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Book by KATIE FFORDE
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Katie Fforde is the London Times-bestselling author of Artistic License, Second Thyme Around, Life Skills, Stately Pursuits, and Wild Designs. She lives in Gloucestershire, England, where she is at work on her next novel.
'I gave you a home, for goodness' sake!' said Henry.Jenny put her suitcase in the boot and slammed it shut. 'I think if you cast your mind back, Henry, you asked me to move in with you several months before I actually did. And then I found out that what you really wanted was a housekeeper!''You were homeless at the time, though.''I had had to sell my flat. It's hardly the same as living on the streets.' She frowned. She didn't want to argue with Henry just as she was going away. 'Let's go and have a cup of coffee. I don't need to set off just yet.'Henry followed her inside, and watched as she ground beans and set up the machine. Jenny would have preferred a quick cup of instant, but real coffee was one of Henry's things, and now wasn't the time to try to convert him to the other kind.'I just think,' he said, as she set down the large, thick dark green and gold cup and saucer before him and added a homemade biscuit to the saucer, 'that you should put family commitments before your - your ...'Jenny's good intentions about not having a row were stretched. She sipped her own coffee, thinking it tasted bitter. 'It's a business, Henry. Not very large, but important to me. And it's your family who've got cousins coming over from America, not mine.''Practically the same thing,' he muttered into his shortbread.Jenny was tempted to waggle the large ring-shapedspace on her bare left hand to point out that they were neither married nor engaged, but she didn't, because she suspected he wanted them to be more than she did. His family did consider her part of theirs, but she didn't make the same assumptions. There had been many reasons why she had gone to live with Henry, including her feelings for Henry at the time, but since then she had begun to wonder if the deep fondness she felt for him and his domestic dependence on her were really enough to sustain a relationship.'Why do you have to go this weekend? Wouldn't next week do?''I told you. My client wants me up there now. I've already delayed going because of your parents' anniversary party last weekend. I can't afford to lose him, Henry; I haven't got that many clients.''You could go out and get a job, like normal women do.'Jenny was tempted to ask why, if he wanted the sort of woman he considered normal, he was living with her? But instead she said, 'I could, but I don't want to. I want to work for myself and control my own destiny. I'm not going to be at the whim of some bloody management consultant or accountant ever again, thank you. Besides, it's convenient for me to work at home. It means I can do the cooking and collect your suits from the cleaners.'He totally missed the sarcasm. 'It seems only fair - after all, if you're at home all day ...''Make up your mind, Henry. Either you like me working from home, or you want me to get a proper job. Like "normal women" do.' To Henry, a normal woman had streaky blonde hair, was a size ten and dressed precisely as the fashion magazines dictated. What he'd ever seen in her slightly below average height, dark hair and less cutting-edge dress sense, she had never quite worked out. Cynically she decided it was probably something todo with her breasts, which were more ample than being a size ten would allow.'What I don't like is you shooting off to Scotland on the whim of a man you haven't even met! It's ridiculous! Why can't he do his own dirty work? It's nearly winter, for God's sake!''Because he's abroad! Which is why he uses my services. He hasn't got a base here and needs an assistant. And it's only October.''End of, and it'll feel like winter in Scotland, believe me. And "assistant" is only a fancy word for "secretary" you know. You may like to call yourself a "virtual assistant" but no one's ever heard of them. You won't be able to stick it. You'll be back here within the week. You're far too soft to sort out a business in trouble. You'd want to keep on all the workers as pets.'Jenny ignored this last bit to avoid losing her temper. 'Luckily people who need them have heard of virtual assistants. And if a lot of my work is secretarial, at least it's honest labour and doesn't put anyone else out of a job. Anyway, this won't be just secretarial work, will it? He's trusting me to go and look at a failing business and report back. You could view it as a promotion.''He's using you, Jenny.''Yes, and he pays handsomely for the privilege! You should be pleased for me, Henry, not carping! It's loads more money and I've got a chance to really build up some capital.' Now wasn't the moment to mention that she wanted the capital as a deposit so she could move into a place of her own.'You're just being suckered, Jen. He's getting a management consultant on the cheap.'Jenny scowled at him. He knew the words 'management consultant' would get her going. 'I am not being suckered. I am my own boss. I can stop working for him at the press of a button.''You're soft-hearted and impulsive. Look at the way you gave that beggar all your loose change on the way back from the paper shop this morning! You might as well throw your money away as give it to someone who'll just go and buy drugs with it!''I don't call that being impulsive; I call it being compassionate! Just because you would die rather than buy a copy of the Big Issue doesn't mean we all have to be the same! Now I really think I should be off. I want to get at least halfway today. It's a long drive.''A drive you don't have to be doing. Don't worry about washing the cups; I'll do them.'Jenny stared at Henry, wondering how or why she had ever got involved with him. Then he smiled, and his hair flopped forward and she remembered, he reminded her irresistibly of Hugh Grant.She went over to him where he stood pouring coffee grounds down the sink. 'Let's not quarrel when I'm going away.' She kissed his cheek.He pulled away from her. 'Goodbye, Jenny. But I really wish you'd reconsider.'Jenny sighed. Hugh Grant would have thought of something witty and affectionate to say, something that might make her stay. 'I'm sure your mother will be able to entertain the American cousins perfectly well without me. I've given her my apple pie recipe.'He didn't answer her, so she took a last trip to the loo, put on her coat, and then checked that she'd got everything.By the time she'd reached the motorway, she'd stopped feeling guilty and sad for leaving Henry, and just let herself enjoy the sense of adventure. She was escaping from her solitary life for a little and was going to be doing some hands-on work. It was a challenge and she relished it.
