Fiction Catherine Alliott A Rural Affair

ISBN 13: 9780141047799

A Rural Affair

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9780141047799: A Rural Affair

Fans of Catherine Alliott's bestselling novels One Day in May and A Crowded Marriage, will love her latest gorgeously romantic novel A Rural Affair. 'If I'm being totally honest I had fantasized about Phil dying.' When Poppy Shilling's bike-besotted, Lycra-clad husband is killed in a freak accident, she can't help feeling a guilty sense of relief. For at long last she's released from a controlling and loveless marriage. Throwing herself wholeheartedly into village life, she's determined to start over. And sure enough, everyone from Luke the sexy church organist to Bob the resident oddball, is taking note. Yet the one man Poppy can't take her eyes off seems tantalizingly out of reach - why won't he let go of his glamorous ex-wife? But just as she's ready to dip her toes in the water, the discovery of a dark secret about her late husband shatters Poppy's confidence. Does she really have the courage to risk her heart again? Because Poppy wants a lot more than just a rural affair . . . Step into Alliott country with A Rural Affair. Praise for Catherine Alliott: 'I raced through it, completely gripped from start to finish' Daily Mail 'An entertaining read that's as light as the summer breeze' Daily Express

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About the Author:

Catherine Alliott is the author of fourteen other bestselling novels including My Husband Next Door, A Rural Affair, One Day in May, The Secret Life of Evie Hamilton, and Wish You Were Here. She lives with her family in Hertfordshire. www.facebook.com/AlliottCountry

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Chapter One

If I'm being totally honest I had fantasized about Phil dying. Only in a mild, half-baked, Thursday morning in Sainsbury's sort of way. I'm not talking about lying awake at night plotting his demise, no, just idly cruising those aisles, popping in the Weetabix, or driving to pick Clemmie up from nursery, dreaming a little dream, that sort of thing. Like you do when you're bored and you've got two small children on your hands and you've been married for a while to an irritating man. Wondering what life would be like without a husband. And always the life afterward bit, the nicer bit, not the horrid bit of the death itself.

Having the house to myself appealed. Getting rid of those ghastly leather sofas in tummy-upset brown, never having to hoover them again and get right down into the cracks, or keep the house immaculate as he liked, and as his mother had so assiduously done. No more wiping the skirting boards weekly, or turning the mattress monthly. No more meat and two veg and a lot more pasta. Or just a boiled egg. No more frantically raking up autumn leaves, I mused to myself now as one fluttered onto my windscreen, a beautiful, blood-red sycamore, spiralling down, winking at me. They could just lie where they fell, in a red and gold carpet on the grass as nature intended, instead of having to rush out like a lunatic when the first one dropped, Phil shouting, "Quick! They're coming!", raking furiously. These sorts of thoughts―innocuous, harmless ones, that crested, then sank, only to resurface some weeks later. Being alone with my babies, for instance; I glanced in my rear-view mirror at my toddler son as I drove along, watched as his thumb dropped wetly from his mouth and his eyes slowly closed. I reached back and deftly took the carton of juice he'd been clasping.

And OK―I straightened myself back at the wheel―just very occasionally, very fleetingly, my mind had inevitably turned to the mechanics of it. A piece of scaffolding perhaps, falling on his head from the construction site he walked under every morning, on his way from Charing Cross to Ludgate Circus: the one outside the Savoy, where they'd been at it for months. One of the workmen dropping a hammer. Clunk. But after six months, the scaffolding had come down―I'd checked. So...what about a mosquito bite? Turning septic? Quickly and painlessly, on one of our annual trips abroad―always Spain and always cycling. Same hotel every year, with other cycling enthusiasts. I read, mostly, and looked after the children. But the summer would slip by and Phil would remain unbitten, so, to embrace the winter months, I'd fondly imagined him slipping on ice as he went to get the paper in the village shop.

"It all happened so quickly," Yvonne, who ran the shop, would say, her saucer eyes seeing everything before it happened anyway. "One minute he was breezing out with the Telegraph; the next, he was flat on his back, blood pouring from his head!"

No, not blood, that would be horrid. All internal. I turned down the lane that led to my house, so narrow in places the hedges brushed the sides of the car. And unlikely too, because since when had an icy fall actually killed anyone? So then I'd had him falling off ladders while clearing gutters, but Phil didn't do much gutter clearance so that didn't really work; but then, it wasn't supposed to work. It was just a run-of-the-mill, quotidian fantasy most housewives surely toy with occasionally when they're married to―not a bad man, and not a complete fool, but not a terribly interesting or exciting man either.

