This week, I was planning on sharing a round-up of the books I've read so far this year...
However, I'm behind the pace on editing the next book in the series, so instead of belting out a few thousand words about what I've been reading, I'm lazy mode-ing it and sharing the first part of the next book.
Obviously, I'm still editing the book at the moment, so this part might change - and please excuse any spelling mistakes/grammatical errors/notes I've left for myself and forgotten to take out - and as you might be able to guess, I haven't yet settled on a title for this book yet.
Although I think I'm pretty close on that last point, so keep an eye on my socials/read my newsletter to find out ;)
So, without further ado, here it is :) I hope you enjoy it!
‘Next stop, Castlebury Magna,’ announced the train conductor as he made his way through the carriages. ‘Castlebury Magna, next stop.’
Not that Mrs Charity Murphy needed telling.
She’d spent her whole life in the village and loved travelling by train, whether it had been down to London for her annual Christmas shopping trip, or to her sister’s in Gloucester, or even the beautiful trip to the Fenlands, where her husband’s cousin lived. She and Josiah even went to Edinburgh by train for their honeymoon, which really had been a once-in-a-lifetime trip for Charity.
Of course, she’d been back more recently. Why not, when the problems of painful hips and chronic asthma and a widow’s pension were no longer stumbling blocks to her desire to see the beautiful country she’d lived in for 63 years?
Plus the extra, hmm… ten years she’d been permitted to continue her mission.
Besides, it seemed selfish to waste her, ahem, extended existence by doing her duty only to those locally.
Oh, perhaps Edinburgh had been an extravagant indulgence, but there were people all over the place who needed her. There was no reason she couldn’t helps as many as possible and enjoy herself at the same time, so she’d visited the beautiful city again, and all those other places that had been off-limits to her during her life.
And each time, she enjoyed the gentle rhythm of the steam engine and listening to all those fascinating conversations people had in the privacy of a train carriage.
Really, the things people talked about when they didn’t think anyone was listening...
But the thing was, she’d never meant to come back here. Not after they betrayed her, stabbing her in the back like poor Caesar.
Well, not stabbed exactly, but the effect had been the same, hadn’t it? It had even been the Ides of March, which was hopefully a strange coincidence and not making a point.
The train slowed, and Charity felt what could only be a habitual attack of nerves as the familiar station came into view.
She took deep, technically unnecessay breaths to calm herself.
It was only for a few minutes, then the train would be gone again, and it didn’t do to dwell on the past, did it?
It wasn’t like she’d been avoiding Castlebury Magna, as such. It was just that there was such a lot of the country to see, and so many people to help. She’d barely spared a thought for the place, really.
Mostly, at least.
All right, perhaps she’d thought bitterly about the place every single day and she’d never intended on coming within a hundred miles of the rotten village ever again. It wasn’t like she knew who to blame, exactly - but that was the problem, wasn’t it? There were so many options, and not knowing something drove her mad.
Especially something like… that.
But what was the point in going hours out of her way, even though time wasn't really an issue any more, just to avoid the place?
Besides, going through the village was different to going back, wasn’t it? She didn’t have to see her old neighbours for a start, and it wasn’t like she could talk to any of them any more even if she wanted to.
And she certainly didn’t want to.
They’d only be there a few minutes, she told herself sternly. Then they’d be gone again, and perhaps in another ten years, she might be able to go back and visit the place properly. Most of the people she suspected of her murder would be dead too by then, and she really had loved the place - not just the people, but the buildings and the countryside and the quaint little high street with its shops and offices and the village hall.
A smile appeared on her face as the church spire poked above the station roof. Of all the places in this village, there was nowhere she’d loved more. She toyed with the plain cross around her neck, trying not to think the complicated thoughts about what her continued existence might mean. It went against everything she’d known to be true, after all, and –
And, as the train drew close to the station, Charity pushed these uncomfortable considerations aside as her curiosity piqued.
The platform was unusually full, even for a Saturday morning.
In fact, there was barely an inch spare. In all her time in Castlebury, she’d barely seen half a dozen people there at the same time - except for the day the boys left for the trenches, of course, but that was thankfully a once in a lifetime event - so to see practically the whole village crammed into the tiny space was curious.
Well, what harm could it do to look? It wasn’t like anyone would see her nowadays anyway, after all, and it would be interesting to see who was still there – and perhaps find out why they’d all gathered there that morning. It had to be a wedding, or someone leaving to travel the world or…
Wait. No, it couldn’t be. Surely it couldn’t be…? James Rathbone had left the village near the start of the War and never come home again. He’d been given up as lost by everyone – and most unfortunately his wife, not that the hussy had waited long before trying to get her grubby hands on the purest, most blameless soul in the village.
