New-Slain Knight: A Haunted Ballad Mystery

Overview

It’s summer in England, and—-with nothing urgent demanding their attention—-Ringan and Penny are planning a quiet vacation alone together. Their plans change when Ringan’s niece, fourteen-year-old violin prodigy Becca, is dumped in their care while her parents deal with an emergency abroad.

Ringan has no idea what to do with a teenage relative. Penny points out that Becca is more a musician than a child, and suggests a musical holiday in Cornwall. Playing in front of a live ...

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Overview

It’s summer in England, and—-with nothing urgent demanding their attention—-Ringan and Penny are planning a quiet vacation alone together. Their plans change when Ringan’s niece, fourteen-year-old violin prodigy Becca, is dumped in their care while her parents deal with an emergency abroad.

Ringan has no idea what to do with a teenage relative. Penny points out that Becca is more a musician than a child, and suggests a musical holiday in Cornwall. Playing in front of a live audience with Ringan and a band will give the girl much-needed experience and confidence. It will let Ringan get to know his niece better, as well.

It’s a good plan, and everyone approves. And yet something about the St. Ives home of their host, Gowan, leaves Penny uneasy. She hears voices in her mind, speaking in Cornish, and has a horrifying vision through the eyes of a dying man. When, soon after, she finds Becca sleepwalking, Penny learns from Gowan that, many years earlier, his emotionally unstable lover hanged herself in this house. It may simply be the echoes of that tragedy disturbing both her and Becca. But after Becca has a seizure during a live performance of a seemingly harmless song, Penny and Ringan realize that a much older tragedy hangs over Gowan and his family. And if they can’t find the truth and lay to rest whatever ghosts still walk, they may lose Becca.

New-Slain Knight, the fifth in the Haunted Ballad mystery series, touches on the ties that bind: family, the past and the present, and the mystery that lies behind every story.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

In Grabien's enthralling fifth Haunted Ballad mystery, a tragedy in 1481 Cornwall has startling modern-day repercussions for musician Ringan Laine; his psychically talented "significant other," Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes; and Ringan's beautiful adolescent niece, gifted violinist Rebecca Eisler. Becca accompanies Ringan and Penny on holiday to visit rakish, middle-aged Gowan Camborne, who invites Becca and Ringan to perform with his group, the Tin Miners. Gowan is shocked by Becca's resemblance to a lost love, while Penny senses something off about his St. Ives family estate. Then Penny and Becca encounter restless spirits seeking contact, apparently stirred up by an old folk ballad, and Becca becomes increasingly sensitive to the ghost of Jenna Camborne, one of Gowan's ancestors. The need to learn the truth behind a 500-year-old crime before another death occurs today gives Penny, Ringan and their friends a major challenge and provides Grabien's fans with another chilling psychic puzzler. (Nov.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
A summer holiday in glorious Cornwall turns into a ghost-plagued nightmare. Talented musician Ringan Laine and his theatrical producer and longtime lover Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes have to change their vacation plans when a family emergency leaves them with Ringan's niece Rebecca, a violin virtuoso. Ringan knows that lodgings in Cornwall, Penny's destination of choice, will be hard to find, but a call to his old friend and fellow musician Gowan Camborne garners them rooms in his cottage. An invitation to play with Gowan's group shows off Becca's amazing talent. But during their rehearsal performance of Gowan's favorite folk song, Penny, a conduit for spirits of the past (Cruel Sister, 2006, etc.), is overtaken by spectral insights into a bloody crime of long ago. Worse, she realizes that Becca is getting the same messages. When Gowan insists on playing the song at their gig, Becca has a seizure during the performance. Gowan admits that Becca looks like the love of his life, who hanged herself at his house, but the ghostly visitors are clearly more ancient members of his family. The intrepid band must identify the spirits in order to save Becca and Penny from ever more dangerous contact with a fatal history that won't stay dead. Even those who don't believe in ghosts will enjoy this illuminating window into the past, complete with musical and historical tidbits.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780312374006
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press
  • Publication date: 11/13/2007
  • Series: Haunted Ballad Series
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 240
  • Product dimensions: 6.14 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Meet the Author

Deborah Grabien is a writer, musician and cook. She’s lived in many places, from New York to London to San Francisco. Besides the Haunted Ballads, she is also the author of the Kinkaid Chronicles, a mystery series based on rock and roll. The first Chronicle, Rock & Roll Never Forgets, will be released in 2008.