I narrowed my eyes at the low autumn sun, pulling the visor down in defense. And since the cycling bug had bitten―he'd taken it up with messianic zeal a few years ago―he was almost permanently clad in blue Lycra, which didn't help. Even to Clemmie's first parents' evening, complete with extraordinary Lycra shoes. He'd arrived in the classroom, where Miss Hawkins and I were waiting, looking like Jacques Cousteau emerging from the depths. Miss Hawkins had dropped the register she'd been so flustered, and as he'd sat down beside me on an infant-sized chair, peering over his nylon knees like a garden gnome, I'd thought: not entirely the man I'd envisaged spending the rest of my life with. But then again he paid the bills, worked extremely hard, was faithful, didn't beat me, loved his children―despite sometimes behaving as if they were annoying relations of mine who'd come to stay: "Your daughter thinks it's a good idea to throw her food on the floor!" Surely his daughter too? And even though he liked to be in complete control of our little household at all times―even taking the TV remote to the loo with him―I didn't really hold it against him. Didn't really want him dead.

It was a shock, therefore, to open the door to the policeman.

"Mrs. Shilling? May I have a word?"

While he'd been cycling along the Dunstable Downs, the ridge of hills above our house, an easyJet plane returning from Lanzarote had simultaneously prepared for its descent at Luton. Dropping from freezing high altitude into warmer air, it had relieved itself: had fall-out. A chunk of ice, eighteen inches in diameter, had broken off from the fuselage and, five thousand feet below, found Phil, pedaling furiously. As my husband strove to render his body a temple, God, it seemed, had had other ideas.

I remember struggling to comprehend this, remember gaping at the policeman as he perched opposite me on my sofa, twisting his hat in his hands.

"A piece of ice? From where exactly?"

"From the undercarriage." He cleared his throat uncomfortably. "From the toilet, as a matter of fact."

"The toilet?"

"Yes. Blue Ice is how it's known. Being as how it's mixed with detergent."

"What is?"

"The urine."

I stared. Not in a million years could I have dreamed this up. Fantasized about this in Sainsbury's. Phil had been killed by a piece of piss. A hefty, frozen block of pee, travelling at spectacular speed and velocity―and which, it later transpired, hadn't actually claimed him as he'd been cycling but, as bad luck would have it, when he'd stopped at a stile, taken his helmet off to scratch his head and wonder how to get the bike over. A freak accident, but not the first of its kind, the coroner would later inform me sympathetically over his bifocals as I sat at the back of his court in a navy-blue suit, hands clenched. "Thirty-five similar instances in the last year alone."

"Although in the last forty years, only five fatalities," the man from the Civil Aviation Authority had added stiffly. Six, then, with Phil.

"Right. Thank you so much. I mean―for telling me." This, to the policeman in the here and now, in my sitting room. I stood up shakily.

The officer got to his feet, uncertain. He spread his hands helplessly.

"Do you...want to see him?"

My mind reeled. "Where is he?"

"In the hospital morgue."

I caught my breath. Oh, God. On a trolley. In a bag. "No," I gasped instinctively.

"No, not everyone does." He hesitated, unwilling to leave so soon. "Well, is there...anyone you'd like to contact? Have with you?"

"No, no one. I mean, there is. Are. Plenty. But―not now. I'll be fine, really."

"Your mother, perhaps?"

"No, she's dead."

He looked shocked. So many dead.

"Really, I'll be fine." I was helping him, now. But he was only young.

"And the children?"

"Yes, I'll pick them up from school."

And pick them up I had. Well, only Clemmie. Archie was asleep in his cot upstairs, and I'd taken him with me and driven very slowly, because I was pretty sure I was in shock. I was a quiet mother at the gates, but not a distraught one, so Clemmie didn't notice anything, and then I'd driven back and given them tea. Chicken nuggets, I remember, which I only serve in extremis. At the table Clemmie had told me about Miss Perkins, Mummy, who's an assassin. "Assistant?" Yes, and got a moustache. And later I'd bathed them and put them to bed.

And then I'd walked around the house on that chilly, blustery evening, clutching the tops of my arms, gazing out of the window at the shivering late roses, the clouds rushing through the dark blue sky, flashes of sunshine casting long shadows on the lawn, waiting, waiting for something to happen. For the sluice gate to open. For my hand to clap my mouth as I gasped, "Oh, God!" and fell, like Phil must have fallen, I told myself looking for a trigger, in a terrible heap to the ground. I tried to imagine him lying in the bracken, his bike a tangled mess, his face broken, shattered. Nothing. So I walked round the house some more, the house we'd lived in together for several years―happy years, I told myself sternly. This lovely cottage, in this beautiful village, which we'd stretched ourselves to afford, had done up meticulously, sourcing terracotta tiles from Italy, Victorian light switches from Somerset, cast-iron door handles from Wales, and from whence Phil had commuted into London every day, toiling in on a packed train, to bring back the wherewithal to raise our children. A selfless, dedicated man. I waited. Nothing.

