Sunday Serial #17

I’ve been following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.

But now it’s time to pack away the serial. I’ve reached the limit of how much of the novel I can share without clashing with the rules of Kindle Unlimited.

If you’ve enjoyed reading the serialisation of Leefdale, it’s time to take the plunge and read the whole book! It’s only £1.99 to download although the paperback version at £20 is rather pricey.

If you’re a Kindle Unlimited subscriber, Leefdale is a great read as it’s over 1500 Kindle pages. Or over 300,000 words. A great read for anyone who likes to get lost in a novel for a few days!

If you’ve stumbled on this blog for the first time and would like to try the serialisation its here.

But it’s a lot easier to read the Free Preview on the Amazon site which you can reach via the buttons below.

Here’s a little bit about the novel from the Amazon book description.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sharon guards a dark family secret.

Barbara is fighting to save her marriage.

Zoe is trying to sort her life out.

Louise is desperate to be recognised for who she truly is . . .

Unaware of the profound effect it will have on her and the rest of the village, estate agent Sharon Makepiece arranges the sale of Leefdale’s Old Rectory to Dylan Bourne, an art therapist and professional artist.

The Old Rectory is the finest house in Leefdale. Its renowned gardens are crucial to village plans for winning the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for the fifth consecutive year.

Barbara Kellingford’s father, Major Howard Roberts, is chairman of both the parish council and the Magnificent Britain sub-committee. While Barbara struggles to hang on to her husband, a top Tory politician, her father is embroiled in a bruising struggle of his own with the new people at The Old Rectory.

Zoe Fitzgerald is a drama therapist. Her role is to change lives, yet it’s her own life which needs to change most.

Louise Makepiece is determined to realise her dreams. But first she has to force her mother to leave Leefdale!

Dylan Bourne’s new job is killing his Art. And his romantic obsession seems to be affecting his judgement.

Barbara Kellingford knows that time is running out to save her husband’s political career.
Meanwhile, the tabloids are circling.

Leefdale. A story of inclusion and exclusion; local and national politics; press intrusion; the healing power of Art and the complex nature of love.

 

Sunday Serial #14

mum

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.
You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.
So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..

They’d only just entered the cottage when Louise burst out, ‘Well? What did he say?’

Sharon didn’t reply immediately. She was moving around the room switching on the lamps. When she’d finished she went back to the light switch by the front door, turned the overhead light off and started taking off her fleece.

‘Come on, mum. What did he say?’

Louise gazed at her mother beseechingly. Her whole being was animated. Her hazel eyes radiated optimism. Her expression overflowed with the prospect of good news. She looked supremely happy and sure of herself, confident of the anticipated happiness her mother was about to deliver. This visible evidence of her daughter’s blind, innocent trust hurt Sharon more than anything. More than her own weakness; more than her cowardly and cruel betrayal.

‘I didn’t tell him,’ she said.

For Louise this had never been a possibility. For several seconds there was complete silence.

‘What do you mean?’

‘I didn’t tell him we were leaving.’

The significance of what her mother had said began to spread across Louise’s features. ‘You didn’t tell him?’

Sharon flung her fleece on to the sofa. Casually, she said, ‘No. There wasn’t time.’

Louise’s face was a rictus of incredulity. ‘But you promised!’

‘I know. But there wasn’t time. He had to get to his meeting.’

Sharon set off for the kitchen. Louise immediately followed her. She had a strong suspicion she was being lied to. ‘You had loads of time. His meeting wasn’t until eight o’clock.’

Sharon began filling the electric kettle. ‘He had to be there early to talk to Major Roberts.’

‘What about?’

Sharon returned the kettle to its stand and switched it on. ‘I don’t know.’

Louise was now sure her mother was lying. ‘You could have told him. It would only have taken a minute. “We’re leaving Leefdale and we’re not coming back”. See! You could have told him. You only needed a couple of seconds.’

‘Don’t be silly, Lou. I couldn’t just say it like that.’

‘Why not? I just showed you. It’s easy.’

‘That’s because you’re a child. You don’t understand. It’s hard to tell people things like that. It takes more than a few seconds. For Christ’s sake, he’s not a stranger. He’s your father. Now, what do you want for your supper?’

Louise was standing stiff and sullen. ‘You’re changing the subject.’

‘No, I’m not. I’m asking you what you want for supper.’

The child’s voice swooped in sudden insight. ‘You were never going to tell him, were you?’

‘Of course I was.’

‘No, you weren’t.’

‘It wasn’t the right time, Lou.’

‘But you promised!’

‘I know. I’m sorry. There wasn’t time. Really, there wasn’t.’ Sharon felt the need to offer Louise some hope. ‘But when there’s time, I’ll tell him.’

‘You’re a liar!’ screamed Louise. She looked around wildly. On one of the kitchen surfaces was a round biscuit tin. She picked it up and hurled it at Sharon.

Sharon was so astonished she had no time to react. The tin caught her on the shoulder and ricocheted. When it hit the floor the lid flew off and several biscuits spilled out.

‘I hate you!’ cried Louise.

She ran past Sharon and up the stairs to her room.

Click the free preview button below to continue reading.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sunday Serial #11

I’m following a nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray in weekly instalments.
You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.
So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..

Zoe picked up Parker and Lund’s property details and scanned them to remind herself why she’d previously objected to the rectory. Suddenly, on the back she saw something she’d missed before: Dylan’s sketch of Sharon Makepiece. Zoe held it up for Dylan to see.

‘Who’s this?’

The shock of seeing Sharon’s image in such incongruous surroundings made Dylan start.

‘It’s the estate agent who showed me round.’

‘I hope it’s not the reason you prefer The Old Rectory?’

Everyone laughed.

Zoe returned her attention to the property details. ‘Yes, I can see why you like it. In some ways it’s just what we want.’

Dylan leaned forward in anticipation of her qualification. ‘But?’

‘It’s right in the centre of a village!’

‘What’s wrong with that?’

Zoe sat back and folded her arms. ‘Don’t you see it as a potential source of conflict?’

‘No. Why should it be?’

‘Come on! This place Leefdale is an up market village full of smug little Englanders who think they’re the bees’ knees because for years they’ve won some poxy gardening contest. They’re hardly going to be delighted when we fill their exquisite rectory with inner city yobbos.’

Eric grinned and affected shock. ‘They’re not yobbos!’

Zoe sighed patiently. ‘Of course, they’re not. We all agree on that. But that’s how they’d be seen by the inhabitants of Leefdale.’

Toni wrinkled her eyebrows satirically. ‘That’s very defeatist of you. Why should these Leefdale people be insulated from reality?’

‘Ordinarily I’d agree. But by basing ourselves in the rectory I think we’d be giving ourselves and the kids unnecessary grief.’

‘So, to avoid that we have to hide them away. Is that what you’re saying?’ said Charles.

‘No, I’m not!’

‘Yes, you are,’ said Dylan. ‘That’s why you prefer Cold Dale Farm. It’s isolated and off the beaten track. The perfect place to hide them away!’

