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Sweetheart's Lake

I love the regency period, and Sweetheart's Lake is my second regency mystery novel. I have included the first two chapters to Sweetheart's Lake below. If you enjoy reading the first two chapters, I would love for you to read the rest of my book.  


Alicia Bartlett's love, Edmund Pembroke, is struck down by cholera just two weeks before their wedding day. His dying wish is to see Sweetheart's Lake one last time with Alicia, where he dies in her arms. Following Edmund's death, Alicia discovers that she can see Edmund's reflection in the water, and Alicia begins to visit him at the lake whenever she feels lonely, sad, or in need of a friend. Four years later Alicia marries a dashing young physician, Dr Hilary St. John. However, one night the Royal Horse Guards burst into Alicia's bedchamber and drag Hilary off to the Tower of London. Edmund appears to Alicia in a dream and warns her that both her and her husband are in grave danger.

Chapter One

London, England. 1815


“Checkmate,” Alicia Bartlett declared with an air of triumph as she brought her black queen down upon her brother’s white bishop. As the ornate ivory chess piece toppled over onto the pretty rosewood board, Alicia brushed an unruly lock of fair hair away from her eyes; she always wore her long, flaxen locks up and beneath a bonnet in public, but around the house, she much preferred to allow it to tumble freely about her slender shoulders.

“I don’t believe it,” her brother, Oliver, declared with a sigh, “you have managed to beat me yet again, Alicia. How can that possibly be possible—you’re just my little sister!”

“I am nineteen years of age now, Oliver Matthew Bartlett, and you will be well served to remember that.” Alicia teased with a fond smile. Alicia’s dear brother, a little over four years her senior, had lorded his seniority over her for as long as she could remember; he always jokingly maintained he was their parents’ favorite sibling, too, being the one and only male child in the Bartlett household.

Oliver Bartlett was a handsome young man, a stocky fellow with hair as black as Whitby jet and his father’s distinctive, dark brown eyes. He had always been the wild one of the two Bartlett offspring, with a proclivity for drinking in London’s public houses and indulging in his favourite sport of boxing. Oliver had, thus far, exhibited very little desire in following in his father’s footsteps of becoming a barrister; he much preferred the company of his questionable bunch of friends at Offley’s sporting hotel down Henrietta Street or The Daffy Club in Holborn. His mother made no bones whatsoever about her disapproval of her son’s pugilistic activities, even though his father was quietly proud and would live vicariously through his son’s tall tales of nights of debauchery as they shared their occasional evening brandy and cigars. And, of course, being such a strikingly fine-looking young man, Oliver Bartlett had no shortage of young women admirers—and thusly had no intentions of even pretending to look for a wife.

“Oliver, I do wish you would encourage your sister to engage in more ladylike pursuits,” their mother said as she bustled into the drawing room. “Chess is a game for gentlemen, and gentlemen only.”

“Perhaps, then, that is why I always beat Oliver.” Alicia poked her tongue out at her brother, much to Mother’s chagrin; such boorish behaviour was precisely why she didn’t encourage her offspring to associate too much—it didn’t take too long at all for Oliver’s mannerisms and attitudes to rub off on his sister.

“And that is no way for you to behave, either, young lady,” Mrs. Bartlett chided with a wry smile. Dorothea Bartlett was a tall, willowy, youthful-looking lady who carried herself with the correct feminine grace and poise befitting a genteel, upper-middle-class lady, yet who had the rapier wit and acid tongue of a fishwife when provoked. The family lived in an imposing five-storey Georgian house in the affluent part of Bethnal Green, which Dorothea preferred to describe to friends as comfortable. She ruled that household with an iron fist and accepted little by means of nonsense from either her husband or children. “Put that away,” she growled and pointed at the chess set. “Your father will be home from his work shortly, and heaven forbid he catches you playing it, my dear—you know how he can be with such matters.”

Alicia knew all too well the antiquated attitude of her father, the renowned barrister, Dudley Bartlett Esquire; should he have his way, he would have his sweet, chaste daughter doing nothing more than sitting by the fireside with embroidery while she awaited some eligible young bachelor to happen along to whisk her away—he even considered the Jane Austen books Alicia so loved to be a terrible influence and had banned them outright from the house.

