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Annie spent a restless night in the old cottage. The stonewalls seemed to have absorbed the heat of the day – and the small bedroom was airless and stifling. Perched high above the village, the former Gamekeeper’s cottage wasn’t overlooked, so Annie often left the curtains drawn back, and tonight had cracked open the rickety sash window, which let a grass scented breeze waft through the room – occasionally cooling the still air. The moon was full tonight, and bathed the fields and hills in a dazzling silver light, which illuminated the uneven plastered walls with a spectral glow. In the distance, in her broken sleep Annie could hear two owls – their haunting calls echoing through the stillness of the night.

She’d been unnerved by her visit to Edie Swindell, and although she still loved the homely tranquillity of Parwich Heights, since returning home tonight she swore that she could feel a presence within the fabric of this place. As though the walls had somehow recorded a traumatic event in history, which was captured and entombed – to be replayed and relived by whoever unlocked their secrets.

Eventually, in the small hours of the morning Annie managed to escape the ghosts and phantoms of her imagination, and dropped into a deep sleep. She lay with one pyjamed leg straddled across the feather eiderdown, in an attempt to cool down – her arm subconsciously cuddling a duck down pillow. It was in this position that she woke, as the sun streamed through the window and heralded the start of another glorious day.

∞∞∞∞∞

The village was bristling with activity, in preparation for the St George’s Day parade. Annie and Fern met up as agreed first thing and headed to the Legion for a freshly cooked bacon butty. There was nothing better than the salted greasy splendour of the fresh local bacon, served on a soft white cob to soak up the alcoholic excesses of the day before.

They stood amongst the Cyber Scouts, and congregating Oddfellows enjoying the good-natured banter of the local community. Merlin and Ginny the ‘resident’ border collies darted playfully amongst the gathered crowd, gratefully lapping up the attention of anyone who cared to pat them. Merlin in particular, although he knew he was not to beg, pawed the air in his attempt at doggy communication, and gave Annie such an imploring look that she succumbed and gave him a piece of her prized bacon. It was gone in a flash and he licked his lips in appreciation. Although she did manage to resist his further attempts to acquire more titbits, ‘Mummy Emma won’t be happy with me if I feed you any more!’ Annie chided. With that, he cocked his head to one side with a quizzical look, and seeing no further booty, trotted off happily to find Ginny.

As ten o’clock approached, Fern and Annie made their way back down the lane to wait at the vantage point they’d spotted on the way up. They stood with their backs against the stonewall facing towards the Legion – watching the band gather themselves into a semblance of a formation. Cotton wool puffs of white cloud drifted lazily across the powdery blue sky, and they felt the sun warm on their skin.

Across the road, a gallant old gentleman, who Fern had named as Jack Cundy sat outside his pristine cottage on his striped deckchair, watching the comings and goings of the young folk around. He was kitted out in a smart blue blazer, on which was displayed an impressive array of medals with a variety of multi-coloured ribbons, and a beret sporting his regiment’s badge set neatly on his head. His weather beaten hands were rested atop his walking stick, as he proudly awaited the procession. A character who had seen much life, and was part of a generation that fought for King and Country and maintained a sense of pride and occasion for this day – St George’s day.

Unfortunately, Jack’s war wasn’t the last and his counterparts of the current generation were still embroiled in other battles in distant countries, far removed from Parwich. Annie smiled inwardly, and wondered what old Jack would make of Major Ingham’s reports from Afghanistan – she’d recently discovered on the village blog. Tales of everyday life, which breached the divide of thousands of miles to bring the realities of modern warfare, to this tranquil Derbyshire village. How things had changed in just a few short decades – but one thing that hadn’t was the bravery and courage shown throughout history by the young people prepared to risk their lives to serve their country.

Fern waved in acknowledgement to the old gentleman, and with his usual valour, he doffed his cap, and gave her one of his best toothy grins in reply.

Although Annie could already tell by her friend’s demeanour, Fern confirmed that Nathan hadn’t returned home last night as expected. She had an air of relaxation when he wasn’t around, which was contagious, and Annie delighted in her company at these times.

‘Oh I popped in to see Edie Swindell by the way.’ Annie stated excitedly, ‘You weren’t wrong when you said she knows everything! Although, we didn’t exactly get to a conclusion – so to be honest, I’m none the wiser. I’ll have to pop down and see her later on.’

