The Edge of Dark is the story of Jane, whose deathbed vow in 1569 sets her on twisting path of joy and deceit that takes her from the dark secrets of Holmwood House in York to the sign of the golden lily in London’s Mincing Lane.
Over four hundred years later, Roz remembers nothing of the fire that killed her family, or of the brother who started it. A beautiful Tudor necklace found in the newly restored Holmwood House triggers disturbing memories of the past – but the past Roz remembers is not her own …
Read the first in a series of excerpts now…
Arriving in York to take up a new job as events director of Holmwood House, Roz goes straight to Micklegate to see the house and meet its director, Sir Adrian Holmwood and his assistant, Helen. Adrian has taken Roz on a tour of the house, which is still in the final stages of restoration, and then suggests tea in his office.
Helen brought in a tray and set it down on the coffee table between the chairs. She didn’t look at Roz. ‘Will there be anything else, Sir Adrian?’
‘I think Roz would like to see our latest find,’ he said, steepling his fingers and looking pleased with himself.
Roz saw Helen stiffen. ‘The necklace? But it’s in the safe.’
‘So I should hope.’ Adrian’s smile held a hint of steel. ‘We’ll put it back, of course, but I’d like Roz to see it. She needs to know just what a treasure we have here.’
‘Of course, Sir Adrian,’ said Helen after a tiny moment’s hesitation.
She came back a couple of minutes later with a flat box which she handed to Adrian. ‘Ahhh …’ he said on a long breath as he pulled off the lid and set it aside. Then there was a ripple of gleaming black as he lifted something out of the box. Roz’s first thought was: snake, and she shrank back in her chair as horror streaked through her without warning.
‘We found it wedged under the floorboards when we were refurbishing the top floor,’ Adrian said, oblivious to her instinctive recoil. ‘In your office, in fact. It was blackened and charred when we recovered it, but we had it cleaned and look how beautifully it’s come up!’
Roz made herself look again, surprised to see that the necklace wasn’t black as she had first thought but a gleaming gold, and hung with tiny exquisite flowers made of rubies and pearls which trembled in the electric light.
‘It’s … very pretty,’ she said, but her mouth was dry.
‘Here.’ Before she could protest, Adrian had leant forward and was dropping the necklace into her lap. Roz had to open her hand quickly to catch it, and it slithered into her palm like a living creature. Involuntarily, she closed her fingers around it and the feel of it sent a shock jarring up her arm. Sucking in a startled breath, she looked up to find Helen watching her with a hard, intent gaze.
‘We puzzled about what such a valuable piece was doing on the top floor,’ Adrian said as, unaccountably shaken, Roz dropped her eyes back to the necklace. She opened her fingers cautiously, half afraid it would skitter off her palm but it lay there, lustrous and heavy, warm against her skin. She could see every pearl in the dainty flowers, the voluptuous glow of the rubies. ‘Those rooms would have been used by servants and no servant would have owned a necklace like this.’
‘It was probably stolen,’ said Helen flatly.
‘No!’ Roz’s protest was out before she knew she was going to say anything. It was only when Adrian and Helen looked at her in surprise that she realised she had spoken at all. It felt as if the shout of denial had come from the necklace itself.
Which was obviously a ridiculous idea. ‘I mean … perhaps we could use the mystery somehow,’ she improvised weakly. ‘We could let visitors decide or propose alternative theories about how the necklace could have got into the attic room.’
It was the best she could think of, but Adrian nodded sagely. ‘Nice idea,’ he said. ‘I’ve already arranged to have a copy made, as this is far too valuable to have on display, but it would take an expert to know the difference.’
I would know, Roz thought involuntarily and she could have sworn the necklace throbbed an agreement in her hand.
‘Has it been dated?’ she said instead.
‘It’s late sixteenth or early seventeenth century, so it fits into Sir Geoffrey’s period very well.’ Adrian nodded at the portrait. ‘He may even have bought it himself.’
Roz flinched as the necklace seemed to stir in her hand.
‘It’s very beautiful,’ she said, meaning it this time.
‘Would you like to try it on?’
‘Oh, no, I couldn’t,’ Roz started to protest, but Adrian was insistent. He plucked it from her palm and unfastened the catch.
‘A necklace like this was made to be worn by a beautiful woman,’ he declared, getting to his feet.
In spite of herself, Roz caught Helen’s eye. The other woman was watching her with something so reptilian in her gaze that Roz felt a chill go through her.
‘It’s too valuable,’ she said to Adrian.
‘I insist,’ said Adrian, urging her to her feet. ‘I’ve been longing to see this as it was meant to be, not as an exhibit.’
She could hardly refuse without making an even bigger fuss. Uncomfortable, avoiding Helen’s gaze, Roz got up and let Adrian turn her to face a mirror on the wall.
Biting her lip, she lifted the stray hairs at the nape of her neck and bent her head so that Adrian could drape the necklace round her throat.
‘There,’ he said when he had fastened it carefully.
Roz lifted her head and stepped away from him, spreading her hand over the necklace to adjust where it lay against her skin. The gold felt warm to the touch.
‘Wow,’ she said inadequately. ‘I’ve never worn anything so valuable before.’
‘It looks wonderful on you, doesn’t it, Helen?’
Unwillingly, Roz found herself meeting Helen’s eyes in the mirror again, and she saw such malevolence there that her breath caught in her throat and the necklace itself seemed to pulse against her skin.
‘I wonder if we should get a photo of you modelling it?’ said Adrian, but Roz had stopped listening. She was sure the necklace was growing warmer. How was that possible?
‘What was the name of that photographer we used?’ he asked Helen while Roz touched the necklace, puzzled.
‘Oh,’ she said. It was definitely hotter. She twisted her fingers around the gold chain. Yes, the metal was glowing. ‘Oh,’ she said again, confused, and then, ‘Ow!’
‘Roz?’ Adrian broke off his discussion with Helen to look at her in concern.
‘The necklace … it’s burning me!’ The gold was searing into her skin, the pain doubling and redoubling, while Adrian just looked blank.
‘What do you mean?’
‘It’s burning me!’ Frantically Roz tried to lift the necklace away from her skin. ‘Please … take it off!’
Excerpt from The Edge of Dark © Pamela Hartshorne 2014.