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After nearly 25 years of marriage, Rosie?s life seems to be falling apart. Her husband, Leon, tells her he?s leaving her, her three children are very unhappy and unsettled, and even her beloved home, Honeysuckle House, is at risk. Without Leon and the painful disruption to everyone?s lives, the family is also finding it hard to cope with the running of the family restaurant, Cookery Nook. However, although Rosie could never have imagined it, Leon?s leaving isn?t the end, but a new beginning for everyone?
Release date: April 9, 2014
Publisher: Accent Press
Print pages: 148
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Rosie knew what was in the envelope even before she picked it up from the mat.
It lay there, protruding from the usual morning thump of post, in a shaft of early sunlight on the tiled hall floor. A medium-sized, cream envelope with the increasingly familiar logo of Brennan and Foulkes, addressed to Leon, her husband.
‘Anything for me, Mum?’
She scooped up the letters just as Kizzy appeared at the top of the stairs, and pushed the cream envelope to the bottom of the pile.
‘One with an Edinburgh postmark.’ She smiled at her daughter, the smile betraying none of the fear the cream envelope had created. ‘Just for a change …’
‘Thanks, Mum!’ Kizzy’s beam challenged the sunshine. ‘Only another week and he’ll be home!’
‘And you’ll have nothing left to talk about,’ Rosie teased. ‘Having written twice a day and lived on the phone every night … ‘
‘Andrew and I always have things to talk about,’ Kizzy retorted with eighteen-year-old superiority, as she disappeared back upstairs in a flurry of stripy nightshirt and tumbled red hair to read Andrew’s latest missive in the privacy of her room.
Oh yes, Rosie thought, leafing quickly through the rest of the letters, keeping Brennan and Foulkes at the bottom, how well I remember being eighteen and in love.
Nearly twenty-five years ago, she and Leon had been just like Kizzy and Andrew, dreaming of their future, the whole world out there to conquer, and nothing mattering as long as they were together. And now …
Now, the regular letters from Brennan and Foulkes were a tangible reminder of just how wide the chasm had become.
‘Anything interesting in the post?’ Leon said artlessly, not looking up from his combination of the morning paper and a cup of tea as Rosie walked into the sunny dining room.
‘A letter from Andrew for Kizzy.’ She walked to the window and looked out over her beloved garden. ‘The usual circulars, a bank statement for William – and this …’ She turned slowly, holding out the cream envelope as though it physically burned her.
‘Oh – right …’ Leon took the envelope, not meeting her eyes, and placed it unopened beneath his newspaper.
‘You’re not even going to open it?’
No, Rosie thought, watching him bend his head over the latest political scandal, not while I’m here. Whatever Brennan and Foulkes had to say, it didn’t concern her.
‘Leon, we have to discuss this.’
He looked up at her. ‘Why? Discussion never seems to come into it, Rosie. You’re usually determined not even to consider it. This is it as far as you’re concerned, isn’t it?’ He made a wide gesture round the high-ceilinged room. ‘This house, the garden, the children, this tiny unfashionable town … Life begins and ends here for you, doesn’t it?’
‘Yes!’ His words didn’t even hurt her any more. ‘Yes, it does! Leon, this is what we dreamed of, what we planned for. Half the couples in the country would give their eye teeth for what we’ve got here and –’
‘And what finances it?’ He leaned forward across the breakfast table. ‘What has financed every home we’ve had, right from that first poky flat down on Mitchford Road, then the semi in The Crescent when William was a baby and Kizzy was on the way and we needed more space, then this …?’
He stopped and looked around the tall room, with its bay window, its old-fashioned dado rails, its much-polished heavy furniture. It was almost as though he hated it, Rosie thought sadly. Almost as though he thought of Honeysuckle House as a prison. The house which had once been their joint dream …
‘Cookery Nook.’ Leon answered his own question, his eyes softening as he looked at Rosie. ‘Cookery Nook, Rosie. We’ve built Cookery Nook up from a run-down tea-shop into a restaurant that features in all the main eating guides. And if we go ahead with this venture it could bring us –’
‘No.’ Rosie pulled up a chair across from her husband at the polished walnut table and poured a cup of tea. ‘Listen to yourself, Leon. You’re saying “we” and “us”. That means joint decisions, joint discussions. But you went ahead with this without even consulting me.’
