As promised, I am publishing as many new chapters as I can. Like Kate, I am nearing the end of my book. So let’s see where this new chapter leads us. xxoo, Barb
ps – this chapter was inadvertently published earlier this week for a few hours. It had not been edited and proofed or anything, and was what I would consider “raw.” My apologies. 🙂
Need to Catch Up????
Caroline stood at the window of her study watching the newly acquired gardener weed the flower beds at the front of her home. He was young, shirtless and had the body of a Greek Adonis. Exactly the reason she had hired him in the first place. She watched as his toned muscles tightened with each motion he made and the pit of her stomach tensed in reaction.
“Eye candy,” she said aloud. Caroline made her way over to the stack of mail that the maid had brought in earlier and rifled through the pile. More invitations, more parties, more social soirees. One in particular caught her attention and she opened the envelope and withdrew the expensively printed card inside. “Ugh. Of course Lord and Lady Cosgrove are also having a garden party right after Andrew’s,” she stated, rolling her eyes. Alastair Cosgrove was always trying to out do Andrew, his old school mate. And who could forget that positively horrid wife of his, Alexandria, she thought. There wasn’t a droplet of aristocratic blood anywhere through her family line for generations back. What Alastair saw in her was a total mystery to Caroline, especially when she had made it perfectly clear that she was highly interested in being the Lady of Culworth. Caroline had pulled out all of her womanly wiles to attract Alastair but to no avail. She threw the extravagant invitation into the trash, not wanting to give it another thought. Suddenly she realized that the party could indeed be to her advantage. She grabbed the discarded bit from the trash bin and stared at it with renewed interest. Members of the peerage did not typically attend a party of this nature unaccompanied. Well, they did, she admitted, but only the members who were considered unsuccessful in life and a complete failure at love. That ditzy Lady Elsbeth Goodall immediately came to mind. What a dreaded creature she was with that doting and bothersome mother. Suddenly, a plan started to form in Caroline’s mind. It would require a preemptive trip to Andrew’s home for a quick social call. It was rather rude to drop in uninvited but desperate times called for desperate measures. Not that Lady Caroline Easterly was desperate but then again, she wasn’t getting any younger.
“I’m sorry, Lady Caroline. Lord Weston is not home at the moment,” the butler announced hastily to Caroline, while making her wait at the front door entrance.
Carolina pushed her way past the Butler. She had never liked Evans because he always acted like she was beneath him. How dare he. He was a mere servant. Andrew would hear of this insolence. “Then tell me where he is and when he will return. I do not need attitude from the likes of you, Evans.”
“It is not my place to inform guests of Lord Weston’s whereabouts, my Lady. I was not left any directions to do so.” Evans stood stoically in front of the woman who had so brazenly barged into Lord Weston’s home so unwelcome. Caroline was known to be uncivil to the staff at Rosethorne Manor and her diva reputation preceded her. “If you would care to leave a message I will make sure it is delivered to Lord Weston upon his return.”
“And when will that be? Do I have to wait a day, a week? How long will it be before he’s able to respond? At the very least you can tell me that much.”
“I’m sorry, Lady Easterly, it is not my place to reveal such details.”
“Oh, you are absolutely useless, Evans. Very well, tell Lord Weston it is imperative that I speak to him whenever he returns. And you need to let him know as soon as he walks into that door that I was here to see him. If I find out that you have not done as you were told, I will make sure he dismisses you. Do I make myself clear?” she snarled.
“Very, Lady Caroline.”
Caroline stormed out the door, furious that she had not been given the information she demanded. Where was Andrew and why was his Butler being so discreet? She sensed something under the surface and she would not stop until she figured out what it was. She knew exactly who to talk to.
As soon as Caroline arrived back to her home, she practically ran inside yelling for her maid. “AGNES! Agnes Collins I need to speak to you this very minute. Where are you, girl?”
Agnes came running into the room, scared out of her wits that she had done something to infuriate her boss. Her mind worked overtime trying to figure out what could have made Lady Caroline so perturbed with her, but she came up blank.
“Yes, my Lady? I’m here, what can I do for you?”
“Agnes, did you not tell me that you were friends with one of the maids at Rosethorne Estate? Tell me truthfully, girl.”
“Yes, Lady Caroline, I am friends with Sarah Pickens. Her father is the Rosethorne estate manager.”
“Do you have her number? Can you contact her?”
“Yes, my Lady, I speak with her on a regular basis.”
“Call her now. I need some information.”
“Now, my Lady? In the middle of the workday? I would not want to get her into any trouble, Ma’am.”
