Holiday Books
The Secrets of Hartwell, Book 3
Release Date:

Sep 13, 2023



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Four Silences Broken


H L Marsay

Welcome to Hartwell, a village full of cobbled streets, ancient curses and hidden secrets.

As the village prepares for Christmas, friends Lucy, Rachel, Meera, and Jo try to put the shocking events of the summer behind them. Though some secrets, it seems, refuse to remain silent.

Lady Lucy Hanley’s confidence has been boosted by making a success of her inherited estate and falling in love again, though ghosts from her past still threaten her. Rachel Foxton is finally happy and active in village life again, but is worried the person closest to her might destroy all her hard work and progress. Dr. Meera Kumar’s dream wedding is approaching, yet not everyone in her extended family is happy for her or wishing her well. And a trip to London and some unexpected news turns former detective Jo Ormond’s world upside down, forcing her to rethink her plans for the future.

As the year draws to a close, can the four women finally unravel the last of Hartwell’s secrets and move forward—together or apart?


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Chapter One

A sharp blast of wind sent the brown and gold leaves swirling across the cobbles. Lucy Hanley pulled her coat a little tighter around her as she hurried into the village shop. Thanks to Nora, the miserable shopkeeper, she normally tried to avoid the place, but it was Bonfire Night and she’d forgotten to buy some sparklers on her weekly trip to the supermarket in Thirsk. Freddie had said he didn’t mind, but she still felt guilty. They never let off fireworks. When Rupert was alive, he’d complained that they were a waste of money and now Freddie was older, he worried they would scare the dogs. In fact, he and his best friend, Krish, were campaigning to make Hartwell a firework-free zone.

Not that they wouldn’t still be celebrating. Rob had helped the boys build a bonfire in the field behind the village hall. They had invited the rest of the village to attend providing they promised not to let off fireworks and Jack, from the White Hart, was providing hot dogs and burgers. All Lucy had to do was buy the sparklers and she’d managed to mess that up.

The shop bell jangled loudly as she stepped inside. Fortunately, the place was quite busy with other Hartwell residents. She nodded ‘hello’ to a few people she knew as she made her way to the back of the shop. Quickly, she rummaged through the fairly paltry selection of overpriced Roman candles and Catherine wheels on a shelf until she found some packets of sparklers.

“Well! I didn’t think we’d be seeing you today. I thought you’d be keeping a low profile!” said an all too familiar voice behind her. Lucy cringed, then took a deep breath, switched on a bright smile and turned to face Nora.

“Why is that, Mrs Parkin?” she asked politely. Nora’s sour face looked almost triumphant as she held up two of the morning newspapers. On the front page of the tabloid was a photo of Sadie, Lucy’s mother, looking beautiful but striking a tragic pose, beneath the headline ‘Sadie’s Heartbreak Over Daughter’s Rejection’.

“Talk about washing your dirty laundry in public,” crowed Nora. “And thanks to you it looks like we are going to have to choose a new MP. Heaven only knows if they’ll be any good or not!”

Lucy’s gaze travelled to the front of the broadsheet, and she almost shuddered when she saw the face of Guy Lovell grinned back at her. His photo was accompanied by the more subdued title ‘Date Set For Local By-Election’. Lucy’s eyes flicked between the two pictures. She felt her mouth go dry and her cheeks begin to burn. She hadn’t heard from her mother since she’d kicked her out after she’d attempted, unsuccessfully, to seduce Rob when he was in bed with concussion. As for Guy, the last time she’d seen him, he’d been threatening her with a gun.

The other customers were starting to stare, and Nora was clearly expecting a response, but Lucy didn’t say a word. Instead, she pushed past the shopkeeper, slapped the money for the sparklers down on the counter and hurried out the door. She almost ran back to Dizzy, her ancient four-wheel drive, and dumped the sparklers on the passenger seat, but before she could drive off, there was a tapping on her window. It was Colonel Marsden, smiling beneath his trilby and brandishing the two newspapers. A little reluctantly, Lucy opened her door.

