Cathy Kelly Just Between Us

ISBN 13: 9780007268641

Just Between Us

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9780007268641: Just Between Us
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About the Author:

Cathy Kelly is the Irish bestselling author of twelve other novels, many of which have been number one bestsellers in the UK, Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand. She lives in Ireland with her husband and twin sons. In 2005 she was appointed an ambassador for UNICEF Ireland. Contact her on Twitter at @cathykellybooks or follow her on Facebook or at CathyKelly.com.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

one

The previous December, two weeks before Christmas

Rose Miller hated committees. Which was a bit unfortunate, because she was on three of them. The Kinvarra Charity Committee was the most irritating for the simple reason that its internal wranglings took so much time, there wasn't a moment left to actually raise any money for charity. Discussions about the size of the type on the menus for the annual ladies' lunch, and whether to serve salmon or beef, had taken endless phone calls and two lengthy meetings. If Rose hadn't practically lost her temper, the committee would still be arguing over it.

"Does it really matter what the menus look like or what we eat?" she'd demanded fierily at the final, drawn-out meeting, rising to her feet and making all the other committee ladies clutch their copies of the minutes in shock. Mrs. Rose Miller with her dark eyes flashing in anger was not a common sight. A tireless worker for the local charities, she was known for her calm self-possession and for her organizational skills. Tall and strikingly elegant with her trademark upswept hairdo, she was almost regal in her anger. "We're here to raise money, not waste it. Is this our best effort for the underprivileged of this town? To sit in a cozy hotel bar and slurp our way through urns of coffee and entire boxes of custard creams while we discuss minutiae?"

"Good point," squeaked Mrs. Freidland, the current chairwoman, who'd been stubbornly holding out for flowing script type and seafood chowder followed by beef despite the fact that the majority wanted salmon for the main course and tiger prawns to start. "We've been wasting far too much time; let's stop arguing and vote."

Feeling rather shocked at her own outburst, Rose sat down and wondered, as she did every year, why she didn't just resign and take up something less stressful, like hang gliding or swimming with sharks. But every year she let her name be put forward because if she wasn't on the committee, no money would be raised at all. And she passionately wanted to help people. A life lived selfishly was a life half lived; that was her credo. The only difficulty was that for some of the other committee members, charity work was more a sign of social status than anything else.

The Church Hospitality Committee only met a couple of times a year and was the least trouble, as it only involved putting together a couple of suppers for interchurch gatherings and, occasionally, a party for a visiting missionary priest.

Rose's third committee, the Kinvarra Motorway Action Group, was halfway up the scale of annoyance. Set up to oppose the proposed new route through Kinvarra's nature park, an area of outstanding beauty around the midlands town, the KMAG committee included a highly efficient local solicitor, several prominent businesspeople, and three local politicians. Therefore things got done. But the public meetings were a total nightmare that usually ended up with the committee being instructed to work on at least four wildly differing approaches.

Rose needed a stiff gin and tonic after the KMAG public meetings, although Hugh grinned and told her that in his experience of public meetings, she'd be better off with a stiff drink beforehand.

As one of Kinvarra's leading legal brains, Hugh was a committee veteran. He'd even served his time as the town's mayor many years before, which he laughingly said had been a lesson to him Not To Get Involved. Rose had a photo of him in his mayoral robes on the mantelpiece: tall, stately, and handsome with his immaculately brushed silver hair setting off the high forehead and the benevolent gaze. The camera hadn't picked up the wicked glint in Hugh's eyes that day, a look that said he didn't mind the job but could have done without the mayoral necklace hanging like a cow chain around his neck.

"It's impossible to please even half the people a quarter of the time," was Hugh's sage advice on committees. "Everyone goes round in circles for weeks. As for your public meetings, unless someone takes the planners to court, you're wasting your time."

"We will if we have to," said Rose heatedly. "But we must show our solidarity as a community. We don't want to be walked on. Don't you care about the motorway?"

"It won't be anywhere near our house," Hugh pointed out.

Rose gave up. She found it hard to understand how Hugh could be so pragmatic about important matters. She herself became passionately involved in all her causes, whether they affected her directly or not, but Hugh didn't seem to feel these things as deeply as Rose.

