Home, sweet home…
Home, sweet home…
Joy Cartier has been to some of the most beautiful places in the world – but none of them have ever felt like home. So moving into a tiny cottage in the idyllic village of Bramble Hill, walking distance from her childhood home, seems like the perfect plan.
That is, until she gets there. The surly inhabitants of Britain’s Friendliest Village are anything but welcoming. Even her neighbour, reclusive Hollywood star Finn Mackenzie, takes one look at her and walks in the other direction.
But when the village animosity steps up a gear, it is the infuriatingly brooding Finn who keeps coming to her rescue. Slowly Joy begins to realise that maybe a happy home isn’t about where you live, but who you’re with…
The Pride was a rustic, country pub, with low beamed ceilings and a great fireplace which Joy could imagine sitting by in the winter months, chatting with her new friends. Zach and Casey were funny and friendly and the fact that she wouldn’t be getting involved with either of them made things very easy and comfortable between them. She would just have to ignore the way her heart raced every time Zach brushed against her or looked at her.
The unfriendliness of the locals didn’t seem to be a problem either. Chloe, standing behind the bar and serving them, was as overenthusiastic as a puppy. She was sweet and had a huge smile that lit up her entire face.
‘So you’re friends with Zach?’ Chloe said, finally diverting her attention from the man himself, as he chatted with her.
‘She’s my friend actually,’ Casey said and Joy was thrown by the slight protective tone to his voice.
Zach obviously picked up on the tone as well and he slid an arm round Joy’s waist, clearly trying to piss his brother off or make him jealous. Little did he know. ‘He’s always been the same Joy, never wanted to share his toys.’ He turned back to Chloe. ‘Joy’s just moved in next door, so I’m just showing her the sights, making her feel welcome.’
Chloe let out a girly, high-pitched giggle, twisting her hair round her finger.
Joy looked around at the scattering of customers. Was it her imagination or did the pub suddenly go quieter when Zach announced that she had moved in next door? They were bound to be curious about any newcomers to their tiny village, but the room seemed colder all of a sudden. Although a nearby pair of older men were seemingly focused on a game of chess, and three old ladies – all supping pints of dark coloured bitter and wearing thick woolly cardigans, despite the heat of the night – were chatting quietly in a small booth. None of them seemed to be interested in her. She must have imagined it.
Sitting in the corner, reading a paper, was Finn Mackenzie. And there it was, the huge tidal wave of desire crashing over her again. She could see why Casey was head over heels in love with him. The permanent scowl did nothing to detract from his appearance.
She hadn’t made the best first impression on him. But even if she wasn’t his type, they should at least be civil to each other for the sake of neighbourly relations. She turned back to Chloe.
‘Can I get a pint of whatever Finn is drinking?’
Casey and Zach sucked in their breath.
‘Seriously, you really want to go there?’ Zach said.
‘This is not going to be pretty.’ Casey shook his head in warning.
‘Look, I’m not chatting the man up. I just think we started off on the wrong foot after I got ice cream all down him earlier. If we’re going to live next to each other, it makes sense that we can at least be on talking terms.’
Chloe put a pint of bitter on the bar. ‘Good luck.’
‘When he shoots you down, we’ll be over in the corner.’ Zach gestured to the part of the pub that was the furthest away from Finn.
A smile and a free pint went a long way with most men, so she picked up the bitter and walked over to him.
‘Finn, hi,’ she said, gaining his attention. His eyes cast over her for a second, before he returned his gaze to the paper again. She was undeterred – determined to get one civil word from him, she pressed on. ‘Look I know we started badly, but I’m sure we can at least be polite when we see each other. I’m Joy Cartier and…’
‘I don’t care,’ he said, without even looking up.
Annoyed, she stepped closer. ‘I’m not hitting on you and I know I’m not your type but…’
He looked up, appraising her with what appeared to be a look of disgust. ‘You’ve got that right; you are most definitely not my type. Now I suggest you run along back to your friends.’
He turned back to the paper again and Joy felt her jaw clenching at the dismissal. She slammed the bitter down on top of his newspaper, so it splashed over the glass, soaking the article he was reading. ‘You’re welcome.’
With that she turned and stormed back to the warmer side of the pub.
Finn watched her go. The girl could certainly flounce. The black dress she was wearing seemed to flounce as well; it shook dramatically around her bum and legs as she moved. Damn it. He didn’t like short women. He was so big that kissing someone small was always a problem. And redheads? No way, not again. He would just ignore the flash of heat that surged through him when she had walked over.
Joy Cartier though, not Jo Carter as everyone thought. Joy Cartier from Ascot. So she was rich. She probably had a pony called Princess and a butler called James. Even the way she said Cartier screamed of wealth, not Car-te-er but Car-te-yay. She drove a Range Rover too, big flashy thing that had probably never seen a fleck of mud in its life. He didn’t like snobs.
As she walked, the eyes of every single person in the pub followed her. They weren’t friendly either, some glared at her with mistrust, but most eyes were filled with pure venomous hatred.
He pushed away the sudden need to protect her. He forced his eyes away from her and back to his paper. The ale stain was spreading slowly across the article about The Dark Shadow that he had been avidly reading. He tried to pick out the words through the watery mess. He would not get involved.
Joy knew she had a big, stupid grin on her face. Apart from the cretin in the corner, life in the tiny village had started just as she had imagined it would. She already had two friends and was sitting in her local, putting the world to rights. Zach was very funny and, as Casey said, very charming and attentive. Finn was a git, but she wouldn’t let that spoil her mood.
