From his black Homburg hat to the crease in his stylish cheviot trousers, Drew Farthering is the epitome of the well-bred English gentleman of 1932, but things at Farthering Place are not quite so ideal.
There’s been a murder at the old manor house. With the help of the alluring Madeline Parker, Drew sets out to solve the crime and save the family fortune.
Before long, he realizes no one at Farthering Place is who he appears to be – not the blackmailer, not the adulterer, not the embezzler and not even Drew himself.
EXCERPT: Having met just the day before, Drew and Madeline step away from the stylish party being held at Farthering Place to get a breath of fresh air and become better acquainted. A sudden storm comes up.
The clouds burst without warning.
He grabbed her hand and ran toward the greenhouse. It wasn't far away, but by the time they reached shelter they were both soaked through with cold rain and warmed with running and laughter. The smell of earthy decay in here seemed stronger than usual. There was also the faint odor of fresh paint and another nasty smell, too, but rain did that sometimes. He hunted down a lantern and a dry match and soon they had a small circle of light.
"I'm afraid your lovely dress is spoilt," he said, plucking at her rain-spotted sleeve.
She laughed. "You're not much better." She pushed a lock of hair from his forehead and wiped away the little rivulet of water that had run down from it onto his nose.
"We shall look a sight, the pair of us, going back into the house like this." He dared her with a smile. "We could stay out here and create a scandal. Or, I should say, have one invented for us."
She pursed her Cupid's bow lips and leaned conspiratorially closer, clinging more tightly to his arm. "You mean when they find us out here frozen to death?"
"Oh, I say, what an idiot I am. Of course you're cold."
He began struggling out of his sodden dinner jacket, but she stopped him.
"No, thank you. I'm drenched enough as it is."
"Well–" He held up the lantern, shining its feeble light around the greenhouse. "Ah, just the thing. Come along."
He marched her over to the pile of mackintoshes tossed in the corner.
"We mustn't have you catch your death. It simply isn't done."
He picked up the coat on top of the pile and held it up for her to put on, but she wrinkled her nose, shrinking back. The nasty smell was stronger than ever now.
"It doesn't look entirely clean, does it?" he admitted, a bit embarrassed.
She took the lantern and examined the next one down. "This one's worse, I think. Smells sort of sickening."
"Hold that closer," he said, puzzling over the dark stain.
Something had spilled or soaked over the coat, and he pulled it back to see if the rest of the pile were in the same state. Madeline gave a sudden, stifled cry, and he grabbed the lantern and set it down before she could let it crash to the floor. She didn't make another sound, but she clutched his shoulder painfully hard, her breath coming in little smothered gasps.
He flung the coat back into place and stood up, as shaken as she.
"Come on. Let's go back inside."
"Come on," he urged, and he led her back to the house, through the kitchen door, and into the chair nearest the fire.
"Are you all right?" he asked, dropping to one knee on the stone floor beside her. "Here, give me that, if you please."
He snatched a drink from the tray Anna was taking to the guests and pressed Madeline's hands around it.
"Drink that down. You all right?"
"Drink it," he insisted, and she managed a sip.
"Is the young lady ill, sir?" Anna asked.
Drew looked up, distracted. "No. Yes. Go and get Mr. Parker straight away, if you would, please."
"Yes, sir." She bobbed a tiny curtsy and disappeared through the kitchen's swinging doors. A moment later, the doors swung again and Mason came into the kitchen.
"Drew? Madeline, my dear, what is the matter?"
Drew got to his feet. "We just found Lincoln in the greenhouse. I'm afraid he's taken a load of buckshot to the head."
And read the new excerpt from Rules of Murder below:
A FEW DAYS LATER . . .
It was almost midnight when Drew and Madeline returned to Farthering Place. A fast drive in the cool night air had put a glow in Madeline’s cheeks and an extra brightness in her eyes. Dash it all, she was fetching.
“Oh, that was wonderful. The poor baron. What a tragedy! And Garbo was divine as the ballerina.” She sucked in her cheeks and leaned her head back in seductive languor. “If only I could be so beautiful,” she mourned in a heavy Swedish accent.
He shook his head. “I like women with a little softness to them. Surely with her money she could afford a few hearty meals.”
She squeezed his arm, laughing. “She was glorious and you know it. Next you’ll be saying Barrymore can’t act.”
He stopped short. “No,” he said, lifting one cautioning finger in mock reproof. “I may say he’d do better with some fewer nights at the pub, but never, never will I say he can’t act. I saw him do Hamlet in London when I was, oh, seventeen, I suppose I was. Gave me a new appreciation for the Bard.”
Madeline’s face turned abruptly sober, and he pulled her closer to his side.
“What is it, darling.”
“It most certainly is something,” he said. “Come, now, tell me. Even the confessional could not afford better protection for your secrets.”
“It’s silly of me, I suppose, but I got a post card from Carrie and Muriel. From Stratford-upon-Avon.”
“Muriel especially told me to keep my eye on Adorable Drew.”
“And they wanted to know if we’d heard about Lucy Lucette’s disappearance.”
Madeline sighed. “I don’t know. I always wanted to see Stratford – Anne Hathaway’s cottage and where the Globe Theater once stood and all the other sites we had planned. I suppose I’ll never see them now.”
“Nonsense,” he soothed. “Once we get things here sorted out, we’ll drive up to Stratford and see all the touristy places and perhaps even a play or two. Nick can come along as chaperone and low entertainment for the journey.”
