Published 29th June 2021 by Totally Bound. Preorder now on Amazon. Available in ebook and paperback.
The second installment in our Romantic Novel of the Year Award-shortlisted de Chastelaine Chronicles trilogy.
What you can’t see could kill you.
When Cecily arrives at her new home with her fiancé, Raf, she’s looking forward to a happy life with all her fears behind her. No longer a put-upon drudge, she is loved and free, ready to explore their new world.
After a summer spent battling the forces of darkness, Raf’s happy to get back to the garden of his chaotic ancestral home. There are flowers to tend and vegetables to harvest and he’s determined to create a perfect sanctuary for Cecily to call her own.
But when a demon made of glass escapes from an ancient church window, the peace of their idyllic village is shattered. Neighbour turns against neighbour, crops turn bad in the soil and flies blacken the air. As a child lingers between life and death, bewitched by the glass demon’s bite, Raf and Cecily must remind the villagers of what really matters and unite the community in a battle to send their infernal tormentor back to hell.
They’d been travelling since early that morning, and Cecily had wrapped herself up in a blanket to keep warm in Raf’s rattly Austin 7. A frost was silvering the landscape when they had set off but once the sun had pushed above the hills and its light had strengthened, the earth had emerged from under its icy crust.
Cecily had never been to Yorkshire before, and certainly never to Acaster Garrow. It almost seemed like a fable whenever Raf mentioned it, and their journey from Devon had been such a long one that Cecily had been half-convinced they’d never arrive.
But eventually Cecily noticed a change. Seagulls swooped overhead and the air took on a briny tang. And once they’d crested a hill, Acaster Garrow was laid out before them, as vivid as a drawing in a child’s book.
Beyond the clustered white cottages and little fishing port and the pointed spire of the church was the wide-open expanse of the sea, gentle waves lapping over its surface and washing against the edge of the sandy beaches. Fishing boats bobbed on the horizon, a little welcoming committee for the returning hero and his new companion. This was her home now, a place where she would love and be loved.
“Smell that fresh air,” Raf declared with a merry smile, drawing in a deep breath. Trapped in the school that had been her prison, Cecily had never seen anyone actually look happy to be home, but she knew that she was seeing it now. “And there’s the sea!”
Cecily gasped. “It’s beautiful. It’s so beautiful, I’ve never seen anything so beautiful before! Where’s your house, Raf? Can we see it from here? Will you show me? Show me everything!”
The car puttered to a halt and Raf peered out through the windscreen. When he turned his glittering gaze on Cecily, she felt once more that almost overwhelming surge of love for him that had become her balm and blanket, her comfort when she had thought all hope was gone. They had saved each other in so many ways.
“Right, Miss Sissy Pincombe,” he said. “We can see my house plain as the nose on my admittedly handsome face. But which one could it be? What’s your guess?”
Cecily sat forwards on her seat, her nose almost pressed up against the windscreen. She squinted, and as she did so her vision blurred and the village turned into a daub of colour—the many greens of the trees and grass, the grey stone and the darker grey sea. And—
Cecily shot back in her seat in surprise. She opened her eyes and pointed down into the valley below them. “There—isn’t that your house? All those flowers, all those reds and purples and yellows!”
A blossoming garden in the creeping autumn cool. It can only be Raf’s house.
“That’s it! Our little nest. The de Chastelaine family pile!”
Set a short way outside the village, with its kaleidoscope of a garden ending in the cliff edge, Cecily could see a large, rambling stone house. It was just as she had seen it in her mind when Raf had asked her to use her powers as a sensitive to picture it. It had huge chimneys and a long tree-lined drive, and although it was not more than three storeys high it was wide, which gave it an open, welcoming aspect. The curl of smoke rising from one of the chimneys put her in mind of a cosy fire and she shivered with anticipation. She was coming home.
No wonder I thought it was a hotel when I pictured it.
And all those flowers, and—surely it can’t be blossom, not at this time of year—but from where Cecily sat, she was certain Raf’s garden boasted fruit trees covered in white and pink fluff. A very particular sort of fruit tree, Cecily decided.
And in that garden she’d plant the lavender cutting she’d brought from Devon, though it would seem a paltry little thing next to all those flowering giants.
