Kate is back!!!! I know it’s been two long weeks since I last shared a chapter (I am so sorry), but jump back with me to the Cotswolds to see what our favorite romance writer is up to now. Here are the previous chapters in case you need to catch up:
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Kate’s second day in England started out earlier than she expected but a very tranquil night of sleep did wonders to soothe the soul. She had fixed herself a soothing cup of Camomile tea when she found an unexpected wooden box filled with an assortment of English teas in the kitchen hutch. Kate was a hot tea lover, but nothing heightened the overall experience quite like steeping tea leaves in a small ironstone teapot and pouring the amber liquid through a silver tea strainer. It was much better than her usual commercial bagged varieties with the tiny paper tag hanging from the side of the cup. Kate loved that the English took full advantage of the simple things in life, like the unhurried process of making a calming cup of tea before retiring for the night.
After a quick shower, Kate decided it was now or never – it was time to get back to the work at hand of writing her book and fulfilling her contractual duties to her publisher. She gathered her computer, notes and reading glasses and juggled them all with her freshly made morning coffee. She set up the tools of her trade on the wood desk beside a sunny window overlooking the small garden just beyond.
It was a fine English morning, and unusually, not a cloud in sight. The hollyhock blossoms were just starting to open with vivid color and she couldn’t wait to gather a small bouquet for the kitchen table. If Kate had her way, the whole cottage would resemble a small florist’s shop rather than a place of abode.
Kate nibbled on some of Imogen’s homemade barberry scones and dabbed on a bit of peach jam, all found nestled under a gingham cloth covered basket which had been delivered. If she kept this up, not only would she not complete her novel but she would easily be twenty pounds heavier, as well. Her iPhone chirped, the signal of an incoming text. Jillian. Kate grabbed the phone and just marveled at the image her daughter had sent her; a cherubic little blue-eyed boy with a toothless grin, his face covered in what appeared to be pureed carrots. A message attached simply said “Good morning, Grandma!” Kate’s heart melted, and for the first time she felt pangs of homesickness. She could smell his precious baby scent just from looking at his adorable little face. She quickly texted back…”Grandma misses her sweet, little man. xoxo” Kate made a mental note to schedule a Skype with them between his naps.
Just as she was about to open her laptop, a soft knock at the door stopped her midway. “Who could that be?” she wondered aloud. She closed the laptop and made her way to the front door, having absolutely no clue who could possibly be visiting her. She only knew Imogen and Jasper and Mr. Alfredson, so it had to be one of them.
“Hello, mum, a good morning to you.” A stoutly woman with salt and pepper hair pulled into a bun stood on Kate’s front stoop, holding a large farmhouse basket wrapped in a cloth. “My name is Emma Alfredson. I’m so happy to make your acquaintance, mum. I was going to give you a ring but decided to pay my respects in person. Mr. Alfredson and Imogen has told me all about you. Oh, dear, you are every bit as lovely as my Imogen claimed.”
Kate was thrilled to meet Mr. Alfredson’s wife. The older woman was an even bubblier version of Imogen. “I am so glad to make your acquaintance, too, Mrs. Alfredson,” she said, holding her hand out to shake the woman’s small but worn hand. “Please, won’t you come in? I could fix you a cup of tea,” she motioned inside.
“Oh, dear, no. I haven’t the time. I am on my way to the market but wanted to drop off this small basket of nosh for you. Mr. Alfredson still feels so daft for the shenanigans with the cottage key. He is a kindly man, mum, so I’m hoping you don’t feel too ill towards him.”
“Oh, Mrs. Alfredson -“ she started.
“No, please, please, call me Emma.”
“Okay, Emma, please call me Kate. Mr. Alfredson has apologized and all is well, please believe me.”
“Well, if that is the case I will leave you these pies and pasties and be on me way. I baked them fresh this morning. I have won several prizes for my pasties,” she said proudly, handing the basket over to Kate. “Just so you know, there is a lovely market in the town of Bibury a short drive over. Some of the finest cheeses and freshest breads you will find around. I go twice a week.”
“Thank you for that information, Emma. I will think about maybe going later today, I have some work to do this morning.”
“Okay, but don’t lolly about, the market is only open until noon, so if you want to have a go you best get a move on,” Emma advised.
“Thanks, Emma, I think maybe I will skip this week. I won’t be doing a lot of cooking so I can visit the local grocery here in town,” she replied. Kate held up the generous basket filled to the brim with an assortment of foods emitting delicious aromas from under the cloth. “And this will keep me quite satisfied for some time.” She peeked under the cloth. “I can’t wait to taste your award-winning goodies, Emma.”
