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Authors: Kate Charles

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BOOK: The Snares of Death
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Dexter smiled benignly on the young man. So that was how it was, eh? Becca.

‘Rebecca is very well, thank you, Toby.'

‘She'll be moving to South Barsham with you, sir?'

‘Yes. She acts as my private secretary, you know.' He studied the young man with increased interest. Tallish, slim, a gentle face framed with soft brown curls and eyes of a curious light brown, the colour of toast. Fresh skin, with the tendency to blush – but that was not unattractive in a well brought-up young man. And he was interested in Becca. That could be very useful – she could do much worse. Of course she was far too young to think of such things – only twenty – but the day would come when she'd want to marry, and he could just about bear to think of his beloved Becca married to Toby Gates. Eventually. Toby would inherit his father's printing business, and of course his Evangelical credentials were impeccable, even if he wasn't an Anglican. Dexter thought he remembered that Toby, as a university student, had been responsible for his father's Christian conversion. Yes, he decided, Toby should be encouraged. It could be the beginning of an Evangelical dynasty: the union of Bob Dexter's only daughter and Noah Gates's only son. ‘My wife and daughter are with me this weekend,' he said impulsively. ‘Would you like to join us for dinner at our hotel tomorrow evening?'

‘Yes, sir, I'd like that very much. I should like to see Becca again.' The toast-coloured eyes sparkled shyly. ‘And Mrs Dexter too, of course.'

Bob Dexter smiled his trademarked smile, the perfect teeth with which God had blessed him maintained and enhanced by years of private dental work, provided free of charge by a grateful parishioner.


For he shall carry nothing away with him when he dieth: neither shall his pomp follow him.

Psalm 49.17

‘It was dreadful,' David Middleton-Brown told Lucy Kingsley over dinner in her South Kensington mews house, refilling her wine glass and then his own. ‘It was like some sort of violation – of Lady Constance, I mean. I felt like such an intruder, such a . . .
. I didn't feel that I had any right to be there, in her house. Not without her there.' He stopped and took a fortifying gulp of wine.

Lucy smiled at him. ‘But it's
house now.'

‘Yes, I suppose it is. Or at least it will be, when the will is settled.'

‘How long is that likely to take?'

‘It generally takes about a year, though with an estate of that size it could be considerably longer. That means at least another six months – August. She died in August, remember.'

Lucy remembered very well – it had been shortly after she and David had met. She phrased her next question carefully. ‘And then what? Will you live there?'

He didn't answer directly. ‘Well, at least it will give me a place of my own to stay at the weekends. Daphne never complains, mind you, but sometimes I feel that I'm taking advantage of her hospitality.'

No, Daphne wouldn't complain, thought Lucy. She didn't know Daphne Elford very well, but from the contact she'd had with the older woman Lucy's feminine intuition told her that Daphne was fond of David in a way she'd never admit. And David
taking advantage of her hospitality. Lucy wondered how Daphne felt about that – about the way he used her flat in essence as a free hotel, just a place to sleep, spending his days and evenings with another woman. ‘So you're not thinking of actually moving to London? Changing jobs?'

David looked at her almost shyly. He felt vaguely dissatisfied with their relationship – if you could even call it that. It wasn't that there was any actual awkwardness between them. They always talked together easily, and enjoyed the time they spent together – these weekends in London, once or twice a month. But they had never fully recaptured the warm emotional intimacy that had sprung up so naturally and so immediately between them when they'd met. It was his fault, he knew. He was the one who'd shattered the equilibrium of their relationship. And perhaps it was too late now to hope for anything else. He hesitated. ‘I might, I suppose. Would you like it – if I moved to London, I mean?'

She smiled at him. ‘Of course I would, David. It would be lovely to have you so near.'

Was she only saying what she thought he wanted to hear? Uncomfortable, David looked down at his plate. He picked up his fork again, took a few bites of food, and when he finally spoke he consciously changed the subject. ‘This is really delicious, Lucy. What do you call it?'

‘Spinach and mushroom roulade, with a white wine and cheese sauce. Do you really like it?'

‘Of course. Why wouldn't I?' He raised his eyes and looked at her again across the table. ‘You're the best cook I know, and everything you make is delicious.'

