A murder. A mystery. A legacy to uphold.
Abbie Grimshaw’s road to recovery from a traumatic experience takes her on many journeys. On a whim, she stops at St. Michael’s church and runs straight into more danger.
This time, there’s a supernatural complication: she can see—and talk to—the Earl of Ashford. He died in 1816, but death doesn’t stop him from charging Abbie with the safety of two young orphans.
She never imagined life would send her literal demons to battle, but Abbie is a Grimm, like her mother before her. There’s a long legacy of defending the innocent at stake.
If she cannot master child-minding and demon-slaying simultaneously, her own legend will be short-lived.
DEATH TAKES A DETOUR, the first novel in the Outside the Circle Mystery series by urban fantasy author Shereen Vedam.
Death Takes a detour by Shereen Vedam
SERIES Outside the Circle Mystery | GENRE New Adult Urban Fantasy
PUBLISHER Independent | PUBLICATION DATE February 8, 2022
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DEATH TAKES A DETOUR
An Outside the Circle Mystery Novel
© 2022 Shereen Vedam
As dusk crowded in on this hectic July evening, after a two-year absence, Abigail Grimshaw cruised south on A23 on her way to Chipstead, Kent. Home. She was less than five kilometers from her destination when her phone murdered the Doctor Who theme song on her dashboard. She’d programed that distinctive tune solely to identify her mother Margaret Grimshaw’s texts. This was now the second call in as many minutes.
Abbie had checked her mobile after the first call, only to discover that the cryptic message had simply been, Time to put your skates on, love.
She now derided herself for having done exactly as her mother urged. Without question. She had even gone so far as to speed up a little.
Always do as your mother asks, Abbie’s dad had advised his four children during their childhood. You won’t regret it.
Earlier this afternoon in London, Abbie’s clinical psychologist had given her one clear recommendation during their last in-person session: Make your own decisions, Abbie. Then you’ll no longer be able to blame your mother for your actions.
Two opposing views, with Abbie’s sanity hanging in the balance. The path she chose going forward would pave the way to her future. She knew in which direction she should go. It wasn’t to return home and pick up old habits or to choose the easy road. Yet, that was exactly where she was headed.
Should she flout this second call? No. Something more drastic was required if she was to cut the cord her mother had tied so firmly to her only daughter.
Without hesitation, in a screech of tires, Abbie swerved off the main road and drove into the nearest side lane. The abrupt change in direction led her into a weed-infested gravel car park in front of an abandoned church. St. Michael’s. This had been one of her favorite childhood haunts. It was as familiar as all the bits and bobs that decorated her childhood bedroom in Chipstead.
For old time’s sake, she had actually considered stopping at this spot on her way home. However, since she had left town later than planned, and not wanting to worry her mother by arriving after dark, she’d mentally crossed off stopping here. She now shook off that concern.
Margaret Grimshaw could wait. Worry. Wonder.
Abbie turned off the ignition and took a deep breath to calm her jangling nerves. Perspiration trickled down her spine as she read the second text. Step on it, dear.
Why did Margaret Grimshaw want her daughter to hurry home? What was she afraid Abbie might do along this stretch of the road? Stop here? Abbie loved St. Michael’s. Why would her mother discourage her from visiting here?
Abbie’s unusual disobedience set her nerves on end and painted this beloved church and the graveyard at its rear in a darker shade than the fading sunlight warranted.
She scrutinized the familiar structure and its environs for any sign of an anomaly. The church’s slim white spire was still tipped and appeared to be on the verge of falling off the octagonal lantern where it had rested for centuries. The three front rectangular windows that used to depict the life and death of Christ in magnificently vibrant stained glass were now boarded up. Those precious pieces of glass had likely been auctioned off years ago.
The white stone walls and tiled roof, neglected for decades, were shielded by lush ivy. The adjacent manse’s garden grew so wild, the little two-story house and its For Sale sign was partially obscured by overgrown bushes.
Instead of thrumming with a sense of danger, the dilapidated buildings reminded Abbie of happy hours she’d spent roaming through these grounds searching for sweet berries to eat or sunning herself while gloriously exposed atop the adjacent graveyard’s marble crypts. Warm contentment budded deep within Abbie’s heart at being back here, reminding her of who she had once been – a joyful teenager in love with life.