Casey got up to get another round in, coincidentally at the same time that Finn went to the bar. As the appreciative gaze from Zach returned, Joy excused herself to go to the toilet.
It was as she was washing her hands that Chloe came into the toilet behind her. Joy turned round to speak to her, but she was thrown by the look on her face. Gone was the giddy over exuberance and huge smile – her eyes were dark, filled with hate.
Chloe grabbed Joy by the scruff of the neck and threw her against the wall. Pain seared through her as something stabbed into the back of her shoulder. Joy reacted instinctively, without thought. Her self-defence teacher had taught her well and in that moment when the mind was still processing the attack, her body seemingly reacted by itself. She kneed Chloe hard in the stomach and as she staggered back, Joy kicked her legs out from under her and slammed her into the floor, pinning her down with her foot to her chest.
She hadn’t meant to do that. But as Chloe struggled against her, she didn’t think it was safe to let her up any time soon.
‘What’s your problem?’ Joy said, concerned by the amount of blood that was pouring down her arm. She looked round to see some kind of nail or picture hook hanging out of the wall, which Chloe had inadvertently thrown her against.
‘Zach’s mine,’ Chloe growled.
‘Seriously!! You’ve just attacked me over Zach? Honey, I have absolutely no interest in Zach whatsoever. Casey has already warned me off him, says he’s with a different woman every week. I have no desire to be another notch on his bedpost. I’ve just moved next door to him, that’s all.’
‘He loves me. Those other women mean nothing to him. He’s just sowing his seed. When he’s finished, he’ll come back to me. You’ll see. He’s mine, so keep your filthy hands off him.’
Joy shook her head at the lack of comprehending on Chloe’s part. ‘And you’re welcome to him.’
‘And Casey is with one of my friends, so you can’t have him.’
‘He…? Erm… I’m not interested in Casey either.’ That was a turn up for the books.
‘The man’s an arse, I’m definitely not interested in him.’
All the fight seemed to go out of Chloe. ‘Zach does love me.’
Still not sure whether to let her up, Joy kept her foot on Chloe’s chest a moment longer. ‘I’m sure he does.’
The toilet door suddenly opened and another lady that worked behind the bar came in. Joy presumed she was the pub landlady. She was a large, short woman who would look right at home on a rugby field.
‘What the hell is going on here?’
Joy thought this might be an opportune moment to let Chloe off the floor. ‘Just a difference of opinion, right Chloe? I think we’ve sorted things out now.’
Chloe scrabbled up, clearly still winded by the knee to the stomach, and shot Joy a filthy look. ‘She attacked me Pam, said I was to stay away from Zach, she just threw me to the ground for no reason.’
Joy opened her mouth to protest, but stopped. The landlady’s face was like an open book. Joy could tell that Pam knew Chloe was lying, Pam clearly knew of Chloe’s inappropriate infatuation for a man who didn’t return her feelings, and she had already seen the blood trickling down Joy’s arm. But Pam had already decided whose side she was on, and it wasn’t the side where the customer was always right.
‘How dare you come into my pub and attack my staff like this. Get out now.’
Pam took a threatening step towards her and, recognising that that was one fight she certainly didn’t want to have, Joy held up her hands in a symbol of defeat and surrender. ‘I’m going.’
‘And don’t you dare show your face in this pub again.’
Joy scooted out, past Pam and into the pub. She hurried over to Zach’s table and grabbed her jacket.
‘Hey, where you going? I’ve just bought you a drink.’ Casey said, as he sat back down.
‘I’ve got to go. Sorry, you boys stay here, enjoy your evening. Don’t worry about me.’
‘Are you ok?’ Zach stood up, suddenly filled with concern. ‘You’re bleeding. Here, let me walk you back.’
She edged to the door. ‘No, I’m fine. My house is only a minute away. I’ll be fine. Stay here, please and finish your drinks.’
With concerned looks from both of them, she hurried out the pub.
Finn glared at Joy as she ran out the pub. He felt annoyed by the protective feelings she provoked in him.
Chloe was about as unhinged as Kathy Bates’s character in Misery so when he had seen her stalking into the bathroom after Joy, he’d known it was going to lead to some confrontation. He had to physically stop himself from going into the bathroom after them. He was shocked to see Joy hurrying out of the bathroom a few minutes later, bleeding and shaken, but stunned that Pam had to physically help Chloe out of the bathroom seconds after Joy had left. Little Joy Cartier had obviously given as good as she’d got. But he still had this need to go after her to make sure she was ok.
He would not get involved. That would only lead down one path and he wasn’t going to let that happen again.
His eyes flitted to Mrs Brannigan who was hurriedly finishing her pint and heading out the door after Joy. Albert Cole, with a dark look of venom in his eyes, met her at the door and with a mutual nod of understanding between them they quickly left.
Finn was already on his feet as he slammed down the pint that he knew would now go to waste. He cursed Joy for making him care and stormed out of the pub after them.
Outside, Joy slipped off her shoes and leaving her jacket on top of them, she walked down to the edge of the small pond. Moonlight bathed the waters with silvery ribbons. The village was so quiet. There was not a single sound to be heard. It was a beautiful place and she was so desperate to finally find a place that she could call home. But now it seemed that Bramble Hill would go the same way as the other places she had tried, though she had never left because she had been involved in a fight before. She had thought the tiny little village would be the answer. London and the other big cities, where her neighbours had barely said two words to her for the entire time she had lived there, certainly hadn’t been.