“I don’t blame you for not wanting to respond to Mrs Parkin, my dear. Catching you in an ambush like that, but I thought you might still want to read these,” he said thrusting the papers towards her.

“Thank you,” said Lucy with a grateful smile. “I probably should find out what’s going on.”

“Absolutely! Forewarned is forearmed and all that. Good day!” The elderly ex-soldier politely raised his hat then limped away, his three dogs trotting obediently behind him.

Lucy laid the newspapers next to the sparklers. Her mother’s face stared back at her. She read the first few lines of the article. Apparently, Sadie had written her autobiography and the newspaper was planning on serialising it over the coming weeks. The first instalment was going to be about ‘her troubled relationship with her estranged, aristocratic daughter’. Despite herself, Lucy had worried about how Sadie, who was broke after a life of decadence, would be able to pay her way. Now she knew.

With a heavy sigh she turned on the ignition and drove back along the puddle-strewn road to Hartwell Hall. The elegant and imposing stone building that stood on the edge of the village had been her home since she married Rupert, and she loved the old place even if maintaining it was a full-time job. Now, after a lot of hard work, she was finally finding a way to make the Hall to pay for itself. She had been hiring the house and grounds out for weddings and other events. A film company had even used it as location for a new adaptation of Jane Eyre. Then just as life seemed to be running smoothly, Sadie and Guy came back to disrupt everything. As she passed the gatehouse she could see Joan, her housekeeper, bringing in the washing that had been drying on the line. She stopped and wound down her window.

“Oh dear. What’s happened?” asked Joan as soon as she saw the troubled look on Lucy’s face.

“Sadie strikes again,” replied Lucy holding up the tabloid newspaper.

Joan frowned and shook her head. “That woman! Now don’t you go getting upset, love. You know what they say. Today’s front pages are tomorrow’s fish and chip paper.”

Lucy drove on feeling a little better. Joan and her husband, Bill, who looked after the gardens at the Hall, had been more like family to her than Sadie ever had. But she supposed she could thank her mother for one thing—her getting together with Rob. Sadie pouncing on him when he was asleep had finally made the two of them admit how they felt about each other. Since then, they had barely been apart and Lucy had been happier than she’d been in years.

Dizzy trundled down the long driveway, bumping over the potholes that seemed to have appeared after the first frost of the year. Her arrival in the vast kitchen, in what had once been the servants’ quarters, was met with loud barking from Tilly and Pickle. Rob was sitting at the kitchen table looking at a set of plans for his latest development.

“Did you get the sparklers? Uh-oh, what’s wrong?” he asked when he looked up. She’d never been any good at hiding her feelings.

“Where’s Freddie?” she whispered still clutching the papers to her chest. She didn’t want her son to see either article.

“Giving Root a bath. He rolled in something on his walk and was stinking the place out. Why? What’s up?” Rob’s handsome face creased in concern. Lucy placed the newspapers on the table and pushed them towards him. Rob’s dark blue eyes scanned both the front pages. Then he raised an eyebrow and wordlessly picked them up and dropped them in the bin.

“I haven’t read them yet,” Lucy protested.

“You don’t need to. I can guarantee there is nothing in those pages that will improve your day.”

“The colonel said forewarned is forearmed,” said Lucy chewing her lip as she often did when she was anxious.

“Forearmed for what?” asked Rob.

“I’m not sure. So, I know what Mum is going to put in her book, I suppose.”

“It’ll be a load of rubbish,” he said as he wrapped his arms around her and placed a kiss on top of her head. “At least you know she isn’t, how did you put it, ‘starving in a gutter somewhere’.”

Lucy smiled despite herself. Rob, who preferred to use as few words as possible, always teased her for being overly dramatic.

“What about the article about Guy?”

“It won’t tell you anything you don’t know,” he said gently. “He hasn’t left the psychiatric hospital since he was arrested. It was obvious he had to stand down as an MP. In a few weeks, the court case will be over, and we can put the whole thing behind us.”

