It was a rainy day in June when Alex drove to The Coach House cottage. She had rented it for the summer to try and finish writing her novel; it hadn’t been going well and with the deadline drawing near, she was hoping the isolation and quiet of the countryside would help her to focus.
Turning down the narrow, muddy farm lane named on the directions the letting agent had given her, Alex drove slowly in order to identify the cottage shown in the picture.
There it was; a lovely, stone built cottage built on the slope of, and overlooking the lane. An imposing farmhouse was clearly visible behind the cottage where, she had been advised, the landlady would meet her with the keys.
An elderly man in a flat cap, oblivious to the rain, was standing by the door to the cottage. He was holding a cane and waved it at Alex as she slowed down and pulled in to the one parking spot.
“Are you the maid renting this place?” The man asked as Alex wound down her window.
Maid? It had been a long time since she had been classified as such but she didn’t argue. She smiled and nodded that she was said maid. The man handed her a fob with two keys on it, explaining one was to the cottage and the other to the garage. He indicated the set of wooden doors built into the structure, further down the slope. “You’d be best to keep the car in there,” he said. “Tractors might clip it else.”
“Thank you,” Alex said. “I was supposed to meet a Mary Trevelyan.”
“That would be the farmer’s wife but she’s busy with the WI; said she would see you later.”
Alex thanked the man again and watched him saunter off, leaving her alone to unload her luggage and find her own way around her new, if temporary, home. Alex waited a few minutes to see if the rain would stop but gave it up as a bad job when the clouds continued to discharge their contents. Alex picked up her handbag and the small overnight one she had put a few essentials in and stepped out into the deluge. She would retrieve her suitcase and garage the car later.
Letting herself into the cottage she shook off the excess water and dumped her bags on the kitchen floor. The inside was modern, clean and well decorated if a little quirky. The door led into the small kitchen and dining area complete with a small pine table and two chairs. Directly off this was a hallway, leading to a bathroom, two storage cupboards and on to a large lounge off which was another door opening onto a set of stone steps down to a huge, well kept, walled garden. Also off the hallway were the stairs which, Alex discovered on further inspection, led down to two good sized bedrooms. Being under the cottage they gave the impression of caves with double glazing. The furnishings were good, if a little sparse but then, it was only temporary.
In the kitchen she found a welcoming note from her landlady, who had also left a few essentials to tide her over till she got herself sorted out. It was fortunate that she had such a thoughtful landlady as Alex hadn’t thought to fetch anything in the food line with her; her head had been all over the place recently with everything that had been going on in her life…but she didn’t want to think about that right now. An hour later, one cup of coffee and three biscuits later, and the rain having stopped, Alex had dragged her suitcase down to the larger of the two bedrooms and placed her laptop on a small desk in the lounge.
She had just made herself some more coffee and two slices of toast – she hadn’t felt so hungry in a long time – before settling down to attempt to work on her novel when the door opened and a voice came through it calling: “Hellooooo! Its Mary Trevelyan.”
“Hello, I’m Alex Morton,” replied Alex coming into the kitchen as Mary Trevelyan’s ample body, donned in damp raincoat, followed her voice through the door.
“Sorry I wasn’t here to meet you myself,” went on Mary. “I got caught up in WI stuff. We need some ideas for fund-raising and someone suggested we follow them women from up north who stripped off for a calendar to raise money. Honestly can you imagine me naked behind a tray of cakes?” Mary struck a pose before letting out a great belly laugh. “No don’t answer that, the look on your face says it all. Now, have you found everything?”
Alex assured the other woman that she had and thanked her. Offering to reimburse the cost was refused and a few minutes later, Mary Trevelyan left with a warning that the current rain was a prelude to a greater storm brewing so keep the windows closed.
It was almost midnight when the first flash of lightening lit up the sky, closely followed by a stentorian clap of thunder making Alex jump a few inches off her chair. She had been sitting, staring at her computer screen on and off for several hours and had accomplished nothing. Glancing out of the window as the rain lashed against the panes she set fingers to keys and typed in Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s “It was a dark and stormy night…” then laughed out loud at the irony of the phrase.
