Sunday Serial #9

Leefdale

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.

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 #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.

‘What?’

‘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.

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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.’

Continue reading with the free preview (link below).

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.’

Can’t wait for the next instalment? 

Continue reading with this free previewer ….

 

Sunday Serial #3

scenery

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

If you missed the earlier posts click here for part one and here for part two.

Now read on ….

‘Well, here we are,’ said Sharon.

As they drove into Leefdale, Dylan was struck by the village’s all-pervading atmosphere of peace. He knew instinctively that the inhabitants respected tradition and continuity, yet despite having a strong attachment to the past they were not entirely resistant to change. This was evident from the eclectic pageant of charming dwellings that lined Leefdale’s main street: Elizabethan timber frame buildings stood cheek by jowl with imperiously symmetrical Georgian houses; converted seventeenth century barns were neighbours to respectable Victorian villas. Yet the occasional presence of modern cottages built in the vernacular style suggested that, even here, in this most conservative of communities, some modest degree of innovation was accepted.

Although he was cautioning himself to be detached and objective, Dylan couldn’t help but be seduced. Leefdale was so picturesque: the quintessential image of an English village in bloom that is carried nostalgically in the heart of every English exile. It seemed that the front garden of each house, no matter how small, burgeoned with leafy shrubs and masses of flowers in all the glorious colours of April; climbing plants colonised all available walls, their advancing green tendrils complementing perfectly the bricks, chalk and other materials to which they clung; the roadside verges trembled with white, gold and purple crocuses, petals agape and open to the sun like the hungry mouths of young fledglings; and there were yellow daffodils and creamy narcissi too, nodding in the gentle breeze. Spring had startled itself out of the earth and dressed in its many hues was delighting in its own existence, promising hope and renewal. The artist in Dylan was deeply moved.

‘It’s lovely,’ he said.

‘You should see it in summer.’

In some of the front gardens keen gardeners were already at work, scrupulously maintaining that high standard of horticultural perfection which seemed to characterise most of the village. What Dylan couldn’t know, of course, was that some villagers thought there was something rather sinister about the way their neighbours pursued this pleasant outdoor pastime with such competitive industry, uncompromising will and obsessive perfectionism.

‘Beautiful, isn’t it?’ said Sharon, sounding almost proprietorial.

‘Superb!’

‘It’s won the prize for best kept village four years running.’

‘Best kept village in Yorkshire?’

‘No. In the whole country!’

‘So that’s why they’re all so hard at it. I thought we’d blundered into a recording of Gardening Club.’

****

Despite his wife’s objections, indeed, precisely because of them, Major Roberts was now on his hands and knees vigorously weeding The Old Rectory’s borders, flinging the weeds angrily into the wheelbarrow at his side.

The tyres of Sharon’s Passat crunching over the white gravel of the Corbridge’s extensive drive halted Howard in his labours. Somewhat shakily, he got to his feet and stared at the vehicle with a look of pleasurable recognition.

The car stopped close to the house and Sharon and Dylan got out. Sharon gave Howard a smile and a quick wave. She then joined Dylan who was taking in the rectory’s impressive Georgian frontage. Howard watched as she gave Dylan information about the exterior. At one stage she became quite animated and pointed out the date above the spider’s web fanlight: 1780.

Sharon touched Dylan lightly on the arm. She said something to him and then, with a gesture, indicated Howard. Together, they set off across the lawn towards him.

With a good deal of displeasure, Howard assumed that the young man accompanying Sharon had come to view the house. This was not good news. Hopefully he would find it unsuitable. Howard had always regarded young men who wore tight black leather as profoundly suspicious; but he was courtesy itself when he wished them both good morning.

‘Hello, Howard,’ said Sharon. She turned to Dylan. ‘This is Major Howard Roberts.’

‘Dylan Bourne!’ Dylan offered his hand to the Major and was surprised by the limpness of the hand that gripped his in return. ‘You’re a soldier?’

‘Retired,’ said Howard. He quickly changed the drift. ‘Here for a look round?’

‘Yes.’

‘Well you won’t do better than this. It’s a magnificent property. Finest in the village!’

‘Are you the gardener?’