She laughed. “I don’t know if Aunt Ruth would approve of him. Of course, she didn’t really approve of the three of us girls knocking around Europe alone either. I don’t dare tell her what’s happened here. Not now. She’d probably row herself across the Atlantic to drag me back home.”
“She sounds rather formidable. Of course, we wouldn’t want her to think these awful things happen here on a regular basis. Farthering is such a placid place and we never–”
A shriek pierced the night. Drew and Madeline both looked up towards the darkened house, then Drew ran up the steps and flung open the front door. He switched on the light in the entry, then bounded up the stairs only to be nearly knocked down by Anna fleeing for her life.
He caught her by the arms. “What is it? What’s happened?”
“I saw him, Mr. Drew! I saw him!” Her face was ghost white. “I saw him!”
“You saw whom?”
“Him that was killed! Mr. Lincoln! I saw him!”
“Don’t be a little fool!” Drew snapped, and Madeline hurried up the stairs to them.
“Shh, Anna, it’s all right,” she said. “Whatever it is, it’ll be all right.”
Lights were coming on all over the house.
“Let’s go down into the parlour and sort this all out,” Drew said, keeping his voice low.
Dennison, in his most forbidding robe and slippers, was waiting for them at the foot of the stairs.
“Is there some trouble, sir?” he asked, the look in his eye harsh censure of the maid’s considerable lack of decorum.
“It’s all right, Denny,” Drew said. “ Go up and see to it that everyone goes back to bed. We’ll look after Anna here. She’s just had a scare.”
“A rodent of some sort, sir?”
“Very likely. Very likely.”
“It wasn’t no rodent, Mr. Dennison,” the girl protested.
“Thank you, Denny,” Drew said. “That will be all.”
“Very good, sir.” Dennison bowed. “Miss.”
Drew hurried the girls into the drawing room and shut the door.
“Now, Anna, tell me what you saw.”
“I told you, Mr. Drew,” Anna wailed. “I saw him!”
“Don’t badger her.” Madeline helped the other girl over to the window seat and sat her down. “Just take your time and tell us what happened.”
Anna took a shuddering breath. “I was finishing up the laundry, putting the linens in the upstairs bathrooms and all. That’s usually Beryl’s job, but she was up in the Missus’ sitting room listening to ‘Gert and Daisy’ as usual. Mr. Parker said he didn’t mind her doing it, it was what Mrs. Parker would have wanted, but I don’t know that I wouldn’t feel all peculiar-like up there now at night. I mean after, you know. It just wouldn’t seem right.”
“So you were upstairs,” Drew prompted.
“I was up in the back hall putting away, like I said, and I heard something behind me. So I looked round and wasn’t anything there. So I go on, listening like and not hearing anything until I heard someone creeping about. I called out because sometimes Tessa, she does the washing up, and sometimes, bless her, she has pain all down her leg and has to walk it off before she can sleep, so I called out, ‘Tessa, is that you?’ But it wasn’t Tessa. So I called out again, ‘Is someone there?’ and the hall went dark.” Anna’s voice quavered. “Black as pitch it was, and then . . .”
“Then I saw him!” She burst into tears. “It was Mr. Lincoln, sir. I know it was.”
Madeline slipped into the seat beside her, putting a comforting arm around the girl’s shoulders. “It’s all right.”
Drew paced in front of them. “Now, be reasonable, Anna. You know it couldn’t have been Mr. Lincoln. Mr. Lincoln is dead.”
“I saw him. Oh, Mr. Drew, I saw him. He was lurkin’ down at the end of the hallway, down by the door to the lumber room. And then– Then he just wasn’t!”
“Mr. Lincoln couldn’t possibly–”
“He was lurkin’!”
“Did you see his face?” Madeline asked.
“No. Oh, no, miss. I couldn’t see his face because he didn’t have a head!”
This brought another torrent of weeping.
“Shh,” Madeline soothed. “Don’t think about it now.”
“No, you must think about it now and sensibly.” Drew pulled a chair over and sat so he could look into the girl’s face. “If he didn’t have a head, how could you know it was Lincoln?”
“It was because he didn’t have a head,” Anna insisted, her chin quivering. “It couldn’t be no one else, not after what was done to him in the greenhouse. And after what Mr. Peterson seen.”
“You mean the poacher?”
Anna sniffled. “He says poacher. There’s others would say different.”
“Did Peterson tell you more than he told me?”
Anna dropped her eyes. “Not as such, Mr. Drew, but I could tell from what he didn’t say. He said the man was all in black. Sounds to me it could have been evening clothes. What poacher goes about in evening clothes?”
“Just because he wore black, that doesn’t –”
“And Mr. Peterson said he couldn’t see his face. Nor tell what color of hair he had.” Anna nodded wisely. “Well, how could he of a man without any head? And what’s a poacher doing at the greenhouse, I’m wondering, except he’s Mr. Lincoln haunting the very place he was murdered?” She shuddered. “Now we’re sure to be plagued with spirits and groanings and tappings in the night.”
Three soft taps broke the silence, and Anna stifled a tiny cry.
RULES OF MURDER is scheduled to be released by Bethany House in the Summer of 2013. I'd love to hear what you think about my latest excerpt and the book in general.
GO TO BOOK TWO: DEATH BY THE BOOK