When Flora Stanza's uncle dies unexpectedly, leaving her a 51 percent share in the family antiques business, it gives her the perfect chance to leave her glamorous but less than happy London life for the quieter life of the country. Unfortunately, her cousin Charles and his fiancée Annabelle don't seem pleased to find Flora and her very pregnant cat on their doorstep.
Flora knows almost nothing about antiques, but with her London apartment rented out, her cat about to burst with kittens, and a mysterious man warning her about Annabelle, Flora has little choice but to accept her cousin's offer to stay in their abandoned holiday cottage, miles from anything remotely like what Flora considers civilization.
Soon, though, Flora is fighting off dinner invitations from the devastatingly handsome Henry and hiding her eco-friendly lodger, William. Could it be that country life isn't so dull after all?
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Katie Fforde is the London Times bestselling author of romantic novels including Restoring Grace and Paradise Fields. She lives in Gloucestershire, England.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Bidding for Love
A yowl from the plastic box at her feet made Flora look down anxiously. Was Imelda actually having kittens, or was she still just complaining about being shut up in a pet carrier on a hot summer day?'Not now, sweetie, please!' Flora implored through gritted teeth. 'Just hang on until I've got this meeting over. Then I'll find you a nice bed and breakfast where they like cats.'Aware that her pleadings were really a displacement activity, Flora picked up the yowling Imelda, hooked her handbag over her shoulder, hitched her overnight bag over her arm and went up the steps. She was slightly regretting her new shoes. They were divinely pretty with a heavenly fake peony between the toes, but not worn in and therefore killingly uncomfortable. Not one to sacrifice prettiness for comfort, Flora ignored the incipient blisters and pressed the bell. Seeing her own surname on the brass plate above it gave her a strange thrill. The family firm, and she was joining it.The door was opened by a tall woman wearing a lot of navy blue. She was a little older than Flora, and had a no-nonsense look about her which inevitably made Flora think of Girl Guides. My shoes may be not quite suitable, thought Flora, to give herself confidence, but nor is that colour in this heat. In other circumstances, Flora realised, she would yearn to do a Trinny and Susannah on her.'Hello,' said the woman, smiling professionally, 'youmust be Flora. Do come in. We're so looking forward to meeting you. Especially Charles.'Flora smiled too. 'I hope you won't mind, but I've got my cat with me. I can't leave her in the car in this heat. Apart from anything else, she's very pregnant.'A little frown appeared between the woman's eyebrows as she looked down at the box. 'Oh, well, no, I'm sure it will be fine for a short time. Although I'm terribly allergic, I'm afraid.''Oh dear. I suppose I could leave her outside the door ...' Flora bit her lip to indicate that in fact she couldn't t leave Imelda anywhere except at her feet. 'But she might have her kittens at any moment.''You'd better come in,' said the woman, her professional manner beginning to fray. 'We're in here.' She opened the door of a room which was mostly filled with a table, around which were several empty chairs.The room's sole occupant, a tall, conventionally handsome man wearing a dark suit and a very conservative tie, got up. Obviously Charles, her cousin fifteen million times removed.Not promising. Flora depended on her charm to ease her way through life and had learnt to spot the few with whom this wouldn't work. He was a classic example, she could tell; he didn't like girls with pretty shoes, strappy dresses and amusing jewellery He liked sensible girls who wore driving shoes, or plain leather courts with medium heels. His idea of good taste was a single row of real pearls with matching earrings, and possibly a bangle on special occasions.When the woman who had brought her in (displaying all these signs of proper dress sense) touched his arm and said, 'Darling, this is Flora,' Flora wasn't at all surprised to see the sapphire and diamond engagement ring on her left hand. They made the perfect County couple.'Flora,' said Charles, holding out his hand. 'How niceto meet you after all these years.' He didn't sound all that pleased.'Mm.' Flora shook the hand, smiled and nodded; she wasn't that pleased, either. She had totally reorganised her life to take a part in the family business with, she realised now, desperately inadequate research. Charles and his worthy, conventionally dressed fiancée didn't want her, wouldn't make her welcome, and her spell in the country could turn out to be horribly dull. Still, she'd made her bed, and she'd have to lie on it - at least until the sub-let on her London flat expired. 'It's very nice to meet you, too. I can't think why we haven't met before.''You spent quite a lot of your early life out of the country,' he said soberly, as if she might have forgotten.'I suppose that explains it. We did miss out on quite a lot of family weddings.' She smiled. 'Though perhaps I won't miss out on the next one?''Oh yes, haven't you two introduced yourselves? This is Annabelle, Annabelle Stapleton. My fiancée and possible future partner in the business.' His smile, though conventional, did at least prove he brushed his teeth, which was something.'How nice,' said Flora, wishing she'd made more enquiries about the business before telling that nice man of course he could have her flat for at least six months, she wouldn't be needing it.'Yes,' agreed Charles. 