“What do you think?” Raf asked, his voice filled with the same excitement that Cecily felt at the sheer sight of the place. “It’s missing a bit of southwest lavender and a gorgeous chatelaine called Sissy, but apart from that it’s a nice old place.”
“I’m in love with it already!” Cecily put her arm around Raf and rested her chin on his shoulder. “You’re such a clever gardener. How do you get your garden to look like that in the autumn?”
“Transylvanian magic!” That’s probably true. Raf turned his head and kissed Cecily’s nose. “Ready to go home?”
“Yes!” Cecily clapped her hands. Then she bit her lip, suddenly shy. “Sorry, darling… I don’t mean to carry on like an irritating child…”
“Is that a joke? That’d better be a joke.” He reached up his hand and rested it on Cecily’s cheek. “You’ve got years and years of fun and silly and being loved to make up for. I love you, Sissy. You can be as excited as you like!”
“As long as you’re sure you don’t mind?” Even if she and Raf were in love, Cecily had spent so long with a husband who had been indifferent to her at best that she still wavered. Sometimes she forgot she could be herself now, beholden to no one.
Raf shook his head. Then he grinned, showing those sharp canines that were a clue to his rather unusual heritage. “You’re free. And you’re now one half of Britain’s foremost spiritual operative team. You’re a woman to be reckoned with!”
Cecily sat up straighter in her seat, but she was still a little unsure. It was such a welcoming scene yet she still felt trepidation. She shouldn’t, but she could only think her unease stemmed from the prospect of being around new people in an entirely different environment from what she had known before. “And the people in Acaster Garrow, they won’t mind you’ve brought me home?”
“You’re joking? They’ll probably throw a party!” With that, Raf’s car set off down the hill and they continued on the final leg of what had been a monumental journey. With Raf’s sprawling home in sight Cecily felt nothing but a wonderful sense of homecoming, of belonging in a place she had never even seen except in her mind’s eye. The few people they passed welcomed Raf with a wave or a cry of greeting or, in the case of an elderly man on a bicycle and a younger man fitting a gate to a pasture, a signal that clearly meant they were due a catch-up in the pub.
“How will I ever meet everyone? And remember their names?” Cecily laughed awkwardly. “Is there a fête? Maybe I could win them over with my biscuits.”
“Don’t worry about winning folk over. We’re a nice bunch,” he assured her as the car rolled to a halt before a pair of tall and elaborate wrought-iron gates. In them she saw flowers and leaves, intricate boughs on which birds perched and—Cecily smiled—from which slumbering bats hung by their toes. “If you want a fête, we’ll have a fête. Anything for my lass.”
Cecily stared at the gates. Their home lay beyond. “Do you ever have garden parties? Perhaps we could throw one? I’d love to meet the people in your village.”
“I love a party!” Raf climbed from the car and opened the unlocked gates before joining her again. “Shall we have a Welcome Sissy party?”
“Maybe!” Cecily grinned. Up ahead she could see the roofs of Raf’s house. Their house, she reminded herself. Their vast house, in fact. Though autumn had by now taken hold of the land, the lawns on either side of the driveway were verdant and the flowers still blossomed in every colour of the rainbow. The house could have been imposing but instead it already felt homely, as welcoming as Raf’s arms.
As Raf piloted them up the sweeping driveway and the house grew nearer through the trees, she was surprised she had thought it could have been a hotel when she’d first spied it from the hill above the village—it was a happy home, she could sense it.
“Home at last!” The car drew to a halt and Raf finally turned the engine off. Cecily’s attention was drawn to the large door, dominated by an ornate door knocker in the shape of a single monstrous, reptilian eye. “Shall we get the kettle on?”
“Please, I’m gasping!” Cecily turned to Raf with a beaming smile. Then she paused. “Is there tea? And is there anything in for dinner? I can rustle up something from tins, and maybe if you have a vegetable patch too I can pick some potatoes or carrots, and perhaps—”
Cecily stopped herself. She didn’t need to be nervous about going into her own home. And she was no longer shackled to a husband who pilloried her for the tiniest housekeeping mistake.