There was a momentary silence before Fern spoke ‘You won’t have heard will you?’ Annie’s blank look confirmed she was right. ‘Edie was taken to hospital late last night’. Annie let out an exasperated gasp, and cupped her head in her hands before her friend could continue. What was it with this place and people being whisked unexpectedly into hospital!.

‘Oh God it’s my fault.’ She shook her red locks disbelievingly, ‘I thought she was just asleep, I should have known…I should have checked properly.’

Fern rested a reassuring hand on her shoulder ‘Annie, she’s an old lady – she has these turns every now and again. It’s not the first time she’s been taken in. It’s just precautionary really, I’m sure she’ll be fine – but she won’t be up to any Miss Marple stuff I can tell you that!!’ Annie felt thwarted at every step, and was still contemplating her predicament when a friendly chap approached and entered into affable conversation with Fern.

His hair was a barely there light stubble, with matching moustache and beard and he wore a casual grey jacket and black shirt, with light khaki cords. Annie thought if Phil Mitchell from EastEnders had a trimmer, genial twin brother – the man before them would fit the bill perfectly. He chatted easily about village life, although it appeared he too was a relative newcomer to Parwich. As the band began to strike up, he checked his watch, and raised his eyebrows.

‘Well if you’ll excuse me ladies, I’ve got a frock to change into, and a dragon to slay!’ Annie’s jaw dropped visibly, and it was only then that her eyes lowered from the friendly smiling face, to the white collar set neatly around his neck.

‘OK, we’ll see you at the service later Reverend.’ Fern said. With that, they watched as he jogged off in the direction of the church, to prepare for the service later that morning, and Annie realised she’d just been introduced to Reverend Andy Larkin. Not being a regular churchgoer herself Annie pictured the vicar, as an elderly, slightly severe looking man, spouting ‘Hellfire and Brimstone’ to his assembled congregation. However, from what she’d seen, Andy looked like a normal everyday person, down to earth and approachable, and she found she was looking forward to attending the service later that morning. She always felt an inexplicable sense of awe whenever she entered a church, and an overwhelming sense of humility. Perhaps it would help bring a sense of perspective back, into her crazy upside-down life.

Annie was jolted from her thoughts, by the powerful drum beats that signalled the start of the procession proper, and the rest of the Dove Holes band joined in. Those villagers that weren’t already waiting along the roadside, emerged from the warren of cottages dotted round the village as if enchanted by the Pied Piper himself. Some wore crimson red roses in their buttonholes, and the Oddfellows, with their white gloved hands and smart suits, marched neatly with straight backs to the beat.

Having been brought up by a father who loved brass band music, Annie had been weaned on the Brighouse and Rastrick Band, and relished the rousing melody, which seemed to play havoc with her emotions. Each time she heard a band strike up, she felt a tightening at her throat, and her eyes began to water involuntarily – her stomach seeming to resonate with every beat of the base drum. She couldn’t explain whether it was the power of the instruments, or the tunes themselves that made her well up every single time without fail. However, if she was really honest, a little part of her always connected the music with her father and happy carefree childhood times – times that were only memories now as he’d been dead for over twenty years. Conscious of not showing herself up in front of half of Parwich, Annie gripped her left wrist firmly which for some inexplicable reason always helped stem the flow of tears and took deep breaths as she watched the figures file past.

The procession weaved cheerfully through the village, those that hadn’t ventured out to join in the parade, peered through open windows to witness the patriotic scene. Annie smiled as she spied a couple of young children sat in a bedroom window still in their pyjamas, waving their plastic St George’s flags animatedly in time to the beat. The band led the congregation up the hill past Greengates, stopping to assemble outside the imposing gates of Parwich Hall.

Annie’s thoughts momentarily drifted back to her visit to Edie Swindell the day before, and of the drama that had unfolded in these grounds hundreds of years before. To think Tobias had traversed this lane each day, passing the imposing facade of the hall on the way home to his own humble cottage, and a life far removed from the excesses and privileges of its aristocratic occupants. It then dawned on Annie, just how remarkable his relationship with the beautiful Georgiana had been.

Suddenly the gates of the hall opened, and a mature woman appeared, descending the steps gracefully in a smart navy blue suit with a string of creamy pearls at her neck, and a midnight blue wide brimmed hat sat jauntily atop her greying hair. Her white gloved hands clasped before her, as she began an address to the Oddfellows and the gathered procession.

‘Fern, who’s that?’ Annie whispered surreptitiously from the corner of her mouth, hoping no one would overhear her. ‘She doesn’t half remind me of the Queen Mother, God rest her soul’.