‘I didn’t think you’d mind.’ He folded the newspaper noisily. ‘You used to back me one hundred per cent. It never occurred to me that you’d become so – so staid …’
‘Staid!’ She returned her cup to its saucer with a clatter. ‘You think that wanting to stay here in Highcliffe where we know everyone and where our children have grown up, in this house, and run Cookery Nook – which has survived and prospered despite the recession – is staid?’
‘Yes, I do! Look, Rosie, the Nook has gone as far as I can push it. There’s no challenge any more. I set the same menus, create the same dishes, and welcome the same clientele. To be honest, I’m bored.’
He gathered up his newspaper and the unopened letter from Brennan and Foulkes, and stalked from the dining room.
She bit her lip. She loved him. And more than that, she knew him, too well. They’d been married for nearly twenty-five years, and in that time she’d watched his enthusiasm for new ventures flare like embryo fires, and die just as quickly. But this … this was different.
She ran her fingers through her brown hair. Staid. Bored. They were words Leon was using with increasing regularity. Words calculated to wound – or at least cause a reaction.
‘Mum! Where are you?’
Quickly Rosie wiped the tears from her lashes and stood up, her back to the door, again looking out over the garden while she composed herself.
‘I’m in the dining room, William. There’s some tea in the pot but the toast’s cold …’
‘I’m not hungry, thanks …’
Rosie could hear her elder son pouring tea, could picture his tall, broad-shouldered frame lowering itself into Leon’s chair – the carver that all three children had squabbled over for as long as she could remember.
‘You were late last night …’ Still she gazed out across her garden.
‘Spying on me, were you?’ William asked good-naturedly.
‘No. I couldn’t sleep …’ She couldn’t remember when she had last slept the night through. ‘Was it a late night at the Nook?’
‘Very.’ William gulped his tea gratefully. ‘One of the waitresses didn’t turn up and the girl they sent from the agency was hopelessly slow. Then the two blokes who do the pot-washing had a row and both walked out! If it hadn’t been for Steven I’d have still been there now!’
‘What was Steven doing at the Nook?’ Rosie turned from the window. Steven Casey had been a friend of Leon’s – and hers – since the early days, and Leon hadn’t mentioned his presence. But then, Leon mentioned very little to her these days.
‘He came in to see Dad.’ William stretched out his long legs under the table. ‘With one of his girlfriends in tow, of course. He begged a table and stayed anyway – and was I glad he did! He washes dishes like a dream!’
‘What do you mean, he stayed anyway …’ Rosie felt the fear gnawing at her again. ‘Didn’t Dad sort things out? He didn’t come home until at least half an hour after you …’
There was a silence as William suddenly seemed to find the dregs of his tea-cup extremely interesting.
Rosie watched as her son struggled, her heart going out to him.
‘Dad – Dad left the Nook sometime between seven and eight … I assumed he’d come here. I mean, he didn’t say anything …’ He raised his blue eyes to his mother. ‘To be honest, Mum, he’s not at the Nook very often these days … I think he’s lost interest. I mean, he leaves it more and more to me – the menus, the cooking. Then he just swans in at the end to chat to the diners and take the credit …’
Rosie winced at the bitterness in her son’s voice.
‘But not last night?’
‘No. We had a full house and I was literally left playing chief cook and bottle washer! I even had to go out in my whites and talk to Mr and Mrs Beatty! I wish you’d talk to Dad, Mum.’
Talk to him, Rosie thought, her heart growing heavier by the second. When did the talking stop and the bickering start? What on earth had happened to her marriage? To the happy-go-lucky dreamer she had married?
‘I’ll talk to him …’ She tried to smile. ‘But at least it shows that he trusts you to run the Nook single-handed, doesn’t it? He’s acknowledging that you’re as good a chef as he is …’
‘I’ll never be that.’ William poured another cup of tea. ‘I don’t have his flair. I still cook from recipes – Dad creates food from his heart …’
‘True.’ Rosie sighed. ‘He’s a genius in the kitchen. But what on earth did Mr and Mrs Beatty say when you appeared in full garb?’
‘Nothing much.’ William grinned, relieved that Rosie hadn’t cross-questioned him about Leon’s absence. ‘I told them that Dad had been called away. They asked after you, though,’ he finished hurriedly.
‘I’ll probably call in today.’
Rosie smoothed her sweatshirt down over her jeans, her calm, unlined face not betraying her pain. Paul Beatty was their bank manager, his wife, Norma, shared her passion for gardening, and they had become firm friends of the family.