She hadn’t even been here a day and she had alienated her neighbour by spilling ice cream down him, had a fight with a barmaid and been banned from her local. It wasn’t the rose-tinted start to village life she had hoped for. Suddenly she was pushed hard from behind and as she tumbled head first into the inky cold water she heard a man speak.
‘Piss off back to Ascot you little bitch,’
But then she also heard a far off shout that sounded like, ‘Oi, leave her alone.’
The coldness of the water was shocking against her hot skin, reeds closed around her like fingers, dragging her down as she fought against them to reach the surface. She gasped out as her head burst through the water and she struggled against the reeds to get to the side. She grabbed a log and pushed her hair out of her eyes, shivering against the cold.
Finn was standing on the edge of the pond, his expression thunderous and she wondered if he was capable of any other expression.
‘Oh very good, payback for me covering you with ice cream was it? A bit childish, but yes revenge is certainly a dish best served cold.’ She was trying to laugh it off, keep some dignity even though she looked like a drowned rat, but she had been shocked by the maliciousness of the push. She heaved herself out of the cold water and clambered up onto her knees, aware of pain in her ankle and shin. The heat of the night did nothing to stop the chill of the cold water on her skin.
‘It wasn’t me,’ he said.
She looked around; the village was quiet and deserted. ‘Well who then? The ghost of the pond perhaps. Oh was it Chloe?’
‘No she was still clutching her stomach when I left. People here are not going to take kindly to you after what you did.’
‘To Chloe? She attacked me, I just defended myself –’
‘I’m not talking about that nut job, everyone round here knows what’s she’s like – though beating her up certainly isn’t going to curry favour with the locals. I’m talking about Mrs Kemblewick.’
She looked up at him in confusion. He was a lot bigger than her, but from her position kneeling on the floor, the feeling of intimidation that seemed to seep from him was certainly more prevalent. She moved to get up, but quickly realised that the pain in her ankle was from a bad twist or sprain. She was determined that he wouldn’t know he had hurt her as well as soaking and embarrassing her, so she stayed where she was. She would wait till he had gone before she hobbled home. She shivered again.
‘Who’s Mrs Kemblewick?’
‘The lady you kicked out so you could move in. Classy, you don’t even know who was living there. Did Daddy’s solicitor handle everything for you?’
Her head was swimming with cold, confusion and pain and he clearly wasn’t going any time soon. She stood carefully, deliberately trying not to put any weight on her ankle. Her dress clung to her and she realised her bra had come undone at the back. To her absolute horror as she stood, one of her breasts fell out the top of her dress.
To her surprise, as she quickly scooped her breast back in, Finn’s coat was suddenly around her. It was huge, swamping her from neck to toe, making her feel like a child in her dad’s clothes. It was warm and smelt earthy.
She glared at him. ‘What the hell is wrong with you? You push me in the pond, then hang around so you can see how humiliated I am, give me some cryptic warning about some Mrs Kemblewick and then give me your coat because you suddenly feel guilty?’
‘As I said, it wasn’t me and if you don’t want my coat I’ll take it back.’
‘Fine.’ Joy shrugged out of it and passed it back to him, then wobbled a bit when she inadvertently put weight on her twisted ankle. Finn grabbed her arm to stop her falling back in.
Joy looked down at her shoulder. ‘I know, where Chloe attacked me, silly cow, threw me against a picture hook.’
‘I meant your shin.’
Joy glanced down and sure enough her shin was pouring with blood from a large gash just underneath her knee. Though the water was probably making it look worse than it was.
‘Just… go away Finn. You don’t like me; you’ve made that perfectly clear…’
Just then Casey came running down the banks towards them, closely followed by Zach.
‘What happened?! Joy, are you ok?’ Casey shrugged out of his jacket and wrapped it round her.
‘Someone pushed her in,’ Finn said.
‘Over Mrs Kemblewick?’ Casey said, rubbing her arms trying to get her warm.
Finn nodded then turned to walk away but stopped when he came face to face with Zach. If she thought the look of anger and hate that he had given her was bad enough, it was nothing in comparison to the look he gave Zach. It was pure venomous loathing. Zach stepped back under the weight of it, and with another filthy look in his direction, Finn stormed off.
Zach watched him go, then quickly moved to her side.
‘Are you hurt?’ he said, his arm round her shoulders.
‘No, not really – my ankle is twisted, I’ve cut my shin, but my pride is hurt more than anything.’
‘Here, lean on me, I’ll help you get back.’
Casey grabbed Joy’s shoes and jacket and with Zach supporting her she hobbled the short distance back to her house. On the way, she explained what had happened between her and Chloe and then with Finn and the pond.
‘It wasn’t Finn,’ Casey said, as he opened her front door for her. ‘I know he can be a moody sod, but there’s no way he would do that.’
Zach nodded. ‘Me and Finn don’t get on, as you no doubt saw, but I’d have to agree with Casey, Finn would never do something like that.’
Joy sighed as Zach helped her onto the sofa.
‘Then who, and more importantly why?’
Zach moved into the kitchen, probably to get some ice and Casey sat next to her.
‘My guess would be Albert Cole and Mrs Brannigan, they left the pub straight after you. I only thought it odd when Finn got up and went after them. He must have known something was wrong.’
Zach came back with a bowl of water and a towel. He knelt at her feet and started to clean up her cut. There was something about the way he ran the damp cloth up her leg that was incredibly intimate. His eyes were on hers as he moved the cloth over her and swallowing the desire to suddenly lean forward and kiss him, she tore her eyes from him and focused on Casey instead.
