Excerpt: Thief's Mark by Carla Neggers
Sharpe & Donovan #7
Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan are enjoying the final day of their Irish honeymoon when a break-in at the home of Emma's grandfather, private art detective Wendell Sharpe, points to Oliver. The Sharpes have a complicated relationship with the likable, reclusive Englishman, an expert in Celtic mythology and international art thief who taunted Wendell for years. Emma and Colin postpone meetings in London with their elite FBI team and head straight to Oliver. But when they arrive at York's country home, a man is dead and Oliver has vanished.
As the danger mounts, new questions arise about Oliver's account of his boyhood trauma. Do Emma and Colin dare trust him? With the trail leading beyond Oliver's small village to Ireland, Scotland and their own turf in the US, the stakes are high, and Emma and Colin must unravel the decades-old tangle of secrets and lies before a killer strikes again.
“Focus,” she said aloud. “Don’t let your mind wander.”
Her new job was enhanced by a wandering mind. It gave her something to do while finding old flowerpots as she had that morning.
She poured more tea, taking care to note its heat, its scent, its splash in her cup. She found the ritual reassuring, a way to stay fully present and to step out of the whirlwind of the dead man at the York farm and Oliver’s disappearance.
She drank a few more sips of tea and gave up. Her mind wasn’t on tea or flowers. She was can-do by nature, and she wanted to pace, jump up, do something—clean, wash, throw things, anything that wasn’t sitting, keeping her cool. She’d been cool and decisive that morning but that was different. That was real. It wasn’t debating whether to have biscuits with her tea or to wander in the garden.
The humidity was building ahead of the rain. It worked its dark magic and frizzed up her hair. She could feel it.
She pounced when her phone vibrated next to her. “Hello—”
“Tell the FBI agents everything. They know who you are. I told them.”
“And you are?”
But the man on the other end of the connection was gone. It didn’t matter. She knew who it was. MI5, in the form of Jeremy Pearson. The same uncompromising senior officer who’d given her such a hard time in March.
Now it was time to wander in Aunt Posey’s gardens.
“Henrietta!” Cassie Kershaw, who owned the original Balfour farm with her husband, waved by the iron gate in the stone wall that divided their two properties. “Are you all right? I just heard what happened.”
“Hang on,” Henrietta said. “I’ll come to you.”
She extricated herself from examining a crumbling rose trellis and took a well-trodden footpath through the back gate. Cassie stepped aside, tucking strands of her fine, pale hair behind her ear as if to help calm herself. “My God, Henrietta, what a day. Are you all right? Did you just get back from the York farm? I’ve been worried about you.”
“I’m fine,” Henrietta said. “I wasn’t hurt. I spoke with the police and came back here for lunch. You’ve probably heard more details than I have.”
“Gossip, not details.”
Gossip about an unexplained, bloody death was inevitable, but Henrietta had discovered that people in Oliver’s small Cotswold village seldom gossiped about his family tragedy. She didn’t believe they considered it a forbidden subject as much as one well in the past and none of their business. Oliver had been on his own since the back-to-back deaths of his grandparents when he was in his late teens. Henrietta had accompanied Posey to their funerals. She remembered how sad and yet self-contained he’d looked at the cemetery service, the wind catching his tawny hair as he’d stood in front of his parents’ graves. He’d kissed her cheek and told her he was glad she was there, but it had felt mechanical and rote, an upper-class young man remembering his manners. He’d promptly dropped out of Oxford, dividing his time between London and the farm—and eventually his illicit travels to steal art.
In the years since, he could play the dashing, aristocratic Englishman when it suited him, but for the most part he’d kept to himself, particularly when he was at his farm. Henrietta had never been under the impression villagers judged him for his solitary ways. They left him alone, since it was what he wanted.
Or had wanted. Bit by bit since last fall, he’d been lifting himself out of his self-imposed isolation, venturing to the pub, having visitors, now that his secret career as an art thief had come to an end.
Something, of course, Henrietta couldn’t discuss with Cassie or anyone else in the village. “There’s not much I can tell you,” she said.
“You walked home?”
“I didn’t have my car. Someone would have dropped me home, but it felt good to walk after such an intense couple of hours.”
“What a fright. Just awful.”
Henrietta noticed a pair of bright pink work gloves in a wheelbarrow next to a compost bin off to Cassie’s right. She looked in her element, dressed in a baggy flannel shirt, baggy jeans and muddy Wellies. She was American, but she and Henrietta were related through a circuitous connection to the Balfours. Henrietta had introduced her to Eugene Kershaw, an unhappy Oxford solicitor now a deliriously happy farmer. He and Cassie were the parents of two young boys. Eugene’s grandparents had purchased the Balfour farm from Henrietta’s father shortly after her grandfather's death. It’d been their dream to own a Cotswold farm, but they’d never managed to make much of a go of it. Eugene’s parents were Oxford professors and had no interest in taking on a thriving farm, much less a struggling one.