“There might have been some news about the by-election. Aren’t you at least interested in who is going to be standing?”

“Nope. It doesn’t matter who we end up with. Politicians are all the same. They promise you the world at election time and deliver nowt. Nothing will change.”

“I didn’t know you were so cynical.”

“I’m not. I’m just saying how it is.”

At that moment, Freddie appeared with a dripping wet Root wrapped in a towel in his arms.

“Oh dear, he looks rather sorry for himself,” said Lucy. Freddie put his puppy down next to the Aga and Root promptly shook and showered them all in water.

“I think he preferred smelling of fox poo,” said Freddie.

“Well, thank goodness he doesn’t anymore. The girls are coming over for lunch,” replied Lucy as she suddenly remembered she needed to defrost the lasagne Joan had made earlier in the week. Over the summer, she had been so busy with the estate and Sadie and trying to keep a low profile, she felt she’d neglected her friends. She was determined to make amends. Rob and Freddie exchanged an amused look as Lucy cautiously removed the plastic lid covering the dish.

“What do you think, Freddie? Is that our cue to go and get lunch at the pub?” asked Rob.

“Yay!” replied Freddie enthusiastically. “Then can we check on the bonfire?”

“Again?” enquired Lucy looking up for a second.

“Yes,” replied Freddie looking very serious. “We need to check there aren’t any hedgehogs hibernating in it. And don’t forget we are lighting it at five, so don’t be late.”

“We’ll see you later,” said Rob with a grin as he planted a goodbye kiss in the crook of her neck. “Have fun with the girls. Give them our love.”

“Can we see if Ben and Krish want to come too?” asked Freddie, already reaching for his coat. “See you later, Mum.”

The two of them disappeared out the door, leaving Lucy with a damp dog and only half an hour to prepare. She smiled to herself as she bunged the dish in the oven and grabbed the towel to mop up the trail of water Freddie and Root had no doubt left through the house. In the few months since she and Rob had got together, he had been more of a father to her son than Rupert had been when he was alive. She often worried about how his parents’ troubled relationship, and then Rupert’s death, might have affected Freddie, but he certainly seemed happy enough.

Rachel was the first to arrive.

“Hi, Luce, are you okay?” her friend greeted her with a hug. “I read about your mum and Guy in the papers this morning. Did you see?”

Lucy rolled her eyes. “Nora took great delight in telling me all about it.”

“Ugh, that woman gets worse,” replied Rachel with a grimace. “The other day we were having a quiet drink in the Hart, and she had the cheek to ask me if my cottage wasn’t too poky to accommodate a lodger.”

“What did you say?”

“I told her it didn’t bother us as we spent most of our time in my king-size bed.”

Lucy’s hand flew to her mouth. “You didn’t?”

“I did. The old bag nearly choked on her sherry.”

“I wish I’d been there.” Lucy laughed. “Is Sarah not with you?”

“No, I tried to get her to come, but she’s working. I swear, one of these days she’s going to need to be surgically removed from that laptop.”

Sarah had moved in with Rachel at about the same time Lucy had got together with Rob. She was an archaeologist at York University and arrived in the village when Rob’s team of builders had unearthed an ancient Druid burial site.

Jo and Meera arrived at the same time. Both had been at work that morning. Meera, the village doctor, was dressed in a smart shift dress and jacket. In contrast, Jo, who had been reluctantly relocated to North Yorkshire from Scotland Yard, was wearing jeans, a polo neck and a slightly battered biker jacket. Meera was carrying two large Tupperware containers.

“I hope you don’t mind,” she said, “but I brought some samosas and pakoras. You know I always get carried away and make too much when I start cooking.”

“Meera, you are an angel!” said Lucy, gratefully taking the two containers as she kissed her friend on the cheek. “I must admit, I might have left it a little late to put the lasagne in the oven. There’s a good chance it might be cold in the middle so these will be perfect.”

Jo handed over a bag from the off-licence in Thirsk.