 

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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1

On a glorious July day, Ringan Laine checked his cell phone for messages, found none, and headed out into his garden for a nice long nap under the late afternoon sun.

Part of him—admittedly a very small part, easily identified as what he usually referred to as his damned Scots Protestant work ethic—was doing its level best to make him feel guilty. The work ethic, or whatever it was, had chosen to take the form of an infuriating little voice at the back of his head. He’d rolled out of bed after lying in until nearly ten in the morning, and the little voice had been poking away at him steadily ever since.

It had begun by suggesting that there were several things around Lumbe’s Cottage that needed doing. There was the toilet, for instance; that was badly in need of a good hard scrub. The voice pointed out that doing something about the sheet of ice presently keeping his freezer door from closing properly might be a wise idea. It raised the question of washing nearly two months’ accumulation of pollen and dirt and stray bits of roofing thatch from the cottage’s windows. It pointed out that all these things really ought to get done before Penny, Ringan’s longtime girlfriend, arrived from London tomorrow. It had finished up with the observation that after ten hours of sleep the previous night, Ringan’s desire to nap in the sun was unjustified, not to mention indecently hedonistic. As a kind of coda, the irritating little voice reminded him that the strings on Lord Randall, his Martin guitar, had been in constant use on the tour he’d just finished and wanted changing.

Ringan had initially coped with the voice by doing his best to ignore it. When that tactic failed, he took a tried-and-true road: mentally telling it to sod off, ticking off the various items that wanted doing first to forestall any reoccurrence.

Fortunately, he had common sense on his side. In the first place, Penny wasn’t coming down until tomorrow, so the loo could stay dirty until this evening, by which time the temperatures would have gone down to below subtropical, and he’d probably have a bit of energy to spare. He already knew what was causing the creeping glacier in his fridge, ta ever so: the ice-making device had apparently nursed thoughts of world domination while he was off on the road for five weeks with his band, Broomfield Hill. He’d left a message with the local appliance repair people and, anyway, he’d already disconnected the icemaker. Cleaning the windows was about as stupid an idea as anyone could get in this heat—besides, the BBC weather service had said there were storms offshore, so rain was coming during the night, most likely. Obviously, the intelligent thing to do was to let the rain do the windows for him, instead of he himself getting up on a ladder and probably keeling over and crashing to the ground from sunstroke. As for Lord Randall’s tired strings, those could damned well wait. Penny was coming down tomorrow for three weeks and what he had in mind for a high percentage of those three weeks had nothing at all to do with guitars.

With the voice at least temporarily silenced, Ringan let himself into the miniature tithe barn that, these days, he used partly as a rehearsal space and partly for storing things that were only ever used out of doors. Even on the hottest days, the barn was cool; the foundations, nearly six feet in height and made of the petrified earth and dung that the locals had been calling “cob” for a thousand years at least, took no warmth from the sun or the air and gave none back. The crucked oak beams that made the roof look like a small-scale model of the Abbey Barn, that world-famous tourist attraction a few miles away in Glastonbury, seemed high and remote.

The interior was always mostly in shadow, the sun’s rays never reaching fully in. Ringan, stepping carefully around the heavy wrought-iron chairs and table he’d put away for safety while he toured with his band, moved gardening tools and disintegrating lawn umbrellas to one side, and glanced up and around. The instinct to see if he could catch any sign of movement was now as ingrained as any habit could be. Once, there had been other shadows in here, two people caught between death and eternity. They were gone now, those two, gone to whatever corner of time and space offered sanctuary to such as them. . . .

But there was nothing, and Ringan dropped his eyes. He hunted through a small pile of seemingly random objects just inside the door, telling himself, as he always did, that he really ought to put a few hours aside and organise his bits and pieces. Pulling the low-slung canvas chair he wanted free of the rest, he straightened his back and, once again, found his gaze moving from one end of the barn to the other, sweeping from the near-darkness of the building’s distant corners and ancient foundations to the faint dance of dust motes just inside the slitted windows. Someday, he thought, he might be able to walk into the barn—for that was all it was, now, a useful outbuilding—without remembering the lovers who had once been caught within these walls like extinct insects in amber.

