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Authors: Maxine Barry

A Matter of Trust

BOOK: A Matter of Trust
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A
MATTER OF TRUST

A
MATTER OF TRUST

Maxine Barry

British
Library Cataloguing in Publication Data available

This eBook edition published by AudioGO Ltd, Bath, 2012.

Published by arrangement with the author.

Epub ISBN 9781471307270

U.K.
Hardcover
ISBN
978 1 4458 4473 2
U.K.
Softcover
ISBN
978 1 4458 4474 9

Copyright © Maxine Barry

All rights reserved

Jacket Illustration ©
iStockphoto.com

CHAPTER
ONE

Nesta Aldernay saw the first road signs indicating that Oxford lay just ahead of her, and felt the tension already tightening her shoulder blades intensify. Deliberately, she forced her muscles to relax, and took a deep, relaxing breath.

She got in line at a busy T-junction, still a little nervous of driving, having passed her driving test only a short time ago. Naturally, a big lorry promptly started tooting angrily behind her. She refused to let herself be bullied, however, and waited until she felt safe to move off.

It was a fine late September morning when her rather ancient Beetle finally entered the city limits, but the leaves were turning early this year, she noted, with a faint sigh of regret. A freak frost had nipped the chrysanthemums and Michaelmas daisies in the gardens lining the streets, and a few copper-coloured leaves were already beginning to litter the pavements as she carefully negotiated the big and busy roundabout at the head of Banbury Road.

She kept a sharp look out for taxis and the ubiquitous bicycles in this strange new city and told herself not to be such a mouse. She had enough worries to think about, without getting a phobia about driving!

On
the passenger seat beside her lay a map of Oxford. In her boot was a large, tatty suitcase, packed with a variety of clothes, mostly culled from second-hand shops and closing-down sales. She had, at that point, no idea how long she would be staying in Oxford. Nor had she any illusions about the kind of reception that she might soon be facing.

And it definitely wouldn't be the red-carpet treatment.

Nobody who came to rock the boat could expect to be greeted with open arms. Things, Nesta thought grimly to herself as she carefully overtook a cyclist, could get very nasty, very fast.

Of course, a lot depended on the attitude of one Sir Vivian Dalrymple, and what she herself would be able to uncover in the next few weeks or months. And be willing to pursue, to its ultimate, grim conclusion.

She slowed down as she checked out the name of the road leading off on her right. Sir Vivian, she knew, lived in an area off the Banbury Road called Park Town. According to the map, this was located in the up-market and leafy suburb called Summertown.

A few more hundred yards up ahead she found it, indicated with care, and slowed the old, mint-green VW Beetle into a crawl. The area was a wealthy one all right. Private schools and very desirable residences smugly beamed at her from behind neatly trimmed
privet
hedges and freshly-painted black iron railings.

It was a far cry from her street back home in Durham. But then, she was the daughter of working-class parents who'd been raised on a council estate, and not Sir Vivian Dalrymple, Peer of the realm, Oxford Don, and noted psychologist.

She found the house she was looking for tucked away in a small round cul-de-sac, and pulled to a halt outside a set of large, intricately patterned wrought iron gates. She'd bought the VW Beetle with the proceeds of her mother's meagre inheritance just last year, and the new found freedom her beloved little car had given her was much appreciated.

After the death of her father when she'd been barely five years old, she and her mother had naturally become very close, and her loss had hit Nesta hard. But attending university at the time of her death, and being surrounded as she was by her friends and living in a crowded, cheerful student dorm, it had helped her get over the worst of the shock and the accompanying feeling of acute loneliness. And having to concentrate on getting her degree and sitting her final exams had also aided her with the grieving process. It gave her something to concentrate her mind on other than just the unfairness of life, and of a woman dying at just forty-six years of age due to a heart attack.

Her
mother's small council house, that she'd scrimped and saved to buy back in the eighties, had, of course, been left to her only child in her will. And it was during the long vacation that Nesta had decided it needed a thorough ‘do out'. Which was when she'd discovered her father's old papers in the attic.

Until that day, she'd thought that life had already thrown at her the worst that it possibly could. Now she was learning that there was no limit to the number of blows that life could deal to you . . .

Nesta caught herself up abruptly and angrily shook her head. First things first. She might have been ignorantly blissful before, but now she was armed with knowledge. And determined to use it. Come what may.

She retrieved her briefcase from the back seat, and carefully locked her car before glancing around. Then she pushed open the iron gates and walked, tight-lipped, up a well kept and weed-free gravel path. Her chin was set at a firm angle. Her shoulders were back. She looked like what she was—a woman prepared to do battle.

Even so, she glanced around her curiously. The house was a simple, two-storey Cotswold stone house with big bay windows, and a lovely creeper, now turning a deep red, which climbed the height of its walls. The garden wasn't huge, but it was very well tended. Neatly clipped bushes, now turning a little brown
about
the edges, had probably given loads of lovely colour during the summer months. Over to the left was a small rose garden, still bearing several yellow and pink blooms.

She stopped suddenly as she noticed an old man, busily dead-heading a bush. She paused to reflect for a few moments, then abandoned the path to the front door and headed towards him instead. One part of her wondered if she was just being cowardly and postponing the inevitable for a few minutes, whilst a second part of her assured her that it was only good tactics to spy out the lie of the land first.