She continued to listen intently to the rest of the speech, in which the regal figure thanked everyone for turning out, and helping to carry on the tradition of the annual parade, until her attention was broken by an exasperated guffaw from her companion beside her.

‘You don’t half have a way with words you know!’

‘Why what’s wrong?’ The pretty redhead raised her eyebrows questioningly. ‘I am new round here. I can’t help it if I don’t know everyone in the village, and every generation that’s ever been by their first name and tell you exactly where they are buried!!’ Annie raised her eyes heavenward to emphasise her exasperation.

Fern countered her friend’s frustration with a pleasant smile. ‘I’m sure Mrs Shields would be delighted to be compared with the Queen Mother’. The gathered crowd burst into a spontaneous ripple of applause, as the address concluded, and Fern looped her arm through Annie’s ‘I’ll fill you in on a bit of local who’s who…’ and the two friends, followed behind the procession, deep in conversation as it continued on a loop back to the church on the green.

∞∞∞∞∞

The beautiful spring day mellowed into a golden evening, casting long shadows on the sweet juicy grass as the sun began its descent below the horizon. A hint of coolness crept into the air as evening approached. However, far from retiring to sleep, the villagers of Parwich congregated once more, filing into the Memorial Hall to continue the festivities to mark this quintessentially English day.

The impressive hall was brimming with folk animatedly chattering, and more than a few rosy faces were dotted about the room as the beer and wine continued to flow, and the delectable buffet helped to soak up the alcoholic excesses of the day. Those who still had the energy, were jigging on a makeshift dance floor serenaded by a local Irish singer.
Annie was amazed at the sight before her, as she entered the hall the party was in full swing. This village never failed to amaze her, and more than once had proved the ‘pick-me up’ that she had so desperately needed before arriving here a few months before. A grin spread across her cherry painted lips, as she turned to Fern with a face like a delighted child barely able to contain her excitement, seeking approval to join in the fun.

In the short time that they had known each other, they had experienced numerous highs and lows together. However, tonight Fern looked on her friend in a new light. She’d always known that her freckled friend was pretty, but tonight she seemed to exude an energy, which made her seem irresistible. Her auburn tresses, tumbled freely about her shoulders, and she had finally summoned up the confidence to wear the fitted turquoise frock that they’d purchased as an impulse buy from a boutique in Ashbourne. It accentuated her slim frame perfectly. Fern thought, that tonight for the first time, she was seeing the real Annie – and momentarily felt a pang of jealously as she considered herself the ‘ugly duckling’ next to Annie’s graceful swan. However, it wasn’t Fern’s nature to covet anyone or feel unhappy with her own lot, and she truly wished her friend could find permanent happiness.

‘Come on then let’s go get ‘em!’ Fern said with gusto, and with that, they burst into the room, straight to the dance floor singing a duet of ‘Sweet Caroline’. Luckily, they were inaudible as the whole room broke into an impromptu rendition of the popular melody, and danced energetically without inhibitions.

Annie opened her eyes fleetingly, from the concentration of belting out the numerous golden oldies, and spotted a figure casually propped against a doorframe observing their movements with amusement, sipping on a pint of dark liquid.

He winked cheekily in Annie’s direction, and casually sauntered across the room towards them. It wasn’t until he drew nearer, that she realised it was the irresistibly handsome Aiden O’Connell – she’d recognise those emerald green eyes anywhere.

‘Well fancy meeting you here young Annie. Quite the dancer aren’t we!!..’ He let his entrancing eyes take in every intimate contour of her body. Even amidst the commotion of the party, she still succumbed to the soothing Irish brogue. ‘Is there anything this man isn’t good at?’ Annie asked herself, letting her eyes run over his toned torso and with a blush, concluded that it was unlikely.

Unaware that they had company, Fern twirled around and losing her balance fell towards their young male companion. Instinctively, her hands reached out to steady herself and she froze as her hands came to rest upon his broad chest. The pint of Guinness that he’d been holding had been spilt down his crisp fitted white shirt, and Fern felt a pang of guilt as she subconsciously regarded, a patch of dark hairy chest that had been revealed through the now see-through material, beneath her slender fingers.