‘Who’s Mrs Kemblewick?’
‘A very sweet old lady that lived here for twenty years or more – so say the gossips.’ Casey said. ‘It seems she was the lover of the man that owned the house…’
‘Joe?’ That was a surprise. Her landlord was young, very good looking and had struck her as a bit of a ladies’ man. Who knew those ladies were of the elderly variety?
‘His father apparently, Eric Carter from Ascot. He would turn up two or three times a week, keep her entertained, so to speak. He died a few months ago, leaving the house to his child. Joe then gave Mrs Kemblewick notice that if she wanted to stay there she would have to start paying rent, seemingly paying rent in sexual favours for the last twenty years wasn’t going to cut it with the recently bereaved offspring. Mrs Kemblewick, having no income of her own, was forced into a retirement home. Something that the residents of Bramble Hill were less than impressed with. She died last week and I think the locals are baying for blood.’
Zach moved to sit on her other side, so he could clean up her shoulder.
‘We all thought that it was Joe Carter that was moving in. Or Jo as in Joanne. When you introduced yourself to me as Joy Cartier and told me you were renting, I knew we were going to have some problems. Though I didn’t expect this,’ Casey said.
‘Are you saying that my landlord Joe kicked out some old lady from her home and I’m now being punished for it?’
‘Sums it up, yes.’ Casey eyed his brother suspiciously over her shoulder.
Joy turned round to see what Zach was doing and regretted it immediately when she nearly clashed mouths with him. She shuffled away from him and he moved back as well.
‘Er… your cut to your shoulder is pretty deep and as it was a nail, I’d recommend getting a tetanus jab.’
She narrowed her eyes at him. ‘And what the hell is this thing with Chloe about?’
‘She is an absolute fruit loop. I slept with her, three, four years ago, just one drunken night. She’s been like my stalker ever since. I’ve made it clear that it was a one night only thing, that I’m not interested, but she won’t listen. Sorry about that. I’ll talk to her.’
‘So… that’s your thing is it, sleeping with a different woman each week, not worrying about the broken hearts you leave behind?’
‘Yes,’ Casey said. ‘She summed you up pretty quickly.’
‘With a little help from you no doubt.’ Zach glared at his brother. ‘I’m looking for love, Joy. It’s just very hard to find. And when you know that the person you’re with is not the one you’re going to spend the rest of your life with, there’s no point in continuing with it is there?’
His eyes were so honest and she suddenly felt like she’d found a kindred spirit. That’s what she had felt about all the places she had lived in over the last few years. She knew almost instantly that a place wasn’t going to be her home, so there seemed little point in sticking it out.
She felt her frown soften slightly. ‘I suppose not.’
She smirked when she heard Casey let out a sigh of exasperation behind her.
‘Listen both of you, get out. I need to think about how I’m going to persuade the village I’m really very lovely.’
Zach stood and with the sexy smile fixed back on his face, he moved towards the door. ‘I’m already persuaded.’
Casey rolled his eyes as he watched him go, then turned back to her. ‘You ok?’
He leaned forward and kissed her on the forehead. ‘I’ll probably see you tomorrow.’
She smiled as she watched him go. Damn his sexual preference.
Finn was lying in bed when he heard Joy come upstairs and start to move about in her room. He switched the TV off and listened.
The four houses in Blackberry Row used to be two larger houses and were converted into four smaller cottages, many years before. He shared floorboards with Joy. Zach shared them with Mr and Mrs Butterworth. The split had been done very successfully downstairs, so that you would never know that it once had been one large house. But up in the smaller back bedroom, they had either run out of time, money or patience and the dividing wall between his and Joy’s houses was so thin that he could hear everything. This hadn’t been a problem when Mrs Kemblewick lived there. Her bedroom, the one she shared with the previous owner of the house, was the front one, so Finn didn’t get to hear their sexual antics two or three times a week. But Joy, it seemed, preferred the amazing view that the back bedroom gave, which was the very reason he had chosen it to sleep in too.
The wall was so thin, or built so badly, that he could even see a thin sliver of light underneath the skirting boards. He rolled over to his side to watch the shadows move around the room as she did, finding it oddly comforting to have her there.
He heard her on the phone, putting the person she was calling on loud speaker as she no doubt got undressed.
‘Hello my lovely,’ said a man’s voice, which gave Finn an unexpected surge of jealousy.
Alex. That was her brother.
‘How’s your first night going?’
Finn heard the hesitation in her voice. She clearly wanted to tell Alex all about Chloe and the pond incident and the nasty man next door, but she didn’t.
‘Joy, I know that tone, what’s happened? Is it that moody sod that you spilt ice cream over, is he giving you grief?’
Little did Alex know that the moody sod next door was the least of Joy’s worries.
‘No, well I don’t think I’m going to win him round with my famous apple pie, but … everything’s fine. I’ve met some other people, there’s Casey, he’s lovely. I may give him your number actually; you might be able to advise him on a few things.’
‘Well I’ll let him tell you all about it, it wouldn’t be fair for me to tell you. And I’ve met his brother Zach who lives the other side of me.’
There was a pause from Alex and Finn could hear the laughter in his voice when he spoke.
‘And Zach, is he lovely too?’
Joy laughed. ‘Yes he is, but by all accounts he’s a complete tart. Casey warned me off him, so I’m staying well clear. We can just be friends.’
‘Men and women can’t be friends.’
Finn nodded in agreement. He certainly didn’t want to be friends with Joy, because then it would be friends who would hang out together, friends that would kiss, friends that would… No it would be better all round if he stayed as the moody sod next door.
