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About The Book

From the bestselling author of A Desperate Fortune and The Firebird, comes an entrancing new novel of love, war, and historical intrigue.

Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets.

It’s 1759 and the world is at war, pulling the North American colonies of Britain and France into the conflict. The times are complicated, as are the loyalties of many New York merchants who have secretly been trading with the French for years, defying Britain’s colonial laws in a game growing ever more treacherous.

When captured French officers are brought to Long Island to be billeted in private homes on their parole of honour, it upends the lives of the Wilde family—deeply involved in the treasonous trade and already divided by war.

Lydia Wilde, struggling to keep the peace in her fracturing family following her mother’s death, has little time or kindness to spare for her unwanted guests. And Canadian lieutenant Jean-Philippe de Sabran has little desire to be there. But by the war’s end they’ll both learn love, honour, and duty can form tangled bonds that are not broken easily.

Their doomed romance becomes a local legend, told and re-told through the years until the present day, when conflict of a different kind brings Charley Van Hoek to Long Island to be the new curator of the Wilde House Museum.

Charley doesn’t believe in ghosts. But as she starts to delve into the history of Lydia and her French officer, it becomes clear that the Wilde House holds more than just secrets, and Charley discovers the legend might not have been telling the whole story...or the whole truth.


Bellewether Threshold

Some houses seem to want to hold their secrets.

The Wilde House, standing silent in its clearing in the woodlands on the eastern shore of Messaquamik Bay, Long Island, holds more secrets than most houses.

From the start, in 1682, when Jacob Wilde came across from England and first chose the rise of land above a small cove of the bay to build his house on, it was rumoured he was fleeing a dark scandal in his family. There were whispers he had killed his only brother in a rage, and so had fled to the Americas by way of doing penance. What the truth was, Jacob never said, and if the hands that laid the first square timbers of the Wilde House had indeed been stained by blood, the house stood stoic in that knowledge and concealed it.

Like most houses of its time and place, it started as a basic square with two large rooms—a ground-floor hall or “keeping room” and one great chamber on the floor above—and a stone fireplace on the eastern wall. Beneath the rafters was a garret used for storage, and below the hall, reached by a trap door, was a cellar lined with dry-laid fieldstone.

In defiance of the rumours, or perhaps to show his soul was blameless, Jacob painted his house white. A pure and blinding white.

And yet the whispers held, and grew.

They grew when Jacob’s firstborn son, a boy he had named Samuel—for his brother, it was said—breathed only one brief hour and then no more, becoming the first Wilde to be buried in the private family graveyard at the forest’s edge, above the cove. They grew still more when Jacob’s barn was struck by lightning in a storm and burned until it scorched the ground. He built another in its place. And when the living children started coming—first two daughters, then a son he christened Reuben—Jacob took his tools in hand again and made his small house larger in the customary way, doubling its size with the addition of a second downstairs room and upstairs chamber on the east side of the great stone chimney stack, which now became the central warming heart of this expanded dwelling.

The house, for those few years, appeared content.

Until his younger daughter died of ague and his wife fell ill, and Jacob shuttered up the white house on the cove and moved his family west along the island to the settled farms at Newtown, where he deemed the air more healthful. Another son, named Zebulon, was born there. And in time, when Jacob died, the house at Newtown passing to the elder of his sons, it was this Zebulon who brought his wife, Patience, and their own two small boys back to Messaquamik Bay, and to the little wooded cove, and to the solid four-roomed house that had, for all those years between, stood silently amid the trees and waited.

It was not an easy homecoming. His first two children grew and thrived but three more sons were born and lost and buried in the private family graveyard, and through these years of tribulation Zebulon, a carpenter by trade, enlarged the house yet further, stubbornly improving it by building a lean-to along the back wall, thus creating a kitchen and pantry and one more small chamber downstairs, with a steeply sloped garret above.

At last another son was born, and lived. And then another. And a daughter, Lydia.

It seemed for a time that the Wilde House, at last, would know happiness. But there were locals who still nodded sagely and said there’d been blood on the hands of the man who had built it, and blood would have blood, they warned. Blood would have blood.

In truth there were few who were truly surprised by what happened next; for in the mid-eighteenth century, with one war winding its way to a close and another about to begin, it was not such an uncommon thing to find families dividing and splintering under the strain. And if one of the bodies that found its way into the Wilde family graveyard was that of an outsider . . . well, there was violence that happened, sometimes.

It was then, in those years, that the light in the forest first started to shine.

Sailors on the ships that came to anchor off the cove in Messaquamik Bay would often claim they saw the light within the trees, much like a lantern swinging from an unseen hand. The British officers who occupied the Wilde House in the Revolution swore they’d seen it also, and a young spy for the Patriots had written in his journal of the light that seemed to guide him safely round the posted sentries and which, having seen it first at dusk, he’d fancied had been carried by a soldier in French uniform.