She walked towards the door, then turned. ‘William, what do you know about Brennan and Foulkes?’
‘Brennan and who?’ He shook his head. ‘Never heard of them. Which team do they play for?’
‘They don’t!’ Rosie managed to laugh. At least William was being kept in the dark, too. ‘I think they’re financial consultants …’
‘You ought to ask the Beattys, then. They’re sure to know. I’m the last person to ask about finance – my bank statement is screaming scarlet!’
‘Yes, I might just do that …’ Rosie mused.
William leaned back in the carver as Rosie closed the door and let out his breath with a sigh. He’d always taken his parents’ relationship for granted, but there was something wrong somewhere. His mother seemed sad, distant, while his father … He shook his head. His father’s bright-eyed, almost fevered, joie-de-vivre was even more worrying. And his sudden lack of interest at Cookery Nook was fuelling a fever of lurid staff-room rumours.
The dining room door suddenly crashed open, and Kizzy flew in, still in her nightshirt, with her hair tumbling across her face.
‘I thought Mum was in here.’
‘She was. I think she’s on the phone. Why?’
Kizzy waved a sheaf of pages beneath her brother’s nose.
‘Andrew’s letter! He’ll be home next week – fully qualified! We’re getting married!’
Leon Brodie straightened his tie and ran his fingers through his hair in the driving mirror. The car park was full each space being filled immediately it became vacant by another harassed driver.
He glanced at his watch. He was still too early, so, settling back in his seat, he tried to watch the comings and goings around him. It was mostly women at this time of the afternoon, women with children, loading bags of supermarket shopping into the backs of cars. Why was it a source of irritation to him that Rosie didn’t drive?
‘I’m just not co-ordinated!’ She’d laughed years ago when he’d tried to teach her. ‘It’ll be safer for all concerned if I stay on my feet or my bicycle!’
He’d tried several more times, each time more disastrous than the last, and they’d always ended up laughing like hysterical children over Rosie’s inability to change gear, steer, and watch the road at the same time.
Leon glanced at his watch again. Ten minutes to go.
That laughter – it seemed like a lifetime ago, he thought with sadness. How long was it since he had heard Rosie laugh? When was the last time he had laughed at Honeysuckle House …?
Getting out of the car, he brushed down his suit jacket, and the envelope from Brennan and Foulkes rustled warningly in his breast pocket.
‘Oh, Rosie …’ He sighed. ‘Why are you fighting me on this? Don’t you realise what you’re doing?’
Striding across the car park towards the glass-fronted office block, he felt a sudden pang of guilt. He shouldn’t have been so sharp this morning. He’d hurt her – and he loved her still, in a way.
Even before he’d told Rosie that he needed to sell the Nook, the house, move out of Highcliffe and achieve his final dream before it was too late, he was aware that he loved her out of habit.
She was there – and if she wasn’t there he would miss her terribly – but the fire had gone out, and there was no enthusiasm left to fan the embers and create even a flickering glow.
He dismissed the thought that he was trying to justify himself as he smiled at Brennan and Foulkes’s pretty receptionist.
‘One moment, Mr Brodie.’ She smiled back. ‘Miss Phelps is on the phone but she’s expecting you. Would you like to take a seat?’
Sitting in the chrome and glass reception area, Leon looked at the rainforest greenery and the abstract paintings in ocean shades of blue and grey.
Rosie had always loved the sea. That was why she was so delighted with Honeysuckle House, because it stood proudly on the cliff top and she could watch the waves from at least ten of its windows.
She had been like a child that day they’d moved in, running from room to room, and always pausing at the huge sashed windows to look at the sea.
But the new place was only just around the bay; they could buy another house, more modern, less work, with just such a view; maybe better.
But Rosie refused to listen. Refused to budge.
‘Mr Brodie? So sorry to have kept you …’ The slightly husky voice jolted his heart, and Leon stood up, knowing that his smile was just too wide for a client meeting his financial adviser, yet unable to help himself.
‘Good afternoon, Miss Phelps.’ His brown eyes held hers as his hand closed over cool, slender fingers in a polite handshake. ‘I’m sorry if I’m early …’
‘No problem.’ Felicity Phelps returned his smile and turned to the receptionist. ‘Hold my calls, Nicky. Mr Brodie and I will be in conference for about an hour. We don’t want to be disturbed.’
Leon held open the door and followed Felicity Phelps up the open-plan staircase to her office. He tried not to stare at her long elegant legs in the hig. . .
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