The Coffin Trail: A Lake District Mystery #1

The Coffin Trail: A Lake District Mystery #1

What is meant as a fresh start in the English Lakes District begins to reek of buried secrets…. Oxford historian and TV personality Daniel Kind and his new lover, Miranda, ...

About The Author

Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards has published sixteen crime novels and more than 50 short stories. His crime fiction has been short-listed for ...

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Prologue

Barrie could see the woman stretched out on top of the Sacrifice Stone. Moonlight played upon her pale skin and long fair hair.

She is waiting for me.

He broke into a run. The trail was steep. Usually he counted every pace up to the top of the fell. Safety in numbers. But tonight he wasn’t counting, tonight he could do anything. His shirt was damp and the cotton stuck to his chest. In the night sky, an owl’s wings flapped. Breathing hard, he halted. The moon dipped behind a cloud. In the distance he could hear the waters of Brack Force slapping the rocks. Straining his eyes in the gloom, he made out the slender motionless form of the woman. She was so patient.

‘I kept my word,’ he said.

His throat was parched and his voice sounded scratchy. He’d never had much to do with pretty women, but he knew that they liked to be wooed. Petted. They treated it as a game. Paying compliments didn’t come naturally to him. He’d never bought anyone flowers in his life: what was the point? All the same, he’d been rehearsing words of admiration over and over in his mind. If you wanted to win, you had to play by the rules, even if they didn’t make sense.

Pebbles crunched under his feet. Even now, she remained perfectly still. Most people baffled him, but young women were the worst. They never behaved as he expected. He whispered her name, then called it aloud. Nothing. The only sound, the only movement, came from a fox that had ventured far from its lair. Perhaps she was testing him, maybe she wanted to see whether his desire would overcome his nerves, but it wasn’t what she’d promised.

She should be waving me on.

He caught a whiff of sourness in the air.

This isn’t right.

Two strides brought him close to the Sacrifice Stone. Just then, the moon gleamed and he glimpsed bare flesh. At once he saw that something terrible, something beyond words, had been done to her. His stomach was strong, but the sight made him retch.

He reached out—he could not help himself—and his fingertips brushed against her. The skin was chill and sticky and wet. He stepped back hastily, as if bitten by an adder, and wiped his fingers on his sleeve. She was covered with blood and now so was he.

‘But you said…’

Of course she didn’t reply. She was dead and everyone would say that he had done it. That he had killed her. He didn’t understand anything, except that he was in danger. Panic began to choke him. Who would believe that she had begged him to come? A teacher had once said he lacked imagination, but he could see the future unfolding with the vividness of colour pictures in a horror comic strip. He had been a fool. He had been betrayed.

Tears stinging his eyes, he stumbled along the rocky ridge. In blind haste, he clipped a cross-wall built to shelter visitors to the summit and cut his knee, but he hurried on. Time was short. The wind smacked his skin as if punishing him for stupidity, but he paid it no heed. He couldn’t go home. Home was where people would come to find him. To escape, he must find a safe way down. He was aiming for a dip between the crags and the chance of shelter in the next valley.

His breath came in short gasps. Spots of rain greased his hair. The ground was like glue under his feet. Ahead, a familiar squat cairn loomed out of the darkness and he yelped in frustration. He was exhausted, yet so far he had covered little more than a mile. Not far enough, not nearly far enough. His cheeks were moist and he knew he was crying for himself, not for the dead woman. Soon people would be chasing after him. Whenever something bad happened, he was blamed. What could be worse than this?

No one knew Tarn Fell better, he thought of it as his back yard, and yet in his distress he was unsure which downward track to take. As the ground fell away, his foot slid. For a moment he thought he’d turned his ankle, but it was all right. Facts, he would cling to hard facts. People mocked him for his love of facts, but facts weren’t like women. They were safe—and they never let you down.

Four, five, seven, ten. Safety in numbers. He paused. There was so much that he knew by heart and yet the shock of finding the woman’s body had emptied his brain. No, it was all right. Fourteen, seventeen, nineteen, eighteen, fifteen, eleven, seven and six. Those were the average daily temperatures in the Lakes, from January to December inclusive.

He stopped to peer over the precipice. Darkness, punctured only by a light in the lonely farmhouse far below. Thunder rumbled and he counted three seconds until the lightning flashed. The rain began to sheet down, sharp and unforgiving. He was close to the heart of the storm.

