If you read yesterday’s post then you will know that this is the second of a two-part post celebrating the fact that A Cornish Obsession is to be published by Ulverscroft in their Large Print Linford Mystery imprint. It’s my eighth book with this publisher. The previous post featured the Prologue. In today’s post you can read Chapter One.
A Cornish Obsession
Picture the scene – It’s a wintery December night and Jago Tilley is trudging back to his cottage in Marazion – unaware that he will be dead before morning.
DI Sam Kitto, of Devon and Cornwall Police, investigates the old fisherman’s brutal murder, and once again magazine editor, Loveday Ross, finds herself being drawn unbidden into her policeman partner’s case.
Suspicion falls on the dead man’s disreputable nephew, Billy Travis. But what is his relationship with St Ives gallery owner, Zachariah Paxton-Quinn?
The magazine’s owner, Merrick Tremayne, is acting out of character, and Loveday suspects his strange mood could have something to do with her discovery of a burglar rummaging through the magazine’s old archive files.
And then there is the glamorous Dutch boutique owner, Sabine De Fries. What is her connection with the Tremayne family?
It had snowed during the night, leaving a thin white covering over rooftops, streets, and gardens. Loveday sighed, and glanced up at the depressingly dark sky. It wasn’t a morning for jogging along the beach, but she had to get away from the cottage, from the memory of the previous evening’s ugly exchanges between her and Sam.
She hadn’t meant for them to split up, not really. But Sam had taken it all the wrong way.
She pulled the black leather jerkin over her tracksuit and zipped it up to her chin before heading up the drive, leaving footprints in the snow as she crossed the road to the beach.
Anyone who saw her pounding along the tideline would think she was mad – which is exactly what she was. Good and mad!
Who did Sam Kitto think he was, speaking to her like that? It was an impossible relationship. She’d thought they were having a calm, adult exchange of views, but Sam hadn’t reacted at all as she had expected.
‘Stop seeing each other?’ He’d stared at her, eyes narrowed in disbelief. ‘What are you talking about?’
Loveday paced her tiny sitting room, anything to avoid those accusing brown eyes. ‘I’m not saying we can’t still be friends…’ she’d started.
Sam put up a hand. ‘Let me get this right. This is because I told you to stay out of police business, right?’ He let out an exasperated sigh. ‘For God’s sake, Loveday. You’re an intelligent woman. You must see how awkward things are for me when you go poking around my cases? The top brass already think I’m passing information to you.’
‘Well, it’s awkward for me too,’ she said, moving to the window. There was snow in the air; she could almost smell it. Across the bay, the lights on St Michael’s Mount twinkled, little pinpricks of sparkle in the darkness. She spun round to face him again. ‘Everyone at the magazine assumes you tell me things, and that I’m just being coy denying it.’
‘Merrick knows me better than that,’ Sam snapped.
‘It’s not personal, you know that,’ she came back, hesitating, searching for the right words. The last thing she’d intended was to hurt him, but he was taking this all the wrong way. All she wanted was a cooling off period, a backing off from the ever-increasing rows. She crossed the room and took his hand. ‘I just think we need some time away from each other,’ she said gently.
But he’d snatched his hand away, his eyes darkening in anger. What was she doing? It was all coming out wrong. She’d been about to tell him she was thinking of going home to Scotland for Christmas so he could spend time with his two children in Plymouth.
A breathing space for both of them, that was all she’d meant.
‘I don’t think there’s much point in continuing this conversation,’ Sam had said, getting to his feet. ‘It’s clear you want me to go.’
‘But I don’t,’ Loveday ached to say. She wanted to put her arms around him and tell him she was sorry for starting this stupid conversation, but he was being deliberately stubborn. She stepped back as he strode past, making no effort to touch her.
‘Sam…’ she started, as he ducked through the low door. But he didn’t turn. She could sense the willpower he was mustering not to slam the door behind him.
But that was last night and she had to stop thinking about it. She took a deep breath, focusing on pacing herself as she followed the curve of the beach.
By the time she got back to her cottage she was panting. She could hear her mobile phone ringing on the other side of the kitchen door. It was bound to be Sam. Did she even want to talk to him? She wasn’t sure. But when she got in and reached for it, she saw Cassie’s name.
‘Please tell me you’re not ringing me from next door, Cassie?’
There was a slight pause, and then her friend said, ‘What’s got into you today? Get out of bed on the wrong side, did we?’
Loveday flopped into a chair. ‘I’m sorry, ignore me…just got in from my run and I’m still all over the place.’
‘I thought that was supposed to chill you out?’
‘Yeah,’ Loveday said wearily, pushing a hand through her long dark hair. ‘But not till after my shower.’
‘Well, okay,’ Cassie said. ‘But after that. Have you anything planned?’
‘Other than pigging out on chocolate, and watching an old black and white movie on TV? No, not really.’
‘Fancy a spot of baking?’
‘Baking,’ she repeated. ‘I’ve been roped into doing the food for the sailing club’s Christmas “do”. I’d be grateful for another pair of hands. What d’you think?’