Ringan got the lawn chair out under one of the apple trees and began the process of setting it up to his liking. It took some doing; the chair, with its built-in canopy and seat of faded green canvas and its squeaky brass-plated hardware, had been sitting in the barn for the better part of a year. Not only were the various bits of hardware rusty and uncooperative, the wood that formed the frame was dry and shrinking. He made a mental note: next trip into Glastonbury for supplies, add a bit of wood oil to the shopping list. . . .

“Want a hand with that?”

The voice, cheerful and a bit amused, came from just behind him. Ringan turned and found himself confronting his landlord.

“Albert! Christ, you startled me. I could use a bit of help, yes—this thing’s gone as dry as a bone and the hinges are useless, pretty much. I’ve got to get some lubricant or something at the home centre, next time I’m there. Here, could you put some weight on the foot? I’ll pry the other end open—right, that’s done it.”

“Those hinges sound like a soul in torment. But there’s no need to buy lubricant. I’ve got gallons of it, that spray-on stuff, up at the House. I’ll send someone down with it for you.” Albert Wychsale, Baron Boult, glanced around, in hopes of finding a second chair. In his sixties and on the round side, he wasn’t coping well with the heat; his face was pink, his thinning pale hair was sweaty, and he was damp and a bit wilted around the edges. Lacking a second seat, he settled himself gingerly on the grass; while the dry grass of high summer in Somerset wasn’t likely to stain his trousers, the dead spikes, their springy softness leeched out by weeks of direct sunlight and unrelenting temperatures, were sharp and prickly. “I just came by to drop off your post. I got lucky about the day, because I honestly couldn’t remember which day you were coming down. I’ve left everything on your kitchen table—the door was open and I saw your car. How did your tour go? Are you home for a while now?”

“The tour went fine, thanks. Five weeks, two dozen shows, Scotland to Cornwall. Literally, John o’ Groats to Land’s End. The new CD’s selling very well—our fastest seller to date, in fact.” Ringan, who’d been about to flop into the chair, suddenly remembered his manners. “I think I need a good cold beer. Do you fancy one? And maybe a chair? You don’t look very comfortable, squatting like that.”

In the end, Ringan’s plan for an immediate nap was shelved in favour of getting the rest of the lawn furniture out of the barn and set up on the grass. As they edged the heavy table out into the sun, it occurred to Ringan, sweat trickling down his chest and through the front of his shirt as he swore under his breath, that the little voice in his head was getting some of its own back.

“Is something funny?” Albert finished dusting off the seat of one of the chairs and sank into it with a grateful exhale. “Because you’re grinning and, honestly, I wouldn’t have thought you felt much like grinning, at least not going by what you were muttering while we were moving that table. Or is that just a feral grimace?”

“Just thinking that my inner Protestant is getting its wish, that’s all, what with me slogging in the heat instead of sleeping in the sun. I’ve got three weeks of doing sod all coming to me, and my damned work ethic kept jogging me in the mental ribs to do chores instead of take a nice kip out of doors. Where in hell did I put my beer?”

“Next to that green canvas thing, right on the grass—Butterball, get away from that and let Ringan have his pint in peace, you idiot beast.” Wychsale, one hand firmly around his own bottle, shook his head as the Wychsale estate’s enormous orange Persian cat emerged from behind the apple tree and began a ritual sniffing. “At least it’s cooling down a bit. So, three weeks of perfect summer weather and nothing on your dance card except relaxing? Sounds like a bit of heaven—I can’t imagine the sort of tour you people just did without wanting to sleep. Is Penny coming down?”

“Tomorrow, for three full weeks.” Ringan felt his lips wanting to curve up into a smile. He couldn’t help it. The smile was tender, edging on sensual; he hadn’t seen Penny Wintercraft-Hawkes since his band had begun touring. “We’ve finally managed to beat the odds and have the same amount of time off at exactly the same time. And before you can ask me, I’ll tell you. No, we’ve got nothing planned, at least beyond setting the telephones to voicemail and ignoring everything else. We plan to continue having nothing planned. And if anyone tries to get us to make plans beyond having nothing planned, I’ll thump them repeatedly over the head with my guitar while Penny quotes Shakespearean insults at them.”