“There’s tea and there’s probably something to eat. If there isn’t we’ll nip down the pub and see what’s cooking. There’s always at least a pie,” Raf told her. This was life now, a world where there was nipping to the pub and holding parties and not worrying about every speck of dust. Raf helped Cecily from the car but this time he handed her what looked like an ancient key. “I’ll grab the bags in a bit. Captain, would you do the honours and unlock your home?”
Cecily gladly took the key. When she closed her eyes a multitude of faces whirled by her as if they were on a fiendishly quick carousel, men and women, in bonnets, ruffs, cravats, tricorns and hoods, leaving their mark through the centuries. People who had once held that very same key and, like Cecily, called this house their home.
She went up the low stone steps to the front door, and with one last look around her—at the large windows and the abundant garden—she put the key in the lock and turned. The old, heavy door creaked open and as it swung wide Cecily blinked at the sight of her new home.
And the door knocker blinked back.
Of course it didn’t. How could it?
But it did.
“Welcome to your new nest,” Raf announced. “I hope you’ll love it here.”
“I already do, I—” Cecily glanced back at the knocker. It was unmoving, but somehow she sensed it watching her. “Where did you find that?”
“Do you like him? Great-granddad a few times over got him from John Dee in a card game.” Raf closed the door. “He keeps an eye on the place.”
“As long as he’s friendly!”
Cecily sighed happily and leaned back against the front door, not quite able to believe that they were finally here. And almost in one piece. She glanced around the hall, unsure what to look at first. The place was bursting at the seams with what she assumed was Raf’s collection of artifacts and bric-a-brac gathered on his journeys around the world and brought back to assume a space beside the ephemera his family had left in the house before him.
“You certainly have a lot of…things.”
“That’s true.” He laughed. “Lots and lots of things!”
“Is the whole of your house like this?” Cecily stared at an antique taxidermied owl inside a glass dome which stared back at her. Although unlike the eye on the door, it didn’t blink.
“Not all of it.” Raf slipped his arms around Cecily’s waist. “Some of it’s cluttered!”
The parts of the wall that Cecily could see were wood-panelled, peeping out from behind a suit of armour, what looked like flags or sailcloth, decorated shields, umbrellas, netting, scattered footwear, a brass elephant, half-unpacked tea crates, a tennis racket in need of restringing, framed portraits and landscapes in oils and watercolours, spears, a dented violin, a small Egyptian casket and objects that Cecily had never seen before in her life. Just what purpose did that ornately carved and clearly ancient stone disc have, with its square-featured face at its centre, its tongue poked out as if it didn’t appreciate her staring? Just how many generations of de Chastelaines had contributed to the array of random items in the house?
Cecily planted a kiss on Raf’s cheek. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see such a mess—it’s brilliant!”
“Honest?” He widened his eyes, teasing her. “You’re not going to produce a duster and tell me to get tidying? It’s spotless though, that much I can say for sure.”
“It doesn’t feel dusty, that’s true.” Cecily peered into the knight’s visor, then stepped away. This was the sort of house where someone might peer back.
“That’s because of the lovely lady who takes care of me and might still be here but might’ve tactfully gone home even though she’s desperate to get a look at you.” He spun Cecily across the floor in an impromptu dance. “The house likes you!”
“It feels happy here!” Cecily laughed. “And I can’t wait to meet your housekeeper either! Now, let’s see…kitchen this way? There’s a lot of joy in the kitchen, I think…”
But Raf was standing very still, his nose twitching as he turned his head this way and that. For a moment Cecily’s heart leapt with trepidation, then he gave a little smile and whispered, “I smell…carbolic soap. So Mrs Hodge is here. And beer and perfume and—” He wrinkled his nose and fanned his hand in front of it. “The trawlermen’ve been gutting fish! But even I shouldn’t be able to smell that— What do you sense?”
“A crowd.” Cecily reached for Raf’s hand. “Is your house very haunted? Only…there’s so many of them!”
“Those aren’t ghosts!” Raf entwined his fingers with Cecily’s and together they approached a closed door. He kissed her cheek then threw the door wide open with a cry of delighted excitement.
Cecily tottered back in surprise because there in front of her was a room crammed with people. Complete strangers, all cheering, waving a home-painted banner on a sheet of canvas that said WELCOME HOME!!
