M.C. Beaton: The Love from Hell

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M.C. Beaton The Love from Hell
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    The Love from Hell
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Recently married to James Lacey, the witty and fractious Agatha Raisin quickly finds that marriage, and love, are not all they are cracked up to be. Rather than basking in marital bliss, the newlyweds are living in separate cottages and accusing each other of infidelity. After a particularly raucous fight in the local pub, James suddenly vanishes – a bloodstain the only clue to his fate – and Agatha is the prime suspect. Determined to clear her name and find her husband, Agatha begins her investigation. But her sleuthing is thwarted when James’s suspected mistress, Melissa, is found murdered. Joined by her old friend Sir Charles, Agatha digs into Melissa’s past and uncovers two ex-husbands, an angry sister, and dubious relations with bikers. Are Melissa’s death and James’s disappearance connected? Will Agatha reunite with her husband or will she find herself alone once again?

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M.C. Beaton

The Love from Hell


Agatha Raisin #11

2001, EN



∨ The Love from Hell ∧

1

IT was supposed to be the end of a dream – the perfect marriage. Here was Agatha Raisin married to the man she had longed for, had fantasized about. Her neighbour, James Lacey. And yet she was miserable.

It had all started with one incident two weeks after they had returned from their honeymoon. The honeymoon in Vienna and then Prague had been taken up with sightseeing and sex, and so no real day-to-day life together had really bothered them. Agatha had kept her own cottage next door to James’s in the village of Carsely in the English Cotswolds. The idea was to make it a thoroughly modern marriage and give each other some space.

Sitting now in her own cottage cradling a cup of black coffee, Agatha remembered the day it had all begun to go wrong.

Anxious to be the perfect wife, she had bundled up all their dirty washing, ignoring the fact that James kept his dirty laundry in a separate basket and preferred to do it himself. It was a brisk spring day with great fleecy clouds being tugged across the sky like so many stately galleons by a breezy wind. Agatha sang as she piled all the dirty clothes into her large washing machine. Somewhere at the back of her mind was a little warning bell telling her that real housewives separated the colours from the whites. She put in washing powder and fabric softener, and then went out to sit in the garden and watch her two cats playing on the lawn. When she heard the washing machine roar to a finish, she rose and opened the door of the machine and tugged all the clothes out into a large laundry basket, preparatory to hanging them out in the garden. She found herself staring down at a basket of pink clothes. Not light pink but shocking pink. Dismayed, she searched through the clothes for the culprit, and at last found it, a pink sweater she had bought at a street market in Prague. All James’s clothes – his shirts, his underwear – were all now bright pink.

But in the rosy glow of new marriage had she not expected to be forgiven? Had she not expected him to laugh with her?

He had been furious. He had been incandescent with rage. How dare she mess about with his clothes? She was stupid and incompetent. The pre-marriage Agatha Raisin would have told him exactly what to do with himself, but the new, demoralized Agatha humbly begged forgiveness. She forgave him, because she knew he had been a bachelor for a long time and used to his own ways.

The next incident had happened after she had picked up two microwaveable dinners in Marks & Spencer, two trays of lasagne. He had picked at his plateful of food and had commented acidly that as he was perfectly well able to make proper lasagne, perhaps in future she had better leave the cooking to him.

Then there was the matter of her clothes. Agatha felt frumpish when not wearing high heels. James had said as they lived in the country, she might consider wearing flats and stop teetering around like a tart. Her skirts were too tight, some of her necklines were too low. And as for her make-up? Did she need to plaster it on?

Yes, there was love-making during the night, but only during the night. No impulsive hugs or kisses during the day. Bewildered Agatha began to wander about in a fog of masculine disapproval.

And yet she did not confide in anyone about the misery of her marriage, not even to her friend, Mrs. Bloxby, the vicar’s wife. Had not Mrs. Bloxby cautioned her against the marriage? Agatha could not bear to admit defeat.

She sighed and looked out of her kitchen window. Here she was in her own cottage, hiding like a criminal in her own cottage. The phone rang, startling her. She tentatively picked it up, wondering whether it might be James about to deliver another lecture. But it was Roy Silver. Roy had once worked for Agatha when she had owned her own public relations company in London and was now working for a big public relations firm in the City.

“How’s the happily married Mrs. Lacey?” asked Roy.

“I’m still Agatha Raisin,” snapped Agatha. Using her own name seemed to be the last shred of independence she had managed to hold on to. She had not quite realized that using the name of her late husband whom she had heartily despised, was hardly a blow for freedom.

“How modern,” remarked Roy.

“What’s up?”

“Nothing. Haven’t heard from you since the wedding. How was Vienna?”

“Not very exciting. Not much pizzazz. Prague was all right. Are you sure this is just a friendly call? Nothing up your sleeve?”

“There is one thing that might interest you.”

“I thought there might be. What?”

“There’s a new shoe company opening in Mircester. We’re handling the account. Not a big account, but they want a public relations officer to launch their new line coming out of their new factory. It’s called the Cotswold Way.”

“And what’s that?”

“Those sort of clumpy boots the young like, not to mention those serious ramblers who plague the countryside. Short-term contract, right on your doorstep.”

Agatha was about to say she was a happily married woman and didn’t have time for anything else. She always told everyone in the village how happy she was. But she suddenly felt desperately in need of an identity. She was good at spin, at public relations. Failure as a housewife she might be, but she felt secure in her talents as a business woman.

“Sounds interesting,” she said cautiously. “What’s the company called?”

“Delly Shoes.”

“Sounds as if they ought to be selling liverwurst and submarine sandwiches.”

“So can I fix up an interview for you?”

“Why not? The sooner the better.”

“Usually I have to spend ages into talking you back into work,” said Roy. “Sure the marriage is okay?”

“Of course it is. But James is usually writing during the day and doesn’t want me underfoot.”

“Mmm. I called his number and he told me you were on the old number.”

“I kept on my cottage. These little cottages can be claustrophobic. This way we have two of everything. Two kitchens, two bathrooms and so on.”

“Okay. I’ll fix an appointment and call you back.”

When she had rung off, Agatha lit a cigarette, a habit James detested, and stared off into space. How would he react to her rejoining the work force? Despite a feeling of trepidation, she felt her emotional muscles hardening up. He could like it or lump it. Agatha Raisin rides again!

And yet she had not really thought he would object. No man, not even James, could be that old-fashioned. When Roy told her he had managed to get her an appointment for the following afternoon at three o’clock, she called to her cats and, with Hodge and Boswell following behind, made her way to James’s cottage next door. Never our cottage, she thought sadly as she opened the door and shooed the cats inside.

James was sitting in front of his computer, scowling at it. He had managed to have one military history published and had felt sure the next one would be easy, but he seemed to spend days frowning at a screen on which nothing was written but ‘Chapter One.’ He had his hand on his forehead, as if he had a headache.

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