She laughed. ‘Flattery will get you nowhere, young man.' With both hands she pushed her hair from her face and David's heart constricted as it always did at the grace of the characteristic, unconscious gesture. Lucy Kingsley was an extremely attractive woman. Her chief glory was the nimbus of naturally curly hair which cascaded in profusion to her shoulders, hair of a shade which is generally called ‘strawberry blonde', but which could far more accurately be described as the colour of ripe apricots.

‘It's just that . . .' Lucy continued, ‘well, I don't quite know how to tell you this.' She twisted a curl around her finger, and went on in a rush. ‘I've stopped eating meat.'

David stared at her. ‘Since when?'

‘Since the last time I saw you, a few weeks ago.'

‘But . . . why?'

Lucy looked him full in the face, and spoke earnestly and deliberately. ‘I've come to believe that killing animals just so we can eat them is wrong: it's murder. What right do we have to do that? Are our lives worth so much more than theirs? There are so many things we can eat – delicious things – which don't involve killing, that I don't think we can justify eating meat.'

Her earnestness amazed him. ‘But you've never felt like that before, Lucy. You've always enjoyed a bit of rare beef as much as I have! Why now? Why this sudden great conviction?'

She took a bite of the roulade before she answered. ‘That's a fair question. Yes, of course I've always enjoyed meat – I'll admit it.' She smiled ruefully. ‘But I met some people recently who convinced me that I was wrong. Wrong to eat it, wrong to enjoy it.'

‘People? What people? How did you meet them?'

She laughed at his suspicious expression. ‘I met them through my work, actually. They're involved with the British Animal Rights Coalition. They asked me to design a poster for them.' She got up and left the room, returning after a moment with a poster which she put on the table beside his plate. ‘This is what I've done.'

‘BARC. Very funny,' he said dryly. ‘But who are they? I've never heard of them.'

Lucy resumed her seat. ‘They're new. That's why the publicity.' Unconsciously she began twisting a lock of her hair again as she explained. ‘There have always been a lot of groups dedicated to different aspects of animal rights: anti-blood sports, anti-animal experimentation, anti-fur, anti-battery farming, anti-cruelty to animals . . .'

‘Aren't they ever pro anything?'

Ignoring the jibe, she went on. ‘This is a new effort to bring them all together, under one umbrella, as it were.' She pointed at the poster, at the gossamer umbrella sheltering a multitude of various beasts: dogs and cats, deer and foxes, chickens and cows, pheasants and grouse, badgers and hedgehogs, tigers and ermine, seals and whales and dolphins. ‘An umbrella of caring, protecting the helpless from indifference, from cruelty, from greed. That's what BARC aims to be.'

David examined the poster with interest. Lucy's artwork was brilliant, he thought. In a total departure from her usual abstract style, she had captured just the right feeling for this fledgling organisation. Whimsical without being cute, compassionate without descending to bathos, it communicated its message vividly. ‘It's very good,' he admitted. ‘Much more effective than baby seals bleeding in the snow.'

‘Or heaps of dead dogs. Yes, I feel that the shock value in that sort of approach actually has a negative effect in the long run. People turn away from it – they don't want to know. Whereas this . . .' She paused. ‘But anyway, do you understand why I feel I can't eat meat any longer?'


Later, over brandy in the sitting room, they returned to the subject of Lady Constance and her will. ‘I don't really understand why you had to go to her house today,' Lucy remarked. She was curled up on the sofa, close to the fire. ‘It all seems very complicated. It's a good thing that you're a solicitor – at least you've got some chance of understanding it all! Was it some sort of provision in the will?'

‘No, just a legal technicality. I have to inspect the property before the will goes through probate, and formally say whether I'll accept it or not.'

She laughed bemusedly. ‘And are you going to accept it?'

‘I should jolly well think so. It's quite a house, you know – worth well over a million quid.'

‘She didn't have any family to inherit from her?' Lucy asked.

‘No one. Her husband died years ago. They never had any children. And her brother never married. Sad.'

‘Very sad. But why you?'

His laugh was self-deprecating. ‘She liked me, for some reason. She thought I'd appreciate her house and take good care of it.'