Shock. Definitely shock. I'd read about it.

On an impulse, I hastened to our wedding album, found it tucked away among the books by the CD player. My eyes flickered guiltily over Phil's Neil Diamond CDs, his Glen Campbell collection, which I'd never have to listen to again. I pulled the leather tome onto my lap. Tissue paper fluttered and a bit of confetti fell out. There I was on Dad's arm, coming up the church path in a mistake of a dress: leg-of-mutton sleeves, the real things happily hidden away under shot silk. Dad looked a bit worse for wear already, perhaps under the influence of a pre-match tincture. Then me and Phil coming out of church, but Phil had his eyes shut, so that didn't help, and neither did the gray morning coat he'd hired from Moss Bross, a totally different color to the rest of the male congregation's, much paler, and which he'd accessorized with a red carnation, while his ushers, in black, had favored discreet white rosebuds. I flipped the page quickly. Me and Phil cutting the cake―shame about the pink icing, but then his mother had made it. And next―oh, no. I shut the book hurriedly, aware that the following shot might be of me and Phil going away. Not in a glamorous vintage car, or even a pony and trap, but, as a surprise from Phil, a tandem: a bicycle made for two. So that accompanied by shouts of "Go on, Poppy, get your leg over!" and other hilarious quips, I had. And split the pink pencil skirt I'd bought for the occasion from top to bottom, and then had to cycle behind my new husband the half mile from the country club to here, white pants flashing, rictus grin on my face, waved off uproariously by our closest friends, and most of the village.

It was getting chilly, but I didn't seem able to put a match to the fire, the one Phil, who got up at six, laid punctiliously every morning with firelighter, kindling, logs and a drop of coal, for the evening. I stared at the log on top. For me, I told myself. All for me. And my children. A caring man.

Perhaps I should tell someone? The moment you vocalized these things they became much more real. Tears would flow, it was well documented. The moment I picked up the phone and said, "Hi, Dad, look, Phil's dead," that would be it. Phil wasn't my father's dream son-in-law but he'd nevertheless be shocked and horrified. Drop everything―probably a horse's reins―and beetle down from Flampton in his ropy old pick-up to be at my side, still in his breeches and flat cap. But he wouldn't cry. He'd sit beside me on the goose-poo sofa and take my hand and not know what to say. And together, dry-eyed, we'd stare glumly at the carpet. I picked up the phone. Punched out a number.

"Jennie?"

"Oh, hi, Poppy. Hang on, I'll just take the sausages off. Jamie, stop it. No, you cannot have it in front of the telly, come and sit down―now!" Then back to me. "Sorry. Nightmare day. Frankie had a party here last night and naturally one or two teenagers were sick. I cleared up most of the puke but at two a.m. I found another on the landing and just bloody hoovered it. Error. Mrs. B. beat me to the hoover this morning and now the entire house is giving off the most spectacular pong, can't think why Glade haven't used it as an air freshener."

"Um, Jennie, the thing is, Phil's dead."

Things happened quite quickly after that. Within seconds my back door had flown open because Jennie only lived next door. Within minutes it had flown open again, because Angie, who lives up the road at the manor, had been texted by Jennie, and in the space of another few minutes a gust of wind heralded the front door flying as Peggy, who lives across the road, heard from Angie. Beads jangling, cigarette still clasped in her jaws, she'd hurtled up the path, velvet coat flapping.

Angie wept, clasping me to her expensive cashmere breast, my face pressed to her pearls, Chanel wafting up my nose. Jennie walked round and round, arms tightly folded, saying, "I cannot believe it. I cannot believe it." Peggy helped herself to my Famous Grouse, pouring one for me too, which, when I didn't drink it, she polished off as well.

One thing they were all agreed on, though, was that I was in shock.

They agreed again an hour later, when I was still sitting composed and silent and I don't think particularly white-faced, whilst they'd been bustling around boiling kettles and checking children and going into huddles and sitting and stroking my back muttering, "poor poor Poppy."

A bit later on, they wondered, tentatively, if I'd like to be alone? Jennie's children had been heard making merry hell through the wall, which she'd banged on a few times, and now there was an ominous silence. She'd texted frantically, but no response. Angie started muttering in her cut-glass accent about a parish council meeting which, as chairman, she was supposed to be addressing, but of course she didn't have to, and Peggy had been seen glancing at her watch on account of Corrie. "Although Sylvia might have recorded it," she murmured into space when no one had moved.