‘Sure they can. You’ve got lots of women friends,’ Joy said.
‘That’s because I’m gay. That’s like being an honorary female. Besides they know they’re never going to get anywhere with me, so they don’t have to worry about impressing me or making me jealous, they can just be themselves. That’s the only time male/female friendships works. You can sort of be friends with the husband of a female friend, that’s ok as long as the female friend is laidback enough or comfortable enough in their relationship not to get all jealous and psycho every time the two of you speak. Other than that, being friends with a man doesn’t work, especially not when you’re both single and both attracted to each other.’
‘Well I’m going to prove you wrong. Absolutely nothing is going to happen between me and Zach.’
‘How much do you want to bet?’
‘A million pounds.’
Finn sat up. Bloody hell. Was she that rich that she could so easily bandy about that kind of money?
‘Anyway, I’m going to sleep now, that’s if I can shift Darcy off the bed, she’s slept all afternoon, lazy sod.’
‘Joy, are you sure you’re ok?’
‘I’m fine, everything’s okay. Goodnight. I love you.’
‘Love you too, kid.’
There was a beep to indicate the call had finished and then there was a heavy sigh.
‘Yeah, everything’s fine Al, the moody sod next door hates me, the locals are going to run me out of the town with pitchforks and burning torches, I was pushed in a pond, had a fight with a barmaid and I’m now covered in so many cuts and bruises I look like I’ve had a run in with Mike Tyson. Yeah everything is absolutely fine.’ She sighed again. ‘Shift your arse Darcy, you big fatty.’
There was the sound of the bed creaking, the light went out and then silence.
Finn lay back on his pillow. She’d not had the best start to village life and he was part of the reason for that. He couldn’t help feeling guilty. The villagers were going to make her life hell; he didn’t need to add to it. In fact, he was probably the only one that could stop it. His position in the village as local celebrity should be able to afford him some weight in these matters. But then again, her moving out wouldn’t be such a bad thing either. Then he could just go back to his uncomplicated life.
Suddenly there was the sound of a really loud fart.
He sat up in surprise. Surely not.
‘Darcy, I swear, if that stinks, I’m shoving a cork up your bum.’
He smiled to himself. Maybe having her next door wouldn’t be so bad after all. Just as long as they weren’t friends.
Finn was standing at the bottom of his garden, staring at the heather covered hills that swept up from his back fence. It was early morning and the sun, if it had bothered to come out at all, was currently hiding behind heavy rain clouds. He had never minded the rain. In fact he loved it, it was always so peaceful. The only noise he could hear was the soft thud of raindrops hitting his hood. That was until he heard a wailing behind him.
He turned quickly, wondering if someone had been hurt, and immediately saw Joy dancing around in her bedroom window, seemingly singing or rather shrieking her version of ‘It’s Raining Men’. She was wrapped only in a towel, a tangle of red wet hair hanging down her back. She spun around and as she did the towel fell away. His eyes drank her in. In a flash, his hands were caressing her pale, milky skin, feeling the fire of her hair between his fingers, pulling her warm body against his.
Unashamed, she carried on dancing. If it could be called that. Every part of her seemed to be wiggling as if she was attached to strings and controlled by a very drunk puppeteer. Her arms were punching up and down, her hips going side to side and her knees knocking together. But none of this detracted from the incredibly beautiful body. The innocent enthusiasm was incredibly endearing. After the night before, he expected her to be moping around, but it seemed nothing could keep Joy in a bad mood. He couldn’t help but smile at her.
The music obviously changed, because the next thing she was screaming along to ‘Lady Marmalade’ by All Saints. He didn’t need to be fluent in French to know the lyrics meant ‘Do you want to sleep with me tonight.’ Every teenage boy on his university trip to France made sure they knew those words if nothing else. The terrible dancing had changed too. It was still terrible but was now what could only be classed as provocative, as she ground her hips round in slow circles.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her. What an absolute creep he was. But no matter how much he despised himself, he could do nothing to stop it.
Suddenly anger flooded through him. She knew he was out here, that’s why she was dancing like this. How could she not see him? He was wearing a bright yellow hoodie; it’d be pretty hard to miss. She was either trying to turn him on, or she was just teasing him to wind him up.
Either option was not pleasing in his book.
He stormed back into the house, out onto the street and hammered on her front door.
It took a few moments for her to answer, when she did she was thankfully wrapped in a white robe. Her face was flushed with happiness, which immediately vanished as soon as she saw him.
‘Let’s get one thing straight, I don’t like you, and I certainly don’t fancy you. That little show you’ve just put on for my benefit only made you look ridiculous.’
Her mouth fell open, her face going a bright shade of red. She’d clearly had no idea he was out there. But he’d started now, so he was damned sure he was going to finish.
‘I suggest if you want to dance, badly may I just point out, that you put some bloody clothes on or draw the curtains. That way I won’t see something I really don’t want to see.’
With that he marched back to his house.
But she was hot on his heels.
‘You arrogant, conceited, jumped up little shit. I was not dancing for you. I didn’t even know you were there. And you know what, if I want to dance naked in the privacy of my own home, I will. I suggest if you are offended by my nudity, you look away, instead of perving on me like the disgusting creep that you are.’
She flounced away.
He caught her arm and span her round.
‘Hey!’ came Zach’s voice, protectively, though he was wise enough not to come any closer.