It was a dark and stormy era in her life right now. How the hell was she expected to write a romance when her own love-life was a pile of crap? As if on cue her phone jangled that a text message had just come through. Picking it up she swore as she saw the sender.
++Please Ali, am sorry. Where r u?++
Was all it said.
Sorry? Alex fumed, deleting the message. He will be if he comes anywhere in my vicinity again, and she certainly was not going to tell him where she was and give him the opportunity. She tossed to phone onto the desk and threw herself back into her writing. Half an hour later, the storm still raging outside as well as in, she re-read what she had tapped into her laptop. It read more like a horror novel than a gentle love story. No! She didn’t have what it took to write a full blown horror. It was only her anger with Justin that made her write about torture and death, the two timing, cheating…if she ever got involved with another man, which she doubted she ever would, he would have to be someone pretty special. She wanted honesty, integrity, she wanted roses and chocolates and sweeping off her feet…she was going to die an old maid.
Letting out an anguished cry, putting her hands over her face, her dark hair falling like a curtain over her shoulders; this was impossible.
Logging off her computer, Alex decided to go to bed and try to get some sleep. Maybe the words would flow better tomorrow.
The next morning brought bright sunshine so Alex decided to have a shower and go for a walk. When she turned on the taps, however she was treated to a cold blast of icy water. Letting out an involuntary scream, she stepped out of the cubicle and began dripping all over the floor. Wrapping a towel around her she padded back to the bedroom, dried off and got dressed. Once she had cleared up the pool on the bathroom floor she left the cottage and went to report the matter to her landlady. Mary Trevelyan was extremely apologetic and promised Alex that her son would look into the matter straight away. She went on to offer Alex breakfast which was politely refused.
“I thought I might explore the village and find a café,” Alex explained.
“Jessie Arthur does a good breakfast. Tell her Mary recommended you and she might give you a discount.” Alex thanked her and headed off down the lane.
A short time later, Alex was about to start tucking into a plate of Cholesterol filled Bacon, Eggs and fried bread (What the hell) she thought, when her phone began vibrating in her bag.
++Ali, Please tell me where you are…++
Alex told the phone to go and do something rude before throwing it down on the table. Then blushed with embarrassment as a tall, fair haired, good looking, if not quite drop dead gorgeous, young man came over to her and stood there smiling, a very nice, obviously amused, smile.
“Can I help you?” Alex said irritably.
“Not right now, but I might be able to help you,” he replied. “I’m Adam Trevelyan. You have a problem with your shower? Mum told me you might be here.”
“Oh,” Alex felt her face go even redder. “Er… no hot water.”
“No problem, I’ll come over later and have a look. About two?” Alex nodded and concentrated very hard on her, as yet, untouched breakfast. As Adam Trevelyan walked away she could have sworn he was laughing at her and her recent experiences had left her annoyed at such insensitivity.
By 1.30 Alex had been sitting at her computer for two and a half hours. She had still achieved nothing more than a few lines of gobbledegook. What she needed was some inspiration and, unfortunately, that was in short supply right now.
Adam Trevelyan arrived at 2 o’clock on the dot and Alex greeted him with an apology for her earlier attitude. She had had time to compose herself since the morning’s incident in the café and she realised that Adam was certainly not to blame for her previous experience with men.
He simply smiled, a disarming smile, and nodded. Without saying a word, he moved into the cottage, went straight to the cupboard bathroom and pulled the string that switched on the shower.
“That should solve the problem,” he said.
Alex stared at Adam for a moment or two as realisation dawned; her colour and her temper, rising.
“Couldn’t you have told me that in the café this morning?”
“Now where would have been the pleasure in that?”
“Pleasure? You get a kick out of making fun of people do you?” Alex replied irritably.
“Not at all,” Adam moved to stand right in front of her. “I simply meant the pleasure of seeing you again.” He treated her to that engaging smile and Alex felt her legs wobble, he seemed so sincere.
For a moment their eyes locked like in some trashy romantic novel, and then Alex came to her senses. She wasn’t going to get caught in that trap again; such encounters didn’t happen in real life as she had discovered to her cost.
