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.

#Throwback Thursday #BookReview Blood-Tied by Wendy Percival @wendy_percival

I saw a good idea on Twitter a couple of weeks 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 started with An Englishwoman’s Guide to the Cowboy by June Kearns and last week it was Kings and Queens by TerryTyler.

This week my book for #ThrowbackThursday is

Blood-Tied by Wendy Percival, a family history mystery.

Book description from Amazon

A thriller based on murder and family secrets.

“A desperate crime, kept secret for 60 years… but time has a way of exposing the truth…”

Esme Quentin is devastated when her sister Elizabeth is beaten unconscious, miles from her home. Two days later Esme discovers that Elizabeth has a secret past. Desperate for answers which the comatose Elizabeth cannot give, Esme enlists the help of her friend Lucy to search for the truth, unaware of the dangerous path she is treading. Together they unravel a tangle of bitterness, blackmail and dubious inheritance, and as the harrowing story is finally revealed, Esme stumbles upon evidence of a pitiful crime.

Realising too late the menace she has unwittingly unleashed, Esme is caught up in a terrifying ordeal. One that will not only test her courage and sanity but force her to confront her perception of birth and family.

My Review from Indie Bookworm

Two sisters are very close until one learns that the other has a secret past. Unable to get answers from Elizabeth because she is in a coma, Esme sets out on a search for the truth aided by her best friend Lucy.

What makes Blood-Tied really enjoyable are the special circumstances in which the novel is placed. Esme is a researcher with a passion for family history and Lucy works at the County Records Office and is a professional archivist.

Anyone who has an enthusiasm for family history can’t help but love this book. Meticulous detail combined with a cleverly constructed plot provides the reader with a completely fresh take on a traditional mystery tale.

Author Wendy Percival uses her knowledge of history, genealogy and research methods to give this novel a great feeling of authenticity in both the family story that is at the heart of the plot and Esme and Lucy’s efforts to unravel it.

A cast of well-drawn, interesting characters lead the reader through a complex story with its roots in the past and its consequences right up to the present day. A tangle of family relationships is revealed between siblings; parents and children; grandparents and off-spring; aunts, uncles and cousins; in-laws and out-laws; husbands and wives. Add to the mix nannies, housemaids, gardeners, police officers, architects, neighbours and friends: all helping to confuse and illuminate sometimes at the same time.

Highly readable with a clear, direct, no-nonsense style; good pace; interesting and unexpected twists and turns and a very satisfying ending: Blood-Tied is a really good read and highly recommended.

Click the Free Preview below and start reading Blood-Tied today!

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





Sunday Serial #10

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 …..


After parting from Sharon outside her office in Luffield, Dylan Bourne set off for his immediate destination which was York. In this ancient, walled city the Station Hotel had served as his base for the past six days. It was from here that he’d ventured forth every morning to motorcycle all over North and East Yorkshire searching for potential properties; and every evening he’d returned, having left behind him several happy estate agents, each one under the impression that they’d definitely be receiving a cash offer from him for one of their overpriced pieces of real estate. Unfortunately, he’d never possessed the authority to make such a promise: the decision to purchase a property required the agreement of his colleagues. But Dylan was one of those people who wanted others to be happier than reality usually permits them to be.

He arrived at the hotel mid-afternoon and headed straight for the lounge where he settled in to a comfortable arm chair and ordered a cream tea. Whilst waiting for it to arrive he again studied the property details for The Old Rectory and indulged himself in a pleasant recollection of Sharon Makepiece’s memorable eyes and her other undeniable attributes. Later, after scones, strawberry jam and clotted cream washed down with two cups of Earl Grey, he went up to his room where he showered, changed his clothes, packed his few belongings and checked out. He then drove the Ariel Red Hunter back to London via the A1 and M11, at times approaching speeds slightly in excess of seventy miles an hour, and arrived at the outskirts of the capital just after nightfall.