"Do go," I said, suddenly realizing; coming to. "I'm perfectly all right."

Angie and Peggy were already on their feet.

"Sure?" said Jennie anxiously, still stroking my back on the sofa.

"Positive."

"You'll ring if you need me? I'll come straight round. You can call me at three in the morning if you like."

"Thank you." I turned to my best friend, her hazel eyes worried in her pretty heart-shaped face. If my eyes were going to fill, it would have been then. I knew she meant it.

She gave my shoulders another squeeze and then they trooped silently out, shutting the door softly behind them. The cheese sandwich Angie had made me curled in front of me on the coffee table, the dusk gathered coldly outside the windows, the fire Peggy had put a match to smouldered in the grate.

I gazed above it to Phil's cycling medals and trophies on the mantle. Got stiffly to my feet. My legs had gone to sleep beneath me. It was still early, but I wanted it to be the next day. Not the day my husband died. So I went upstairs, checked on the children, who...

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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Fans of Catherine Alliott s bestselling novels One Day in May and A Crowded Marriage, will love her latest gorgeously romantic novel A Rural Affair. If I m being totally honest I had fantasized about Phil dying. When Poppy Shilling s bike-besotted, Lycra-clad husband is killed in a freak accident, she can t help feeling a guilty sense of relief. For at long last she s released from a controlling and loveless marriage.Throwing herself wholeheartedly into village life, she s determined to start over. And sure enough, everyone from Luke the sexy church organist to Bob the resident oddball, is taking note. Yet the one man Poppy can t take her eyes off seems tantalizingly out of reach - why won t he let go of his glamorous ex-wife?But just as she s ready to dip her toes in the water, the discovery of a dark secret about her late husband shatters Poppy s confidence. Does she really have the courage to risk her heart again? Because Poppy wants a lot more than just a rural affair . . .Step into Alliott country with A Rural Affair.Praise for Catherine Alliott: I raced through it, completely gripped from start to finish Daily Mail An entertaining read that s as light as the summer breeze Daily Express. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780141047799

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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd, United Kingdom, 2012. Paperback. Book Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Fans of Catherine Alliott s bestselling novels One Day in May and A Crowded Marriage, will love her latest gorgeously romantic novel A Rural Affair. If I m being totally honest I had fantasized about Phil dying. When Poppy Shilling s bike-besotted, Lycra-clad husband is killed in a freak accident, she can t help feeling a guilty sense of relief. For at long last she s released from a controlling and loveless marriage.Throwing herself wholeheartedly into village life, she s determined to start over. And sure enough, everyone from Luke the sexy church organist to Bob the resident oddball, is taking note. Yet the one man Poppy can t take her eyes off seems tantalizingly out of reach - why won t he let go of his glamorous ex-wife?But just as she s ready to dip her toes in the water, the discovery of a dark secret about her late husband shatters Poppy s confidence. Does she really have the courage to risk her heart again? Because Poppy wants a lot more than just a rural affair . . .Step into Alliott country with A Rural Affair.Praise for Catherine Alliott: I raced through it, completely gripped from start to finish Daily Mail An entertaining read that s as light as the summer breeze Daily Express. Bookseller Inventory # AAZ9780141047799

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Book Description Penguin Books Ltd. Paperback. Book Condition: new. BRAND NEW, A Rural Affair, Catherine Alliott, Fans of Catherine Alliott's bestselling novels One Day in May and A Crowded Marriage, will love her latest gorgeously romantic novel A Rural Affair. 'If I'm being totally honest I had fantasized about Phil dying.' When Poppy Shilling's bike-besotted, Lycra-clad husband is killed in a freak accident, she can't help feeling a guilty sense of relief. For at long last she's released from a controlling and loveless marriage. Throwing herself wholeheartedly into village life, she's determined to start over. And sure enough, everyone from Luke the sexy church organist to Bob the resident oddball, is taking note. Yet the one man Poppy can't take her eyes off seems tantalizingly out of reach - why won't he let go of his glamorous ex-wife? But just as she's ready to dip her toes in the water, the discovery of a dark secret about her late husband shatters Poppy's confidence. Does she really have the courage to risk her heart again? Because Poppy wants a lot more than just a rural affair.Step into Alliott country with A Rural Affair. Praise for Catherine Alliott: "I raced through it, completely gripped from start to finish". (Daily Mail). "An entertaining read that's as light as the summer breeze". (Daily Express). Bookseller Inventory # B9780141047799

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