Announcing my next book, The Guru, for release this month.Here's a sneak-peak of the first chapter. If you enjoy romance, humour, and time travel this is for you...
Scarlett (Chapter 1)
I detest the rambling old house, Mystic Manor, in the village of Lower Coffin, on sight and grasp my fiancé’s hand. ‘I hate it, Peregrine, let’s go.’
‘Don’t be daft, Scarlett. The one you like is five hundred grand cheaper.’
Sounds odd, doesn’t it? But I’m engaged to a trust-fund kid, and the trustees say he has two million quid to spend on a home and Peregrine wants every penny. You could buy twenty of my parents’ semi-detached in Liverpool for the same price. But this is Surrey.
I pull him back on the gravel pathway. ‘The house next door is full of light and has a happy vibe.’
Peregrine mutters through his teeth. ‘But it’s way cheaper.’
‘Yes, a snip at one and a half million,’ I quip. ‘Anyone can afford that.’
We are in a mental and physical tug of war. Peregrine ushers me toward the black front door and rings the bell. I await a creepy tall butler. The door creaks open. I paint a smile on my face, which turns to a gasp of horror – a slathering Rottweiler lurches towards me. I close my eyes, grasp Peregrine’s hand, and wait to be torn apart.
‘Get back!’ shouts a male voice.
I think he’s talking to me and would oblige, but when I dare open my eyes a red-faced, portly man has the evil beast by the collar. ‘Don’t worry; Killer is a pussycat.’
‘Why didn’t he bark?’ I ask. There was no early warning system.
‘He hurt his throat barking at the new postman. Poor Killer.’ The man strokes the beast’s back.
A skinny woman with a fox-like face, above which perches a rock-solid shampoo and set, circa the 1950s, appears. ‘For God’s sake, dear, stop terrifying people with that dog. Killer, come here.’
She takes the dog’s collar and drags it away. ‘I’ll lock him in the utility room, while you take our guests through to the kitchen, dear. The coffee is percolating.’
I adore coffee, and it compensates for a multitude of sins. Not in this case, the divine aroma of good beans doesn’t detract from the impending doom.Even the freshly baked Victoria sponge at the centre of the enormous pine table doesn’t lift my spirits although the vanilla fragrance is divine and makes my tummy do somersaults.
‘Do you want coffee and cake now, or shall we wait until I’ve shown you around?’ asks Mrs Foxface.
‘Now,’ I say, hungry and wishing to delay the Amityville tour.
‘After we’ve viewed the property,’ says Peregrine.
His eager face shows I’ve lost another battle – he’s mentally bought the property, while I adore the house next door, Cherry Trees, which I viewed last week. As soon as I stepped over the threshold, my body went weightless with happiness. I told Peregrine about it and he wouldn’t even look at the particulars, due to the lower price. Bonkers! Once again, my opinion doesn’t count – money and profit come first. I am close to breaking point.
‘Shall I show you round?’ Redface asks Peregrine and me.
Foxface tuts. ‘No, dear, you talk too much. I’ll do it – you make those phone calls and join us for coffee and cake.’
I can see who wears the trousers. Note to self – ask Foxface for lessons.
Perhaps I overreacted – the living room is large and well proportioned, but not much light seeps through the paned windows despite the sun. What will it be like on a gloomy day? The mahogany-panelled dining room is okay but dark and foreboding. Even without guests, the room has the aura of a strained dinner party. One of those stuffy gatherings where everyone makes polite chit-chat, terrified of saying the wrong thing.
I’m not a fan of house tours unless it’s a stately home, something magnificent, so I won’t describe the place in too much detail. However, the entire building breaths evil from every nook and cranny, and my mood doesn’t improve as we go through the labyrinth of rooms – five bedrooms, three bathrooms, living room, snug, kitchen, dining room, and study.
The house is a mishmash of styles: An original seventeenth-century manor house, with Regency and Victorian extensions.
Each room ‘enjoys’ various levels of spookiness, but the worst is an upstairs bedroom and ensuite, in the oldest section. It reeks of damp, the walls are covered in stained brown hessian, the carpet is a dirty beige shag pile, and moth-eaten velvet curtains hang limply at the windows. When I step into the claustrophobic avocado-suite bathroom, the hair at the nape of my neck lifts, and I understand the phrase someone walked over my grave. I shiver with the cold which is weird as the other rooms are warm – and in good decorative order. I surreptitiously put my hand on a radiator and almost need a skin graft.
By unanimous agreement, we don’t linger and Foxface leads the way down a blue-carpeted corridor and, with a flourish, opens a pink-panelled door. I imagine I’m Mrs de Winter from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and Foxface is Mrs Danvers.
‘This is our pride and joy. Behold the sixth bedroom and master suite,’ says Mrs Danvers, I mean Foxface.
‘It doesn’t fit with the rest of the house,’ says Peregrine.
I gasp. The enormous room is beautiful – cream Osborne and Little curtains with a pink rose print, plush cream carpet, a king-size four-poster bed – with fabric to match the main curtains. Another pink door leads to a huge bathroom/dressing room with a round sunken jacuzzi bath, double sink unit and a long wall of fitted wardrobes.
‘Ooh, it’s divine,’ I exclaim.
And it feels okay – not spooky like the rest of the house. I have a cosy oasis – perhaps I’ll cope.
And then, the pièce de résistance…
‘Where does that door go to?’ I ask when we are in the cluttered garage.
Foxface clears her throat. ‘It’s a corridor which leads to a ballroom which you can’t enter, it’s not safe. But the door to the ballroom has a large glass panel you can look through.’ ‘It wasn’t on the details.’ Peregrine’s eyes gleam with greed. ‘But why is it not safe?’ ‘It hasn’t been renovated since the 1940s. Never got round to refurbishing.’
‘Can we go through?’ I ask.
‘Yes, my husband and I will wait here,’ says Foxface, emulating the Queen so well she could be cast as Elizabeth the Second in The Crown. ‘But it’s at your own risk.’
At the end of a strangely makeshift dingy corridor is a plain door with a large glass panel. Peregrine peeks inside. ‘This will make a perfect extra garage and workshop – I’ll be able to add to my car collection. I’ve seen a super classic E-Type.’
‘For God’s sake, Peregrine. You already have three cars. How many does one man need? ‘As many as possible, they’re my hobby. I want a big collection.’
‘Why not choose stamps or coins? Or add to your treasured Toby jug collection?’ I peer through the grimy glass as my heart races.
The large room has as many cobwebs as Miss Havisham’s drawing room and is in a sad state of repair. However, in my mind’s eye elegant women in ballgowns and handsome men in tuxedos twirl around the dance floor under twinkling crystal chandeliers as they waltz to a five-piece orchestra. The potential is obvious. I say, ‘Over my dead body will you turn this into a garage. I’ll only agree to live here if you promise to restore this wonderful room to its former glory.’
Peregrine pouts. ‘It’s ideal for cars.’
‘I mean it. I refuse to live here unless you agree to restore this heavenly space.’
‘It’ll be too expensive.’
And classic cars are so cheap. ‘It could pay for itself – make a fabulous wedding venue. We’ll rake it in,’ I say with manipulative intent.
My fiancé is kind (mostly) but ambitious for more and more wealth. His eyes shine like a lit-up calculator. ‘Would you organise the weddings?’ ‘Yes.’
‘Okay – I’ll do a deal with the sellers. Make an excuse to wait in the car – you know how embarrassed you get when I negotiate.’
He calls it negotiating, I call it sailing too close to the wind.