Excerpt from Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Ellie and the Harpmaker

by Hazel Prior

Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior X
Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior
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    Aug 2019, 336 pages

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Our nice but nosy neighbor Pauline was out in her garden, so I had gone straight in. I had launched myself into the kitchen. I'd swept a brief kiss into my husband's receding hairline. I'd sought out the kettle, filled it to the brim, spurted myself with water in the process and abandoned it. Then I'd blurted out a tangle of sentences that sounded frothy and ridiculous. I'd blushed, become aware of it, and blushed some more. Now I stood limply grinning by the fridge.

Clive closed the magazine and tugged at the neck of his sweatshirt. "Sorry, El, but I have to ask: Exactly how long have you known this man?"

My mind traveled back to the strange encounter of earlier: the huge open door of the barn that had enticed me in, the warm scent of wood, the light falling on the myriad harps, and there, in the center of them all, the lone figure. There had been some sort of tool in his hand, but already my memory was playing tricks on me and I couldn't say what it was. He had initially appeared to be an alien. His lower face was covered by some sort of blue mask and he was wearing earmuffs, presumably protection from sawdust and machinery noise. But the minute he'd taken them off, I was struck by the beauty of the man. He was tall and sinewy with dark, disheveled hair. Although his skin looked weather-beaten, there was a strange translucent quality about it. His face was classically sculpted, as if a great deal of thought had gone into every line and curve. But it was his huge, dark eyes that really claimed my curiosity. I'd never seen eyes like that before.

"I only met him the first time this morning."

Clive was as nonplussed as I'd been an hour earlier. He leaned forward, his expression wavering between amusement and disbelief. "I don't get it."

I laughed manically. Explanations swam round in my head, but not one of them was managing to formulate itself into words.

Clive was clearly preparing to escort me to the nearest asylum.

"Come and look," I tried. Once he saw it, surely he would be as enthusiastic as I was?

I led him outside into the bright chill of the September air. Pauline, I gratefully noticed, had disappeared. The car was still unlocked. I flung open the rear door. Clive's eyes nearly popped out of his head.

"Ah!" I cried in a voice that was half irony, half relief. "So I wasn't hallucinating!"

It's a good thing we have a hatchback and seats that go down. I stood back to allow my husband a thorough examination.

The harp was carved out of red-gold wood (cherry, Dan had told me, to go with my socks). It had a lovely soft sheen and there was a marbled swirl in the graining at the joint where it would rest against my shoulder. A light Celtic pattern was carved along the sweep of the neck, and embedded in the wood at the crest was a shiny blue-black pebble. Apparently Dan always puts an Exmoor pebble into his harps. Each pebble is carefully chosen to complement the style and character of the instrument. This harp—my harp—was a lovely size, just as high as my waistline when it was standing. Now it was lying on one side, nestled cozily on the tartan rug in the back of the car.

Clive knocked at the wood of the soundboard with his knuckles as if to check it was real. "But this is quality craftsmanship!"

"I know," I said, smug now, almost proud of Dan. "He's been making them all his life."

"This would cost—what—two thousand pounds? Three? More, even, if it's all handmade. Look at the carving along the top."

"The neck. It's called the neck. Apparently."

Clive was scrutinizing as only Clive can scrutinize. "It's—well, I have to say it's pretty cool! But, honeybun, there's no way you can keep it. You do know that, don't you?"

The voice of logic. It came hurtling through my haze of surreal, heady joy, and it stung. "Of course I do," I mumbled.

Clive straightened and shook his head. "The guy must be insane."

Excerpted from Ellie and the Harpmaker by Hazel Prior. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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