Hard to Forgive is one week old today and I thought I would share with you the first chapter:

1: Not the Weather for a Funeral


I usually look forward to a funeral. Prefer them to weddings, in fact. There is less dancing. But that wasn’t the case with today’s following the horrific murders of the Jackson family. The police have gathered all the evidence they need. They have their man behind bars. And they have released the bodies.

I carry the tray into my front room and place it on the small round table that sits in the bay window. I lift the teapot onto the decorative tile in the centre, add a cup and saucer, a small jug of milk and the side plate on which lies my breakfast. Toast and marmalade. One piece. Cut diagonally.

It is still early, not much past seven, but a lifetime spent as a school secretary has carved routine into my bones and I am incapable of sleeping in. I feel enough of a slouch to be eating breakfast whilst still in my dressing gown. I would never have done that during my working life and that thought makes me pause while I consider whether retirement has made me lax. On balance, probably not. I maintain most standards, and I am certain nothing has slipped so far that the outside world would notice. Everyone there sees what they expect to see. Dora Smith. Spinster of this parish. Ex-school secretary. Pillar of the community. Village treasure.

I do hate that word. Spinster. The equivalent word for a man who has never married is bachelor, which is so much better. Bachelor has a rather dashing rakish edge to it, like they are still desirable, still sexy.

Spinster: the word carries such depressing undertones. Dried-up old husk. Desiccation. But I cannot escape it. I cannot pretend I have spent my life notching up husbands, or even managing one. And as I have lived in Melton my entire adult life, everyone knows exactly what I am.

I sit in my comfy chair, the only seat at this table, place the tray down to one side, then straighten the white linen tablecloth. I pour my tea, add a little milk and reach for a piece of toast. As I eat, I gaze out of the window. The occasional car passes, but other than that, the village is quiet. Daffodil heads bob on the verges on each side of the road. Their sunny yellow muted by the net curtains I view them through. Despite the filter, I can tell it’s a bright morning. A fresh spring breeze causes puffs of cloud to scud across the baby-blue sky.

Not the weather for grief.

It will be standing room only, of course, at the church. Probably worse than that, because the entire village has been so consumed by the tragedy. I have heard talk of speakers being set up for those left in the churchyard. I thought I would stay back, be among the outside mourners. I am sure there will be enough family and close friends to fill the church on their own.

Naturally, I knew the Jackson family. Such is the social life in a village. Plus, I enjoyed watching both the girls, Jenny and Judy, grow and flourish over their years at the primary school. But I would not consider myself close to any of them. Also, on this occasion I think I would prefer to be in the churchyard. It might mean standing for the duration, but all that grief trapped inside will be suffocating, pressing in on us like a weighted blanket. At least out in the fresh air, it could dissipate on the bracing March wind.

I have not voiced my thoughts to anyone, because even my friends might consider me cruel, but privately I thought it was just as well the whole family had gone. While I never indulge in gossip, even I have heard disturbing rumours as to what had instigated the attack. Though I found them hard to believe of such a sweet child as Jenny, the oldest daughter. But by all accounts, the murderer had killed the girls first. The thought of John and Jan surviving without them had been almost too much for me to contemplate. No parent should be without their child. I know it happens, but it is against the natural order of things.

As I pour myself another cup of tea, a movement catches my eye and I glance swiftly back out of the window. The front door has opened on the cottage opposite. Amos Chamberlain steps out. His routine is as regimented as mine. I reach for the small pair of binoculars that have permanent residence on my table and lift them to get him in my sights. They are not strictly called for. I have spent my ordered life doing daily eye exercises to avoid the need to wear glasses, but they do add to the drama I like to build into my steady existence.

I see he is using his stick. He fell outside the shop a couple of weeks ago, one wet day in February. I had stayed around to help but it was not appreciated. Nothing broken, but he has limped ever since and is clearly still in need of some support. We don’t bounce, or indeed mend, as well, or as quickly, as we once did. That is for sure.

