Saving Anna and Visiting Lilly

I’m proud to announce that Visiting Lilly now has a sequel, Saving Anna.

When I first wrote Visiting Lilly I knew that my main characters, Detective Inspector Jake Talbot and Frankie Hayward, had many mores stories to tell, but I didn’t have a publishing contract, so the ideas sat on the back-burner. As soon as I was published by Booktrope they asked if I had any other novels I’d already written, to which I replied, ‘yes,’ and then quietly slipped in that I’d already scratched out a first chapter of Saving Anna, a new mystery with the same lead characters.

I was advised to prioritise finishing Saving Anna, and to build a series. Finish it? I’d hardly started writing it at that stage. Yipes! But hey, if the publisher wants more, then the publisher shall have more. Who was I as a fledgling novelist to refuse such an offer? As time went by I quickly learnt that this is how it works in the world of being a ‘real’ writer. While we were editing Visiting Lilly I was busy plotting and writing Saving Anna.

Having agreed to write a series, I had to come up with a name for it, so that readers can easily see that the books are associated with each other, and that they’ll find a story about the characters they’ve already become familiar with. After much deliberation I decided on Jake Talbot Investigates which gives a fair idea of what a reader will find between the covers. I then realised that the series title is a little long to hashtag on Twitter, so look out for #JTI as I’ll be using this abbreviation in tweets.

Saving Anna book coverVisiting Lilly is based in Farnham, Surrey, but I spend some of my time down in Dorset, and am very passionate about the local wildlife, history and scenery. For Saving Anna I decided to shift location and have Talbot and Frankie travel to Bridport, Dorset, to carry out an investigation. In truth Talbot starts off being requested to only observe a cult, the Temple of Purple Light, and report back to the Ministry of Defence, but he’s determined to find out what they’re up to as their beliefs pose a threat to his catatonic sister, Anna. Furthermore the MOD also need Frankie’s exceptional computer skills, skills he’s prohibited from using except on the Ministry’s behalf.

Neither man knows what they’re meant to be looking for, but observation turns into investigation when they discover a woman’s body draped over the gravestone of one of Talbot’s ancestors. Soon after, a dangerous piece of evidence slips into Talbot’s hands, the plotters’ desperation to get it back becoming the catalyst for murder.

As they uncover a conspiracy that links psychic manipulation, drugs, and death, the two friends grow from master and apprentice to partners in detection, protecting each other from increasing hazards. The trail leads them into deeper shadows, where Talbot’s old enemy waits to wreak a revenge that is as shocking as it is painful.

How far will Jake go to save his sister?

Each book in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series is a stand-alone novel, a complete story in itself. I’m now busy writing Book 3, Finding Louisa, which brings the action back to Farnham. A little girl has gone missing from the ponds and wooded acres of Puttenham Common. As they work on finding Louisa, Jake Talbot and Frankie unearth shocking evidence that links back to an old case.

We’ll be running promotions to celebrate the launch of Saving Anna, so come along and join me on Twitter @Listansus and watch out for the #JTI hashtag.

Jane Austen the complete collectionI must admit that until recently I’ve never truly understood why everyone gets so excited about Jane Austen. To my mind her novels have always been classic romantic tales of girl meets boy, then through some social disaster girl gets torn away from boy, only to meet boy again and live happily ever after. The end.

Not so fast. This is a highly simplistic way of viewing Austen’s work. Yes, I have been naïve in my understanding and comprehension of what she is actually showing us. When I studied Persuasion at school we all mocked Louisa’s stupidity for leaping off The Cobb when it was slippery, thus twisting her ankle. What was wrong with the woman? When we took a school trip to Austen’s home, Chawton Cottage, we all gazed dumbfounded at the small round table she wrote at. Yeah, it’s a table, not even a proper desk. And, in more mature years, like many other women, I’ve slow motioned the scene of Colin Firth, aka Mr Darcy, diving into the ornamental pond wearing a white shirt, which once wetted, turns semi-transparent. Hmm, very nice indeed, thank you.

