Amelie Hampton is a hopeless romantic, which makes her the perfect columnist to answer lonely heart letters in The Marriage Gazette. When Amelie plays matchmaker with two anonymous lonely hearts, she also decides to secretly observe the couple’s blind date. To her surprise, the man who appears for the rendezvous is Harold Radcliffe―a grieving widower and a member of Amelie’s book club.
Police detective Michael Baker has been struggling ever since his best friend and brother-in-law died in the line of fire. Because he knows the dangers of his job, he has vowed never to marry and subject a wife and family to the uncertainty of his profession. But when he meets Miss Hampton, he is captured by her innocence, beauty, and her quick mind.
When a woman’s body is pulled from the river, Michael suspects the woman’s husband―Harold Radcliffe―of foul play. Amelie refuses to believe that Harold is capable of such violence but agrees to help, imagining it will be like one of her favorite mystery novels. Her social connections and clever observations prove an asset to the case, and Amelie is determined to prove Mr. Radcliffe’s innocence. But the more time Amelie and Michael spend together, the more they trust each other, and the more they realize they are a good team, maybe the perfect match.
They also realize that Mr. Radcliffe is hiding more than one secret, and when his attention turns toward Amelie, Michael knows he must put an end to this case before the woman he loves comes to harm.
“Allen pairs a matchmaker and a detective in this charming Victorian romance. Allen expertly combines mystery and romance into a fast-paced tale complete with plenty of surprises and a central relationship founded on mutual admiration and respect. Readers are sure to appreciate the strong, well-shaded heroine and twisty plot.” —Publishers Weekly
“Allen’s chaste tale of Victorian romantic suspense will also appeal to historical mystery readers, and it would be great for mother-and-daughter reads. This has great appeal for teens who like historical fiction laced with mystery and romance.” —Booklist
“I was immediately drawn into the characters’ lives and enjoyed the unraveling of the mystery and the development of the romance.” —Mystery and Suspense Magazine
Amelie closed the door behind her, leaning against it to catch her breath. She had been escorted home by an actual detective who had chased her through the park like she was a common criminal! If she hadn’t been so painfully cold and wet, she might have squealed in delight. Amelie Hampton read about adventures but was hardly the sort to seek them out beyond the pages of her novels. That an adventure had found her was remarkable. That the detective was handsome—albeit irascible—was a boon.
It was a ridiculous adventure, of course, and would come to naught. Mr. Harold Radcliffe was the last person to ever be in-volved in anything nefarious, but she was happy to bear the responsibility of helping to clear his good name. It was entirely possible he was unaware his name needed clearing since the grumpy detective was investigating undercover, of course, but a good deed done in secret was even more virtuous.
She lost herself in a delightful daydream where she and Mr. Radcliffe sat at the fireplace of their cozy future home and chuckled together about the reason they had fallen in love. He would touch her cheek tenderly, and tell her for the hundredth—nay, the thousandth—time that he was forever grateful for her good judgment of character and solid defense of him, an innocent gentleman, in the face of a police investigation where a brusque detective with very blue eyes, which undoubtedly matched the temperature of the blood coursing through his disagreeable veins—
Amelie gasped and jumped, heart thumping, as Mrs. Burnette, the housekeeper, bustled down the wide front staircase with an expression that screamed outrage, even if her words did not. Yet.
“Are you waiting for an engraved invitation to remove that dripping wet coat?” Mrs. Burnette reached the bottom of the stairs and hurried across the front hall to Amelie. “Your aunt may own the home, but does she bear daily responsibility for the care of it? No! You young women coming and going at all hours, soaking the entryway and leaving dirty puddles. I have only just finished mopping behind Miss Duvall and Miss Caldwell.”
Amelie opened her mouth to defend herself but was cut short as Mrs. Burnette placed her hands on Amelie’s shoulders and spun her around to remove the wet coat. Amelie managed to say over her shoulder, “I would have been home much earlier, but—oof!”
Mrs. Burnette tugged with surprising strength at Amelie’s sleeve, and she was jostled about much like a child in simi-lar circumstances. As her arm came free and Mrs. Burnette began working on the other, she realized that she couldn’t tell any-one about her encounter with Detective Baker. His ruse would not last long if she gave up the game before it had even started.
Mrs. Burnette stripped her other sleeve clear, and Amelie curled her fingers tightly and held them to her mouth, blowing to generate some heat. She began tugging off the ruined gloves, but her numb fingers refused to cooperate. She managed to pull one partially off as Mrs. Burnette shook out the coat, muttering a string of what Amelie could only assume were curses under her breath. The housekeeper crossed into the parlor where a fire burned cozily behind the grate and spread Amelie’s coat beside two others.
Amelie pinched the tips of the glove where she’d tugged free some fabric, and pulled, popping several knuckles but accomplishing little else. “Ugh,” she muttered and shook her hand, stepping away from the front door.
“Halt!” Mrs. Burnette returned, face flushed and lips pinched. “Not another step until we remove your boots.”
The housekeeper was sterner than even Amelie’s mother had been. Amelie obediently froze in place, hiding her gloved hands behind her back. With an exasperated huff, Mrs. Burnette held out one hand, and Amelie extended hers, wincing while the woman freed her of both gloves, stripping them inside out and dropping them to the floor near Amelie’s umbrella, which had not found its way into the umbrella stand.
“I shall do my best to salvage them, young lady, but I can-not make promises.”
“Oh, how kind of you to offer,” Amelie hurried to say, to placate her. “I’d given them up as ruined and lost for good.”
Mrs. Burnette looked up sharply. “You would consign a perfectly good pair of gloves to the trash heap, then?”
Amelie’s eyes widened. “No! No, I simply . . . I only—”
Muttering something that included the words “frugality” and “the irresponsible young,” Mrs. Burnette bent down and examined the hem of Amelie’s skirt, which bore evidence of her awkward crab-walk along the ground in the park. “What on earth? Were you dragged home by a horse?”
Amelie reminded herself that Mrs. Burnette was not her mother and that she, Miss Amelie Hampton, was a Woman of Independent Means. She sniffed and straightened her shoulders. “No, ma’am. Of course I was not. I had the misfortune to slip on a muddy patch in the park and fall down.”
Mrs. Burnette narrowed her eyes at Amelie before snatching a buttonhook near the shoe rack and then reaching beneath the skirt hem for her foot. “Was there nobody in the park at the time?”
“No. I was quite alone.” Amelie waited for a tuttering of sympathy.
“Good. Such gracelessness will never yield an improved reputation, much less impress the eye of a potential suitor.” Amelie’s mouth dropped open, but she quickly closed it, resigned. Mrs. Burnette had long ago earned the position of honorary matron of Hampton House and the five residents within its walls. Even Mr. Frost, who was well into his sixties and extremely ill-tempered, fell prey to her scolding on occasion. Amelie had often thought the scolding did little to improve the man’s temper, but Mrs. Burnette’s aim never seemed to be focused on lightening spirits.
Nancy Campbell Allen is the author of fifteen published novels and numerous novellas, which span genres from contemporary romantic suspense to historical fiction. In 2005, her work won the Utah Best of State award, and she received a Whitney Award for My Fair Gentleman. She has presented at numerous writing conferences and events since her first book was released in 1999. Nancy received a BS in Elementary Education from Weber State University. She loves to read, write, travel, and research and enjoys spending time laughing with family and friends. She is married and the mother of three children.
One thought on “Excerpt: Nancy Campbell Allen, The Matchmaker’s Lonely Heart”
Thank you for sharing the excerpt, Jennifer. I enjoyed being in Victorian London with this couple. Best, LA