Zoe sighed and treated him to one of her “I’ve been unjustly misunderstood” looks. ‘I don’t want to hide them away. It’s just that I don’t want them put under any unnecessary pressure. They’ve all had crap experiences one way or another. The time they spend with us should be a period of relative tranquillity.’

‘Tranquillity yes. Isolation no!’ said Dylan. ‘Of course we want to provide them with a secure environment. But security isn’t just about feeling safe. It’s about having the confidence to go out and deal with the world as it is.’

‘I quite agree,’ said Charles, who had to be at Heathrow at 7.30am. ‘If they don’t get involved with a community how are they going to have any sense of social inclusion?’

‘I’m sorry. Did I get something wrong here?’ said Eric. ‘I thought the idea was that through art we were putting them on the path to being healed.’

‘Sure,’ said Dylan, ‘that’s part of what we’re trying to do…’

‘A big part, I hope!’ said Eric. He threw Zoe a look.

‘Yes. A very big part,’ said Dylan. ‘But not the only part. There’s also a social dimension to the work we do. Look, the people I met in Leefdale seemed very reasonable. I don’t think they’ll give us a problem. Anyway, I’m sure we can pre-empt any antagonism by involving the clients in the Magnificent Britain Competition.’

‘Now, that’s an excellent idea,’ said Charles.

‘I think it’s crap,’ said Zoe ‘Why should we let these Leefdale people dictate our agenda?’

‘Because we want the clients to feel included,’ said Dylan.

‘I’m sorry,’ said Zoe, ‘I still think Cold Dale Farm is much more suitable.’

Eric shook his head. ‘It’s very small.’

‘Nonsense. It’s got tons of land,’ said Zoe.

‘It has. But the house itself is tiny. We don’t need lots of land but we do need a good-sized house. And Leefdale’s rectory is huge.’

Zoe gave him a sharp look. ‘You weren’t interested in the rectory until Dylan suggested it.’

Eric looked slightly sheepish.

‘But Eric’s right,’ Dylan said. ‘I’ve seen the accommodation at Cold Dale Farm. There’s not much space for art and drama studios.’

‘But with all that land surely we could build an arts block?’ Zoe persisted.

Dylan shook his head. ‘Not unless we can talk the price right down.’

Eric laughed. ‘Would they come down a hundred thousand?’

‘That’s what they’d have to do,’ said Charles. ‘Otherwise, it’s way beyond our price limit. After all, I have to ensure that the Trust gets value for money. I’m sorry Zoe, but at that price I don’t think we’d be able to afford purpose-built studios. We need to just move in.’

Zoe grimaced. ‘It’s such a shame. The kids would love a big open space like that. They’d experience a real sense of freedom. And we could build a huge sculpture park.’

Dylan and Charles exchanged a knowing look. The creation of a sculpture park was Zoe’s obsession. Unfortunately, none of the units she’d worked in had ever possessed sufficient land to make her dream a reality.

‘Leefdale rectory’s back garden is big enough for one,’ Dylan told Zoe, helpfully.

But Zoe was adamant. ‘There’s not as much as land there as at Cold Dale Farm.’
Persistence was in Zoe’s genes. It had brought her great grandparents out of Poland at the height of the Pogroms when all their neighbours were telling them it was a mistake to leave. Their foresight had saved themselves and their descendants from Auschwitz, and ultimately enabled Zoe to be born. Zoe’s Catholic great grandparents had fled Northern Ireland for America in the 1890s but had pledged to return, and, indeed, had done so when the Irish Free State had been established. Zoe had told Dylan all this when they’d been lovers. He reflected on it now.

‘Cold Dale Farm’s too isolated,’ said Toni, who was impatient for a decision.

‘I agree,’ said Dylan, again surprising himself. Hadn’t he always said he preferred isolation?

‘All right,’ said Zoe. ‘You’re obviously not having Cold Dale Farm. But I do think that before we make a decision on any of these properties we should all be given the opportunity to go and view them.’

‘I don’t think we can do that, Zoe,’ said Charles.

‘Why not?’

‘You know very well why. We promised all the interested parties we’d be up and running by the summer. By the time we’ve viewed all the properties separately the one we finally decide on might have been sold to someone else. We need to make a decision now.’

‘But how can we make a decision if we haven’t seen the properties?’

‘We agreed to delegate the task to Dylan,’ said Toni. Behind her glasses her light grey eyes regarded Zoe scornfully. ‘I was perfectly OK with that. He is, after all, our team leader and he seems to have gone into everything very thoroughly. We must trust his judgement.’

Zoe was a drama therapist and an expert in assertion techniques. Reasonably but firmly she said, ‘I don’t mistrust Dylan’s judgement, but as we’re the ones who’ll be working there I do think we’re entitled to see what the conditions are like for ourselves.’

‘You could have come up to Yorkshire with me,’ said Dylan. ‘I invited all of you.’

Zoe’s expression became slightly tense. ‘I explained in the clearest terms why I couldn’t possibly do that.’

Dylan said, ‘That’s right. You did.’

But had it really been so impossible for her to renege on her speaking engagement at the drama therapists’ conference? He doubted it. Actually, in the circumstances he couldn’t understand why Zoe was going to be working with them at all. It was several months since he’d engineered the ending of their affair. His handling of the break-up had been clumsy and callous and it had come as a devastating shock to Zoe who, until then, had been completely unaware of his disenchantment with their relationship. In the months afterwards, although they’d continued as colleagues they’d barely spoken; and when Dylan was promoted team leader and assigned to establish the new East Yorkshire Inclusion Unit, he’d assumed they would never work together again. He was therefore staggered when Zoe applied for a place in his new team. What kind of a person after a break-up applies to work alongside their ex? It was so unusual he’d wondered if she’d done it deliberately to provoke him. At Charles’ insistence (and against his own better judgement) he’d agreed to appoint her. Of course, Charles may have taken a different view if he’d known that she and Dylan had once been lovers and of the acrimony with which they’d parted; but it wasn’t even suspected, by him or anyone else within the confines of their professional world. Yet why was Zoe kicking up such a fuss about the properties now, at this late stage? Could it be she was having second thoughts about working with him and was trying to wriggle out of her commitment to the new unit? He hoped so.

Zoe turned to Eric. ‘Don’t you think we should go and see for ourselves what these places are like?’

‘Hey, I’m cool,’ said Eric. ‘I was happy to leave it to Dylan.’ He wiggled his finger archly at Zoe in a faux reprimand. ‘So you can leave me out of this.’

Zoe grinned and tapped him lightly on the thigh.

Zoe and Eric? Dylan thought. Zoe and Eric? Surely not?

‘Look, I’m going to the states tomorrow, remember?’ said Charles. ‘I’m sorry but we’ve got to make a decision tonight.’