Apart from Mr Firth’s shirt, what is all the fuss about? Watch the clip and listen to what Darcy asks Elizabeth near the end.

I’m not a great historian, and although interested in historical events, my ability to retain specific data is sorely lacking. I’m one of those people who needs surround-sound educational material, with lots of pictures and associated stories before history means anything to me. A text book of dry words has me yawning and gazing out of the window. Fortunately, I own a television. It’s an appliance that sits in the corner and gets switched on once every few days. I’m not an addict. I trawl through the TV listings and record programmes I might be interested in. Out of mild curiosity I set my system to record the BBC’s ‘At Home with the Georgians.’

After watching the very first episode I began to comprehend Jane Austen’s novels. Yippee! At last! I already knew that in Georgian times it was impossible for a woman to inherit property or finances unless it was particularly specified in a will. Women were powerless in that respect. I also knew that the type of carriage one used was important, not only because it declared status, but also because it showed how modern you were, and whether you used the equivalent of a Ferrari or a 2CV. This latter fact didn’t escape my notice because I’m a bit of a petrol-head, and I can therefore easily make associations with my personal interest.

Property is the part that I had never understood. The house. What kind of gaff the bloke could offer. Wow! It’s a revelation. In Pride and Prejudice there’s an awkward scene in which Elizabeth Bennett visit’s Darcy’s home, Pemberley, with her aunt and uncle. Darcy is known to be away, but he returns unexpectedly, causing Elizabeth great embarrassment. Yeah, serves her right for snooping. Hang on, Georgian social conventions were different than ours. If someone owned a fine house with a large estate, it was normal and accepted behaviour for them to permit visitors to view their house while they were absent. A few people still do this, especially in London if they have an architecturally interesting property.

We’re now beginning to see that an understanding of Georgian social conduct gives us greater insight into Austen’s world. While watching ‘At Home with the Georgians,’ I’ve learnt that great importance was placed on owning your own home, as well as wallpaper being the new fashionable trend. ChippendaleThe cabinet maker Chippendale was the first person to create a sales catalogue from which you could choose products from the comfort of your own home, and above all else, personal taste, as displayed by how you decorated your living quarters, was the in thing. This is why in Austen’s books women are always popping over to ‘take tea’ with some important lady or another. It isn’t for the genteel conversation, it’s to judge their host’s taste, and to decide whether or not they are worthy companions. These days we choose what to display on Facebook, in Georgian times people walked straight into your living room, so there was no picking or choosing choice tit-bits to show off, everything had to be socially acceptable.

Chawton Cottage - Jane Austen's home

Chawton Cottage – Jane Austen’s home

This is such an eye-opener. In Sense and Sensibility I’ve always fully understood that the Dashwood women should feel heartbroken at having to leave their beautiful estate, Norland, when their half-brother inherits. What I didn’t comprehend was that when they are left with meagre means, it’s not simply the lack of superior daily provisions, but also the lack of a fine home which makes them a less than attractive proposition to many suitable men. This is why Willoughby jilts Marianne, she has no money, and is considered lacking by his aunt, on whom he’s dependant, due to their inferior social status. In other words, they didn’t live in the right type of house as would befit any future wife of her precious nephew. No doubt they didn’t have the correct wallpaper either.


Chawton House where Austen’s brother lived

In Georgian middle-class England women were chosen on breeding and wealth. In fact there were published lists of how much each woman could be expected to bring as a dowry. Men would make a bee-line for the most prosperous women first, of course. But let us not make these men all out to be gold-diggers. ‘At Home with the Georgians’ included readings from diaries and letters of men who thought themselves too unworthy to wed, mainly because they still lived under their father’s roofs and had no property to offer their prospective wife. To seduce a woman with a house was to offer her the opportunity to decorate it as she wished and to flourish within society. This is what a Georgian woman required in order to feel fulfilled.

There were, of course, exceptions to this accepted notion of happiness, but I’m not certain that Austen was a true rebel. Just like the Dashwood women, Jane Austen, her mother and sister, were ousted from their family home when the eldest son inherited. Living in comfortable circumstances, on the fringes of society amongst the landed gentry, much of Austen’s work focuses on a woman’s need for security, how society gives women no power, and of the need for a home. I believe that Austen truly desired these things. Although Austen never married, it is said that she did receive at least one proposal of marriage, but there is nothing written as to why she refused him.

