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Here’s the first chapter of Rachael Richey’s third book in the NightHawk sequence, Cobwebs in the Dark

Read an interview with Rachael here.

Saturday 18th April, 2009

 

“Dear Natasha,

Your letter has been passed to me by the son of Maureen Holmes, who herself

sadly passed away some years ago. I believe my brother is the ‘Billy the farm hand’

you refer to. I vaguely remember some story back in my childhood, about twin girls

who stayed at the farm one summer, and my brother made friends with them. I also

remember he was very sad for a time after they left. I never knew the reason why. It

was fascinating to hear that these twins were your grandmother and great aunt. Yes,

my brother is still alive, but unfortunately he emigrated to New Zealand back in 1955,

and I haven’t seen him since. Obviously we still keep in touch with Christmas cards,

but that’s all the contact I have with him. He married out there and had quite a large

family. His wife died about two years ago. Maybe you would care to write to him, so

I have enclosed his address at the end of this letter. It was lovely to hear from you my

dear and I hope you can tell him some more about his old friends…..”

 

Natasha lowered the sheet of notepaper her eyes shining. She had finally

found Billy. She glanced down at the bottom of the letter to make sure the address

had been included, then she folded it carefully, replaced it in the envelope and laid it

on her bedside table. Then with a little wriggle of excitement she skipped over to the

door and made her way noisily down the polished wooden staircase. At the bottom

she turned right into the large bright kitchen, where her mother was sitting at the long

pine table sipping tea and chatting to a smiling blonde woman with a scattering of

freckles on her nose.

 

“Judy! I didn’t know you’d arrived,” Natasha beamed, and ran over to give

her a hug.

 

Judy laughed and planted a kiss on Natasha’s cheek. “Hello pet, yes I arrived

about twenty minutes ago. Abi and I are having a good catch up.”

 

Natasha’s mother grinned over at her friend. “A well over-due catch up,” she

said, nodding to the other side of the room. “Have you looked over there Tash?”

 

A Moses basket was lying on the floor in front of the large window and

Natasha gave a little squeak and ran over to peer inside.

 

“Oh, she’s gorgeous!” she breathed as she gazed down on the latest addition to

Judy’s family, four week old Miriam. “Can I hold her?”

 

Abi laughed. “Not now Tasha, she’s sleeping. Which according to Judy and

Robert she doesn’t do very much! Let’s wait until she wakes up.”

 

“Oh yes, please don’t wake her yet,” Judy sighed. “This is the longest she’s

slept since she was born. The Cornish air must be good for her!”

 

“Are Tommy and Sabrina in the conservatory with Ollie?” Natasha asked,

standing up and moving towards the door.

 

“No, they decided to go outside and help the men put up the marquee,” Judy

shook her head. “They might appreciate your help!”

 

Natasha giggled and disappeared through the door with a bang.

Abi grinned over at Judy. “Oh Judy, this is wonderful. I’ve missed you so

much. It’s been far too long. I’m so glad you could make it for the party.”

 

Judy reached across the table and gave her hand a squeeze. “I wouldn’t have

missed it for the world,” she said firmly. “It’s not every day your best friend turns

thirty.” She glanced over at the window. “And it looks like you might be lucky with

the weather too. It only needs to hold off raining until midnight……”

 

“One thirty actually,” interjected Abi with a grin. “I was born at one thirty in

the morning, so technically I won’t be thirty until then.”

 

Judy tutted. “You can’t put off the evil moment,” she said with a laugh.

“You’ll still get the bumps at midnight.”

 

Abi squeaked in horror. “No way,” she stated. “I am not having the bumps!

No-one’s done that to me since I was twelve.”

 

Judy shook her head knowingly. “Well you’d better take that up with Gideon

– I believe he has plans.”

 

Abi’s husband Gideon was the lead singer of the grunge band NightHawk,

who were just about to start their comeback tour. In a couple of weeks they would be

heading off to Australia and New Zealand and had managed to fit Abi’s birthday party

into a break in the rehearsing. She sighed and sat back in her chair.

 

“I can’t believe I’m this old,” she moaned, pushing her long, dark auburn hair

back over her shoulders. “Do I look it?”

 

“You still look fifteen to me,” Judy giggled, with a whimsical smile, “and if

you’re anything like me you probably still feel it.”

