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Authors: Kate Glanville

A Perfect Home

BOOK: A Perfect Home
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A PERFECT HOME

by

KATE GLANVILLE

Claire appears to have it all - the kind of life you read about in magazines; a beautiful cottage, three gorgeous children, a handsome husband in William and her own flourishing vintage textile business.

But when an interiors magazine sends a good-looking photographer to take pictures of Claire's perfect home, he makes her wonder if the house means more to William than she does.

This is the beautifully observed and poignant love story of a woman who has to find out if home really is where the heart is.

To Alex and all the other fabulous women who have inspired me to pursue my dreams.

Chapter One

‘Years of hard work and imagination have created a stunning family home in the heart of the English countryside.'

A butterfly settled briefly on the crisp, white washing, its wings quivering in the air. It looked so delicate, so exquisitely beautiful. Claire wanted to touch it, to feel the velvet fluttering in her palm. Unable to help herself, she reached out – but in that second it was gone. She looked around, shading her eyes with her hand against the late afternoon sun. Then she saw it, flying in a haphazard zigzag across the flowerbeds, over the flagstones and towards the house. It looked as though it might fly through the open doors of the conservatory but, as if pulled by an invisible string, it suddenly ascended until it was high above the steep pitch of yellow thatch, a dot against the cornflower sky before it vanished completely.

Claire took a deep breath and carried on working her way along the washing line. The scent of sage and lavender and cut grass mingled on the warm breeze, which brushed her cotton skirt against her legs and blew through the long strands of hair escaping from a clasp at the back of her neck.

She felt unusually calm as she un-pegged the sheets and pillowcases and folded them into the wicker basket at her feet. The children had been fed and homework completed, a fish pie was cooking in the Aga for William's supper, she had packed up ten appliquéd cushion covers and thirty lavender hearts to give to Sally for the gallery and the boxes of stock to take to the school fête were already neatly stacked in the back of the car. Claire looked at her watch; it wasn't even six o'clock. The washing was now done and she had deadheaded the roses around the porch to try to get a second flush of flowers before the photo shoot for
Idyllic Homes
magazine in five weeks. All that was left was to make two dozen fairy cakes for the fête tomorrow and put the children to bed, then she could pour herself a large glass of chilled Chardonnay and relax. For once she was in control.

Claire walked through the living room with the washing basket. She stopped to look at a selection of cushions arranged on the leather sofa. Each one was appliquéd with a little patchwork house made of felt; lines of silk embroidery traced the doors and windows and the roofs were made from faded corduroy, the gardens were a colourful concoction of antique ribbon and lace with gingham trees and pearly button-headed flowers. Claire had arranged the cushions on the sofa to decide if she liked the design. With the washing basket in her arms, she looked at them for the umpteenth time that day, trying to visualise how they might look in the gallery in town were she had recently started selling her work. Sally, Claire's best friend who worked in the gallery part-time, had finally been entrusted to do the window display. Anna, the gallery owner, had come up with the theme of ‘home' for the display and it had been Sally's idea that Claire should design a range of cushions that would be central to her design.

The little fabric houses were not unlike Claire's own: symmetrical and square at the front, a flower-covered central door. It was a child's idea of a house. A doll's house. A perfect house.

Claire's house had once been a farm, but the farmland was long gone, leaving only a garden and small orchard around the eighteenth-century building. Its neatly proportioned stone walls, painted in a rich buttermilk cream, sat beneath a dark, honey-coloured thatch. The roof arched around two dormer windows on the second floor which gave the effect of heavy-browed eyes staring out impassively.

In May, wisteria bloomed along the front in a blush of pink and from late June lipstick-red roses blazed around the thatched porch. The back of the house rambled in a hotchpotch of extensions added over the previous two hundred years. The thatch clung to the additions in smooth, undulating curves, blanketing them like royal icing on a cake. The biggest extension was the large kitchen that William had built the year Oliver was born, and next to it was his latest project, a Victorian-style conservatory.

‘It's so charming,' visitors would enthuse when they first saw the house. But every time Claire pulled into the drive she never got rid of the sense that it was watching her, judging her, making her feel she didn't quite deserve to live there.

Claire wasn't sure about the cushions – too twee perhaps? Too fussy? Something behind the sofa caught her eye – something wet and red and out of place. Claire picked up the dripping box of defrosted red mush. Her heart sank when she saw the pool of liquid on the floorboards. What would William say?

‘Emily, Oliver, Ben!' she shouted. ‘Who's taken raspberries out of the freezer and left them on the new oak floor?'

‘Not me,' said Oliver from the other end of the room, where he lay draped across a jacquard-covered armchair eating chocolate Hobnobs straight from the packet. He was wearing a battered fisherman's hat of his father's; it was much too big and fell lazily over his eyes. From underneath it he watched animated cyber-warriors showing off their martial arts skills in the defence of the universe.

‘Not me,' echoed Ben, sitting cross-legged much too close to the cyber-warriors, naked apart from a bulging nappy and a smearing of melted chocolate around his mouth.

‘Oliver, please could you find a more suitable programme for Ben to watch?' Claire asked as she peeled a half-sucked biscuit from the floor. ‘This will give him nightmares, and put those back in the cupboard.'

‘But Mum,' Oliver protested. ‘This is my favourite programme and I
need
these, I'm starving.'

‘Ben did it.' Emily appeared in the French windows, a long daisy and buttercup chain in her hands. ‘He must have put the raspberries there after I gave them to him yesterday. He was meant to put them in the fridge to defrost and tell you that they were there so we could have them on our cereal for breakfast.'

‘He's only two,' Claire sighed.

‘Nearly three,' said Emily.

