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A soft glow permeated onto the cobblestone streets from The Rose and Crown. There were about a dozen patrons inside who most likely had decided that enjoying another pint of ale was far more worthy than going home in the middle of an onslaught of a rainstorm.
The Rose and Crown stood in the center of Bourton-on-the-Water, as it had since the 1600’s. It’s existence had always been a welcoming Coaching Inn for weary travelers throughout the decades. Eventually, with several additions made in the 1700’s and 1800’s, this once small establishment became a well-known Pub and Inn in the Cotswolds, especially favored by the locals. One thing that had never changed about The Rose and Crown was it’s original character. The main part of the building where you entered still featured it’s ten foot tall stone fireplace. The history of the fireplace began with a threat from the original owner’s new wife to leave her husband if he did not add a better heating source to the dreary, cold building. So, he did. Not only did he build a larger fireplace, he carved the date 1687 on one end of the massive mantel and a rose and a crown on the other end. The wife bore her husband thirteen children, so one could only assume that not only did the fireplace perform its required heating duties, but she also made the decision to stay.
Kate stood just inside the entry of the pub, soaked to the bone and dripping wet. Her Kate Spade heels were completely ruined. Drats, she thought as she looked down at the small puddle she was creating on the wood floors. They were her favorite shoes. It is quite expected that after almost 20 hours of traveling, one’s looks would become a bit unkempt. Completely disheveled is not how a lady would want her appearance described at any time. Yet, here stood Katherine Parker, with at least fourteen pairs of eyes gazing upon her at the same time, in all her tousled and waterlogged glory.
An older woman with a slightly soiled white apron approached her immediately. “Oh Mum, did you hike here from London in this cow quaker?” she asked, with worry upon her face. The woman started peeling Kate’s coat off of her drenched body as uncontrollable shivers began to set in.
“Not from London, exactly,” Kate replied, her teeth chattering, “but it feels like it. I’m so sorry I am getting water everywhere.”
“Pay you no mind to that, mum. Let’s get you o’er here by this warm fire,” she encouraged while directing Kate towards a small, wooden table located closest to the fireplace. “My Jasper will fix you a drink that will warm you up in no time atoll. You sit yourself right here, mum. I’m gonna go in and get you a warm bowl of my ham and pea soup,” she chattered away.
“Oh…I’m not really hungry, ma’am. If I could just get some hot tea…”
“Tea? In those wet clothes? Mum, you’ll catch yer death if you don’t get your innards warmed up. Trust me, you’ll get a bad case of the collywobbles and more being out in that rainstorm.” The kindly, older woman hurried away towards the back of the room, but not before she leaned over and spoke to a gray-haired gentleman standing behind the bar. Kate could only assume, to her regret, that she had ordered her one of the largest ale’s they had on tap. And what exactly was the “collywobbles?” she thought.
In no time and to Kate’s relief, the gentleman carried what appeared to be an Irish Coffee on a tray and sat it down in front of her on a cardboard coaster imprinted with the Rose and Crown emblem. “You’re surely passing through these parts on a miserable night, mum,” he said while placing the welcoming drink in front of Kate.
She immediately reached for it and took a long sip. “Actually, I just arrived in town and will be staying here for a few months at least.”
“Months you say? American?” he inquired.
“Yes, from South Carolina. I just flew in this afternoon.”
“How did you get caught up in this storm?” he eyed her. “It looks like you swam here from South Carolina,” he smiled. Kate smiled back, looking down at her once creased wool pants.
“I guess it does,” she laughed. “Hey, you wouldn’t know anyone by the name of Mortimer Alfredson would you?” she asked.
“Alfredson? You got business with ole’ Alfredson?” he asked inquisitively.
“Yes, he was supposed to have left me a key to the cottage I am renting.” She pulled out the old skeleton key from her purse and held it up. “The key didn’t work and I found myself rather homeless.”
“So you’re the gal renting the River Cottage, huh?” he asked.
“River Cottage? I’m not sure what its called but the address is 10 Victoria Street. Is that the River Cottage?” she asked expectedly.
“Yes, mum, that’s the one. Alfredson said he was meeting you tonight. All of Bourton is in a tither about an American living amongst us.”
“Oh? A tither? I don’t think I’ve ever set a whole town in a tither,” she joked. “I hope I don’t disappoint. Would you know any way I could contact him tonight?” she asked hopefully. “Maybe he has the right key and can bring it to me here.”
