Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall

BOOK: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall
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For Jason



When I first started writing this series about an ancient crumbling country house and its inhabitants, little did I realize that I would quickly share my heroine Kat Stanford's passion for preserving and protecting the magnificent country houses of Great Britain. It's a sad fact that since the Second World War, nearly two thousand distinguished country houses have been demolished, destroyed, or today stand in ruins. The reasons range from crippling inheritance tax laws to the demands and expectations of twenty-first-century living, not to mention the financial reality of keeping these vast estates going.

With this stark fact in mind, I invite Anglophiles and lovers of English cozy mysteries everywhere to join me in applauding the National Trust, English Heritage, the Battlefields Trust, and the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings in their tireless endeavors to safeguard the England we know and love.

Perhaps that is why the inspiration for the plot in
Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall
was sparked by the Action Alliance, a protest group who continue to fight against the construction of HS2, a high-speed railway line that will destroy a further three hundred cottages, Georgian manor houses, medieval rectories, and ancient churchyards, to say nothing of decimating woodlands, hedgerows, and, inevitably, threatening all wildlife in its path. You definitely have my support!

And speaking of support, this book wouldn't have been possible without the help and encouragement of my amazing posse. I would like to extend my heartfelt gratitude to my wonderful agent, Dominick Abel; my editor, Marcia Markland—who always knows exactly how to make my stories better; the super-efficient Quressa Robinson; Shailyn Tavella—who embraced my quirky publicity ideas with grace and good humor; and the fabulous Talia Sherer—whose enthusiasm always made me smile. Special thanks must go to Mary Ann Lasher—your book covers are exquisite and it's no surprise that they have spawned a Mr. Chips fan club.

As always, I couldn't do any of this without the support of my daughter, Sarah; my family and the Elen clan; my boss, Mark Davis, chairman of Davis Elen Advertising; and my talented comrades in the trenches—Elizabeth Duncan, Clare Langley-Hawthorne, Daryl Wood Gerber, Kate Carlisle, and Mark Durel.

And last but always foremost in my heart, there are no words to express the deep love and gratitude I feel for my husband, who has supported my writing dreams from the very beginning. Jason—this book is for you.


Chapter One

“I'd rather die than let the wretched government build a high-speed rail network through here.” Mum pointed to a green flyer that was pinned to the post of a five-bar gate.


, L


“Operation Bullet,” Mum went on. “What a silly name. More like operation bunkum.”

“Bunkum?” I scoffed. “Who uses the word ‘bunkum' these days?”

“Don't you care about all this?” Mum put one Wellington boot–clad foot on the first bar and used her good hand to haul herself up.

“Careful,” I teased as Mum began to wobble. “Remember your age.”

“I'm not seventy
thank you very much,” Mum declared. “Anyway, it's got nothing to do with age. It's my gimpy hand.”

“Which is why I suggest we just lean over the gate and admire the view.”

“I'll be glad when you go back to London and stop nagging me,” said Mum. “When did you say you're leaving?”

“When I'm sure you can manage on your own,” I retorted. “And you promise not to get into any more trouble.”

“Me? Trouble?” Mum gave me a withering look. “I'm sure I don't know what you mean.”

It had been nearly six months since Dad died and two since I discovered that my mother had secretly sold our small family home in London and moved over two hundred miles away to Little Dipperton in Devon. If that wasn't enough of a shock, thanks to a broken hand, Mum's request for me to help her with “some typing” led to an astonishing discovery. My conventional, respectable mother was actually Krystalle Storm, the internationally best-selling romance writer of racy bodice-rippers. Furthermore, Krystalle Storm's real identity—and the extent of her earnings—was a closely guarded secret. Fortunately my father never discovered her alter ego—nor has HM Revenue and Customs, which is all the more ironic given that my father had worked all his life as a tax inspector.

But that was just the beginning.

Following my retirement from hosting
Fakes & Treasures,
Mum and I had planned to open our own antiques business and now she'd changed her mind. To say I was perplexed was putting it mildly. And now here we were, bickering as usual.

“Well, I'm definitely joining that protest group,” said Mum with a hint of defiance.