Albert grinned but said nothing. Ringan polished off the rest of his beer, settled back in his chair, and closed his eyes. “And what’s more,” he announced, “any plans that we do make will not, repeat not, be shared with the rest of the world, and aren’t likely to be suitable for children under the age of consent anyway. Oh, damn! Please tell me that’s your phone buzzing, and not mine?”

“Sorry, no. Don’t have one with me. It’s yours.” Albert nudged it toward Ringan with one foot. “Hadn’t you better see who it is? What did you say?”

“I swore,” Ringan said grimly, and flipped open the phone. “Hello? Ringan Laine here.”

“Ringan? Oh, thank goodness.” The voice at the other end was female, firm, slightly musical. “This is Roberta. Look, do you have a moment? I hate to bother you, but I need help.”

“Robbie!” Ringan sat up fast, knocking the dregs of his beer into the grass. His older sister, a no-nonsense doctor in Edinburgh and married to a Viennese businessman, was legendary in her own family circle for a near-pathological unwillingness to ask for help. “What’s wrong? Is everyone all right?”

“We’re fine.” Roberta Laine Eisler sounded crisp but harried. “Unfortunately, Helmut’s mother isn’t. We’ve just had word that she’s in hospital in Austria—she fell down her stairs, arse over teapot. Bruises, of course, and a broken rib, but the real problem is a compound fracture of the tibia, and they suspect a damaged hip. At Renate’s age, it’s tricky; she’s in her eighties. We need to go as soon as we can. It’s an absolute mess.”

“Damn. I’m sorry.” Ringan shifted the cell phone from one hand to the other. He had a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach that he was going to be sorry beyond the mere formality of the spoken word. “I probably don’t want to know the answer to this, but—what do you mean, you need help?”

“Well—it’s about Becca.”

For a moment, Ringan’s urge to groan aloud was so strong, he wondered if he’d actually done it. He could see what was coming—parents of an only child, elderly grandmother in a foreign capitol, long afternoons at said elderly grandmother’s bedside, thirteen-year-old girl with nothing to keep her amused, or occupied, or out of trouble . . . “What about Becca?”

“She’s at home at the moment—it’s summer hols for her school. We’re going to be tied up in Vienna for two weeks or so, according to Renate’s surgeon. Becca’d be bored out of her mind if we took her along. Besides, she’s got to practice. She’s got an entrance audition for the Hambleigh Academy in August, and you can’t practice violin in a hotel room, or in a hospital room, either.” She had the grace to sound apologetic. “I know it’s an imposition, Ringan, but, honestly, we’ve got no one else we can ask.”

Ringan was silent. Roberta was right; there was, literally, no one else she could ask. Their brother, Duncan, was at the moment living and working in Dubai. As for their mother . . .

“We can’t leave her with Mother.” Roberta’s voice was a bit more urgent; apparently, Ringan’s silence had stretched long enough to make her uneasy. “She’d drive Becca half out of her mind.”

“I know. I wouldn’t suggest that, not in a million years.”

He hadn’t seen his niece, Rebecca, for over two years. That last time had been at a quick Christmas gathering in Edinburgh. At that point, she’d been a quiet child of eleven, a bit fine-boned and small. He and Penny had given her a biography of her favourite composer; she’d looked up at them from under long black lashes and thanked them quietly, and then disappeared upstairs with her book. She’d come down later in the evening, watching and listening as her uncle played a few Christmas-themed traditionals.

He couldn’t remember a single thing about her, other than a pair of remarkable dark grey eyes, a swirl of long black hair, and her undoubted devotion to her violin. If she’d managed to get far enough to have secured an audition to the Hambleigh Academy, he thought, she must have become one hell of a fiddler. The school was posh, self-important, and elitist enough to set Ringan’s teeth on edge. But it had spent two centuries earning its reputation; as a music school, it was the best Scotland had to offer.

“Ringan?”

