Here is an extract…
The group of people straggled along the gravel track, their dark clothes in stark contrast to the white Jacobean front of the manor house ahead. Lucy Rossington was already climbing the shallow porch steps and as she reached the top the young man accompanying her pushed the heavy front door open and stood still, looking down at Lucy, whose slender figure barely reached his shoulder. ‘This is going to be hard work,’ he said grimly.
‘Yes, I know,’ she murmured ruefully as she entered the hall, which was gloomy in the late afternoon light. ‘Leave the door open, David. Would you let Gina know we’re back? It might be easier if we ply them quickly with plenty of tea and sandwiches.’
He nodded and strode thankfully along the western corridor to the kitchen wing. Lucy pulled off her velvet hat and tossed it onto a shelf under the gallery stairs, then slipped out of her long coat and hung it carelessly on the crowded rack. She smoothed down the skirt of her black dress and ran her fingers through her chestnut hair, pushing it away from her face. Turning back towards the front door, she glanced in the gilt-framed mirror that hung on the wall, lifting her pointed chin and pinning a resolute smile on her lips.
She stood just inside the doorway, hidden in the shadows of the room, and looked out along the gravel track that led to the old priory buildings. Mike Shannon was almost at the foot of the porch steps and Lucy felt a spurt of amusement as she realised that the archaeologist was subduing his normally exuberant pace with some difficulty. His companion, a stout man in his late thirties, wore an expression of sombre disapproval with the ease of long practice and Lucy’s brief sparkle died as her gaze fell on him. Beyond them the remaining mourners advanced singly or in constrained pairs towards the house.
For a moment Lucy felt they were all unreal, just silhouettes against the bare branches of the trees and the polished green of the rhododendron bushes. Sudden harsh cawing shattered the impression, and a flock of rooks appeared over the tower of the small church they had just left. Calling raucously to each other they circled the tall beeches and began to jostle for roosting space in the branches.
She pressed the main light switch, bringing to sudden glowing life the mullioned windows and the half-panelling on the stone walls. Mike, his voice abnormally polite, was encouraging his companion to enter the house, and she stepped forward, squaring her shoulders.
‘Yes, do come straight in, Professor. It’s rather chilly now the sun is going,’ Lucy tried consciously to infuse a note of welcome into her voice.
‘Indeed it is,’ he responded, stomping across the threshold. ‘Weather’s on the turn if you ask me. We’ll be having snow soon.’ She took his hat and overcoat as he removed them and passed them to Mike, who looked at them blankly.
‘Come through to the drawing room,’ Lucy invited the older man, who was rubbing his hands briskly as he stared crossly at the empty hearth. ‘Our housekeeper’s lit a fire in there, so it will be warmer. Professor Shannon will bring the others through as they arrive.’ She glanced meaningfully at Mike, who nodded vigorously and turned away to the coat rack. Professor Mersett hesitated, and Lucy smiled at him. ‘Tea is on the way; I’m sure you could do with a hot drink and something to eat after your long journey.’
‘One doesn’t care to dwell on such things at a time like this,’ he said pompously, ‘but there’s no denying that a little sustenance would be most welcome. No doubt the students will think so.’ He trod firmly beside her towards the drawing room and Mike expelled his breath in a huge sigh, which was probably clearly audible in the passageway.
‘Old fool,’ he muttered, carelessly throwing the coat and hat he still held onto a carved chest as his attention was caught by the woman entering the hall. ‘Liz,’ he exclaimed, ‘I’ve emailed Archison about that painting he’s working on at Frenham. I only saw it briefly when I was over there, but I’m pretty certain the design is almost identical to what you’ve uncovered.’
‘That will be interesting,’ Liz said in her gentle voice, while she hung her coat up neatly. ‘How soon do you expect to hear from him?’ She pulled Mike’s coat off his shoulders as she spoke and he shrugged out of it absently.
‘This evening, of course.’ He looked down at her, his blue eyes widening in surprise. ‘There isn’t any reason why he should dither about it. Either there’s a strong similarity or there isn’t.’
‘Mmm,’ Liz murmured, her eyes following the line of the shallow stairs up to the gallery that ran around the hall. ‘This is what’s mentioned in the architectural guides, isn’t it?’
Mike grunted, and Liz unwillingly drew her gaze away from the upper floor. ‘Where are we supposed to go?’ she asked, glancing round the room. ‘Do you know?’
‘The drawing room,’ Mike replied gloomily, gesturing vaguely towards the eastern end of the house. ‘Lucy’s already there with that fool Mersett.’ He turned as the remaining mourners came into the hall, huddling together just inside the doorway. ‘Ah, here you are at last. There’s no need to hang around. Let’s get this over.’ He beckoned them to follow him and turned abruptly on his heel.
Liz gave up trying to tidy the soft hair she had tied into a loose chignon, and took Mike by the arm, steering him out of the hall. ‘Dr Archison can probably give me some useful tips anyway. He is an expert in the field, after all.’
Mike snorted. ‘Him! More like a fussy old woman. Still,’ he added grudgingly, ‘he does know his stuff, but I wouldn’t have thought he could teach you much.