“Do as I say, girl. I don’t care if she gets into any trouble. You need to worry about your own job and I have given you an order. Now get her on the phone, I wish to speak to her.”
The young girl rushed off to retrieve her cell phone. She was completely puzzled as to why Lady Caroline would need to speak with Sarah Pickens. Nothing made any sense, but her boss was surely in an agitated state. It took several tries to reach her friend, but finally Sarah answered her phone.
“Hello? Agnes? Why are you calling me during the day? You know I should not be on my phone right now?”
“Sarah, I know and I’m sorry. I didn’t want to call but Lady Caroline made me.”
“Lady Caroline? Why would Lady Caroline make you phone me?”
“I have no idea but she wants to speak with you.”
“With me? Okay, but what is this about?”
“Agnes, is that her on the phone? Hand me your cell and go away. Shoo!” she commanded shutting her study door. The scared maid did her bidding, even though everything in her wanted to stick around and find out what was so critically important that it involved another maid. “Sarah, this is Lady Caroline Easterly. Are you alone where you can speak safely without being overheard?”
“Yes, Lady Caroline, no one else is around me.”
“Good. I need you to tell me where Lord Weston is? Is he out of town?”
“My Lady, I don’t feel right telling you that information. I could be fired. I need my job, madame.”
“Sarah, either you tell me now where he is or I will make sure you are fired and that you never work anywhere in England again, do you hear me?”
“Lady Caroline, all I know is he went to London.”
“London? What’s so secretive about a trip to London? He goes there all the time on business. I don’t understand why Evans would refuse to tell me….wait. Sarah, did Lord Weston go alone to London?”
“I could not say, my Lady. I am not privy to that information.”
“Don’t bloody lie to me, girl. You and all of the staff are well aware of Lord Weston’s comings and goings. Tell me now and I will only ask you one more time. Who did Lord Weston go to London with?”
“Lady Caroline, please -“
“NOW! I am losing my patience with you, you dimwit. Tell me NOW,” she screamed.
“He went to London with Mrs. Parker, his American friend.”
“When will he be back? Tell me!”
“We are to expect Lord Weston back Monday afternoon.”
Caroline literally felt the blood rush to her head. She had never in all of her life felt the surge of raw anger as she felt at this moment. “Don’t you ever breath a word of this conversation, do you hear me, girl? You do not tell a soul I ever spoke to you. Do I make myself perfectly clear?”
“Yes, my Lady. Perfectly.”
Caroline slammed the cell phone down on her desk. Fury was bathing over her to such a degree that she was literally shaking. How dare that American bitch! Caroline had watched her slither her way into Andrew’s life for weeks now and was stupid enough not to put a stop to it sooner. She had hoped their little talk at the garden party was warning enough to keep her away but evidently the American whore didn’t understand who she was dealing with. She would soon. Poor Andrew. He didn’t realize what kind of woman was trying to get her grubby, gold-digging hands on him. With a stronger conviction than she had ever felt before, Caroline vowed to herself that Andrew would be hers. She would be the next Lady Weston and no common American strumpet would get in her way.
Kate stretched out across the end of her bed at her cottage. It had been a delightful three days spent in London with Andrew. They had dined, spent several hours at the museum, walked around Mayfair and shared fish and chips at Covent Garden. In between, Kate worked on her book while Andrew attended meetings. Monday morning, she had gone to meet her new boss at Heart Publishing London. Sir Jack Turnham was charming, handsome and as Kate would quickly learn, quite flirtatious. He greeted Kate with great fanfare which was, in her opinion, a bit over the top.
“Katherine, may I call you Katherine? I am so thrilled to meet you. I have heard excellent things about you and your success as a writer with Heart Publishing. I’m sure Harriet filled you in on why I wanted to meet you?”
“Yes Sir Jack, she did.”
“Please, please, call me Jack. I know you Yanks don’t go for all the titles. Trust me. As closely as we will be working together we’ll want to be on a first name basis.”
“Okay, Jack it is. Do you have Harriet on the line? She said she would be conference calling with us.”
“No, no, there’s no need for that. We’re not speaking business today. I just want to get to know you better is all.” He rose from behind his desk and sat down in one of two chairs located in front of a large window overlooking Trafalgar Square. He patted the chair next to the one where he sat. “Come. Sit next to me. Do you want some tea? Or I have something stronger to offer you. What shall it be?”
Kate had not been in the room a full ten minutes and already she felt like retreating from the room and canceling the meeting altogether, but it was too important and the last thing she wanted was to make the head of the London House angry with her.