“Shouldn’t Father be home by now?” Oliver asked as he carefully packed the chess pieces away, one by one, into their velvet-lined case. “I’m so hungry for dinner.”

“When are you not hungry, Oliver?” Dorothea snapped at her son. “He will be home when he gets home—he had some sort of business to attend to at the club.”

“He has an after-hours meeting with Edmund,” Alicia told them both with a coy grin.

“I swear that young man is putting in more hours at the courts than most of the other barristers put together,” Dorothea declared with a sigh. “Heaven only knows how he will cope once he’s called to the bar—how will he ever find time for you, my dear Alicia?”

Alicia smiled at the thought of Edmund Pembroke, her beau and unequivocal love of her life since they were both in their teen years. Just three years older than she, Edmund was slim, quite perfectly tall, with mousey brown hair, a most magnificent moustache that curled up at its edges, and strikingly hazel eyes that sparkled bright with love whenever Alicia was in his presence. Edmund came from a family of similar social standing to the Bartletts, and from a long line of barristers and law-makers. Indeed, his great uncle Barnaby had once contended for the position of Member of Parliament for the rotten borough of Willerby-on-the Marsh, which elevated the family still higher, especially in the Bartletts’ eyes. All in all, young Edmund had more than earned Alicia’s parents’ consent to woo their precious daughter.

“I am confident Edmund will find time for me once we are wed, Mother,” Alicia said.

“And just when will that be, I wonder?” Dorothea replied with a huge, theatrical sigh. “He is forever busy, and you insist on partaking in terribly un-wifely pastimes—I fear I will be cold and in my grave before I hear wedding bells from either of my children.” The barbed comment was aimed more at Oliver, of course, who simply ignored it, as he did all the others.

“I guess it very much depends upon what Father has to say to him this very evening.” Alicia stood up from her chair and smoothed down the front of her plain blue dress.

Dorothea opened her mouth as if to speak, but then the farthing dropped and she put two and two together. “Edmund is asking for your hand?” With a broad smile spreading across her handsome face, Dorothea strode across the drawing room with her arms outstretched. “Why on earth didn’t you say so, you silly girl?”

“And spoil the surprise for you?” Alicia laughed.

In a rare display of open affection, Dorothea gathered her dear daughter into her arms and hugged her so tight she could barely breathe. “I am so delighted for you, my darling Alicia,” she declared. “And here was I thinking you were so headstrong as to be destined to die a spinster—how fortunate we are that you have beauty in your favor.”

“It looks like you have beaten me at this, too, dearest sister of mine.” Oliver patiently awaited his turn to congratulate Alicia. “I do suppose this lets me off the hook now, especially when you begin to churn out the grandchildren for Mother and Father.”

Alicia laughed at that and, as she extricated herself from her mother’s embrace, she turned to her brother’s silly, grinning face. “I feel you may be getting a little premature in your assumptions, Oliver,” she told him. “Before you go planning children on my behalf, and before Mother heads off to Savile Row for wedding suits, do remember I have not been asked yet—nor is my reply a given. Providing Father gives Edmund his consent, I will still need to give the young man my answer.”

Of course, everyone knew that was only a matter of formality; Alicia had fallen profoundly in love with Edmund the moment she had set eyes upon him, and had fallen ever deeper as they had navigated the path to adulthood together. Edmund, naturally, was totally besotted by the beautiful Alicia; had made no secret of his plan to marry her the moment he was financially able.

Even so, certain things in life had to be done correctly. And, even though she considered herself quite the progressive young lady about town, Alicia Bartlett had insisted her beau follow the proper protocol, which began with a man-to-man talk with her father about his intentions and future prospects. Dudley Bartlett was not about to give away his only daughter and a considerable dowry to just any old Tom, Dick, or Harry.






Chapter Two


During the years of their courtship, Sweetheart’s Lake, which resided in the middle of Stepney Green Park, had become Alicia and Edmund’s favourite place. They would take the short trip from Bethnal Green whenever they were able—Sundays after church and bank holidays mostly—and picnic on the verdant, gently-sloping banks of the small, usually murky-brown lake.