I fancy myself as something of a sleuth. And despite an early setback, I pride myself on being able to sniff out a wrong ’un a mile away. Probably another reason I am single. I never miss a Murder Mystery evening, which is an annual fundraising event in the village, and I know every Agatha Christie novel as if I had written it myself. Miss Marple, my favourite sleuth. If only a crime would present itself, I am sure I would be up to the task of solving it. The recent murders aside, of course. The police have been all over them. Besides, they were decidedly unpleasant, from what I have heard. No, I would prefer something considerably more refined. Someone expiring at the village fete, perhaps, amid the floral bunting and buttered scones, a drop of cyanide having been slipped into their tea. I would impress the hovering crowd by diagnosing the murder weapon from its almond odour. A spot of light questioning of everyone present would follow. Then I would gather the suspects together and dramatically reveal the culprit who would be carted off by the police. Afterwards we would all sit down to a nice slice of Victoria sandwich and a fresh pot of unadulterated tea. But then, and not for the first time, I have had to consider the distinct possibility I was born at the wrong time.

Therefore, until such an opportunity arises, I must console myself with my second favourite pastime, people watching. I keep my binoculars trained on Amos until he is out of sight. This trip does not particularly interest me. I know he is only off to get his paper from Sharon’s Stores. He will be back in less than five minutes. But I make a note in my jotter, anyway. Force of habit.

Once I have cleared away my breakfast things, I prepare for the day ahead. After showering, I open my wardrobe, and reach right to one end to retrieve my only black item of clothing, a dress. Black is such a draining colour and does absolutely nothing for me, so this I save for funerals. As I drag it out, there’s a spill of ivory lace from behind it which distracts me for a moment or two. I run the delicate fabric across my fingers before allowing it to fall back into the recesses of the wardrobe.

I dry my hair, taking more care with my neat bob than usual as I am going out. I have never coloured it, despite me thinking it a drab brown earlier in my life. Now I rather like the sophisticated iron grey it has become. I apply makeup. Only a light touch, but it is much needed between the black of my outfit and steel of my hair, otherwise my face might fade away completely. A foundation to even out the complexion. Mascara to highlight eyes that would otherwise disappear. A neutral lipstick. A short while later, I am back sitting at the table in the downstairs window. My favourite seat, from where I watch the world go by.

My stone cottage is in a row that runs along Main Street as it stretches toward the Melton Estate, the old end of the village. A small walled garden, the distance from gate to door being barely three decent strides, fronts each cottage. I have planted roses in my small patch of earth. One trails over the door. Next door Alice has a small table and two chairs. When the weather allows, we often sit out there with a glass of wine to enjoy the evening sun.

There is a similar row of cottages opposite. Similar yet subtly different. The cottages on my side suit singletons, or possibly young couples starting out. Those opposite are a better fit for families. They are consequently wider and set further back from the road with more of a garden out front.

Most of the other cottages are kept in good order, there being a sense of pride about the village. It is quite a sight in the summer months when everything is blooming, and on both sides of the street there is an abundance of hanging baskets. It is the sort of street that ends up on postcards. The exception to all the beauty on display is the gnomes out the front of Agnes Peach’s place. Every year she adds more to her collection. The only saving grace is that they are corralled by the wall and largely out of view. I do not mind them, of course, but I know there are some who are glad she is not their direct neighbour.

The funeral is at eleven. I assume Amos will go, but I see several friends and neighbours pass by on the way to the church and there is still no sign of him. It would be odd if he didn’t go. He knows the family about as well as I do and with his place in the community – chair of the Parish Council and a driving force behind many village activities, including Shaz’s Septuagenarians, the group of volunteers that help at the shop – it is his place to attend. I am on the verge of giving up waiting for him, and am standing, coat on and handbag hanging from the crook of my arm, when his door opens once more and he exits in suitably sombre attire. I count to ten to allow him a head start, then walk out onto the street to follow. If he knows I am there, he gives no indication. But then that’s been the case for many a long year.