Austen’s home, Chawton Cottage in Hampshire, is only a short drive down the road from me. I live on the edge of Jane Austen country, and often pass many country estates which could readily stand in as Norland or Pemberley. Next summer I shall visit Chawton Cottage again, look at the little table she sat at to write, and see if it’s grown in stature at all now that I understand more about the world she lived in.

Finding a modern day Pemberley. An article pondering which house Mr Darcy might buy now.

Which is your ideal Mr Darcy?

Colin Firth Darcy

Colin Firth


Matthew Macfadyen

VL 4 Traditonal detectives

As you’re probably aware by now, Book 2 in my Jake Talbot Investigates series, Saving Anna, is due for release REALLY soon. I’m so excited by the approaching launch of my new book that I thought it would be great to offer book 1 for free between 9th – 13th November. Grab your copy!

This is a terrific opportunity to meet British Detective Jake Talbot and join him in unravelling the mystery of a romance that crosses the boundaries of time. Why doesn’t anyone want young Frankie Hayward to visit an old woman named Lilly? Why is the Ministry of Defence interested in Frankie? Can Jake manage to set aside the unhappy memories of Christmas past, and keep working through the festive season: or will he crack under the strain?

Find out in Visiting Lilly


Billy the Kid is the one on the left

Billy the Kid is the one on the left

Every story has heroes and villains, the good guys and the bad guys, the ones we want to win, and the ones we know will be defeated. In books and movies the distinction is usually made pretty clear cut by the writer showing us that one is the goodie, the other the baddie. Sometimes the boundaries are blurred and we find the good guy being treated as a bad guy, one example being Harrison’s Ford’s character Dr Richard Kimble in The Fugitive. Kimble is accused of murdering his wife, resulting in US Deputy Marshal Samuel Gerard, wonderfully portrayed by Tommy Lee Jones, hunting him down, determined to catch a killer. In the film we know Kimble is innocent of this crime because we see scenes from his point of view, we become insiders, people who have witnessed the truth of the matter.

In real life that insider knowledge is denied to us. If we have a personal friendship with someone, then we might believe that we have some understanding of their motivation for a particular action. If they are a stranger to us, then we rely on newspaper reports, television news reels and hearsay, but these are easily coloured by sensationalism. This distortion can become even further exaggerated if the individual we’re judging died many years ago and has become a legend.

Billy the Kid playing croquet

The new photo of Billy the Kid playing croquet – courtesy of Kagin’s

Ever since a child I’ve been fascinated by the outlaw Billy the Kid, also known as William H Bonny amongst many other aliases, and originally named Henry McCarty. During my childhood he repeatedly appeared in westerns, as a youth lurking in the shadows, propping up a bar, being told he could only drink milk. ‘Is that the kid?’ some gunslinger would ask. ‘I hear that Sheriff Pat Garrett’s in town.’ The characters were clearly defined, Billy the Kid as an outlaw, Pat Garrett as the cop who was after him. We know who’s supposed to win.

So, why do we root for Billy the Kid? Is there a large question mark concerning his guilt or innocence? Or, do we simply feel empathy because he’s referred to as ‘kid’ and therefore must be young and less likely to do bad things? Movie makers err towards portraying him as a sympathetic character, and not a hardened criminal. He’s an outlaw, a man on the run, and just like Dr Kimble, a fugitive. The distinction between the two men is that we have never been given an insider scene for Billy the Kid, we don’t know precisely what happened that set him on a desperate trail.

The recent discovery, and verification, of a new photo of Billy the Kid set me on a trail of investigation. Was this guy a hero or a villain? Firstly I researched his date of birth and set up a noon time birth chart for him. I would go and read what others said about him later, after I’d made my own assessment of his character.