Sharon laughed loudly. Just long enough for Howard to convert his affrontedness into jovial good humour.

‘Good heavens, no! I’m just keeping everything neat and trim. I promised Bruce, that’s the owner, I’d look after the gardens for him until the place was sold.’

‘I see,’ said Dylan. ‘Sorry.’

‘The Major’s chairman of the Magnificent Britain Sub-Committee,’ said Sharon.

Dylan looked bewildered. ‘Magnificent Britain?’

‘The best village contest.’

‘Ah, yes,’ said Dylan. ‘I hear Leefdale’s won first prize four times.’

‘That’s right,’ said Howard. ‘All down to this place, of course.’

‘You shouldn’t overlook everyone else’s modest contribution,’ said Sharon.

Dylan thought she sounded a little miffed.

‘I don’t,’ said Howard. Realising he’d been tactless, his hand lightly touched her arm. ‘And I would never overlook your contribution, my dear. But you’ve got to admit that the gardens of this house are the jewel in the crown.’

Dylan turned and surveyed the lawn. ‘It’s certainly very well kept. Certainly… um… very tidy.’

‘That’s because the Major’s a fantastic gardener,’ gushed Sharon.

‘Not at all,’ said Howard. ‘It was Bruce who transformed the place. Spent a lot of money on it.’ He fixed Dylan with a searching glance. ‘You keen on gardening?’

Dylan grinned. ‘No, my flat in London doesn’t even have a window box.’

The Major looked concerned. ‘You’d be taking on a lot here. There’s an even bigger rear garden.’

Dylan shrugged, non-committedly.

‘From London, are you?’

Dylan nodded.

There was a long pause. Howard, who believed strongly in first impressions, was finding Dylan intensely irritating. The Major had an aversion to blonde, slack jawed young men who, in his experience, invariably turned out to be mummy’s boys. And what kind of a name was Dylan for Christ’s sake? Welsh background, was it? Named after the poet?

Fortunately, he didn’t seem to have a wife or family in tow: and he looked in his very early thirties, so hopefully wasn’t old enough to have teenage children.

Howard nodded towards The Old Rectory. ‘It’s a very big house you know. Got seven bedrooms.’

Sensing that he was being probed, Dylan became guarded. He saw no need to divulge any more than was necessary. ‘I know. I like a lot of space.’

Now that’s ominous, Howard thought.

‘Mr Bourne’s an artist,’ Sharon explained, and immediately shot Dylan an apologetic look. ‘Sorry, I hope that wasn’t confidential.’

‘Not at all,’ said Dylan, wondering if he’d given too much away.

Howard said, ‘An artist? Really? I like Constable and Joshua Reynolds. And, of course, military art. I’ve got a couple of good prints of “The Death of Nelson” and “The Death of General Wolfe”. Do you do that sort of thing?’

‘No. I paint abstracts.’

‘Ah.’

Major Roberts seemed at a loss. He pointed towards Rooks Nest. ‘That’s my house over there. Finest rose garden in the village, even if I’m the only one who thinks so.’

Sharon touched him on the arm. ‘Now you know everyone agrees with you. Stop fishing.’

The Major grinned back at her urbanely.

‘Well, time’s getting on,’ said Sharon. She looked to Dylan. ‘I’d better show you around.’

‘And I must get back to my weeds.’

‘See you later, Howard.’

Dylan gave Howard a nod, and then he and Sharon walked off towards the house.

The Major stared long at their retreating backs, his greying moustache accentuating his disappointed moué. ‘Oh dear! I don’t think you’ll do! I don’t think you’ll do at all!’

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Sunday Serial #2

lawn mower

Last week I started the serialisation of “Leefdale” by Michael Murray.

If you missed the first instalment you can find it here.

Now read on……..

THE LEEFLET
The Newsletter of The Leefdale Parish Council
April 2001
Pages 3-4
In the Garden with “The Major”

I was chatting to one of our new neighbours the other day, when he said, “Come on, Major. You’ve gardened in this chalky soil around here long enough to know a thing or two. Tell me, which shrubs do best in it?”