The girls had all taken after their mother. Thirty-eight-year-old Stella, for all she appeared to be a sensible lawyer, working hard to bring up her daughter on her own, hid a romantic soul beneath her sober office suits. Tara, seven years younger, was the same: A debating queen at school and college, she threw herself wholeheartedly into anything she did. She'd fallen in love the same way, marrying computer sales executive Finn Jefferson six months to the day after they met, half-astonishing people who thought that Tara was destined for unconventionality and liable to run off with a rock star if the mood took her.

And as for Holly, the baby of the family at twenty-seven, Rose knew that beneath her youngest daughter's gentle exterior there was a vulnerable, fiercely passionate heart. But while Tara and Stella had the courage to fight for what they believed in, Holly didn't. The secret fear that Rose carried round with her was that Holly lacked self-confidence because of Rose and because of what she had or hadn't done. Somehow, Rose felt, she had failed her beloved youngest daughter. But the thought was too painful, and Rose Miller, known for facing all kinds of problems with calm resilience, blocked it out. She wouldn't, couldn't, think about it.

Today was the dreaded Kinvarra Charity Committee, and as Rose parked her car outside Minnie Wilson's sedate semidetached house, she had a sudden desire to take off on a mad shopping spree and forget all about the meeting. Instead, she did what was expected of a sensible Kinvarra matron: She checked her lipstick in the mirror, repinned a wayward strand of her graying dark hair back into its elegant knot, and carried a homemade lemon cake up the path.

"Rose, is that the time? I'm all at sixes and sevens, I'm not a bit organized!" wailed Minnie when she answered the door.

Rose gritted her teeth into a smile and walked in. Minnie had to be at least Rose's age, round the sixty mark, but had the manner of a dizzy young girl and got flustered at the slightest provocation. Minnie was one of the people who'd worried so much about the type size on the charity lunch menus. She'd moved to Kinvarra three years ago when her husband retired and she'd thrown herself so frenetically into local affairs, it felt as if she'd been part of the community for years.

"Don't worry, Minnie, I'll help," Rose said automatically. "What do you want me to do?"

"Well..." said Minnie anxiously. "The kettle's boiled but I haven't got the cups out. And look at my hair..."

Hang gliding, definitely. It had to be more fun than this, Rose reflected. "Why don't you go and fix your hair, Minnie," she said calmly, "while I sort out the tea."

Minnie fluttered off upstairs and Rose grimly thought that the group's chosen charities would be better served if its members all just sent a check every year to the charity of their choice. They'd save money spent on endless tea mornings where at least half the time was spent on the process of sorting everyone out with seats, cups, and plates of cake.

Rose briskly organized the tea, her mind elsewhere. She often wondered how she had ended up in this life. She'd never wanted to be a pillar of the community and a leading light of every local concern going. When she was eighteen, she'd wanted to work in a modern office in the city, where people addressed her respectfully as Miss Riordain and where a wage packet with the anticipated amount of money was put into her hand every week without fail. The respect and the unchanging wage packet were important. On her father's tiny farm, income fluctuated wildly, resulting in lean times and very lean times. Nobody felt the need to show particular respect to the beautiful and clever daughter of a small farmer, and Rose had grown up deeply aware of the nuances of how people treated the daughters of the local doctor and the big landowners. One of her ambitions was to receive such respect. A good, settled job and a pay packet that came every week would give her freedom. She'd got her foot on the ladder all right, with the junior secretarial job in a construction company. Efficient and eager to learn, she'd dedicated herself to self-improvement. She'd battled with an elderly typewriter until her nails broke and she'd watched the senior secretary for hints on how she should dress. And then she'd met Hugh, the dashing young lawyer friend of the owner's son. Hugh came from a world where people never needed to be told how to dress or which fork to use. But to two people in love, that didn't matter. They were soul mates. Love turned Rose's life plan upside down, and within two years she was married with a small daughter.

Occasionally, she wondered what would have happened if she'd said no to Hugh. Maybe she'd be a high-powered businesswoman, having an exciting but selfish life instead of living for others in Kinvarra, where her only day-to-day concerns were her charity work, getting the freezer fixed, and helping Hugh organize Christmas hampers for the firm's most important clients.

Tonight, his firm was involved in a Christmas fund-raiser for the local poverty action group, which, with the recent wave of layoffs among the area's big factories, was even more stretched for funds than usual. A black-tie gala dinner, it would mean top-table stuff and all the Kinvarra glitterati out in force. Rose enjoyed getting dressed up but there were times when she got bored with the inevitable polite conversation at such events. H...

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