'Now, let's sit down and discuss your part in Stanza and Stanza.''Would anyone like a glass of water first?' suggested Annabelle.'Oh, yes please,' said Flora. 'And could I post a little to Imelda? In the box? I need to check on her anyway.' Flora delivered one of her most appealing smiles to her distant cousin, a last-ditch attempt to get him on her side. 'I wouldn't have brought her if there'd been any alternative, I assure you.''That's fine,' said Charles smoothly, almost, but not quite, concealing his impatience. Then, when the water had been dispensed and the cat seen to, he said, 'Tell me, Flora, I hope this isn't a rude question, but how much do you actually know about antiques and the auction business?'Flora took another sip of water. 'Ah well, you pick up things like that as you go along, don't you?''Do you?' asked Charles, who had, she now noticed, rather strange grey-blue eyes which, beneath his sceptical eyebrows, had the look of the North Sea in winter.'Well, yes.' Flora tried to think of a suitable phrase, to indicate she knew more than what she had gleaned from a lot of recent, frantic watching of various afternoon television programmes on the subject. 'Cheap as chips' didn't seem to apply. 'Of course,' she said airily, 'having spent so much of my youth in Europe, I'm not so up on English furniture.''But you must be au fait with all those glorious ceramics,' said Annabelle. 'I adore ceramics.'Just for a moment, Flora felt unsure what ceramics were. 'Oh, you mean china and stuff? Yes, I love it too. I collect teapots, funny ones, you know?'Charles winced visibly. 'I think we'd better get on.''Well, yes, we'd better,' said Flora rashly. 'But I do wonder if we will.''What on earth are you talking about?' said Charles. 'Now ...' He opened a file and drew out a sheaf of papers. He was not a man who would get behind with his paperwork. He had that look about him. He was a filer and a putter-into-alphabetical-order-er. It was painfully clear.'Now,' he began, 'our mutual great-uncle left things slightly awkwardly.''Did he?' asked Flora. 'I thought it was all quite straightforward. You'd already inherited forty-nine per cent from your father, and I got fifty-one per cent when Uncle Clodiodied. Clear as sixteenth-century window glass, or something. Although I realise I wouldn't normally have been expected to inherit,' she added as consolation.'Yes,' explained Charles, openly irritable now. 'But it is awkward. You own more than me. And you know nothing about the business and I've been running this auction house all my life, more or less.''Well, obviously I'm not going to sweep in here and make huge changes!' Flora made an extravagant gesture with her arms, observing at the same time that a good sweep, on the floor at least, would be a good idea. 'I want to learn about the business I'm going to be part of.'Charles and Annabelle exchanged questioning glances. 'That's encouraging,' said Charles warily, 'but it still doesn't quite settle the matter. I can't have you having more shares than I have. It doesn't make sense, on any level.'The cat yowled, possibly showing solidarity with Charles.'Sorry, I must have a peek. In case this is it.''It?''The moment when she really is going to give birth. It's her first litter, you see, and the kittens can come in about thirty minutes from when she starts. I've read all about it.'While Flora fussed with the cat she thought about her own situation. She was obviously totally unwelcome and Charles was horrible. Which was a shame - she hardly ever disliked people. She'd probably better make an alternative plan. Staying in the depths of the country with a couple who deeply resented her presence was not going to be a lot of fun. 'If it wasn't for you, Imelda,' she breathed inaudibly, 'I'd hightail it out of town right now.''Tell me,' said Charles, when Flora was again upright, sitting back in her uncomfortable chair. 'What exactly do you hope to get out of your trip down here?' The grey-blueeyes were penetrating and cold - they really were just like the North Sea. Flora felt she was being interviewed for a job for which she had no qualifications - which, in a way, she was. She struggled to remind herself that, technically at least, she was more powerful than Charles.She took a breath and didn't let herself be distracted by Imelda's yowl. 'I haven't been brought up in the business like you have, but I have known about it. I didn't expect to inherit, as I said. It was such a shock to everyone when Niccolò was killed in that car accident and even then, I never thought Uncle Clodio -- did you know him, by the way? He was lovely - would leave it to me.''No. I didn't know him.''It broke his heart when Nicki died, obviously.''It must have been terrible,' murmured Annabelle.'But really, we -- my parents and I -- were totally surprised when we heard about how he'd left things.''Then I absolve you of forcing him to change his will on his death-bed,' said Charles dryly. 'But it still leaves us in a difficult posit...
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Book Description St. Martin's Press, 2007. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110312359632
Book Description St. Martin's Press. Hardcover. Book Condition: New. 0312359632 New Condition. Bookseller Inventory # NEW7.1023835