I made one or two suggestions and then we moved on to other topics. But his question set me thinking. Over the past twelve months we’ve welcomed several new residents to our little community here in Leefdale. (And standards of horticulture have certainly not declined as a consequence, let me say that at once!) But if we are to surpass ourselves yet again and win the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for an unprecedented fifth year running, then it is essential that all newcomers should be made aware of the plants that really thrive in our chalk soil; particularly those which are at their best in late July when the Magnificent Britain contest is judged.

Roses are an obvious example. Of course, people say that roses do not like alkaline soils, especially chalk. But I say not so! I have found that if the ground is properly prepared with plenty of humous and the plants are carefully nurtured, there are many roses that will grow well in chalk. If anyone is in doubt, take a look at my own front garden.

By contrast, Buddleia Davidii requires no attention at all, save some hard autumnal pruning, and is happiest in well drained soils, which, of course, makes it ideal for chalk. An added bonus of the buddleia is its attractiveness to butterflies. Indeed, colloquially speaking, it is known as the butterfly bush.

Another shrub which is irresistible to insects is Lavatera Olbia. It will grow up to five feet high in a single season and displays its deep pink flowers month after month. Lavatera is found in abundance in the gardens of our lovely village and bees love it.

Hypericum Hidcote (St John’s Wort) also adapts well to our soil and from July to October never fails to delight us with its large, golden flowers. Try too Abelia Grandiflora which eventually reaches six feet high and also flowers in July.

Other suggestions for plants that succeed well on chalk: Spiraea Anthony Waterer and Cistus Silver Pink. Finally, don’t forget lavender, one of our most popular shrubs — my own favourite — is Lavandula Hidcote.

Of course, there are some plants, just like some people, who never thrive when planted here and never become established. It is often stoutly maintained that one such species is the hydrangea. Certainly, it is very hard to grow certain hydrangeas on chalk and high pH soils but with nurturing and perseverance it can be done. (A moral there, I think!)

Well, happy planting everyone. Next month I shall be suggesting suitable climbing plants.
The Major.
(Howard Roberts)

****

Howard was on the ride-on mower cutting remarkably straight stripes in The Old Rectory’s front lawn. He looked up, his eye arrested by a movement opposite in the drive of his own house, Rooks Nest. Isobel was passing through the front gate and was carrying a large mug of something that he assumed must be tea. She crossed Church Lane, which separated the two houses, and strode towards him across the rectory’s lawn. Howard continued on until he’d completed the stripe then cut the mower’s engine. He stayed sitting on the machine watching her approach, all the while noting the pinched, anxious look she’d acquired of late.

She handed him the mug. He was pleased to see that it did, in fact, contain tea.

‘Thanks.’

Isobel nodded at the ground. ‘Finished?’

‘Not quite. I need to dig out those borders.’

‘What on earth for?’

‘Because I want to!’

‘Oh, for heaven’s sake!’

‘It won’t take a moment.’

‘Can’t you leave the bloody place alone for a minute?’

‘It can’t be neglected. Particularly with the competition coming up.’

‘Oh yes. The competition!’

He raked a hand through his greying, sandy coloured hair. ‘What’s wrong now?’

‘Nothing. Absolutely nothing!’ She started to go then turned back. ‘If you’re not ready in half an hour I’m leaving without you. This is so unfair. You know how I hate to be late. You’re such a selfish bastard!’

He watched her retreating back and felt a profound despair. Recently it seemed every small difference of opinion between them was inflated by her into a major incident.

Every conversation became an engagement with the enemy. For heaven’s sake, where had her kindness gone? She’d once had such immense capacity for kindness. It was kindness, more than anything, he needed now.

He switched on the mower and began cutting the next stripe.

****

Sharon had no appointments that morning so it was convenient for her to take the motorcyclist, whose name she’d now learnt was Dylan Bourne, to view The Old Rectory.

They left Parker and Lund’s office together and stood next to Dylan’s motorcycle. It had a distinctive red petrol tank and no passenger seat. Even Sharon, who knew nothing about motorbikes, could see that it was something special.

‘That’s an unusual bike,’ she said.

‘Yes. It’s an Ariel Red Hunter.’

‘It looks old.’

‘It was built in 1939.’

‘Really?’

‘Yes.’

Her shrewd hazel eyes seemed to be inviting an explanation.