Finn stared down at Joy, his jaw clenched. Her eyes, currently filled with hatred, were an intense olive green, tiny freckles covered her nose and shoulders. Her lips…
He let her go, taking a step back before he closed the gap between them and kissed her. What was wrong with him? She infuriated him; he certainly didn’t like her in that way.
He flashed Zach an obligatory filthy look, looked back to Joy, at her wet hair dripping down her neck, at the swell of her breast that was peeping out the top of her robe, and then stormed back into his own house.
Joy watched him go, her heart pounding.
‘You ok?’ Zach stepped up to her a fraction too late.
She nodded, aware that her hands were shaking.
‘What was that about?’
‘Er…’ she tore her eyes away from Finn’s front door and looked at Zach instead. ‘Just Finn making it very clear he doesn’t like me.’
‘Oh that. Don’t take it personally, he doesn’t like anyone.’
She noticed Zach’s eyes travelling down her body, his pupils widening with lust. She looked down to see that her wet hair was making the robe damp and see-through. Folding her arms across her chest she moved back towards the house.
‘I’ll see you later.’
His face fell slightly as she closed the door.
How strange to be so desired and so hated within a matter of seconds. Her heart was still pounding furiously. In part it was down to anger at Finn’s arrogance and comments, but she knew mainly it was down to a wave of desire and need that had crashed over her when he had grabbed her and spun her around. If he had thrown her over his shoulder and carried her back to his cave right then, she would have only protested out of principle.
Suddenly a disgusting smell hit her nose. She looked around to find the source and saw a piece of paper, with what could only be dog poo on it. Scrawled across the paper in large angry capital letters was the word BITCH. It had clearly been posted through her letterbox that morning, but because she had opened the door, she had dislodged half the poo and it had mushed into the carpet and underneath the door.
Retribution for Mrs Kemblewick was swift indeed. She stomped into the kitchen to get a bowl of hot soapy water to clean up the mess and knew she would have to come up with a plan and quick.
Casey let himself through Finn’s back door and helped himself to a bottle of beer from the fridge before moving through to the front room. Finn was sprawled out on his sofa, reading a book and he looked at Casey over the top of it when he walked in.
‘Could have got one for me while you’re raiding my fridge,’ Finn said, marking his place in his book and throwing it onto the coffee table. He stood up and stretched, showing the toned muscles in his stomach for a brief second. If Casey didn’t know better, he’d think Finn was deliberately torturing him.
Casey sat down, picking up the book as Finn went to get a beer for himself.
‘Any good?’ he waved the book in the air as Finn returned.
‘I have no idea,’ Finn sighed.
Casey smiled. ‘Yeah, I thought you might say that. Are you doing ok?’
‘Joy’s incredibly beautiful.’
‘She’s not my type.’
‘Oh come on, are you saying that to convince me or yourself?’
Finn sat down. ‘Me, obviously. If I say it enough, I might start to believe it.’
Casey stroked the head of Billy, Finn’s straggly dog. His heart went out to Finn. For him to have his heart broken twice by the same woman must have been horrendous. Finn’s child would have been a year old now and Casey wondered how often Finn must think about that.
‘Admittedly Joy has red hair like Pippa but that’s where the similarities end. She’s lovely. You’d really like her if you gave her a chance.’
Finn stared at Casey as if he’d just suggested he should chop off his own head.
‘I can’t do a relationship again, I just can’t. Pippa hurt me spectacularly and I never want to be hurt like that again.’
‘Mate, I’m not suggesting you marry her or even jump into bed with her, I’m just saying be nice. Don’t treat her like scum just because she has the same hair colour as your ex-wife. She’s had a bit of a rough life…’ He hesitated in telling Finn about Joy’s parents, but there was a vulnerability in Joy that he wanted to protect. ‘Her parents were killed when she was a kid. I feel like she’s come here for a fresh start and now the villagers are all giving her grief over this stupid Mrs Kemblewick fiasco – which has nothing to do with her, by the way. Her landlord is Joe Carter, the man that kicked Mrs Kemblewick out, she just has a similar name.’
‘No, she has no idea who Mrs Kemblewick is. Look, she needs a friend and if you can’t manage that, then at least be civil to her.’
Casey put the empty bottle of beer on the table. ‘I’m going next door to see if she’s ok after last night. Anything you want me to say to her?’
Finn shook his head as he stared at the floor. Casey smiled sympathetically at him. Finn had gone through a rough time too, but Casey was damned sure he wasn’t going to let Finn take his anger out on Joy just because he was still messed up over his own heartbreak.
Finn watched Casey go and groaned. Joy’s parents were dead. That made things so much worse. He had this innate need to protect, to comfort. That was how he had met Pippa. She had driven her car into a ditch at the side of the road and although she was unhurt, she was very shaken and tearful when he had pulled over to see if he could help. Her tears, her clinging to him as he held her, was what had done it. He had been lost, beyond redemption from that point on.
Now he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms round Joy and hold her.
An orphan. She could only be about thirty and she had lost both parents. He would be distraught if he lost his, he couldn’t even begin to think what that would feel like. And she had moved here and the welcome party was well and truly out.
He would have to try to be civil to her from now on. He wouldn’t be friends with her, that would lead to trouble, but at least he could be polite.
There was a knock on her door as Joy was knee deep in tissue paper and pretty lilac notelets. The kitchen smelt delicious and Darcy had moved downstairs in the hope of scrounging some morsels. She should have taken poor Darcy for a walk ages ago, though she seemed happy to sleep on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor at the moment.
She hurried to the door; Casey was standing there, looking lovely and dishevelled.
‘Hi, how you feeling today?’