Aiden raised his free hand, to tenderly cup Fern’s face, and his thumb caressed the soft velvety skin of her pink cheek. ‘How the devil are you then? Are you well?….’ His eyes were open wide as he took in every perfect contour of her face. Fern nuzzled self-consciously into his cupped palm, taking in his musky scent and cast Aiden a shy look. ‘All the better for seeing you…’ Her voice trembled slightly, and the mischievous sparkle that lit up his eyes confirmed that the feeling was mutual.

Annie stepped away and merged invisibly into the throng, as she watched the couple bask in the intimacy of their shared moment.

Surprisingly, she’d been so busy dancing she’d not had a drink all evening and decided a large glass of rose was called for. She’d forgotten what it was like to be a gooseberry, and suddenly although this was a jovial crowd, Annie was conscious that there weren’t any people that she actually knew, other than in passing. So staring into the bottom of a wine glass, was a welcome diversion, and she didn’t feel quite so alone.

With her nose immersed in a generous wine glass, mid sip, Annie surveyed the room. She gasped and spat back a gulp of wine, as she spotted the dark brooding figure of Justin Lomas eying her with disapproval from the doorway. Since her altercation with Mrs Cundy, she’d avoided the Lomas family and assumed this was the reason for Justin’s thunderous look.

She started visibly, and turned her back as she saw him marching across the floor in her direction.

‘Annie.’ His deep voice was sharp, and she wished she could be anywhere else but here right now. It had been such a pleasant day, she didn’t want to spoil it – it was one of those ‘beam me up Scottie’ moments.

There was nothing for it, there was no miraculous escape, so she turned to face the music and his glowering dark stare.

‘What’s up with you?’ Annie retorted, gulping a draft of rose to boost her ‘Dutch courage’.

Justin snorted with exasperation ‘What’s up with me! I don’t believe it… you were the one that didn’t turn up… and you ask what’s up with me?!’ He rammed his fists into his jeans pockets with frustration, and looked to the tiny figure that stood uneasily before him, demanding an answer.

‘Hang on….you storm over here and come over all Mr Darcy on me, accusing me of not turning up!’ Annie’s cheeks were flushed scarlet with rage. ‘Just what the hell are you talking about?….’ Justin opened his mouth, as if preparing his retort, but stopped mid flow, as if he’d thought better of it. The fact was despite his anger and frustration, he’d become aware of how dazzlingly beautiful Annie looked tonight, and it took him off his guard.

‘Well then, I’m waiting Justin!…’ Annie shuffled uncomfortably, under the scrutiny of this young man’s gaze, conscious that he was watching her intently. The silence seemed to last for an age, until Justin came to his senses. He ran his hand through a tangle of dark curls in an attempt to revive himself from his reverie.

‘I’m sorry…that wasn’t very subtle of me…’ He cast his eyes downward, and his lips formed into an apologetic smile, revealing endearing dimples in either cheek. Seeing Annie’s glare soften slightly, he continued, ‘But, I don’t appreciate being stood up. You had my mobile number, the least you could have done was to let me know you couldn’t make it.’ Justin was looking to Annie for some kind of answer now. ‘I know you had a bust up with Aunt Dorothy, but that doesn’t excuse…’

He didn’t have time to finish his sentence before Annie interrupted, a clear look of bemusement on her face. ‘Justin, I don’t have the faintest clue what you’re talking about. I don’t recall making any arrangements to meet up with you…when was this anyway?’

Surprise registered on the younger Lomas brother’s face, as he struggled to comprehend what was going on. ‘The note I left for you, I asked Sally to pass it on… last Friday when I was in London with Jason…’ Annie couldn’t suppress a derisory snigger, and it gradually dawned on Justin that the petite redhead had been telling the truth after all. ‘I’ll kill her…she’s no right to go meddling in my business….’

These Lomas brothers never ceased to amaze her, she’d expect this from Jason, but Justin. She was disappointed in Justin, she thought he was different somehow, special even. ‘Look I know me and her don’t exactly get on, but you can’t expect her to go passing on love notes on your behalf, that’s not on…No wonder I didn’t get the message to turn up for the date, she made sure of it’ A look of exasperation marred her pretty features, ‘And for once, I don’t blame her!’

‘Annie please’, Justin stepped forward to take both of Annie’s dainty hands in his own, in an attempt to reassure her. ‘It’s not like that at all. I’m, not like that’ He recoiled as Annie withdrew sharply from his grasp. ‘Please, give me a chance to explain. Meet me in the churchyard in five minutes’ His dark eyes were pained, as he stared imploringly at her. ‘Don’t let me down this time, I promise you it’ll be worth it….’ With that he turned, and with an abject gait crossed the room, and left the hall.

