A quiet honeymoon in England … that was the plan. But Claudia and Martin Grey find themselves once again embroiled in a ghostly mystery. It will take all their skill, and a little help, to cut through the treachery and deceit shrouding the case of the groping ghost. A. J. Matthews brings you the next exciting chapter of his hot, paranormal series, Ghosts and Lovers. Sometimes a ghost needs to get laid to rest!
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Excerpt from Chapter One.
“Funny how Julia came to live not far from your mom,” Claudia observed after downing the last mouthful of chocolate and breaking the silence that had lasted almost as long as the thirty-mile drive.
“It’s only coincidence,” Marty replied.
“So what does Julia do?”
He glanced at her, his expression unreadable. “She’s a singer.”
“A singer.” She narrowed her eyes. “I need a bit more than that to go on, lover.”
“Julia’s the lead singer of Lyrebird.”
“It doesn’t ring a bell. Are they famous?’
He looked deflated. “I suppose it depends on your musical taste. In the pop-folk circuit in Britain, they’re up there with Lindisfarne and Clannad.”
“Ah. Those I’ve heard of. So she’s famous?”
“I think so. Julia’s an alumnus of the Cambridge Footlights. Not long after she and her friends formed Lyrebird they were spotted by an agent at a performance.” He grimaced. “In retrospect, it was a good move we split up. I might’ve held her back.”
Claudia scrunched up the candy wrapper and stuffed it into her coat pocket, struggling to get it past the seat-belt. She looked sidelong at her husband. “How so?”
“Lyrebird made it big a couple of years after we left university. Julia’s career began to take off, and she had to spend more time in rehearsals and going to gigs. I wasn’t too happy with some of the company she kept back then. You get a bunch of really shady characters hanging around the music scene. She wasn’t all that comfortable about my early research into the paranormal, either. It got to the point where we both knew we had to go our own ways.”
“She missed out on a good thing.” Claudia reached over to squeeze her husband’s hand. His expression looked a bit lost. Obviously, the break-up had caused him pain.
“Thanks.” Martin fell silent for a minute as he negotiated a roundabout, a road feature that seemed to be everywhere in Britain. Once they were safely through he glanced at her. “Julia went her way, I went mine.” He flashed his bright smile. “We both found success.”
“You most definitely have,” she said, thinking how Martin’s British accent had grown markedly more noticeable since they’d returned to England to visit family and friends three weeks ago. “Did Julia specifically say she has a ghost problem?’
Martin shook his head. “She wouldn’t say as much, merely that she has a problem which needs my expertise. Emphasis on expertise. Since I’m sure she has her own accountant and financial advisers, I don’t imagine she needs my help working out her tax return.”
“Well, no,” Claudia muttered, remembering how her husband worked for the British Inland Revenue before casting off the fun-filled world of bureaucracy to chase ghosts for a living.
“No. We’ll just have to wait and see what Julia really wants.”
Claudia sensed that Martin’s ex was up to no good. Rather than pursue the conversation any further, she turned her attention to the passing countryside.
They’d driven thirty miles, which seemed the equivalent of about one hundred miles in the U.S. They passed from rolling hills along the north coast of Norfolk County, where Martin’s mother lived, to an area which reminded Claudia of the Midwest in places. However, American homes lacked houses built with flint walls cornered with brick, and she’d seen the occasional thatched roof. Traffic thundered by on the narrow road with little apparent regard for the speed limits, making her flinch. Claudia experienced a strange sense of dislocation as Martin piloted the car on the left side of the road. She still had to fight a mild state of panic from time to time as cars hurtled by on the “wrong” side. Up ahead she saw a village dominated by a tall church tower. An ornate enameled wrought iron sign by the roadside proclaimed the community as Tennington St. Lawrence.
Marty glanced quickly at the GPS screen. “We’re nearly there. Julia said to pass the church and turn right. Her place is about a half mile up the lane.”
They drove along one edge of a village green, complete with duck pond. A fine old half-timbered pub stood the other side with the legend The Cooper’s Arms emblazoned across the front in brass letters. A gibbet-style sign out front displayed an ornate coat of arms featuring barrels. The church had the now-familiar flint and brick boundary wall, enclosing a churchyard filled with weathered memorial stones. At one end of the green stood an old school building of red brick with a slate roof. Scaffolding along one wall indicated it was undergoing renovation. Martin swung the car onto the lane past the church, and the steady growl of smooth tarmac surface under their wheels gave way to the heavier crunching of a road in need of repair. Before long the lane developed a green central ridge of short grass. Claudia glanced quizzically at her husband.
