Hilltop Tryst

Betty Neels

Published by Mills & Boon
ISBN 10: 0263765016 / ISBN 13: 9780263765014
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Very Good copy, cover and pages show some wear from reading and storage. Binding may have light creases. Lots of life left in these pages. Bookseller Inventory #

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Synopsis: When Beatrice's world turned upside down, Oliver Latimer was on hand to pick up the pieces. There was something solid and reassuring about Oliver; he was someone with whom Beatrice could feel safe. But he wasn't an easy person to get to know. Beatrice soon realised there was far more to Oliver than she'd imagined. For a start, he was the only man she could truly love. If only Oliver would tell her what he really thought of her...

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.: The sun, rising gloriously on the morning of Midsummer's Day, turned the swelling Dorset hills into a wide vista of golden green fields and clumps of trees under a blue sky. Miles away, traffic along the dual carriageway thundered on its way to the west, unheard and unheeded in the quiet countryside around the village of Hindley, its inhabitants for the most part still sleeping in their beds. Farm workers were already about their work, though; the bleating of sheep and the sounds of horses and cattle were blotted out from time to time by the sound of a tractor being started up; but on the brow of the hill rising behind the village these sounds were faint, the bird-song was louder.

Half-way up the hill a girl sat, leaning comfortably against the trunk of a fallen tree, a shaggy dog sprawled beside her. She had drawn up her knees, clasped her arms around them and rested her chin on them—a pretty, rounded chin, but determined too, belying the wide, gentle mouth and the soft brown eyes with their thick black lashes. Her hair was long and brown, plaited and hanging over one shoulder. She flung it back with a well-shaped hand and spoke to the dog.

'There—the sun's rising on the longest day of the year, Knotty. Midsummer Madness—the high tide of the year, a day for fairies and elves, a day for making a wish. Do you suppose if I made one it might come true?'

Knotty, usually obliging with his replies, took no notice, but growled softly, cocked his large, drooping ears and allowed his teeth to show. He got to his feet and she put a restraining hand on his collar, turning to look behind her as she caught the sound of steady feet and someone coming along, whistling.

Knotty barked as a man left the line of trees and came towards them. A giant of a man, dressed in an open-necked shirt and elderly trousers, his pale hair shone in the sunlight and he walked with an easy self-assurance. Tucked under one arm was a small dog, a Jack Russell, looking bedraggled.

He stopped by the girl, towering over her so that she was forced to crane her neck to see his face. 'Good morning. Perhaps you can help me?' He had put down a balled fist for Knotty to examine, ignoring the teeth.

'I found this little chap down a rabbit-hole—couldn't get out and probably been there for some time. Is there a vet around here?' He smiled at her. 'The name's Latimer—Oliver Latimer.'

The girl got to her feet, glad for once that she was a tall girl, and very nearly able to look him in the face. 'Beatrice Browning. That's Nobby—Miss Mead's dog. She'll be so very glad, he's been missing for a couple of days—everyone has been out looking for him. Where was he?'

'About a mile on the other side of these woods—there's a stretch of common land... The vet?'

'You'd better come with me. Father will be up by now; he's leaving early to visit a couple of farms.'

She started down the hill towards the village below. 'You're out early,' she observed.

'Yes. You too. It's the best time of the day, isn't it?'

She nodded. They had left the hill behind them and were in a narrow rutted lane, the roofs of the village very close.

'You live here?' he wanted to know. He spoke so casually that she decided that he was merely making polite conversation.

'My home is here; I live with an aunt in Wilton.' She turned to look at him. 'Well, not all the time—I'm staying with her until she can get another companion.' She went on walking. 'Actually she's a great-aunt.'

She frowned; here she was, handing out information which couldn't be of the slightest interest to this man. She said austerely, 'What a splendid day it is. Here we are.' Her father's house was of a comfortable size surrounded by a large, overgrown garden, and with a paddock alongside for any animals he might need to take under his care. She led the way around the side of the house, so in through the back door, and found her father sitting on the doorstep drinking tea. He wished her good morning and looked enquiringly at her companion. 'A patient already—bless me, that's Nobby! Hurt?'

'Nothing broken, I fancy. Hungry and dehydrated, I should imagine.'

'Mr Latimer found him down a rabbit-hole the other side of Billings Wood,' said Beatrice. 'My father,' she added rather unnecessarily.

The two men shook hands, and Nobby was handed over to be examined by her father. Presently he said, 'He seems to have got off very lightly. There's no reason why he shouldn't go straight back to Miss Mead.'

'If you will tell me where to go, I'll take him as I walk back.'

Beatrice had poured the tea into two mugs. 'Have some tea first,' she offered. 'Do you want to phone anyone? This must have delayed you...'