‘I’ve a passion for collecting antique bikes. I’ve inherited it from my father.’

‘You inherited the bike from your dad?’

He held her eyes in a long, penetrating look. ‘No, not the bike, my passion.’

Sharon blushed.

Dylan eased himself astride the Ariel. ‘Sorry I can’t offer you a lift to Leefdale but as you can see it’s only built for one.’

‘That’s all right. I hate motor bikes anyway.’

‘Why?’

‘I don’t know. I always have.’

His gaze became slightly solicitous. ‘You know, sometimes, if you draw a picture of the thing you’re afraid of it can make it less terrifying.’

Oh God, she thought. How disappointing. He’s one of those.

Dylan wondered how old she was. Twenty seven? Twenty eight?

‘Leefdale’s about ten miles away,’ said Sharon, slightly unnerved by his stare. ‘Directions to the property are in the details. Or you can follow me, but I must warn you, I don’t do more than fifty.’

‘That’s OK.’

‘All right, let’s go.’

Dylan hesitated. The Ariel Red Hunter suddenly seemed a poor consolation for the loss of Sharon’s presence.

‘Hang on,’ he said, smoothly sliding off the bike. ‘On second thoughts I’ll go with you.’

Now why’s he done that? Sharon wondered.

‘You can fill me in on the property as we go along,’ he said, removing his crash helmet.

****

‘Presumably you’re not a first-time buyer,’ said Sharon.

Dylan stole a discreet glance at her knees as she changed up to fifth. They had left

Luffield well behind now and the road was running between the green slopes of a secluded valley dotted with sheep.

‘No. I’m not a first-time buyer.’

‘We have our own mortgage advisor back at the office. Would you like a word with her afterwards?’

‘It’s not necessary, I’ll be paying cash.’

‘I see.’

Dylan had the impression that Sharon was looking at him approvingly; and so she was: she was working out her commission. The new dining room suite was becoming a feasibility.

Her eyes returned to the road. ‘So there’s no chain?’ she said, mentally listing all the other £500,000 plus properties on Parker and Lund’s books she could recommend should The Old Rectory fail to interest him.

‘Chain? No.’

‘Have you just sold a property?’

‘No, I’m renting at the moment.’

She slowed for a cattle grid. Strange. He hadn’t sold anything and didn’t need a mortgage so where had he got £500,000? ‘I see. Are you looking for a second home or are you intending to re-locate?’

‘At the moment I live in London but I thought the country might be a pleasanter place to work. I’m an artist.’

An artist! Sharon, whose brain had been made dizzy with speculations about the source of his income, was re-assured. So that’s why he’d suggested she should draw pictures of motorbikes!

‘Well, you’re in luck. We have lots of excellent rural properties.’

‘So I saw. But I’m hoping The Old Rectory will be OK.’

‘It’s certainly a beautiful house.’

The next question was obvious. But Sharon had never been deterred by the obvious.

‘You said you’re an artist. Are you famous?’

Dylan laughed and looked thoughtful. ‘If I were, you wouldn’t have to ask.’

She affected a faux cringe. ‘Sorry, I’m completely ignorant about Art. I’ve heard of Van Gogh and Picasso, of course. What I mean is, are you well known in the art world?’

‘I have a certain reputation.’

‘What sort of things do you paint?’

‘All sorts.’

‘Oh. Do you do modern art?’

‘That description’s as good as any.’

‘Do you throw paint around and that sort of thing? Chuck a load of junk together and call it something?’

‘Neither, I hope. Ever heard of a painter called Mondrian?’

‘No.’

‘Some of my work is a bit like his.’

‘Oh.’
PARKER AND LUND

THE OLD RECTORY, CHURCH LANE, LEEFDALE, EAST YORKSHIRE

A magnificent Grade II listed property built in 1780, lovingly restored, full of character and charm, yet offering all the benefits associated with modern day living and set in the lovely village of Leefdale, in the heart of the Yorkshire Wolds. The coastal towns of Sandleton and Scarborough are less than twenty miles distant. The cities of York and Hull are easily commutable.