“Thank you, anyway,” she said, turning her back on him and going out to the kitchen. “Would you like coffee now you’re here?”
“No, thank you,” he replied. “I have to get to work.” Alex felt her spirits sink, for some reason.
“I would like to take you for a drink tonight, though.”
Alex turned and gave him a questioning look.
“If you’re free, that is?”
For a moment, Alex wasn’t sure whether to refuse him and make him feel like an idiot, as he had done to her. But then…she wasn’t inclined to spend another night in front of her computer achieving absolutely nothing. Maybe a bit of male company might inspire her creative juices. She nodded and managed to smile back at him.
“There’s a quiz night on down in the village,” he said. “We could do with someone on side with some knowledge of books and stuff. Pick you up at seven.”
And he left.
For a moment she felt disappointed that he hadn’t wanted to take her out for herself, but it was her brain – or at least some of the knowledge it contained – he was interested in it seemed.
Then reality hit.
A quiz night in the village pub? She seethed. She was a prize winning author for gods’ sake…well, okay maybe not prize winning, but she was working on it. But she was, at least, published and doing very well, thank you very much; well most of the time anyway. Whatever, she didn’t waste her time on quiz nights in village pubs, with a…a…man; the very creatures she wanted to have nothing more to do with – she had more important things to do.
Like what? She asked herself. She had just admitted to herself that she needed inspiration and, any day now, she was expecting a call from her agent to find out how her new book was coming along and what would she tell him?
That she was going to a pub quiz instead of slaving over her keyboard? That would really do her reputation a lot of good. Alex slammed a mug down on the worktop and added coffee before pouring cold water from the un-boiled kettle.
At that moment she felt like crying with frustration but what good would that do. Instead she boiled the kettle, made herself some hot coffee and took a packet of biscuits out of the cupboard. She would sit and read through some of her notes and see if that might help her along. She had the sudden feeling that this whole idea of escaping to the countryside was going to be a huge waste of time and to cap it all, it was raining again.
Despite her misgivings the quiz turned out to be a much needed distraction and Adam a pleasant companion. She was loath to think of this evening as a date as he had made it clear he was only interested in the knowledge in her head and, thanks to this, they managed a very respectable second place (the winning team had been better on the entertainment section than they had) and won a voucher each for a meal in this very pub.
All through the evening, Alex’s phone had vibrated away in her bag and when she finally looked at it there were seven messages, all from the same person, which she deleted, unread. On the walk home with Adam, it went off again and she found it wasn’t a text this time but an actual call. She saw who it was and immediately rejected it.
“I take it that is a persistent ex-lover?” Adam asked.
“What makes you think that?” Alex replied with a note of irony.
“Well he – or she? – has been calling all evening and you are definitely not pleased to hear from him – or her?”
“You are very astute,” she said with a smile, her annoyance at the call abating.
“In that case I would say your ex-lover is a man.”
“Very good. What made you come to that conclusion?”
“Hope and prayer,” he smiled back making Alex’s legs wobble again. Giving herself a mental slap she looked away. When they reached the Coach House she thanked him for the evening and made to go in, her mind already working on her novel.
“Same time tomorrow night, then?”
“What?” Alex turned and gaped at him. He wanted to take her out again?
“The meal voucher we won.”
“Oh right. You can have mine if you like; you must have a girlfriend – or boyfriend? – you could take.”
“I think we both know I am not gay,” Adam laughed. “And no, I don’t have a girlfriend right now. You won the voucher, you should use it. See you tomorrow night.” he bent and kissed her cheek before leaving her on the doorstep.
When Adam turned up the next evening, Alex was ready and waiting. She had spent the intervening time in more fruitless hours at her computer and was beginning to feel thoroughly fed up with the whole business of story-telling. When she had had her first novel accepted, after rejection slips had piled up enough to paper a whole room, her elation had spurred her on to want to achieve bigger and better things. Her agent has organised a book signing tour, her face had become well known in the circles of the genre and her second novel was awaited with bated breath. Alex’s current line of thinking was that everyone would die of asphyxiation before she had finished the first chapter at the rate she was going.
