A murder in a quiet English village, long-buried secrets and a man's search for answers about his traumatic past entangle FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan in the latest edge-of-your-seat Sharpe & Donovan novel
As a young boy, Oliver York witnessed the murder of his wealthy parents in their London apartment. The killers kidnapped him and held him in an isolated Scottish ruin, but he escaped, thwarting their plans for ransom. Now, after thirty years on the run, one of the two men Oliver identified as his tormentors may have surfaced.
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.
Near Stow-on-the-Wold, the Cotswolds, England
“Just because something is old doesn’t mean it’s an antique of any quality,” Oliver York said. “It could be rubbish.”
Martin Hambly withheld his irritation. Henrietta Balfour, a local garden designer, was either preoccupied with her bucket of loam or ignoring Oliver, or perhaps both. Martin had hired her but Oliver was paying her. They were gathered outside the potting shed, located in a small, centuries-old dovecote on the southern edge of the York farm. The farm itself was located on the outskirts of the tiniest of Cotswold villages, a short drive to the busy market town of Stow-on-the-Wold. Martin had expected Oliver to stay another few days in London, but he’d returned last night. He would have thought a lazy morning was in order, but now here Oliver was, offering input in matters in which he’d never displayed any interest prior to ten minutes ago. For reasons Martin couldn’t fathom, Oliver had decided to contribute his opinion of an old pot Henrietta had unearthed. She’d discovered it out back in a heap of discarded gardening materials, created when Oliver had converted part of the dovecote into a stone-cutting studio. At first, Martin had thought it just another of Oliver’s solitary hobbies. Not quite the case.
Martin had worked for the Yorks for decades. He’d promised Nicholas and Priscilla York on their deathbeds he would never abandon their orphaned grandson, no matter how frustrating, annoying and outrageous Oliver could be.
Some days that promise was easier to keep than others.
Today wasn’t one of those days.
Oliver had gone to London on his own last Friday and hadn’t required Martin’s assistance at the York home on St. James’s Park. That could mean he’d been on a clandestine mission for MI5 or he’d discovered more stolen art he needed to return to the rightful owners—or he’d simply had a stack of books he’d wanted to read without Martin hovering about. They never discussed Oliver’s decade as a brazen art thief or his current work with MI5. For that matter, his reading list was off-limits for discussion, too.
Old pots, however, apparently he would discuss.
“This pot belonged to your great-grandmother, Oliver,” Martin said, fingering the slightly chipped terra-cotta pot. “It has soul. That’s the point, not its monetary value.”
“If you insist.”
Oliver stood straight. He was in his late thirties and exceedingly fit, with wavy, tawny hair and the sort of looks that drew women to him, although he’d yet to marry or even have, as far as Martin knew, a long-term romantic relationship.
And Martin would know.
Oliver turned to their garden designer. “Henrietta?”
She raised her warm blue eyes to him. “Old rubbish with soul?”
Martin could have cheerfully dumped the pot on their heads. It was half-filled with soil—not the sterile kind from a bag, either. He’d personally dug loam from the hillside behind the dovecote. Henrietta had protested but he’d won that battle, if with the compromise that she could top off the pot with her preferred professional mix of soil.
Professional dirt. Martin had never heard of such a thing.
After years of neglecting the farm’s gardens and overall landscaping, Oliver had taken Martin by surprise when he’d suggested they hire a garden designer and even provided Henrietta’s name. She’d recently moved from London into a nearby cottage she’d inherited from Posey Balfour, her grandfather’s never-married only sister and long a fixture in the village. Martin didn’t like to think of himself as shallow, but he hadn’t paid much attention to Henrietta in years and noticed at their first meeting about the gardens that she bore little resemblance to plain, gangly Posey, who’d died last summer in her midnineties. Henrietta was attractive with her mop of reddish-brown hair, her warm blue eyes and her pleasing curves. In her mid-thirties, she had a penchant for long, flowered skirts that she wore with a faded denim jacket or a battered waxed-cotton jacket and sturdy walking shoes. When conditions called for them, which they often did, she would don olive-green Wellingtons. How she managed her work in a skirt was beyond Martin, but she did occasionally pull on baggy pants, which also looked fine on her.
Perhaps Henrietta’s presence explained Oliver’s sudden acquiescence to professional help with the gardens and his early return from London. They’d known each other since they were small children, but she’d worked in London until recently and he’d…well, Oliver had a variety of ways he kept himself busy.
Henrietta’s visits to the Cotswolds had started when she was five or six, most often on her own. Her parents, born-and-bred Londoners, loathed Posey’s “chocolate box” village. They’d steal away on exotic holidays, leaving Henrietta to amuse herself by helping her great-aunt with her gardens. Although she’d had no children of her own, Posey had doted on Henrietta, the only other female Balfour.
Martin had been heartened by Oliver’s interest in his somewhat neglected landscaping but suspected it had more to do with his attractive garden designer. He and Henrietta had played together as children, creating an easy familiarity that still existed between them. Martin didn’t want to read too much in to his observations. Oliver could have ulterior motives. He often did. Martin had learned to be wary. He didn’t like to be a suspicious sort but it came with keeping his promise to Nicholas and Priscilla.
At the same time, Martin had to acknowledge an undercurrent warning him something about Henrietta Balfour’s charming eccentricities was off—not faked so much as unpracticed. Perhaps her move to the Cotswolds from London and her radical career change explained the disconnect.
She dipped her gloved hands into the bag, set on the worn stone landing in front of the dovecote. “Sentimental value counts for something, don’t you think, Oliver?”
Carla Neggers has been spinning stories ever since she climbed a tree with pad and pen at age eleven. Now she is the New York Times bestselling author of almost 70 novels, with millions of books sold in over 30 countries. Her popular Sharpe & Donovan romantic suspense series featuring FBI agents Emma Sharpe and Colin Donovan launched with Saint’s Gate in 2011 and has been praised as “a breathtaking reading experience” (Providence Journal) and “gripping and suspenseful” (Nashua Telegraph). In 2012, her Swift River Valley series debuted with Secrets of the Lost Summer, which garnered a starred review from Booklist and a Top Pick from RT Book Reviews and shot onto the New York Times, USA Today and Publishers Weekly bestseller lists.
Growing up in rural Massachusetts with a Dutch father, a Southern mother and six brothers and sisters, Carla developed an eye for detail and a love of a good story. Her imagination, curiosity and sense of adventure are key to creating the complex relationships, fast-paced plots and deep sense of place in her books.
When she isn’t writing, Carla loves to travel, hike, garden and spend time with family and friends. She and her husband, Joe, are frequent travelers to Ireland and divide their time between Boston and their hilltop home in Vermont, not far from Quechee Gorge.
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