An excerpt of Witch Bay
Headlights flashed and a horn blared, jarring Beth’s attention back to the road. She was in the wrong lane. Knuckles white where she clutched the steering wheel; she swerved back across the white line. The tyres slipped on a strip of earth beneath a banked hedge, then caught as the car brushed against overgrown vegetation. She steered into a gateway, slammed her foot on the brake, and took a calming breath. In an unfamiliar car, a two-lane country road was not the place to drop her guard. The lorry passed and she glimpsed the words Penmawr Trucking printed in luminous white on the side.
She hadn’t been concentrating; she had been allowing her thoughts to fill with questions about her aunt’s death. The solicitor said they found her in early morning, her cardigan snagged on the Witch; otherwise, the sea would have carried her away. The police thought Aunty Meg had been walking on the beach and caught by the tide.
The answer didn’t satisfy Beth. Aunty Meg lived in Derwen all her life, and the locals knew about tide treachery. But what other answer could there be? Murder? Who would murder an elderly spinster who ran a small guesthouse? Why?
The questions killed the last morsel of relief she felt on getting out of London undetected. The change started with disorientation when she got off the train in Carmarthen. Most signs were in Welsh with English subtitles, and the majority of people spoke a language she didn’t understand. The salesman where she bought the used car claimed not to speak much English. She would have walked away if she hadn't needed a car for the last leg of her journey. Her heritage was Welsh but as Beth drove deeper into the west the feelings of alienation grew. She hadn’t been back for ten years. It was unsettling as the week spent in Paris with only one or two words of French, but this was Britain!
For now, the oak trees that gave the place its name hid Derwen Bay. Derwen—oak. The tree sacred to the Druids. Moonlight turned everything to shades of grey and the sea shone like a sheet of silver ice in the dip between the headlands. She took her foot off the brake and steered out onto the road.
The stand of trees fell behind as Beth drove on with caution. She remembered the steepness of the road with the many field run-ins for drivers whose brakes failed. In winter, it would be a nightmare, but she didn’t intend to be here when black ice shrouded the slope.
Beth dimmed the lights when she entered the lower village and yellow streetlights eclipsed the moon. She paused beside the sea wall and rolled down her window to listen.
The seagulls were at rest and the sea emerging from its quiet hour. Waves of the retreating tide made no more noise than a dog lapping at a water dish, except around the Witch. The ocean ravaged her skirts, spray rising like a cloud to hide her.
From the cave came a muted rumble as the Atlantic savaged the cliff. The Witch’s lair according to legend, some thought the Witch a love-struck girl turned to stone by Neptune, and she waited for him, her fist raised in anger. Others claimed she came from Atlantis and she pointed out to sea to her drowned home. They said she walked when no one watched.
Years ago, to catch the Witch on the move, Beth spent a night on the beach with her friend, Dil, huddled in sleeping bags. They listened to the revellers leave the Anchor and the last of the cars drive away. Then held their breath as PC Rogers checked each door along the Front on his last round of the day.
“She moved!” Dil whispered, fingers seeking and clinging to Beth’s hand.
Beth concentrated on the Witch and, for a moment, believed she took a step. From the distance of years, logic told her it was impossible. Anchored deep beneath the sand, the rock couldn't move but, as a child, she had no doubt they’d seen the Witch walk.
Beth rolled up the window, eased her foot off the brake, and drove onto Beach Road. She pulled up outside Derwen House and doused the headlights.
Darkened houses flanked Meg’s so no one gave the curtains a nosy twitch. Beth switched off the engine and picked up her overnight bag. Before she let herself into the house, she squinted at her watch: one o’clock. She should have booked into a hotel in Carmarthen and continued her journey in the morning because now she didn’t have the energy to make up a bed. Beth locked the front door at her back and fumbled her way to the sitting room. With a sigh of exhaustion, she dropped onto the sofa, and dragged Meg’s crocheted blanket over her shoulders.
Someone ran up the stairs and the sounds woke Beth. The house was supposed to be empty.
She eased into sitting position and glanced at her watch: Six o'clock.
Feet thudded across the upstairs landing. A door opened and heavy footsteps moved around in the bedroom overhead.
Beth crept to the door and peeped into the dark hallway. One eye on the stairs, she sidled towards the front door. The key squeaked. She hauled the door open, rushed out, and collided with the man reaching towards the knocker. Beth shrieked.
“Pwy i chi?”
Beth pulled away from the arms steadying her, gave a shudder when she saw the helmet and uniform, and cried, “Somebody’s in the house! Upstairs.”
The police officer repeated the question in English: “Who are you?”
“Bethan Davies.” Why was he just standing there? “Somebody broke in; he’s upstairs.”
He stepped into the house and glanced along the hallway. Tall and broad shouldered, with what seemed to be agonising leisure, he strolled to the foot of the stairs, found and clicked on the light switch. He took out his truncheon and began to climb.
Poised for flight, Beth waited at the newel post while he checked each bedroom on the upper floor.