By the time Eugene and Cassie took over, the property had been seriously neglected and getting it back in shape was proving to be considerably more work at far more expense than either had anticipated. The risk and effort were paying off, and now they were drawing a sufficient income that allowed Eugene to quit his outside work. Both he and Cassie worked at the farm full-time. Henrietta had never heard them complain about the vagaries of farm life. They’d helped spread the word about her garden-design business when she’d made her career change. This was the life Cassie and Eugene wanted to live, how they wanted to raise their sons.
“I’ve been in the compost pile, as you can see,” Cassie said. “Eugene and the boys love mucking about in compost more than I do, but it does feel good to work up a sweat. We only just heard about the mishap out at the York farm. The police came round to ask if we’d seen anyone about. We hadn’t, of course. The death—it was a mishap, wasn’t it?”
“I honestly don’t know,” Henrietta said truthfully. “I’m still trying to absorb everything.”
“But you’re not one to panic,” Cassie observed, making it sound almost like a criticism.
“Dealing with plants will do that.” Henrietta left it there. She wasn’t accustomed to family and friends living close by, seeing people she’d known for years—since childhood, in many cases—on a regular basis. She’d maintained a very different existence in London. “One imagines all sorts of dramatic scenarios to cope with the parts of the work that are pure drudgery. Plucking weeds gets boring after thirty seconds. I’ve imagined myself in so many dangerous situations, it was second nature to deal with a real one.” None of which was an outright lie. “I had Martin’s example. The man is unflappable.”
Cassie relaxed slightly. “I can imagine. He strikes me as the epitome of ‘keep calm and carry on.’ Do you know the man who was killed?”
Henrietta shook her head. “I never saw him before that I can recall. If the police know, they haven’t told me. Where’s Eugene?”
“He’s just back from the post office. I think he’s in the cottage we’re renovating. I’ve been so distracted since the police were here. They were gracious and professional, but you know how it is.” Cassie stopped abruptly and pointed at Henrietta’s forearm. “Is that blood?”
Henrietta glanced at her sleeve. It was blood, indeed. She hadn’t noticed until now. Neither Martin nor the police had mentioned it, but she’d had on her jacket. She must have got blood on her sleeve when she’d checked the dead man’s pulse. She lowered her arm, discreetly angling the blood smear from Cassie’s view. “Martin and I tried to help, but we were too late. There was nothing we could do.”
“How dreadful. Maybe you should have stayed in the potting shed with the housekeeper.”
“How did you know about Ruthie?”
Henrietta winced at her quick question—her MI5 past bubbling up—but Cassie didn’t seem to notice. “Nigel Burns,” she said.
EXCERPT TOUR for Thief’s Mark:
Monday, August 7th: Lovely Reads
Tuesday, August 8: Stuck in Books
Wednesday, August 9th: The Sassy Bookster
Thursday, August 10th: Books a la Mode
Friday, August 11th: Mama Reads
Monday, August 14th: Books and Spoons
Tuesday, August 15th: A Dream Within a Dream
Wednesday, August 16th: Book Nerd
Thursday, August 17th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Friday, August 18th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Monday, August 21st: A Holland Reads
Tuesday, August 22nd: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, August 23rd: Romancing the Readers
Thursday, August 24th: The Lit Bitch
Friday, August 25th: Mama Vicky Says
REVIEW TOUR for Thief’s Mark:
Tuesday, August 29th: Clues and Reviews
Wednesday, August 30th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, August 31st: Reading Reality
Friday, September 1st: Rainy Day Reviews
Tuesday, September 5th: Jathan & Heather
Wednesday, September 6th: Deborah Blanchard
Thursday, September 7th: Staircase Wit
Friday, September 8th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Monday, September 11th: Moonlight Rendezvous
Tuesday, September 12th: Run Wright
Wednesday, September 13th: A Holland Reads
Thursday, September 14th: Novel Gossip
Friday, September 15th: Read ‘Till Dawn
Monday, September 18th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, September 19th: Buried Under Books
Wednesday, September 20th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, September 21st: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, September 22nd: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, September 25th: Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, September 26th: Mystery Suspense Reviews
Wednesday, September 27th: Book Nerd
Thursday, September 28th: What I’m Reading