After a simple pub meal and a couple of glasses of wine, Adam asked Alex about her text pest. “He’s obviously still keen,” he said.
“The only thing he’s keen on is my reputation,” Alex replied bitterly. “Believe me if this novel isn’t as successful as the last one he won’t want anything to do with me.”
“Fair-weather friend, eh?”
Alex nodded and took another sip of her wine. “Justin is the son of my agent,” she told him. “He only took an interest in me when my book was accepted and became so successful. Up to that point he didn’t even know I existed. Then when I began having trouble with my second novel he started taking an interest in his father’s latest signing and I got put on the back burner. When I saw exactly how he operated I told him exactly where to go. He then turned back to me when Fiona – that’s the other author –told him she was married with a child and that’s when I decided I needed to get away.”
“Does his father know about all this?” Adam queried.
“I don’t know; maybe. I never told him I just said I needed some peace and quiet to work on the book.”
“Does his father know where you’re hiding out?”
“Yes of course, he’s my agent he recommended this…place…oh god!” a trickle of ice had just slithered down Alex’s spine as she suddenly cottoned on to what Adam was getting at.
“Well if Justin is still asking you where you are he obviously hasn’t asked daddy yet, but it may only be a matter of time.” Adam warned her sagely.
“Thanks,” Alex retorted. “You are a great comfort.”
“Would it really be so bad?” Adam asked. “I mean you could finally purge him from your life by just telling the guy to get lost.”
“Tried that three times already. Oh he’s a real charmer.” Alex explained at the look on Adam’s face.
“He must be if you were fooled that many times.”
“Now you know why I had to escape and refuse to take his calls.”
“Have you told his father what he’s like?”
“I think his father encourages it; its great publicity to have one of his authors seen on the arm of his handsome son. I’m not sure he realises how much heartache Justin causes though, and he wouldn’t relish a public display of animosity.”
“Have you considered finding another agent?”
“Yes, but Bill has worked hard for me and I owe him some loyalty.” Alex took a deep breath. “Anyway why am I telling you all this? Its not your problem.”
Adam smiled. “Talking to a stranger about your problems can often help you find a solution to your dilemma.” he said. Alex had heard this before but had never had to put it into practice until now, and she was finding Adam Trevelyan was very easy to talk to, which, in her current circumstances and past tendencies, probably wasn’t a good idea. The last thing she needed was to fall for someone else before resolving her situation with Justin.
As with the previous evening, Adam left Alex at her door with a peck on the cheek, only this time there was no arrangement for another date. He walked away leaving Alex feeling disappointed. Taking a deep breath she let herself into the cottage and turned on her computer. It was still relatively early and Alex thought she might yet get some work done. Going down to her bedroom, she got into her night clothes, and then made herself a cup of hot chocolate. She had just settled herself in front of the screen when her mobile went off. Justin’s name appeared on the screen so, heeding Adam’s advice to confront him, she accepted the call.
“Alex,” came the familiar voice. “At last, I was beginning to worry.”
“Really?” Alex replied, trying to sound bored.
“Yes really. Where are you?”
“Why do you want to know?” stupid question.
“So I can come and see you of course; sort things out.”
“There’s nothing to sort out, Justin. At least not where you and I are concerned. As for you and Fiona…”
“Please, Alex, that was a mistake…”
“Yes is was, wasn’t it! Fiona got your number straight away apart from the fact she was married with a child, she’s obviously not as gullible as I am. Just get lost, Justin. We’re finished. Do not call me again or…” What? What could she threaten that would make Justin get the message? Justin, it seemed, had the same thought.
“Or what?” he said with a definite sneer in his voice.
“Maybe I will find another agent and site you as the reason why to your father.”
“And you think he will believe you?”
“I really don’t care. Anyway, I’ve…met someone else; someone who cares about me and not just my reputation as a successful writer.”
“Who? Who is it?”