As we reach the church, satisfactorily distanced, I understand the reason for his late departure. He clearly has the same idea as me. I smile to myself. Great minds think alike. The church is already full, and people stand in small groups in the churchyard. Some even outside the walls, such are the numbers. Conversations are held in low voices all around as I enter the churchyard, the heavy oak gates pinned back for the occasion. The grass has the soggy softness of early spring under foot. Much rain has fallen in recent days and I am thankful I am wearing flat boots and not the shoes I had been considering. Standing some twenty metres away from Amos by the boundary wall, I am near Susannah Bugby, who, among many other things, does the refreshments at the writers’ group, and Olivia Croxton, who eats most of them. I add a brief smile to the nod I give both, and as I know they are friends, I ask Susannah where Manda Babcock is. They are rarely seen apart at any gathering. She leans in as though to confide, ‘Oh, it’s awful. Have yer not heard about the row she had with Sharon? Hasn’t been able to leave the house since. I reckon she’s got that… what’s it called… aggiphobia.’

Petula Cross, as glamorous as ever, wearing a hat with veil, is doing the rounds handing out Order of Service booklets. Susannah reaches to claim our copy. I am hit by a wave of sorrow as I glimpse the family photo on the front and swallow back tears.

‘Agoraphobia.’ My voice cracks, and I clear my throat before continuing. ‘Has she called the doctor?’ I knew Susannah would take no notice of the correction, and she ignores my question too, so keen is she to continue with her next piece of news. Her voice is still lowered.

‘And, and, guess what? Speaking of Sharon, have you heard what’s happened? Eric’s only gone and left her. Taken Daisy too. I can’t even begin to imagine what’s gone on there.’ She eyes me. Her beady look ready to pounce on any sign I may know something. I realise she has only shared this with me because I am in a position to add the detail she is missing. But I am well-practised in the art of giving nothing away.

Because this is news I already know, being part of the previously mentioned volunteer group, Shaz’s Septuagenarians. A name I deplore, not least because even now I am only sixty-nine. I also know the reason behind Eric and Daisy’s departure. Or at least the reason I have been told. That he has another woman. But I don’t believe for one moment that is all there is to it. The fact that Daisy has gone too does not quite sit right. Or perhaps I am reading too much into it.

In addition, as I appear to be the volunteer most often called upon, I’m also aware it is not only Manda who is ill. Sharon has been unwell herself and has moaned to me about having been abandoned by her family at such a time. But I mention none of this to Susannah, because it is private and if I did, it would be halfway round the village by the end of the service.

Thankfully, if you can be thankful at such a moment, I can do little more than nod by way of response because a hush falls over the crowd as the hearses arrive. I have never attended a funeral where more than one was needed, and the enormity of the loss hits me again.

As the procession of four coffins makes its way into the church, heads turn and lower. A train of mourners follows. The wider family. I recognise no one, although it is easy to pick out John and Jan’s parents. Aged faces drained by grief. I am not sure how they are still standing under the weight of loss. I then spot Laura Brown in the group. It is common knowledge she has returned to her previous married name. She was the closest friend of the Jackson family and yet, after what happened, she must be feeling awful. Still, the wider family clearly attribute no blame in her direction, thank goodness, and I am glad she is included. She has lost weight, her face drawn, and shadows haunt her eyes.

The entourage moves inside and the service starts. There are speakers set up and I can hear clearly enough, but some of the emotion of the service is lost listening out here. Not that I mind that. I know I would have cried had I been inside but out in the spring sunshine, as I suspected, I feel a step removed from the intensity, and I am somewhat relieved as a result.

I wonder if Amos is going to the wake at The Red Calf. The pub is not somewhere I often go, what with being single, but occasionally one of my groups meets there, or I will join a friend for a morning coffee and a chat. I like the fact pubs are not all about the alcohol nowadays and make the effort to reach a different audience with decent coffee, excellent cakes and afternoon teas too. I know Mike and Yasmin, the landlords, have put up a marquee in the pub garden to accommodate the expected crowd today. The sound of ‘The Lord is My Shepherd’ floats across the churchyard and I am relieved to find those of us outside are not expected to sing, although a few join in.