Naturally, the two lovebirds would be accompanied by a chaperone—they were not commoners, after all—a role which was often played by one of Edmund’s older sisters, Oliver on the rare occasion of him being around or sober enough, and every now and then, Dorothea Bartlett herself. But, given the circumstance of that particular early spring Sunday afternoon, Alicia and Edmund had only the ducks and other wooing couples for company.

“It will truly be a pity if they were to build terraces here,” Edmund said with a long sigh as he and Alicia enjoyed their brief perambulation around the lake’s periphery. Taking full advantage of the absence of a chaperone, Alicia had been so forward as to slip her arm through the crook of her beau’s elbow; she was feeling quite grown-up and more than a little rebellious. “This place is far too beautiful to ruin with those awful worker’s houses.”

Ever the pragmatic one, Alicia replied, “But the slums are already filled to bursting, my love. I have heard such horrendous stories of three families and more crammed into no more than two rooms—pestilence runs rife in such conditions, and that can all too quickly spread throughout London. I’d have thought we would have learned our lesson after the Black Death.”

“Of course, that is all very true, my love,” Edmund said. “But this little lake holds such a dear place in our hearts. Why, it was here where we very first met.”

“And it was on these very banks where we declared our undying love for one another.” At once, Alicia found herself caught up in her beau’s sentimentality; slum terraces for the working masses be damned, Sweetheart’s Lake was theirs.

“Precisely, my darling—my wish would be for this place to remain just as it is now for all eternity.” Edmund ushered Alicia away from the edge of the lake and towards the woollen blanket they had spread out a little way up the smooth bank; the blanket was all the way from some little hamlet in Scotland with an unpronounceable name he had visited one summer holiday with his family and was the perfect protection from the park’s prickling grass and inquisitive ants. There, they sat themselves down and Alicia busied herself by emptying out the contents of the wicker picnic basket she had prepared the evening before.

“You are aware I spoke with Dudley… err, Mr. Bartlett, on Friday evening, and the nature of our conversation?” Edmund asked her.

“Of course.” Alicia smiled. Edmund had informed her of his intention to speak with her father a week or so before, and had been beside himself with excitement at the prospect. “What you have not told me yet is my dear father’s reply to your idea of taking away his only daughter.” Alicia pulled her eyes away from Edmund’s almost impossibly handsome face, and those eyes that fair danced with anticipation. She lifted the cold roast beef out from the picnic basket and set it down upon one of the plain white China plates she had purloined from Mother’s kitchen. Adjacent to the beef—three pounds, if it was an ounce—Alicia laid out the lettuce, veal and ham pie, a quartet of fancy apple turnovers, and the plain plum cakes she’d purchased the day before at her favourite little bakery on Old Ford Road. She also pulled out the bottle of Champagne Mother had insisted she take along; a rare but essential treat especially for the occasion.

Edmund swallowed hard. “Well, my darling,” he began, his voice sounding as if someone were strangling him from the inside. “After much debate, I’m delighted to say your dear father seemed to think the whole thing was a veritably splendid idea.”

“That is delightful news!” Throwing caution to the wind, Alicia clasped Edmund’s hand in hers. She’d had no doubts at all her father would be only too pleased to see her betrothed to Edmund Pembroke, as he had always spoken so very highly of the young man. There was also the fact Alicia could very easily have made her father’s life one of living torment should he dare to say anything otherwise, and Dudley knew his spirited daughter was all too capable of doing so. “Thank you so much for asking him, Edmund, I know how Father can appear fearsome at times.”

Edmund gave Alicia one of his special smiles—it was one that had her heart racing ten to the dozen and her soul melting. Wriggling his hand away from hers, Edmund dipped into the pocket of his Sunday best tail coat and pulled out a small, black box covered in velvet. “My dear Alicia,” he said as he prised open the lid of the box. “I feel completely and utterly unworthy of such a wonderful maiden as you. Not only am I besotted by your unsurpassed beauty, but I find in you a spiritual companionship worth more to me than all the world. I am not good at expressing myself, my dear Alicia, and I fear that my words are inadequate in describing the depths of my love and adoration for you. Therefore, all I will say is that Iit would be the greatest honor of my life a great honor if you would consider becoming my wife and making me the happiest man who has ever lived.”