∞∞∞∞∞

Despite herself, Annie couldn’t resist the mysterious invitation. So it was, she emerged from the energetic chaos of the Memorial Hall to discover that dusk had already succumbed to the darkness of night. She walked briskly down the deserted main high street in the direction of the church. She buttoned up her cropped cardigan against the chill, which had begun to taint the evening air. A few solitary stars began to glisten in the darkening sky. Just as she approached the church gate which stood slightly ajar, the bells in the church tower began to chime indicating that it had reached eleven o’clock already. Annie shivered involuntarily, as she pushed the gate open, and walked down the gravel path towards the arch of the church doorway. As she approached, she could see a faint wisp of smoke rising up into the air from the dimly lit porch. Justin was leant against the stone doorway, drawing heavily on the remnants of a cigarette. He scrutinised the stub before dropping it to the ground, crushing it beneath his brown leather shoe.

‘I didn’t know you smoked…’ Annie said with a sense of distaste, and was surprised by the fact that it even bothered her.

Justin smirked ironically, considering the decimated remains on the ground. ‘I don’t. It’s you, you drive me to it!..’ Before, Annie had the chance – as he could see her bristling, he continued, ‘I’m joking of course. Things have been a bit rough recently, and it’s that older brother of mine leading me astray.’ He shrugged his shoulders. ‘Anyway, thanks for coming. I wouldn’t blame you if you hadn’t’

Annie stepped onto the stone step of the porch to stand next to the tall figure of Justin Lomas. She reached out and patted the checked arm of his shirt. ‘I’m sorry, I’d almost forgotten how rough these last few weeks have been for you. It was thoughtless of me…’ Justin cast her a rueful smile, aware that this was probably as close to contrition as Annie was ever likely to get.

She looked out into the gloomy shadows of the churchyard, puzzled, ‘So…what exactly are we doing here?’ Justin reached round to take a small torch from the back pocket of his jeans, the stark light of its beam picking out a plethora of recumbent gravestones scattered before them. For a moment, they both stood taking in the complete hush of the night, contemplating the jumbled bony remains that lay in eternal repose beneath the surface of the grassy knolls.

‘It’s about Grace Samuels…’ Justin continued in a whisper.

‘But…but .that was my Great, great grandmother’s name’ Justin lifted the torch between them, to illuminate the quizzical look spreading across Annie’s face. ‘How do you know…?’ Before she could finish her sentence, her male companion interjected.

‘I didn’t know anything about her…or her connection to you for that matter’ Annie’s heart was beating ferociously, she could feel the blood pumping through her veins. ‘I happened to overhear a conversation between my Mum and Aunt Dorothy, not long after you arrived in the village’ As if by way of explanation he continued, ‘Not that I usually listen in to other people’s conversations mind you, just that Aunt Dorothy was rather agitated….’

‘Why?’ Annie was still extremely puzzled, ‘I don’t understand’

Justin stepped out from the shelter of the porch, ‘Come with me’ he held out a hand towards his bemused companion, ‘I’ve got something to show you’.

‘Hang on a minute…this isn’t some sleazy excuse to have your wicked way with me behind the bushes is it!’ Incredulous Justin shook his head, and fixed her with an earnest stare, ‘Trust me…’

Intrigued, Annie clasped his warm hand, which gave her an overwhelming sense of reassurance on what was turning out to be a bizarre evening. He led the way down the path, which crunched loudly underfoot casting the beam of the torch from side to side as if searching for something. Not easily spooked, Annie was apprehensive about what lay beyond the fringes of the light, as strange shadows darted to and fro like some impish gremlins.

Justin slipped his hand round Annie’s slender waist, to guide her between two precariously positioned headstones, heading off the main path, ‘Where are we going?’ A note of concern registered in her voice now, as a twig cracked noisily beneath her feet.

‘We’re almost there’ Justin promised her, heading towards a clump of overgrown bushes, which rustled in the soft breeze. A few moments later, he stopped, the beam of his flashlight picking out a tangled column of ivy.

Justin turned to hand Annie the torch, and knelt to the ground, tearing at the parasitic greenery as if in a search of some hidden treasure. The redhead watched on in silence, not quite sure what she was witnessing.