Billy the Kid potrait

The only previously known photo of Billy the Kid

Henry McCarty was born on 17th September 1859 in New York. (no birth time available) Early on that day the Moon is in Taurus, while from approximately 6:30 pm it’s in Gemini, closely conjunct his natal Uranus. This change in the Moon sign makes for two very different characters, but I prefer the earlier Taurus Moon, because when I did read up on him I learnt that he spoke fluent Spanish, and the earlier time places his natal Mercury conj. Mars in the 9th house, which would make him quick to pick up a new language. It also makes him an overall nicer person, steady and loyal; while Moon conj. Uranus would have him dropping his friends as quickly as a hot potato. I rather like the idea of him being a nice person, after all, I’ve been captivated by his story since childhood.

The new photo shows Billy playing croquet, allegedly after a friend’s wedding. This is normal stuff, this makes him a good guy. In his birth chart he has Jupiter in Cancer, showing how he likes and respects the concept of family and a sense of belonging.

So, where’s the villain in him? Is it there? Well, he has four planets in Virgo which would make him someone who is very intelligent, and extremely precise. He has Sun conj. Venus in Virgo giving him a desire to dress up smart, and to be clean and tidy. It can also give someone a slight stature, and records say that Billy wasn’t very tall, hence his nickname of ‘the kid.’ But, what’s this? He has Mercury conj. Mars in Virgo, which is maybe where the trouble begins. He’d have had a cutting tongue, but not necessarily a quick temper; however, it would make him extremely fast to draw a gun when angered, and he’d be highly accurate. This is turning him into Billy the Precision Kid. With Pluto in Taurus trine this Mars/Mercury conjunction, he’s someone who would brew and smoulder, build up hatred deep inside, then react when pushed too far.

Billy also has Uranus square Mercury/Mars conj. which would make him a risk taker. If he were alive today he’d ride a fast motorcycle, weave in and out of traffic at speed, but never fall off, never make a mistake. This square could make him quick to flare up, but more likely when speed is the challenge, such as a horse race or a competition to see who can shoot six tin-cans faster than the other. It could also make him impatient, but more with his tongue than his fists.

During my research I read various accounts of how Billy the Kid first came to kill a man, Frank P. Cahill. The consensus of opinion is that Billy went into a bar to do some gambling (he’d be good with cards and numbers, so probably won often – which might make him unpopular). Over the game of cards he gets into an argument with Cahill, reports suggesting that this was not a new issue and that Cahill frequently bullied Billy and physically assaulted him. On this fateful occasion, Cahill, a big man, knocks Billy down and straddles him, continuing to punch. Fearing for his life, Billy manages to draw his gun and shoots Cahill in the stomach, a wound he ends up dying from.

This story about Cahill’s behaviour, how he repeatedly picked on Billy and beat him up, paints Billy in the light of a man who was forced to take action to protect himself, and had reached the end of his tether with a bully. Billy was pushed too far. Billy was quick on the draw and didn’t think twice about the consequences of his actions, all he wanted was for that bully to stop thrashing him.

It also backs up my assessment that Billy has Moon Taurus. He’s stubborn. He kept going back to that darn bar, refusing to let a bully control his life. If he was born later in the day, with Moon conj. Uranus he’d more likely have had entirely the opposite reaction. He’d have walked away. If someone kept picking on him he’d have turned right around and found a different bar to gamble in, found new friends. He wouldn’t have hung around.

None of this casts Billy the Kid as a hero or a villain, but if I were writing an insider scene, something that only the reader gets to share, I’d show a conversation between Billy and his friends. They’d beg him not to go into Atkins saloon, tell him that they’d seen that bully Cahill go in there earlier, warn him to gamble elsewhere. Billy would, of course, have responded that no man was going to intimidate him into not going where he wanted to go. If Cahill attacked him then he’d sidestep, he was quick on his feet, nimble like a dancer. I’d then change scene to inside the saloon, show Cahill talking with his buddies, telling them how was going to thrash that kid if he showed his face today. As we read we beg Billy not to walk through those swing doors into that bar, but the stubborn youngster pushes them open, steps inside, and an outlaw is born.

