Exclusive excerpt from “The Last Runaway”

As promised, the lovely folks over at HarperCollins UK have sent across an excerpt of The Last Runaway… If you enjoy it, why not give the book a go?  You’ll know from my review yesterday that it’s amazing!

The Last Runaway PBHonor had slept in so many beds by the time she got to Wellington that when she woke she did not remember where she was. Her dress and shawl were hanging over a chair, but she could not recall undressing or putting them there. She sat up, certain that it was not early morning, when she usually rose. She was wearing an unfamiliar cotton nightgown that was too long for her, and covered with a light quilt.

Wherever she was, there was no doubt that this was America. The quality of the sunlight was different – yellower and fiercer, biting through the air to warm her. Indeed, it was going to be a hot day, though at the moment it was fresh enough for her to be grateful for the quilt. She ran her hand over it: unlike most American quilts she had seen so far, this one was not appliquéd or pieced squares, but proper English patchwork, well made, so that while the cloth was faded, there were no tears or loose seams. The design was of orange and yellow and red diamonds that made up a star in the centre of the quilt – a Star of Bethlehem like Biddy’s quilt, and what Donovan had described his mother making. Recalling her encounter with him the day before, Honor shuddered.

Though of a good size, and containing the bed she had slept in, the room was not a bedroom so much as a storeroom. Bolts of cloth leaned against the walls, many of them white but also solid colours, plaids and floral prints. Spilling out of open chests of drawers were gloves, ribbons, wire, lace and feathers dyed in bright colours. In one corner, dominating the room, smooth blocks of wood in oval and cylindrical shapes were precariously stacked, as well as peculiar oval and circular bands like wheels or doughnuts, some of wood, others made of a hard white material Honor did not recognise. She leaned forward to study them more closely. The blocks reminded her of heads. When Thomas had left her off late the evening before, she’d entered a shop of some kind. While at the time she had been too tired to take note of it, now she understood: she was in a milliner’s storeroom.

Quaker women did not wear hats, but plain caps and bonnets, and usually made their own. Honor had only been into the milliner’s in Bridport a few times to buy ribbon. She had often peeked in the window, however, to admire the latest creations displayed on their stands. It had been a tidy, feminine space, with floorboards painted duck-egg blue and long shelves along the walls filled with hats.

On top of the dresser full of trimmings was a china jug decorated with pink roses sitting in a matching basin, the same Honor had seen in homes all across Pennsylvania. She used them now to wash, then dressed and smoothed her dark hair, noting as she put on her cap that her bonnet was missing. Before she went down, she glanced out of the window, which overlooked a street busy with pedestrians and horses and wagons. It was a relief to see people again after a day on the empty road through the woods. 

Honor crept down the stairs and entered a small kitchen with a fire and range, a table and chairs, and a sideboard sparse with dishes. The room felt underused, as if little food were prepared there. The back door was open, bringing in a breeze that passed through the kitchen and into the front room. Honor followed it to the heart of the house.

In many respects the shop was like the Bridport milliner’s: hats on shelves lining the walls, hats and bonnets on stands on tables around the room, glass cases along the sides displaying gloves and combs and hat pins. A large mirror hung on one wall, and two front windows made the room light and airy. The floorboards were not painted but worn smooth and shiny from customers’ feet. In one corner on a work table were hats in various stages of construction: layers of straw moulded around carved wood hat blocks, drying into shape; brims sewn into ovals and awaiting their crowns; hats banded with ribbon, a pile of silk flowers waiting to be attached among a tangle of ribbons and wire. There was little order on the table; the order lay in the finished hats. 

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