My new novel, Hot Gossip, will be published at the beginning of December. While not exactly a sequel to my previous publication, Hot Property, it’s set in the same location and some of the characters have been given bit parts in the new story.
In Hot Gossip, we meet Janine, a mysterious Frenchwoman who comes to this remote part of the Irish Atlantic coast, thinking it’s the perfect place to hide from the painful memories of her past. She changes her name and takes on a whole new identity. But, even though this isolated rural community is far removed from the fleshpots of France, it doesn’t take long before the locals become curious…
That’s all I’m going to reveal. You will find the first chapter below. I hope it will give you a taste for more.
Janine sat, in the Lotus position, on the deck behind the old house. It was a bright day with a promise of spring but the shadows were already creeping up the lawn toward the house. At dusk the clear skies would herald a sharp frost by morning. Janine wondered if the camellias, sprung into bloom in the past few days, would survive. She still couldn’t get used to this early spring so far north. But the Gulf Stream clipping this coast made it possible for exotic plants to survive.
Her eyes closed, Janine repeated her mantra, trying to empty her mind. This usually brought her great peace and serenity. But not today. She sensed the presence of something or someone that didn’t belong in the quiet garden. She opened her eyes. There was a movement behind the trees at the end of the lawn, a shadow coming closer. Then she saw her. A girl, long-legged like a fawn, picking her way over the boulders in the river at the bottom of the garden. She sang softly to herself, oblivious of the world around her.
The girl came steadily closer. She still hadn’t seen Janine and seemed absorbed in her own thoughts and whatever she could see down there on the riverbed. Fish perhaps, flicking in and out among the rocks on their way upriver to spawn.
The silence was suddenly broken by the squawking of a pheasant in the shrubs nearby. The sound, like a broken toy trumpet, startled both the girl and the woman. They looked up and listened. Their eyes met.
The girl froze, her hand holding onto an overhanging branch for support. Wide-eyed, she gazed at Janine as if gauging her mood. Friend or foe, she seemed to ask.
Janine smiled. “Hello,” she said as gently as she could. “Who are you? A fairy come to grant me a wish? Or a ghost from another time? I’ve been told the tower is haunted, but I didn’t believe it. Now, here you are, looking like a girl in an old painting.”
The girl shook her hair back. “I’m not a ghost. My feet are cold. Ghosts don’t get cold feet.” Her voice, barely audible across the expanse of lawn was sweet and melodious and her accent decidedly British. She peered at Janine. “But who are you? I didn’t know anyone lived in Megan’s house. Why are you sitting on the deck and not in a chair?”
Janine relaxed her pose and pulled up her knees, wrapping her arms around them. “I was doing yoga. That’s called the Lotus position.”
The girl scrambled up the bank and walked toward the deck. As she came closer, Janine saw her more clearly. She was tall and lanky, with long chestnut hair and enormous grey eyes in a heart-shaped face. There was a solemn air about her, unusual for such a young girl. “Why do you do it? The yoga thing, I mean.”
“It’s good for me. Good for my mind and my body.”
The girl settled on the edge of the deck. “I don’t like doing things that are good for me. They’re usually boring.”
“Your jeans are wet,” Janine remarked. “And your feet look nearly blue. The stream must be very cold this time of year.”
The girl looked at her feet. “I can’t feel them much. I was following Denis. He walked down the stream. Probably chasing a fox.” She turned to Janine. “What’s your name?”
“That’s a weird name. Are you foreign? Is that why you talk funny? Why are you dressed in black? Did someone die? Are you a widow?” She drew breath.
“That’s a lot of questions.” Janine smiled at the girl. “I’ll try to answer them. Yes, I’m foreign. And I like black at the moment, not because someone died but because it goes with my mood.” Janine held out her hand. “Maybe we should introduce ourselves? My name is Janine Marchand and I’m from Paris. What’s yours?”
The girl giggled and put her thin, cold hand in Janine’s. “My name is Cornelia O’Shea. Very pleased to meet you, my dear.”