Billy the Kid

Birth chart for Billy the Kid erected for 12:30pm

Here are som great places to research Billy the Kid.





Once upon a time Booktrope came along and changed everything…they offered me a publishing contract. With Booktrope we do what is termed ‘team publishing,’ in that we create a team consisting of author, editor, book manager, project manager, proof reader and cover designer, all working together to generate the best book possible before it goes to press. But today I’m not here to talk about the specifics of an individual project, I’m here to talk about the much larger possibilities that Booktrope offers its authors.

Montana Book FestivalBooktrope itself is one large family, with everyone helping each other out and flagging up opportunities. Maybe what’s on offer is as simple as someone offering to buddy-up over a coffee (Or virtual coffee via Skype) because they work in a particular industry and have insider knowledge that will help you perfect a scene, or maybe it’s a chance for visual exposure to the industry, such as being asked if you’d like to share table space at the Montana Book Festival. On my own I would never have heard of, thought of, or even dreamt of having my novel Visiting Lilly represented at the prestigious Montana Book Festival. After all, I live in the UK, not America.

Visiting Lilly at Montana Book FestivalSo, when Booktrope’s highly talented author Paula Marie Coomer sent round a message inviting fellow Tropers to take part in the Montana Book Festival, I was eager to be involved. My enthusiasm stemmed not from anticipated book sales, but a deep understanding that to display my novel to a wider audience offers traction to becoming a recognised author.

PMC at Montana Book FestivalI caught up with Paula on her return and asked how the festival had gone and what she’d brought away from the experience that she’d like to share with other authors.

Here’s Paula’s excellent report.

First, I’d like to thank Guy Pace  for joining me. We had such a fun time chatting back and forth and talking to all the wonderful folks who came past our table. Guy was relentless! He is a great front man who would not let people not talk to him. It was a wonderful thing to see. Also have to give a shout out to Barb Drozdowich Jae Carvel Massimo Marino  Kandi J Wyatt Allan Ament  Tess Thompson Toni Allen  for providing books and swag. We didn’t sell too much, but we talked to lots of people about Booktrope, gave out most of the handouts about the Booktrope website, and talked to a number of authors looking for a literary home.

PMC Montana5What events like this always remind me of is how much writing is being done out there, how many writers there are, how many ways of approaching the writing life and task of writing, how many different goals writers have, how many different types of books and publishers, and just how alive and well and buzzing the world of books is. I ached for those authors out there roaming the world looking for a publisher. We all remember what that was like.

Guy Pace at Montana Book FestivalIt was also my first time to be on the vendor side of things. I have previously only attended writing and book conferences as an author or presenter. I’d never considered setting up a vendor table as an author. In this case, I registered as Booktrope since we had a number of BT authors represented. What I didn’t know is that the name and logo for Booktrope would be published far and wide. It got me thinking about name recognition and how setting up at festivals like this might be quite a boon for new book authors who are trying to get their work and name out there. One of the most interesting moments was talking to a physicist from New Mexico about Massimo Marino’s trilogy (Massimo is a physicist). The man didn’t buy a book, but I’m guessing he won’t forget the conversation he had with Guy about it. My point is, what are the chances of connecting with someone like that? If Massimo had been there, I’m sure the man would have purchased the book. (Hmm. Maybe having authors standing by on Skype or Facetime next time? Very 21st century.) We connected with him because of what he does for a living. It made me think about the fact that I have a book about a nurse, but have I ever reached out to the nursing community around it? No! Why is that? Why wouldn’t I think of doing that first?

Barb at Montana Book FestivalIt made me realize, once again, that hands-on selling may be expensive, in terms of what it takes to get us out there in the world, but it is an adjunct to online promotion and can, in fact, give new direction to our online promotions. Maybe we need to think more deeply about the populations represented in our books. Who are the outliers? Who else might we have missed? (I’m thinking in my first novel, also, of how much a part the natural world plays, yet it now dawns on me that I’ve never once thought to introduce the book to a group of naturalists interested in our well-studied geographical region.)