Their discussions continued until well after midnight. Eventually, Lord Sandleton, an experienced chairman and committee man, persuaded everyone to reduce the properties to a short list of two, which was then put to the vote. The Old Rectory at Leefdale received Dylan and Toni’s votes. Predictably Zoe voted for Cold Dale Farm. Dylan found it significant that Eric did too. Lord Sandleton exercised his casting vote in favour of The Old Rectory. It was decided to make an offer of £495,000 for the property.
Dylan, Eric, Toni and Zoe left the apartment together. In the street, all four lingered briefly around Dylan’s motorcycle. Toni offered Zoe a lift home.

‘No thanks,’ said Zoe. ‘Eric’s giving me one.’ She said goodbye, turned to go and then turned back to Dylan. ‘Well, you got what you wanted, as ever. I just hope it turns out all right. I’ve got a really bad feeling about it.’

Read on with the free preview below.

The beautiful English village of Leefdale seems reassuringly tranquil. But appearances can be deceptive.

Sharon guards a dark family secret.

Barbara is fighting to save her marriage.

Zoe is trying to sort her life out.

Louise is desperate to be recognised for who she truly is . . .

Unaware of the profound effect it will have on her and the rest of the village, estate agent Sharon Makepiece arranges the sale of Leefdale’s Old Rectory to Dylan Bourne, an art therapist and professional artist.

The Old Rectory is the finest house in Leefdale. Its renowned gardens are crucial to village plans for winning the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for the fifth consecutive year.

Barbara Kellingford’s father, Major Howard Roberts, is chairman of both the parish council and the Magnificent Britain sub-committee. While Barbara struggles to hang on to her husband, a top Tory politician, her father is embroiled in a bruising struggle of his own with the new people at The Old Rectory.

Zoe Fitzgerald is a drama therapist. Her role is to change lives, yet it’s her own life which needs to change most.

Louise Makepiece is determined to realise her dreams. But first she has to force her mother to leave Leefdale!

Dylan Bourne’s new job is killing his Art. And his romantic obsession seems to be affecting his judgement.

Barbara Kellingford knows that time is running out to save her husband’s political career.
Meanwhile, the tabloids are circling.

Leefdale. A story of inclusion and exclusion; local and national politics; press intrusion; the healing power of Art and the complex nature of love.

#ThrowbackThursday #BookReview Kings and Queens by TerryTyler @TerryTyler4

Last week I wrote my first #ThrowbackThursday #BookReview about An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns.

Renee at It’s Book Talk started using the #ThrowbackThursday meme as a way to share books that are old favourites. I first saw this idea on a blog I read regularly: Between the Lines – Books ‘N’ Stuff and thought it worked well.

For several years I wrote a book blog and accumulated reviews of some really good books. So I decided to visit my old blog and re-post my favourite reviews here on 3sixtyfiveblog for #ThrowbackThursday.

Today it’s Kings and Queens by Terry Tyler, a clever hybrid of contemporary and historical fiction.

Published in 2014, Kings and Queens was Terry Tyler’s seventh novel. With 66 four and five star reviews, the novel has pleased many other readers just as much as myself.

On my book blog I wrote:

Kings and Queens is a really well written family saga based on the fortunes of a property development company. Lanchester Estates is inherited in the 1970s by young, charismatic Harry Lanchester on the death of his father. The story recounts the ups and downs of Harry’s business life along with the ups and downs of his love life.

Each chapter shifts the viewpoint to a different character although Harry’s life-long friend Will Brandon returns to narrate more of the story from time to time. This structure works very well and the strongly developed characters, crisp and lively dialogue and highly engaging plot provide the reader with an excellent “can’t -put-it-down” novel.

However, Kings and Queens has a twist because Terry Tyler has cleverly mirrored the story of Tudor King Henry the Eighth and his six wives in the development of her novel. This is not in any way an historical novel but everyone who knows the story of “divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived” will enjoy the parallels explored here. In addition the contemporary characters reflect what we know from history and historical fiction about Henry, his wives and other significant Tudor personalities.

The events in Kings and Queens often track the events in the historical saga although the author hasn’t over-worked this and she allows contemporary realities to take precedence where necessary. But it’s a nice puzzle to try and work out the historical references.

I really enjoyed reading Kings and Queens and was delighted to read the sequel, Last Child.

The story of the Lanchester property empire continues into the next generation after the death of Harry Lanchester, the charismatic protagonist of Kings and Queens.

Harry’s legacy is passed on to his children. Thirteen year old Jasper views the directors of Lanchester Estates as Harry Potter characters, and finds out that teenage love affairs are no fairytale. Isabella, the eldest daughter, is lonely and looking for love and returns from a holiday in Spain with more than a suntan. Impulsive, independent Erin dreams of the continuation of her father’s work.

Once again the narrative is passed between the main characters giving a different viewpoint in each chapter which moves the plot strongly forward. The opening pages concisely summarise events thus far which serves as a good reminder for readers who don’t continue straight on from Kings and Queens or as an introduction for any readers who’ve decided to start reading here.

Actually, I couldn’t put this book down and kept snatching quick reads every time I had to do something else. The device of using historical personalities and events as the framework for the novel works really well once again. If the reader is familiar with the era this creates dramatic irony which really enhances the plot. However anyone reading the novel who doesn’t have these insights won’t be short-changed as it’s such a well written and engaging family saga.

The author has used the Tudor history really effectively but makes adjustments where necessary to avoid the contemporary plot becoming strained and contrived. This has been done especially well at the end of the novel where there is a surprise every few pages and the conclusion leaves the reader making their own decisions about what might happen next.

I loved the way the relationships between various characters were explored and evolved. The author has used her trademark reality style to make her characters come alive and zing. The writing is clever, original and compelling and the whole saga is a totally enjoyable read.

If you’re stocking up your Kindle for summer holidays, this two book saga is perfect.

Click the free preview below and start reading today!!!!

 

Thanks for visiting my blog today and hope your day is going well.

 

 

#ThrowbackThursday #BookReview An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns @june_kearns

I saw a good idea on Twitter a few days ago.

Renee at It’s Book Talk started using the #ThrowbackThursday meme as a way to share books that are old favourites or have been waiting to be read for a long time.

I saw the idea first on a blog I read regularly: Between the Lines – Books ‘N’ Stuff and thought it was great.

For several years I wrote a book blog and accumulated thoughts on a wealth of really good reads.

So I decided to visit my old reviews and re-post my favourites here on 3sixtyfiveblog for #ThrowbackThursday.

I’m starting with An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns: one of the best examples of romantic fiction I’ve ever read.

Book description from Amazon

Jane Austen meets Zane Grey
The American West, 1867. After a stagecoach wreck, well-bred bookish spinster, Annie Haddon, (product of mustn’t-take-off-your-hat, mustn’t-take-off-your-gloves, mustn’t-get-hot-or-perspire Victorian society) is thrown into the company of cowboy, Colt McCall – a man who lives by his own rules and hates the English.
Can two people from such wildly different backgrounds learn to trust each other? Annie and McCall find out on their journey across the haunting , mystical landscape of the West.

My Review of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy from Indie Bookworm

I’d noticed this book being promoted on Twitter but as I don’t regard myself as a reader of Westerns hadn’t looked at it until I was browsing in the Kindle Store and it popped up on the “other readers also read” list. I read part of the free sample and I’m glad I did as An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns is one of the best examples of romantic fiction I’ve ever read.