“Mum, I would not be betting on Alfredson meeting you anywhere tonight,” he said glancing toward the back of the pub. “My guessing is he may be, shall we say, out for the night.”
Kate followed the line of the older gentleman’s glance. Slumped into a booth upholstered in worn, red leather was a rather scraggly man with an unkempt beard. Sitting in front of him on the table were three empty, ale glasses. “That is Mr. Alfredson?” she asked, looking at the man who appeared about ready to topple over at any time. “Well then, I guess that would explain a lot of things. Like why he didn’t answer his phone when I tried to reach him earlier.”
“Alfredson is harmless, mum. Some nights he just has one pint too many is all. He never meant to leave you stranded, I’m sure,” he said trying to apologize for his patron.
Kate smiled softly, looking back at the now softly snoring man who had left her stranded on a cottage stoop and was the cause of the total ruination of her favorite Kate Spade’s. How could she be angry at this stranger who looked so forlorn and harmless. “I believe you. I’m sure it was a simple mistake and he left me the wrong key. No harm done, right?” she proclaimed, followed by a series of three, fast sneezes. “Oh dear me, excuse me.”
The older woman came scurrying into the room carrying a tray with a large crockery of soup and a basket of warm, crusty bread. “Oh Mum, that doesn’t bode well. You get this here soup into you as soon as possible. Jasper, how about another one of your magic coffee’s.”
Kate glanced up at the kindly woman. “Magic coffee?” she asked confused.
“Oh, yes, mum. It’s known far and wide for its healing benefits. You trust me, between this ham and split pea soup and my Jasper’s magic coffee, you’ll be fresh as a marigold come morning.”
Kate could not help but feel happy and secure in this ancient pub surrounded by strangers. The fire was doing its trick, and her body was no longer wracked with almost uncontrollable shivers. The pea soup was divine and she even indulged in an extra slice of crusty bread. Tonight was not a night for counting calories. Kate wasn’t sure if the magical coffee was doing the trick, or if it was the loving care of the affectionate, older woman but either way – it was the comforting factor she needed right now. Kate sighed, feeling the edge of tension which she had felt since she boarded the plane in Atlanta finally leave her body. There was still the question of where she would sleep tonight, though. The old, wooden chair she was sitting in was comfy but not exactly suitable for a good night’s sleep.
“This soup is wonderful, Mrs…?”
“Mrs. Davies, but you call me Imogen. And there is more soup where that came from and it looks like you could stand another bowl or two,” she proclaimed motherly while eyeing Kate’s physique.
“Imogen, I am quite full, thank you, and my name is Katherine. People call me Kate. Um…do you by chance have any rooms available tonight?” Kate glanced over at Mr. Alfredson, who had shifted into a half-sitting and half-leaning position in his booth. “I seem to have been given the wrong key to my cottage and find myself in need of a room.”
“Mum, you wipe the worry off that pretty, little brow of yours. Of course, we have a room available. Lucky for you it’s not the booming Summer months or you might not be so fortunate. I will make sure a small fire gets lit for you. There’s a large tub so I am sure you’ll be wanting a bath?”
“Oh Imogen, I could not ask for anything more. Yes! A bath would be quite divine. You have been so kind to me and I can’t thank you enough.”
Imogen stared at Kate, a look of concern on her face. “Mum, you here alone? Did I hear you tell my Jasper you are staying here for a few months? What brings a pretty lady like yourself to come to England all alone?”
“I’m a writer, Imogen. I write romance novels,” Kate offered.
“Romance novels? You?” Imogen acted surprised.
“Yes, me,” Kate laughed. “Do I not look the part of a romance writer?” she smiled.
“Well, I am not sure exactly what a romance writer looks like, Mum,” she thought pensively. “Now that I think about it, you’re the first one of the sort I have ever met. Are you famous?”
Kate wanted more than anything else to keep her identity, as much as she could, a secret. She wasn’t quite ready to let Imogen or anyone know she was indeed, a well known writer. “Just a book or two under my belt. Maybe I can let you borrow one of them to read one day.”
Imogen laughed, earthy and loud. “Me, mum? Read a romance novel? I don’t have that kind of time on me hands. I’m too old for any romance.”
“Old? You’re never too old for romance in your life. Everyone needs to indulge in a love story every once in a while,” Kate winked.
