A disturbing psychological thriller follows Georgie, a London social worker seeking peace after a young client is brutally murdered, as she moves into an isolated cottage, where she becomes the prey of a homicidal stranger. 15,000 first printing.
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Gillian White, a former journalist, is the author of ten novels. She lives in Totnes, Devon, with her journalist husband and four children.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Once upon a time, it is said, the Devil walked in this valley. His progress was marked by a straight line of hoofprints, black two-legged tracks on a light dusting of snow over shippen and stable, stone wall and stile, through graveyard and frozen furrow.
Legend has it that Millie Blunt, a silly wench, recovered his codpiece from the bough of an oak while searching there for mistletoe. The hapless girl spirited it home believing it held all manner of powers. She slept with it under her pillow one night -- it must have been uncomfortable -- when the moon flooded her attic room through her little casement window, and never spoke another sane word from that day on until she died, poor soul.
Though why the Devil should choose a valley such as this for a survey of, or a gathering of souls, was always far from clear; there were such few souls, even then no more than twelve, in the hamlet of Wooton-Coney, and the few there were were undoubtedly Christian and safely hidden behind shutters on howling nights such as those. As pious and God-fearing a community as any. The church itself, and the graveyard through which the Devil walked, collapsed way back in the seventeenth century, and only rubble and lichened old gravestones remain to mark the spot. At some unrecorded moment in history, the weathervane from the crumbled church spire was rescued from the debris, and for the last two hundred years that bent tin cockerel has swung round on its rusty perch on the gabled end of the Buckpits' barn.
Centuries later, and Georgina Jefferson is as opposite in character to the blighted wench in the fable as it would be possible to get. Educated and cultured, she is sane, she is sane. Where Millie Blunt was free with her favors and considered something of a half-wit from the start (the preacher rapped hard on the pulpit and disclaimed her in church, called her child the Devil's spawn), her teachers wrote in her term reports that Georgina could go far. There is nothing melodramatic about her, unlike the troubled Millie with her wild tangled hair and her flashing eyes and her lies. When her child died, she swore that the Devil had come in the night and smothered it. In character Georgina is solid as a rock, not morbid or sentimental, not given to the flights of fancy in which so many of her friends indulge. So when she first heard this devilish tale, it certainly did not unnerve her, although she did think, as a professional, that poor Millie's predicament would be more mercifully dealt with these days. She would not recognize a codpiece if she saw one; she would probably think it was some piece of saddlery. Practical and sensible, Georgina does not overindulge. She sits and watches while lesser mortals get rat-faced and make prats of themselves at parties; she is the one with tomato juice and the dab of Worcestershire sauce, the complete one, the one who drives.
Boring perhaps? A shade too cautious?
Certainly not. Not a bit of it. She is glad she is not one of these irresponsible folk; their lack of control shocks her, for she cannot bear to relinquish it except in the bedroom and in the kitchen and so both rooms lean toward the exotic, with pure silk sheets, copper saucepans and strings of French onions; she is a great lover of wine in her gravy and dangerous spicy sauces.
So, apart from these two small hiccups, we can see that Georgina Jefferson, forty-two, slim, dark and attractive, who shops for her clothes at Marks & Spencer, sends Lifeboat cards at Christmas, is a solid, dependable person, concerned, right-thinking and busy. She knows who she is, believes that virtue carries its own reward and is satisfied with that.
And that is why it is such a worry for her to believe, like poor Millie before her, that she is gradually going insane.
And, like Millie, there is no help to be had.
It was autumn, a thick juicy one, when she first saw the figure on the hill. The air was rich with the smell of fungal decay, and winter had started to breathe on her mornings. She walked straight toward him and frightened him away, or that's what she thought she had done.
Amused by her own curiosity and living where she did, she found it easy to forget the world outside and that everything wasn't strictly her business. She saw him through the softly stirring curtains of her opened kitchen window, through a blue pall of bonfire smoke, between the crooked branches of the ancient apple trees twisting and heavily hung with clumps of crab apples, bleeding with wasps.
A rural encounter. At first she thought the Buckpits must have put up a scarecrow, so still and so stark did the dark figure stand. But hang on a minute, it was more substantial than a scarecrow, and why would they put a scarecrow on a small, triangular flag of a field which was only good for grass, and poor grass at that?
Georgina stared on meditatively, inhaling watery lemon, and her Marigold-gloved hands were foamy with bubbles. A few towels flapped fresh on her line and tugged at her ears with the sounds that they made, and the old wooden wheelbarrow half full of logs eyed her muddily from a tangle of grass, a reminder that she had not yet finished the first task of the morning.
Whatever window she chooses to look out of, Georgie is forced to look up, because Furze Pen Cottage is down in a dip, a small coin dropped at the bottom of a coarsely woven patchwork purse, an envelope of moorland. Her skyline is unfailingly interesting; copses and boulders and low scudding clouds make vibrant color changes and act as barriers against the outside world from which she has fled. Her horizons cast nothing but gentle shadows.
Has she fled? Everyone, including Mark, seems to think she has fled.
Or has nothing more interesting than fate brought her here?
Certainly, in her sensible, practical way, she was glad of the bequest when it came.
But back to the figure. It was the stillness of it that grabbed her attention. Nevertheless, she finished washing up, taking pleasure in the sparkle of the glasses...her life was solid enough, composed enough at that time to allow for pleasure from simple things so that even changing the sheets on the bed was becoming a kind of sweet-smelling joy. She had been right about coming here. The effects of her rural retreat were already beginning to work.
Was it the distance that made him so dark, or was he wearing black? It is rare for tourists to stray this far; mostly they miss the lane or see it and consider it far too steep, so they carry on along the road across the top toward the village one mile on where they can have lunch at the Blue Bull Inn and peruse the slate etchings and metallic bird engravings in Mrs. Morgan's gift shop. The lane, with its scatter of reedy grasses and its manure-splattered, rutted appearance, gives the impression that it leads to a farm, and people are nervous of finding themselves trapped by a pack of sheepdogs.
And what if the farmer is unfriendly?
The figure was not a Buckpit, not a Horsefield or a Cramer, because none of these would stand still for so long and there was no gun on its back.
So Georgina went to the back door and sensibly slipped on her boots. She walked through her acre of rustic garden, ducking and bobbing to avoid the branches, ignoring the rush of her pecking hens. On reaching the fence at the end she hitched up her skirt and stepped over. Wading through her own small stream, looking back from her place on the boulder, she whistled softly for Lola.
The spaniel with careering ears, dewy wet on the fringes, outwitted once again because she likes to announce such outings by barking, preferring to lead from the front, snapped at a few drunken wasps as she set off after her mistress.
There must have been something very wrong, because the man had been standing for half an hour.
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