Gradually, from the depths of the intertwined ivy a hard surface began to emerge. Encouraged, Justin clawed frantically removing large clumps of growth until a large patch of creamy grey veined marble materialised. Despite the coolness of the night, Justin was perspiring slightly from his exertions, reaching back to take the torch from Annie’s grasp.

‘What is it?…’ she questioned.

‘This…’ Justin swept the surface of the marble delicately, ‘is your Great Great Grandmother, Grace Samuels..’ He turned elbow rested on one knee, to see Annie slump to her knees in amazement, her mouth opened wide, aghast.

‘Oh my God…I had no idea she was buried here! But, how did you know?’ There were a million and one questions reeling through her mind, ‘How did you know she was here, and how did you know where to find the grave?…’ Justin, detected the look of complete and utter shock in her eyes, and turned round fully to face her now.

‘The reason Aunt Dorothy was so freaked out that time, I overheard her talking to Mum was because she saw the ring..’ he gestured to Annie’s right index finger, and the buttery gold ring that encircled it, ‘She couldn’t understand how it came to be in your possession, as it was a Fitzwilliam family heirloom…she went mouthing off to Mum’. Uncomfortable sat on his haunches, Justin sat back onto the dewy grass, and sat cross-legged, whilst he brought Annie up to date with everything he’d discovered about Grace Samuels and her involvement with the Fitzwilliam family.

Justin revealed how the two sisters were concerned about the ring turning up, particularly now of all times. Dorothy Cundy had admitted that she was aware that her young tenant was somehow related to Grace Samuels. However, when questioned by her younger sister Margaret, Dorothy refused to divulge exactly how she’d come across that information. They then went on to whisper in hushed but agitated tones, about Charles Fitzwilliam, and some family misfortune at the beginning of the 1900’s, which Justin had only partially managed to hear.

‘I thought nothing of it…I thought it was just a couple of women gossiping, as only women know how’ At Annie’s raised eyebrows, Justin continued hurriedly before he could be reprimanded. ‘I wouldn’t have thought anything more of it, if I hadn’t gone up into the attic at Lillington Hall. His face was a mask of seriousness, eying Annie carefully.

‘Edward…you know my step-father, he’d sent me up there on some wild goose chase, he was after a chest of portrait miniatures and silhouettes. He’d been watching Antiques Roadshow, and he was convinced that he had a set of rare portraits that had been referred to.’ Justin smiled reflectively, although he’d not known the man long as a father figure, one thing he was very aware of was Edward’s competitive edge, the need to be seen to be the best. ‘I spent a whole afternoon up there, choking on the dust..I was covered in cobwebs by the time I’d finished’

‘So, what’s this got to do with Grace and the ring?’ Annie’s impatience was rising, but she checked herself as she saw the seriousness return to Justin’s eyes.

‘Well needless to say, I never found the portraits, but..’ His shoulders hunched almost as if weighed down under the burden of some secret, and he lifted his dark eyes to look upon the confused and expectant face of the young woman before him. He could see Annie shivering, as the deepening darkness of night brought with it an increasing nip in the air. Having no coat himself to offer, he shuffled round so that he was next to her. Annie melted gratefully into his gentle embrace, as he rubbed briskly on each of her arms in an attempt to warm her – like some prehistoric caveman trying to kindle a fire.
‘As I was saying, I didn’t find the portraits…but I did find another chest.’ He paused briefly, before resuming, his chin rested on top of Annie’s perfumed hair, as they both looked at the marble epitaph before them.

‘I found some documents in a chest marked Charles Montague Fitzwilliam, it looked like an old travelling case. Anyway, there were various papers relating to the estates etc, but there was one document which appeared to have an unbroken seal – when I turned it over the name Grace Florence Samuels was written neatly in immaculate handwriting on the other side..’ Justin felt Annie’s soft hair tickle his neck, as she jerked in surprise at this latest revelation. Subconsciously, he took a lock of her auburn hair in his right hand, and twisted it therapeutically between his fingers, caressing the silky softness.

‘I opened it…’ Annie sat up now, her interest heightened.

‘What was in there?’

‘It was an agreement between your Great great grandmother, and the Fitzwilliam family. It seems, that she and Charles Fitzwilliam were an item at one point, although it was very hush hush of course, she was one of the housemaids.’

How apt Annie thought, her Mum had always told her there was a skeleton in their family cupboard, and here she was sat in a graveyard in the dead of night listening to all the intimate details. So Grace was gradually beginning to reveal her story after all.