Cecily grabbed Raf’s arm and tried to hide behind him, but being a few inches taller than him, she knew she must only have made herself look absurd.
“Look at you, you daft whatsits!” Raf laughed as he looked at the assembled faces. “I’ve missed the lot of you!”
But every gaze was on Cecily. And in those gazes she saw such happiness, such joy, that it tugged at her heart. They weren’t judging her or sizing her up—this gathering was a welcome for her as much as for their returning hero.
Cecily gave the crowd a tentative wave. There were women in their housecoats, fishermen in their smocks, one or two ladies in coats with fur collars and one or two gents in pinstripes, the milkman, and men in their battered best clothes, children balanced on hips and—last but not least—a vicar.
Cecily stood self-consciously on the old, uneven flagstones in her new heeled shoes, trying her best not to look as gawky and awkward as she felt. “Hello, everyone,” she said.
“This is Miss Cecily Pincombe,” Raf told them. “My business partner. And my sweetheart, in case any of you saucy Yorkshiremen are plotting a wooing!”
Raf was met with laughter from some quarters and knowing looks from others.
“Pleased to meet you.” Cecily executed a careful curtsey and someone cooed an awww.
As she straightened up a woman stepped forwards and gave a little curtsey of her own. As plump as a pudding and even shorter than Raf, the lady wore a coat and neat hat upon which a rather fancy collection of fruit was perched.
Fresh fruit, Cecily realised.
“Mrs Hodge!” Raf threw his arm around the lady. “Sissy, this is Mrs H, the world’s finest housekeeper. Mrs H, this is Sissy, the de Chastelaine chatelaine!”
“I’ve heard so much about you, Mrs Hodge.” Cecily tried to still her nervous tremble as she held out her hand to Raf’s housekeeper. But she didn’t sense any animosity in Mrs Hodge, just warm kindness.
“Call me June,” Mrs Hodge said in rather proper tones, as though she were addressing a senior member of the royal family. “And don’t listen to anything that one tells you about me, he’s full of mischief.”
“I had noticed!” Cecily grinned at Raf. “I do hope you won’t change anything with me being here—I would hate to spoil your routine. I like to bake but I won’t get in your way, and I’m very tidy. I always clear up after myself, I promise.”
“Ha! Good luck with tidy and Rafael in the house!” But the look on her face was nothing but affectionate indulgence and she shook her head. “Well, you’re welcome here, love. You don’t worry about my routine, I’ll fit in with you. The larder’s stocked with enough to feed an army—or one Rafael. And if he’s told you he’s no good in the kitchen, he’s not lying. Happen it’s time you had a few lessons, young man, Miss Pincombe hasn’t come here to wait on you!”
“Dad said this would happen. Ladies gang up, he told me!” Raf laughed, earning a supportive nod from the men in the room. “I see it all now!”
“Well, I’m glad to see you back, lad, and with such a lovely girl on your arm,” Mrs Hodge replied, having clearly forgotten her theatrical voice in favour of a rather more natural Yorkshire one. “We’ve all been wondering about the pair of you!”
“Raf’s been looking after me,” Cecily told her. “And he had a scrape, but—all’s well. All’s very well.”
“And your father’s written this very morning,” Mrs Hodge said. “He’s in Morocco of all places, says to tell you he’ll be home after Christmas and he’ll call in to meet his lovely new daughter-in-law to be.”
Cecily heard someone clear his throat close beside her and she glanced up to see the vicar. Now he had approached and beyond his dog collar, she could see he bore a striking resemblance to Raf. He had the same bright blue eyes and dark hair, the same small stature. But unlike Raf, Michael’s hair was tidied and pomaded, and there was something of the cloisters about him, as if he rarely went outside.
He nodded. “Welcome to the village, Miss Pincombe. And my dear brother, home again!”
Michael clasped Raf in a tight hug and a stream of quick Romanian filled the air. As they parted Raf took his brother’s face in his hands and kissed him once on either cheek. A look passed between them, as though Michael was checking that his brother really was safely returned to him. He alone knew the full story of what had happened on that last night at Whitmore Hall, of the vines and the devil who had lurked among them. Cecily knew that Michael alone shared the secrets of the Hall because she had taken down Raf’s letter for him, saving him the struggle with penmanship that his word blindness presented.