Now—the four highest mountains, in order of height. Feet, not metres. Scafell Pike 3210. Scafell 3162, Helvellyn 3118. Skiddaw 3053. The numbers soothed his brain. Lists and figures were a comfort, you always knew where you were with them. As a child, when his mother had shouted at him, he’d taken refuge in his bed and pulled the blankets over his face, reciting to himself the latest data he’d stowed away. He started to pick his way down the narrow path. Wait—he’d blundered on to the Devil’s Elbow, a zigzag route winding between two deep fissures carved by frost and rain.

No point in tears. In a downpour so fierce he could see nothing. The fells were safe, Wainwright used to say, as long as you watched where you put your feet. Suddenly the path convulsed over a mass of shattered rock. The rain had made it more dangerous and he found himself slipping. He threw out an arm and grabbed a clump of heather, striving in vain to break his fall.

A phrase his mother used came spinning into his mind. Rolling down the hill, she liked to say, Barrie’s always rolling down the hill. It was her way of describing what he was like when he went on and on about trivial things that meant nothing to her. Now he was rolling down the hill for real.

The ravine gaped in front of his eyes, a cruel mouth waiting to swallow him. He pitched into it, arms and legs smashing against stone as he fell. His forehead caught on a ledge which gouged his flesh. The pain was cruel. He screamed for help, but there was nobody to hear. He didn’t pray—he’d never been able to imagine God—but he told himself that he would survive the drop. Even if his body was wrecked beyond repair, he was going to live. People would be searching for him. Safety in numbers. He would be rescued. He could not simply be left until he starved. Or froze to death.

Chapter One

Forget about the murder. It’s history.

Daniel tightened his grip on the steering wheel as the Audi jolted over potholes in the winding lane, his palms sweating. Miranda thought he was so cool, so relaxed, but it was an illusion. Might a conjurer feel like this when walking onto the stage? Fearing that his magic wouldn’t work, that when he whipped the cloak away, his audience wouldn’t gasp, but merely yawn? The car eased over the top of the fell and Daniel held his breath. At last Brackdale revealed itself. Unfolding below them, luxuriating in the sunshine.

‘A hidden valley!’

Miranda’s delight made him shiver with relief. This was the moment he’d yearned for. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her leaning forward in the passenger seat, craning her long neck so as to drink in the scene. Stone buildings squeezed around a spired church and its lush graveyard, and on the other side of the village, a jigsaw puzzle of fields and copses spread out across the hollow. Quarry workings, deserted and melancholy, pock-marked the far end of the valley, yet he wouldn’t have loved Brackdale as much without its scars. Steep surrounding crags closed in together beyond the dead industrial remains. There was no through road. Miranda was right: a casual visitor would never guess that the valley existed. Tarn Cottage was concealed from view, as if by pale plumes of smoke. But Daniel knew that no fire burned, it was only the blossom of damson trees.

‘Look over there!’ Miranda was excited, he was aware of her tensing beside him. ‘That weird stone on the summit.’

The boulder was shaped like an anvil, stark against the sky. Even on this innocent spring morning, its grey bulk loomed dour and secretive. Without thinking, he said, ‘I climbed up there once. People round here call it the Sacrifice Stone.’

‘Really?’ Her voice rose. ‘Go on, tell me more.’

He’d said too much. That was the trouble with the valley; it seduced you into betraying what was on your mind. Laughing, he changed the subject. He must focus on the here and now, not let anything darken a perfect day.

They shuddered over a cattle grid; it would be a miracle if the car’s suspension survived the weekend, but who cared? As they joined the road on the far side of the village, dry stone walls gave way to hedgerows smudged by the gold of willow catkins. A mile further on stood a wooden sign with worn lettering. He could barely make out the words Tarn Fold. Next to it a gleam- ing estate agent’s sign pointed towards the woodland: Cottage for sale by private treaty.

It must be Tarn Cottage. Had to be. There was no other dwelling down the track. His skin tingled: soon he would see the old place again. He parked on a square of turf where the asphalted lane became an unmade track. Miranda leaned towards him, eyes closing as they always did when she was aroused. Her perfume had a heady jasmine fragrance. They kissed and he put the cottage out of his mind until she pulled away.

‘Time to explore.’