'Stay for breakfast?' suggested her father. 'My wife will be down directly—I want to be well away before eight o'clock.' He glanced up. 'Far to go?'

'Telfont Evias—I'm staying with the Elliotts.'

'George Elliott? My dear chap, give him a ring and say you're staying for breakfast. It's all of three miles. Beatrice, will you show him where the telephone is? You can take Nobby back while breakfast is being cooked.'

Miss Mead lived right in the village in one of the charming cottages which stood on either side of the main street. Trees edged the cobbled pavement and the small front gardens were a blaze of colour. Mr Latimer strolled along beside Beatrice, Nobby tucked under one arm, talking of this and that in his deep voice. Quite nice, but a bit placid, Beatrice decided silently, peeping sideways at his profile. He was undoubtedly good-looking as well as being extremely large. Much, much larger than James, the eldest son of Dr Forbes, who had for some time now taken it for granted that she would marry him when he asked her...

She decided not to think about him for the moment, and instead pointed out the ancient and famous inn on the corner of the street and suggested that they might cross over, since Miss Mead's little cottage was on the other side.

Miss Mead answered their knock on her door. She was tall and thin and elderly, and very ladylike. She wore well-made skirts and blouses, and covered them with cardigans of a suitable weight according to the time of year, and drove a small car. She was liked in the village, but guardedly so, for she had an acid tongue if annoyed.

But now her stern face crumpled into tearful delight. 'Nobby—where have you been?' She took him from Mr Latimer and hugged him close.

'You found him. Oh, I'm so grateful, I can never thank you enough—I've hardly slept...'

She looked at them in turn. 'He's not hurt? Has your father seen him, Beatrice?'

'Yes, Miss Mead. Mr Latimer found him down a rabbit-hole and carried him here.'

'He seems to have come to no harm,' interpolated Mr Latimer in his calm voice. 'Tired and hungry and thirsty—a couple of days and he'll be quite fit again.'

'You're so kind—really, I don't know how to thank you...'

'No need, Miss Mead. He's a nice little chap.' He turned to Beatrice. 'Should we be getting back? I don't want to keep your father waiting.'

A bit cool, she thought, agreeing politely, wishing Miss Mead goodbye and waiting while she shook hands with her companion and thanked him once again. Perhaps his placid manner hid arrogance. Not that it mattered, she reflected, walking back with him and responding politely to his gentle flow of talk; they were most unlikely to meet again. A friend of the Elliotts, staying for a day or two, she supposed.

He proved to be a delightful guest. Her mother sat him down beside her and plied him with breakfast and a steady flow of nicely veiled questions, which he answered without telling her anything at all about himself. That he knew the Elliotts was a fact, but where he came from and what he did somehow remained obscure. All the same, Mrs Browning liked him, and Beatrice's three sisters liked him too, taking it in turns to engage him in conversation. And he was charming to them; Ella, fifteen and still at school, Carol, on holiday from the stockbroker's office where she worked in Salisbury, and Kathy, getting married in a few weeks' time...

They were all so pretty, thought Beatrice without rancour; she was pretty herself, but at twenty-six and as the eldest she tended to regard them as very much younger than herself, partly because they were all cast in a smaller mould and could get into each other's size tens, while she was forced to clothe her splendid proportions in a size fourteen.

Mr Latimer didn't overstay his welcome; when her father got up from the table he got up too, saying that he must be on his way. He thanked Mrs Browning for his breakfast, bade her daughters goodbye and left the house with Mr Browning, bidding him goodbye too as they reached the Land Rover parked by the gate and setting off at a leisurely pace in the direction of Telfont Evias.

'What a very nice man,' observed Mrs Browning, peering at his retreating back from the kitchen window. 'I do wonder...' She sighed silently and glanced at Beatrice, busy clearing the breakfast-table. 'I don't suppose we shall see him again—I mean, Lorna Elliott has never mentioned him.'

'Perhaps he's not a close friend.' Ella, on her way to get the school bus, kissed her mother and ran down the drive.

And after that no one had much more to say about him; there was the washing-up to do, beds to make, rooms to Hoover and dust and lunch to plan, and as well as that there were the dogs and cats to feed and the old pony in the paddock to groom.

Mr Browning came back during the morning, saw several patients, just had his coffee and then dashed away again to see a sick cow; and at lunch the talk was largely about Great-Aunt Sybil who lived in Wilton and to whom Beatrice was acting as a companion until some luckless woman would be fool enough to answer her advertisement. Beatrice had been there three weeks already, and that, she pointed out with some heat, was three weeks too long. She was only at home now because the old lady had taken herself off to London to be given her yearly check-up by the particular doctor she favoured. She was ...

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Bibliographic Details

Title: Hilltop Tryst
Publisher: Mills & Boon
Binding: Paperback
Book Condition: VERY GOOD

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