His destination was a luxury riverside development in Narrow Street, Limehouse. This was the home of Charles Reynolds, who, after his elevation to the peerage by New Labour, was now known as Lord Reynolds of Sandleton-on-Sea. The popular East Yorkshire fishing resort had been chosen by Charles as the territorial designation for his title because in 1951 he’d been born there into a family of hotel keepers. His all-consuming ambition in youth, however, was not to be an hotelier but a painter. In order to realize his dream he’d deeply antagonised his parents. On his eighteenth birthday, they’d been shocked when their gift of a fourteen bedroomed hotel had been ungratefully rejected in favour of a place at The Slade. Sadly, in the years following graduation, Charles discovered that a combination of rejection and lack of material comforts was vitiating what little single-mindedness of purpose he possessed for the creation of Art. Five years and dozens of unsold pictures later, he humbly returned to Sandleton to claim his birthright, and then rapidly achieved the material success his parents had always wished for him. His first fortune had been made from property; his second from buying and selling Old Masters. These early, seminal experiences gave him an ineluctable faith in the transformative power of Art, and the unshakable conviction that in a civilised country no-one should ever be denied access to decent accommodation. Which is why, in 1995, he’d broken with decades of family tradition and joined the Labour Party. It was also at this time that he’d established The Sandleton Trust, a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to using art and art therapy to transform the lives of young people who’d been excluded from mainstream education because of their anti-social behaviour.

Charles opened the door of his penthouse apartment and greeted Dylan warmly. He then ushered him into the main reception area where a man and two women were sitting drinking white wine. Their names were Eric, Toni and Zoe. Eric was in his late twenties: his caramel skin tone, springy black hair and light blue eyes indicated a lineage rich in racial diversity. He was smartly but casually dressed in a white open necked shirt, brown leather jacket and beige chinos. His long hair would have suggested non-conformity if it hadn’t been so stylishly cut. Toni was several years older than Eric. She wore a navy blue cardigan over a pink blouse and her grey skirt was knee length. Blue tights and navy blue high heeled shoes completed her outfit which was vaguely redolent of school uniform. Her fair hair was cut short and her rimless spectacles gave her a slightly severe look which vanished on better acquaintance when you saw that her face was actually radiating kindness and integrity. By contrast, Zoe was dressed fashionably but sportily in white trainers, white joggers with a drawstring waist and a pastel blue T shirt. She wore only one piece of jewellery, a necklace in blue coral. These colours perfectly complemented her long titian hair and cobalt blue eyes that glinted with unusual lights. Her hair and skin had the wholesome glow of those who spend as much time as they can in the open air. Her face was striking and had a perfect balance of features but was prevented from being conventionally beautiful by a slight twist of pugnacity about the mouth. She’d studied drama at university and had acted professionally for a while. Like many actresses her face was unusually expressive: so sensitive an instrument for conveying mood and emotion that she appeared to feel things much more keenly than others; and often did. Charles was dressed formally in the businessman’s standard uniform of light grey suit, blue shirt and red silk tie. He was a man in his late forties, of medium height and with closely cropped greying hair. Only his stylish Italian spectacle frames prevented him from appearing completely stuffy and boring, and indicated the possibility of a slightly more intriguing hinterland. In this smart company, Dylan, who was wearing his unwashed grey T shirt and faded blue jeans, looked somewhat under-dressed. Yet, despite his recent long journey, he appeared to be the only one who was completely at his ease.

Eric waved a greeting and smiled. Toni said, ‘Hello.’ Zoe nodded coolly. Then Toni and Eric started to bombard him with questions.

‘Hang on!’ said Dylan. ‘I’m dying to go to the loo.’

When he returned he found bowls of chilli con carne and salad had appeared. Charles offered wine. Dylan declined and asked for mineral water. They started to eat and the questions began again, polite banal questions: how had he enjoyed York? What had he done in the evenings? What had the traffic been like on the motorway? Dylan’s responses were perfunctory because he was not only tired but disorientated. Outside the penthouse, dark, warm night had fallen. The Thames was winding luminously between canyons of post-modernist apartment buildings, its flat surface iridescent with the reflected light from thousands of domestic light bulbs. Downstream the aircraft warning light on the roof of Canary Wharf was pulsing with mesmeric regularity. But the built environment was competing for attention with much more compelling images in Dylan’s mind: the Yorkshire landscape and Sharon Makepiece. He was surprised to find himself yearning for both.

‘So, what have you got for us?’ asked Charles. The meal was over; coffee served; the real business of the meeting had begun.