As he led her across an old packhorse bridge, they heard the faint splash of a fish in the beck. Past a ruined corn-mill, the route forked, and without hesitation, he headed towards a coppice of beech and ash. Wrens murmured in the trees. He’d read that birdsong is quieter in the countryside: no need to compete with city noise. Above the track, sinuous branches arched to form a green tunnel. He had a sudden fancy that he and Miranda were people in a story for children, passing through a portal into another world.

A breeze set the trees swaying, as if to the rhythms of a samba that only they could hear, and he glimpsed the whitewashed walls of the cottage. Beyond, he remembered, lay the barn and the bothy. When they reached the clearing, they stopped a few yards from the gateway at the end of the track, taking in the luscious air. A board freshly painted in a blinding shade of yellow bragged that Tarn Cottage “presented outstanding potential for sensitive refurbishment.”

Ground elder and nettles had colonised the gravel path that curved towards a front door from which green paint was peeling. At least the tracery of the mullioned windows was intact. Moving closer, they could see the slope of the garden down to a reed-fringed tarn. Sunlight glinted on the water. Further on, the land rose towards the lower reaches of the fell. They paused, no longer able to hear the rushing of the beck. The breeze had dropped, the birds had lost their voice.

For a long time, neither of them broke the silence. Daniel slipped his arm around Miranda’s waist and felt her trembling. It wasn’t in her nature to be uncertain. Perhaps, like him, she felt as if she had arrived at a sort of holy place. The two of us are worshippers, he thought, we’re here to make our devotions. And now we are overcome by awe.

‘How could anyone live here and not be at peace?’ She was whispering, even though no one could hear.

‘Maybe we ought to put in a bid.’

‘Oh God, yes,’ she murmured. ‘Let’s do it.’

Her smile was dreamy. He’d seen it before, in her flat in London, moments after they made love for the first time. She could ask for anything, he would give it gladly. Seizing his hand, she gripped it tight.

‘Let’s do it,’ she said again. ‘But…’

‘No buts, Daniel. I mean it.’ ‘You’re not serious.’

Her eyes opened wide. ‘Believe me, I am.’

He tried being logical, though this was no time for rational argument. ‘You work in London. I’m in Oxford. It takes almost as long to drive up here as to fly the Atlantic.’

‘You weren’t talking like that a couple of days ago.’

‘You weren’t talking about buying a holiday home then.’ ‘Not a holiday home.’ She pinched his arm. ‘Listen, remember when I read out my horoscope last night, that stuff about making a new start? We could make it here. Sell up everything and move into Tarn Cottage.’

‘You’re joking.’ His mouth was dry. ‘Aren’t you?’

‘I’ve never been more serious,’ she said. ‘I hate my job, and the college is stifling you. Listen to me, Daniel. Life is short, we don’t get second chances. Let’s escape from it all, make a fresh beginning together. We could be so happy here.’

He took a step away and stared at her flushed cheeks. Once such intensity would have scared him, now it made him giddy with desire. She lived by instinct and he adored her for it. For too long he’d played the sober academic, weighing evidence with cool scholarship before proceeding to a measured judgement. But reason was a ball and chain. Even though he’d never been able to get Brackdale—and Barrie Gilpin—out of his mind, it had taken him twenty years to return. Miranda was different. From the moment she’d seen the cottage, she had fallen head over heels.

‘It’s not exactly Islington.’ ‘Thank God.’

‘Didn’t you once tell me that anywhere north of the Wash was like a foreign country? You’ve never even lived in a small town. You’re a Londoner, the city’s part of you.’

‘Parts of it I hate. The greed, the dirt, the crime. The newspaper placards screaming Murder of Woman—Witnesses Sought.

‘But…’

‘Hey, I thought you’d understand, that you’d want this as much as me.’

A gust caught the damson petals. Daniel watched them flutter in the air like crystals of snow before they merged with the wood anemone carpeting the ground beyond the little wood.

‘Well?’ she asked. ‘Are you up for it?’

If I say no, he thought, will things ever be the same between us? I mustn’t mess up, the way I messed up with Aimee.

He swallowed hard. ‘Sure.’

Flinging her arms around him, she kissed him with a fierce hunger. Unbuttoning his shirt, unbuckling his belt, pushing him backwards and down. The grass smelled damp but they didn’t care. The two of them were drunk with passion for each other. Her skin tasted sweet. He’d never experienced this before Miranda: not such abandonment. Surrendering to the will of another human being. Until now he’d always kept control.

Later, stroking his chest with warm fingertips, she said, ‘You’ve never been able to get this place out of your mind, have you? I love that. That kind of obsession.’