“No, thank you, nothing. But I really would like to get Harriet on the line if it’s all the same to you.”
“Well, my secretary did try to reach her a few minutes ago before you came in. She was told Harriet couldn’t make the meeting because she had been called out of her office.”
How convenient, Kate mused, not buying the excuse. She sat down in another chair opposite of Sir Jack, allowing the coffee table to place a safe distance between them.
“So I understand you are interested in me continuing on with the Cotswolds series?” Kate started. “I am thrilled for this chance. I wasn’t sure I wanted to end it.”
“Oh come now, we can talk business later. Is it true you’re a widow?”
The conversation and the meeting proved to be tiresome and menial. By the time Kate left Sir Jack she felt as if she had been mentally and verbally whipped by a smooth-talking imperious braggart. Kate had never been so happy to leave someone’s office. It would be the last meeting she would agree to with him alone. It wasn’t a matter that she felt physically threatened, but his sly idioms and insinuations was more than she could stomach. At dinner later that night, Kate mentioned to Andrew who her meeting had been with.
“You’re not serious? Slick Jack? Slick Jack is the new head of the London Publishing Company? That would make sense. His father owned a publishing house and I would be willing to bet it’s the same company Heart purchased.”
“If so, I am not sure why they kept him on as Head of Publishing. Andrew, he is exasperating. I know he lied to me about Harriet not being able to make the conference call. That was part of Harriet’s directions to me the last time we spoke. Honestly, I felt like I needed to spray myself with disinfectant when I left there.”
“Jack had quite the reputation at university and a list of lovers a mile long. He was the envy of many a young man.”
“Please tell me you were not one of his fans?”
Andrew laughed. “No indeed. I could hardly stand to be around him. I tolerated him because of family ties but that’s about all. Sadly, he learned from the best because his father had the same illicit reputation. Wait! He didn’t disrespect you in any way did he, Kate? Because I will not stand for that if he did.”
“No, no, it wasn’t like that. Like I said he was more about showmanship and fluffing his own feathers. I’m pretty sure I made it perfectly clear I was not impressed. I have no clue if he is interested in me as an author or as an available widow. Either way, next time I will be more prepared and know who I am dealing with.”
Kate sighed, thinking about the meeting and the last few days. Other than the time spent with Sir Jack it had been an extremely pleasurable weekend. She kicked off her shoes and heard them thud as they dropped to the floor. Harriet was probably wondering about the meeting. She knew she should call her and fill her in on the events of the day, but the only energy she could muster was to take a hot bath and then crawl straight into bed. She had talked quite enough business for one day.
Kate smiled as she soaked in her clawfoot tub a few minutes later. She had thoroughly enjoyed spending some alone time with Andrew. Being in London afforded them a level of privacy they did not possess in Bourton. He would hold her hand, kiss her gently on the forehead, nuzzle her neck from behind, and deliberately joke with her until she was bursting with laughter. In some ways, she would have liked to have stayed a few more days, but each of them needed to return to reality and get back to business. When she had to return to Charleston for good, saying goodbye and leaving Andrew behind would be difficult to say the least. She couldn’t think about that now. As Scarlett O’Hara said – she would ‘think about that tomorrow.”
Andrew was furious. He hated that a perfect weekend with Kate had ended as soon as he walked into the door. He had been told of the unwelcome visitor during his absence and the attitude with which his staff had been addressed. Thank goodness Evans could be completely trusted and had not betrayed the fact that Kate had accompanied him to London. Caroline was becoming completely spiteful and possessive. It ended now as far as he was concerned. He would pay a visit to her home and make it perfectly clear, once and for all, that they had no future together. In his wildest imagination he would never have thought that Caroline would become such a shrew, but to speak to his staff in such a manner was preposterous and he would not tolerate it.
The most difficult part of being an author was doing everything possible to avoid a writer’s block. That was deadly to your artistic flow, and when a book was nearing the end, it was the last thing you wanted to happen. But, happen it did. Kate could not for the life of her seem to put words together all of a sudden. She would write, then delete. Write and delete. Repeat. Finally, she resorted to her trusty bag of tricks which usually put her into a writing mood – music from Verdi, candles, and some wine. She even went out into her garden and cut some lavender and sweet smelling blossoms to place in a jar on her desk. It was all about setting the stage with elements of romance. Kate stretched her body long and hard, rolled her head back and forth several times, and took three deep yoga breaths. Then – nothing. Not a word. At least not a word that made sense or had any flow. She reread the few sentences she had attempted and let out a loud grunt. “Ugh! That is awful. Beyond awful,” she said aloud. Kate stood and looked around. What was she missing from her bag of tricks? Had she left anything out. She lowered the lights more and lit even more candles. In fact, if she lit any more candles someone walking by may mistake her attempts at writing as a seance. Sitting down once again, she reread the last few paragraphs she had written and started typing.
