  a crash only last month." The  man  blows a gust of stale  breath into  the small  confines of the car. "Two  mangled a few yards from  this  spot.  Damn creatures out of control."  Jon turns to Lorna. "Someone's trying to tell us something. Can we call it a day?"  She feels the tremor in his fingers, knows  she can't push  him fur­ther. "Okay."  "Don't look like that.  We'll come back another time."  They won't, she knows it. They live too far away. Their lives are too busy. They work too  hard.  When they get back, Jon's family  building firm  is due for a long  project,  some swanky new penthouses in  Bow, while the first  day of the  September school term  rears  ever closer for her. No,  it's all too difficult. They won't  come back. And  Cornwall is impractical. It's expensive.  It asks too much of their guests.  It asks too much  of  Jon.  Her  dad.   Her  sister.  Everyone  is indulging her  only because they feel sorry for her losing Mum.  She's not silly. "You don't see much  traffic on this  road.  Where you folks going?" asks the tractor driver, scratching his bull neck. "You certainly picked the day for it." "Trying to find  some old house." Jon reaches  into  the  glove com­ partment for a sugar fix to steady his hands.  He finds an ancient sticky mint, half unwrapped. "Pencraw Hall?" "Oh." The man's face withdraws into the cave ofhis hood.  Sensing recognition, Lorna sits  more  upright in  her  seat.  "You know it?" A brisk nod. "Black Rabbit Hall."  "Oh, no, sorry, we're looking for a Pencraw  Hall." "Locals call it Black Rabbit Hall." "Black  Rabbit Hall." Lorna rolls it around her tongue.  She likes it.  She likes the  name. "So it's near?" "You're practically on its drive." Lorna turns to beam at Jon, near-death crash forgotten.  "One more turn off this lane-last chance  to leave-that takes you into  the farmland, what's  left of it. Another half-mile or so before you hit  the estate  proper.  You'll  see the signpost. Well,  I say you'll  see it. Buried  in  the  bushes.  You'll  need  to  keep  a lookout." He  stares  at Lorna again. "Funny place. Why do you want to go there( If you don't mind  me asking." "Well  ..."  Lorna takes  a  breath, ready  to  launch   into  the  backstory.  "We're checking it out as a wedding venue," Jon says before she has a chance.  "Well,  we were." "Weddings(" The  man's  eyes  bug. "''ll be damned." He  glances from  Lorna to Jon and  back again. "Look,  you seem like a nice enough couple.  Not  from  round here, are your" "London," they mutter in unison.  The  man  nods as if this explains everything. He  puts one hand  on the  rolled -down window,  his fingers  creating a fat glove of condensa­ tion  on  the  glass. "If you ask me,  Black Rabbit's not  the  place for a wedding."  "Oh. Why not?" asks Lorna, spirits sinking again, wishing him away. The  man frowns, looks  unsure how much  to tell them. "It's  not in any fit state,  for one thing.  The weather gnaws away at houses around here  unless  you  throw money  at  them. No  one's  thrown nothing at that  house for years." He wets his cracked  lips with  his tongue.  "Word is there  are hydrangeas growing through the  ballroom floor,  all sorts of funny things going on." "Oh  ... I love that."  Jon rolls his eyes, trying not to laugh. "Please  don't encourage her."  ''I'd better get back on the road." The tractor driver looks bemused. "You two,  take care, ehr" They watch  him  stamp away, listen  to the  thuds as he climbs  the serrated metal steps to the cab of the tractor. Lorna doesn't know what to think. Jon  does.  "Hold tight! Look  out  for  Bambi.  I'm  going  to  reverse down  to  the  crossroads. We're going  back to civilization and  a nice cold beer. And  not a moment too soon." Lorna presses her  hand  on  his arm,  enough pressure  to show him she means it. "It'd be ridiculous to turn back now. You know it would." "You heard  what the guy said."  "We need to see it for ourselves,  if only to discount it, Jon." He shakes  his head. "''m not feeling it." "You  and  your  feelings," she says, imitating his earlier  comment, trying to make him laugh. "Come on. It's the one venue  I'm desperate to see." He  beatboxes the  wheel  with  his thumbs, considers his position. "You'll  owe me." She bends over the hand brake, crushes her mouth against the warm bristle  of his jaw. He smells of sex and digestive  biscuits.  "And  what's not to like about  that?" A few moments later,  the  little  red  Fiat  turns off  the  road,  then rolls like a drop of blood down the wet green drive, the canopy of trees locking tight  behind them.     AMBER Fitzroy Square, London, April1968        Momma was lucky not  to have been  more seriously  hurt  in the crash.  That's what  everyone   says.  If her  taxi  had  skidded another inch to the right,  they'd have smashed  the Bond Street ballard front-on, rather than just clipping it. Momma got banged  about  any­ way, flying across the black cab with  her shopping bags, only saving her face from  the glass with  her bent-backward hand. Her new fancy hats were not damaged. The taxi driver let her off the fare. Still,  not lucky, exactly. Ten  days later, she's still  got a custard-yellow bruise  on her  knee­ cap, a sprained wrist  in a splint.  She has to sit, sit, sit on  a Saturday morning, rather than play tennis in  Regent's Park  or chase  my little sister around the garden. Right  now she is sitting in the turquoise chair  by the  parlor  win­ dow, her stockinged leg planked  on the footstool, staring at the  black umbrellas wheeling about  the square below.  Her  eyes have gone dis­ tant. She says it's the painkillers. But I can tell Momma is dreaming of being  back  at  Black  Rabbit Hall, or  her old  family  farm  in  Maine, somewhere remote  and  wild  where  she can  ride  her  horses in  peace. But Maine is too far away. And  Black Rabbit Hall feels even farther.  "Can I bring you some  more  tea, ma'am?" asks Nette, respectfully averting her gaze from  the startling bruise  on Momma's leg. Nette is  the   new-three  months new-help.  She  has  a  lisp­ impersonation is irresistible-and has  moved  from  an old-fashioned household in Eaton  Square, "where  they're  still  pretending it's I930," Momma says. I think Nette prefers it here. I would. "Or another cushion?"  "No, thank you, Nette. You're so thoughtful. But I'm quite  com­ fortable, and  have drunk so much  tea in the last few days that  I fear another cup  might  send  me  quite  over  the  edge."  Momma smiles, revealing the  gap  between her  two  front  teeth that  makes  her smile seem  so much  bigger  than anyone  else's.  She can stick a match  in  it. "And,  Nette, please feel free to call me Mrs.  Alton or, indeed, Nancy. No need to be formal  here, I promise." "Yes,  rna-" Nette catches  herself,  smiles  shyly. She  picks  up  the empty teacup and  half-eaten Battenberg and  slips  them  soundlessly onto the shining silver tray. Boris beats his tail, gives her his best doggy eyes. Although she's not meant  to give the dog treats-Boris is a fatty, a glutton, and once demolished a pound of butter in one sitting, then vomited  it up on  the  stairs-I  know  Nette feeds  him  in the  kitchen when no one's looking.  I like her for this. "Come here, you," Momma says to me, once Nette's gone. She pulls up the piano  stool beside her, pats it. I  sit  down and  lay my  head  on  her  lap,  inhaling her  skin  tang through the lettuce-green silk of her dress. She strokes my hair. And  I feel like both  her confidante and  her baby, and  that  I could  stay here forever, or at least until  lunch.  Not  that  her lap will be mine for long: there  are too  many of us-me, Barney;  Kitty;  Daddy;  my twin, Toby, when  he's back from  boarding school.  Sometimes it feels  like  there isn't enough of her to go round.  "Your  leg looks like a root vegetable,  Momma." "Why, thank you, honey!" "Your  other leg is still  nice, though," I say quickly, glancing down at it, long, slim,  foot stretched, pointing like a ballerina's, the second toe intriguingly longer than the first, punching out beneath the raised stocking seam. "One pretty leg is enough. And  the other looks a lot worse  than  it is, really." She wraps a strand of my hair  around her finger  so that  it looks like one  of the tasseled  red silk ropes that  tie back the curtains. We sit like  that  for a while,  the  carriage clock ticking, London rum­ bling outside.  ''A penny for your thoughts?" "Grandma Esme says you could have been killed." I can't stop think­ ing about  the crash. The black ballard waiting for the  black taxi. The screech  of brakes.  The  hatboxes  flying  into  the  air. Things you can't imagine  ever  happening happening.  "It   makes   me  feel ... I  don't know." She smiles,  bends over me, the tips of her copper hair  tickling my cheeks.  I can smell her Pond's face cream. "It'll take a lot more than a cab on Bruton Street to kill me. New  England genes, honey." I stare at her swollen leg again, look away quickly, wishing I hadn't. The bruise  is making me feel  really strange. Nothing bad  normally happens to Momma. She doesn't get flu. Or headaches. Or the thing that  Mrs.  Hollywell, Matilda's mum, has that  means she must go back to bed after lunch  most days and sometimes can't  get up at all. On the upside,  if this  is the  bad thing that  was going  to happen to  Momma, then  I guess it's not that  bad. At least it's out of the way. "Please  don't  worry about  me, Amber." She smooths my forehead with  the  pad of her thumb. "The young  must never worry about  their parents, you know?  Worrying is a mother's job. Your  time  will come for all that."  I frown  at the floor,  unable to join the dots  between being fourteen years old and  becoming a wife and  mother myself  What happens to your twin  when you marry? What would Toby do then?  It bothers me. "It's all right." Momma laughs. "You've got a while yet."  "Will you still  be able to ride  Knight?" I say, quickly  changing the subject. Knight is her Dutch Warm blood. The name makes him sound black, but he's the color of chestnuts. "Ride  Knight? Are   you  kidding?" Momma sits  up  straighter, winces. "If I sit in this  chair for much longer  I'll go crazy. I can't wait to ride Knight. I'll damn well hop to Cornwall to ride him ifi have to." Knowing Momma, this isn't as unlikely as it sounds.  "In  fact, this evening I plan to talk  to your father about  leaving for Black Rabbit Hall sooner than normal." "When sooner?" She  shuffles on  the  cushions, unable   to  get comfortable. "Next week sooner,  if Peggy can get the house  ready by then." "Next week?" My head springs off her lap. "But  the Easter  holidays don't start for another two weeks." "You can bring schoolwork if you want." "But,  Momma-" "Honey, you spend  far  too  much  time  with  your  head  in a book, anyway. Missing a bit of school  is not going to hurt  anyone.  Too much school isn't good for any child." ''I'll fall behind."  "Nonsense. Miss  Rope  says you're racing  ahead  of the  rest of the class.  I'm  not  in  the  least  worried. Besides,  you'll  learn far  more  at Black Rabbit Hall than in a stuffy old classroom  in Regent's Park." "What sort  of things?" I ask doubtfully. "Life!" I roll my eyes. "I  think I know  enough about  life at Black Rabbit Hall  by now, Momma."  She looks amused. "Do  you, indeed?" "And  I'm getting too old for sandcastles." "Don't be silly. One is never too old for sandcastles."  My life has  been  full  of sandcastles. My first  memory is of To by, bent  over  on  the  beach,  frantically digging, sand  flicking over  his shoulder in a golden arc. (He is left-handed, I am right,  which  means we can stand close together and  not knock spades.)  When it's done  he sticks two razor-clam shells-"Us," he says and grins-on the very top: we are three years old. "Apart   from   anything else,  the  air  in  London is  just  terrible," Momma continues. "And  the  relentless drizzle!  