Obsession? Yes, he supposed she was right. He ought to tell her that once, in this quiet and lovely place, a woman had been savagely murdered. But this moment was too precious. He would never forgive himself if she took fright and fled, vowing never to return. She was impulsive, he could never quite be sure how she would respond. He could tell her later.

# # #

Their pilgrimage had come out of the blue. Miranda had been trying for a late booking at a hotel on the Riviera that a friend claimed was the last word in luxury. She was desperate to take a break from London. At a party a few weeks back, Tamzin, her editor at the magazine, had made a pass following too many glasses of wine. Perhaps Miranda’s rebuff had been scathing, she really couldn’t remember. Ever since then, Tamzin had subtly set about making her life hell. When told that the hotel was full, Miranda burst into tears. Daniel threw out a suggestion, scarcely imagining that she’d say yes.

‘Why go abroad? We could stay in England, off the beaten track. How about the Lakes?’

‘Windermere?’ she asked, making it sound as remote as the Sea of Azov.

‘Too many tourists. But there are plenty of out of the way places. I stayed up there as a boy, it’s where we had our last family holiday before my father left us. I always wanted to go back.’

‘You mean—you’d like us to take a break up north?’

‘It’s not the Arctic Circle. Who wants to spend fifteen hours at an airport when air traffic controllers go out on strike? Even with all the motorway jams, the Lakes are only a few hours’ drive away. Where better to get away from it all?’

‘Doesn’t it rain a lot?’

‘You know what they say in the Lakes? There’s no such thing as bad weather. Only bad clothing.’

She laughed. ‘Okay, you win. I’ve never been there before, not even as a kid. My parents used to take us to France every year. Besides, I was never keen on Wordsworth and all that. We had daffodils in our front garden at home, they were my mother’s pride and joy. I never saw any need to visit Grasmere to see them in their thousands.’

‘There’s more to the Lakes than rain and daffodils. Forget Wordsworth and Beatrix Potter. Think Coleridge, think De Quincey, think…’

‘All right, all right, any moment now you’ll be reliving battle scenes from Swallows and Amazons.’ She was laughing already and he knew he’d persuaded her. ‘Okay, I admit it. When I was a kid, I couldn’t help liking Arthur Ransome’s books. And it’s silly, travelling the world and ignoring your own back doorstep. Even if I don’t get the chance of a tan. Let’s do it.’

Now here they were in Tarn Fold. Talking about junking their jobs, their homes, and moving up here. Unreal, but so was the whole of their affair. They had fallen for each other in the course of a single evening. He’d met her at a party thrown by his publishers at Soho House. At seven that evening they were strangers; they parted next morning as lovers. Her spontaneity was a gift. It turned him on, the way she let herself be swept by a tide of passion.

‘I just can’t believe…”

‘You must believe,’ she said quickly. ‘Swear to me you won’t change your mind?’

‘I swear,’ he said. ‘You know I wanted you to share this place with me.’

She put her head on one side, as though trying to decipher an inscription in Sanskrit. ‘I’ve never seen you like this before.’

‘You’ve never come here with me before.’

Taking a pen out of the pocket of her Levis, she scrawled the estate agent’s name and number on the back of her hand. ‘Fine, we’ll call at the branch and arrange to view.’

He couldn’t help grinning. ‘You really are set on this, aren’t you?’

‘Once I start on something,’ she said, ‘nothing will stop me.’

It wasn’t precisely true. A month ago, she’d begun to write a novel, about some other young journalist who lived in Islington and suffered from lesbian harassment, but she’d  never made   it beyond chapter one. Last night in the hotel she’d talked of pitching a feature to a broadsheet about alternative therapies. Over breakfast, she wondered about yet another variation on  a favourite theme: Diana: how she taught us to get in touch with our emotions.

‘Hey,’ she said, ‘we’d better get a move on. We mustn’t lose out.’

She skipped off towards the car and he tramped after her in a blissed-out daze. Anyone would think they were both high on something.

‘This whole valley is a Shangri-La,’ she said as they left Tarn Fold behind. ‘If only the people here were immortal too. It’s too beautiful a place to die in.’

He switched on the CD player and started humming to Norah Jones. Anything to avoid talk of death. A lane led off to a squat pele tower that formed the centrepiece of Brack Hall; another curved towards the hall farm and the fell beyond. As they passed through Brack, he pointed to a window above the front door of a large pub on the main street. The Moon under Water. From it hung a ‘bed and breakfast’ sign.