“You see?” I exclaimed. “You're already asking for trouble. Stay out of it, Mother. Anyway, the government hasn't even built the HS2 from London to Birmingham yet. It will be years before they start this one.”

“I don't see why we need a new line down here,” my mother went on. “What's wrong with the one we've got?”

“It's archaic,” I said. “That's why.”

“I didn't expect you to understand.”

“Please let's not argue,” I said.

Mum breathed in the crisp October air and exhaled with a sigh. “None of that city pollution here. You'll miss this, just you see.”

“Cows and manure? I doubt it.” The problem was, I knew Mum was right. I would.

It was a day of fitful sunshine and spiteful showers. Around us sprawled a mosaic of undulating farmland enclosed by ancient hedgerows that rolled down to the River Dart. Thick belts of pine forests were interspersed with lush woods sprinkled with rust, gold, red, and myriad shades of green that shimmered in the autumnal breeze.

“Did you know that Honeychurch Hall was a Royalist stronghold in the Civil War?” said Mum wistfully.


“The Roundheads and the Cavaliers fought up here,” Mum went on. “It's haunted of course.”

“Of course.”

“Can't you just hear the sound of cannon fire?”

“Not at the moment. No.”

“Sir Ralph commanded his troops from up here.”

“So you keep telling me.”

We were walking Hopton's Crest named after Sir Ralph Hopton, a Royalist commander in the first Civil War who secured the southwest of England for King Charles I. The rough track that had run along the top of this ridge nearly four hundred years ago would have afforded panoramic views. Today, they were still spectacular but marred by banks of overhanging trees and unruly hedges. At the end of the crest, the track narrowed to a steep path that wound down through sloping woodland and past a marshy swamp aptly named Coffin Mire.

Below, on one side of the ridge, nestled the small village of Little Dipperton, and on the other, tucked between trees and centuries-old dry stone walls, lay the magnificent Honeychurch Hall estate in all its fading glory, along with the peculiar equine cemetery, ornamental grounds, Victorian grotto, and vast walled garden that was lined with near-derelict glasshouses.

Mum's Carriage House stood adjacent to her estranged neighbor Eric Pugsley's hideous scrapyard. At one time a thick belt of trees separated the two but Eric soon cut that down—just to annoy my mother, or so she claimed.

From our vantage point and with autumn in full swing, we were treated to an eyeful of old bangers—or as Eric liked to call them, “End-of-Life Vehicles”—a hearse, pyramids of tires, and discarded pieces of farm machinery. There was also a car crusher machine and Eric's red Massey Ferguson tractor that was parked outside a battered old caravan that served as his office.

“Let's look on the bright side,” I said. “If Operation Bullet really happens it will be the end of Eric's kingdom.”

“And that's supposed to give me consolation?” Mum said. “Actually, it was Eric's idea to form the protest group for Little Dipperton. The railway line will cut right through the village as well as Honeychurch.”

“Good luck to him,” I said. “As the saying goes, ‘you can't fight city hall.'”

“Oh yes we can,” said Mum. “I've decided to join him.”

“What?” I gasped. “You're going to be in cahoots with

“Yes, I am,” Mum declared. “In fact, there's a protest meeting on Thursday evening at the pub.”

I started to laugh. “I thought you couldn't stand him.”

“I can't,” said Mum. “But what choice do I have? Apparently Eric asked Lord Honeychurch for his support but was told to leave well alone and mind his own business.”

“And it isn't yours, either,” I said.

“Of course it is! I live here.”

“What does Edith think?” I asked.

“Her ladyship, you mean.” Mum still couldn't bring herself to call the dowager countess, Lord Rupert Honeychurch's mother, by her first name despite being invited to do so on numerous occasions. As far as my mother was concerned, being over familiar with the gentry—as she insisted on calling the upper classes—was inconceivable. “We're not supposed to talk to her about it, either,” Mum continued. “His lordship doesn't want her upset.”

“That's a first,” I said. “Just weeks ago Rupert was trying to get her committed to that retirement facility—”

“Sunny Hill Lodge,” said Mum. “But I do think she's got
form of dementia, Kat.”

“Well, I'm sure Edith's seen the flyers all over the countryside. They're hard to miss,” I said. “And Muriel from the post office has been running a petition for weeks.”

BOOK: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall
13.21Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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