Each chapter of An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is headed up with a quote from another book. I’ve been unable to find out whether or not this other book actually exists but if it doesn’t it should. Author June Kearns uses references from The Gentlewoman’s Guide To Good Travel by Margaret Mary Whittier to provide a marvellous structure for her novel.

The setting for An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is the American West in 1867. The beauty of the landscape contrasts with the difficulties of living within it. Not only the heat but the periodic attacks by the dispossessed peoples of the region make life intolerable for unlikely heroine, Annie Haddon.

Annie is a well-bred, bookish, English spinster who is travelling with her stuffy aunt by stage coach across America. The aunt is Annie’s guardian and she epitomises all the repressed attitudes of the Victorian era. However, an unexpected stage coach wreck causes Annie to meet English-hating, rule-breaking, Colt McCall.

Was there ever such a hero? Heathcliff meets Rhett Butler! Colt is a wonderful romantic lead although the development of his and Annie’s relationship is far from conventional.

The supporting characters are many and varied reflecting the different aspects of society of the era and the complexity of the plot. The writing is so good that every character comes alive and makes a strong contribution to the overall story. The dialogue is excellent in An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy providing authenticity to the setting and ensuring the vivid development of the characters. The plot has more than enough complications to keep the story moving forwards at a good pace and, of course, there’s a very satisfactory ending in true romance style albeit with an unexpected twist.

I really enjoyed reading An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy and I recommend it highly not only to readers who enjoy romance but also to those who enjoy well written fiction whatever the genre.

What other readers say about An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy

Tanya Fisher –  Beautifully crafted characters and a fascinating story.

Marcia –  A must read – humourous, lively action, fast-paced. LOVED IT!!!

Lanky Lady –  A Right Rollicking Adventure

Jean Fullerton –  English decorum meets the Wild West

Paganyogini – Utterly delightful.

With 63 mainly five star reviews on Amazon and  91 four plus ratings on Goodreads, other readers  have loved this novel too.

If you’re stocking up your Kindle for summer holidays, An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy is perfect.

Click the free preview below and start reading today!!!!

Thanks for visiting my blog today and hope your day is going well.

 

Sunday Serial #8

Here’s the next part of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray.

I’m following a well established nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of the novel in weekly instalments.

You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.

So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..

Later, Sharon sat in her armchair in front of the fire sipping Australian Cabernet Sauvignon. On the sofa sat Greg Maynard, Louise’s father. He was a burly, dark haired man aged forty and was wearing a suit and tie. Next to him sat Louise, reading aloud from her school reading book. Occasionally, Greg made appropriate comments about Louise’s efforts.

Louise completed the last page and closed the book.

‘Well done,’ said Greg. ‘You’re really improving.’ He gave Louise a cuddle and kissed her on the cheek. Looking across at Sharon, he said, ‘Don’t you think she’s improving?’

Sharon’s lips tightened fractionally. ‘At reading she is!’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Didn’t Pam say anything?’

‘No.’

Pam was Greg’s wife. Jade’s mother.

Sharon looked incredulous. ‘You’ve been home, haven’t you?’

‘Yes.’

‘And she said nothing?’

‘What about?’

Sharon turned to Louise, who’d become deeply engrossed in her book. ‘You’d better tell him what happened today.’

‘Not now, I’m reading.’

Sharon started up from the sofa and stood over Louise, with her arms folded. ‘Tell him now!’

Louise’s attention remained on her book. Almost casually, she said, ‘I hit Jade.’

Greg brought his face closer to Louise. ‘Oh? Why?’

‘She was saying horrible things about me again.’

‘It was the usual thing,’ said Sharon. ‘About her not having a father.’

Greg stroked Louise’s hair. ‘We agreed you were going to ignore all that.’

‘I tried, but she went on and on.’

‘That’s because she knows it upsets you. When you hit her she knew she’d won. You shouldn’t have done it.’

‘Why shouldn’t she?’ said Sharon, flaring.

Greg looked away. He hadn’t the stomach for this old argument again. ‘I can’t understand why Pam never said anything.’

‘Jade’s obviously not told her. She must be ashamed of it.’

‘How did you find out about it?’

‘A note from Mrs Henshall.’

‘Then Pam must have had one too. I’ll ask her.’

‘Don’t be stupid, she’ll want to know how you found out.’

‘I’ll say you told me, of course. She knows I’m dropping in here before the meeting.’

Sharon sighed. ‘That’s the trouble with this situation. You always have to think one step ahead.’ She found herself craving for a cigarette. ‘Anyway,’ she went on, ‘it gets worse. Louise nearly told Jade who her real father was.’

Greg stiffened and sat up very straight. ‘Did you?’

Louise scrambled off the sofa. ‘I’m going, if you’re going to be horrible.’

‘I’m not going to be horrible,’ said Greg, standing up. ‘I just want to remind you of the promise you made to me and mummy.’ He placed his hands on her shoulders. ‘I know it’s difficult but you know how much it’ll hurt us if the truth gets out.’

Louise shoved her father’s hand away. ‘Don’t give me that. You don’t care about me or mummy. You’re only worried about yourself and what people will say when they find out you’ve got two families.’

‘Louise!’ warned Sharon.

‘Well it’s true! Have you any idea what it’s like hiding who I am day after day? Never being able to be normal like everyone else?’

Louise rushed from the room. Shortly afterwards they heard the front door slam. Sharon got up and went over to the window. She remained there watching Louise stomping off down the street. When Louise was out of sight, Sharon returned to her arm chair and sat down.

‘She worries me,’ said Greg.

Sharon knew that Greg was not speaking out of fatherly concern but because he regarded Louise as the weak vertex in their fragile triangle of deceit. ‘Don’t worry, she’ll never say anything.’

‘Shouldn’t you go after her?’

‘It’s all right. She’s got a rehearsal.’

Greg began to complain about how difficult and unmanageable Jade had become recently. He explained that her behaviour had deteriorated at home and confessed he was at a loss to know how to deal with it.

‘I suppose it’s her age,’ he said, finally.

‘Are you sure she hasn’t discovered something?’

‘About us?’

‘Yes.’

He smiled. ‘No. It’s nothing like that.’

Sharon was unconvinced. ‘Maybe Pam found out something and passed it on to Jade.’
Greg’s smile was intended to be reassuring but it merely made him look smug. ‘Pam knows nothing.’

‘Then why does Jade keep taunting Louise about not having a father?’

‘They’re kids. You know what kids are like. Evil little sods, sometimes.’

‘People aren’t blind. They see you coming in here. They put two and two together.’

‘Come on. No-one would think it odd that I drop in from time to time.’