Imogen laughed again. “Well, maybe one day I will take you up on it. But for now, I have your room to prepare, otherwise you’re going to be sleeping in a drafty, cold room and think you’ve landed yourself at Sudely Castle.”
“Oh dear, I have been to Sudely Castle. I don’t remember there being many walls still standing, much less any available rooms,” Kate joked. Sudely Castle was indeed a castle ruins located not far from Bourton-on-the-Water. “I think I would much rather stay here at the Rose and Crown. May I come up and help you? It’s late and I am sorry to burden you this time of night.”
“Mum, you are no burden to me at all. You just finish your soup and come on up to Room Sixteen on the third floor. Jasper will give you your key when you’re ready. There’s a robe and slippers waiting for you, and you just make yourself at home. It’s nice meeting you, Mum.”
“Thank you, Imogen, you’re a lifesaver,” Kate replied. She felt the strong urge to hug this strange women who had entered her life, but knew that would seem very odd and perhaps awkward to someone she barely knew. Imogen had warmly greeted her with nothing but kindness from the moment Kate had shown up dripping wet on the pub’s stoop.
Kate pulled out her phone. She sent a quick text to both Jillian and David Michael, letting them know she had arrived safely and was enjoying a wonderful bowl of pea soup. She assured them she would call them tomorrow. Kate had to get used to the time change and six hour difference. Another quick text to Harriet, her Editor, and she was ready to go upstairs for the night. She finished off the last of her “magic coffee” and walked to the long bar where Jasper was wiping down the counter. Only a few of the original patrons still remained. Mr. Alfredson had barely made any movement accept to adjust his long, slim body further into the booth where he slept off the effects of too many pints. “Mr. Davies, Imogen said you would have a key for me. I think I will retire, can you please add tonight’s dinner and drinks to my room tab, please? I’m Kate, by the way,” she held out her hand.
Jasper shook her hand. “Nice to meet you, mum. I will speak to Alfredson in the morning and we will get all of this sorted out. You look like you could use some sleep. My Imogen will take care of you don’t you worry atoll.”
Kate smiled at Jasper. “She already has,” she replied before turning to walk away. Kate stopped suddenly and turned back to Jasper, and placed her own hand upon his larger one. “Thank you for your magic coffee. I don’t know what is in it, but it indeed worked it’s magic,” she winked.
Jasper smiled broadly, almost embarrassed and continuing wiping down the counters. “Anytime, Mum. Now off you go.”
Kate headed up the narrow, creaking staircase which led up to the guest rooms. Each wooden step creaked out its own ancient song as she climbed towards the second floor. There was no creeping up these steps silently in the middle of the night, Kate thought amusingly. The walls of the Inn were a mixture of white painted plaster and original beams in Tudor style. Antique framed prints and paintings featuring beautiful English landscapes covered the walls, along with wrought-iron sconces which cast a soft light down the hallway. Kate worked her way around the narrow hallways, and eventually came to Room Sixteen. This time, the skeleton key slid into the lock and easily turned. Kate felt her breath release as the lock clicked open. It wasn’t as if her luck with keys and locks had been that great tonight. She walked into the room, and her heart slightly melted. A huge four-poster canopy bed with a white, down comforter greeted her. The room wasn’t huge by American standards, but for a smaller Inn it was fair size. There was an upholstered bench at the foot of the bed, covered in a rose embellished fabric. A small antique vanity sat across from the bed and on top was a welcoming tray with a wood box filled with assorted teas, a tea kettle, several tea cups and a small plate of assorted English biscuits. Two leaded, glass windows graced the front wall which afforded a view of the River Windrush below. A pair of very comfortable-looking chairs, upholstered in the same rose embellished fabric, sat near the windows. Quaint was the first word that came to Kate’s mind, followed by cozy, welcoming and perfect! Imogen had turned on two small lamps, and as promised the tiny fireplace in the corner of the room was lit with a warm fire. Kate peered through an open door into the bathroom and her eyes immediately went to the tub which she could not wait to sink into.
One of the many reasons Kate loved English Inns were the towel warming bars. Plush, white towels were at the ready and Kate could hardly wait to sink into the beautiful clawfoot tub as soon as she could peel out of her still damp clothes.
She walked to the bedroom window and pushed aside the lace panel. The rain was still falling though nowhere near the pace it was when she arrived. “Welcome home, Kate,” she said aloud, followed by three consecutive and quick sneezes.