Bob and Amy Phillips and their four grown-up children run Lavender Cabs in the small Berkshire market town of Appleford. Everyone is involved. The business has grown ? through three generations ? into a thriving taxi and garage business. But when Bob is taken ill, he and Amy decide to retire to Devon, but to do this they would have to sell the business which would throw the entire family?s lives into turmoil?
Release date: December 19, 2013
Publisher: Accent Press
Print pages: 145
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‘When’s this darned thing going to start?’ Bob Phillips blew on his hands and stamped his feet. ‘Is there any chance of me sloping off for a cuppa before they get going?’
‘No!’ chorused the women on either side of him.
As they looked at each other and laughed. Bob glared at his wife and his mother and then grinned ruefully.
‘OK. You’re the experts, but I’m freezing to death here. I don’t know how you stand it week after week.’
‘Thermal underwear.’ Cicely Phillips was seventy-five but admitted to sixty. ‘And good fur-lined boots. And maybe a tot of rum before setting out!’ she finished, laughing at her son.
‘Anyway, once the race starts, it gets so exciting you don’t have time to think about the cold!’ his wife put in. ‘Oh, what’s happening now?’
‘The front car’s stalled,’ Cicely said knowledgeably. ‘They’ll probably all get out and stretch their legs until it’s started again …’
Bob groaned. He’d gone along to the stock car racing under protest. His wife and his mother had both become keen fans since Mitchell had become involved – even though Bob kept telling them it was no sport for a lady. In return they had informed him icily that it was exciting, and that he didn’t know what he was missing.
Bob sighed. He knew that only too well – he was missing a rare Saturday afternoon off.
As the wind howled across the track, small groups of stalwarts snuggled further into their coats and shoved their hands deep into their pockets. The corrugated tin roof of the so-called stadium rattled dolefully under the onslaught.
Cicely and Amy didn’t seem to notice the cold. Their eyes were glowing with pride as Mitch uncurled himself from his car and leaned against it, talking to one of the other drivers.
‘He reminds me of your father.’ Cicely nudged Bob. ‘He was tall and broad-shouldered like Mitchell. And a bit of a daredevil, too.’
‘Mother!’ Bob shook his head. ‘Dad was a vicar! I hardly think that’s an apt description.’
‘Ah, but he had a pilot’s licence!’ Cicely’s eyes grew misty at the memory. ‘That’s where I fell in love with him, you know, up in the clouds. He literally swept me off my feet. It was so romantic! He was dreamy and gentle but in that plane he was daring and dashing … And what girl could resist an invitation for a jaunt in a plane?’
‘I could.’ Amy pulled a face at her mother-in-law. ‘I don’t like flying now, let alone in the days when they were held together with string!’
‘You always were a bit of a rebel.’ Bob smiled fondly at his mother. ‘After all, how many vicars’ wives rode motorbikes and took a job in a shop? You must have been the bane of the bishop’s life. I reckon that’s where Mitchell gets it from.’
‘I do hope so.’ Cicely beamed. ‘After all, your other two are very straitlaced in comparison, aren’t they?’
‘Different,’ Amy said gently, thinking of Matt and Megan. ‘I think they’re both more dedicated to the business than Mitchell is, but they’ve had their moments.’
She looked across at the drivers again and saw that Mitchell had removed his helmet. He certainly was something of a heartbreaker.
Matt, at twenty-eight their older son, was solid and reliable, with a friendly face and easy-going personality. Megan, twenty-five this year, showed characteristics of both her brothers, and was probably more sensible than either of them.
‘Is that one of his mates he’s talking to?’ Bob squinted. ‘Young Luke, is it? I can’t tell. They all look the same in those overalls and helmets. They seem to be getting on very well.’
They certainly did, Amy thought, but the driver laughing at some joke Mitchell had made wasn’t tall enough to be Luke. She felt a vague sense of foreboding.
‘I don’t think it’s Luke, Bob. He doesn’t drive in the races, does he? He just comes along and helps out with the mechanical bits.’
‘Is anybody working for me this afternoon?’ Bob grinned at his wife. ‘We’re all here. Luke and Mitchell are on the track. Matt is at home with Sally – and goodness knows what Megan’s doing. Is anyone driving a Lavender cab?’
‘Plenty.’ Amy reassured him. ‘The business won’t go bust just because the Phillips family has taken a day off!’