‘I should think she did like you.' Lucy smiled at him with affection; one of the very charming things about David, she thought, was that he never seemed to realise how attractive he was to women. Although he could not be described as handsome in a classical sense, there was something about him . . . Just past forty, he had retained a reasonably good figure; the starburst of lines around his hazel eyes when he smiled were to Lucy an engaging indication of welcome maturity, as was the sprinkling of grey hair among the brown at his temples. ‘And she's left it to you with no strings attached?'

At that he groaned. ‘One little string – one I've put off thinking about.'

‘What's that?'

‘She wanted me to go to Walsingham, to the Chapel of All Souls, to pray for her. Next month, on her birthday, the thirty-first of March.' He grimaced. ‘You know how I loathe that place.'

‘Yes, but I've never understood why.'

‘Have you ever been there?'

‘No, of course not. But what's so bad about it?'

‘Ugh. It's so tasteless. The architecture of the Anglican Shrine Church is so nasty, and the whole place is over-commercialised, and full of such earnest people. I just can't describe how horrid it is.'

‘It can't be
bad,' Lucy objected half-heartedly.

‘That's what you think. You should see it.' He shuddered dramatically.

‘All right, I will.'

‘You will what?' David looked at her in surprise.

‘I'll see it. I'll go with you when you go to fulfil Lady Constance's last wish.'

‘But why . . . ?'

Lucy smiled with satisfaction. ‘I've been meaning to tell you all evening. An art gallery in Norwich – the Bridewell Gallery, I don't know if you know it – is going to have an exhibition of my paintings, beginning next month. It opens the day before that, Saturday the thirtieth of March, and they want me to come up for the opening. I was going to ask you whether you'd be prepared to put me up in Wymondham for the weekend, and to escort me to the opening.'

‘Yes, of course. But . . .'

‘That's settled, then. And on the Sunday we can go to Walsingham.' She laughed at the look on his face. ‘Don't worry, David! You've got over six weeks to clean your house! And I promise I won't wear my gloves to look for dust.'

The rest of the evening passed quickly, with lazy conversation and soft music. Over the sound of the music they could hear the wind; it had been a very cold day, and the night would be even colder. But the room was snug and cosy and dark, with the fire providing the only illumination. Sophie, Lucy's marmalade cat, for some reason much preferred David's lap to any other, and had been curled there for hours, a warm, purring ball of fur. But when the clock chimed midnight David rose with a groan. ‘Time to get on to Daphne's, I suppose. She'll probably be waiting up for me. At least I've got my car – it would be a long, cold walk tonight!' Lucy fetched his coat and went with him to the door, where he gave her the customary affectionate but chaste kiss on the cheek. ‘Good night, Lucy – thanks for the lovely meal, and a lovely evening. I'll see you tomorrow, around the usual time.'

‘Good night, David.' She stifled a sigh as she stood at the open door, oblivious to the cold, and watched him climb into his car with a final wave. When will he realise – will he
realise, she thought, that sometimes you have to take happiness where you find it? Not where you wish you could find it, or where you think it should be found, but where it is? She was wise enough to know that he must discover that for himself; it would be madness to rush him. The sigh escaped unnoticed as she bolted the door, switched off the hall light, and went up the stairs to bed.


For they grieved him with their hill-altars: and provoked him to displeasure with their images.

Psalm 78.59

It was a raw, drizzly day when the Reverend Bob Dexter paid his first visit to the parish church of St Mary the Virgin, South Barsham, Norfolk. He went on a Sunday afternoon, when all the members of his future flock were safely at home tucking into their Sunday lunches.

The church presented a less than prepossessing aspect to him as he approached on foot, his car stowed on the grass verge opposite the Two Magpies pub. Last autumn's leaves still choked the uncut grass between the rakishly tilted gravestones in the churchyard, and the unclipped yew trees dripped dankly on his head as he passed beneath them; Bob Dexter smoothed the unwelcome drops from his wavy hair. A few stubbornly optimistic early daffodils, huddling in the shelter of the church walls, showed defiant yellow faces to the overgrown elderberry bushes.

BOOK: The Snares of Death
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