“Get lost, Justin.” Alex hung up before he could ask her any more questions. If he pursued it, Alex was sure she would cave in and admit her lie. Although it wasn’t really a lie, was it? She had met someone. Whether he was interested in her reputation as a published writer or even as a woman, she didn’t know but then, neither did Justin.
A week later Alex was no further on with her novel and she hadn’t seen any more of Adam either.
After another fruitless morning in front of her computer, Alex slammed down the lid, picked up her coat and bag and headed for the garage. She had decided to take a trip into town for a bit of retail therapy in the hope she might clear her mind.
Parking in a multi-story park that was attached to the shopping centre, Alex wandered around the shops and on seeing nothing to grab her interest, decided to take a walk around the town itself. It was raining again as she reached the exit so, pulling her umbrella out of her bag, she stepped out into the cloud burst and wandered along the street. After ten minutes of aimless wandering, her mind continually working on her novel, she stopped outside a café and decided to have a latte and a cream cake and to hell with the cholesterol.
She was just putting the last forkful of strawberry cheesecake into her mouth when a familiar voice came to her from behind.
“I knew if I hung around long enough I would find you.”
Alex felt a shiver run down her spine. “Justin,” she said without turning.
Justin walked around the table and sat in the vacant chair opposite Alex. “Dad let it slip you were in Cornwall and I found a hire car agreement with the name of this town on it.” it was as if he were reading her mind as he answered her unasked questions.
“When I said it was over between us I meant it,” she said, letting her fork rattle onto the empty plate.
The waitress came over and Justin ordered a black coffee. Alex refused anything else. She waited in silence until the coffee arrived then got up and turned to leave.
“Enjoy your coffee, Justin and stay out of my life.”
As expected, Justin got up to follow her. She heard the clink of money hitting the table and hurried on down the street in the hope of losing him if she could duck into a crowded shop before he saw which way she went.
Alex dodged from shop to shop, forever looking over her shoulder and was sure anyone watching her would think she was a criminal dodging the police.
She made it back to her car, confident Justin hadn’t seen her; sure he would have made himself known if he had.
The drive back to the cottage was tense and Alex put the car in the garage as soon as she got there. Once indoors she locked herself in and breathed a sigh of relief she had got home without being accosted.
Then she laughed. What was wrong with her? Justin wasn’t a monster; he had never, physically hurt her, he was just a pest. She still didn’t want him to know where she was, but he was no real threat to her, only her peace of mind.
For all her bravado, Alex did not leave the cottage again that day and kept glancing out of the window to make sure there were no strange cars parked in the lane.
The next morning, with still no sign that Justin had found her, Alex ventured into the village once more and went to the café for breakfast. She was about to tuck into bacon and eggs when…
“So this is where you are hanging out?”
Alex dropped her fork and stood up, the knife still clutched in her hand as she turned to face him and raised it before her in a threatening manner. “What the hell do I have to do to get rid of you, Justin?” she asked through gritted teeth. “And how the hell did you find me?”
“You know you really don’t want rid of me and I …made a few enquiries.”
“Enquiries? Who did you ask?”
Justin shrugged. “Does it matter?” he backed off a few paces as Alex wielded the knife in his face.
“Oh yes, it matters.” The other occupants of the café were taking a great interest in the unfolding drama before them and Jessie, the café owner, stepped out from behind the counter and walked slowly over to the warring couple.
“Alex,” said Jessie, a worried look on her face. “Please put the knife down.”
“Not until he tells me how he found me.”
The bell behind Justin tinkled to announce another customer had come in the door and Jessie, glancing in that direction, took a step back, but Alex couldn’t see who it was as Justin blocked her view.
“I went around the letting agents with a photograph,” Justin told her.
“What? You told them you were a detective looking for a missing person I suppose?”
Justin looked sheepish. “Something like that,” he admitted.
“So you lied, you despicable…” Alex felt sure she would actually have stuck the knife in Justin’s smug, arrogant face if a hand hadn’t come between them and taken the metal object away from her.
“You don’t want to do that,” Adam said. “This idiot obviously isn’t worth the cost of a court case and keeping you in prison food for ten years.”
“What did you call me?” Justin turned his attention to Adam, his fists clenched.