Laura looked across the meadow at the village beyond and admired the spire of the country church. It signaled she was finally home. Okay, she thought, that’s not too bad. Now what did Laura do? Ugh. Laura went home and got drunk because she was a loser at writing, that’s what Laura did. Kate stood once again, closing her laptop. She fully realized the book wasn’t going to write itself, but her fans deserved more than words placed on the page for the sake of finishing a book because of a deadline. Finally she decided instead to go for a walk. Maybe some fresh air, sunshine and a stroll amongst a formal English garden would do the trick. She grabbed her raincoat because here in England you never left home without it. At the last minute, she decided to call Imogen and see if she wanted to go along.
“Imogen, it’s Kate. I was wondering if you wanted to go with me to Bourton House and walk the gardens. I find myself in dire need of some fresh air and exercise.”
“Oh dear, I would truly love to but we have a huge meat order being delivered and my Jasper is giving Lord Weston a hand at Rosethorne this afternoon.”
“It’s okay, I understand. Maybe another time then.”
“You okay, Kate? You sound a bit down and out. I can see if I can get someone to stay here for the delivery and meet you there.”
“Oh no, please. I’m fine really. I just need a little change of scenery from these cottage walls if you know what I mean.”
“Okay, if you say so. You’d tell me if something were wrong wouldn’t you? Like if you and Andrew had a spat?”
“A spat? Imogen, it’s nothing like that. To be honest I am having a severe writer’s block.”
“Well, go and enjoy yourself and take in those beautiful gardens.”
Imogen hung up but for some reason worried that Kate sounded so glum. It was nothing that she said exactly, just the sound of her voice – like she needed a friend. Imogen knew exactly what to do. She quickly dialed a number on the kitchen phone.
“Emma, hello, this is Imogen. Are you at the Estate house by any chance?”
“Yes, I am. Did you need me to get in touch with Jasper? I think he is out back with Lord Weston.”
“Well, not exactly, but I do need your help with a matter and it needs to stay between you and I. I promise it will make Lord Weston quite happy. Can you help me?”
“I’ll make it happen. Tell me what you need.”
Bourton House and Gardens was just a few miles down the road from Kate’s Cottage. She had been here before but didn’t get a chance to walk the entire garden as the skies had opened and a deluge of rain fell soon after she finished touring the home. Kate parked, gathered her purse and umbrella and walked to the entrance of the gardens. There were hardly any visitors in sight, and only a small touring van parked to the side.
Individual garden plots dotted the expanse of the back yard which was filled with perfectly trimmed boxwoods in various patterns. Kate loved the formality of the garden as it was so different from her own cottage garden. There was something strangely comforting about an orderly and manicured garden, especially one as tidy as Bourton House Gardens. Kate meandered in and out amongst the garden paths, finally coming to a large koi pond with whimsically painted blue herons guarding the pond’s inhabitants.
Fish of all sizes swam lazily through the water, unaware of her presence. Beautiful lily pads offered shade to the smaller fish. Finally, she strolled through the greenhouses, stopping to read various placards describing the plants and trying her best to pronounce the Latin names. Kate spotted a beautiful bench at one end of the garden, and headed that way. She wished she had brought her laptop. This area of Bourton House Garden would have been a lovely place to write.
Just as she was about to sit, she heard her name called from behind and turned.
“Andrew, what are you doing here?” Kate looked over her shoulder to see if he was with anyone. “How did you know I was here? Oh wait, let me guess.”
Andrew was smiling and shaking his head in agreement. “Imogen.”
“Oh good grief, I can’t believe she told you I would be here,” she smiled. “I think she thought I was going to drown myself in the koi pond or something.”
Andrew looked behind him at the koi pond. “I’m not sure it’s deep enough and those oddly colored birds look like they would not care too much for your intrusion. She said you sounded sad. I can’t have my girl being sad. Not on a beautiful English day such as this.
Kate smiled at his endearment, being called his “girl” warmed her heart. At the same time, it left a pit in her stomach. “I am fine, really. I assured Imogen I was okay. I just needed some fresh air and a change of scenery is all.”