“All right.” So much for three weeks of pubbing and leisurely sex. “As it happens, I’m at home right now—I have the next three weeks free. So does Penny. She’s coming down tomorrow. But I have a restoration project in Leeds beginning the second week in August, so if it goes longer than that, we’ve got a problem.”

“Oh, we won’t be gone longer than two weeks.” If she was relieved, there was no way to tell from her voice. “We can’t be. Rebecca’s Hambleigh audition is on the tenth, and she’ll need two days of working with her violin teacher beforehand. If Renate needs Helmut to be there longer than that, he’s on his own. Besides, I really can’t desert my practice for longer than that; it’s simply not fair to the covering doctors. I’ll let Becca know. She really won’t be a problem, and you won’t really have to keep her amused, because she’ll have her violin with her. And Ringan?”

“What?” Butterball had found an insect in the grass and was batting it sideways with one paw. The apple trees were heavy with early fruit and echoed to the sound of birds singing, and Albert was dozing in his chair. Penny was the only thing missing. As soon as Roberta let him know how she was planning on getting Rebecca, with all her gear, from Edinburgh to Glastonbury, he was going to have to get hold of Penny in London, and let her know. And she wasn’t going to be pleased.

“You’re a very good brother,” she told him, and rang off.

A little more than twenty-four hours later, Penny’s recently acquired Jaguar S-type pulled up on the gravel drive that curved out in front of Lumbe’s Cottage, with Penny behind the wheel. She wasn’t alone in the car.

Ringan, who’d been watching for them, came out to help. The conversation with Penny the night before had not gone quite the way he’d expected. He’d given himself a few minutes to get over his disappointment over having done his family duty and wrecked his own holiday in the process. That strategy, unfortunately, had failed miserably, and had in fact done nothing other strengthen his sense of grievance.

The upshot was, he’d rung up Penny in something perilously close to a sulk. Holding the phone, he took a deep breath before punching her number; Penny’s likely reaction was likely to be part reluctance to play nursemaid for an adolescent she didn’t know, part disappointment at being done out of three weeks of having Ringan to herself, and part congratulation at him doing the right thing. However those proportions broke down, he wasn’t looking forward to it.

“Hello? Is that you, Ringan?”

“Hello, Pen.” He took a quick breath; she sounded pleased and anticipatory, and it was a damned shame that mood was going straight out the window as soon as he filled her in. “Listen, lamb, something’s come up. I’ve got a situation, and you aren’t going to like it, I’m afraid.”

He told her about Roberta’s call. She heard him out without interruption. Her silence was so complete, he began to get nervous; silence was not Penny’s forte. “. . . So she really can’t leave Becca with my mother,” he finished, and heard what might have been desperation creeping into his voice. “Can she? I mean, you know my mother, Pen. She’s enough to drive anyone out of their mind. Two hours with Becca stuck listening to my mother going on at her, and there’d be murder done.”

Silence. Damn. He cleared his throat. “Penny?”

“Still here.” She didn’t sound angry or disappointed. She sounded businesslike. “Just wondering about logistics. How is she going to get to Glastonbury? Surely they aren’t putting a thirteen-year-old girl on a train from Scotland? She’d need to change at least once and probably twice—considering the mess the trains are these days, she’d probably have to change once up north, and again in London. I’m thinking that if they can stop in town or at least let me know when her train is due to get here, I can meet her. That way, she can come down in the car, with me. Much less potential for disaster that way.”

Ringan opened his mouth, and closed it again.

“Ringan?”

“Right here. You know, you floor me sometimes? I thought you’d be cranky as hell about this. I certainly am.”

“Really? Why?” She sounded honestly surprised. “It’s not as if you had any other choice, not from what you’ve told me. I mean, you could hardly leave Roberta in that sort of mess, and anyway, you said it yourself, inflicting your mother on that child is simply not on. That would come pretty damned close to qualifying as child abuse. Your mother is not the ideal woman to deal with a teenaged girl. So what earthly use is there in being cross about it?”

“True.” It was amazing, he thought, how fast he’d relaxed. The loss of the time alone was still disappointing, but he no longer wanted to break something because of it. It occurred to him that she’d always had the ability to take the edge off his bad moods. “So, you’re thinking I should ring Robbie back and arrange her delivering Becca to your place?”