The property offers an oil central heating system and accommodation comprising entrance hall, drawing room, dining room, study, sitting room, shower room, dining-kitchen, utility room, cellar, conservatory, seven bedrooms and a bathroom/wc.
The property has extensive gardens to the front and rear occupying an area of approximately one and a half acres.

OFFERS IN THE REGION OF £500,000

DIRECTIONS
From Luffield follow the Malton road for approximately eight miles then turn left onto the single track, passing place road towards Oxenholme for approximately two miles. On your left you will see a sign for Leefdale. Follow the road for another half a mile and you will come to the village. As you enter Leefdale, take the first right into Church Lane. The Old Rectory is set back from the road on the left.

EXTERNALLY
The property offers a wide road frontage to Church Lane, enjoying a slightly elevated location close to the village church. The property is fronted by a north facing garden area of approximately half an acre which is extensively lawned, hedged with privet and contains a number of mature shrubs and trees. There is a front boundary wall together with a gated drive access. Contained within this front garden area is the brick and tile garaging 27′ 3″ x 14′ 6″ with optional remote controlled electric garage door, two exposed roof trusses and with power supply connected. In addition, there is convenient parking in the gravelled courtyard area adjacent to the main front door.

To the rear of the property is a south facing garden area of approximately one acre, extensively laid to lawn. The rear boundary is hedged with privet and there are a number of mature shrubs and trees including flowering cherries, plum trees, apple trees, ash, silver birch and willows. The superb gardens which have been lovingly tended by the present owners have helped Leefdale secure first prize for four consecutive years in the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition.

ACCOMMODATION
All measurements are approximate.
ENTRANCE HALL
Staircase to the first floor accommodation with under stairs storage cupboard. Parquet flooring, radiator and doors leading into:
DRAWING ROOM
23′ 4″ x 21′ 6″ max
Open fire period fireplace with basket grate set within a Palladian style marble fire surround, parquet flooring, wooden panelling, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators, windows to the front elevation.
DINING ROOM
23′ 4″ x 21′ 6″ max
Open fire period fireplace with basket grate set within a Palladian style marble fire surround, fitted shelving to recess, dado rail, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators, windows to the front elevation.
SITTING ROOM
21′ 6″ x 15′ max
Open fire set within an Adam style wooden fire surround, wooden panelling, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, two radiators. Window to side elevation.
STUDY
16′ 6″ x 15′ max
Open fire set within an Adam style wooden fire surround, moulded ceiling with centre ceiling rose and cornice frieze, single radiator. Window to side elevation. Built in bookcases.
DINING-KITCHEN
39′ 6″ x 15′ 3″
This spacious kitchen is partially tiled and fitted with a range of solid wood wall and base units incorporating drawers, wine rack and preparation surfaces. Inset sink unit, tiled splash backs, integrated dishwasher. Aga with tiled surround, tiled flooring and window to the rear elevation. Doors giving access to the shower room, utility room and conservatory.
SHOWER ROOM
Comprising shower cubicle, housing Mira power shower, pedestal wash basin, bidet,
w/c, extractor fan, radiator, tiled flooring and window to the side elevation.
UTILITY ROOM
The partially tiled utility is fitted with a range of solid wood wall and base units incorporating drawers and work surfaces and plumbed for an automatic washing machine. Belfast sink, tiled flooring and window to the rear elevation. Grandee central heating boiler. A trap door is set into the floor giving access to the cellar.
CELLAR 21′ 6″ x 12′ 7″
Tiled throughout and fitted with a range of built-in storage units.
CONSERVATORY
20′ 2″ x 15′ 5″
Radiator, tiled flooring and double doors giving access to the rear garden.
LANDING
Split level landing with staircase to the second floor, airing cupboard containing cylinder immersion heater, radiator, windows to the front and rear elevation and doors off passage leading into
MASTER BEDROOM
20′ 6″ x 20′ max
Built in wardrobe, built in cupboard providing storage, radiator, windows to the front elevation.

Dylan’s eyes glazed over at the prospect of reading the description of the six remaining bedrooms. He folded the property details, placed them on his lap and turned his attention to Sharon’s lovely presence beside him. Much more diverting.

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Sunday Serial #1

I’ve included a couple of posts about “Leefdale” by Michael Murray on my blog.