My goodness, will it ever stop?" "We spend  most of our  time in Cornwall wearing mackintoshes." "Yes, but it's a different kind of rain  in Cornwall. It is! A different kind of sky too. A clear sky with stars. Shooting stars, Amber! Not that smoggy  old thing." She points  at the gray ceiling  of clouds outside  the window. "Hey,  don't look like that. It's something else, isn't it? What is it?" "It's Matilda's birthday party in nine days," I say quietly, imagining all my classmates giggling  in Kensington Palace's  Orangery in pastel party dresses;  Matilda's older  brother, Fred, down from  Eton,  the way one  side of his mouth curls  up  when  he smiles;  Matilda herself,  my closest  friend, who  is kind  and  funny and  never  pretends to  be less smart than she is, unlike all the other girls. "I absolutely cannot not go." "It's a shame  it's Matilda's, I know. But it's still one party,  honey."  I don't say that  I'm not  the  type of girl who gets invited  to lots of parties. But  I think Momma knows  this  because  her voice goes soft: "It may not  feel like  this  now,  Amber, but  you have many  parties to come, I promise." She nods over to the window. "Take a look out there. At the street. What do you see?" I gaze out  of the  window at the  crescent, the  rivers of wet  pave­ ment,  the  black iron  railings, the  planet  of grass in the  center of the square  where we sometimes eat Bovril toast  on sunny Saturday morn­ ings. "People shaking and closing their umbrellas." I turn to her, won­ dering if this is the right answer. "A nanny pushing a pram?" "You know what  I seer I see a whole world waiting for you, Amber. Look, there's a young woman in a neat little skirt suit walking to work." Note: Momma doesn't  work, but she wears a navy skirt  suit from  Paris for church on Sundays. I guess that's work too. "I see a couple on a bench kissing"-she raises one eyebrow-"rather passionately, I must say." I  look  away  from   the   embracing couple   quickly-obviously  I wouldn't if  Momma wasn't  sitting next  to  me-and wonder how it would  feel to kiss someone like that  on  a public bench,  so lost in the kiss I didn't care who saw. "I guess what  I'm trying to say is that  you're going to have lots of fun before you get married."  School.  Finishing school. A job at Christie's, maybe. It's hard  to see that  there's much room left for the fun  bit before it stops. "So you're  not going to worry about  missing  one  party(" Momma fixes the dress flat over her thighs where my head has rumpled it. "Suppose."  "Not a very convincing answer."  I try to hide  my smile  beneath grumpiness, enjoying  the  pretense that  Momma needs  my approval, the  pretense that  I might  not give it, that  it matters at all. I know I am lucky like this.  My school friends all get  bossed  about   by their  mothers, polite,  faintly irritated  English­ women  in stiff dresses who never seem to throw back their  heads and laugh so that  you can see the wiggly bit in their throat. My mother can ride bareback. She wears  denim  jeans when we're in the country. And she's by far the prettiest mother at the school gate. "Never forget how privileged we are still to have Black Rabbit Hall. So many of Daddy's friends have had to demolish their  country houses and  sell off the  land, or open  their  homes  to the  public, awful  things like that. We must never take it for granted." "It  takes ages to get there."  "We'll all drive down together. It'll be fun." She nudges  me. "Hey, maybe one day they'll open an airport on the Roseland." "That's never going to happen." "Well  ... good." She tucks a strand of hair behind my ear. "We don't want to make it too easy, do we?" "Then it wouldn't  be our  special  place." I say this  shamelessly,  to please her. And  it does. "Exactly!" She grins  and  her eyes glint  from  green  to yellow, a leaf and its underside. Filled with  light again,  distance gone. "I always say to Daddy that  Black Rabbit Hall is the one still sane point in this mad , changing world.  It's our safe, happy  place, isn't it, Amber?" I hesitate.  For some reason it feels as though everything rests on my answer. Excerpted from Black Rabbit Hall by Eve Chase All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.