The Last Daughter

Synopsis of The Last Daughter

 

A secret hidden in the past.
A family bound by a dark legacy…

 

Ever since her sister disappeared eleven years ago, Serena Warren has been running from a ghost, haunted by what she can’t remember about that night.

When Caitlin’s body is discovered, Serena returns to her grandfather’s house, nestled beside the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall in Oxfordshire, determined to uncover the truth. But in returning to the place of her childhood summers, Serena stands poised at the brink of a startling discovery – one that will tie her family to a centuries-old secret…

Taking readers from the present day to the Wars of the Roses in the 1400s, and with an enthralling mystery at its heart, The Last Daughter is a spellbinding novel about family secrets, perfect for fans of Lucinda Riley, Victoria Hislop and Kate Morton.

Read an extract from The Last Daughter

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Extract from The Last Daughter

 

Serena stepped out of the pub door and into a puddle. It must have rained overnight although the ragged grey dawn had now given way to something brighter and more hopeful. The wind was chilly and made her eyes smart. She wished she had thought to bring a scarf, hat and gloves as well. She’d have to pick them up later. Her hair, long, fine and mouse brown, darker than Caitlin’s had been, was already tangling and blinding her. She brushed it away from her face impatiently and pulled up the hood of the jacket.

A horn blared and Serena took a hasty step back. The pub was right on the corner where the road narrowed to cross the humpbacked medieval bridge over the river. Standing here on the edge of the tarmac was asking to be mown down by commuters who were in too much of a hurry to appreciate either the view or the tourists, so instead she slipped around the side of the building into the car park. Her small blue car was the only vehicle there, tucked away in a corner beneath a sprawling ivy-clad fence, and for a moment Serena experienced an almost overwhelming urge to jump in it and simply drive away, running from the past yet again.

Instead she crossed the car park to a wooden gate that opened directly onto the water meadow and set off, not towards the village, but across the fields towards the ruined hall. The river Windrush, a small and picturesque tributary of the Thames, was narrow here, and slow, winding lazily in a series of loops amongst the dead stalks of bulrushes, bugle and ragged robin.  A path cut through the grass. It was dry immediately under foot although Serena sensed the mud below. She walked slowly, listening to the splash of the river and the quacking of the ducks beneath the bridge.

The edge of Minster Hall land was marked by a clump of tall trees; poplar and sycamore and plane. There were also some ancient oak trees garlanded with mistletoe in their high branches. Serena remembered her grandmother warning them not to eat the berries because they were poisonous. Serena’s mother had thrown a fit when she had heard and suggested the mistletoe should be cut down, whereupon their grandmother had retorted that the plant had been sacred to the druids and that they had no right to destroy something that possessed mystical powers. Serena’s mother wasn’t remotely mystical but she had recognised defeat when she saw it and the mistletoe stayed. Serena felt a rush of pleasure to see that it was still here.

The poplar and oak trees encircled a large square, shallow pond overgrown with weed and grasses that Serena remembered well. In the summer holidays she and Caitlin had played here, hunting for shards of pots and the slivers of tesserae from the mosaic floors of the Roman villa that was said to be hidden beneath the pool. Now Serena could see nothing in the murky green waters. Rooks and jackdaws rose in a cacophony from the treetops as she passed. There was no path as such anymore; her footsteps led her between the pond and the river and right into the ruined hall itself, all fallen stone and jagged ledges.

Serena stopped, took a deep breath, and tested her reaction. This was where she had been found on the night that Caitlin had disappeared, huddled semi-conscious in the corner of the tower. Apparently when someone had touched her shoulder to rouse her, she had screamed hysterically but she remembered nothing of that. She remembered nothing at all before the moment she had come round in hospital in Oxford, asking what had happened…

She walked slowly over the grassed courtyard towards the range of buildings on the other side. These had been the kitchens and stables – there was an interpretation board in front of her – and to her left soared the high walls of the great hall and the chambers beyond. Serena had half-expected to feel a rush of panic by now and some recognition that something so traumatic had taken place here that her mind had blanked it out. She waited for her heartbeat to accelerate and her chest tighten as it had done in the past when she had experienced panic attacks. Nothing happened. Both her mind and body seemed indifferent to this place, recognising nothing strange nor familiar about it.

Then she saw the manor house. It was sheltering in the western corner of the ruins, next to the church, small and square, grey, with lichened stone and a slate roof and diamond paned windows. A shaft of sunlight cut through the trees like a blade. Immediately the green of lawn and hedge lit up as though illuminated, displaying a neat box parterre and sculpted yew trees.

Home.

Serena felt the visceral pull of it, the roots that anchored her to this place and to her past.   It was a shock to feel it so strongly. This she recognised. She had turned her back of the place and had run from family tragedy and the horror of Caitlin’s loss but the ties connecting her to Minster Lovell Hall were too strong to be broken.

 

END OF EXCERPT

© 2019 Nicola Cornick

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