‘That was my room,’ he said. ‘I shared it with my sister Louise. She kept me awake, telling me stories from a book my parents bought us. Legends of Lakeland, it was called. Tales about stone circles that came to life and rivers that wept.’

Beyond the church, the road narrowed. Purple aubretia and white alyssum spilled from cracks in the walls. On the verges, poppies were starting to bloom. He remembered clambering halfway up to Priest Edge with his father to an embankment within which an irregular pattern of marked-out footways was all that remained of a hut village constructed by ancient Britons. According to Ben Kind’s books, fewer folk lived in the valley now than during the years BC.

‘My father and I used to roam around here while my mother and sister went into the town to shop.’

‘Your old man was a policeman, you told me. Was that difficult?’

‘Not for me,’ he said. ‘I was fascinated by the stories he told.’ ‘But your mother, did she have a tough time?’

He hesitated. ‘The week we came home, he told mum that he was seeing someone else. The affair had been going on for some time, but she didn’t have a clue. He might have walked out sooner, but the holiday was booked and he didn’t want to wreck it for all of us.’

‘And you never saw him again?’

‘No, my mother would have regarded it as a betrayal. Louise backed her to the hilt. We both had to promise never to speak to him again. It was a long time before I broke my word.’

# # #

By evening, Miranda’s plans for the cottage were well advanced. They were staying in a hotel on the outskirts of Keswick, half- way between shimmery Derwentwater and the brooding heights of Skiddaw and Blencathra. The restaurant occupied an airy conservatory and over their meal they’d watched the sunlight streaking the lake, then marvelled at a sky so red as to delight even the gloomiest of shepherds. The dinner would have had Egon Ronay drooling. As they drank a final glass of Chablis in the low-beamed bar, Daniel felt light-headed, as if a hypnotist had put him in a trance of happiness. Viewing was scheduled for half-nine tomorrow. No one else had put in a bid. For Miranda that meant the cottage was as good as theirs.

‘Did I ever tell you I’ve written for home magazines about interior design? The importance of lighting and colour and stuff.’

He waved at the ‘to-do’ list she’d scrawled on the hotel notepaper, and her lavish sketch of their redesigned living accommodation. Already everything was planned out in her mind. The bothy could provide additional guest accommodation, and she’d decided the barn could be split into two offices: his and hers. In their new lives they could work from home and be together all the time.

‘You saw how rundown the place is,’ he said. So far words of caution had blown away like leaves in a gale, but he dreaded her distress if it all fell through. She cared so much about everything. In her vulnerability, if nothing else, she reminded him of Aimee. ‘The garden’s bad enough; who knows what a survey might show?’

‘Come on, loosen up. Anything can be fixed.’ ‘It’ll cost a small fortune.’

‘Have you checked house prices here? You could buy a mansion for the cost of a terrace in Islington. Well, almost. Anyway, we’ll have plenty of cash to spare when we sell our old homes. Money isn’t a problem.’

He swung back on his chair and tried another tack. ‘Country living is different. Winters are hard. Ever tried unblocking a septic tank?’

She giggled. ‘I’ll learn to love it. Hey Daniel, relax. This is going to be wonderful. Trust me.’

# # #

The ruddy-faced estate agent smelled of bacon and burned toast and looked like a prime candidate for a coronary. Tubby and panting and over-dressed in tweed suit and camel coat, he was yet naked in his desperation to earn commission on the sale. A fast man with a superlative, he didn’t seem to realise that all he needed to do was to let the cottage and its setting sell themselves. The sun gatecrashing through the faded blinds was so strong that Daniel needed to shade his eyes. The cottage hadn’t been occupied for months; although the windows were flung open, a mustiness hung in the air. Who cared? One glance at Miranda’s face was enough to tell him that Tarn Cottage was everything she’d yearned for. It’s going to be all right, he said to himself. We can make it happen.

Wherever they looked, work needed to be done. The window-frames were rotten and the cellar was a damp dungeon cluttered with chunks of coal. The bedrooms were dingy, the bathroom a claustrophobe’s nightmare. Doors creaked and the staircase railing twitched neurotically at a touch.

‘Character!’ the agent declared, as the rusty handle of a kitchen drawer came away in his hand. ‘You won’t find anywhere like this in—where was it, again?’