“Why not just give me your sister’s number?” There was amusement in Penny’s voice. “I’m sure I can make her understand, if I try really really hard—I’m a big girl, I can buckle my own shoes and do up my own buttons, and everything. I even know a few words of Lallans Scots, if she’s forgot how to speak English. And if there’s a problem, I can talk really loudly. That usually works.”

“Don’t be snotty, wench,” he told her affectionately, and she laughed back at him.

“You know, Ringan, I’ve just had a thought. Even if she’s planning on practicing her fiddle until her fingers bleed, she’s going to get bored. What would you say to a genuine trip to the seaside, the three of us, I mean? We could kill a handful of birds with one stone, that way.”

“What, like a day trip to Brighton or something?”

“Not Brighton, and not a day trip.” She’d gone from sounding practical to sounding animated. “More along the lines of tossing the girl and her fiddle in the Jag, throwing some swimsuits in the boot, and heading down to Cornwall until her parents finish coping in Vienna. Opinion, please?”

“I’d say you’re brilliant, is what I’d say.” He hadn’t stopped to think about it, but of course she was right. Becca was going to be just as bored stuck out in the wilds of Somerset as she would have been trailing after her parents from hotel to hospital ward in Vienna. Not only that, with high summer hitting early, things were going to get hot and uncomfortable. “Do you know, if I’d been left to think of that on my own, that girl would get here and we’d have spent it sweltering and bored in the garden? I don’t seem to have the parenting chromosome anywhere in me.”

“True. Actually, neither do I—this was more about me remembering how impossible it was to keep Candy amused during the summer hols down at Whistler’s Croft. So it’s just as well neither of us is a parent.”

Penny’s suggestion was as close to perfect as he could imagine. Cornwall had beaches, and shops, and stone circles. It had clubs and music shops and cafés. It had castles and it had pubs. As a way of keeping Becca amused, it was nearly perfect.

The only drawback was that Cornwall also had tourists, quite a lot of them this time of year. Luckily, considering how impossible finding hotels or even bed and breakfasts for three people on this short notice was likely to prove, it had a small group of musicians Ringan had known since his earliest days of playing the traditional music circuit. Most of those friends had been providing each other with last-resort places to sleep for two decades or more.

And best of all, they were spread out all over Cornwall, from Padstow to Tintagel to Penzance to St. Ives. There wasn’t a corner of the Duchy in which Ringan couldn’t find a place to bed down if the hordes of tourists had snapped up the available paying hostelries.

Ten minutes later, Penny had rung him back to say that everything was settled. The Eisler family would fly into London from Edinburgh in the morning, and Penny would meet them at the airport. Becca would wave a fond auf wiedersehn to her parents. They would continue on to Vienna while Becca, her violin case in hand, climbed into Penny’s car and headed southwest, to Glastonbury and then to Cornwall. She would be travelling light; the rest of her luggage consisted of one suitcase, and a wad of money that would ensure she didn’t bankrupt her fond uncle with the various things a thirteen-year-old girl on holiday might decide she needed.

In the end, Ringan’s whispering work ethic had got the last laugh. He’d spent the entire evening cleaning out the loo and the bath, making sure there was fresh bedding in Lumbe’s rarely used guest bedroom, and arranging with Albert Wychsale to have someone at Lumbe’s when the handyman came to repair the icemaker in the fridge. He left the windows for the promised rain to cope with. He’d even, after a bit of thought, made a phone call to one of the first musicians he’d ever played with professionally, down in Cornwall. The friend in question, who lived in a nice old cottage just outside the main drag of the town of St. Ives, was delighted to offer Ringan beds.

As an afterthought, Ringan decided to put fresh strings on Lord Randall. It was beginning to look as though he might be playing some music during the next three weeks, after all.

So, when the women arrived the next afternoon, the house was clean, there were fresh linens on both beds, and Lord Randall was ready to be played. Ringan was admiring Penny’s car—she’d recently traded in her elderly Jaguar sedan for a much newer, racier model, in a silvery blue—when the passenger door swung open and his niece stepped out.

