Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall (7 page)

BOOK: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall
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“Not funny,” said Mum. “You obviously haven't read to the bottom of the page.”

“It says here that Goldfinch Press is awarding the prize to—good grief!”

“Exactly.”

“Eric,” I said. “Well. I suppose Eric was her husband. Mum, this is actually a good thing. He knows your secret. Why don't you just pay him off? If your publisher wants publicity photos, we can get them Photoshopped here. Didn't you say that Alfred was good at forgeries?”

Mum's expression hardened. “I talked to Eric in Cromwell Meadows twenty minutes ago. I even took him a cup of tea!”

“And?”

“I said that instead of him going on a mini-break we could come to a cash arrangement,” said Mum. “I would simply tell my publisher that Eric preferred to make a donation to charity or something.”

“So, you'd pay him off?”

“He flatly refused! And when I asked him why, Eric had the nerve to say it was none of my business!”

“Oh.” This was a surprise. Eric was notoriously hard up for money. “He really wants to go to Italy that much? Even when you told him that you didn't own a villa there—or a Pekinese?”

Mum suddenly seemed fascinated by her fingernails.

“You didn't tell him about the villa, did you?” I said. “Of course you didn't.”

“He's a horrible man! Why does he have to make my life so difficult?”

“He knows you don't like him.”

“I suppose we did get off on the wrong foot this evening,” Mum admitted. “You've heard that wretched tractor! Every morning he's outside my window digging out that ditch. It makes a terrible noise and I just can't concentrate. I asked him nicely but he got in a huff and said to take it up with her ladyship if I had a problem. Something about rain, drainage, and flooding.”

“If Edith told him to dig—”

“Why can't he dig somewhere else when I'm trying to write?”

“So you had another falling out?” I said wearily.

“What? Why are you looking at me like that?”

“Now that Dad is gone, why can't you come clean? With
everyone,
” I said. “Tell Eric there is no villa or Pekinese dog. And whilst you're at it, tell your publisher—”

“Graham. His name is Graham Goldfinch—”

“That your husband was not an international diplomat, nor did he die in a tragic plane crash, among other things.”

“It's too late for that now.”

“Graham won't care about your background,” I said. “It happens all the time in publishing. Look at J. K. Rowling? She wrote under a pseudonym.”

“I'm not J. K. Rowling.” Mum gave another sigh. “Alfred would have done such a good job transforming that wall into the Amalfi Coast.”

“Now that he's no longer taking care of retired circus horses in Spain?”

“Oh, her ladyship told you. I couldn't say that Alfred has spent the last decade in Wormwood Scrubs prison,” Mum said with scorn. “But Alfred will be very useful to our protest group. Just you see.”

“That reminds me,” I said. “Lavinia is going to call you about an old friend of hers—Benedict Scroope—”

“That's a good name, too. I must write it down—”

“He's an environmentalist. Well connected apparently,” I said. “Even managed to save an entire village in Kent from demolition when the Channel Tunnel was built. They want to meet here.”

Mum brightened. “Here? Not at the Hall?”

“Lavinia feels—I quote—‘
One needs to keep a certain air of mystery and distance from one's people
.' Basically, she wants to get involved but doesn't want to mix with the rabble.”

“What an honor.” Mum's face flushed with pleasure, then she scowled. “Will Eric be coming?”

“Lavinia said it would be just the three of you.”

“Not even his lordship?”

“He's gone to London.”

As if on cue, Mum's phone rang.

“I bet that's Lavinia, now,” I said.

She snatched up the receiver, said, “Yes, m'lady” several times, “I promise I won't say a word to his lordship,” then, “Lovely. Tomorrow at nine-thirty.”

Mum put the phone down and turned to me. “Why can't we mention this to his lordship?”

“Rupert told Lavinia not to interfere.”

“Of course he'd say that,” said Mum with scorn.

My mother did not have a particularly high opinion of Lord Honeychurch ever since we learned he'd tried to sell the estate to an adventure playground development company. Mum still didn't trust Rupert's change of heart and believed it was because he hoped to be reinstated as Edith's heir. I had to admit I thought she could be right.

