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Authors: Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

Country Plot

BOOK: Country Plot
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Table of Contents

Cover

Recent Titles by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles from Severn House

Title Page

Copyright

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Recent Titles by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles from Severn House

THE COLONEL'S DAUGHTER

A CORNISH AFFAIR

COUNTRY PLOT

DANGEROUS LOVE

DIVIDED LOVE

EVEN CHANCE

HARTE'S DESIRE

THE HORSEMASTERS

JULIA

LAST RUN

THE LONGEST DANCE

NOBODY'S FOOL

ON WINGS OF LOVE

PLAY FOR LOVE

A RAINBOW SUMMER

REAL LIFE (
Short Stories
)

The Bill Slider Mysteries

GAME OVER

FELL PURPOSE

BODY LINE

KILL MY DARLING

COUNTRY PLOT
Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

This ebook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author's and publisher's rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

 

First world edition published 2012

in Great Britain and in the USA by

SEVERN HOUSE PUBLISHERS LTD of

9–15 High Street, Sutton, Surrey, England, SM1 1DF.

Copyright © 2012 by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.

All rights reserved.

The moral right of the author has been asserted.

British Library Cataloguing in Publication Data

Harrod-Eagles, Cynthia.

Country plot.

1. Romantic suspense novels.

I. Title

823.9'2-dc23

ISBN-13: 978-1-78010-230-6 (ePub)

ISBN-13: 978-0-7278-8146-5 (cased)

ISBN-13: 978-1-84751-416-5 (trade paper)

Except where actual historical events and characters are being described for the storyline of this novel, all situations in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to living persons is purely coincidental.

This ebook produced by

Palimpsest Book Production Limited,

Falkirk, Stirlingshire, Scotland.

One

On the day Jenna came to think of as Lousy Monday, everything went wrong from the start. She somehow slept through the alarm. When she did wake and saw the time, she flung herself from the bed with a curse – not the most propitious way to greet a new day.

Rushing to get dressed, she stuck her thumb through her tights, and then couldn't get the new packet open and was forced to rip at it with her teeth. She found a spot on the suit she wanted to wear, and the skirt of the other one had lost the waistband button. She wished she was one of those orderly people who did repairs as soon as they were needed, and never put clothes away with missing buttons or trailing hems.
Maybe next life
, she thought, struggling with a large safety pin.

Of course, it meant she'd have to keep the jacket on all day. The firm expected a degree of sartorial elegance from employees, and a safety pin would be very much frowned on. She imagined it appearing in her annual assessment as Lack of Attention to Detail and Poor Forward Planning.

And while she hopped, lurched and fumed about the bedroom, dropped her lipstick, poked herself in the eye with the mascara wand, somehow managed to hit herself painfully on the forehead with the hairbrush in her frantic raking of her mane, Patrick slept serenely through it all. He remained curled deliciously in their big bed with its smart navy-blue sheets, dark curly head cradled on his arm and what looked like a smug smile on his lips, because he was working from home that day and didn't need to get up.

To be fair, he always looked as though he was smiling when he was asleep. Normally Jenna found it endearing, but today she had an urgent and breakfastless need to feel resentful about something. She toyed with the idea of waking him up to ask him to do the dry-cleaning run (he wouldn't have hesitated to do the same to her) but in the end ran out of time even for that. She grabbed her bag and keys and headed out into the big wide, and made do with slamming the front door behind her hard enough to make the door frame tremble.
Sleep through that
,
muchacho!

She felt a sense of relief on arriving at work, because she loved her job as a features editor at
TopMet
magazine, and there were some interesting projects coming up. But when she opened her email, she saw there was one from Ken Elvaston, deputy head of HR. Everybody had been talking about the cutbacks for weeks now. Other departments had already shed jobs, and there was no reason to expect editorial would escape. The email requested her to go and see him at ten fifteen.
He seeks to intimidate me with the use of the quarter hour
, she thought. On another day, she might have daydreamed that he was going to tell her she was in line for a promotion and a big bonus, but things like that didn't happen on Lousy Monday.

Looking up, she saw Julie, the department creep, watching her, until she caught her eye and looked away hastily. Was it paranoia, or did Julie already know? Julie always knew everything, and the neat, precise, prissy little madam was not the sort ever to be ‘let go', as they called it nowadays, curse her immaculately-suited bod and unnaturally tidy work station! Jenna felt a sudden urge to go over there and tip her cooling Starbucks over Julie's shiny black hair, but she decided she couldn't spare it. It looked as though she was going to need all the caffeine she could mainline to get her up to the eighth floor where HR had their bunker.