Emma’s cheeks turned slightly pink and her rounded face exploded in a smile. “Oh, mum, on with you. You’re making me blush. Wait until I tell Mr. Alfredson what you said. Please stop by anytime and visit with me and Mr. Alfredson at our cottage. You’re welcome anytime in our home and I make a fine cup of honey-ginger tea.”
“That is so kind of you, Emma. I’ll give you a ring one day.”
“Brilliant! Well, I’m off to market. You have a lovely day, Kate Parker.”
Kate ambled her way back to the kitchen to leave the basket on the table. Between Imogen’s scones and peach jam and Emma’s meat pies and pasties, she would be lucky if twenty pounds was all she packed on. She was tempted to grab a meat pie to nibble on while she worked, but resisted. She would indulge at lunchtime.
Kate sat down and, surprisingly, the words starting flowing forth. She had reviewed the beginnings of the book several times on the flight over to England. She needed to make herself familiar with where she had left off. Kate had been worried that the lapse in time since she had last written would affect her ease at prose. So much had happened since she had completed the last chapter, it was hard to comprehend it all.
She rose and decided to open the window to take advantage of the beautiful morning and took a few moments to languish at the view just outside. Who could possibly have entertained the idea that she would be standing in a Cotswolds Cottage staring out at an overly charming English garden, watching butterflies dancing around such a lush botanical fare.
About the time she was attempting to settle back down once again, the pounding of the front door knocker interrupted her thoughts.
Kate looked towards the front of the cottage in astonishment. She didn’t get this many visitors at her own home back in Charleston. How could a new stranger in town possibly be this popular when she barely knew a soul? Kate opened the door to a broadly smiling older gentleman wearing a tweed jacket, matching vest and a smart-looking bowler hat. He held a small bouquet of what appeared to be freshly picked yellow tea roses.
As the door opened he very mannerly removed his hat, revealing a somewhat balding head. “Hello, would you be Mrs. Parker?”
“Yes, I am Mrs. Parker, may I help you?”
The gentleman gallantly presented the small bouquet of flowers to Kate with a slight bow. “My name is Lord Mayor Martin Coates Bittlewire, Mayor of Bourton-on-the-Water” he offered, raising his smaller stature with all the dignity he could muster. “I am honored to make the acquaintance of a world-renowned author.”
“Mayor Bittlewire, um…it’s an honor to meet you, as well. Is there something I can help you with?” she asked confused.
“Help me? Oh, dear no, I just thought it was my duty as Lord Mayor to officially welcome you to our esteemed little town and offer you felicitations from the great citizens of Bourton-on-Water. I don’t believe we have ever had the honor of such a respected and highly decorous member of the literary world reside here.”
“Mayor Bittlewire, I am not really an esteemed author in the literary world, but I appreciate that you would feel that way.”
“Are you not Katherine Parker, the author of Psilocybin and the Power of Mushrooms?” he asked expectedly.
Kate looked at the small, wiry man in complete confusion and bewilderment. “No, Mayor Bittlewire, I am a romance writer? I know nothing about mushrooms other than the fact I love them on a deep dish pepperoni pizza.”
If there was ever a more uncomfortable moment of silence in Kate’s life, she could not recall when it was. Two adults stood staring at each other in absolute mystification.
“So you are not the renowned mushroom and fungi expert from Maine who won a literary award for her examination of Agaricus Bisporus and Cymatoderma Elegans among others? Oh dear.”
Kate could not contain a small laugh. “No, Mayor, my genre is not quite as hard to pronounce. I write love stories.”
The silver-haired, balding man was clearly chagrined and disconcerted. “But when I heard that the author Katherine Parker would be staying here in Bourton-on-Water, I was simply elated that such a revered and highly venerated woman would grace us with her presence in our exceptional village.”
“I’m so sorry to disappoint you, Mayor. I’m just simple ole’ Kate Parker from Charleston, South Carolina, romance writer and mushroom pizza eater,” she joked.
“Oh dear, I had come to let you know that a small soiree has been planned in your honor and several of my fellow mycophagists have been invited to make your acquaintance. Oh dear, we have a problem.” The Mayor was outwardly unnerved and becoming more and more discomposed. Kate wasn’t sure if she should offer the small bouquet of flowers back as an apology for not being the worldly author he assumed she was; as an act of contrition for something she wasn’t quite sure she needed to feel.
“Mayor Bittlewire, could I offer you a cup of tea? I could brew a pot and you could tell me a bit about your um…mushroom hobby,” she offered, not quite sure what to say. How was it that she found herself offering tea to so many strangers on her front door stoop this morning?
“Ma’am, it is much more than a mere hobby. I have devoted my life to studying and finding fungi,” he responded, quite offended at the description of his life work.
“Oh, sir, my apologies. I did not mean to discredit you or your work. I am sure you are well studied and no doubt very passionate about what you do.”