‘Excuse me?' she said softly, and watched the old man give a start, and spin around.

He was one of those old men who looked wonderfully rounded and pink-cheeked. The kind of man, for instance, who could easily play Father Christmas at the local orphanage. Even the blue eyes sweeping over her so speculatively had a nice twinkle in them.

‘Hello,' he said, straightening up with just a wince, and a pronounced breathlessness. Noticing her sympathetic look, he explained cheerfully, ‘Touch of lumbago. And the old ticker's giving me jip. Can I help you. young lady?'

The courtly expression somehow suited the man. It was impossible to get any feminist feathers ruffled by his old-fashioned courtesy, and Nesta smiled at him widely.

‘I was wondering if Sir Vivian Dalrymple
was
home?'

The blue eyes twinkled some more as the old man slowly removed one of his gardening gloves. ‘At your service,' he said politely, even half-bowing his head as he did so. Then he moved closer and held out his hand.

She was a pretty little thing, Sir Vivian thought, intrigued by the sudden flush of hot colour that diffused her cheeks, then just as suddenly disappeared, leaving her looking distinctly unnerved. And the psychologist in him instantly became alert. He noted the interesting body language as her small figure suddenly tensed. She was, he guessed, about five feet two in height, but at that moment she was mentally projecting an image of a six-footer. Her deep red hair was cut in a becoming bell shape, framing her face and coming to two sharp little points either side of her jaw. Like most natural redheads, her skin was very fair, but now it looked positively ghostly.

He watched her give herself a little mental shake as she realised he was still holding his hand out, ready for it to be shaken. Her eyes, a lovely emerald green, became abruptly sharp and focused as she too, took a step forward.

Sir Vivian gave her an encouraging smile. There was definitely something in the air. He only hoped that she didn't want to consult him privately. He hadn't taken on private patients since he'd first earned his doctorate.
Nowadays,
he was strictly a lecturer. And a soon to be retired one at that. His doctor had made it very clear that it was high time he took things easy.

‘How do you do, Sir Vivian. My name is Nesta Aldernay.' The voice was cool, polite, and had a touch of the north-country in the accent.

‘Nesta. What a charming name!' he beamed, and realised how cold her hand felt in his. ‘Would you like to come in for a cup of tea, Miss Aldernay? I was about to take a short break, anyway. There's a difference between a little gentle exercise, and overdoing it. At least, so my doctor says.'

Nesta smiled. ‘Thank you. I'd love to,' she murmured. Well, so far, things were looking good. Sir Vivian seemed like a very nice man. But it was early days yet.

Sir Vivian nodded, took off his other gardening glove, and led the way across the gravel to the front door.

‘I must say, we're certainly getting the early frosts this year, don't you. . .' Th . . . umph!

Sir Vivian's pleasantries came to an abrupt end as he went to open the door and started to go through it before it was actually open. Consequently his shoulder hit the firm wooden barrier a glancing blow. He stood back, ruefully rubbed the top of his arm, and tried the handle again. Evidently, it refused to budge, and he shook his head exasperatedly.

‘The
catch must have slipped down again. The dratted thing does that all the time. I keep meaning to get it fixed . . . Oh well, follow me.' The old man gave a half-amused, half-annoyed chuckle and turned around.

Nesta, hiding a grin, followed the noted psychologist back through the rose garden to a small garden shed set well back by the rear wall. He briefly stepped inside, then emerged a few moments later, triumphantly waving a big silver key.

‘Always keep a spare kitchen door key in here,' he beamed, and shuffled around the back of the house.

Nesta, thinking of her rather crime-ridden estate back home, wondered ruefully just how long her DVD player and television would remain in her house if she did the same.

What it was to live in the rarefied and safe atmosphere of academe! Not that Sir Vivian seemed to be the sort of man who needed to flaunt his wealth and status. At that precise moment in time, he was wearing a pair of rather disreputable trousers, and a thick jersey with holes at the elbows.

He really was a poppet. Already, Nesta began to feel some of her tension dripping away. She had chosen her champion well. Whatever happened next, at least she wouldn't be denigrated, threatened or angrily dismissed as a little air-head.

But she mustn't ever forget that this was
a
very influential man. For all his ‘favourite uncle' appearance, he'd been a Fellow of St Bede's College for over thirty years. He still lectured regularly for the university, and was the author of numerous, well-received books. She had no doubt that he'd retained the brain of a very, very sharp man indeed. Which was why she'd picked him in the first place, of course. She needed someone with an impeccable reputation on her side if she was ever to get justice for what had been done to her father.

A man she could now barely remember.

‘Ah, that's better,' Sir Vivian said, as the key turned in the lock and he pushed open the door triumphantly. Then they walked into a wonderfully warm, cheerfully yellow kitchen.

‘Right then,' Sir Vivian rubbed his hands briskly. ‘Tea. China, Indian, or something dreadful and herbal?' he offered hospitably.

Nesta laughed. ‘Whatever you're having, Sir Vivian.'

The old man nodded with satisfaction. That was better. She had a bit of colour back in her cheeks now, and that aura of dreadful tension had lifted.

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