In the fallout of her deceased father’s financial ruin, Annabelle’s prospects are looking bleak. Her fiancé has called off their betrothal, and now she remains at the mercy of her controlling and often cruel brother. Annabelle soon faces the fact that her only hope for a better life is to do the unthinkable and run away to Fellsworth, where her estranged uncle serves as the school’s superintendent. Upon arrival, Annabelle learns that she must shed her life of high society and work for her wages for the first time. Owen Locke is unswerving in his commitments. As a widower and father, he is fiercely protective of his only daughter. As an industrious gamekeeper, he is intent on keeping poachers at bay even though his ambition has always been to purchase land he can call his own. When a chance encounter introduces him to Annabelle Thorley, his steady life is shaken. For the first time since his wife’s death, Owen begins to consider a second chance at love. As Owen and Annabelle grow closer, ominous forces threaten the peace they thought they’d found.
Annabelle Thorley's once well-off family fell into financial ruin not long ago due to her father's involvement in an embezzling scheme. Shortly thereafter, Annabelle's father dies and her fiance breaks off their engagement. The fates of the Thorley estate and Annabelle's future now in the hands of her cold-hearted brother, our leading lady fears she'll soon face being muscled into an unsavory marital "understanding" with the odious, elderly (but wealthy) Cecil Bartwell.
When an evening's festivities turn violent, a frightened Annabelle (after being struck in the face by her brother for refusing Bartwell's advances) makes the choice to flee to Fellsworth school where her uncle, long estranged from the family, serves as superintendent. Escorting her on her journey is widower father Owen Locke, a gamekeeper for the estate of Stephen Treadwell. Locke and Treadwell had attended the same party as the Thorleys that night. Having spoken with him earlier, Annabelle felt a certain level of safety and comfort around Owen, enough to request his assistance in ordering her a carriage to take her to Fellsworth. As it turns out, Locke is good friends with her uncle, so he decides to join her on her journey to ensure no more harm comes her way. Also in attendance is Annabelle's lady's maid, Margaret Crosley.
Once at Fellsworth, Annabelle does a quick catch-up with this uncle she's only met one other time in her life (as a little girl) and then gives him a rundown of the events that led to her suddenly arriving on his doorstep. Thankfully, her uncle is kind and understanding, even offering her a teaching position at the school so she may have means to restart her life. He also offers Crosley a position in the school's kitchen (since, as a teacher now, Annabelle would have no need for someone to formally dress her). While grateful for the opportunity, Annabelle does struggle with the transition of a life of servants and luxury to being working class herself. But she dedicates herself to earnestly learning the ropes and soon has the admiration and respect of most anyone she meets (with the exception of a few sour characters). Meanwhile, Owen spends much of the story on or around the grounds of Fellsworth --- where his daughter attends school --- doing his gamekeeping work, made more challenging after being tasked to locate and break up a suspected poaching operation. Owen is looking to purchase Kirtley Meadow estate for himself and his daughter, and tracking down the criminals in this case could be the key to him finally nailing down ownership of the place.
As with Dawn at Emberwilde (Treasures of Surrey #2), the plot in A Stranger at Fellsworth also involves suspected criminal activity going down under the cover of forest. Much of the novel proves to be a sweet if rather safe kind of story. It's pretty evident early on who the "bad guys" are going to be. It's also the standard, glowy Christian Fiction historical romance which means you can pretty much count on things ending on a HEA with MCs. Even so, the characterizations are done well for the most part, the relationships (and the history there) decently thought out and entertaining. Though, as you might expect with a novel of this type, there's only minimal interaction between our male and female MCs before the reader is struck, suddenly and unrealistically, with exchanged confessions of deep love right before story's close.
There was one point in the story where one character describes the details of a situation / relationship as "perfectly adequate", which is kind of the feeling I was left with after finishing this closing book to this series. Overall, it was, truthfully, "perfectly adequate".... it's just a shame that the mystery / tension portions of the plot came out so underdeveloped.
** Discussion Questions guide provided in the paperback edition
FTC DISCLAIMER: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.