“Hrmmmph,” was the only sound he made. “Yes, well, my apologies to you as well, for mistaking the nature of your profession. If you don’t mind,” he responded while placing his hat back upon his head, “I will scurry along as it seems I have an event that needs to be canceled post haste. It is a pleasure meeting you,” he said, while turning to walk down the garden path.
“Have a great day, Mayor,” Kate called out. “Thank you for the flowers.”
The Mayor turned back, his small cane in his hand. He bowed slightly once again and tipped his hat. “You’re quite welcome, Mrs. Parker. Oh, and welcome to Bourton-on-Water.”
Kate closed the door behind her, reflecting back on the last few hours. Since she had showered and dressed, she had received two visitors, both strangers; been given a large basket of nosh and delectables and handed a bouquet of flowers by a strange man who thought she was an expert in all things fungi. In between she had managed to write only a few chapters. She laughed out loud, thinking that maybe she should have stayed back in Charleston where the serenity of her own garden offered her hours upon hours of peaceful and uninterrupted writing time.
“Oh, fiddlesticks. I give up. Sorry, Harriet,” she said aloud. “Writing is not in the stars for today.” Kate made her way towards the kitchen and dumped the remains of a long, cold cup of coffee down the drain. She opened the fridge and, looking at the sad, empty interior, she remembered Emma’s words about the nearby market. Kate rushed upstairs and grabbed a sweater and scarf, applied some lipstick and checked her hair pulled into a ponytail. “Good enough for the market,” she said to her reflection in the mirror. “Kate needs some cheese.”
Kate’s second attempt at driving the backroads of the Cotswolds wasn’t quite as traumatic as the first time several days previously. She was much more used to the left-hand steering wheel and the constant dread that she would side swipe the oncoming cars was not as intense. Other drivers who were much more adept at driving on the wrong side of the road whipped and careened around her slower moving car at what seemed like dangerous speeds. Kate wondered if she stood out as a new Yank driver who didn’t know what she was doing and even less where she was going. Finally, with the help of Google Maps guiding her way, she pulled into Bibury, another charming town in the Cotswolds.
Kate loved these small village markets. Bibury was one of her absolute favorite Cotswolds’ villages. It was tiny in nature, and had a beautiful river that flowed through IT. In fact, the market was held along the riverfront. There were rows upon rows of stands and small tents, with local farmers and producers selling everything from homegrown fruits and vegetables to freshly made artisan breads and cheeses fresh from the farm. Flower stands with beautifully gathered bouquets were abundant. After all, this was England. Kate found a parking space near the market and started meandering through the crowded stands, enjoying the jovial conversations of the patrons who happened to run across a neighbor or an old friend. Like most Americans, she was enthralled with the British accent and it intoxicated her listening to their conversations as she strolled along. Kate was glad she had brought the large farmhouse basket Emma had given her this morning because from the looks of things she would easily fill it.
She bought several cheeses – a hard farmer cheese and a softer goat cheese with herbs. Her purchases also included a loaf of homemade sourdough bread, a half dozen eggs and some fresh figs that she could not resist. A stand selling dozens of varieties of honey offered, in particular, gloriously-beautiful and tantalizing bottles of local lavender honey which proved too tempting to pass up. At the butcher’s stand, Kate bought a half-pound of Gloucestershire sausages, and finally some fresh apples. She would pick up the other pantry basics at the town grocer, but this would hold her for a few days while she delved into her work. Kate was making her way back towards her car when she heard a shrill voice above the fray of the market that sounded like someone was calling her name. She turned towards the voice and was surprised to see a very cheerful Emma dragging her husband along beside her in her haste to catch up to Kate. Emma was waving wildly in the air, dragging a sheepish looking Mr. Alfredson in her wake. “Kate! Oh, Kate! Over here, it’s Emma.”
Kate waved to the oncoming couple, happy to see her newest friend she had only encountered this morning. “Emma, Mr. Alfredson, hello,” she greeted. “It’s so nice to see you both again.”
“You decided to come to the market after all, did ya’?” Emma chirped. “I see you have a good and plenty stockpile, too,” she said, peering in Kate’s basket.
“I do,” Kate smiled, showing Emma her purchases. “Probably way more than I need but I could not resist. I love these markets.”
“Mr. Alfredson and I are going to have a bit o’ lunch at The King’s Crown, we would love for you to join us,” Emma invited.