“I brought some of that fizzy crap you drink. The beer is for me.”

Lucy went in search of some glasses and plates while the others chatted in the library, the only room in Hartwell Hall that could be called cosy. She’d missed this. As much as she loved spending time with Freddie and Rob, it was good to have her friends here again. Jo with her no-nonsense approach to life, Rachel’s humour and Meera, who was often a lifesaver in more ways than one.

When she returned to the library, they were all settled around the roaring fire chatting. There was plenty to catch up on: Rachel’s half-term holiday to Greece, Jo’s recent birthday trip back to London with Jack, and Meera’s forthcoming wedding to Ben. It was going to have a Regency theme and the other three were to be her bridesmaids. Lucy was thrilled by the idea of dressing up like a character from Jane Austen; Jo and Rachel, less so. After Jo had demolished the last samosa, Lucy cleared the plates away and went to fetch a second bottle of prosecco.

“Lucy, we were just saying how lovely the place is looking,” said Meera, as Lucy handed her another mineral water.

“It’s all thanks to the film company. They were so pleased with the way Jane Eyre turned out, they want to use the place again for Emma.”

Meera clapped her hands together in delight, she was a huge fan of both the Brontës and Austen. Lucy grinned.

“I knew you’d be excited. The money from their contract meant I could finally afford to replace the most rotten windows in here and next week the roofers Rob found for me are starting work on retiling. It will be such a relief not to have to dash around with buckets every time there is a downpour. That reminds me, I was clearing some of the bedrooms in the west wing before the builders start and I found loads of photos in the back of one of the wardrobes.” She retrieved an old shoebox from behind the sofa and tipped the contents on to the table. “Look at this one of your mum, Rachel. I swear she barely looks a day older.”

They all leaned forward and peered at a crinkled-edged photo of four women sitting together in the library in exactly the same spot as they were now, smiling up at them.

“They look like us,” commented Jo.

“You’re right—Mum does look the same,” said Rachel. “And Joan has hardly changed either.”

“Who’s that?” asked Meera.

“Shirley when she used to dye her hair blonde and wear it in a beehive,” said Rachel. “I remember her putting on a cabaret in the Hart every Friday, back when Jack’s dad was alive. She’s always loved performing.”

“Is that Caroline? She’s smiling—I barely recognised her,” said Jo, pointing to the fourth woman in the picture. Lady Caroline Hanley was Lucy’s formidable mother-in-law, who although she now lived at the dower house, still acted like she was in charge of Hartwell Hall and its estate. “They look pretty close. I didn’t know they were all such good friends,” replied Jo.

Rachel picked up the photo and squinted at it. “Is Caroline pregnant or is it the dress she’s wearing? I’ve only ever known her to be as thin as a whippet.”

“Maybe it’s when she was expecting Rupert,” suggested Meera. “Who’s that crawling around on the rug?”

“It’s Jack, I think,” said Rachel, studying the chubby, dark-haired toddler, who was now the landlord of The White Hart and Jo’s boyfriend.

“Caroline can’t be pregnant then,” said Lucy. “Jack and Rupert were born within a few weeks of each other. Is there a date on the back?”

Rachel turned it over.

“It was taken in June thirty years ago,” she read.

“So, Rupert, Jack and I would all have been toddlers,” said Rachel. “I wonder where I am and who took the photo.”

“Perhaps it was Rupert’s father?” suggested Meera. “He was called Alexander, wasn’t he?”

“Yes, but I doubt he was here then,” replied Lucy. “At the time he was working for the foreign office. Caroline said he spent most of his time in London or at some embassy or other when Rupert was little. Besides, although he died before I had the chance to meet him, he didn’t sound like the type of man who would sit around with his wife’s friends taking jolly snaps.”

“Is Mary pregnant with Becky?” asked Meera.

Rachel frowned. “No, she wasn’t born until two years later. Mum must be going through one of her plump phases. She was always prone to putting on weight like me. You’ve only known her when she’s been at her thinnest. She dropped two stone after losing Dad. It must have been the shock.”