“I called you an Idiot,” Adam replied calmly, looking the other man straight in the eye. “If you step outside I’ll tell you what I really think of you.”
“Step outside?” Justin sneered. “This isn’t some Victorian melodrama.”
“No, it isn’t; it’s just that in some parts of the country we still know how to treat our women, not as objects to be owned but as people in their own right.
Now I suggest you leave, and don’t come back.”
Justin stepped back, swinging his arms in bravado. “When my father hears about this, you’ll never publish again,” he said.
“Your father will be hearing about this but I doubt your words are any great threat, unless you can make your father more money than I can.” Alex threw at him.
“But you aren’t making him money are you? You’ve got writer’s block.”
“Not any more…” Alex gave a satisfied smile, her new book already taking shape in her head and her fingers itched to start putting words onto her computer screen as she realised the only block she’d had was standing right in front of her.
Justin lingered a moment longer, giving everyone in the café a contemptuous look, then he turned and left the café. They watched as he headed down the street to the village car park and as he disappeared from view the whole café seemed to let out a collective breath and Alex dropped back into her seat, her breakfast now cold and inedible.
Adam appeared in the seat opposite her. “Are you okay?” he asked her.
Alex nodded. “I think so…th…thank you, I think I might actually have stabbed him I was so angry.”
“No you wouldn’t.”
“You sound very sure.”
“Let’s just say I’ve seen these types of argument before. It isn’t very often it ends in bloodshed.”
“Now you sound like a policeman…Oh no…” Alex looked up in horror as realisation dawned.
Adam grinned, a mischievous grin.
“You never told me you were a policeman.”
“It never came up. Anyway, if he bothers you again just give me a call.” Adam handed her a card with his name and number on it and the name of the force he belonged to.
“Thank you,” was all Alex could manage.
“And I’ll pick you up at seven it that’s ok?”
“Pick me up?”
“For the pub quiz tonight.”
“Oh,” Alex nodded her agreement.
“Who knows, maybe tonight we’ll come first.”
It was raining again when Alex left the café half an hour later. Jessie had cooked her another breakfast and made her a fresh cup of coffee for which she was very grateful.
She got back to the cottage and took a bottle of wine out of the fridge and poured herself a glass. She didn’t usually drink this early in the day but needed something to calm her nerves. She took the glass and set it by her laptop which she turned on and then went to dry herself off and change. Back at her computer she immediately began to type in the words that were swimming around in her head.
When she stopped a couple of hours later she read through what she had written and smiled. This was more like it. The words were flowing again her second novel heading for the best seller list.
When Adam knocked on her door that evening, Alex felt relaxed, content and ready face the world again. The quiz went in their favour and they came away with the first prize which was not much different from the second with the addition of a bottle of wine with the meal.
Adam walked Alex home as he had done the week before only this time he leaned in and kissed her lips.
“Pick you up tomorrow evening?” he said as he stepped away from her.
“Is there another quiz?” she asked innocently.
“No but I would like to take you out again if that’s okay with you?”
She nodded and smiled. “I thought you only wanted me for my brain,” she teased.
“I didn’t want to pile on the pressure until that other idiot had been kicked into touch and, don’t worry,” he added. “I won’t treat you like a possession.”
As she watched him walk down the lane, Alex picked up her phone and pressed out her agent’s number.
“Hi it’s Alex,” she said. “There’s something you need to know about your son…” She told Bill exactly what had been going on and finished by saying: “If he bothers me again I will be looking for a new agent…”
“Don’t be silly, Alex,” Justin’s father said. “We all know Justin is a womaniser and sometimes it’s good for business but I’ll make sure he doesn’t come near you again. When are you coming back?”
“Oh I’m not sure; I need to stay here a bit longer to see where the story goes…”
She looked out of the window just as the storm clouds cleared and the sun began to shine…
It was a rainy day in June when Alex drove to The Coach House cottage. She had rented it for the summer to try and finish writing her novel; it hadn’t been going well and with the deadline drawing near, she was hoping the isolation and quiet of the countryside would help her to focus.