“There’s nobody up here.” The officer appeared at the top of the stairs.
“I heard someone!” Beth protested. “He was in the front bedroom. Did you look in the wardrobes and under the beds?”
“No one’s there.” He made his way to the ground floor. “Do you want me to check down here?”
“Yes!” Beth stood in doorways while he examined every nook and cranny.
“The back door isn’t locked,” he commented. “Was it locked last night?”
“I arrived late and I didn’t check it.”
“I think it’s safe to say that if anyone were here, he—you did say he, didn’t you—is gone now.”
“There was someone.” Weak-kneed, Beth dropped onto a chair beside the kitchen table.
“You said it was a man, did you?”
“I didn't see anyone, but the footsteps sounded heavy.” He was studying her intently. Beth looked away and clasped her hands together to still their trembling.
“It’s obvious you’ve had a fright.”
“I didn’t imagine it.”
He dragged a chair from under the table and sat. “Sometimes, these old places creak and groan. They make noises that sound like someone is in the house.”
“Someone was here!” Her words were close to being a shout. For a moment, she was back in London, in the cold interview room facing detectives with hard and accusing eyes. “I didn’t dream it. Somebody was upstairs, I tell you.”
Unperturbed by her outburst, he removed his helmet and placed it on the table. “I’m Gwyn Thomas, by the way, a friend of your Aunty Megan's.”
Without the helmet, he looked younger, more vulnerable. The light brown hair had a wave; his eyes were sky blue flecked with gold.
“I’m sorry about your aunty dying. I came here with the solicitor to see they did everything proper, and I’ve kept an eye on the place. It took us a while to find you. In London, were you?”
“I moved about the time Meg died. The telegram the solicitor sent never reached me.”
“And you didn’t have a phone in your new place.”
“I lived with a friend so the telephone wasn't in my name. I learned Meg had died when a friend saw the solicitor's search in the Times.”
He leaned back. “I don’t suppose the place has changed much since you were here before.”
Beth recognised the chatty-police-officer approach, but she wouldn’t be taken in again. The locals would have told him, as a child, she often came to stay with Meg. The gossips would have added other things with a great deal of embellishment.
As if he had read her mind, he said, “You were a child then.”
“I haven’t been back for ten years.”
He nodded. “Going to live here now, are you?”
“I haven’t decided yet.”
“Don’t speak Welsh, do you?”
“Only a few words, I suppose you do.”
“You couldn’t uphold the law in a land where you don’t speak the language. Every police officer in Wales speaks Welsh and English.”
“Why were you coming to the house in the middle of the night?” she asked abruptly.
A tinge of colour suffused his face and his gaze slid away from hers. “I got a call about a strange car parked outside.”
He was lying, Beth realised, and she spoke with a bite of anger in her voice. “Meg ran a guest house. Strange cars would be normal, wouldn’t they?”
“Not when everyone knows the house is empty.”
“I’m sorry they disturbed you for no good reason.”
He shrugged. “Megan was a special lady. I did what I could to keep things safe for her. I knew she'd left you the house but not when you would arrive.”
“Well, now you know who I am, there’s no reason for you to be here. Is there?”
At the dismissal, a glimmer of resentment flickered in his eyes. “None at all,” he rose and put on his helmet, “but if you hear other noises . . .”
“I’ll let you know.”
“It’s my job to offer assistance to anyone in the village.”
No more the friendly bobby, piercing eyes bored into hers. She had no doubt that if it were not for his job he wouldn’t bother with her again. Beth followed him to the door and closed it firmly at his back.
Soon to be released as a paperback and e-book via Amazon, Smashwords, and Barnes & Noble.
An excerpt of Masquerade
Roz hadn't expected so many bruises after yesterday's action in Regent's Park when boyfriend Mike and his mates practised their rugby moves. Cold, bored, and angry, she tried a flying tackle on Mike and took him down. She didn't expect to hear from him again.
Dark hair pinned up, she stepped into the full tub and sank into the hot water with a sigh, closed her eyes, and allowed the heat to ease her sore muscles.
Perhaps she shouldn't have tried to do so much today, but she accomplished what she set out to do. She'd lugged her belongings across London on Sunday buses, hauled them up two flights of stairs, and put everything away. It was important to finish the move into her new flat so she could concentrate on work the next day. Her first job since leaving design school, she didn't want to lose it.
For the next production, the male lead's costumes were going well. Even the female lead's gowns caused fewer problems because Empire-line gowns were loose fitting below the bust line. It also meant fewer adjustments to make them fit Angela Duke's understudy. Angela's weight kept fluctuating and the actress often missed fittings, but Roz dared not complain because Angela was the theatre owner's light of love.
The plays the Nostalgie put on were mostly farces interspersed with comedies or raucous pantomimes that compared with West End theatre offerings. The wardrobe mistress' job was just demanding but unlike theatres that were more prestigious, Roz had only Agatha to help sew the costumes she designed, drafted and cut.
