Water Like a Stone (Mass Market Paperback)

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  • Edition: Reprint
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2013-03-12
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publications
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Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and his partner, Sergeant Gemma James, take their sons to picturesque Cheshire for their first family Christmas with Duncan's parents-a holiday both dreaded and anticipated. But not even the charming town of Nantwich and the dreaming canals can mask the tensions in Duncan's family, which are tragically heightened by the discovery of an infant's body hidden in the wall of an old dairy. As Duncan and Gemma help the police investigate the infant's death, another murder strikes closer to home, revealing that far from being idyllic, Duncan's childhood paradise holds dark and deadly secrets . . . secrets that threaten everything and everyone Duncan and Gemma hold most dear.


Water Like a Stone

Chapter One


Gemma James would never have thought that two adults, two children, and two dogs, all crammed into a small car along with a week's worth of luggage and assorted Christmas presents, could produce such a palpable silence.

It was Christmas Eve, and they'd left London as soon as she and her partner, Duncan Kincaid, could get away from their respective offices, his at New Scotland Yard, hers at the Notting Hill Division of the Metropolitan Police. They had both managed a long-overdue week's break from their jobs and were on their way to spend the holiday with Duncan's family in Cheshire, a prospect that Gemma viewed with more than a little trepidation.

In the backseat, her five-year-old son, Toby, had at last fallen asleep, his blond head tilted to one side, his small body sagging against the seat belt with the abandon managed only by the very young. Geordie, Gemma's cocker spaniel, was sprawled half in the boy's lap, snoring slightly.

Next to Toby sat Kit, Duncan's thirteen-year-old, with his little terrier, Tess, curled up beside him. Unlike Toby, Kit was awake and ominously quiet. Their anticipated holiday had begun with a row, and Kit had shown no inclination to put his sense of injury aside.

Gemma sighed involuntarily, and Kincaid glanced at her from the passenger seat.

"Ready for a break?" he asked. "I'd be glad to take over."

As a single fat raindrop splashed against the windscreen and crawled up the glass, Gemma saw that the heavy clouds to the north had sunk down to the horizon and were fast obliterating the last of the daylight. They'd crawled up the M6 past Birmingham in a stop-and-start queue of holiday traffic, and only now were they getting up to a decent speed. "I think there's one more stop before we leave the motorway. We can switch there." Reluctant as she was to stop, Gemma had no desire to navigate her way through the wilds of Cheshire in the dark.

"Nantwich is less than ten miles from the motorway," Kincaid said with a grin, answering her unspoken thought.

"It's still country in between." Gemma made a face. "Cows. Mud. Manure. Bugs."

"No bugs this time of year," he corrected.

"Besides," Gemma continued, undeterred, "your parents don't live in the town. They live on a farm." The word was weighted with horror.

"It's not a working farm," Kincaid said, as if that made all the difference. "Although there is a dairy next door, and sometimes the smell does tend to drift a bit."

His parents owned a bookshop in the market town of Nantwich, but lived in an old farm-house a few miles to the north. Kincaid had grown up there, along with his younger sister, Juliet, and as long as Gemma had known him he'd talked about the place as if it were heaven on earth.

By contrast, having grown up in North London, Gemma never felt really comfortable out of range of lights and people, and she wasn't buying his glowing advertisements for country life. Nor was she thrilled about leaving their home. She had so looked forward to a Christmas unmarred by the calamities that had shadowed last year's holidays, their first in the Notting Hill house. And she felt the children needed the security of a Christmas at home, especially Kit.

Especially Kit. She glanced in the rearview mirror. He hadn't joined in their banter, and his face was still and implacable as he gazed out the window at the rolling Cheshire hills.

That morning, as Gemma had attempted a last-minute sort through a week's worth of neglected post, she'd come across a letter addressed to Kincaid and bearing Kit's school insignia. She'd ripped it open absently, expecting a fund-raising request or an announcement of some school activity. Then she'd stood in the kitchen, frozen with shock as she scanned the contents. It was from Kit's head teacher, informing Kincaid of her concern over the recent drop in Kit's academic performance and requesting that he schedule a conference after the holiday. Previous notes sent home with Kit by his teachers, the head had added, had come back with signatures the staff suspected had been forged.

Gemma had waited with tight-lipped restraint until Kincaid got home, then they'd confronted Kit together.

Things had not gone well. Kincaid, his anger fueled as much by Kit's duplicity as by concern over the boy's school performance, had shouted at his son while Toby and the dogs had cowered in the background. Kit had gone white and balled into himself as defensively as a threatened hedgehog, and Gemma found herself the peacemaker.

"It's too late to ring the head now," she'd said. "We'll have to wait until term takes up again after the holidays. Why don't we all calm down and not let this spoil our trip." Glancing at her watch, she added, "And if we don't get off soon, we'll never make it to your parents' in time for tonight's dinner."

Kincaid had turned away with a shrug of disgust to load the last of the luggage, and Kit had retreated into the stony silence he'd maintained since. It was ironic, Gemma thought, that although it was Kit who'd been called on the carpet, she felt that she and Duncan were the ones who had failed. They should have discussed how to handle things before they talked to Kit; perhaps they should even have spoken to the head teacher before tackling the boy.

Having recently come to at least a temporary resolution in the custody battle with Kit's maternal grandparents that had consumed much of their last year, they'd allowed themselves to be lulled into a false sense of security. Kit had at last agreed to have his DNA tested, and when a match proved Duncan was his biological father, the court had awarded him custody dependent on the continuing evaluation of the boy's well-being and the stability of his home life.

Water Like a Stone. Copyright © by Deborah Crombie. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Excerpted from Water Like a Stone by Deborah Crombie
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

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