Meera nodded sympathetically and Jo yawned loudly.

“Are we boring you?” asked Rachel arching an eyebrow sarcastically.

“Sorry,” said Jo, yawning again. “I was working nights last week, and I’ve been knackered ever since. Last night I fell asleep at eight o’clock.”

“You do look a little pale. You should take better care of yourself,” chided Meera.

“I’m fine, but I need to catch up on some sleep. I’ll go home for a snooze before the bonfire,” she said standing up. “Thanks for feeding me, Luce. I’ll see you all later.”

Lucy walked Jo to her car while Rachel and Meera stayed by the crackling fire looking at the old photos.

A couple of hours later, as it was growing dark, they pulled on their hats and coats and set off for the village hall. Meera, who had only been drinking mineral water, drove them down there.

“Is Sarah going to meet us there?” Lucy asked Rachel.

“I hope so. I’m sending her a text,” replied Rachel from the back seat as she tapped at her phone.

When they arrive at the village hall, it looked like most of Hartwell had turned out. Certainly, all Krish and Freddie’s classmates and their parents had come to support the boys. Lucy waved to Jack who was inside the hall, preparing the food. Jo, who still looked a little pale after her nap, was helping him.

Before they lit the bonfire, Krish and Freddie gave a little speech thanking everyone for coming and explaining why they wanted to make the night firework free. Lucy thought she might burst with pride as she watched her little boy looking and sounding so grown-up. She felt a hand on her arm and turned to see Meera dabbing at her eyes.

“Wasn’t that wonderful?” she whispered. “I do hope Ben has videoed it.”

Then the crowd burst into applause as Rob helped the two boys light the huge bonfire. As the flames crackled and leapt into the dark November night, Lucy handed out the sparklers and laughed as she watched the boys try and write their names in gold and silver. Rob came and wrapped his arm around her.

“Happy?” he asked.

“Very,” she whispered back. “At the risk of sounding like Freddie, I think this might be the best Bonfire Night ever.”

Several hours and far too many hot dogs later, the three of them returned to Hartwell Hall and were greeted noisily by the dogs.

“It’s a good thing it’s not a school night,” said Lucy, attempting to sound stern.

“But I think everyone had a good time and I didn’t see one firework going off, so our plan worked,” said Freddie, yawning widely.

“Well done. Now straight up to bed,” said Lucy with a smile.

“Does that apply to me too?” Rob whispered in her ear as Freddie disappeared up the stairs.

The longcase clock at the foot of the stairs struck midnight, but Lucy was still awake. She reached out and picked up her phone from the bedside table. Despite telling herself it was a bad idea, she couldn’t resist taking a look at the tabloid newspaper’s website and read the first instalment of her mother’s autobiography. She began scrolling through, but it was more about her than Sadie. Although her mother had been a notorious party girl with a string of famous boyfriends, she had chosen to launch her book by spilling all her daughter’s secrets instead.

It was all there. How Lucy’s fairy-tale wedding had turned into a nightmare thanks to Rupert’s drug addiction. Then how he had disappeared during lockdown and his body was eventually found months later in a cave. The financial struggle Lucy had faced to keep the estate solvent. How she had turned to her friend Guy, for advice and support, only to discover he was a deranged stalker. There were intimate details that Lucy had told her mother in confidence, but that obviously wasn’t important to Sadie. She even dragged Rob in at the end, referring to him as a ‘handsome rogue’ with ‘a violent past’, who had come between her and her beloved daughter.

It was a total lie. Rob had gone to prison for protecting his sister and the only person who had ruined their mother-daughter relationship was Sadie herself. Lucy felt sick. She quickly put the phone down and snuggled closer to Rob, who was gently snoring. He had been right. It was better to leave her mother and all she had to say in the past. She wouldn’t let her spoil a wonderful evening.

End of Excerpt

Four Silences Broken is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-1-959988-80-9

September 13, 2023

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