It was the following afternoon, and seven hundred miles later, when Jenny, near her final destination, stopped at a tartan-painted mobile refreshment van, endearingly called 'The Homely Haggis', and asked for a cup of hot chocolate. Still annoyed with Henry, she had vowed never to drink coffee again.The pretty, enormously pregnant young woman pushed the polystyrene cup across the counter. 'There you are. And there's your change. Ow,' she added, as Jenny took it, and put her hand to the small of her back.Jenny hastily put the hot chocolate back onto the counter and stared anxiously at the woman. 'You're not going to have your baby now, are you?'The woman laughed. 'Oh, no. I shouldn't think so. I'm not due for another fortnight. That was just a twinge.'Her Scottish accent seemed to add to the air of cheerful optimism that surrounded her. She had a lot of chestnut hair swirling round her head and a wide, smiling mouth, and now she picked up a cloth and wiped the counter. 'They say first babies are always late.''Do they? I don't know anything about childbirth except what I've seen on television.' Jenny bit her lip. 'Which means babies only come when there's not an ambulance or a doctor within a hundred miles, and have to be delivered by someone who has no idea what to do. Like now, really.'The woman laughed again, unconcerned that they were in a lay-by in, what seemed to Jenny, a very remote corner of Scotland. 'And have you noticed? They never take their knickers off? Seriously, though, I know we're isolated up here, but there is a GP in the next village.''Which is only about fifteen miles away. I came through it. Hardly any distance at all,' Jenny smiled sipping her hot chocolate.'In these parts fifteen miles is practically next door, so no need to worry.' The woman, bored with her condition, turned her bright eyes on Jenny. 'So what are you doing inthis neck of the woods, apart from having a warming drink? I know the heather's still out, and the midges are more or less over, but unless you're a walker or a mountaineer, we're a bit off the tourist route. There isn't a shop selling models of Nessie for miles.'Jenny hesitated. There would be no keeping anything secret, not in an area so far away from the rest of civilisation that a new face would always be cause for speculation. She'd have to say something. She adopted an open expression. 'I'm visiting Dalmain House for a while.'The young woman became even more interested. 'Oh? Friend of the family?'This was tricky. Jenny didn't want to admit she'd been sent to investigate the Dalmains' knitwear business by a client. On the other hand, she didn't want to claim friendship with people she'd never met, particularly when they were almost bound to hate her. She'd been more or less told by Philip Dalmain in his letter to pretend to his mother she was installing a new computer system, implying, by what he didn't say, that if she let on there was anything wrong with the mill his mother would either have hysterics and die of apoplexy, or throw Jenny out of the house. 'Not really.'The young woman sighed. 'I may as well introduce myself. I'm Meggie Dalmain. I'm married to the younger son.'This was a bit of a surprise. Jenny had been led to expect that the Dalmains were a fairly old, aristocratic, and, she suspected, snobbish family. She wasn't expecting to meet a member of it serving in a mobile burger bar. It was a cheering discovery. She held out her hand. 'Genevieve Porter, known as Jenny.''You're right,' went on Meggie, having shaken the hand and read her thoughts. 'They disapprove of me terribly. lain and I hardly ever go up there - only if we're summoned by the Matriarch, and only then because Idon't see why lain shouldn't see his family, just because of that old cow.'This didn't exactly promise weeks of happy harmony and co-operation for Jenny, but she couldn't just turn tail when Henry had been so sure that was exactly what she'd do. 'The Matriarch?''The old lady. Fancies herself as the chatelaine of the castle, or she would if it was a castle, and not just a gloomy old house. She conveniently forgets that her own father wasn't exactly out of the top drawer.'By training, Jenny was discreet, but Meggie Dalmain obviously had a lot on her chest, and any little scraps of information she let fall could be very useful. She gave an interrogative 'Oh?' It wasn't exactly prodding, but it gave the young woman an opportunity to unload if she wanted.Meggie did want. 