Dylan opened his canvas duffle bag and took out the details of properties he’d identified as suitable for the establishment of the first social inclusion unit in Yorkshire. He placed them on the coffee table. ‘As I told Charles on the phone, there were an enormous number of properties in the target area which met our criteria and fell within budget. I’ve managed to reduce them to a shortlist of six.’

The estate agents’ descriptions were passed around and scrutinised while Dylan gave his personal impressions of the six properties he’d identified as potential purchases. He was then subjected to rigorous questioning about them and the advantages and disadvantages of each property were discussed in full. Disagreements were aired; positions taken up; opinions began to harden like cement.

Although he thought Cold Dale Farm probably came nearest to meeting their needs, Dylan didn’t attempt to promote the purchase of any particular property. He simply described the merits of each and was happy to answer questions and provide further information whenever it was appropriate. Otherwise, he was content to rest his aching limbs and relax as best he could on Charles’s uncomfortable minimalist furniture. He’d have given anything to have gone straight home to bed but he knew that wasn’t an option. Charles was flying out the following day to Washington. He was part of a delegation of members of the Upper House who were touring the United States researching the work of social inclusion units. He wouldn’t return for three weeks. A decision on the property had to be made that night.

Charles removed his glasses and fixed Dylan with an unnervingly myopic blue stare.

‘Well, Dylan. We seem to have reached an impasse. You’ve had the opportunity to view all of these properties. Which one do you think is the most suitable?’

Dylan smiled and was astonished to hear himself say, ‘The one that’s made the least impact on you all: Leefdale rectory.’

Read on with the free preview below.

Sunday Serial #9

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 …..

‘Are you going to stay there all night?’ Greg asked.

Sharon was lying on the carpet, naked, watching him as he hastily dressed. She’d been lying in this position ever since he’d extricated himself from her. Her blouse was scrunched up between her legs absorbing the last residue of fluids. She wanted only to stay like this for a while, staggering her return from that far, far shore on to which she’d been transported by the crashing waves of her orgasm. Why was he talking to her? She wanted only to be quiet and still and facilitate her soul’s reunion with the material body from which it had partially and rapturously separated; a body that was still registering faint yet unpredictable aftershocks of indescribable pleasure. They were only an echo of their former intensity but she’d no wish for these exquisite little tremors and shivers to cease. She couldn’t bear the last vestiges of ecstasy to vanish, restoring her again to the plane of the ordinary. Yet how difficult it was to sustain the thrill of that orgasm: to maintain her tenuous hold on those ineffable sensations. She wanted those feelings to last forever. She wanted to lie still and quiet and think only of the sex; she wanted to postpone all thoughts of that broken promise to Louise. She wanted to forget that, yet again, sex had made her her own gaoler.

She watched Greg putting on his underpants. Those same underpants that Pam had probably washed and ironed. Don’t go there, Sharon, she told herself. Better to recall the way he’d stared at her bare breasts in rapt admiration: how he’d spread his fingers wide and stroked both of them, lightly at first, so she could feel nothing but the tantalising brush of his hands over her soft, bare skin. And then his tongue going and making quick, urgent licks and kisses all over her breasts and in the cleft between them before taking each nipple between his teeth, gently bringing his teeth together over it and then the nipple going deeper into his mouth, his tongue flicking and agitating it into hardness. The memory made her nipples swell and grow hard again. She felt a faint renewal of the blind, moist welling up from the depths of her.

She smiled at him and said, ‘I’ll get up in a minute. Just coming down to earth.’

He looked conceited. ‘It was that good, eh?’

‘No, it was terrible,’ she said, and laughed. He laughed too, but afterwards the look he gave her was uncertain.

Read on with the Free Preview below.

#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?’


Pam was Greg’s wife. Jade’s mother.

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


‘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?’


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

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 …..


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,
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.’
‘No, blonde.’
‘Good looking?’
‘Very good looking.’
‘Maybe that’s it.’
‘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.’
‘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.’
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 #6

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 …..

Sharon couldn’t believe it, she was actually telling him about the little shit who’d touched her up at Killingholme Grange. And the racehorse owner. She’d never told anyone about that.