“Farm lane,” he muttered. “It’s okay. The car can handle it.”
Hedges rose on either side, reaching quite a height in places. They stood interspersed with oak trees of a variety Claudia wasn’t familiar with. “This will be a bitch to get out of if someone else comes the other way.”
“There are passing places cut into the bank along the way,” Martin assured her.
She rolled her eyes and looked ahead. The hedges gave way to low banks either side of the lane. Level fields and water-filled ditches thick with rushes spread out to the horizon, but a cluster of tall trees stood about half a mile ahead to the right of the road. Claudia could make out white walls and a gray tiled roof. She pointed. “That could be the place.”
“I think you’re right.”
Before long they reached the trees. The trees stood in a private park enclosed by a decaying brick wall a shade overhead height. A set of new iron gates blocked the drive entrance. Martin drew the car to a halt by a small intercom console set into the wall to the right. Claudia saw the glint of a camera lens above the speaker grill peering at them like a tiny gimlet eye. Winding down the window he reached out and pressed the call button. A few moments passed before a response came. “Martin,” a woman’s voice said before he could speak. “I’m really glad to see you. Wait a moment, I’ll open the gates.”
The iron barrier swung open noiselessly. Martin rolled up the window and looked at Claudia with a raised eyebrow. “It seems Julia likes her security these days.” He put the car in gear.
Claudia shrugged. “I don’t blame her, given what she does for a living. She might be worried about stalkers.”
“You could be right.”
They headed up the drive, gravel growling under the wheels, and stopped at the house. Claudia looked it over with a professional realtor’s eye. In the U.S. it might be called a Federalist style home. In England they called it Georgian, with its two stories and attic, six windows on the first floor, three either side of the front door, and seven windows on the second. Four dormer windows marked the attic. The whole showed signs of recent repairs and upgrades. Claudia did the math and whistled silently. This place cost a pretty penny…
The shiny, black, six-paneled front door swung open, and a woman emerged onto the steps. “Here’s Julia,” Marty said, switching off the engine. He gave the approaching woman an appraising glance which sent a stab of jealousy through Claudia. “The high life suits her.”
“I’m sure it does,” Claudia replied in as neutral a tone as she could manage as they got out.
Damn it! Julia Grant looked very pretty. She had a cloud of blonde hair which caught the morning sun like an aurora. Clad in tight black jeans and a Cambridge University sweater over small high breasts, she appeared to be about Claudia’s height of five-eight. Claudia watched her come down to meet them, trying to conceal her irritation and resentment as the other woman hugged Marty.
I’m Marty’s wife. Julia is most definitely his ex-girlfriend. I know Marty loves me. Why should I feel jealous?
Julia released Marty and turned to her, and, with no appreciable hesitation, extended her hand. “You must be Claudia.” Her voice sounded warm as honey. “I’m Julia.”
Claudia accepted her handshake, knowing the fabled but very real British reserve militated against hugging strangers. “I guessed as much. Pleased to meet you.”
She shook hands. Julia’s skin felt cool and dry. She looked Claudia over with green eyes that were equally cool. Julia’s lips quirked. “Likewise. Come inside, you two.”
They followed her up the steps and into the house. Beyond the door lay the hall. Claudia looked around. A broad spread of black and white checkered tiles covered the floor. The walls were two-tone, with a duck-egg blue lower half separated from the upper vanilla by a white painted dado rail. A fine blond wood staircase rose ahead. To her left were two six-paneled doors and a large mirror over a side table, on which stood a landline phone. On the right another door stood ajar revealing a glimpse of a sitting room. Claudia’s sensitive nose detected fresh-brewed coffee.
“Nice place you have here, Jules,” Martin said, looking around.
“Thanks. I’m having it done-up. It stood empty for years, and there’s still a bit to do.” She shrugged. “It’s Grade Two listed, which adds its own problems.”
“I’m sure.” Martin nodded.
Claudia noticed the familiar way the two addressed each other. Ten years may have passed since they were together, but Marty and Jules seem to be falling into a friendly old pattern already. I’m not sure how to deal with this.
“Come on into the sitting room.” Julia led the way.