 

Abi grinned. “I think I’ve grown up a bit since then….” she objected. “At least

I hope so. Just hope Tasha doesn’t make my mistakes. I hate the fact that she’s a

teenager now!”

 

Judy looked serious for a moment. “Abi, Tasha is nothing like you in that

way,” she said earnestly. “You have nothing to worry about there. She might look

like you but she’s got more common sense in her little finger than you ever had in

your whole body. She suffered because of your mistakes just like you did, she’s not

going to repeat them.”

 

Abi frowned. “Steady on,” she said with a wry grin, “you make me sound

completely dreadful. I was just a bit high maintenance and….” she tailed off as Judy

finished the sentence.

 

“… and cocky and strong willed and a complete nightmare,” she laughed.

 

“But don’t worry you’ve matured nicely!”

 

Abi picked up a tea towel and threw it at her. “Hey, you’re supposed to be my

best friend,” she objected, trying not to laugh. “I’m lovely now. A paragon of

virtue.”

 

Judy chuckled and threw the tea towel back. “Hope not, that sounds far too

boring,” she retorted, getting to her feet and stretching. “Shall we go and see how the

guys are doing with the marquee? I need to make the most of the time Miriam’s

asleep!”

 

The large garden overlooking the long sweep of Sennen Cove. was a hive of

activity, and Abi and Judy stood in the doorway of the conservatory watching in

amusement. A huge marquee was being erected in the centre of the garden under the

direction of both Gideon, and Judy’s husband Robert, who were beginning to appear

slightly harassed by the unsolicited help supplied by the younger generation. Abi’s

two-year-old son Oliver was holding tightly to his father’s leg and attempting to climb

onto his foot, and Judy’s older two children, six-year-old Tommy and four-year-old

Sabrina, were swinging around one of the supporting poles singing lustily. Natasha

had just joined them and was almost doubled up with laughter at the sight of her

father’s face.

 

Abi grinned and leaned towards Judy. “Shall we rescue them, or leave them to

their fate?” she asked pensively.

 

Judy chuckled. “Leave them to their fate,” she said at once. “It’s your birthday

– or nearly – you shouldn’t have to help. Let’s go and open the wine!”

 

****

 

“Caroline, if we don’t leave right now we’re not going to arrive in time for the

party!” Roger Hawk called to his wife, and drummed his fingers impatiently on the

roof of the Volvo. “What on earth are you doing anyway?” He tailed off and stared

as his wife appeared at the front door, several large tins balanced precariously in her

arms. With a sigh he darted forward and relieved her of the top one just before it

toppled onto the driveway. “Really?” he muttered, frowning at her. “More cakes?

Surely they’ll have enough?”

 

Caroline bustled past him and deposited her armful on the back seat. “You can

never have too many cakes,” she replied, opening the front door and sliding gracefully

into the passenger seat. “Now come on, let’s get going, we don’t want to miss the

start.”

 

With an incredulous glance at his wife, Roger pulled the front door shut and

climbed into the car. Caroline had made herself comfortable and was already making

inroads on the tin of boiled sweets they kept in the glove compartment.

Roger grinned at her. “Caroline you’re impossible,” he stated affectionately.

 

“You wouldn’t want me any other way.” she said. settling back in her seat

with a smirk.

 

The journey from Hampshire to Cornwall progressed uneventfully, and when

they finally crossed the border into the county, just east of Launceston, Caroline

frowned and turned to Roger.

 

“What d’you think happened to Simon?” she asked, apropos of nothing.

 

“Really, I mean, not the official story. Do you really think he got washed out to sea

that night?” She shivered as her mind flashed back to the dreadful day, the previous

summer, when Simon Dean, the unhinged former drummer of Gideon’s band, had

attempted to kill Abi and Natasha in South Wales.

 

Roger glanced at her in surprise, his eyes narrowed. “Whatever made you

think of him, and what do you mean, really?” he asked.

 

Caroline shifted in her seat impatiently. “You know very well what I mean,”

she said sharply. “It was reported that he drowned and got washed out to sea, but I

think we both know that may not be the case. Whenever we see Gideon and Abi I

think of him, and I just wondered what you really thought?”

 

Roger was silent for a moment. “I think he’s alive,” he said finally. “I’m not

sure how he did it, but I believe he managed to cross the causeway on the next tide

without being spotted, and he’s been lying low ever since,” he paused and glanced

sideways at his wife. “Gideon thinks the same.”