Sharon accepted that this was probably true. He’d gone to great lengths to create the impression that all his visits to Honeysuckle Cottage were connected with his chairmanship of Community Watch and the Leefdale Primary School Governing Body. With his encouragement she’d become secretary of the Community Watch and a school governor. He’d correctly reasoned that this would provide a sufficient smokescreen behind which he could legitimately pay her regular visits on the pretext of discussing their joint civic responsibilities. Tonight he had a meeting of the parish council, and she knew he’d have told Pam he’d be dropping in to Sharon’s first to update his Community Watch report. That’s why he was dressed formally in his best suit, the navy blue one, wearing a crisp white shirt with the blue silk tie she’d given him for Christmas. She always thought blue suited him best.

It occurred to her that she too was dressed more or less formally, still wearing the clothes she’d worn that day for work. What a shame Louise rarely saw her father and mother together dressed casually. The girl had never seen Greg in his pyjamas because he’d never stayed overnight; no amount of Community Watch business could have justified that! And then there were all the other experiences Louise had missed because of their bizarre domestic arrangements. She’d never eaten breakfast with her father and probably never would. Nor had she ever seen him in a swimming costume or a beach shirt, for they’d never been on holiday together. On Christmas Day she’d never exchanged presents with him under the Christmas tree. She’d never gone to a cinema or a bowling alley with him. And, of course, he’d never once discussed Louise’s progress with a teacher at a parents’ evening. All of that was the privilege of his legitimate family. No wonder the poor kid was fed up. Sharon could feel the promise she’d given Louise asserting itself at the forefront of her mind. She steeled herself to tell him that the situation was untenable and would have to end. That she’d decided to move away from Leefdale.

At that moment an ice cream van passed by in the street outside. Its tinny chimes flooded into the room through an open window creating a nauseating atmosphere of synthetic happiness. How she loathed the sound.

‘Fancy an ice cream?’ Greg asked, smiling.

She reacted with a scoff. The question didn’t merit a response. She knew that being seen joining the queue for cornets was the last thing he wanted.

A silence fell over them. A certain tension had entered the room. They were both acutely aware that they had the cottage entirely to themselves. Sharon knew how embarrassed Greg was about making love when Louise was in the house, even when the girl was asleep. She wondered if he was thinking about risking a quickie. Now was the perfect opportunity.

The knowledge that they had the place to themselves and could have uninhibited sex would normally have excited her. But even though she’d known Greg for over ten years and he was the father of her child, tonight she felt unusually inhibited in his presence, as though he were a total stranger. Reminded of her promise to Louise, she again willed herself to tell him that they couldn’t go on, that it was all over. But she stopped short. The enormity of the step frightened her.

‘I took someone to view The Old Rectory today,’ she said.

She described Dylan Bourne and the reasons for his interest in the property. Once started she didn’t want to stop. She was surprised at the unexpected delight she took in uttering his name aloud, and of her pleasure at the thought of him.

Greg expressed perfunctory interest but she could tell from his tone that his mind was preoccupied. As she spoke she caught him eying her intently. She had a fair idea what he was thinking. It was already seven-thirty and his meeting was at eight. Louise was at a rehearsal. This was his rare chance for a shag. Should he take it?

She’d guessed his intention correctly but had no inkling of the trepidation with which he was approaching the opportunity. He was feeling uncharacteristically awkward and unsure. She looked so unattainable in her office clothes: white blouse, short black skirt, black tights; shoes off, feet curled under her as she sat on the arm chair. He was conscious of how young she was; how composed; how full of latent energy she seemed, and, more than ever, of the ten year age gap between them.

His instinct was to go over and kiss her, but he was afraid she might rebuff him. She seemed so cool and self-contained; so impregnable. When she was in this mood his recollection of their passionate and uninhibited fucking seemed like some remote sexual fantasy he’d indulged in when he’d been lying in bed beside his plump, motherly wife. He stared at Sharon again and mentally removed her clothes. Her naked image filled his mind. He savoured the memory of her heavy, swinging breasts, her black triangle of pubic hair and the full, rounded loops of her buttocks. Then he thought of the many, many times he’d breached that iron self-control of hers, and with just the touch of his hand or tongue inflamed in her such intense physical cravings she’d overcome all inhibitions and dissolved with him in an all-consuming, self-extinguishing, wildly abandoned lust. Such thoughts reassured and encouraged him. He felt his flesh stir and begin to thicken.

She saw him staring at her with that intense, preoccupied watchfulness that could only mean one thing. The thought of it sent a quiver of anticipation through her. Suddenly, tiny iron wings seemed to be beating under her breastbone; she felt her breathing quicken and was aware of that delicious spreading ache. Now she too, like him, was thinking only of one thing. She knew she should resist it but was incapable. Her determination to keep her promise to Louise receded as her will weakened and leached out of her. She felt powerless and heavy with acquiescence; thrilled at the futility of resistance; comforted by resignation. She was becoming inert and yet purposeful, like an egg. She wanted him. And with this admission came momentary despair. It was this need to fuck him which made life so difficult: prevented her from taking control or changing anything. The ecstasy of naked contact and penetration obliterated all rationality and logic. It reduced everything else to irrelevance. When they were locked together male and female she wanted it like that for all eternity and nothing ever to change. It had been weeks since she’d had him, and the thought of gorging greedily on such pleasure created a momentum within her which she knew would never be satisfied until her flesh was exhausting itself on his.

He watched her change position in her chair, uncurling her legs and swinging them out until they were planted firmly in front of her. He saw her knees move slightly apart.

He stood up and went across the room towards her. His bulk loomed over her. He stretched out an arm towards her.

She felt the touch of his large practical hand on her cheek. She closed her eyes and pressed her cheekbone hard against his steady palm.

He levered up her face to look at him.

‘We haven’t got much time.’

She stood up. In one smooth movement he bent towards her until his face completely filled her vision. It was his familiar face but with something added: the imperative of lust. Immediately she felt the press of his lips on hers; the warmth and intimacy of his breath; the overpowering musk of his after shave. Her lips parted at the insistence of his tongue and it was instantly inside her mouth, melding with hers, arching, coiling, exploring. The source of all awareness, all sensation seemed to be focussed entirely in this tiny point of connection between her tongue and his, so there was no sense of separateness only this blind and all-consuming commingling and exchange of sensation They kissed and kissed and kissed, their tongues arching and twisting them away into a swoon where there was only the blind ecstasy of hands feeling for all the secret forbidden places and a haste of unbuttoning and unzipping as they tore and pulled and tore and pulled until the last flimsy obstacles to their overwhelming desire were removed.

She grabbed him by the hand and began tugging him across the room towards the stairs.

He resisted and pulled her to him. ‘No, here. Let’s do it here.’

‘The curtains. I must close the curtains!’

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Sunday Serial #7

Leefdale

Here’s the next part of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray.

I’m following a well established nineteenth century tradition and publishing some of the novel in weekly instalments.

You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.

So, if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments,
read on …..

CHAPTER THREE

Sharon moved hurriedly around the bedroom, tidying it up. She quickly made the bed, placed several days-worth of used clothing in the laundry basket and stuffed three pairs of shoes in the bottom of the fitted wardrobe. Ideally, she’d have liked a shower before he came round but there was no time. She had Louise’s tea to cook.
She went over to the dressing table mirror, thinking again about the letter which Louise had pressed into her hand when she’d collected her from the after-school club. She ran a comb through her hair and dabbed perfume behind her ears. Then she picked up the letter from the dressing table and re-read it for the fourth time.