The room held modern furniture dominated by a broad glass-topped coffee table upon which a tray with coffee emanating a heavenly scent sat amid a scatter of magazines and books. A side table by one settee had a steaming mug, and photo portrait of a dashing, dark haired man posing with hand on chin. Dark eyes gazed out at the viewer with a look that combined challenge with a hint of mockery. Julia saw the direction of Claudia’s gaze. “My boyfriend, Paul. Take a seat, guys.”
Claudia glanced quickly at Martin and saw the brief wink he gave her in response. He knows she’s trying to make him jealous. I don’t think it worked.
Julia sat down on the settee by the photo and drew her legs up under her. “Help yourselves to coffee.” She gestured to the tray as she picked up her own mug.
Martin served Claudia then himself. Julia had set out a small jug of real cream. “I won’t have powdered creamer,” she said, with a dismissive wave. “Or anything else containing palm oil. It only encourages the destruction of jungle in Malaysia in favor of palm plantations. I have soy milk if you’re lactose intolerant, Claudia.”
“I’m good.” Claudia poured a measure of cream into her mug. “I think cream is much better than creamer in coffee anyway.”
Julia flashed her a smile. “So do I.”
A long pause fell while they drank. Claudia took a cookie—a biscuit, she reminded herself for the umpteenth time. She shot Julia a covert glance. Jungle destruction? Not that I don’t agree with her viewpoint, but it’s a little bitty much to impose it on a guest at first meeting.
Martin set down his mug, crossed his ankles and leaned back. “So, Julia, it’s good to see you and all, but I take it you have a problem I might be able to deal with?”
Julia lifted one eyebrow and gave him a wry smile. “You cut to the chase right away as usual, Martin.”
He took out his tablet, set the recording app, spread his hands and smiled.
“Okay,” she said with a nod, setting down her mug. “I didn’t want to say too much over the phone, after all that trouble with journalists tapping celebrities here a while back.” She gave a self-deprecating shrug and smile. “Whether I like it or not, I am a celebrity, and I need to be careful.”
Martin nodded. “Understood. Tell us what’s up.”
Julia smiled, but Claudia spied some signs of distress in her face. “To give you some background, I bought this place last year. It needed a lot of work, but finally it became habitable four months ago. It took long enough, what with getting the clearances to make modern improvements to a two-hundred-and-fifty year old house. You wouldn’t believe the paperwork that involved! I moved in about then. At first, all seemed fine.” She gestured in the direction of the grounds. “The hall is built mostly on what was once a small, early medieval priory. There are ruins out back, which were actually created as a folly by Sir Allerdyce Attoe, the builder of the hall.”
“What’s a folly?” Claudia asked.
“A decorative building with no real purpose,” Martin said. “They were built on great estates by wealthy men in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries to display their wealth. Some follies still survive. Many of them are really ornate.”
Julia chuckled. “Martin, you still have that encyclopedic mind, I see. Anyway, I learned the Victorian owner of the hall, Sir George Attoe, actually ran a scam selling tickets to view the ruins to gullible tourists. He billed them as the real thing.”
“Naughty!” Martin laughed.
“Very. He made a tidy sum for years. He was buried there in the ruins instead of the family vault in the village church.” She grimaced and looked at Claudia. “Martin will tell you I find such things creepy. He doesn’t.” A flush colored her cheeks. “It was one of the things that caused us to separate.”
“I see.” Claudia gave a sideways glance at her husband.
He looked down, studying his hands. “Do go on, Julia.”
“I arranged to have Sir George’s remains disinterred and transferred to the Attoe family vault. Tom Bailey, the local vicar, is a gem. He arranged it all with his bishop, who approved of the matter.” She smiled in recollection. “To quote Tom, ‘The Church of England doesn’t like having bodies lying about where they shouldn’t be.’” Her smile slipped. “It wasn’t long after that the trouble began.”
“What form does the trouble take?” Martin leaned forward. Claudia sensed his growing excitement, similar to that of a hound on the scent. Her skin prickled in empathy.
Julia blushed again, her coloring a striking contrast to her blonde hair. “I’ll … have to take things out of chronological order for a moment. Sorry. Other stuff happened first, but the most worrying thing is, I’m being groped by a ghost...”
* * * *Read The Mr. Grey books - Erotic-romance stories of a kind, loving guy who doesn't beat up women or practice vicious sub/dom games. Out now at Liquid Silver Books.