The fond memories repelled the invasive coldness that had recently crept in. It was ages since she’d felt so glad to be anywhere.
What possible reason could there be to urge Abbie to drive past this spot? Could the trouble Abbie was to avoid skulk in the graveyard? With a nod to that intriguing notion, she texted, “Be home soon, Mum.” Then she tucked her mobile into the glove compartment and exited Rosie, her coral red Renault hatchback.
On wishing her goodbye, Abbie’s psychologist had said, Don’t isolate yourself with troubled thoughts. Exercise will help. Go out for walks. Meet people.
“Doctor’s orders,” she muttered, fetching her torch from the boot and locking the car.
Abbie aimed her steps toward the graveyard.
She wasn’t frightened of any nefarious person she might encounter on these premises. With three protective, boisterous elder brothers for siblings, she was proficient in several legal self-defense techniques, and a few banned ones.
Not that she’d need to use any of those skills. Hardly anyone came to St. Michael’s unless it was to find a private spot to get drunk or be left in peace. Not surprising then that all was quiet.
The only people in this graveyard were resting beneath the surface. And she’d memorized most of their names. Meet people indeed.
Wisps of mist hid the path ahead. The ground gave way beneath her trainers, suggesting it had rained earlier. The blushing sky was clear now.
The grave markings forced Abbie to walk in straight lines, like slipping between rows and columns of ancient data. As a child, she had adopted these forever-hushed residents as part of her extended family. Tall prickly weeds snagged her jeans as if begging her to linger.
She drew comfort from the stone placements’ regularity. Abbie used to be impulsive; her brothers had even accused her of being reckless on occasion. Not anymore. Lately, she preferred order. Predictability. All of which made her stopping here seem out of the ordinary. Could she be recovering? In defying her mother, was she reclaiming a piece of her old self? She hoped so.
Her life had been vibrant and fun before the “incident” reduced it to indecisive and broken fragments. Her eyes teared up as they always did whenever she thought even glancingly of the bombing that took out three of her EMT teammates in one fell swoop. Had it only been a month ago today? The day she’d witnessed her teammates’ deaths because she’d arrived too late to die with them. And much too late to be of any help.
Should you go home to check if you turned off the gas hob, love?
Her mother’s text from that fateful morning was ingrained in Abbie’s soul in her team’s blood. Since her cooker’s knob was known to stick on occasion, Abbie hadn’t been able to shake off the suggestion to return home, even though it would make her late for work. That decision had resulted in Abbie’s teammates going out on a call without her.
The day the double-decker exploded, a day she’d labeled as B-Day, her boss and elder brother Colin had paid a hospital visit to say there was nothing Abbie could have done if she had made it on board that bus, other than lose her life, too. He, for one, was glad his best girl was still with him. Twenty-two years of age was too young to die.
He wouldn’t have been happy to hear that since B-Day, Abbie felt as if she was the walking dead. A zombie. Not belonging below ground or above it. That may be why she leaned toward a sense of order. To give her life meaning. Until another text from her mother tried to steer Abbie’s movements.
Her psychologist believed Abbie’s resentment toward her mother was a remnant of survivor’s guilt. Her suggestion, other than for Abbie to make her own decisions, had been to recite all the good things her mother had done for her over the years until Abbie’s rage faded.
During weeks of recovery, her umbrage that one of her mother’s intuitive suggestions had saved Abbie’s life even as her teammates lost theirs did indeed wither away. Her guilt at still breathing while her mates lay corpse still, however, continued to simmer in her gut like dragon fire.
Latent fury churned as questions that had haunted her since B-Day resurfaced. Could her mother be psychic? Did she know about things before they happened?
Her father would have snickered at Abbie raising such outlandish supernatural concerns. To him, if he couldn’t touch, see, hear, or taste it, it didn’t exist. He attributed his wife’s wisdom to inherent smarts, not “superstitious nonsense.”
Abbie no longer agreed with him on that assessment. She needed to know – had her mother sensed what was about to happen to Abbie on that bus, and chose to ensure her daughter never boarded it by sending her on a useless errand? The gas knob had been in the off position.
A glance up revealed a dark sky decorated with a million stars. How long had she been walking out here? Nothing untoward had happened. Could the bus incident have made her paranoid? Or, as her father believed, could his wife’s mysterious ability to know whenever one of her children was about to get into trouble be simply a series of unconnected coincidences.