Leefdale #Kindle #KindleUnlimited

How shall we find the concord of this discord?

Following a well established nineteenth century tradition, I’m planning to serialise some of the novel.

Here’s the first instalment.

LEEFDALE by Michael Murray

How shall we find the concord of this discord?

PART ONE
Tuesday 10th April 2001 to Monday 16th July 2001

CHAPTER ONE

Whenever Major Howard Roberts was depressed, which was quite often, he would go up to his study and stand at the window looking out. His gaze would take in his extensive front garden and the road beyond it, and finally fix on the house opposite which directly faced his own. This was The Old Rectory. At times of great remorse, of which he’d known many, Major Roberts would stare intently at this Georgian residence until its sublime symmetry, its soothing expanse of Virginia Creeper and the perfection of its front lawn had emptied his mind of all destructive thoughts and self-recriminations. Only then, comforted by The Old Rectory’s soothing presence, could he obtain some temporary relief from his despair.

Today, Howard was once again at his study window, staring out. Yet, he was far from depressed and for once the exquisite building opposite wasn’t being used to exorcise his demons. He was in an unusually buoyant mood because on his word processor lay the fruits of his morning’s labours: the gardening column for April’s edition of The Leeflet. The column had taken him more than three hours to complete and had involved several re-writes. Now, after a sustained period of intense concentration he was taking a well-earned break.

The Leeflet was a monthly newsletter produced for the four hundred or so inhabitants of Leefdale, the exquisite East Yorkshire village in which Howard lived and was chairman of the parish council. He’d established The Leeflet shortly after he’d been elected chairman and its purpose was to disseminate information and improve communications between the parish council and the villagers. However, some unkind people who frequented Leefdale’s only pub, The Woldsman, had been heard to remark that The Leeflet was the means by which “that bloody Major” could tell everybody in Leefdale what to do and what to think.

These days, Howard’s pleasure in his contemplation of The Old Rectory was greatly enhanced by the knowledge that his own labours were helping to maintain its splendid appearance. When Bruce and Ruby Corbridge had put the house on the market before leaving for Capri, they’d entrusted him with the maintenance of its gardens until a purchaser could be found. This had been a shrewd move on their part for no-one was more suited to the task than Howard. The Corbridges knew that as chairman of Leefdale’s Magnificent Britain Sub-Committee he had a vested interest in ensuring that the gardens of The Old Rectory remained consistently at their best. The rectory was the most prestigious house in Leefdale, and, as everyone agreed, was the main reason the village had won the gold medal in the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition for four consecutive years. Thus, with Howard’s assistance, two birds could be killed with one stone: the village’s next gold medal would almost certainly be assured and the Corbridges, despite their absence abroad, could look forward to having their gardens maintained to the highest standard whilst they sought the best market price for their property.

As Howard stood relishing the substantial dwelling opposite, enjoying the mellowing effect of the spring sunshine playing on its ancient bricks, only the estate agent’s vulgar For Sale sign intruded on his rare happiness and prevented it from being total. The ugly wooden object had violated the rectory’s front lawn for several weeks now, reminding Howard of life’s latent uncertainties. He stared at the sign with a familiar sense of regret. Bruce and Ruby Corbridge had been perfect neighbours whose consuming passion, like his own, had been for gardening. Too bad they’d decided to sell up. It was unlikely that the new owners would be anything like as congenial. But whoever they were, it was absolutely essential they were committed to maintaining the perfection of the rectory’s gardens.

As always, the thought of the rectory’s new owners filled him with dread. The house was large enough for a good-sized family but he so hoped there wouldn’t be a lot of teenagers, with all their noise, disturbing his peace and quiet. His greatest wish was that the purchasers should be a retired couple: people of prominence with a great interest in horticulture. People who would be an asset to the village and participate enthusiastically in the Magnificent Britain Gardening Competition. People, in short, like him.

He suddenly frowned as, with some concern, he noted that several blades of grass in the rectory’s front lawn were getting slightly overlong and required immediate attention. Few people would even have noticed; but Howard wasn’t only a lawn expert, he was also a perfectionist. He glanced at his watch. Yes, there was still time to give it a quick mow before he and Isobel drove to York.