Leefdale Primary School,
Blackberry Lane,
Leefdale,
East Yorkshire.
10th April 2001.
Dear Ms. Makepiece,
This afternoon Louise was involved in an unpleasant incident with Jade Maynard. They were sharing a computer during the Information Technology session and became involved in a quarrel. In the course of it, Louise hit Jade several times and pulled her hair.
I have spoken to both girls about the incident. Jade maintains that Louise was making fun of her acting ability. As you know we are at present rehearsing the school production of “Oliver”. Worryingly, Louise refused to give me any explanation at all for her conduct.
Of late, I have become increasingly concerned about Louise’s deteriorating standards of behaviour. She continues to be anti-social and aggressive. Please would you come in to school at your earliest opportunity to discuss the situation with me.
Yours sincerely,
Sally Henshall.
Head Teacher.

Sharon replaced the letter on the dressing table, wondering how she was going to re-organise her work commitments in order to make time to visit Mrs Henshall before the Easter holiday. She set off to consult her diary and then stopped. The phone next to her bed was ringing.
It was Ruby Corbridge, wife of the owner of The Old Rectory, calling from Capri. She’d received Sharon’s message that a potential buyer had viewed the house.
‘Yes. I showed him round this afternoon.’
‘Oh, did he like it?’
‘I think so.’
‘What’s he do?’
‘He’s an artist. His name’s Dylan Bourne.’
‘Never heard of him. Has he got any money?’
‘Well, he must be doing all right. He’s going to call me back tomorrow with an offer… a cash offer.’
‘Cash? That’s good.’
‘I don’t know though.’
‘What do you mean, you don’t know?’
‘I don’t know… there’s something about him that keeps nagging at me… something doesn’t feel quite right.’
‘Is he married?’
‘He said not, but I think there’s someone in the background.’
‘Young? Old?’
‘Early thirties, I’d say.’
‘Tall?’
‘Yes.’
‘Dark?’
‘No, blonde.’
‘Good looking?’
‘Very good looking.’
‘Maybe that’s it.’
‘What?’
‘The thing that keeps nagging at you.’
Sharon giggled. ‘Ruby, you’re always trying to find me a man!’
‘Come on. Don’t tell me you didn’t find him a bit attractive.’
‘Well, all right, a bit.’ Sharon smiled. ‘But he wears too much leather.’
‘Leather?’
‘Yes. He rides a motorcycle.’
‘A motorcycle, and he wants the rectory?’
‘Yes. Oh, and he wants to paint me.’
‘Paint you?’ There was a sharp intake of breath from Ruby. ‘Now something about him is starting to nag at me.’
The bedroom door opened and Louise came in. She went straight over to Sharon who was now lying back with her head on the pillows, taking the call. Louise jumped on the bed and snuggled up to her mother. Sharon stroked Louise’s hair.
‘What did he say about the big flaw?’
The vicarage was affected by rising damp in certain places, particularly the cellar. Ruby’s great fear was that this would affect the sale.
‘Nothing. It never came up.’
‘Well, don’t bring it up unless he does.’
‘I won’t. Stop worrying. I told you before, if anyone makes a big deal out of it we just go down a couple of grand.’
‘Call me tomorrow and let me know what he’s offered.’
‘OK.’
Ruby sighed heavily. ‘Now, I won’t sleep all night!’
When Sharon had finished the call she put her arms around Louise and gave her a hug.
Louise said, ‘So? What’s the letter about?’
‘Come on, Lou, you know very well what it’s about!’
Louise lifted her head off Sharon’s breast. ‘You mean Jade?’
‘Yes. Why did you hit her?’
Louise scowled. ‘She was being horrible to me again.’
Sharon waited.
‘She was winding me up. She asked me if my dad was coming to see me in “Oliver”.’
‘The little bitch! Is she starting all that again?’
‘I told you she’s jealous because I’m playing Nancy. She wanted that part.’
‘And that’s when you hit her?’
‘No. Not right away. It was when she said, “Oh, of course, you haven’t got a dad have you? I forgot”.’
‘Christ! I’m glad you hit her.’
‘So I said, “Of course I’ve got a dad. Everybody’s got a dad. As a matter of fact, your dad is my dad”.’
Sharon pushed Louise off and sat bolt upright. She stared at her daughter incredulously. ‘You didn’t?’
Louise nodded.
Sharon got off the bed and paced over to the window. She turned away from the window and walked up and down the room.
‘How could you, after you promised us!’
Sharon made a sudden lunge at Louise. She grabbed her by the shoulders and shook her. ‘I ought to kill you! Kill you! Do you know what you’ve done?’ She shook her more violently. ‘You stupid little girl!’
‘Of course, I didn’t tell her!’ screamed Louise. She pushed her mother away and leapt off the bed. ‘But that’s what I wanted to say. It’s what I always want to say. But I never can. So I hit her instead.’
Sharon sank back onto the bed. ‘Thank God!’
Louise started to sob.
Later, when Louise had stopped crying and was being comforted in her mother’s arms, she said, ‘Why can’t we just go away? Why can’t we just go away?’
Yes, why not? Sharon thought. Why not just go away? Inevitably she thought again of all the reasons not to, and surprised herself by dismissing them. ‘Is that what you really want, Lou?’
‘Yes. If we could move somewhere else, away from here, I’d be happy. I wouldn’t have to keep pretending about dad and everything. Can we go mum? Can we?’
‘All right,’ said Sharon.
Louise squealed and hugged her mother tightly. ‘Oh mum! You promise?’
‘Yes. If it makes you happy.’
‘But you really, really promise?’
‘I just told you.’
‘Oh fantastic. When will you tell dad?’
‘I think he’s coming round tonight. I’ll tell him then.’
Louise hugged her again. ‘Thanks, mum. Where will we go? Luffield?’
‘One thing at a time, Lou.’

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Thanks for visiting my blog today. Hope you’re having a great weekend!

Sunday Serial #5

house

Following a well established nineteenth century tradition, here’s the next instalment of the serialisation of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray.

You can find the links to previous instalments on this page.

Or go here to start reading the novel from the beginning.

But if you like the Dickensian idea of reading your novels in weekly instalments, read on …..

She (Sharon) left him in the dining room, crossed the hall and moved purposely back into the drawing room. Fighting her desire for a cigarette, she sank into one of the overstuffed modern sofas. Her confrontation with Dylan had left her shaken, and now that the adrenalin which had emboldened her to be so recklessly assertive was beginning to recede, she was having misgivings about the wisdom of her behaviour. She’d called him a piss artist to his face! What a stupid thing to have done. Supposing he complained about her? He’d indicated that he was strongly attracted to the house. What if her rudeness had affected his decision to purchase? Her attitude would have lost the firm a cash sale and with it would have gone the new dining room suite. The thought made her almost laugh out loud. Shit! Was she really so abject she was willing to be sexually harassed and humiliated just to protect her commission?