The British officers told other tales, of steps that trod the stairs by night, and doors that opened by themselves when no breeze blew to move them, but those tales were told with ale in hand, to test each other’s courage, and when they were gone the old house closed again upon its secrets.

As the years passed, its remote location and lack of amenities reduced it to a summer home for Zebulon’s descendants, who by then had relocated to the city of New York. In due time, one of these descendants—Lawrence Wilde, a poet of some reputation—chose to take the money he had earned through publication and invest it in what he desired to be a grand retreat, away from civilized distractions, so in 1854 he had the Wilde House enlarged a final time with a new Victorian addition that amounted to a second complete house, overlapping the footprint of the original and indeed attached to the first by means of opening up a part of the lean-to wall.

The house, in this condition, carried down the generations, and the light within the trees still beckoned to the ships offshore.

Who held the light, and why, and what that spirit’s purpose might be in the forest, no one knew, though locals often fell to speculating, nodding just as sagely as their forebears had when telling stories of the secrets held within the Wilde House.

The house, when I first saw it, seemed intent on guarding what it knew within its walls as long as it stayed standing; but we all learned, by the end of it, that secrets aren’t such easy things to keep.

About The Author

Photo by Wendy McAlpine

New York Times, USA TODAY, and Globe and Mail bestselling author Susanna Kearsley is a former museum curator who loves restoring the lost voices of real people to the page, often in twin-stranded stories that interweave present and past. Her award-winning novels are published in translation in more than twenty-five countries. She lives near Toronto. Visit her at or follow her on Twitter @SusannaKearsley.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster (April 24, 2018)
  • Length: 432 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781501116544

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Raves and Reviews

Praise for Bellewether

“This new title from New York Times bestselling author Susanna Kearsley grapples with the largest of themes: love and justice. Kearsley, a former museum curator, possesses a deep passion for historical detail, and an unflinching determination to confront the atrocities of the past. As such, this narrative is as much an anti-slavery tract as it is a romance.”

“I’ve loved every one of Susanna’s books! She has bedrock research and a butterfly’s delicate touch with characters—sure recipe for historical fiction that pulls you in and won’t let go!”
DIANA GABALDON, New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series

Praise for A Desperate Fortune

“Fascinating, immersive and twisty—twists not only of plot, but of character and time. I love a novel that deals with codes and ciphers, and the other ways in which people keep their secrets.”
DIANA GABALDON, New York Times bestselling author of the Outlander series

“Within a few paragraphs, you realize you are in the hands of a master storyteller: Kearsley’s novels are accessible but challenging, narratively propulsive but thoughtful. . . . This is smart historical fiction which isn’t afraid to assume the best of its readers.”

“Educates as it entertains, and manages to be wonderfully romantic at the same time.”

“Her prose is beautifully crafted and evocative of character, time and place.”

“Kearsley is nothing less than a magician weaving together the past and the present in yet another marvelous, genre-bending, romantic, mysterious, and utterly unputdownable novel. You’ll be captivated by the history, the secrets, the memorable heroines, and one of the cutest dogs to show up on the pages in a long time. Kearsley raises the bar book to book, and this is one of her most ambitious and successful ever. Bravo!”
M.J. ROSE, New York Times bestselling author of Seduction

“Kearsley has conjured a story that will stay with you long after you put it down. Her deft touch with historical intrigue is matched only by her delivery of a contemporary heroine who is as unique as she is memorable.”
DEANNA RAYBOURN, New York Times bestselling author of The Dark Enquiry

Praise for The Firebird

“Kearsley brings historical figures and events to life in this artfully crafted, exquisitely detailed tale, laced with a heady mix of intrigue and romance.”

“Kearsley has written a compelling and intricate character-driven story.”

“Kearsley deftly interweaves a compelling contemporary romance with a sweeping historical drama, and the fantastic with the realistic, to create a richly nuanced, delicately balanced novel that will not only satisfy her regular readers but seems well-positioned to win new converts to her unique approach to fiction. . . . The Firebird is the sort of book one wants to curl up within and savour.”

“An enchanting story told with wit and dexterity . . . The Firebird has it all: love, intrigue, twists, betrayal, and unexpected outcomes. . . . This is a book to remember.”

“The latest historical romance from acclaimed Ontario author Susanna Kearsley crackles with imagination. . . . With intrigue and verve, Kearsley has penned what is sure to become another bestseller.”

Praise for Season of Storms

“If you liked The French Lieutenant’s Woman, you’ll love this.”

Praise for The Shadowy Horses

“Susanna Kearsley’s best. . . . A brilliant book!”
— SARAH BROADHURST, The Bookseller

“[A] deft blending of romance and the Gothic. . . . lush with romantic and ghostly threads.”

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