Although Alicia had known the moment was coming—indeed, she had played it out in her mind a thousand times and more in her daydreams—the reality of it was still far more wonderful than anything she should have possibly imagined. She felt big, fat tears forming in her eyes as her stomach flipped summersaults; it was really, finally, happening. Clasping trembling hands to her flushed face, Alicia stared down at the most magnificent engagement ring that nestled in the satin-lined box held in Edmund’s shaky hand. And, while the ring itself comprised a splendid cluster of sparkling diamonds mounted atop the brightest gold she thought she had ever seen, it was what the jewellery signified that truly took Alicia’s breath away.

She and her darling Edmund were to be together for always.

“It is twenty-two karat gold, not Pinchbeck,” Edmund ventured. He’d clearly taken Alicia’s delighted lack of response for a hint of reticence. “And there is a full carat of diamond on there, too—it cost me almost a year’s wage, my darling, but I can afford it now I am to become a fully-fledged barrister…”

“Oh, Edmund.” Alicia was overcome with emotion and could do nothing to stop the tears from rolling down her pretty cheeks. “That is such wonderful news, too.”

“I believe my promotion was what swung your father’s opinion in my favour,” Edmund told her with a nervous smile. “So… don’t keep me in suspense, my love. What is your answer to be?”

Alicia’s reply was, of course, a resounding yes, yes, yes, a thousand times yes!. She felt blessed indeed to have such a wonderful man as Edmund as her fiance.

Edmund plucked the ring from its box and slid it onto his true love’s finger. Then, they sat by the side of Sweetheart’s Lake and talked about their wonderful future together until the sun began to dip low towards the horizon and paint London’s smoky sky a hazy, dirty shade of orange. “I will be here for you always, Alicia,” Edmund promised. “I hope you know that. And someday I’ll prove my love for you.”





A big, lavish wedding was planned for that very summer—neither Alicia nor Edmund, or their delighted families could see no reason at all for waiting to unite two young people who were so obviously in love and destined to be together in the eyes of the Good Lord.

Dorothea took a great deal of the arrangements under her expert wing—the woman’s organizational skills were second only to her tenacity and were particularly renowned in Bethnal Green and beyond. She forged somewhat of an allegiance with Edmund’s mother, the equally formidable Harriett Pembroke, and between the two of them, they planned out every minute detail of their children’s wedding day.

As tradition dictated, the Pembrokes were expected to pay for the whole affair, although Dudley and Dorothea agreed to foot the bill for the extravagant honeymoon in Dawlish, the picturesque seaside village in Devon. It was not that Edmund’s merchant banker father couldn’t afford the honeymoon, but Dudley’s masculine pride insisted he do something toward giving his only daughter a jolly good send-off. Having said that, Dudley Bartlett contributed absolutely nothing else toward the wedding, other than smoke cigars and consume large amounts of Irish whiskey with his newfound friend, Arthur Pembroke III, while the ladies went about their business.

It was just one more week before the big day, and both families had gathered together at St. Dunstan’s on Fleet Street for the Reading of the Banns. The church was quaint and slightly crumbling with a spectacular spire that pointed high into the sky. It also happened that St. Dunstan’s was the church at which Alicia’s parents were married, and Dudley had greased a palm or two to book the place for his daughter’s nuptials. The man may have been stoic and unsentimental on the outside, but he could be prone to the occasional bout of corniness where Alicia was concerned.

“I do wish Reverend William would get on with it—we have our picnic to get to,” Alicia whispered to Edmund as they sat waiting for the ancient clergyman to appear. Pastor William Jacobs had been in the diocese for as long as anyone could remember—indeed, it had been he who had officiated Dudley and Dorothea’s marriage—and was notorious for his terrible timekeeping, which was becoming progressively worse with his advancing years; this was the third time Alicia had attended the old man’s church now, and he’d been consistently late on each occasion. More often than not, the antiquated pastor’s congregation would be left thinking for a good half-hour or so that he may well have finally gone off to meet his maker in person!

“Shhh!” Dorothea hissed loudly, which served only to have Alicia and Edmund stifle a sudden fit of the giggles. “And why is your brother not with you?”