“Rupert drove Harry back to school and then went on to London,” I said. “Lavinia was pretty upset about it. Not that I'm gossiping.” But I realized I was!

“Gossip! You must! What happened? They argued over Harry? They separated?” Mum's eyes widened. “Has he met someone else? I wouldn't be surprised. She's such a cold fish. And the way she wears her hair under that hairnet all the time. So unattractive.”

“I'll leave all that to your imagination,” I said. “I'm going to take a luxurious shower in your wonderful new bathroom.”

“I had that shower put in especially for you.” Mum looked at the bird clock. “Do you mind getting your own supper tonight? If I'm expecting the gentry tomorrow I need to get cracking on these notes straight away.”

“I was thinking about going to the Hare & Hounds.”

“Why?” Mum said suspiciously. “Isn't that where that Valentine person is staying?”

I felt myself redden and agonized over whether to lie. “They make a good steak and kidney pie.”

“You're a hopeless fibber,” said Mum. “You're going to see
him,
aren't you? You're going to talk to
him
behind my back!”

“Why don't we just hear what he has to say about your options?”

Mum grabbed the box containing her manuscript and headed for the kitchen door. “I hope you will both be very happy together. After all, he lives in London. You live in London…”

And then it hit me. I don't know how I had missed the obvious. “Would you like me to stay here a little longer?” I said gently. “At least until Alfred has settled in?”

“It's up to you,” said Mum but I saw a flash of hope in her eyes and it made me feel like an idiot. As the time for my departure drew closer we'd been bickering more than usual. Why hadn't I realized that my mother was going to miss me, too? For the past forty years I'd practically lived in her back pocket.

“I suppose Alfred could sleep on the sofa in the sitting room,” she said.

“It's still more comfortable than a jail cell,” I said. “Edith mentioned Alfred could have William's flat in the stable yard.”

“I'm not sure if he'll agree to that,” she said darkly.

“Come here.”

“Why?”

I pulled Mum into my arms and said, “I'm going to miss you, too, but I'm not going to the moon.”

“You smell.” Mum wriggled free.

I looked down at the clothes I had been wearing all day. I sported manure stains on my jeans and the cuffs of my sweater were brown with mud from our tumble in Coffin Mire.

“Wait! I've had a brilliant idea!” Mum broke into a smile that had devious written all over it. “You can be our spy!”

“What are you talking about?”

“Yes! You must meet Valentine, tonight. I'll bet he's privy—”

“Privy?” I snorted.

“Stop snorting. Yes,
privy,
to all sorts of confidential information that we can pass along to Mr. Scroope. You are going undercover!”

Mum retrieved a Dictaphone from the kitchen drawer. “Here, put this in your handbag.”

“I think it's a terrible idea,” but I took it all the same.

“But don't put on that awful patterned skirt. It makes you look so frumpy.”

It had been exactly what I'd planned to wear.

“I won't wait up,” said Mum with a knowing wink.

 

Chapter Six

One hour later, dressed in the patterned skirt that Mum thought frumpy, I drove the mile and a half from Honeychurch Hall to the village of Little Dipperton. It was a typical chocolate-box Devonshire village consisting of whitewashed, thatched, and slate-roofed cottages with a handful of shops and a seventeenth-century pub. There was also an abandoned forge, a greengrocer, a tearoom, and a general store that doubled up as a post office.

At one time the Honeychurch estate owned the entire village of Little Dipperton but now only a handful of cottages were tenant-occupied with their doors and window frames painted a distinctive dark blue.

Mum and I had walked to the village many times for a lunchtime drink at the Hare & Hounds or stopped in the tea shop for a cup of tea and homemade cake.

My initial six weeks of helping my mother out with her broken hand had turned into eight. Dad had been right to ask me to keep an eye on her and I had to admit I was conflicted about our upcoming separation. It was only now that I was beginning to really get to know my own mother.