For the next play, she had visited every museum in London for authentic examples. A chance remark by a curator at the Victoria-and-Albert led her to the Scarborough and a display of clothing from the early eighteen hundreds. Even luckier, she saw a For Rent sign in a house adjoining the museum. The theatre was just four streets away.
From the main room came a thump and crash, followed by a series of creaks from the floorboards, then a door opened and closed.
"Hello?" Roz sat up in alarm. "Is anyone there?" When no one answered, she stepped out of the water, wrapped herself in a bath towel, and crept to the door.
Although gloomy, enough daylight allowed her to see around the flat. Everything looked normal as far as she could remember.
It was an old house and she should expect odd creaks and groans. The rental agent told her six others lived in the house, and a young family occupied the basement. She might have heard one of them.
Unperturbed, Roz pulled the plug to let the water out and emerged into the main room. The clock showed it was only nine, so she had time to finish sewing the hem on Angela's costume. She crossed to the window to close the curtains and looked out. It was raining.
A movement on the road caught her attention. A dark figure shied away from a patch of street lighting and peered over his shoulder as if to check if anyone followed. She caught only a glimpse of the man before he scuttled around the corner.
Huddled over something he carried everything about him screamed furtive, and something else. . . . Was he dressed in an odd way or was it a trick of the light? When he didn't reappear, Roz closed the curtains and switched on the overhead light.
An L-shaped room furnished with mismatched pieces that looked comfortable together, the only incongruity in the shabby-chic shamble was the floor-to-ceiling mirror. It jarred the senses as if the cosy group was in constant disagreement with its elegant companion. The mirror stood defiant, like an arrogant lady surrounded by a huddle of charwomen.
Earlier, Roz decided the mirror would be less obtrusive behind the door. She knew it would be heavy to move but felt sure she could walk it across the floor. She had taken a firm grip on the frame and tugged. Nothing happened. With her hands in different places, she'd tugged again. It still wouldn't budge. She should have expected them to fasten a mirror of that size to the wall. No screws marred the frame but somebody had secured it in place. She would never move it without damaging the wall.
With no bookshelf, Roz had stacked her hoard of novels on the floor before the mirror. Now they were scattered. She went to straighten them.
Barbara Cartland, Jean Plaidy, Georgette Heyer, Norah Lofts, and Mary Stewart, romantic fiction and historical romances, all of uniform size but for one. A self-help tome was larger—Where to Find Romance in the Modern World. It hadn't helped her in her quest.
She had followed the book's guidelines and frequented the places where it said she would meet eligible men. It led to a string of disappointments. Those she met had one thing in common—they grew bad tempered when they couldn't get her into bed on the first date. Roz wanted more than one-night-stands and leg overs. Perhaps, because her rounded cheeks made her look sixteen instead of twenty-four, some men thought they could flatter or cajole her. The book proved a useless guide and she tossed it towards the pile destined for the rubbish bin, but she hadn't had much success going it alone, either.
She may be old-fashioned but Roz looked for a man strong enough not to feel emasculated by romantic gestures, one to bring her flowers or hold her hand. Such a man existed somewhere. She hoped they would meet before they were both too decrepit to care.
Barefoot, she walked to the kitchen area, filled a kettle and plugged it in.
While the kettle boiled, Roz put on a camisole, a pair of lacy underpants, and a dressing gown. From a drawer she took a tablecloth she had embroidered herself during evenings spent alone. With every stitch into the gowns the women wore, she'd woven dreams of what it would have been like to live in those days. Ladies were ladies, and men—gallant, chivalrous, elegant. How different from the men she met now.
Her bits and pieces of china were mismatched oddments bought when something took her eye. Her favourite was a sugar bowl with a woman in a flowing gown depicted on the side. Circa 1805, she decided, the same period as the costumes she was making, when fashion entered the Romantic Movement and Napoleon won the heart of an emperor's daughter.
Tea made, she carried her cup to the table, sat, and switched the radio to a music program before taking Angela's costume from the bag. She sipped and sewed while listening to a piano recital and allowed her thoughts to dwell on what life would have been like for the woman on the sugar bowl.
As she put the last stitch into the hem, the radio announcer gave the time as nine thirty and the name of the next pianist to play a medley of English folk songs. The first song was Scarborough Fair.
Humming along with the radio, Roz held up the gown and
studied it. She'd have to try it on to make sure the hem was level. She took her dressing gown off, slipped the gown on over her underwear, drew the lavender ribbon tight under her bust and tied it in a bow. Angela was a couple of inches taller so Roz needed something to stand on to see if the hem hung level.
The tower of romance novels caught her eye. Roz moved them away from the mirror, stepped onto them and studied herself. The front and sides of the gown looked fine. To see the back, she eased around on her precarious perch.
The books toppled and Roz lost her balance. She yelled and put out a hand to brace her fall as she slid sideways. Her hand sank into a liquid the consistency of quicksilver. Unable to stop herself, Roz fell through the mirror.
Released at Smashwords. Soon to be released as a paperback and e-book via Amazon, and Barnes & Noble.