Hang on, though, wasn’t she overstating it a bit? He’d only offered to paint her. Many women would have taken it as a compliment. And it was she who’d suggested he might want to paint her nude. Now why had she done that? He’d never even mentioned it. Yes, but hadn’t he followed her into the dining room just a little too closely? Hadn’t he invaded her personal space? Wasn’t that why she’d put him in his place? And rightly so!

Immediately she was recalling the many bad experiences she’d had viewing properties with single males. The short, fat one who’d patted her bum as they’d climbed the stairs at Killingholme Grange; the racehorse trainer who’d tried to grope her in the bedroom at The Ridings; the ugly businessman who’d stood in the kitchen of Oxenholme Farm and promised to purchase the property on condition she had sex with him. (Just joking love; just joking). After all those experiences how could she have allowed herself to enter the dining room in front of him? Why hadn’t she said “after you” and let him go on in front of her? But then what exactly was it he’d actually done? Nothing! He hadn’t laid a finger on her. But that was the point: they were so clever, they never did anything that couldn’t be explained away as an accident; and it was the apprehension of what might happen that made the situation so threatening: the way they invaded your space and accidentally brushed their shoulder against your nipple; the way their knuckle came into contact with your thigh, again accidentally, as they bent to inspect something; the unblinking stare as they looked deeper and deeper into you, and then…

She got up suddenly and wandered over to the window. Christ! She was really getting paranoid. Was being with Greg and all the secrecy and everything finally getting to her after all these years?

But such thoughts were instantly forgotten by what she saw through the window. Outside, on the front lawn, a little drama was being enacted. Howard had now been joined by his wife, and they were obviously involved in some kind of row. Isobel was gesticulating angrily and jabbing her finger at the Major, who was on his knees by the border digging out weeds. She bent down, brought her mouth close to Howard’s ear and shouted into it. Howard sprang up bawling savagely. Isobel screamed, kicked out at the wheelbarrow and then, sobbing, fled across the lawn in the direction of Rooks Nest. Sharon turned away: she’d no wish to witness Isobel’s distress.

Up above, through a first floor bedroom window, Dylan too was observing the unpleasant scene taking place on the front lawn. It was obvious that Major Roberts and the woman – who was almost certainly his wife – had marital issues. He hadn’t much liked the Major but he couldn’t help feeling a certain sympathy for him. He knew from experience how draining it was to live with someone who was neurotic. For a moment or two he watched Isobel’s tense back retreating down the drive. He then returned to the centre of the room and flung himself onto the vulgarly draped four poster bed.

Stupid of him to have suggested painting her. But how was he to know she’d react like that? He reflected on various ways in which the situation might be retrieved, and concluded that to follow up on any of them would result only in making matters worse. Still, it was interesting that she’d introduced the notion of posing for him in the nude, although he’d done absolutely nothing to encourage it. Was her professed abhorrence of the idea of being painted nude, real? Or was it being used to mask a fantasy which she secretly cherished?

He tried to think of something else, but Sharon’s image continued to insinuate itself into his mind. Surely it was inconceivable that a woman like that could ever be his type? Had meeting her suddenly released within him a long suppressed fetish for short skirted business suits, dark tights and high heeled shoes? Ludicrous thought. So ludicrous he felt himself smile. Normally he regarded women who power dressed like that as a joke: unthinking subscribers to notions of male stereotypes. Clones of Margaret Thatcher. So why was he finding her so adorable? Why couldn’t he stop thinking about the way her chestnut brown hair framed the perfect symmetry of her face: its locks and tresses so attractively curling and twisting down to flick the shoulders of her jacket with every turn of her lovely head? Why couldn’t he stop seeing her big hazel eyes, that combination of tawny brown and flecks of olive green always so difficult to represent in oils? Why was he obsessing like a frustrated teenager over her voluptuous mouth and her delightful snub nose? Recalling her perfect bow lips and the enticing way they parted ever so slightly when she was thinking? Christ, he could even remember the tiny crater just above her left eyebrow, presumably some relic of a childhood chickenpox attack. And he could still see the almost imperceptible scar on her right cheek, close to her ear.
What was happening to him? OK. So he hadn’t had sex with anyone since Zoe. But surely this infatuation with an obviously hard-nosed Tory estate agent was uncharacteristically excessive? Of course, it was the curse of the artist to absorb and retain a more intense impression than other people. Which was probably why he was falling such an easy victim to nature’s timeless confidence trick: his preoccupation with the gorgeous Sharon was just an atavistic call for him to reproduce.

Perhaps the quickest way to exorcise her disturbing effect on him would be to sketch her. He took out a pen from his inside pocket and turned the property details for The Old Rectory over, so that the blank side was uppermost. From memory, he began drawing a full length portrait of estate agent Sharon Makepiece, starting with her black business suit.

****

‘But we know Mrs Brand won’t go any lower… I agree… but if Morrison won’t budge, I think we should look for another purchaser…’

Dylan was descending the last flight of stairs. Realising that Sharon was in the hall speaking on her mobile, he halted halfway down and waited. She was partially turned away from him, standing with her weight thrown back on one leg. The other leg was slowly pivoting back and forth on the ball of her foot. Christ! He’d never imagined a woman in a business suit could be so sexy. But it wasn’t just the suit or the way she was standing: it was the combination of beauty and assured competence that was so compelling. Her voice was attractively low, yet full of warm ripples and little cadences like a clear, fast running stream. Her accent was Yorkshire but softly rural, like others he’d heard in the Wolds. As she issued instructions confidently into the phone she exuded certainty of purpose. For him, who’d never truly been certain of anything, this was a potent aphrodisiac.

She changed weight from one leg to the other, and, in turning, became aware of Dylan standing on the stairs.

Now that was a detail he’d forgotten. The single string of creamy pearls enhancing her graceful neck and complementing the silky smoothness of her white top.

‘Just a minute Tracey…’ Sharon took the phone away from her ear and called up to Dylan,

‘Have you seen all you need?’

‘More than enough.’

She returned to the phone. ‘I’ve got to go. I’ll be with you in half an hour.’

Dylan continued down the stairs. Sharon was standing by the front door waiting for him.

‘The house is perfect. Just what we’re looking for,’ he said, as he approached her. ‘I’ve decided to make an offer.’

‘Good.’

‘I haven’t fixed on a figure yet. I’ll call you about that tomorrow.’

‘Fine.’

Sharon went over to set the alarm. Almost immediately she stopped and turned back to him. ‘Oh, you haven’t seen the rear garden.’

‘That’s OK. I saw it from the window upstairs. It’s the size of a small park. Mr Corbridge must have employed an army of gardeners.’

‘No. Amazingly he and his wife did it all themselves.’

They stood around awkwardly.

‘Well, I’m ready to go if you are,’ said Dylan. ‘Are you confident that I’m safe enough to travel in your car without molesting you or shall you call me up a cab?’