Lavender Cabs was Bob and Amy’s livelihood. It had grown, through three generations, into a thriving taxi and garage business. The small market town of Appleford was close enough to Oxford to attract tourists, and the taxis made a good living.
The garage which adjoined the Phillipses’ sprawling bungalow in Lavender Lane was also a money-spinner, still offering the friendly family service it had when Amy’s grandparents had set it up in the thirties.
‘Oh, good! I think the race is going to start,’ Cicely pointed out.
‘Thank goodness for that.’ Bob’s feet had gone numb. ‘Let’s just see him write off yet another car and then we can go home and have a cuppa.’
Cicely glared at him. ‘Philistine!’
Amy just gave him a reproachful look. She knew full well that Mitch had caused Bob more headaches than Matt and Megan put together, but she couldn’t help loving this wayward youngest son.
Mitch had thrown in college two years ago, when he was nineteen, to embark on a round-Europe backpacking trip. Amy had had grave doubts, and Bob had been furious, but aided and abetted by Cicely, Mitch had gone.
He’d returned, broke and suntanned, six months ago, full of hair-raising tales, and with an assumption that he’d just slot into the family business somewhere.
He helped out in the garage, and had soon become friends with Luke, Lavender Cabs’ mechanic. It was Luke who had introduced Mitchell to stock cars.
‘Just who is he talking to?’ Bob tapped Amy’s arm. ‘They’re – um – very close together, aren’t they?’
Amy nodded, fearing the worst.
‘They probably have to get close to hear what the other’s talking about,’ she said lamely. ‘With the helmets and the noise and everything …’
‘They seem to have realised that,’ Cicely pointed out. ‘Mitchell’s friend is removing his helmet – oh, my goodness!’
Amy’s heart sank. The long blonde hair cascading down from the helmet didn’t belong to any man.
Jacey Brennan! Amy closed her eyes.
‘Who is she?’ Bob had momentarily forgotten the cold. ‘She’s very glamorous. Surely she doesn’t drive one of those things?’
‘Yes, she does.’ Amy nodded. ‘And she rides a huge motorbike to work. And she plays ladies’ football.’
‘Really?’ Cicely brightened. ‘She sounds interesting.’
‘That’s Jacey Brennan,’ Amy said shortly. ‘One of that huge family of Brennans that live on the other side of Appleford. You must know them – they’re all as unruly as each other.’
‘Unusual name,’ Bob mused.
‘Oh, she’s got a proper name.’ Amy sniffed. ‘Josephine Catherine. Shortened to Jacey – the initials. They’re like that, the Brennans.’
Cicely gave her daughter-in-law a sharp glance.
‘You don’t approve, then?’
‘Oh, goodness, Mum, you know what Mitchell’s like. He’s as wild as the wind. The last thing he needs is a girlfriend who considers herself one of the boys.’
‘She doesn’t look like one of the boys.’ Bob whistled appreciatively, earning himself another glare from Amy and a shake of the head from his mother.
‘Let’s face it.’ Cicely snuggled further into the warmth of her padded coat. ‘Mitchell would never go for a meek and mild girl, would he? Not like Megan, say?’
‘At least Megan behaves like a lady!’ Amy protested.
‘Considering she’s a taxi driver?’ Bob joked. ‘And she may well behave more decorously than what’s-her-name out there, but she’s no more sensible in her love life, is she?’
‘No.’ Amy wouldn’t be drawn. ‘Oh, well, one day they’ll all be married, like Matt, and then we won’t have to worry.’
‘Don’t you believe it.’ Cicely linked arms with her son and daughter-in-law. ‘You never stop worrying. Still, Matt’s done well with young Sally – and they’ve made me a great-grandmother. I can’t see Megan doing that – not if she continues to hang around with Peter King.’
‘He wouldn’t be my choice either.’ Amy stared at the track, trying not to watch Jacey Brennan holding on to Mitchell’s arms as she laughed. ‘But they practically grew up together. Peter and Megan are –’
‘Like an old married couple!’ Cicely snorted. ‘No sparkle, no excitement, no nothing. He’s boring.’
Luckily Amy was spared having to agree as the drivers all suddenly scrambled back into their disreputable vehicles. As always, she felt a frisson of excitement as the over-tuned engines roared into life and the cold, bleak afternoon was filled with the stench of hot oil.
There seemed no rhyme or reason to the start of the race. The cars, jammed together like some multiple pile-up, quivered and snarled, the drivers firmly belted into their seats, waiting for the marshal’s flag.