Which would mean that earlier urging for Abbie to hurry home had been no more than an I miss you. Come home quickly.
Her heavy sigh misted across her face. She shivered, mindful of the chilly air. She tugged her cardi closer as a cool brisk wind kissed her cheeks.
Suddenly, as her worries weighed her down, Abbie wished she was home, so she could crawl into bed and have a good long nap. The long stroll back to the car park didn’t appeal though. Since the tombstone behind her was bum high, she accepted its invitation to perch. Resting her torch beside her, she aimed its light directly ahead and released a weary sigh.
Her puff of breath obscured her vision. She swiped to disperse the cool misty air and noticed someone else present ahead. A man. Odd, she hadn’t heard a car drive up.
What was he doing here so late? “Hi ya?”
He didn’t respond. He was dressed all in black. She might not have spotted him but for her torchlight being trained directly at his tall back. He leaned heavily on an ornate walking stick held in his left hand.
“I’m sorry if I disturbed you.” She hopped off the tombstone and approached, politely aiming her light toward his feet. Wait, where had he gone? She searched left and right but the man was nowhere to be seen. How had he moved so quietly?
She cautiously approached the grave by which he’d stood and studied the engraving.
Elizabeth Livingston, born 1813, died 1816. Taken too soon. A full life yet to be lived. How sad. This child had been a toddler.
“She was my daughter,” he said from directly behind.
Abbie spun around, heart hammering wildly, a fist raised to land a wallop. At his raised eyebrow, she lowered her arm, shaking out the tension in her fingers. She was not usually skittish. Well, yes lately. She ordered her pulse to settle, moved her light off his clean-shaven Anglo-Saxon face, and then took in his ancient suit with appreciation. “Cool.”
He had on a long dark coat, patterned waistcoat, a cravat, and a top hat! As if he’d exited a Jane Austen fair. As a child, Abbie had loved attending those re-enactments.
Up close, she put him in his late twenties. Most young men of her acquaintance did not have a child who had passed away two centuries ago.
Could the engraver have made a mistake? Meant to scribe the century as 20, not 18? Except, in all the years Abbie had frequented St. Michael’s, no one had been brought here for burial. She carefully observed him, questioning her every perception. Were the goosebumps forming on her arms simply a sign of a cool night? Or was this the meeting she was to avoid tonight?
“You should not be here,” he said as if echoing her mother’s concern.
Abbie’s father was an atheist who scoffed at any suggestion of hauntings. Since Abbie adored him, she had grabbed every opportunity to emulate his behavior. Now, her judgment of such matters lay quietly in a London cemetery beside her friends, while her curiosity prowled among St. Michael’s gravestones and prodded her with an impossible question. Could this man be a ghost?
Her heart beat violently. “Name first, please.”
He blinked twice as if startled. Then in a haughty tone said, “I am unaccustomed to young ladies introducing themselves.”
“First time for everything,” she said. Her father’s logical teachings reared, telling her to be sensible. He must be a stray from a Georgian re-enactment. Would explain his ancient clothing. Some folks took such hobbies seriously.
He released a heavy sigh and then gave a curt bow. “Robert.” He looked started as if he hadn’t meant to say that name. Then he gathered himself and said, “Matthew Robert Livingston. Earl of Ashford, at your service.”
Ashford? She stepped back. That was a lie. Her foot struck Elizabeth Livingston’s headstone, tipping Abbie off balance. He instantly steadied her. His touch was strong and reassuringly real.
“Thank you,” she said, regaining her balance, both mentally and emotionally. “Jolly good try about your title. Unfortunately for both of us, I’ve been introduced to his frugal lordship and you are nothing like him. He owns this churchyard. One of his many properties. I’ll call you Robert, shall I? I’m Abigail Grimshaw. You may call me Abbie.”
“Why are you here, Miss Grimshaw?”
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Once upon a time, USA Today bestselling author SHEREEN VEDAM read fantasy and romance novels to entertain herself. Now she writes heartwarming tales braided with threads of magic and love and mystery elements woven in for good measure.
Shereen’s a fan of resourceful women, intriguing men, and happily-ever-after endings. If her stories whisk you away to a different realm for a few hours, then Shereen will have achieved one of her life goals.