He wasn’t saying anything, just listening. She hoped he wasn’t too shocked. His understanding blue eyes and concerned expression were ineffably extracting her intimate secrets. She told herself to be careful.

Finally, he said, ‘It’s obviously affected you. Perhaps you should get some counselling.’

‘I don’t believe in all that stuff.’

They were passing through Leefdale’s main street on their way back to Luffield. On impulse, as they reached the village pond, she indicated right and turned into a side road. The car travelled a short distance and then she parked opposite a terrace of three whitewashed Victorian cottages.

‘The middle cottage is mine,’ said Sharon. ‘I thought you might like to see it.’

They stared at it together.

‘Honeysuckle Cottage,’ said Dylan. ‘Lovely name.’

‘Yes. But as you can see, no honeysuckle.’

‘Even so, it’s charming. Have you lived there long?’

‘All my life.’

She seemed compelled to keep staring at it. He could tell that just the sight of it gave her pleasure.

‘It was my parents’ house. They’re dead now.’

‘I’m sorry. They must have died quite young.’

‘Yes. They were in their late forties. They were killed in a car crash while they were touring Scotland.’

‘That’s awful. How old were you?’

‘Seventeen. I thought my world had ended.’

They both stared at the cottage in silence.

Dylan said, ‘What does your partner do?’

She turned to him, slowly. ‘I don’t have a partner.’

‘I’m sorry. I got the impression you did.’

‘No. I said I didn’t live alone.’

She gazed back at her house. ‘I love it here,’ she said.

She started the car, executed a three-point turn and returned to the main road leading out of the village.

Now why did she show me that? Dylan wondered.


Sharon and Dylan parted outside Parker and Lund’s. He took her hand and shook it slowly, holding on to it just beyond the point when it should have been released, so that the formality was protracted into something more intimate. ‘Well, goodbye. Thanks for showing me around.’

‘I can hardly claim to have done that!’ she said, quickly extricating her hand from his. ‘Look, if you’d like someone else to view the rectory I’d be glad to show it to them.’

‘How do you mean?’

‘Your wife or partner?’

‘No. Not necessary. I don’t have one of those.’

‘Oh!’ She looked confused.


‘Well, earlier, you said “we”.’

He laughed. ‘I was thinking of my friends. They’re very interested in my next house purchase.’

‘I see.’ She gave him her closing-the-transaction smile. ‘OK. I look forward to receiving your offer.’

‘Right,’ he said. ‘What about my other offer?’

She stared at him blankly.

‘To paint you. Fully clothed, of course.’

She smiled, shook her head and took a step or two back.

Laughing, Dylan pulled on his black leather gloves and mounted the Ariel Red Hunter. He started it up, gave her a wave, and accelerated off.

Well, that gets you to the end of Chapter Two.

If you want to continue reading click Free Preview below.

Thanks for visiting my blog today and hope you’re having a great weekend. 🙂

News of a FREE Kindle ebook

The likelihood of you finding “Magnificent Britain” by Michael Murray from a random search of the Kindle Store isn’t great. So I’ve written this post to help you because “Magnificent Britain”  will be FREE to download from June 25 – 29 (incl.) and I don’t want you to miss it!

“Magnificent Britain” was the first ebook Michael (my husband) and I self-published with Kindle Direct and that was back in 2012 at the start of the ebook publishing revolution.

“Magnificent Britain” is a long novel which is ideal if you’re going on holiday and want something to immerse yourself in while you’re soaking up the sun. It’s a very readable novel but it’s not easy-reading. The themes are complex and challenging and the main protagonists are not the nicest people you’ve ever met.

If you look at the reviews you’ll see that some readers love “Magnificent Britain” and others really don’t! Here are a few comments from readers who enjoyed the book.

review 3




review 2

Why don’t you take advantage of the free offer from June 25 – 29 to try the novel for yourself? The Buy on Amazon button below will take you straight to the “Magnificent Britain” book page from which you can download your free copy. And if you do, I hope you enjoy the novel.

(If you don’t have a Kindle there are free apps for phone, tablet, laptop etc which work just as well. Click this link for more details.)

Thanks for visiting my blog and hope you have a great day.

All best wishes,

Cathy Murray


Sunday Serial #5

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.’


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


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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