“Home at last,” Raf told him with a beaming smile. “And in one piece.”
“My prayers have been answered,” Michael said, his accent devoid of Raf’s Romanian twang. He sounded like some of the teachers Cecily had known at Whitmore Hall. “You look well after that long journey of yours, both of you.”
“We travelled the scenic route,” Raf admitted. It had been a scenic route that included a good many cosy inns and comfortable beds. “Sissy, this is Mike! I know you know that, but I’m doing things sort of properly.”
“Welcome to the family.” Michael gave Cecily an assessing glance. Then he whispered something to Raf.
‘What a lovely lass.’
“Lass? I’m a lass?” Cecily chuckled. She’d picked up Raf’s thoughts again, like hearing a distant voice through static on the wireless.
Michael glanced at Raf, surprised and somewhat flustered. “Erm… That is to say, a lovely lady…”
“My lass. With…serious hearing skills. You don’t even have to speak and she hears it.” Raf put his arm around Cecily’s waist, but she knew there was nothing but love in his tease. Her late husband had believed her to be his possession. To Rafael de Chastelaine, the dhampir with Transylvanian and Yorkshire blood in his veins, she was an equal. “Where’s Mim?”
“Mim? She’s elbow-deep in her Women’s Institute jam-making,” Michael said. He clasped his hands together, a pious gesture which Cecily supposed came second nature to him, given his calling. “She sends her best, and she’ll be over to say hello later. And bring some jam, too. She makes excellent jam, Miss Pincombe.”
“Please call me Cecily.”
Michael nodded. “Then I will—Cecily.”
“Give her our best.” Raf grinned and Cecily realised that his brother didn’t have the teeth. Only normal teeth. “I’m sure you’ll be nipping up to sample her jam!”
“I shall indeed, but—now look, will I be reading the banns on Sunday? Mim has been talking about doing your wedding flowers, but you haven’t mentioned a date…” Michael’s hands were still clasped, his voice still gentle, but his knuckles had whitened. He raised an expectant eyebrow and glanced back and forth between Cecily and Raf.
“Just like a vicar!” laughed a tall, wiry man with a luxuriant black beard as he slapped his hand on the reverend’s shoulder. He looked like a fisherman, Cecily decided, in his cap and sweater. “Let’s have a party first and talk weddings later!”
A cheer went up around the kitchen and Raf told his brother, “Don’t you fret, vicar, we’ll be good!”
As drinks were poured and cake sliced, Cecily smiled and said hello and tried to remember everyone’s names, but she heard Michael’s voice through the hubbub as he said to Raf, “And you’ll come to the church as soon as you can? I don’t mean for a wedding. It’s just that there’s something I need you to see.”
“Is it an important something?” Raf took a sip from his bottle of dark brown ale. “A tomorrow something or a today something?”
Michael leaned closer to Raf and whispered, rather loudly, “Today. I had no wish to worry you during your convalescence, but…there’s something rather bad, I fear, in my church, and that’ll never do.”
Raf glanced back at Cecily and smiled, but she knew him well enough to know that he would go. And she would love him all the more for it. “Then I’ll come over later. What time will you be there?”
Michael took his watch from his waistcoat pocket and tapped the face. “Six o’clock.”
“Whatever it is, we’ll sort it,” Raf promised him. He patted Michael’s arm. “Don’t worry.”
Michael spoke to him in Romanian again, a farewell, Cecily supposed. He waved to her as he hurried out of the kitchen and was gone. Before Cecily could say anything to Raf, she had a glass in one hand and a plate of cake in the other and Mrs Hodge was introducing her to everyone. Raf was never far away from her in the kitchen, just as he had stayed close as they journeyed from the south-west to the far-flung North Yorkshire coast. Not watching and policing, but simply being near. They had become bound to each other in the most wonderful way, lovers, in love, dipping into shops and restaurants, hotels and guest houses on their adventure, not so much learning to be a couple as discovering that it was simply an instinct.
And sometimes, when Cecily was least expecting it, a little bat would swoop down and sit on her shoulder.