Home > A Stitch in Time (A Stitch In Time #1)

A Stitch in Time (A Stitch In Time #1)
Author: Kelley Armstrong

1

 

 

Six months ago, I inherited a haunted house. I also inherited the ghosts that go with it. Or that’s what Aunt Judith said to me in her final letter, smelling of her tea-rose hand cream, the scent uncorking a fresh spate of ugly crying. But I understand what she meant. Not that the house is haunted, but that it haunts me. If I can wave burning sage and tell myself I’ve put the spirits to rest, then I should. What happened there twenty-three years ago does indeed haunt me.

It’s time for me to face that, and so I’m heading to Yorkshire, where I’ll spend the summer ostensibly on sabbatical in my great-aunt’s country house while I decide what to do with it. What I really want, though, is answers.

 

 

As my taxi rolls through the Yorkshire countryside, I tick off the landmarks, as if I’m a child again, plastered to the window of our rental car as we make our way to Thorne Manor. Outside Leeds, I saw changes—houses where I remembered fields, shopping centers where there’d been forest—but as we roll into the moors, we seem to slip back in time to my childhood, every tiny church and stone sheepfold and crumbling barn exactly as I remember it.

The last time I came this way, I’d been fifteen, a girl just starting her life. Now, I return at thirty-eight, a history professor at the University of Toronto. A widow, too, my husband—Michael—gone eight years.

We drive through High Thornesbury itself, a picture-perfect village nestled in a dale. As we start up the one-lane road, the cabbie has to stop to let sheep pass. Then he begins the treacherous climb up the steep hill. At the top stands Thorne Manor, and my heart trips as I roll down the window to see it better.

The house appears abandoned. It is, in its way. Aunt Judith rarely visited after Uncle Stan died here all those years ago. Yet from the foot of the hill, Thorne Manor has always looked abandoned. A foreboding stone slab of a house, isolated and desolate, surrounded by an endless expanse of empty moor.

As the taxi crunches up the hill, the house comes into focus, dark windows staring like empty eyes. No light shines from windows or illuminates the long lane or even peeps from the old stone stables. I push back a niggle of disappointment. The caretaker knows I’m coming, and yes, I’d hoped to see the house ablaze in welcoming light, but this is more fitting—Thorne Manor as a starkly beautiful shadow, backlit by an achingly gorgeous inky purple sunset.

The driver pulls into the lane and surveys the lawn, a veritable weed garden of clover and speedwell.

“Are you sure this is t’ place, lass?” he asks, his rural Yorkshire accent thick as porridge.

“I am, thank you.”

The frown-line between his bushy brows deepens to a fissure. He grips the seat back with a gnarled hand as he twists to look at me. “You didn’t rent it from one of those online things, did you? I fear you’ve been played a nasty trick.”

“I inherited it recently from my great-aunt, and there’s a caretaker who knows I’m coming.”

I hand him the fare with a heftier tip than I can afford. He scowls, as if I’m offering blood money for his participation in a heinous act against innocent female tourists.

“That caretaker should be here to greet you properly.”

“I already texted,” I say. “She’ll be here soon.”

“Then, I’ll wait.”

He turns off the diesel engine, takes exactly the fare from my hand and settles in with a set of his jaw that warns against argument. When I say that I’m stepping out to stretch my legs, he mutters, “Don’t go far. Nowt out here but sheep and serial killers.” And then he peers around, as if one of each hides behind every jutting rock.

I close the car door and drink in the smell of wild bluebells. As I walk toward the house, I catch a sound on the breeze. A rhythmic squeak-squeak, each iteration shivering up my spine.

A figure labors up the hill on an ancient bicycle, the chain protesting. Atop it sits a black-clad figure, long coat snapping in the wind, the hood pulled up, face dark except for a glowing red circle where the mouth should be.

Squeak-squeak.

Squeak-squeak.

The figure turns into the laneway, and the cab driver gets out, slamming the door hard enough that I jump.

“I thought you said the caretaker was a woman,” he says.

I see now that the bicycle rider is a man with a lit pipe clamped between his teeth. He wears a macintosh draped over the back of the bike, the hem dancing precariously close to the rear wheel. Under his hood is a round, deeply lined clean-shaven face and bristle-short gray hair.

“Miss Dale?” The rider’s voice . . . is not the voice of a he. I look again, and in that second glance, I’m far less certain of gender.

“Ms. Crossley?” I say, sloshing my pronunciation of the title, in hopes it could go either way.

“Aye.” She eyes me with a sharp gaze. “You were expectin’ someone else?”

“No. Just making sure. We’ve never met.”

As I say that, moonlight illuminates her face, and I hesitate.

“Have we met?” I say. “You look . . . familiar.”

“I’ve been takin’ care of t’ place twenty years now. Never seen you visit, though.”

There’s accusation in those words. I say, evenly, “Yes, I used to come out as a child, but after my uncle’s death, I only visited Aunt Judith in London.” I turn to the driver. “Thank you very much for staying with me. It wasn’t necessary, but I appreciated the company.”

Delores Crossley looks at him, her arms folded. When he doesn’t move fast enough, she shoos him with one leathery hand. “That was the lass bein’ polite. Get gone. She’s not askin’ you in t’ tea. Or owt else you might’a been hoping for.”

He straightens, affronted. “I was keeping an eye on her—”

“I’m sure you were. And now you can keep your eyes t’ yourself. Go on. Git.”

The driver stalks back to the car as I call another sincere thank-you. He ignores it, and the taxi peels out in a spray of gravel.

I say nothing. Translating Delores’s North Yorkshire accent is taking all my brain energy right now. At least she isn’t using “thees” and “thous” as you sometimes find with locals her age. Dad says, when I was four, I came back from our summer trip talking like an eighty-year-old North Yorkshire native, and my junior kindergarten teacher feared I’d suffered a brain injury, my speech garbled beyond comprehension.

The more Delores talks, though, the faster my internal translator works, and soon my brain is making the appropriate substitutions and smoothing out her accent.

After the taxi leaves, she turns to me. “So, you’re staying.”

“For the summer, yes. As I said in my e-mail.”

“I hope you didn’t buy a return ticket just yet, ’cos I have a feeling you’ll be needing it sooner than you expect.”

I meet her gaze. She only locks it and says nothing.

“I’ll be fine,” I say firmly.

With two brisk taps of her pipe against an ivy-laced urn, she sets the pipe on the edge and stalks inside.

I drag my suitcase through. The smell of tea wafts past, the distinctive Yorkshire blend I haven’t drunk in so many years. I pause, and I swear I hear my father’s “Hullo!” echo through the hallway and Aunt Judith calling from the kitchen, where she’ll emerge with a tea tray, pot steaming, having calculated our arrival to the minute.

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