Jae Carvel at Montana Book FestivalAlso, what about groups you identify with? Guy has a passion for Harleys, so he’s been talking up his book to a Harley group he’s connected with online. How brilliant. A Harley rider who wrote a book. Anyone who rides Harleys or loves motorcycles might perk up an ear. It makes complete sense.

Allan Ament at Montana Book FestivalGuy also knew enough about the White Sands proving grounds to be able to take the conversation down that road a ways–engaging that physicist further. Who’s to say the man didn’t go right home and order Massimo’s book? In fact, several people wrote down names and titles of several books. Speaks also to the value of swag–bookmarks, handouts, drop cards–all of it serves a purpose. Getting yourself in front of people and making a memorable impression–it’s as old as marketing itself, but you can’t put a price on that human connection. One woman I talked to at the table reached out to me later and ended up telling me a huge piece of her life. I was able to say something that made her see that piece of herself differently. She started to cry. Came back to my table and bought a book. Humanness sells books twice as fast as tricks and flash and fast-talking. It comes down to making connection. None of this is new, but I was so impressed by this over and over again.

Lastly, the people selling the big numbers of books were the people selling and presenting, so you know I will be putting my proposal in for next year. I’ll also have a Booktrope table, too, however.

All of this is to say–when you see a call for proposals for a book festival or conference, don’t be shy. Get together with some other authors and share the cost of a table.

If you missed me talking live on Radio Woking about all things astrology you can now listen to a recording of the show.

I was in coversation with the fabulous presenter Sharon Galliford on her Sunday morning show The View From Here.

Visiting Lilly by Toni AllenAs a novelist, everything I write is a mixture of fact and fiction, even when describing well-known local locations. Hence, if you ever visit Farnham, Surrey, UK, the setting for Visiting Lilly, Book 1 in my Jake Talbot Investigates mystery series, you might notice that some of the places aren’t described exactly as they are in real life. My intention isn’t to deceive the unsuspecting tourist, after all I’m not writing a tour guide, but a work of fiction. If, by making something a little taller, bigger or shinier it enhances a dramatic scene, then my imagination will stretch reality for the sake of my art and my reader’s involvement with the story.

Maltings Riverside Cafe Bar

The Riverside Cafe Bar at Farnham Maltings, where Talbot and Frankie have lunch together in Visiting Lilly

Several scenes in Visiting Lilly take place at Farnham Maltings. The historic building started life prior to 1750, when it was used as a tannery. Later, in 1845, it was taken over by a brewery for malting their grain, and remained in use by various breweries until brewing methods changed and the building was abandoned in 1956. Eventually Courage sold the building to the town and work began on transforming it into an arts and community centre. The first Maltings Market took place in the Great Hall in October 1970.

I’ve been going to the Maltings for years. It’s a fabulous venue for exhibitions, and I know an artist who rents studio space within the building. You can also listen to concerts, from classical to rock. The most memorable perfomance I’ve ever attended being by the incredible Dame Emma Kirkby when she sang at the Maltings back in the 80’s.

These days I regularly lunch in the Riverside Cafe Bar with fellow writers, and we sit in the sunshine discussing plot dilemmas over a cappuccino, the table covered in manuscripts and note books. We envisage ourselves as bohemian and creative, and what better place to do it than Farnham Maltings.

Maltings Great Hall flea market

Maltings Great Hall flea market showing the stage where Talbot sees Kate selling her paintings in a scene from Visiting Lilly

It’s the Maltings Market which interests Detective Inspector Jake Talbot, he’s an avid collector of antiques and has a keen eye for a bargain.

In the excerpt below you’ll see that I’ve made the rather rickety looking railing on the stage sound a little grander when Kate leans over it to look at Talbot. I took this photo at the end of the day, when the market was winding down, but you still gain a feel for the bartering and excitement of hunting for treasure.


I’ve also created a Pinterest board to show how I imagine Kate’s painting of the Bluebell Wood might look.


Excerpt from Visiting Lilly: Talbot bumps into Frankie at Farnham Maltings Market, then discovers Kate is there as well.