Readings and a poem from the wider family members follow, then beautiful eulogies for each of the family. The vicar speaks movingly and I doubt there is a dry eye among anyone listening.

The sun may be out, but the early March wind cuts like a cheese wire as it whips round the church. I appreciate my full-length wool coat and turn my collar against the icy chill, sinking my chin into the soft folds of my scarf. Despite wearing gloves, I plunge my hands deep into the pockets.

‘Freezing, isn’t it?’ Susannah whispers, leaning close. I merely nod in response, though wonder why she feels it necessary to state something so obvious. She shivers involuntarily. Hardly surprising given she’s only wearing a light jacket, the loose scarf at her neck not nearly enough to protect her.

The service ends with a rousing rendition of ‘Jerusalem’. Then it is time for the coffins to make a return journey to the hearses. Villagers line the route to see them off. The family, red-eyed and ashen-faced, go off to the crematorium in cars. The church empties, the congregation spreading out across the churchyard like bees from a hive. Once the hearses have left, the atmosphere relaxes marginally and conversations start up once more. Susannah begins with, ‘Lovely service,’ but as I struggle with the inanity of small talk, I merely agree with her and move away. A few people nod a greeting or smile at me as I pass. Fortuitously, most are already involved in conversations, so I can continue on by without stopping. Of those that speak, the weather is the subject they start with, followed by ‘lovely service’, something along those lines. Nothing original. If I linger, I suspect discussions would expand into what a tragedy the whole thing is before going down the line of the latest rumour or conspiracy theory. I am not sure if it is because I have spent too much of my life living alone or simply find conversation difficult, quite possibly a combination of the two, but these are all things that do not need saying. To appear polite though, I smile, agree, and add little, so as not to prolong the exchange.

Amos is circulating. He is naturally more gregarious than me and, as always, seems happy to stand and chat. I initially have a job to keep an eye on him in such a large crowd, but it gradually thins as people drift away from the church and towards the pub. I assume Amos will go too, as he likes an excuse to have a pint or two, but he does not. Instead, he eventually separates himself off from those he has been chatting with and, turning down offers to go with them to the Calf, walks towards home. After a suitably discreet period, I follow.

Once home, I quickly change back into something more comfortable. Trousers and a long-sleeved tee-shirt, then add a chunky jumper as it is chilly. I make myself a sandwich and take that and a pot of tea through to the front room where I take up my place at the table for lunch.

The fact Amos has forgone the trip to the pub intrigues me. It is not like him, and it only adds fuel to the fire that has been building in my mind about his recent behaviour. Amos Chamberlain is up to something and I am determined to find out what it is.


Hard to Forgive is now available to buy.

Book Description


A woman abandoned. Her ex now married. How long will she wait to exact her revenge?

Betrayal, birth, and bereavement. Dora Smith had faced it all by the age of twenty. Alone, she tracks down her former lover planning to reveal everything to him, and his new wife. But with their first child on the way she can’t bring herself to rock their relationship.

Instead, she plays the long game, watching, waiting, wanting him to put a foot wrong. Never dreaming it would take a lifetime.

Then another love is lost. Is this the tipping point that pushes Dora into a spiral of self-destruction. Or, had that been triggered long before?

Hard to Forgive is a gripping domestic thriller. If you like character-driven action, suspenseful storytelling and unexpected twists then you’ll love this exciting novel.


If this looks like something you might like to read, you can find it at your favourite bookshop HERE. Or by clicking on the book cover.

Thank you.


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2 Responses to #NewRelease The 1st Chapter of Hard to Forgive: Book 3 of the #AShadeDarker series #domesticsuspense #psychologicalsuspense #suspense
  1. That is a great first chapter. You’ve set it up so well.


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