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Marley

Louise

Murder at Raven’s Edge

(An English Village Murder Mystery #1)

Chapter One


The village of Raven’s Edge was surrounded by a dark, tangled forest. The kind of forest that evoked the wrong sort of fairy tale, where you should never stray far from the path. The trees here were ancient, gnarled and twisted, huddled together against the storm. Branches dipped to the ground with every lash of rain and the wind tore at their leaves, sending them spiraling high into the air as though it were November rather than June.

Rain fell thick and fast and hard. It hammered the roof of Ben’s car and bounced off the road in front of him. Not that he could see the road. He could barely see further than the end of the car. There were no street lamps on this road, no houses and no other cars. No one else was stupid enough to be out on a night like this. He swerved around a fallen branch, crunched over another, saw a sign flash past in his headlights. It told him there were another five miles to Raven’s Edge, but ‘another five miles’ felt like forever.

It was 1.00 am and he was desperate to get home. He’d had enough – of the vile weather, the never-ending journey, but most of all his ex-wife. He’d driven all the way to London with only enough of a break for them to fight, before he’d climbed straight back into the car and driven back. Now here he was, five miles from home without the sole reason he’d put himself through the visit in the first place – his six-year-old daughter, Sophie.

Lightning illuminated the sky, revealing a road strewn with debris. He slowed to 20mph, forcing his fingers to relax their death grip on the steering wheel. There would be other chances to see Sophie. In a month, it would be the school holidays and she’d be visiting him for two whole weeks. It would be great. They could go hiking in the forest and visit the castle at Norchester. He was making too much of this. He was lucky. It could be worse.

Really? Just how could it be worse? His ex-wife had cancelled this month’s visit and was now threatening to take him back to court to review their custody arrangement, which would neatly take care of any future holidays. So, right at this very moment, how could his life possibly get any worse?

Another streak of lightning slashed the sky, revealing the miles of unbroken forest reaching down to the river, the almost horizontal rain that was threatening to turn into sleet – and the woman walking in the centre of the road.

It was one of those split-second moments that stretched out forever. He saw her terrified expression as her arms went up to protect herself. He saw her tense, awaiting the impact that would surely kill her. He hit the brakes and then he hit her.

The car went into a skid, sliding elegantly around as though on ice. He prayed the car would miss her; that she would intuitively throw herself out of harm’s way, but she seemed to have frozen in shock. Then the wing caught her hip, knocking her off her feet and into the air before the darkness swallowed her whole. The forest blurred as the car spun through 180 degrees and then smashed back into a tree. The impact slammed him forward; his seatbelt jerked him back again.

Seconds passed. Ben took a deep breath and then another to reassure himself he was alive. The engine had stalled but the wiper blades slashed back and forth at speed. On the radio, Caro Emerald was singing about love and loss. The rain still ricocheted off the car, the road and the sodden lump of rags now huddled there.

Ben picked up his phone to call emergency services but the battery was dead. He’d driven to London and back without bothering to charge it. He’d driven to London and back without stopping at all, and here were the consequences: a dead phone and a dead body.

He undid his seat belt, shoved open the car door and practically fell out onto the tarmac as his legs gave way beneath him. The rain soaked through his suit in seconds. He couldn’t have been more drenched if someone had upended a barrel of water over him. He did his best to disregard his shredded nerves as he walked out into the road, bent over the body and gently turned it over.

‘Ahhh!’ it said, and sat up.

He stepped back, his heart pounding so hard he thought it might burst right out of him. She was alive!

‘You hit me!’ she shrieked.

Very much alive.

‘I’m sorry,’ he said. ‘It was an accident. You shouldn’t have been—’

Bastard!

‘Understandably, you’re upset—’

‘Upset? Upset! Of course I’m upset!’

‘You were walking in the middle of the road!’ Despite the rain, despite the dark, he could see her cheeks were streaked with mascara and she was shaking violently, either from cold or shock, he wasn’t sure which. ‘Are you in any pain?’

‘What a stupid, b-bloody question! I’ve been hit by a car! What do you think?’ She held out her hand to him, as imperious as any duchess. ‘Help me up…’

He took hold of her hand and hauled her up as she qualified that with, ‘So I can punch you.’

This meant that he instinctively dropped her.

