Title: The Black Coach
Author: Nickie Fleming
Genre: Gothic Romance
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 3
Buy at: Rogue Phoenix Press, Amazon, Barnes and Noble
The Devil is riding his black coach across the moors of Yorkshire and hunts virgins. Or is this so?
Strange things are happening in the village of Pickering, Yorkshire. Two girls are found murdered, and there is talk about strange going-ons at night. Caught in the middle of this turmoil is Maggie Thompson, an orphan, who needs to fend for herself. Running away from an employer who maltreated her, she nearly dies during a winter storm. She is rescued by a man who lives in a nearly abandoned house. Neil Harrington has his own secrets however. Maggie will have to trust on her feelings to know what is right or wrong. And she can’t forget there is a killer on the rampage…
It didn't take long before Maggie was fast asleep once again. When Martha noted her drooping head, she put a cushion behind it, to make the girl more comfortable and lastly spread a plaid over her, lest she should catch a cold.
She studied the girl for a while. Cleaned up, she already looked a lot better than the previous day. She had better talk to the master. The girl's speech was remarkable fine for a working-class child. She felt sure there was something of a mystery involved here. Perhaps thinking about this would lighten Neil's mood. He'd been mourning Lady Suzanne long enough to her liking.
Around noon her son walked into the kitchen for his lunch. He looked up when he saw the sleeping girl.
"Is she fit to come down already?" he wanted to know.
"She's not completely better," Martha told him, "but she ate all of her breakfast, and as you can see she's sleeping again. No better healer then rest, I say."
"The master asked me how she was," Amos said. "I'm glad I can tell him she's doing fine."
"Did he need you to fetch something?" Martha wanted to know. They both knew to what she was referring.
"I brought in the usual. I don't mind, though," her son acknowledged.
She nodded. "We have a good master in his lordship. No matter what other people may think, he's a decent human and I'm proud to be serving him."
"So am I," Amos agreed.
He sat down at the kitchen table and immediately began to eat when his mother put a full plate before him.
"I thought you'd like some stew," Martha said. "There is enough meat in it to give you stamina for the next trip."
No need for more words. Mother and son understood each other perfectly.
~ * ~
Later that afternoon, in Pickering village, the men of the region gathered in the local pub after ending their work on the fields and farms. The talk was lively and the beer flowed freely.
John Barry put down his pint, wiped his mouth with his sleeve and remarked to his mate Ben, "Saw that black coach again yesterday, when I went to check on the sheep."
Ben hardly looked up. "Aye, I'm listening."
"Wonder whose property it is and what its business is. Always appears when darkness falls."
Ben took another gulp of his pint. Then he acknowledged what John mentioned. "My brother's son, Tim, saw it too. He said it rode so fast, as if chased by the devil."
"Yeah, it was speeding for sure. Could not see who or what was in it."
"Not the first time it's been seen on our road. Something strange going on, I think."
Joshua Thistlewaite, the landlord, heard the comments but didn't comment on them. He just poured the drinks like a good landlord. Besides, he couldn't well afford to spend time talking to his customers. The pub was full, as always around this time. His sharp eyes surveyed everything to be sure he could intervene at a timely fashion.
All the men and lads he knew from around, except for the one stranger. He'd never seen the man before. The man entered about half an hour ago and ordered a light ale in a polite way. Now he was seated in the farthest corner of the pub, sipping his pint.
While enjoying a calmer moment behind the tap, Joshua studied the stranger more closely. He looked to be in his forties, had a stern face and lips which seldom laughed. A lawyer or a banker in all probability, he thought.
What bothered him a little was that the man appeared to be listening in on the conversation of Ben and John, although he couldn't fathom why such ordinary talk would interest a man of his quality.
Disturbing his thoughts, the stranger beckoned him.
"What can I do for you, sir?" he asked, hurrying over to his table and trying not to show he had been studying him.
"First, fetch me another pint of this excellent lager and then, if you can spare the time, I'd like to talk to you for a while."
It was said in a cultivated tongue, and Joshua could immediately tell the stranger didn't originate from this part of the country. London or some other southern town, he guessed.
He hurried to carry out the order, while asking Ben to step behind the bar for the time he was occupied elsewhere. He returned to the table.
"I am now at your disposal, sir."
He saw how the stranger glanced shortly at Ben, who was already tapping another pint for John.
"Do you get a lot of people in here?" he then wanted to know.
"It depends," Joshua replied. "On weekdays it can get busy when all the men need to water their throats."
"You must know quite well what goes on in the village," the stranger continued.
Joshua shrugged. He carefully weighed his words, not wanting to reveal too much. His instinct told him something was not right here.
"Not much goes on in Pickering I don't know about."
The gent nodded. "I thought so. Well, I am trying to locate a young woman by the name of Margaret Thompson. She would be eighteen years of age and has blonde hair. Do you know if any such girl lives in or passed by your village?"
Joshua was silent for a moment. The request confirmed his ill feelings. He understood he would have to be very sparse in answering, to make sure he didn't cause harm to anyone or anything.
"Why do you need to know?" he asked, but in such a way the other would not be insulted.
The man smiled. To all appearances, he looked innocent and seemed trustworthy. Joshua knew better. He felt an underlying coldness and sensed some feeling of threat.
"She's come into an inheritance and the trustees have asked me to find out her whereabouts," the man answered, while smiling again, and producing a gold coin out of one of his pockets.
Joshua eyed the coin and reconsidered. It could be true. He knew there existed men who were employed to search for people who were lost or had disappeared. After all, the stranger had done nothing wrong yet.
"Farmer Aldleigh has a blonde girl working for him," he offered, feeling at last he could trust the man enough. "She came asking for work not so long ago. Perhaps she's the one you are looking for?"
"It might be," the other agreed, while putting the gold coin into his hand. "Can you be so kind as to give me directions to this farm?"
"It'll be my pleasure, sir," Joshua beamed. "When you follow the road leading out of the village, you go until the crossroads and then turn left. Aldleigh's farm is a mile or so from there. If you don't wait too long, you can be there before darkness falls."
"Thank you. I'll go and have a talk with the farmer."
"Glad to be of service."
"No, it is I who must thank you," the stranger said while putting a second gold coin on the table. He then got to his feet and grabbed his overcoat.
Joshua returned to his work. His eyes followed the gentleman as he made his way through the throngs of farmers and finally left the pub.