Dad and I would groan at her constant “headaches,” which kept her in her bedroom for hours. Neither of us had known about her secret writing life and I definitely had had no knowledge of her colorful past on the road with the traveling boxing emporium. For whatever reason, my parents had kept me in the dark about the latter, and far from being intrigued and excited, I felt as if my childhood had all been a lie. Why couldn't they have told me? I had asked my mother many times and her answer was always the same. “We didn't want the neighbors to find out. It was a different time. There was a stigma attached to fairground folk.”

As I drove down the hill toward Bridge Cottage, my thoughts turned to HS3. I found it hard to believe that one day this area could be an ugly railway cutting. I still hadn't given up hope that Mum would move back to London and stick to our original plan of working together.

Only this morning I'd heard from my estate agent in London that a shop with a two-bedroom flat above had come up for sale just off Brick Lane in Shoreditch close to Spitalfields Market. I was excited about the location. Spitalfields was named after a hospital and a priory known as St. Mary's Spital that was founded in 1197. The market itself was established in the 1680s and was a huge tourist attraction—the perfect place to start my new antiques business. I decided to drive up on Saturday anyway to take a look, stay in my flat at Putney Bridge overnight, and return to Devon on Sunday.

I was jolted out of my thoughts when my headlights caught the orange glare of Patty's woolen coat. I drew alongside and hit the electric window button.

“Can I give you a lift?” I said.

Without a word, she opened the passenger door and got in. I was practically overwhelmed by the smell of cooked bacon that oozed from her clothes.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“Work. Where do you think?” said Patty. “Stan was supposed to pick me up at six-thirty but he didn't show up. He's always forgetting and then I have to walk.”

“I'm glad I was passing by,” I said lightly. “Didn't you call Stan?”

“We don't have a phone,” said Patty. “We can't afford it. We can't afford to run a car, either. We can't make ends meet on my mother's pension and disability allowance but people like you wouldn't know about things like that.”

She was right. I couldn't know. I also couldn't win.

I scrambled for something to say. “Joyce certainly gave that trespasser something to think about today. I've never seen anyone run so fast.”

“Yeah, well, thanks for telling the police,” Patty said coldly. “Shawn came round and gave us an official warning.”

“I didn't tell the police,” I protested. “Shawn had already heard about the incident.”

“And you expect me to believe you?” Patty said. “My mother's so upset she had one of her turns. She wanted to come tonight as well but I had to put her to bed. She was in an awful state.”

“I'm sorry to hear that.” I was already regretting my Good Samaritan gesture and was relieved when we pulled into the pub car park.

“Speak of the devil,” Patty exclaimed. “There he is.”

Valentine seemed engaged in animated conversation on his mobile phone. He was pacing back and forth alongside a metallic-blue SUV with
LUXRY
1 on the license plate. The new Suzuki model stuck out like a sore thumb amongst the numerous mud-splattered Land Rovers—the vehicle of choice in the Devonshire countryside.

Even though I couldn't see evidence of a weapon in the string bag Patty clutched to her chest, I thought it wise to park as far away from Valentine's car as possible.

Patty got out, slammed the door, and headed over to the rear of the pub where the kitchens were located.

I checked my reflection in the vanity mirror. For once, I did not have lipstick on my teeth. Even though Valentine was attractive—despite Mum's unkind comment about his limp—I wasn't in the market for romance. My split from David was still raw and the last thing I was interested in was love and all its complications.

I entered the pub. The Hare & Hounds was a typical Devon longhouse with a low, heavy-beamed ceiling and a massive inglenook fireplace. It was so enormous that seats had been cut into the bricks of the enclosed hearth that flanked the grate where a roaring log fire burned in front of a decorative cast-iron fireback bearing the date 1635.

Two threadbare tapestries, depicting battle scenes from the Civil War, jostled with a plethora of pikes, maces, and swords. Dozens of heavy antique keys dangled from wires along the beams overhead and copper of all descriptions filled what little wall space remained.

Tables were grouped in clusters set with oak chairs or embraced by high-backed curved oak benches to provide intimate settings. Through a low arch was a small room known as the Snug from which a back staircase could be accessed through a latch door up to a handful of bedrooms for a B and B. Another door led to the toilets.

BOOK: Deadly Desires at Honeychurch Hall
5.88Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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