She was back on her feet in a second, aiming a furious punch in the direction of his stomach. It was easy enough to step back and avoid her, and to block the next blow she sent his way too.

Stoically, he caught hold of her flailing fist. ‘Have you been drinking?’

What other reason could there be for walking in the middle of the road?

‘What do you care?’ she snapped back. ‘You’re not the police.’

‘Well, um actually…’

She stared at him. ‘Seriously?

‘Seriously.’

‘Perfect,’ she muttered.

Any other time he might have found this exchange entertaining, but the rain was dripping off his eyelashes and the end of his nose. He was tired, miserable and thoroughly fed up.

Despite all this, he did feel sorry for her. ‘Are you hurt in any way? Would you like me to take you to the hospital?’

It was a good twenty-minute drive in the opposite direction and, according to the radio, the road was now blocked by a fallen tree.

She appeared to consider this, looking him up and down, presumably trying to judge whether he was trustworthy. As she no longer appeared to be about to inflict grievous bodily harm on him, he released her.

‘It’s up to you,’ he said.

She rubbed at her wrist, presumably to make him feel guilty. He hadn’t held her that tightly.

‘You could offer me a lift to the next village,’ she said.

‘You mean Calahurst?’

She shrugged. ‘Whatever.’

She was soaking wet and filthy. The road back to Norchester was blocked by that tree and the road up ahead was likely to have been flooded out by one of the many tributaries that flowed into the River Hurst. They weren’t going to get anywhere near Calahurst tonight. That meant being trapped in the car with her until it was cleared – it could take hours – or taking her back to his house. He could hardly leave her out in a storm like this. He wouldn’t even leave his ex-wife out in a storm like this.

OK, possibly he might.

‘Give me a minute,’ he said. ‘I need to fetch something to protect the inside of my car.’ He’d bought plants for his garden the weekend before and had lined the interior of the boot with plastic to keep it clean. He could put that on the front passenger seat.

He had enough time to see her mouth the words ‘Protect the car?’ before he walked around to the rear, which was firmly wedged up against a tree.

He swore again. He hadn’t realised the damage was so bad. The bumper was split; one set of lights had smashed and the boot was squashed in. The exhaust, fortunately, was on the opposite side and undamaged.

Now it hardly seemed worth worrying about a bit of mud, but when he went back to tell her the good news she’d vanished.

He looked up and down the road. She might have been a complete pain in the proverbial, but he felt responsible for her and—

Distracted by a knocking sound, barely discernible above the howling wind, he turned his head towards the car – and saw her sitting in the passenger seat.

She mouthed the words: ‘What are you doing?’

Good question. What was he doing?

He got into the car and slammed the door against the storm, leaving them in a warm cocoon of silence.

‘What took you so long?’ she said. ‘Didn’t you think you were wet enough?’

Unable to trust himself to speak, he turned the key in the ignition. The car started without any trouble, although the exhaust rattled a bit. The radio sprang into life; now it was playing an old jazz classic, one of his favourites. He felt some of his tension ebb away.

‘Well, this is rubbish,’ she said, promptly flicking through the radio stations until his car vibrated to the thud, thud, thud of mindless dance music.

Finally, Ben thought, grinding the gears as he put the car into a three-point turn and continued his journey home. Finally he’d met someone he hated more than his ex-wife.

Extract

Amazon UK

Amazon USA

When Milla Graham returns to her childhood home of Raven’s Edge after eighteen long years away, she finds the perfect English village looks much the same – all rose-covered cottages and quaint teashops full of scones and gossip.


But her nostalgic visit takes a dark turn when the body of a local woman is discovered in an abandoned manor house on the edge of the forest. The murder scene is chillingly close to that of Milla’s own mother, whose death was never solved. As she begins to investigate the connection, Milla realises this quirky village is guarding some dark secrets.


Handsome, grumpy local police detective Ben Taylor doesn’t believe in coincidences, and he doesn’t think mysterious newcomer Milla Graham is as innocent as she seems. Why is she really here in Raven’s Edge, and how come she keeps turning up at his crime scenes, causing trouble? Can he solve this murder case without losing himself – or his heart – to the rather distracting Miss Graham?


When another body is found, everyone becomes a suspect – from the barmaid at the local pub to Milla Graham herself. It seems that in Raven’s Edge, not everybody is as friendly, or as innocent, as they first seem...


** Previously published as Trust Me I Lie**