'Look, why don't you come this side of the counter? There's a couple of seats here. We can have a proper chat. It's not fair to send you up to the big house without giving you a bit of briefing. You've got time?'Jenny nodded. 'I'm a bit early, actually, which was why I stopped for a drink. I didn't want to turn up before I was expected.'Meggie nodded. 'Very wise. They wouldn't like it if you arrived before they were ready. They're difficult at the best of times, which, as I'm sure you know, these aren't.'Jenny squeezed herself in through the door at the side. When she first agreed to do some on-the-spot investigation for her biggest client, she had cherished a little hope that a few weeks in the Highlands would be almost like a working holiday. And if it wasn't, at least it would prove to Henry that she was more than just a glorified secretary. Since the initial request she had done a little investigation, and the working holiday myth had dispersed, but pride would prevent her from leaving a second before her job was done.Sadly, Henry had been right about it being cold inScotland. The trouser suit she was wearing, which in the Home Counties had seemed appropriately practical, had become less and less suitable the further north she drove, and her naturally curly hair was curling furiously in the damp. She felt crumpled and chilly, far from the efficient businesswoman image she'd tried to create. It had been early autumn yesterday, when she left England - now it was early winter; she'd have to buy some extra sweaters at the first opportunity.'Have a seat,' said Meggie, squashing herself down on to the folding chair. 'If I get any bigger, I'm going to have to stand up all day.''I don't know how you manage. This sort of work is terribly tiring. I remember from my student days.''Well, I won't be able to for much longer - oh damn, actually, I really need to wee. Would you mind looking after things here while I go? The nearest tree is over there, which seems miles away when you're heavily pregnant. The baby is in an awkward place and whenever I sit down it squashes my bladder. Do you mind?''Of course not. It's not as if there are any customers.''Oh, er - I think you might find that Land Rover that's just pulled up has a customer in it, which means I'll have to walk even further, to where there are two trees. Damn.' Meggie squeezed herself out of the door and disappeared into the heather.Jenny hardly had time to murmur 'Oh my God!' under her breath before a man walked purposefully up to the counter.'A bacon butty and a cup of tea, please.'Jenny tried an endearing smile. Or at least, she hoped it was endearing. Without being able to check, she couldn't be sure it wasn't just making her look simple. 'I don't suppose you'd care to wait a minute? I'm not really in charge here, and - ''I only want a bacon roll and a cup of tea. But I am in abit of a hurry.' He spoke with the authority of someone who was more accustomed to demanding wine lists and tossing credit cards onto plates than ordering fry-ups at his local greasy spoon. Although he was dressed as a walker, with well-worn outdoor clothing and a tanned complexion, he sounded to Jenny more like a business executive, a breed with which she was tiresomely familiar.She decided to give it a go. How hard could it be, to cook a bit of bacon and butter a roll? Even Henry admitted she could cook. And it would be easier for Meggie if the kettle was on and the bacon frying when she came back from behind her trees.It took Jenny a while to track down the bacon and still longer to work the cooker. What was Meggie doing? Please don't let her have started having her baby, squatting over the sphagnum moss like a Native American. Jenny's customer was regarding her with doubt and suspicion - possibly because a navy-blue trouser suit and silk blouse weren't de rigueur for short-order chefs. Well, it was his fault. He had insisted on placing his order. He wouldn't let her explain she was only a customer herself.'Where on earth is the kettle?' muttered Jenny, louder than she had inten...
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Book Description Century Hutchinson Ltd, London, 2002. Hardcover. Condition: Very Good. Dust Jacket Condition: Very Good. First Edition. A hardback book with both book and jacket in near fine condition, dated 2002, First Edition. Seller Inventory # 040315
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