‘I’m good, come in, you can help me.’ She turned back down towards the kitchen and Casey followed her.
She watched him look at the chaos and mess across the breakfast table and then at her with amusement. She tried to look at it through his eyes; the desperation of a mad woman.
‘What are you doing?’
‘These are my friendship cakes. I’ve made one for each house in the village. I’m wrapping them in tissue paper and putting a note in with each one explaining who I am and inviting them all to a housewarming barbeque this Sunday. Here, read the note and tell me what you think.’
He picked up one of the lilac notelets and read it. It explained that she was Joy Cartier and was renting from Joe Carter, that though their names were similar she was not related to him or the previous owner. It said she was very sorry for what had happened to Mrs Kemblewick, but it really had nothing to do with her. It was brief, friendly but to the point, and had taken her hours to construct those few little lines.
‘It’s fine,’ Casey said. ‘But I don’t know if it will work. They seemed to be quite irate when I was in the village shop this morning. I tried to explain to them who you were, but they practically shooed me out of the shop, telling me it was village business and as such was none of mine.’
She stopped in the middle of wrapping up another cake in red tissue paper. ‘You don’t live here?’
‘No, I live in Ashton Woods, the next village.’
‘Oh.’ This bothered her more than it should. She thought that she had at least two friends in the village, now it was down to only one – and Zach was only friends with her because he wanted to sleep with her. ‘Well, it’s clear they’re never going to be my best friends but maybe I can persuade them not to push me in the pond again or post dog poo through my letterbox.’
‘What?’ Casey’s eyes widened as he picked up one of the cakes and artfully arranged the tissue paper around it in a way that she could never achieve.
‘Found it this morning, with a note telling me I’m a bitch.’
He shook his head. ‘Well then, you certainly can’t make it any worse. I’ll give you a hand.’
They worked diligently between them for a while until all the cakes were wrapped.
She sat down, her back aching a bit, and looked out the window at the rain that hadn’t stopped all morning. The hills looked dramatic, silhouetted against the grey sky.
‘It needs to stop raining by tonight, I really need to go out to work,’ she said, then wished she hadn’t as that was bound to lead to questions.
‘A lady of the night are you?’ Casey’s eyes gleamed with excitement. ‘A prostitute? A spy?’
‘Yes to both. Spying doesn’t pay well, so I supplement it with a bit of prostitution.’
‘I thought so. Oh that’s what I meant to ask you,’ she quickly changed the subject. ‘When Chloe was threatening me to keep away from Zach, she also said that I couldn’t have you because you were with one of her friends.’
Casey picked up a crumb of cake from the baking tray. ‘Umm… yes, Arielle.’
She waited for more details but clearly none were forthcoming. ‘You’re dating a girl?’
‘Yeah, well not really dating, sort of…’
There was another knock on the door, interrupting what Casey was clearly finding embarrassing to tell her. She presumed it was Finn or Zach and found herself straightening her hair as she moved to answer it, then cursed herself for doing it.
Opening the door, Joy came face to face with a spaghetti thin blonde, her hair scraped back in a very severe looking French roll. She was dressed in a very expensive, very short dress with matching jacket and her face had that look of someone who had sucked a lemon. She was pretty, Joy supposed, and would be even prettier without the excessive makeup and angry pursed lips. She was holding an umbrella over her that matched the colour of her dress suit exactly.
‘Is my fiancé in there with you?’
Joy felt like she’d just received a smack to the face with that news, but quickly collected herself. Clearly this woman had come to the wrong house.
‘Arielle, hi,’ came Casey’s voice behind her.
There was a silence as Joy processed this information and Arielle cast her beady eye over her.
‘This is Joy, she’s just moved in next to Zach,’ Casey said.
‘Evidently,’ said Arielle, icily.
‘Er…’ Casey fumbled for something to say. Gone was the happy, relaxed Casey – he had rapidly been replaced by someone who was clumsy, awkward and clearly petrified of his fiancé. ‘Joy is my cousin. Remember me telling you about Uncle Raymond, well this is his daughter.’
Arielle stared at Joy vacantly for a moment as well she might. Joy was feeling equally confused. Finally Arielle nodded and stretched out her hand for a delicate and formal handshake. ‘Of course, Cousin Joy, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. You’ll be coming to the wedding next week?’
‘Yes, we invited her ages ago, she RSVP’d straightaway. We were quite close growing up.’ Casey squeezed past Joy who seemed to be frozen in the hallway.
Arielle cast her eyes over her again. ‘Of course, well if I don’t see you before, we’ll see you then. Casey do come along, we must meet with Jules to discuss the flowers. Apparently I can’t change the roses to daffodils as they aren’t in season. You need to talk to her.’
Without waiting for an answer, Arielle marched down the path to a little red convertible that was gleaming on the street. Casey glanced at Joy as he followed.
‘I can explain, I promise,’ he said and hurried after Arielle.
‘I can’t wait,’ Joy shouted after him.
But whether he heard or not, she didn’t know because her voice was lost in the noise of the engine as the car roared up the road.
Joy delivered the cakes to each doorstep in the village, though she hadn’t quite been brave enough to knock on the doors. Then it was time to take Darcy for a walk.
She intended to trek along the hill range past Menton Hall. She had a job to do there that night, if the rain stopped, and she wanted to get an idea of the lay of the land.
That’s what she was telling herself, it wasn’t at all because the hills held sentimental attachment to her.