‘Hang on’ Annie interrupted, ‘Chambers told me that Charles Fitzwilliam was sailing to America to marry his fiancée Catherine something or other…where did Grace fit into the picture?’ She was desperately hoping that her Great great Grandmother had been more than some grubby secretive affair.

‘Oh yes, Old Chambers – seems to get his nose into everything!’ Justin exclaimed. ‘No. Well yes he was going to – however, there were some letters in the chest’ he stumbled as he tried to work out how best to explain ‘I don’t know how the letters came to be in the chest, but they were addressed to Grace. Amongst them was a telegram sent from his last voyage, you know he disappeared..’ Annie nodded sombrely in acknowledgement. ‘It was something to the effect of, I don’t love her I love you, please wait for me I’m coming home’ Annie’s eyes opened wide in amazement at this revelation.

‘Gosh! I’d never have expected that…wow Charles you old dog!’ Annie was pleased that Charlie had turned out to be a decent guy, and was smug in the knowledge that Grace had captured the heart of such a gorgeous man with his movie star looks. ‘So what was in the paper then, the one with the seal?’

Justin pursed his lips tightly ‘It was an agreement. Between the Fitzwilliam family, and Grace…she had to sign away any rights for her and her child to any stake in the Fitzwilliam family estate. She was to be positioned with a family on the outskirts of Derby.’ Justin watched as the gravity of her ancestor’s predicament dawned on Annie, before adding ‘The strange thing is she was given two things..the ring, which you’ve got now and a locket hung on a black velvet ribbon. There was some peculiar accusation that they were cursed or something’

‘Wind back, a moment.. did you say Grace and her child?’ Annie was rising to her feet now, looking down at Justin as he nodded sympathetically in agreement.

‘Yes, it seems the relationship with Charles wasn’t entirely plutonic!’

‘Oh Grace, Grace…what must you have thought’ It wasn’t meant as a question, as she knew it would remain unanswered. All that remained of her Great great Grandmother now were the bones that lay beneath their feet. However, she felt that somehow part of her kindred spirit still lived on in Annie Carruthers.

‘Anyway’ Justin interrupted her moment of peaceful contemplation, ‘the reason I brought you here is, if I’m not mistaken there’s something buried beneath the headstone’ Could this evening get any more implausible Annie thought, as she struggled to comprehend everything that was unfolding before her.

Justin had already sprung to his feet, brushing down his jeans in an attempt to dry the dampness that clung to the fabric. He rooted furtively amongst the grass and weeds at what he thought to be the foot of the grave, still not explaining what he was looking for. After a few minutes, Justin concentrated his efforts on a small hump in the ground. Mud became lodged under his fingernails, as he clawed inexplicably at the ground. However, his labour was rewarded by a marble structure, which was revealed below the surface, he scrabbled further until the top of a tiny urn was revealed.

Looking round excitedly to Annie, he felt his heart hammering as she ran to his side, and he lifted the exquisitely carved lid, and gestured for Annie to focus the beam of the torch on the contents. The two were amazed, as Justin crossed his fingers in a pincer movement to pull an object from within.

They both watched on in amazement as a fragment of black velvet emerged like a snake being charmed from a basket. As the tail end emerged, a faded gold locket swung like a pendulum, freed from its crypt for the first time in decades. Annie’s jaw dropped lower than she thought was physically possible, as she gasped.

‘Justin, it’s the locket…isn’t it, it’s the locket in those papers you found?’ The young man, nodded in acknowledgement.

‘But how did you know it was there? I don’t understand….’

Before Justin had an opportunity to answer, they were both startled by a siren screeching noisily into the village. Regaining his composure, Justin bent to pick the torch up from the ground where he’d dropped it. Curious, the two figures worked their way back through the gloom of the graveyard to the pathway, and towards the gate at the entrance.

A flashing blue light swirled like a dervish, illuminating the dark walls of the buildings as it tore past them, screeching to a halt abruptly on the village green. Like Starsky and Hutch, police officers sprang from the doors with a sense of urgency heading towards a cottage set just off the green, which until now had been peaceful and calm.

‘What’s going on?’ Annie asked, as if Justin had all the answers.

Hearing no response, she turned towards the younger Lomas brother who had a deathly pallor in the dim glow of the streetlamp as they emerged onto the road.

‘Justin, what’s wrong’ she grabbed his arms and shook him, in an attempt to awaken him from the trance like state.

‘I don’t know’ he faltered, ‘but that’s my parents house…’.

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