Howard went downstairs to the shed in the rear garden where he kept his old gardening clothes. It took him but a few minutes to change into them. He hastened back into the house and was collecting a set of keys from a drawer in the kitchen table when his wife entered from the front sitting room, where she’d been working at her cross-stitch.

‘What are you doing?’ she demanded.

‘The lawn needs a quick cut.’

‘You did it yesterday.’

‘Not ours, the rectory.’

‘The rectory.’ She pursed her lips. ‘It can wait until tomorrow, surely.’

‘No, it can’t.’

‘But we have to set off at twelve-thirty.’

Isobel had been looking forward to the matinee of “The Picture of Dorian Grey” for weeks. She’d a horror of arriving at the theatre after the performance had started and of there being a “fuss”.

‘Don’t worry. There’s plenty of time.’

‘If we’re late I’ll never forgive you!’ she screamed, stomping out of the kitchen.

****

Parker and Lund, the estate agents responsible for erecting the For Sale sign which was the source of so much of Howard’s angst, had a branch in the main street of Luffield, a reassuringly old-fashioned market town some ten miles to the south of Leefdale. The Luffield branch was staffed by three estate agents: Sharon, Tracey and Karen. The desks of these three young women were permanently turned to face the double fronted windows of the estate agency’s premises, and so, when seated, they always had a direct view of Luffield’s main street.

At about the same time that Major Roberts had taken it into his head to mow the rectory’s lawn, estate agent Sharon Makepiece was entering into her computer details of the small mid-terrace cottage she’d valued in Luffield the previous evening. (Two bedrooms – one reception – dining-kitchen – bathroom – separate w/c – small garden to rear). A photograph of this modest dwelling would shortly appear in the “New on the Market” section of Parker and Lund’s window, accompanied by the information that the property would suit first-time buyers.

No matter how busily absorbed they might be, Sharon, Tracey and Karen were always alert to those punters who stopped and took an interest in the properties advertised in the estate agency’s windows. Like fish nosing up to the sides of an aquarium they came: staring at the photographs of the available dwellings with a touching, fish-like vulnerability; for whether they were serious buyers or merely indulging in a spot of wishful thinking, this was where their dreams interfaced with the means of making them come true.

Sharon was aware of the motorcyclist before he’d even approached the window. She saw him pull up at the kerb, watched him remove his crash helmet and took pleasure in the leisurely swing of his long legs as he dismounted from his machine.

He came up to the window and began to scrutinise the advertised properties. Sharon watched him intently. His position indicated that he was interested in their most expensive houses. But he was wearing black motorcycle leathers. No-one in motorcycle leathers had ever asked for the details of a property valued at £500,000 plus.

All three women were now staring at him.

‘He looks fit,’ said Karen, the youngest.

‘It’s David Beckham,’ said Tracey.

They all laughed.

There was certainly a strong resemblance to the footballer. He had the same fine, leonine features and he was tall, six feet two at least.

‘Hang on,’ said Karen, ‘he’s coming in!’

He strode into the shop, stopped, and contemplated each of the three estate agents in turn. He hesitated, unsure which one to approach, and then moved towards Sharon. She had an impression of black, knee high boots, tight fitting motorcycle leathers and a blonde fringe lolling over brilliant blue eyes. She could hear the other girls mentally sighing.

Her hand pulled at the hem of her skirt. It was a reflex action she was hardly aware of, but it didn’t escape the notice of the motorcyclist who was sensitive to such nuances.

‘Can I help you?’

‘The Old Rectory, Leefdale. I’d like the details, please.’

His southern voice was slightly posh and its deep notes continued to resonate long after he’d finished speaking.

Sharon moved away from her desk and quickly crossed to the wall where the A4 sheets of property details were filed. Dylan observed her unexpected height, admired the length of her black-tighted legs and the tangle of dark brown hair tumbling to her shoulders.
She picked up three sheets of stapled A4 and brought them over to him, her knees lifting high, each step a kick to his heart.

She watched as he scanned the property details quickly.

‘The Old Rectory’s empty at the moment. The owners have moved out,’ she said.

His eyes locked with hers.

‘Would you like to see it?’ she said, blinking.

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Leefdale
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