When one of Alex’s friends had mentioned that his cousin was doing up a place in the country with a view to renting, Joy had taken it as a sign that it was time to move on from the busy town of Milton Keynes. She had been a face in the crowd there and had no more than a nodding acquaintance with her neighbours of three months.
It was only as she had driven round to see the house that the village names started to sound familiar. She had rounded a corner and was suddenly met with the striking hills that bordered the cluster of villages, the same hills that she had trekked over every weekend with her dad, right up until the weekend before he died.
Even before she saw the house, she knew she was going to say yes. Maybe she could never go back home, but maybe walking these hills with Darcy, as she had done many years before with her dad, would be all she needed to feel at home.
Joy sighed as Darcy left her side and went galloping up to greet Finn’s straggly dog. Seemingly, in the dog world, you just had to shove your nose up the other dog’s bum and you were best friends for life. She wondered what Finn’s reaction to that would be if she tried it. She hung back a little, hoping Finn would try to avoid her, but he was obviously on his way home now, so their paths had to cross if she intended taking Darcy on the walk she had planned. Finn called his dog away from Darcy, but Billy, tongue hanging out, stupid grin in place, was very interested in her. He had that demented look about him when a dog smells a bitch in heat. Damn it. Darcy had been a bit listless the day before, but Joy had put it down to the move. Still they wouldn’t be here long enough for Billy to get lucky. Hopefully Finn would pass without a single word.
He drew closer. He always looked so cool, even today tramping over the rain sodden fields with his dog, he looked like he’d just stepped out of a clothes commercial. He was wearing a simple baseball cap and a waterproof hoodie, but he still looked sexy. And also, as he drew closer, she saw he was wearing a sneer just for her. Her heart sank. Well attack was sometimes the best form of defence.
She marched up to him. ‘Why is it you hate me so much? It can’t possibly be about the ice cream, that would be unbelievably petty. And as you don’t get involved with village matters it can’t be about Mrs Kemblewick either, which by the way had nothing to do with me. So it’s either like Casey said, you hate me because I have red hair, which would be very shallow and small minded or it’s just that you’re a bastard for no other reason than you like to make people’s lives a misery. So tell me, which is it?’
He glared at her but when there was clearly no answer forthcoming, she turned away from him. ‘I’ll take that as the latter then. Darcy, heel!’
She walked away from him, her hands clenched into fists in her pockets, and refused to look back.
Damn it. Finn watched her go, his hand on Billy’s collar, who seemed very keen to follow them. Just like his owner. She was right, he was a bastard. He felt beyond guilty for shouting at her that morning just for singing and dancing – and then as she walked towards him, he had been appalled by how turned on he was after seeing Joy dressed in her waxed jacket and cap. It was a waxed jacket and cap, how could it be sexy? The black dress she had worn the day before was sexy. Not a waxed jacket and a pair of battered walking boots. He was determined to be polite, regardless of these insane feelings for her slamming through him. He was going to say hello, that was as good a start as any but as his emotions clawed away inside him his face must have been a picture as he battled with a sudden fear of redheads, a fear of intimacy and a fear of what might happen if they got too close. And whatever she had seen in his face had not been good, going on the defence before he attacked her again.
So now not only did he have to be polite to a woman, a redhead none the less, but he was going to have to work on his facial expressions too. He practiced a smile, the feeling of his mouth turning upwards felt alien to him. He looked down at Billy with the rictus grin stuck on his face, Billy glanced up at him and whined with something akin to fear. Finn sighed and headed for home.
The sun finally decided to make an appearance late afternoon as Joy came back home from her walk.
Though would it ever be the place she could finally call home? She would give Bramble Hill a chance, just like all the other places she had tried over the years. Joe, her landlord, had said if she wanted to stay, permanently, he would sell the place to her, but he was quite happy to rent in the meantime. She could easily afford the asking price if she decided to buy it; her job paid her ridiculously well. But as with the other places, she rented first, in a “try before you buy” type way. So far, she’d not found anywhere that she had wanted to buy.
As she drew close to her house, she noticed a collection of flies and wasps around her front door. More dog poo? But then the wasps wouldn’t be interested in that.
She moved closer and realised, with a crashing wave of disappointment, that many, if not all, of her lovingly made friendship cakes had been deposited on her doorstep. Some had seemingly been stamped on and some had even been forcibly shoved through her letterbox. They either hadn’t bothered to read the notes once they spotted it was from her, or hadn’t believed the declaration that she’d had nothing to do with the ousting of Mrs Kemblewick. It did seem slightly implausible that she was Joy Cartier and her landlord was Joe Carter; she and Joe had laughed about it when they had first met. It was much more believable that she was lying about who she was.
She couldn’t even get through the front door, there were so many wasps. She had legal access to her back garden through Finn’s garden. There was a side gate that allowed her to walk through his garden and into hers. She hadn’t used it yet, though she had every right to do so. She thought that it would be the polite thing to do to check with Finn before she strolled across his land. But since the man was an arse, she certainly wasn’t going to extend that courtesy to him.
She opened his back gate, which legally had to be kept unlocked, and walked purposefully towards her own gate, biting her lip as she hoped she could get past unnoticed. She would just walk across his garden as if she had every right to do so, which of course she did. Five metres away, four, three… and if he had noticed her he hadn’t come out and yelled at her yet. Suddenly something in Finn’s downstairs window caught her eye, and despite her best intentions to be in and out in mere seconds, she couldn’t help but look.
There was Finn, stark naked, drying his wet hair with a towel.
If you enjoyed these chapters, you can buy your copy of Beneath the Moon and the Stars here http://amzn.to/1sdZ0rw