“You’ve been walled up in your cottage for days. I was going to call on you this evening. It’s been incredibly busy at the Estate.”
“I told her I was having a writer’s block, it’s no big deal.”
“Why do you suppose that is?”
“I don’t know, it’s not uncommon but usually I can snap myself out of it with my good ole’ bag o’ writer’s tricks. Candles, wine, music. Romantic suggestions that smack of courtship and amour.”
“Hang on I need to take some notes.” He pretended to write on his hand. “Ways to get Katherine in a romantic mood,” he said aloud.
Kate laughed and feigned a peak at his imaginary written note. “Oh,” she pointed to the nonexistent list, “don’t forget chocolates. Lots of chocolates.”
“Got it. Lots of chocolates. I have never heard of that particular brand of chocolate. Personally I prefer Godiva,” he joked.
“It was sweet of you to come out here to see me but I need to have a little word with Imogen about discretion.”
“I’ll always take advantage of any chance to see you, I hope you know that. You realize that Rosethorne also has a beautiful formal garden? You don’t have to come here when you need an escape. You are always welcome at my home.”
“Thank you, Andrew. I’ll remember that. Do you have time to grab some dinner or do you need to hurry back?”
“I wouldn’t think of leaving you now. I can’t take the chance that you may try to off yourself along with those long-legged blue birds over there.”
Kate glanced at the koi pond. Someway or another, she had to work the infamous painted blue birds into her next romance.
They chose a small pub on the route back to Bourton-on-the-Water and settled into a corner booth near the back. The best part of eating at an out of the way pub was that they appeared to be an ordinary couple stopping in for a bite to eat, rather than an American author and an English Lord who may or may not be dating – as they appeared in Bourton. Each decided on Lancaster Hot Pots, a local favorite, and cold ales. Within minutes, the server brought a large wooden board with a fresh out-of-the-oven loaf of homemade bread and goat’s milk butter with herbs.
“So, tell me, why do you think you are experiencing this writer’s block? Aren’t you within a few chapters of being finished?”
“Yes, three or four chapters at most. I’ll need an extra week or so for the rewrites, but at this point I have written enough novels for Heart Publishing that Harriet suggests very few changes now.”
“Are you saying you’ll be done in about two, maybe three weeks?”
Kate looked at Andrew and thought she saw a glimpse of sadness in his eyes. She reached over and placed her hand on top of his. “At most, yes.”
“And then what?”
“Then, I go home. I’ll have to start planning and scheduling the book signing tour. I think they have a large event planned in New York City.”
“I don’t want to think about you leaving, Kate. It’s too soon.”
“I know. But, you know I have to go. It’s always been known I would return. I have no reason to stay.”
“Andrew that’s not what I meant, I’m sorry. What I meant is my work will be completed and I will need to get back to my home, to my family. Part of me wishes I could stay -“
“Then stay. You can stay on in the cottage.”
“It’s not that simple and you know it. Living here and being part of Bourton has changed my life. Knowing you has changed my heart. But, I can’t even wrap my mind around living so far away from my children and my grandson. I have missed them terribly while I was here. Skyping twice a week is great but it’s not the same.”
“So that’s it? You’ll finish your book and return back to Charleston and Bourton will be nothing more than a chapter in your life.”
“No Andrew, this experience -and you – will always be so much more than just a chapter. Being with you, it made me figure out that Mark wasn’t the man for me and I was fooling myself into thinking he and I had a future. But more than that, you have woken up feelings in me that I thought I would never feel again after David passed away.”
“So stay a bit longer. Stay through the Summer months and let’s see where this relationship is going. I want to be with you, Kate.”
“I can’t stay, Andrew. I have duties back at home and my house is there. I – just can’t. Even though everything inside me is screaming to stay, I can’t.”
They sat there silently, looking at each other with a yearning. Each was longing for something that was within their grasp, but at arm’s length at the same time. Each wanting to explain how torn they were over the situation, but also knowing any more words would be meaningless if Kate’s mind was already made up. Dinner took on more of a reticent atmosphere. The genial warmth of their earlier conversation now felt strained and tension filled.
Kate sighed and was barely able to finish the meal before her, each bite of food feeling as if it grew larger in her mouth. Her stomach felt queazy. She suddenly understood the reason for her writer’s block. Inwardly she groaned because it all made sense to her now. Her mind had unconsciously turned off all of her creative writing abilities. The same thing happened prior to David’s passing. She could not express love and romance in words while her heart was breaking. If she completed her book, it would mean saying good-bye to Andrew and the chance for love once again.