“That’s a very nice name.”
“Thank you. It’s kind of long, though. My friends call me Nelia.”
“That’s sweet too. Is Denis one of those friends?”
Nelia giggled deliciously. “No. He’s a dog. My uncle’s dog. You look good in black. Just like that Morticia woman in the movie, with your black hair. Why do you live here, in the west of Ireland if you’re from Paris? Isn’t that like one of the coolest cities in the world? Why would you come to this boring place if you can live there?”
Janine hesitated. She had a strange feeling she could tell this girl anything and it would stay between the two of them. She was older than she had appeared at first, about eleven or twelve, on the cusp of womanhood. A magic age when you’re aware of everything but not of the dangers and evils of adult life. “I’m in hiding,” she said without thinking.
Nelia looked at her with more interest. “Really? Like a spy? Or a murderer? Did you kill someone and then ran away? Are the police after you? Or Inspector Cluseau of the Surete?”
Janine laughed. “No. I’m sorry to disappoint you. It’s a long story. It’s more about people gossiping and saying nasty things about me.”
“Oh. I know what you mean. Happened to me too. People saying nasty things about me behind my back.” Nelia sighed and looked glumly at her feet. “But here, nobody knows me so they just laugh at my accent.”
“I noticed your accent. Not a local one.”
“No. I’m from England. Birmingham. But my dad’s from here. And my uncle. He has the farm up the road.”
“You’re staying with your uncle?”
Nelia sighed. “Yes, and his new wife.”
On an impulse, Janine touched Nelia’s silky hair. “You sound sad. Homesick?”
Nelia’s shoulders slumped. “I miss my dad. I’ve only been here a week but I hate it already. Especially my new aunt. And she hates me.”
“I’m sure she doesn’t.”
Nelia pulled away from Janine’s hand. “Yes she does.” She jumped to her feet. “Nobody really wants me. She is trying to have a baby. When she does, she’ll hate me even more.”
Janine looked at the young girl and noticed the sorrow deep in her eyes. A sorrow of not feeling loved, which she knew so well. “Things are often not the way they appear,” she said in an attempt to soothe. “And other people’s feelings are hard to decipher. Your aunt is newly married and probably trying to get used to a whole new life.”
Nelia shrugged. “Yeah, right. Whatever. Got to go. Bye.” She turned on her heel, padded across the grass and jumped over the bank into the river. She picked her way up to the bend in three graceful strides and disappeared into the shadows like the fairy Janine had first thought her to be.
Janine couldn’t get the image of the young girl out of her mind. There was such a hauntingly sad look in those huge grey eyes. She’s very like someone, she thought as she went about the old house, tidying up, making tea and finally switching on her computer. But who? Then it struck her; that girl is very like me, the way I was at that age. That forlorn look, the suspicion, the prickly way about her, just like Janine after the event that shattered her safe, comfortable existence. Then she had been moved around like a difficult dog nobody wanted, from one relative to another until she was sixteen and had run away to Paris and got a job in a department store by lying about her age.
Janine stood at the window and looked far out to sea, wondering, pondering like so many times before, how her life would have turned out if she hadn’t been spotted by a scout from a New York modelling agency in that Paris department store and left for Manhattan. If she hadn’t sashayed down the catwalk with Steve in the audience at a time when he was searching for a trophy wife. If she hadn’t been seduced by his wealth and power and married him after only six months. She would probably be the wife of some French public servant, with two point three children. She’d spend her days trundling kids to day care and work in some dreary office. Bored, but at least she’d be free, not tied to a cruel, vindictive man who thought he owned her. Who organized the execution of at least two men he suspected were her lovers. Who ordered his spies to follow her everywhere. But this once, she had fooled him. They’ll never find me here, she thought, in this remote part of Ireland. The trail went cold in London. Nobody here knows who I am.
There was a loud knock on the door. As usual, the sound made her jump. When will I stop being afraid, she thought. When will I stop thinking a knock on my door means they’ve found me?
And, of course, the setting was inspired by the stunning Kerry landscape.