But there was no mistaking the fellow, though he looked a lot older than she’d remembered him. In fact, almost ever face in the crowd looked older.
Charity shrank away from the window, praying she hadn’t been spotted. Mrs Bird! What was she still doing here? Well, of course, she’d never be able to move on, not with all the secrets she kept, but -
There was a sharp rap at the window.
‘Mrs Murphy,’ barked Mrs Bird, blocking Charity’s view of what looked to be an interesting scene on the platform. ‘Mrs Murphy! Don’t think I can’t see you.’
Charity squared her shoulders, raised her chin, and plastered a false smile onto her face, and leant forward again.
‘Euphemia,’ she said brightly. ‘How good to see you after all this time.’
‘Mrs Murphy,’ said Mrs Bird coldly, her lips pressed together in a thin line. ‘It certainly has been a long time. What brings you back? I thought you’d gone for good.’
‘Just passing thr-’ Charity paused, her curiosity getting the better of her.
All those people she’d once known!
All those lives that had continued without her, getting into who knew what mischief...
All those souls that would doubtless one day need her help to move on to the Good Lord.
All that scandal to uncover - for the greater good, of course. Dark secrets festered and poisoned lives when left unattended, leaving the eternal part of themselves in peril. Far better to get it all out into the open air, and to help them atone for their sins. She wasn’t sure how any more, of course, but she was resourceful and would figure something out.
Mrs Murphy cleared her throat and started again.
‘Just thought I’d drop in on my old friends and neighbours,’ she amended. ‘It’s such a pleasant surprise to see you again, my dear. I thought you’d have been well on your say by now.’
‘Hmm,’ said Mrs Bird in a distinctly unimpressed tone, glancing over her shoulder at Mrs Rathbone, who had the arm of a good-looking man about half her age draped around her shoulders. Not that Charity was surprised by that, of course, not knowing what Mrs Rathbone was like - though doubtless Mr Rathbone had been in for quite the shock when he found out.
Perhaps that was why he was leaving...? He must have come back at some point whilst Charity had been away – though she’d never have imagined it was this stranger Mrs Rathbone left the poor fellow for.
No, Charity had a very good idea who that woman had her sights set on.
Well, there, at least, was a scandal worth stopping for, even if it was in a place she felt itchy about coming back to.
Yes, there was no way she couldn’t stop, not when Mrs Rathbone clearly needed to expunge the blots she’d obviously been adding to her soul all these years…
‘Well, I’d better get off the train if I’m staying,’ said Charity cheerfully, rather looking forward to diving back into the scandal a small village held. She wasn’t sure why she’d been worried about coming back - she’d practically run this place before her untimely demise, and perhaps this was finally the time to discover who it was that had caused such a tragedy.
‘I really don’t think that’s necessary,’ said Mrs Bird, but having made up her mind, Charity wasn’t about to let all that delicious intrigue slip through her fingers.
So she stepped out of a train as only a spirit could and joined a complaining Mrs Bird on the platform. The other woman looked her up and down with undisguised dismay, which was hardly the way to greet a long-lost friend.
Still, Euphemia Bird had always been a cold fish, so Charity wasn’t about to take this personally. It was unlikely Mrs Bird had ever cared two pins for anyone in her entire existence.
‘Well, if you’re staying,’ said Mrs Bird, wincing as the train whistle sent a piercing shriek into the air and the steam engine huffed into life again. ‘Which apparently you are - though Heaven knows why, we’ve done perfectly well without you all this time - then the least you can do is make yourself useful. Come along. I have a job for you.’
In case you're wondering, dear reader, there's trouble ahead. Lots of it.
And FYI, Mrs Murphy is currently vying with a certain other ghost for the position of Saffron's Least Favourite Character Ever, and if she wasn't starting the book very dead, she certainly wouldn't last too long... Probably a dreadful "accident" in Ch. 3 ^_^
Admittedly, she's not quite as unashamedly evil and conniving as the other contender for the title (no spoilers!), but man, I hate her so much. There's a glimpse of why in this scene, but it's nothing compared to what's to come.
Let's just say, though Lucas naturally trends towards grumpy, it takes a lot to make him actually angry, and Mrs Murphy manages it in, oh, about thirty seconds flat. Maybe less.
So you've got that to look forward to!
Release date is currently and probably optimistically "sometime late Spring/early Summer) and has been nudged back a few weeks thanks to an unwelcome visit from everyone's least favourit caronavirus steamrollering yours truly, but progress is being made which is the main thing.
Normal scheduling will be resumed in a couple of weeks, when I'll be joined by awesome indie author Chloe L Blythe who will be sharing her insights into writing and publishing, so I hope you'll join me then :)
Thnks for reading!
Love, Saff xx