A story of love and music transcending the barriers of time soon to be published by ThornBerry Publishing UK.
The subtle shift in atmosphere was barely perceptible, a whisper of movement causing Penny Cornwall to look up from her book. Rain hurled itself against the bedroom window, the noise like a thousand stones being thrown at the glass. Complaining against the onslaught of a March gale blowing up the Severn valley, the wooden window frame rattled.
Annoyed for not having pulled the curtains closed earlier, Penny slammed down the book, threw back the duvet then stomped across the room towards the window. Her scowling expression reflected in the glass; beyond it lay nothing but impenetrable blackness.
She felt it again across the nape of her neck, a disturbance in the air like the breath of an invisible stranger, the sensation giving rise to a distinct impression someone else was in the room with her. Quickly, she spun around.
No one was there. She knew there wouldn’t be; she’d been alone in the house all day since Harry’s early morning departure to an urgent business meeting in Paris. It was only the house playing tricks on her, perched as it was high on the steep escarpment of Widden Hill overlooking the River Severn. The centuries-old Cotswold stone walls of Hill House were full of tiny gaps and cavities through which the wind loved to play and moan wildly on nights such as this.
She yanked the blue velvet curtains together — not to prevent anyone looking in, but to shut out the dark, wet night — before darting swiftly back to the warmth of the bed. Tucking the duvet deep under her chin, she reached across for the crystal tumbler of Glenmorangie on the bedside table.
Enjoying the whisky’s smooth taste gliding down her throat, Penny reminded herself she would get used to the creaks and groans of the old house eventually, but tonight, alone for the first time since her arrival there three weeks ago, all her senses seemed heightened. On alert.
Her eyes flitted to the bedside clock, counting down in her head the hours until Harry would be home. Eleven? Twelve? But back tomorrow. Around lunchtime, Eurostar and M4 traffic willing. With a heavy sigh, missing him, she relaxed back against Harry’s feather pillow propped behind her head. From the cotton pillowcase came a waft of his spicy aftershave. She pulled it closer, inhaling his lingering scent as she nuzzled into its feathery softness. At least he was with her tonight in spirit, even if he couldn’t be with her in body. The thought was comforting. So she picked up her book, trying to ignore the storm raging beyond the curtains, rain hammering on the windows, the howling wind through the naked branches of the swaying oaks and creaking sycamores that flanked the driveway, and became lost again in the Sidney Sheldon thriller.
Tired eyelids drooped. Penny fought to stay awake, determined to reach the end of the chapter before turning off the lamp. The book jerked as her arm fell, its weight pulling it down towards the quilt as sleep approached, her head nodding forward.
A different sound crept into the distant boundaries of her hearing — a faint murmur, scarcely discernable. Senses suddenly awakened, all sleep vanquished, her eyelids flew open as she struggled to make sense of the intrusion.
It was music. Snippets and disjointed notes fading in and out. Gone one moment; there the next. It seemed to be coming from downstairs.
“Blast, I’ve left the radio on.” Cursing aloud, furious at having to leave the moulded warmth of the bed yet again, she tossed the warm cover aside, grabbed at her white silk dressing gown draped across the bottom of the bed, and with slippers still not on her feet properly as she stumbled across the room, pulled open the bedroom door.
The music became only a fraction louder. She tilted her head, listening as the music rose and fell but the chords and bars were incomplete, just vague fragments of sound that lacked any coherence. She groped on the wall for the light switch, flooding the narrow stairwell with harsh, cold light.
Although still audible, the music became no louder as she descended until, reaching the bottom tread, one foot poised in mid air, the music stopped, as if someone had turned it off with an abrupt click.
“Harry, is that you?” she called, relieved he’d managed to get home far earlier than planned. “I didn’t expect you yet. Why didn’t you ring? I’d have waited up.”
No answer came. The only sounds she could hear were the steady ticking of the grandfather clock at the foot of the stairs and her own rapid, nervous breathing.
Skin pricking with fear, heart pounding against her ribs, all thoughts transformed into the shape of her estranged husband lurking somewhere in the shadows, ready to pounce. Shivering against the cold sweat now trickling down her back, the silk of the wrap clinging to her skin as the vision played out in her mind of Richard creeping about in the darkness. Hiding? Waiting? Choosing this night, knowing she was alone, to break-in and drag her off back to London? Punishment for running out on him.
“Richard?” Her voice had a raw, nervous edge. “Richard, don’t do this to me.”
The heavy oak front door shook in its frame, straining against a force trying to wrench it open. Penny’s eyes flew first to the top bolt then to the bottom one. Mercifully, both were firmly shot.
“Who is it? I know you’re there, I’ve got a gun.”
Scheduled for publication late 2015