‘Why were they out of the freezer in the first place?'

‘The freezer was too full,' replied Emily, shrugging her shoulders as she wrapped the floral chain around her thin wrist.

‘But the freezer has lots of room in it.'

‘Not enough for the rose petal ice cream that I made.' Emily smiled at Claire, showing her missing front teeth. ‘I made it for Daddy. Milk, sugar, margarine, chocolate sauce, orange juice, Ribena and flower petals all mixed up in a cake tin. It's frozen now; I thought Daddy could have it for tea when he gets home.'

‘How many times have I told you, Emily, no cooking without me? And what am I going to do with the raspberries now? You've wasted a whole box of fruit.' She shook it to emphasize her point.

‘Careful, Mummy,' Emily warned. ‘You're dripping raspberry juice all over the washing.'

The phone rang. Claire thought about ignoring it. It was probably her mother, but it might be William telling her he was stopping off at Homebase to look for flathead screws or tile grout. Worst of all, it might be her mother-in-law. While she dithered, Emily jumped to answer it.

‘It's a strange woman,' she said in a stage whisper.

A loud, gushing voice greeted Claire as she took the handset.

‘Claire, darling, how are you?' The woman on the other end of the line gave no time for Claire to answer. ‘Wonderful, wonderful …'

She realised it must be the journalist, Celia Howard, from the magazine. She took a tissue and mopped ineffectually at the stain on the floor as she held the receiver under her chin.

‘Enjoying the sunshine in that lovely country home of yours? Not like us stuck here in stuffy London,' Celia was saying. ‘
Super
. How lucky you are. Now, darling, about this photo shoot – we've been thinking about it in the office and we think your house would be just
perfect
for our Christmas issue. We're writing features for that now so if we just change you to a festive shoot it will fit in wonderfully.'

‘So you're not coming to photograph it at the end of August?' asked Claire, relieved at the idea of a postponement. She could put off all that cleaning now.

‘That's right darling; that date's all off now. We work four months in advance and the Christmas issue comes out at the beginning of November so the timing for this is fabulous. I've arranged it all and we'll be with you on Thursday.'

Claire stifled a cry. It was Monday afternoon – and Thursday gave her only two days to get ready and she had the school fête the next day and Oliver's piano exam and Emily's ballet class and she had an appointment at the dentist and Ben wasn't booked into nursery and the plug on the Hoover was broken; her mind spiralled into panic.

‘Celia, I don't think I can –'

‘It's a two-day shoot so the photographer will be with you on Friday as well,' Celia interrupted. ‘Unfortunately I'm up to my eyes this week so I can't come to do the actual interview until next week. Now, of course we'll need to decorate the house in festive style. If you could get out a few decorations; just your usual ones. I don't want you to go to any trouble.'

‘You want me to put up Christmas decorations in July?'

‘No, you don't have to put them up, dear. Leave that to the stylist,' said Celia. ‘She'll bring a tree and decorate it herself.'

‘A tree?'

‘Yes, she'll bring a Christmas tree. Unless you can get a tree locally – a good bushy one. You know, a silver Scots Pine or something like that.'

‘I think I'd better leave that to you.' Finding the perfect Christmas tree in July would be difficult. Finding a good one in December was hard enough.

‘And could you make some beautiful Christmas stockings to hang on the mantelpiece, in your lovely Emily Love style?' Celia went on. ‘Covered in your gorgeous pearly buttons? We could feature them as a reader offer – I'm sure you'll get lots of orders. Oh, and some mince pies would be lovely. We always have mince pies.'

‘OK,' said Claire, though it really wasn't OK. She felt a tight knot of anxiety forming in her stomach. Where was she going to find the time?

‘Now I told you about the
fabulous
photographer, Sienna Crabtree, that we were going to be using for the shoot?'

‘Yes, she sounds great.' Claire desperately tried to rearrange all the things she was meant to be doing, in her mind.

‘Sienna really is wonderful, but she isn't available now, so I'm sending a photographer called Stefan Kendrick. He's very good, recently back from working abroad. He's a
brilliant
photographer and a big hit with the female staff round here and some of the men are rather smitten too. You'll absolutely love him, darling.'

Claire made a face at the phone. She didn't care how gorgeous he was; she just wanted someone to help her tidy the house from top to bottom, wipe the jam-smeared doorknobs, scrub the kitchen floor, dust the Cornish ware on the dresser and most of all someone to help her get the raspberry juice out of the floor boards before William came home.

‘Must dash,' said Celia. ‘A million and one things to do. I wish I had your life in the heavenly countryside –
totally
stress-free, I'm sure. Lots of love.'

Celia was gone before Claire had a chance to reply. She stayed squatting behind the sofa, staring at the soggy tissue and pink stain, trying to understand how she had suddenly found herself getting ready for Christmas during a July heat wave. She looked down at the bulge her stomach made above the waistband of her skirt and hoped she wouldn't be expected to be in the photographs. She'd felt fat and frumpy since Ben had been born; there never seemed to be the time to lose that extra stone or get a proper haircut.

She licked raspberry juice from her fingers and wished she'd never let Sally get her into this in the first place.

It had been a month since Sally had persuaded Claire to send the pictures to
Idyllic Homes
magazine.

‘The most important thing for any e-commerce site is to get the images right,' said Sally's husband Gareth who was designing Claire a website for her new business, Emily Love. ‘Then you can leave it to me to work my magic on everything else.'

Claire had photographed a selection of her designs around her house; the pale colours and antique furniture made a perfect backdrop for the cushions, bags, and aprons which Claire appliquéd with vintage fabric and decorated with embroidery, ribbons, lace, and buttons.

BOOK: A Perfect Home
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