‘Islington,’ Miranda said. ‘You’re right. I live in a flat opposite an all-night diner. This is very different.’

‘And you’re from Oxford, Mr. Kind?’ The agent tried to shove the handle surreptitiously inside the drawer whilst he was speaking, but he lacked legerdemain and it clattered on to the uneven slate floor. ‘This is a marvellous place for getting away from it all. And if you need someone to keep an eye on your bolt-hole while you’re away, we can arrange it for a modest fee.’

‘We want to live here permanently,’ Miranda said. ‘Forever.’ ‘Even better!’ The agent beamed. ‘It’s all the rage nowadays.

Downshifting. Well, there’s nowhere lovelier on God’s earth than the Lakes. And Brackdale’s very much off the beaten track, as you can see. Yet you’re not cut off. You can be on the motorway inside twenty minutes. Think about that!’

‘Thanks, but I’d rather not,’ Miranda said, glancing through the kitchen window that overlooked the tarn. ‘My God! That’s a heron by the water’s edge—Daniel, do you see?’

The estate agent’s head jerked, as if on a string. ‘Where? Oh dear, I must have missed it. Never mind. They’re like London buses, there’ll be another along in a minute! You’re rubbing shoulders with Mother Nature here, make no mistake! The water’s fresh from a spring on the hillside. Marvellous!’

They went out to look at the barn. It had double doors, high beams, and a wooden ladder that led to the old hayloft. In his enthusiasm, the agent climbed up a couple of rungs, clutching at the frayed rope to steady himself, before descending rapidly when the ladder shivered under his weight. ‘Couple of loose brackets,’ he said, mopping his brow. ‘Nothing to worry about. The thrill of starting from scratch. The world’s your oyster. You can design everything exactly the way you want it. No need to put up with someone else’s tastes.’

Daniel shrugged. It didn’t matter: the spell was unbroken. No stopping now, they had gone too far. He’d make an offer even if the outbuildings were a jumble of stones.

Misunderstanding, the agent gabbled. ‘As I said, there’s a healthy discount factored into the asking price to allow for renovation expenses. You’ll have realised that already, if you’ve been looking around in the area. Tarn Cottage is exceptionally competitive. Oh yes, we’re expecting a lot of interest. A very great deal of interest indeed. The basic structure’s as sound as a bell. All the place needs is a bit of fine tuning. You’re lucky to have spotted it so soon after it came on to the market.’

They stood outside the bothy, under the shade of a damson tree. Daniel remembered telling Barrie Gilpin a story from the guidebook he’d been studying conscientiously. Supposedly, damsons were named by the Crusaders, who brought them back to England from Damascus. He could still recall Barrie’s shrugging: so what? Whatever they’d shared, it wasn’t a fascination with history.

The path to the tarn was criss-crossed with brambles and the long grass cried out for a scythe. The layout of the grounds was bizarre. As a boy, Daniel had taken its charm for granted; now its eccentricity intrigued him. Paths wound aimlessly, with no obvious destination, and at one point the picket fencing inexplicably changed into a stretch of dry stone wall. Two spiky monkey puzzle trees thrust out of a tangle of ferns, and an old  cracked mirror was nailed to an ivy-clad trellis with an arch that gave onto the waterside. Everything seemed to lack rhyme and reason, yet it struck Daniel that the garden must have been planned like this for a purpose. He could not guess what it might be.

‘You say the lady who owned the cottage died recently?’ ‘Yes, it’s been in her family for generations. In the end she finished up in a nursing home. Cancer. Dreadful business. She left it to a distant cousin who is settled in Yorkshire. She gave us instructions to sell a week ago, so you’ve timed your enquiry to perfection. There aren’t many homes in Brackdale, and a little gem like this comes on to the market only once in a Preston Guild.’

‘So what can you tell us about Tarn Cottage?’ Miranda asked idly.

The agent cleared his throat noisily. Daniel guessed that the man intended to be economical with the truth. He wouldn’t want to risk the sale, not with two people up from the soft South who wanted to live the dream.

‘Well.’ The agent ran a pink tongue over fat lips, choosing his words with a cabinet minister’s care, ‘I never knew the family that lived here, but I suppose they were just ordinary folk. It’s very quiet, you can see for yourself. Can’t imagine anything out of the ordinary happening in a sleepy spot like Tarn Fold, can you?’

Except murder, Daniel thought. Of course it was history, but he still couldn’t get it out of his mind. He of all people knew how much the past mattered.

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