“Uncle Ringan.” She came round the car and held out a hand. “Thank you for inviting me, and thanks to both of you, for letting me come down in Penny’s car. I hope I didn’t mess up your holiday too badly. Is something wrong?”

“No, nothing. It’s just—you’ve grown up since the last time I saw you. I was remembering you from Christmas at my mother’s house. What was it, two years ago?” She had callouses on the fingers of her left hand. “You look—different.”

It was staggering. The skinny child, coltish and leggy but looking fine-drawn and a bit fragile, was now close to fourteen. She was as tall as her uncle, and what was more, she was completely self-assured. It was the self-assurance that most beautiful women have, coming from the starting point of knowing that heads would always turn for them. It was also unusual in a girl so young; that level of assurance, in Ringan’s experience, came with age, and experience.

Rebecca Laine Eisler, with legs that seemed to go on for miles and a lustrous black waterfall of hair and the magnificent grey eyes he remembered holding a weight of lashes almost too long and heavy for her lids to carry, was exquisite. It was an elite class of beauty, the kind that usually finds its way into poetry or sonnets. No matter where she went, she was going to leave a wake. She was so beautiful, she was disturbing.

She grinned at him suddenly. It transformed her face, and suddenly, she was a gamine, still beautiful, but wearing her youth like a tattoo.

“I wish you could convince Mum that I was all grown up,” she told her uncle. “She wants me to stay about eight years old. She says she doesn’t, but she does, I can tell. And Daddy’s even worse. I’m just amazed they let me come down to stay with you. They’re so protective, usually.”

“Becca, sweetie, of course they are.” Penny had strolled over. “Do you brush your teeth every morning? Yes? Well, then, that involves a mirror, and that means you must know what you look like. They’re afraid you’re going to leave car crashes behind you, and grown men weeping like small boys.”

Becca stuck her tongue out. The gesture produced a pair of long curving dimples. “You sound like my mother,” she told Penny. “Okay, maybe not exactly like my mother. But really, who cares about boys? I’d rather play my violin.”

Ringan stared at her. They were eye level, uncle and niece. And out of nowhere, with that statement, Becca ceased being a disturbing amalgam of beauty, potential, and youth, and became something and someone he recognised at a bone-deep level: the girl was a musician.

“Let me ask you something.” An idea had come into his head, full-blown; it was as if it had been sitting there, waiting for confirmation that the girl was a player. “Robbie told me you’ve got an audition at Hambleigh coming up. Have you ever played in front of a live audience? Beyond family and friends, I mean?”

“No. Well, a few school recitals, but that was all parents and things.” She tilted her head. “Why?”

“Playing in front of a crowd is a huge confidence builder.” He caught Penny’s eye, and saw her comprehension; she knew just where he was going, and what he was going to suggest. “And even though the admissions panel at Hambleigh probably won’t be more than half a dozen people, they’ll be intimidating. So getting a bit of live performance experience under your belt before the tenth of August, you’ll have a weapon in your audition arsenal. How quickly are you usually able to learn new pieces?”

“Live performance?” The grey eyes were wide. “New pieces? Do you mean—what do you mean?”

“I think Ringan’s talking about you playing some live shows in Cornwall with him.” Penny had opened the boot of the Jag. She was busy wrestling her own well-travelled suitcase free. “Is that it, Ringan? You’d have to learn the songs first, of course, Becca. But what fun!”

“Yes, that’s it.” He saw the pleasure and anticipation lighting Becca’s face and grinned. “And since the first place we’re going is an old friend’s house down in St. Ives, we’ve got just the place to get started.”

Copyright © 2007 by Deborah Grabien. All rights reserved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 19, 2007

    Gripping, Chilling, Never Stale

    Once again, Grabien brings us a lyrical ghost story, a haunting little mystery whose protagonists are centuries in the ground, found out by our old friends, Ringan and Penny. This time it isn't just them endangered by the shades of old murder ballads, but Ringan's 14 year old niece, Becca. As always, the peril of all is palpable, the love and friendship of the living members of the party real and joyous. Once again Grabien takes her own trope and gives it a twist satisfying enough to keep her series from getting old or campy. These books line up nicely next to Barbara Michaels at her best.

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