Bright winter sunshine dazzled as it bounced off puddles. Using his space at the station saved on parking. Talbot smiled. The Maltings was only a spit away and sunshine meant there would be more stalls outside and rich pickings. Unfortunately it also meant there would be more punters, but that was okay, he knew what he was looking for and most of them were casual browsers. Only sometimes the idiots beat him to a gem, so he’d learnt to perfect that disinterested look, and that sneer, and that knack of putting rivals off the scent of a bargain. Mostly he collected nothing in particular, just anything that took his fancy, from china, to Bakelite, to definitely not silver—all those hallmarks and tarnish putting him off. Junk, Claire had called it, but if it fascinated him, who cared? These days the halls were peppered with modern stuff, too: silk paintings, arty photographs, and occasionally the work of some new local artist.

There was one today, up on the stage at the back of the hall, the canvases large and inviting, the semi-abstract landscapes of woodland scenes done with daubs of bright colours. A fresh vista of bluebells with sunshine filtering down through a lime-green leafy wood caught his attention. It was tempting. Yes, he quite liked that; it definitely had a certain something. People kept getting in his way as he tried to stand back and get a feel for what it might look like in his hallway. They were browsing, only half interested, standing too close to truly appreciate the design. Damn, would the same happen in his hall?

Moving on, he went upstairs to visit a man he knew sold mirrors. Well, he was never one to buy something without judging the competition, yet anxiety riddled him with impatience in case someone beat him to that painting. Perhaps he should go back and buy it before it went. Halfway down the stairs he collided with Hayward going in the opposite direction.

‘Wouldn’t expect to see you here,’ Hayward said, instinctively holding out his hand for Talbot to shake.

Talbot shook it, as gentlemen did when they met. ‘On a mission to buy a painting before someone snaps it up.’

‘Mind if I have a look?’

‘Not at all. What brings you here?’

Hayward about-turned, fell into step beside him, and together they pushed through the crowd.

‘Someone told me there’s a dealer here who’s an expert on Capo Di Monte figurines. I need to arrange a valuation for the insurers.’

‘They were worth at least two grand.’ Talbot halted by the steps that went up to the stage. ‘I can let you have copies of all the photos we took.’

‘That would be useful, thank you.’ Hayward stepped back and let people through as they barged past. ‘You know about antiques, don’t you, Mr Talbot?’

‘A little.’ Starting with a vibration in his pocket Talbot’s mobile burst into ‘Broken Wings’ by Mr Mister, giving him the clue it was a victim of crime. ‘Excuse me,’ he said to Hayward, read the name, and hurried to answer it before every head turned to locate the outburst of rock music. ‘Kate, thanks for calling me back.’

‘Are you stalking me?’

Taken aback, he hesitated. ‘No, I was wanting to speak with you.’

‘So, just because I didn’t get back to you immediately, you decided to track me down and upset my work.’ She made an infuriated grunting noise down the phone. ‘Well, I can’t talk to you now. I don’t want to discuss details of my private life in public.’

‘Kate, Kate, I’m off duty, at Farnham Maltings …’

‘I know where you bloody well are! I can see you from here.’

You can? Looking up the length of the great hall, Talbot tried to recognise her amidst the clamour of stalls and punters. What would she be wearing? She’d look different without her coat and hat. Nope. Slowly he pivoted round three hundred and … ah, that would be her, standing up on the stage, in front of the painting he wanted to buy. Yep, that was her alright, glaring down at him, not even bothering to wave.

‘What are you selling?’ he asked, and smiled up at her, his heart sinking before he’d even heard the answer.

‘My paintings.’

‘Then I’ll leave you to it.’ He was going to hang up and walk away, but she rushed towards the railings at the edge of the stage and peered down at him, saying, ‘Were you really just walking around?’
He nodded. She was almost loud enough not to need to the phone, her words carrying down across the babble of voices bartering below. Frankie was following his gaze, tracking it up to where she stood, the painting a glorious backdrop to her shock of dark hair. It really was not a good idea for the two of them to meet, for them to get stuck in awkward conversation, until one of them eventually blurted out the name Charteris or Lilly.

Visiting Lilly free on Kindle Unlimited



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