 

Caroline pursed her lips. “Hmmm…. so where can he be now?” she mused. “It

could hardly be possible for him to leave the country, he’d be spotted.” Roger didn’t

respond, and Caroline turned to him. “Roger? How could he leave the country? I’m

sure the police were alerted to watch out for him.”

 

“There are lots of ways,” Roger said at last. “I suspect they’re not keeping

quite as close a watch now because the main consensus of opinion is that he drowned

– but he could always be using a false passport, and a disguise.”

 

Caroline peered suspiciously at him. “You know something don’t you?

Roger, what d’you know? If that man is still at large Abi and Tasha could be in

danger…”

 

Roger put out a hand and gently patted Caroline’s arm. “He won’t do anything

else,” he said firmly. “He couldn’t possibly risk that. But you’re right, I do know

something. Someone fitting Simon’s description was seen to enter Seattle some

months back.” He paused again as Caroline caught her breath. “He wasn’t travelling

under his own name, and of course my informant may have been mistaken – but I

think it’s safe to say he’s probably still alive.”

 

“Does Gideon know?” Caroline asked, her face anxious.

 

“Yes.” Roger nodded. “I thought he should be told. Apparently both he and

Abi have never believed Simon drowned, so he wasn’t very surprised. Angry still,

and very keen I try and keep tabs on him, but not surprised.”

 

“Honestly Roger you might have told me,” Caroline complained, leaning

back in her seat. “Don’t you think I want to know these things too? When my family

is in danger….”

 

“They’re not in danger now,” Roger interrupted her firmly. “I told Gideon

because it was his wife that Simon tried to kill, and anyway, you know I’m not really

supposed to talk about information I get from my government contacts. You didn’t

really need to know.”

 

Caroline fixed him with a baleful stare. “Anything that involves a member of

my family getting shot at is something I need to know,” she said firmly. “In future,

Roger, you will tell me everything you find out about Simon … even if you risk

getting into trouble over it,” and she folded her arms and stared out of the window.

Roger smiled to himself, and let her fume in silence.

 

****

 

Abi sighed, kicked off her very high heels, and slumped down onto the sofa.

She closed her eyes and wriggled into a more comfortable position.

“That was the best party ever,” she said in satisfaction. “Even having the

bumps was fun.” A giggle made her open her eyes to find Natasha curled up in a

chair grinning at her. “Are you still up?” she asked smiling back. “Aren’t you

shattered? It’s nearly four o’clock.”

 

Natasha wriggled forward in her seat. “I’m not going to bed till you and Dad

do,” she stated firmly. “This is the first grown-up party I’ve ever been too and I plan

to make the most of it. Besides, even Grandma and Grandpa are still up.” She

nodded towards the conservatory where Roger and Caroline were deep in animated

conversation with Charles and Justin, the other two members of NightHawk.

Abi peered at her suspiciously. “You haven’t been drinking have you?” she

asked, attempting to muster up a ‘responsible mother’ tone.

 

“’Course not!” Natasha said indignantly. “……well just some of that fruity

punchy stuff. Earlier. Justin gave me some. Is that okay?”

 

Abi rolled her eyes. “Well apart from the fact that it’s full of Vodka,” she said.

 

“I shall have words with him.”

 

“Words with who about what?” asked Judy bouncing down onto the sofa next

to her friend.

 

Abi smiled sleepily at her. “Justin,” she said, glancing over at him.

 

“Apparently he gave Tasha some punch. Are all drummers not to be trusted?”

 

Judy giggled and kicked her shoes off across the room. “If that’s the worst

thing he does, then he’s fine in my eyes,” she remarked.

 

Natasha sat forward in her chair and frowned at them. “Justin is very nice,”

she said. “And he is nothing like Simon.” Her voice broke as she mentioned the name

of the band’s erstwhile drummer. Natasha had been badly affected by the experiences

of the previous summer, and she suddenly got to her feet, squeezed herself onto the

sofa between Abi and Judy, and cuddled up to them. “He’s quite different,” she

reiterated. “You can trust him.”

 

Abi glanced down fondly at her, and dropped a light kiss on her curly head.

“I know sweetie,” she said. “I know he is. He seems very nice. But you still

shouldn’t be drinking alcohol.”

 

Judy chuckled and squeezed Natasha’s hand. “Don’t listen to her pet,” she

teased. “One drink won’t hurt you. It’s a special occasion. Not many thirteen year

olds get to see their mother turn thirty.”