It was a nail-biting moment. The air throbbed. The scream of the engines was intense. The flag dropped.
As the cars, obscured in a foul-smelling cloud of dust, roared towards the first bend, Amy’s heart was in her mouth.
‘And you tell me what you think I should be doing with my life!’ Sally Phillips strode angrily towards the window and stared out across the windswept garden without seeing anything. ‘Go on, Matt. Tell me.’
‘For heaven’s sake,’ Matt laid his hands flat on the table, ‘don’t shout. Kimberley’s only just gone off to sleep, and Gran and Granddad Foster will be able to hear every word.’
‘Fine.’ Sally turned back into the living room and faced her husband. ‘Then they can report back to your mum and dad as soon as they return from the stock cars, can’t they? It’ll save you having to do it.’
‘That’s not fair, Sally.’ Matt stood up. ‘You make it sound as though I always run to Mum and Dad every time we have a row. I don’t –’
‘Which is just as well.’ Sally glared. ‘Because if you did, you’d never be away from them, would you? It’s all we seem to do these days, row. And we’re never on our own. Never!’
Matt sighed as he looked at her. Her hair was escaping from its knot on top of her head, her green eyes blazed, and he thought she looked lovely. But when had he stopped telling her? She was always so angry these days.
He held out his hand. ‘Come and sit down, Sally. Come on – we’ll talk about it.’
Sally didn’t budge. ‘That’s all we ever do – talk. And nothing changes, does it, Matt? We live in our bit of this bungalow, with your parents on one side, your grandparents on the other, with Megan always in and out and Mitchell living in the loft conversion. I’m surrounded by your blasted family morning, noon, and night!’
‘Lavender Cabs is a family business …’ Matt bit back his own rapidly rising temper. ‘You knew that when you married me.’
‘Sure I did. But I married you, Matt, not the other three hundred members of the Phillips clan! I want my own business, can’t you understand? I want my own home. I don’t want to live as part of the Phillips family empire, involved in taxis and hire cars and garages and mess and noise. I don’t want to be surrounded by bits of cars, oily rags, and people ringing twenty-four hours a day to be taken to airports or theatres or restaurants! When did I last see any of those?’
‘Yes, well, with Kim –’
Sally bit her lip, and her hands shook. She knew she would have to be careful.
‘I love Kim, Matt, you know that. Desperately,’ she said quietly. ‘I couldn’t bear to be without her. But you know as well as I do that an unplanned baby really didn’t help things. I had dreams, and yes, I wanted a family, but not until my business got off the ground.
‘And that’s another thing,’ she said quickly before he had time to argue. ‘Your whole family dotes on Kim – which is lovely – but they spoil her rotten. There’s always one or other of them picking her up, buying her things, pushing the buggy. I don’t even have control over my own baby! That’s why I want her to go to a childminder while I start this business. I need some freedom!’
‘You don’t need to go out to work, Matt pointed out.
‘Oh, I do,’ Sally said bitterly. ‘I most certainly do.’
‘Well, you don’t need a childminder, then. Gran and Granddad Foster are only next door and Gran Phillips would –’
Sally almost stamped her foot. ‘I am not leaving Kimberley with your family! Can’t you see? That wouldn’t help things at all. They’d treat her the way they want to and take no notice of what I said. I want her to grow up with the right values – not thinking that because she’s a Phillips she can have everything she wants!’
Matt was finally roused to real anger.
‘We’re not like that!’ he protested. ‘We were never spoiled. We were loved and wanted, and once Mum and Dad were able to do it, they gave us things that mattered. That’s what families are about. But of course you wouldn’t know that, would you?’
The words were out before he could stop them, and when he looked at Sally’s stricken face he was over-whelmed by remorse.
‘Oh, Sally. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean … Come here, love …’
‘Go away! Don’t come near me!’ Sally’s eyes had filled with tears and there was a tight knot burning her throat. ‘How could you say that? How could you?’
Matt turned away, his shoulders slumping, unable to look at the pain in Sally’s eyes.
Sally had no family. The only child of elderly parents, she had been orphaned at the age of ten, after which she had been brought up first in a children’s home, and later by a succession of foster parents. He couldn’t have hurt her more if he’d hit her.
‘Don’t say anything.’ Her lips were trembling. ‘I am going to get a job, Matt, and not just a job. A career. I’m going to start my own aromatherapy business – away from the Phillipses, away from Lavender Cabs, away from this blasted homestead. Right away from . . .
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