Loveday sighed. ‘You do know that my sponge puddings have been used to cement cracks in the pavements?’
Cassie laughed. ‘Yes, I had hear that, but I’m willing to risk it if you are.’
There was a moment’s hesitation and then Loveday said, ‘When you put it as nicely as that, how can I refuse?’
‘Come by when you’re ready then. And Loveday…thanks.’
It took ten minutes to shower, and another five to get into her jeans and sweater, and plait her hair into a tidy long rope.
Delicious baking smells were already wafting from Cassie’s kitchen as Loveday crossed the yard and tapped the door before walking in. She glanced around. The big, bright kitchen looked under siege. A heap of messy plates, cups, mixing bowls and spoons, filled one of the two sinks. The wooden table was littered with baking paraphernalia, and on the worktop next to the Aga, were several trays of pastries and fairy cakes.
Cassie looked up and pushed her long blonde fringe out of her eyes with the heel of a floury hand. ‘I know,’ she grinned. ‘It’s like organized chaos.’
Loveday raised an eyebrow. ‘What have you done with the kids?’
‘Well, I haven’t strangled them, although it has been tempting.’ She nodded towards the door. ‘Sophie and Leo are watching children’s telly in the front room. Adam’s got his Saturday surgery this morning, so they’ve been warned to be quiet.’
Loveday gave her a wistful smile. ‘Sophie and Leo are great kids. You two are so lucky.’
Cassie looked up from her mixing bowl. ‘That came from the heart.’ She searched her friend’s face, not missing how pale she looked. ‘Okay, what’s up?’
Loveday gave a weary sigh. ‘Just me putting my big feet in everything…again.’
‘Sam and I have split up.’
Her friend’s eyes widened. ‘Ah…’
Loveday looked away, hoping Cassie had missed the prick of tears in her eyes.
‘It was me who finished it,’ she said quickly. ‘I didn’t mean to. I just needed some space. Sam’s on duty over most the holidays and I was thinking of going up to Scotland to spend Christmas with my family. It all seemed like such a good idea yesterday.’
‘I take it Sam didn’t see it that way?’
Loveday shook her head. ‘He thinks I don’t want him, but it’s not that.’
‘Oh, I don’t know, Cassie. I just wish now that I’d left well alone.’
‘Would coffee help?’ Her friend smiled.
Loveday’s nose was twitching. ‘Can you smell burning?’
Cassie rushed across the kitchen and threw open the oven door. A cloud of black smoke filled the room. The smoke detector in the hall began to buzz noisily. Sophie and Leo charged in, and from the far side of the house Adam’s feet could be heard pounding towards them.
‘It’s fine,’ she called out, hands raised in a ‘stay calm’ gesture as he appeared at the kitchen door. ‘Just some cremated mince pies.’
Adam shook his head, grinning. ‘I’ll get back and reassure my patients that we’re not evacuating the building then.’
‘Sorry, darling,’ Cassie grimaced after him as he returned to his surgery, turning off the smoke detector as he passed it.
‘Will the fire engines be coming, Mummy?’ Leo was bouncing up and down with excitement.
‘Not this time, angel,’ Cassie ruffled Leo’s blond hair. ‘It was a false alarm. You two go back to the front room and I’ll bring in some juice and biscuits.’
Both children looked so disappointed that there was to be no fire and rescue drama that Loveday threw her arms around them, promising to bring the snacks through herself.
She was still smiling after them when the hammering started on the kitchen door.
Cassie glanced up, frowning, but before she could wipe her hands, the door flew open and a small, elderly woman rushed in.
Cassie’s eyes widened in surprise. ‘Priddy! Whatever’s happened?’ In an instant she was across the room, an arm around the old lady’s shoulders guiding her to a chair.
Loveday took a glass from the drainer and filled it from the tap.
‘Here,’ she said gently, handing it to the agitated visitor. ‘Sip this.’
The woman accepted the glass and took a sip of water before handing it back.
‘It’s all right, Priddy. Just try to stay calm.’ Cassie was using her most soothing voice. ‘And tell us in your time what’s happened.’
The woman’s face crumpled as she burst into sobs.
‘It’s Jago…’ Her voice shook with emotion. ‘I…I think he’s dead.’
‘Dead?’ Cassie glanced up at Loveday.
Priddy nodded, a saturated hankie balled into her fist. She was trying to control the sobbing.
‘I came to fetch the doctor…I need him to come back with me.’
Loveday touched the old lady’s shoulder.
‘Can you tell us about it?’
The frightened blue eyes stared up at her.
‘It was that old stair carpet…I told him this would happen, but he wouldn’t listen.’ Priddy bit her lip and reached out for Cassie’s hand. And then she noticed the table strewn with baking things. ‘That’s what I was doing this morning, too. I always pop a few scones through to Jago on a Saturday morning.’ She gave a tearful smile. ‘He’s partial to a fruit scone is Jago. But this time he didn’t answer my knock, so I tried the handle. It wasn’t locked. He always keeps it locked.’ The worried eyes filled with tears again, and the voice came out in juddering gasps. ‘He was on the floor…at the bottom of the stairs…just lying there like some poor broken doll.’
