Thanks to the publisher for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
Lulu had been living in France for years, in an increasingly abusive relationship with an older man called Guy, who’d turned out to be an alcoholic – and since he had his own vineyard, that gave him rather a lot of scope. He hadn’t been physically abusive to her, but instead sapped spirit and self-confidence over the years with the drip, drip, drip of criticism. Cameron and I had both worried about her, but there wasn’t a lot we could do.
She efficiently ran the self-catering holiday gîtes and B&B rooms in the small manor and outbuildings of the estate, while Guy occupied himself with the making and consumption of wine. I’d visited only once and, on the surface, he’d been jovial, charming and welcoming ... though since Lulu, Cam and I emailed each other most days, I knew that he was jealous of any other men who might show an interest in her.
Cameron went out there every summer to teach watercolours at their annual artists’ week, and Guy tolerated his presence because he was under the misguided impression he was gay!
Then, at the end of the last summer school, Guy had been off on a bender and Lulu had finally snapped, packed a bag, grabbed her passport and left with Cam.
Now she was living in a static caravan in the small paddock that had once been occupied by her pony, Conker, behind the Screaming Skull Hotel in Halfhidden, and trying to expand the Haunted Weekend breaks set up by her parents into week-long Haunted Holidays.
‘I need you,’ she’d told me during our last brief phone call. ‘My brother, Bruce, and his wife, Kate, have taken over the pub and restaurant, leaving Mum and Dad to concentrate on the hotel side, and I’m sure they only handed over the management of the Haunted Weekends to give me a role. So my Haunted Holidays simply have to be a success. I need way more ghostly goings-on and you have a better imagination than I do.’
‘Why don’t you ask Cam’s grandfather, Jonas?’ I’d suggested. ‘He told me all kinds of old legends and stories when I was little, so I’m sure he could come up with some ideas – especially if it brings more visitors to the Lady Spring, too. In fact,’ I’d added, ‘why not call a meeting and get other people from the village on board? This could bring visitors to the whole valley, not just the pub.’
‘Great idea,’ she’d enthused. ‘See, I said you have lots of imagination!’
Now she was going to do just that, holding the first meeting on Tuesday evening – so if Kieran and I had the almighty falling-out tomorrow that I suspected was on the cards, I’d be back in time for it.
‘I’m so looking forward to seeing you again,’ Lulu had said. ‘Do you know, it’s been nearly four years? And Cam hasn’t seen you for even longer. It’s lovely that Cam has moved back here too, but it’s not the same when it isn’t the three of us.’
‘No, you’re right,’ I’d agreed, and then suddenly I’d longed even more to be at Halfhidden again, that Shangri-La of my childhood. It was pulling me back and, despite what had happened in the past, it would always be the place where I felt I truly belonged.
I got off the plane in much the same sticky and dishevelled state I’d got onto it, though at least I’d sent most of my heavy luggage on to Halfhidden and only had one suitcase with me.
Kieran’s father was meeting me, which made me feel a little awkward, anticipating the next day’s full and frank discussion. I wasn’t sure what would happen after that, except I’d be going straight home, leaving the ball in Kieran’s court.
There had been no getting out of it, though: Douglas had to be in London for some meeting or seminar the day before, and had stayed up to have lunch with friends before heading home, and he’d insisted on collecting me from Heathrow on his way back to Oxford.
‘Rough journey?’ he said, after failing to recognise me until I went right up to him. This lack of tact only hardened my resolve as we set off towards Oxford, and since I was thinking ahead to what I was going to say to him and Miranda when we arrived, it was a while before I noticed he was driving very fast ... and also, unless he’d taken to using whisky as an aftershave, he’d been drinking.
And on that very thought, even though we were just approaching a sharp bend, Douglas recklessly swung out to overtake a lorry – straight into the path of a small blue car coming the other way.
There wasn’t enough room to get past and Douglas jammed on the brakes, jerking me sharply forward ... Then the weirdest thing happened. It was as if, for just a second, the fabric of time ripped open and I fell through, right into the Range Rover on the night Harry Salcombe died.
Then, equally suddenly, I was catapulted out again, into a gentle, familiar bright light, filled by a soft susurration of wings and a hint of celestial music...
I found I was now hovering above the car, which had spun right round and was facing back the way we’d come, while the small blue one was in a ditch. I could see myself sitting like a statue in the passenger seat, eyes wide with shock, and hear the thin thread of Douglas’s voice, as if through water.
‘Come on, Izzy, be quick – change places with me!’ he demanded, pulling at my arm urgently, as if he could drag me across into the driver’s seat. ‘Izzy, come on, I’ll lose my licence,’ he snapped. ‘Pull yourself together, you’re not hurt.’
Then he sharply slapped my face and instantly I was back in my body and gasping with shock, partly at the blow and partly from once again being wrenched back from Heaven.