Kate honestly wanted to make her way back to the cottage and try to get some much needed work in. She hated to disappoint Harriet when she called next and have to explain why she had managed to only squeak out two chapters. “That sounds wonderful, but I really need to -“
“We won’t take no for an answer, will we Mr. Alfredson?” Emma asked her husband, not stopping long enough to hear his reply. “I want to hear all about South Carolina. I have always wanted to visit the States and one day Mr. Alfredson will take me, won’t you Mr. Alfredson? You must be famished after all of this shopping. Mr. Alfredson, carry Kate’s basket for her,” she said, while taking Kate’s basket from her hands.
“Oh, well…okay, I guess I’ll have lunch with you,” Kate replied smiling, not feeling she had any choice in the matter. What was another hour or so when Emma had been so kind to her. It was the least she could do.
“Mr. Alfredson is here with Lord Weston to check on how the estate’s newest line of honey is selling. Aren’t you, Mr. Alfredson?” she asked her quiet and agreeable husband, who nodded in concurrence. Kate wondered if Mr. Alfredson was ever given many opportunities to respond back to any of the questions his chatty wife asked him. Kate found it amusing how Emma included her husband into her conversations, yet never stopped prattling long enough for his response.
“Lord Weston?” Kate inquired, intrigued.
“That’s my boss, mum,” explained Mr. Alfredson. “I work on his estate. His estate, Rosethorne, is the largest producer of honey in all of the U.K.,” he offered.
“Oh, how interesting. Oh wait, I think I just bought some of his honey,” she added.
“Was it the Rose Infused Honey or the Lavender Honey?” Emma asked excitedly.
“Lavender. It sounded so intriguing. And yummy,” she smiled.
“Oh, mum, the lavender is the newest product the estate is now producing. It’s made from Rosethorne’s own stock of English lavender. We are expecting it to be a huge hit. I will drop you off some of my scrummy Lemon-thyme scones to try it with,” Emma offered.
“Emma,” Kate laughed, “if you and Imogen don’t stop dropping by all of these scones and breads and pastries you’re going to send me back to the States a very fat woman.”
“Oh, be off with you. You could stand a little butter on your backside,” Emma winked. “Men like their women with a little extra give, isn’t that right, Mr. Alfredson?”
The threesome entered the King’s Crown, a very beautiful, ancient stone Inn and pub close to the river. Mr. Alfredson pulled out the chairs for both Emma and Kate. “Mrs. Parker, shall you be havin’ a pint today?” he inquired before going to the bar to order their drinks.
“Oh, no, Mr. Alfredson, I’ll just have some water, please?” she replied.
“Water?” both the Alfredson’s said in unison, astonished. “Mr. Alfredson, hurry along and get me and Kate a nice cold Pimms, and we shall sit and chat,” said Emma.
Kate laughed. “Pimms. That brings back some fond memories. That was one of the drinks my late husband enjoyed, I had forgotten about it.” She was amazed at all the memories that flooded back from her and David’s travels.
“Oh, mum, you’re a widow? I didn’t know. And so young,” Emma patted kate’s hand in condolence.
“Thank you, Emma. I miss him. It was with David, my late husband, that I discovered I loved England and loved writing, too. He is the one who encouraged me to write my first book,” she explained.
“I’m sure you miss him dreadfully. I would be lost without Mr. Alfredson. Wouldn’t I, Mr. Alfredson?” she asked her approaching husband, as he sat two tall glasses on the table which for all purposes, appeared to look like brewed tea with fruit and mint, but had a gin base. “Mr. Alfredson, our Kate is a widow. Did you know that?”
“Yes, dear, I knew of that,” he responded.
Emma’s face was shocked. “Mr. Alfredson, you knew?” she asked, perplexed, “and did not tell me? Mr. Alfredson, you always tell me everything. Shame on you,” she admonished softly.
“Emma, I’m sure he didn’t even give it a thought. After all it sounds like he is a quite busy man. Mr. Alfredson, what does your job pertain to? I am fascinated by English estates and castles,” she shared. “I enjoy touring them when I am here.”
“Oh, Rosethorne is quite the grand estate it is,” Emma added. “Besides its honey production, there is a large sheep farm and herbs and Lord Weston has recently acquired a world-class cheese maker. He’s quite a businessman.”
“Lord Weston is the owner of your cottage, too, mum,” Emma chimed in. “As well as most of Bourton-on-Water. His estate, Rosethorne, is directly connected to the Rose and Crown in town where Imogen and Jasper work,” she offered knowingly. “We are blessed to know and work for Lord Weston, and we live in a fine cottage right on the estate grounds, we do. Mr. Alfredson’s father and grandfather and his great-grandfather have all lived in the same cottage and worked for past Lord’s at Rosethorne.”
“That is all so interesting, Emma, what an intriguing history the estate must have. Maybe I will have the opportunity to meet him one day and thank him in person for allowing me to rent the cottage,” she mused aloud.
“Well, that chance may come sooner than you think, mum. Lord Weston is coming over now.”