Sharon smiled. ‘Don’t be silly!’

‘I’m serious,’ he said. ‘I don’t want to cause you any unnecessary stress.’

‘It’s all right. I over-reacted, I’m sorry.’

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Sunday Serial #4

This is the fourth instalment of the serialisation of Leefdale by Michael Murray.

If you missed the earlier posts click here for links.

Now read on ….

CHAPTER TWO

‘You’ll have to wait here until I’ve switched off the security device,’ said Sharon. She unlocked the front door of the rectory and pushed it open. At once the alarming sound of a siren reverberated around the hall. Sharon darted inside. A few moments later the din stopped and she called out, ‘It’s all right. You can come in now.’

Dylan entered and found himself standing in a spacious hallway.

‘Sorry about that,’ said Sharon. ‘Once the alarm goes off you only have fifteen seconds to stop it before it alerts the Luffield police.’

‘How do you de-activate it?’

She regarded him suspiciously. ‘With a number code. That’s why I had to ask you to stay outside. Mr Corbridge is paranoid about anyone finding out what it is.’

‘Understandably.’

Sharon indicated the interior with a turn of her head. ‘Well, this is the hall. The staircase is original by the way.’

Dylan approached the staircase for a closer inspection. It rose up the wall to his left and was thickly carpeted. He noted the mahogany handrail which terminated at the bottom in a spiral of balusters.

‘No sign of woodworm yet,’ he said, lightly.

Sharon frowned. ‘I should hope not. The property’s received extensive anti-woodworm treatment. Certificates are available, if you require them.’

Hmm. No sense of humour, thought Dylan. He observed the five white doors which led off the hall and the numerous examples of eighteenth century portraiture which adorned its walls. He admired the high ceiling and its elaborate plasterwork. He noted the oak parquet floor showing in the spaces between the opulent oriental rugs. He was amused by the eighteenth century carriage clock and the tastefully positioned spinet. All this, and they’d only got as far as the hall. Someone had obviously gone to great lengths to create a definite period “look”. He felt as though he’d stepped into a play by Sheridan.

‘Very Georgian, don’t you think?’ said Sharon.

Dylan could do little else but agree.

‘Mr Corbridge was so thrilled to own an eighteenth century house. He was determined to recreate the Georgian style.’

‘Oh. Which one?’

‘Which one?’

‘There are examples here of early, middle and late.’

‘Really?’

Sharon wondered if he was a bull shitter. Bruce Corbridge had assured her that the house had been authentically restored.

‘Shall we go on?’ she said.

She opened a door to her left and showed Dylan into the first reception room, which she referred to as the drawing room. It was at the front of the house and overlooked the lawn. The room struck Dylan as ideal for his purposes: it was high ceilinged, spacious and brilliantly lit by the natural light pouring in through two huge sash windows that seemed to rise almost from floor to ceiling. But the furnishings! They were so oppressively vulgar: heavy, red, silk wall coverings finished with a gold fillet; sumptuous, red curtains held back by gilt acanthus leaf embrasses and topped by a pagoda style pelmet; obtrusive, coarse mouldings on the cornice and fireplace; ugly, squat bronzes adorning the mantelshelf; even the chandelier chain disguised with red silk and fringing. The furniture was mainly eighteenth century repro with a couple of genuine antiques, and, incongruously, two enormous, contemporary sofas that were so padded and comfortable they were obviously the property of affluent couch potatoes. There were far too many pictures in hideously elaborate frames, and the original wooden floor was all but obscured by modern oriental rugs.

‘All the furniture is going to be removed and shipped out to Capri in a few days,’ said Sharon, who’d observed Dylan’s disapproval. ‘Mr Corbridge and his wife are retiring there.’

Thank God the furniture’s not included in the sale, Dylan thought. He was beginning to suspect that the whole house had been designed to create some loose, contemporary notion of a holistic Georgian “style”, which had resulted in a travesty of anything Georgian or stylish. It was a bourgeois shrine to self-indulgence, ostentation and the comfort of excess.

‘Is Mr Corbridge an American?’ Dylan asked.

‘No. He’s Australian. A film producer.’

‘Of course!’ exclaimed Dylan. ‘It’s a film set!’

‘Mr Corbridge and his wife are both very nice,’ said Sharon. Her tone had become chilly.

‘Is there anything that you do like about the room?’

‘Oh yes. The light. It’s magnificent. It would make a wonderful studio.’ He regarded her for a moment. ‘You didn’t say you lived in Leefdale.’

‘I didn’t think it was relevant.’

‘Well, it could be a recommendation. If you’re personally happy here.’ Something in her expression made him feel reckless. ‘Are you happy here?’

She seemed surprised. ‘Of course.’

‘Do you live alone?’

‘No.’ Sharon moved towards the door. ‘I’ll show you the other reception rooms. But I warn you, they’re all in the same style.’

‘That’s all right,’ said Dylan. ‘I can’t say that I admire Mr Corbridge’s furniture or his fittings but his taste in houses is perfect.’

Sharon moved through the doorway and back into the hall.

‘All the carpets are included in the sale but not the curtains or rugs.’

‘Has anybody ever painted you?’ Dylan asked, following her.

She stopped, surprised. ‘No. Why?’

‘Because I think you’d make a wonderful subject.’

She took an involuntary step away from him. ‘Oh, come on!’

‘What?’

She turned back, wary, sceptical. ‘Not that corny old pitch!’

‘I’m serious. I’d like to paint you.’

‘You said you only do abstracts.’

Dylan started to feel foolish. ‘I started off doing conventional portraits. Seeing you has given me the urge to do one again.’

You’ve got the urge all right but it’s got nothing to do with painting, Sharon thought. She said, ‘Well, I’m terribly flattered, of course. Let me see, how does the next bit go? I ask you if I’d have to pose nude. That’s right, isn’t it? And you say, “Only if you want to” and then I say “but I’d be embarrassed” and you say, “Don’t worry, I won’t get aroused by your naked body, as far as I’m concerned it’ll just be an object.” That’s about it, isn’t it?’

Dylan smiled. ‘I thought you said you didn’t know any artists?’

‘I don’t. But I’ve met plenty of piss artists!’ She opened another door leading off the hall.

‘This is the dining room!’

She entered the room and Dylan followed closely behind her. He immediately saw that she was right: the Corbridges’ execrable taste was as much in evidence in this room as the previous one.

Sharon stopped and turned to face him. She’d obviously made up her mind about something. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘why don’t you wander round the rest of the house by yourself? You can take your time and have a think about it.’

The strength of her hostility disconcerted him. ‘It’s all right. I’m quite happy to have you show me around.’

Sharon was adamant. ‘No. I’d rather you went round on your own.’

‘What I said about wanting to paint you. It’s disturbed you, hasn’t it?’

‘Frankly, yes. We’re on our own here and I’ve had some very unpleasant experiences with male clients.’

‘I assure you I’ve no intention of coming on to you.’

Sharon went silent. She stared at Dylan grimly. ‘Take as long as you want. I’ll wait for you down here.’

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