Cassie glanced again at Loveday.
‘Could you fetch Adam?’
Loveday nodded and hurried through the house to Adam’s surgery, making her apologies to the surprised patients in the waiting room as she rushed in. She rapped on the surgery door.
‘Come in,’ Adam called, after a moment.
Loveday stuck her head round the door.
‘Sorry to interrupt, but I think this might be important.’
Adam finished signing his patient’s prescription and handed it to him. The man got up, giving Loveday a curious look as he left.
She waited until they were alone before hurriedly repeating Priddy’s story.
Adam followed her back to the kitchen, crouching in front of Priddy and taking her hand. The woman was one of his patients, and he knew her history of high blood pressure. He spoke quietly, but Priddy interrupted.
‘I didn’t know what to do, doctor,’ she sniffed. ‘I think he’s dead. Will you come back with me?’
Adam patted her hand.
‘I’ll get my bag.’
Cassie’s face had turned as white as her flour, and Loveday gave her a concerned frown.
‘I think you should sit down. You’ve had a shock too.’
Cassie was shaking her head. ‘Poor Jago.’ Her eyes were on the old lady. ‘I am so sorry, Priddy.’
Adam returned as quickly as he’d left, having hurriedly explained to his waiting patients that he had to attend an emergency.
‘I think you should stay here with Cassie,’ he told Priddy as he crossed to the door.
But Priddy sprang to her feet.
‘I’m coming with you.’
Cassie sent Loveday a pleading look.
‘Can you go with them?’
‘Of course,’ Loveday said.
There was no time for conversation as the three of them hurried along the road. Loveday had never actually spoken to Priddy before, but she’d seen her about the village and knew she lived in one of the cottages that overlooked the beach.
Adam was striking out ahead, but Loveday held back, keeping pace with Priddy’s slower step. Her heart went out to the old woman. Judging by her distress it was obvious that she and Jago Tilley had been close.
The three of them drew curious looks as they hurried past the hotel. A tall, glittering Christmas tree was visible through the glass doors. The post office and the village store were also festooned with seasonal cheer, and fairy lights were strung around the small town square.
Everyone they passed seemed to know Priddy, and several people tried to stop her, asking what was wrong, but Priddy shook her head at them all.
‘I can’t stop now…’
Loveday was aware of the stares that followed them along the road. If Jago Tilley really was dead, the whole of Marazion would know about it soon enough.
Just past the square, Adam turned right into the terrace of four cottages. The first two had an unoccupied look. Adam stopped at the next one, and Loveday took in the dilapidated appearance. The little house was in serious need of care and attention. It stood out in stark contrast to the pristine condition of the adjoining cottage further on, which Loveday presumed was Priddy’s home.
Adam went into Jago’s place. Loveday’s first instinct was to follow him in, but she held back. Priddy was already distressed enough. There was no need for her to face that trauma all over again. They would know soon enough if the man really was dead.
‘I think we should wait in your cottage,’ she suggested, trying to lead her away from Jago’s front door.
But Priddy had other ideas. ‘I have to know…I have to know if Jago is…’
She was rushing through after Adam, Loveday at her heels. They both stopped as they entered the hall. Even to Loveday’s inexperienced eye it was obvious the poor man was dead.
Adam put up his hand to stop them advancing further. His eyes slid to the top of the stairs, where Loveday could see the carpet was quite obviously ruffled.
‘I think you should call Sam, Loveday.’
Loveday stared at him, and then back up the stairs. What had she missed? Surely this was a straightforward accident? How could there be a need for the involvement of CID? And then she saw it…very faint scratches on the wall, and traces of what could be blood.
Adam’s eyes were grave.
‘Call Sam,’ he repeated.
Loveday didn’t wait to question him. She slipped out, reaching into her pocket for her phone and clicked on Sam’s number.
He answered instantly, as though he had been waiting for her call.
At the sound of her voice Sam’s heart did an annoying little flip.
Was that hope in his voice? Loveday wondered. As if she didn’t feel bad enough already. She launched straight in.
‘Adam thinks you should come down here, Sam.’ She glanced back to make sure Priddy wasn’t in earshot. ‘There’s been a sudden death.’ She hesitated before going on. ‘And Adam’s not happy about it.’
‘Where are you?’
Sam’s voice had snapped into professional mode.
Loveday told him.
‘I’ll see you both there,’ he said briskly, and the phone clicked off.
Adam and Priddy were emerging from Jago’s cottage as Loveday turned back.
‘Priddy is going to make us all a nice cup of tea,’ he said, narrowing his eyes at Loveday. She understood the unspoken question and nodded, confirming that Sam was on his way.
* If you want to know what happens next in A Cornish Obsession, you can buy the book here.