Alicia shrugged and cast her eyes off to the left. There, two pews behind, Oliver sat in the midst of Edmund’s older sisters, Diana, Frances, and Ann, and appeared to be regaling them with one of his many oft-exaggerated anecdotes of nights spent proving his worth in the ring. That he had a swollen, purple eye and split lip served only to make the dashing young man all the more attractive to the impressionable young ladies, all three of whom were very easy on the eye, as they hung on his every word.

“Oh, really.” Dorothea rolled her eyes at her wayward son, who didn’t notice a jot. “Can’t you go and say something to him,” she chastised Dudley who sat still, quiet, and patient beside her. “That kind of lecherous behaviour is quite unbecoming for God’s abode—he treats the place like it’s one of his wretched gin houses.”

“How on earth do you expect our son to find himself a suitable wife if you keep insisting on reining the poor chap in?” Dudley protested. “Perhaps you would prefer him to make his selection from said gin houses instead of church, my darling?”

Dorothea began to say something, but clearly thought better of it. Instead, she shot Alicia a look intimating that somehow, her brother’s disrespectful behaviour in church was all her fault.

Just like the hard, uncomfortable pews, her mother’s foul expression did nothing to dampen Alicia’s spirits; if her brother was to find someone who made him as happy as Edmund did her, then she would be beyond delighted for him. In the meantime, the day was all about her impending marriage to the absolute love of her life and nothing could spoil it, not even her judgemental mother.

“I’m so sorry I’m late,” the pastor mumbled as he shuffled his way up to the pulpit. He attempted to make some kind of excuse, but his voice was drowned out by the noise of two hundred or so people getting to their feet.

Alicia eyed the withered old man with great concern; there were unfounded rumors he’d actually been alive to personally witness the Great Fire itself and, although she very much doubted he’d been around in 1666, there was no doubt at all the man was older than dirt. Inwardly, Alicia admonished herself for the wicked thought that should the antiquated pastor die sometime in the next week before her wedding, she sincerely hoped the parish had a good standby in order to avoid any disruption of her big day.

And so the service dragged on.

Reverend Jacobs mumbled and croaked his way through the psalms and readings, most of which were lost on the congregation as they strained to hear most of what he was saying. Obscure hymns were sung, and the sermon given—its theme was avoiding the temptations of pleasures of the flesh, ungodly behaviour, and, most oddly, the evils of witchcraft. Alicia listened with intent as the pastor spoke, and wondered if the subject of witches, warlocks, and black magic was particularly close to the elderly man’s heart, or if he’d just forgotten it was the self-same sermon he’d given the week before.

Finally, the end of that cold, uncomfortable service was in sight. Alicia shuffled her derriere about on her seat—it was beginning to feel quite numb and she longed for the soft, luscious grass by the side of Sweetheart’s Lake. She and Edmund paid close attention to the pastor as he read out the Banns; this was the third and final time for them, which meant their intention to be man and wife would be entirely official and it would be full steam ahead to their big day.

Of course, since the names were read out in alphabetical order according to the groom’s surname, Alicia and Edmund had to wait awhile to hear their names echo about the flaking walls of St. Dunstan’s. As she waited with growing impatience, Alicia wondered how she was going to take to life as a Pembroke instead of a Bartlett, the name she’d had for nineteen years. All in all, for as daunting as the prospect seemed, Alicia decided she was going to enjoy it.

“Master Edmund Hugh Pembroke and Miss Alicia Bartlett…” The pastor finally got to their names and Alicia’s face beamed with the broadest smile possible. Turning to Edmund, she forgot herself and clasped his hand between hers as her chest swelled with pride at the thought of finally becoming his bride.

As Edmund turned to face Alicia, she immediately saw there was something about him that didn’t look quite right. His dear, sweet face appeared drained of its natural colour and, instead, had a bluish, waxen pallor to it; Edmund’s eyes, which always sparkled for her, were sunken, dull, and woefully grey.

“Are you alright, my darling?” In her concern, Alicia forgot where she was and her voice resounded throughout the church. The pastor fell silent as all heads turned in Alicia’s direction—just in time to witness poor Edmund emptying his stomach of its contents all over his betrothed’s best Sunday dress.


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