 

Abi tutted, reached over and slapped Judy’s hand. “Stop undermining me,” she

protested mildly. She looked down at Natasha, adding with mock severity, “Don’t

make a habit of it, okay?”

 

Natasha looked up at her under long lashes and nodded demurely. “’Course

not. I’m not stupid,” she replied with a little smile. She wriggled a little closer to her

mother and bit her lip. “Mum… can I tell you something?”

 

Abi looked concerned at her change in tone. “Of course, what’s wrong?”

“Nothing’s wrong…” Natasha shook her head. “It’s just that… well I’ve found

something out.” She paused and Abi looked down at her inquiringly. “It’s ‘bout

Billy. Billy the farm hand,” she added for further clarification.

 

Abi frowned. “Billy the farm hand?” she asked puzzled. “Who d’you mean?”

Natasha rolled her eyes, then glanced sideways at Judy, remembering they

were not alone. “Doesn’t matter,” she muttered. “I’ll tell you tomorrow,” and she

jumped to her feet and skipped into the conservatory to join her grandparents.

 

Abi stared after her, a slight frown creasing her forehead. She’d realised what

Natasha was talking about and wondered what she’d found out.

 

Judy put her hand on Abi’s arm. “Was that something secret?” she inquired

curiously. “Tash clammed up when she remembered I was here.”

 

Abi sighed and glanced round at her. “Yeah, I guess,” she said. “Well she

thinks it is anyway. Something to do with that stuff we found out about my mum last

Summer.”

 

Judy nodded. “The stuff you shouldn’t have told me,” she said with a smile.

 

“Doesn’t Tash know that I know?”

 

“Well, I may have mentioned it in passing…” Abi said with a grimace. “She

probably wasn’t listening. She ought to know I tell you everything though,” and she

giggled like a teenager. Judy joined in, and when Gideon joined them a few minutes

later, the two friends were almost rolling on the sofa in hysterics. He stared at them in

surprise.

 

“That punch must have been strong,” he remarked, catching his wife by the

hand and pulling her to her feet. She swayed and fell forward to lean against him. He

looked down at her and grinned. “Happy birthday babe,” he murmured as he bent his

head and kissed her roughly on the lips. She snaked her arms up around his neck and

pressed her body closer to his.

 

“I love you Gid,” she whispered, “and thank you for the best party ever.”

Behind her, Judy struggled up from the sofa as the distant sound of a crying

baby reached their ears. “There she goes,” she grunted. “Not too bad tonight, at least

I’m still up,” and she gathered up her shoes from beneath the coffee table and headed

off in the direction of the spare bedroom.

 

Gideon grinned at Abi. “What were you and Judy laughing at?” he asked

quizzically, pulling her down onto the sofa and putting his arm around her shoulders.

 

Abi slithered down, laid her head on his knee and curled her legs up onto the

cushions. “Dunno really….” she said, closing her eyes and trying to remember. “Oh,

yeah… well it started ’cause Tasha said she’d found something out about Billy. Billy

the farm hand….” she looked up at Gideon. “You know from the diaries?” He

nodded. “Then she realised Judy was there and went off, and I was just telling Judy

that I thought Tasha knew that she knew – and for some reason we got the giggles.”

She wriggled her head on his knees and looked up at him solemnly. “It’s good to

laugh.”

 

Gideon grinned at her and leant forward, his long dark hair swinging over his

shoulders. “It certainly is,” he agreed, tweaking her nose with his thumb. “Don’t

ever stop. So you don’t know what Tash found out then?”

 

Abi shook her head. “No,” she said with a slight frown. “I thought we’d

decided not to pursue him. The less people who know the whole story the better, but I

know Tasha has always had the romantic idea that he’s been pining for my aunt Joan

for the last sixty years…” she tailed off and shrugged. “I don’t want to think about it

now – it’s four thirty on the morning of my thirtieth birthday, and all I want to do right

now is go to bed. With you,” she added with a smirk.

 

In answer, Gideon gently rolled her off his knee onto the floor and stood up.

“Come on then, I’ll tell the rest of the guests to fend for themselves, and I’ll

see you in the bedroom.”

 

He strode into the conservatory where the remaining half dozen guests were

congregated, chatting quietly, leaving Abi to scramble to her feet, retrieve her shoes,

and scurry upstairs to wait for him.

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