Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell

 

Agatha Raisin
and the
Love from Hell

 

The Agatha Raisin series
(listed in order)

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

Agatha Raisin and the Potted Gardener

Agatha Raisin and the Walkers of Dembley

Agatha Raisin and the Murderous Marriage

Agatha Raisin and the Terrible Tourist

Agatha Raisin and the Wellspring of Death

Agatha Raisin and the Wizard of Evesham

Agatha Raisin and the Witch of Wyckhadden

Agatha Raisin and the Fairies of Fryfam

Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell

Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came

Agatha Raisin and the Curious Curate

Agatha Raisin and the Haunted House

Agatha Raisin and the Deadly Dance

Agatha Raisin and the Perfect Paragon

Agatha Raisin and Love, Lies and Liquor

Agatha Raisin and Kissing Christmas Goodbye

 
Agatha Raisin
and the
Love from Hell
M. C. Beaton

ROBINSON
London

 

Constable & Robinson Ltd
3 The Lanchesters
162 Fulham Palace Road
London W6 9ER
www.constablerobinson.com

First published in the US 2001 by St Martin’s Press
175 Fifth Avenue, New York, NY 10010

First published in the UK by Robinson,
an imprint of Constable & Robinson Ltd 2006

Copyright © 2001, 2006 M. C. Beaton

The right of M. C. Beaton to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988

All rights reserved. This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise, be lent, re-sold, hired out or otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A copy of the British Library Cataloguing in
Publication data is available from the British Library

ISBN 13: 978-1-84529-377-2
ISBN 10: 1-84529-377-0

Printed and bound in the EU

5 7 9 10 8 6 4

 
CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Epilogue

 

For Joan and John Dewhurst
with affection

 
Chapter One

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 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 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 businesswoman.

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

‘Delly Shoes.’

‘Sounds as if they ought to be selling liver-wurst and submarine sandwiches.’

‘So can I fix up an interview for you?’

‘Why not? The sooner the better.’

‘Usually I have to spend ages trying to talk 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.

‘I’ve got a job,’ said Agatha.

He actually smiled at her. His blue eyes crinkled up in his tanned face in that way that still made her heart turn over. ‘What is it?’ he asked, switching off the computer. ‘I’ll make us some coffee and you can tell me about it.’ He headed for the kitchen.

All Agatha’s misery about their marriage disappeared. The old hope that all they were doing was experiencing some initial marital blips lit up her soul. He came in carrying two mugs of coffee. ‘This is decaf,’ he said. ‘You drink too much of the real stuff and it’s not good for you. Your clothes smell of smoke. I thought you’d given up.’

‘I just had the one,’ said Agatha defensively, although she had smoked five. When would people grasp the simple fact that if you wanted people to stop smoking, then don’t nag them and make them feel guilty. People are told when dealing with alcoholics not to mention their drinking or pour the stuff down the sink because it only stops them looking at their problem. But smokers were hounded and berated, causing all the rebellion of the hardened addict.

‘Anyway,’ said James, handing her a cup of coffee and sitting down opposite her, ‘what’s the job? Who are you fund-raising for now?’

‘It’s not a village thing,’ said Agatha. ‘I’m taking on a contract to promote some new shoes, or boots, rather, for a firm in Mircester.’

‘You mean, a real job?’

‘Why, yes, of course, a real job.’

‘We don’t need the money,’ said James flatly.

‘Money’s always useful,’ said Agatha cheerfully. Then her smile faded as she looked at James’s angry face.

‘Oh, what’s up now?’ she asked wearily.

‘You have no need to work. You should leave employment to those who need a job.’

‘Look, I need this job. I need an identity.’

‘Spare me the therapy-speak. In proper English, please.’

Agatha cracked. ‘In proper English,’ she howled, ‘I need something to bolster my ego, which you have been doing your best to destroy. Nit-picking all day long. Yak, yak, yak. “Don’t do this, don’t do that.” Well, stuff you, matey. I’m going back to work.’

He rose abruptly and headed for the door. ‘Where are you going?’ demanded Agatha. But the slamming of the door was her only answer.

The following day, Agatha put on a charcoal-grey trouser-suit, pleased that the waistline was now quite loose. There was something to be said for marital misery. James had stayed away the whole of the previous day and had not arrived back home until Agatha had fallen into an uneasy sleep. Breakfast had been a doom-laden, silent affair. She could feel herself weakening. She had prepared breakfast but everything had gone wrong. She had burnt the toast and the scrambled eggs were lumpy and hard. And she could feel the atmosphere weakening her. She longed to say, ‘Forget it. You’re quite right. I won’t take the job.’ But somewhere she found a little bit of courage to help her ignore his mood.

It was another fine late spring day as she motored along the Fosse to Mircester. Following Roy’s directions, she cut off before the town to an industrial estate on the outskirts. It was a new estate, the ground in front of the factories still having a raw, naked look.

She thought it a good sign that she was not kept waiting. In Agatha’s experience, only unsuccessful business people massaged their egos by keeping people waiting. She was ushered into a boardroom by an efficient middle-aged secretary – another good sign, in Agatha’s opinion. She was introduced to the managing director, the advertising manager, the sales director and various other executives.

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