And of course it turned out just as she'd dreaded. Ken Elvaston, who'd had nine-tenths of his personality surgically removed to fit him for the job, told her in a dreary monotone that the company was letting her go, while simultaneously managing to look down her blouse in a way that made her skin crawl. He enumerated her statutory rights, handed her a ‘severance pack' as he ghoulishly called it, and told her she had thirty minutes to clear her desk. Why the hurry, she wondered as she found herself at the lifts again. What did they think she was going to do? Set fire to the place?

Back in the department most people were avoiding her gaze like anything, and she didn't keep much in her desk anyway, so it didn't take long to put her few possessions into a plastic carrier, say goodbye to a couple of embarrassed colleagues who said, ‘You'll soon find something else,' and, ‘I'm probably next,' and shake the dust of the place from her shoes for ever.

All the same, though she tried to be flip, she found herself rather shaky as she walked back to the tube. It was horrible to be dumped, and in the present economic climate it wasn't exactly going to be a cinch getting another job. She thought of phoning Patrick to tell him she was on her way home, but she felt close to tears and didn't immediately want to talk about it. She needed the journey home to take some deep breaths and get her emotions in order. Lousy old Lousy Monday! She looked at the other people waiting on the platform and wondered what they were doing there. Why weren't they at work? She resented their air of leisurely calm, as if being in transit at this hour of the day was perfectly normal. When the train came rattling in, she didn't even like the novelty of being able to sit down. She had been part of that frazzled, strap-hanging, long-suffering band of sardines who travelled to work and back during the rush hour. Now suddenly she'd had her membership cancelled. She didn't like it. She felt lonely and left out.

She had got the tears under control by the time she came up out of the tube and walked through the streets to the flat, but she still wanted comforting, and looked forward to bathing in Patrick's understanding and sympathy (and he'd better not make any jokes or she'd clonk him with her carrier bag, which contained her work mug and so would make a satisfying impact). She was surprised, as she came in through the front door – calling out: ‘It's me!' so that he didn't think it was a burglar – not to find him at work on the computer or at his slope, which were both in the second bedroom that had been converted into an office for him. He wasn't in the living room, either, where he sometimes went if it was just reading he was doing. So much for working at home, she thought. The house seemed unnaturally quiet. Had he gone out? Popped down to the corner shop for something? Surely the idle hound wasn't still in bed?

‘Patrick?' she called. No answer. She looked at her watch. It was a quarter to twelve. No, even he wouldn't lie in until this time. But as she went down the passage to the main bedroom, she saw the door was shut, which made her tighten her lips, because they always left it open during the day to air the room. She opened it ungently, and yes, there he was, in bed, asleep. Well, she could do something about that, at least.

‘Do you know what time it is?' she demanded loudly.

He stirred and murmured.

‘Wake up, you ratbag. It's a working day. You're not supposed to be enjoying yourself.'

And then, as he started to sit up, rubbing his eyes and scratching his head sleepily, she noticed two things. One was visual: there was an extremely expensive-looking lady's watch on the bedside cabinet on her side of the bed, and she knew it wasn't hers because she had never owned an extremely expensive lady's watch, though she had always aspired to being an extremely expensive lady one day.

The other thing was aural. From behind the closed door of the en-suite bathroom there came a very small sound, such as might be made by a mouse bumping into the cork-topped stool in the corner, which was slightly uneven on its legs and rocked if you touched it. She knew that sound intimately. But they didn't have mice, not in their new-build second-floor luxury two-bed apartment on the border between Fulham and Chelsea.

A feeling of tremendous heat flooded her face and brain, a sense of shock that made her mouth dry. Patrick was still making a show of waking up, but Jenna's now eagle eye had spotted a long, blonde hair in the dent on the navy-blue pillow on her side of the bed, and Jenna's hair was tawny, verging on red – oh yes it was! Her heart seemed to have contracted and gone very hard, like a muscle in spasm, and she felt as if she was trembling all over, but her mind was still working fast. She stepped round the bed and picked up the watch (it looked like Cartier, and if so, those things round the edge weren't cubic zirconas!) and cried, ‘Darling, is this for me? It's gorgeous! But why didn't you give it to me last night, then I could have worn it to work. What's the occasion? It isn't my birthday.'

She slipped it on to her wrist, noting out of the corner of her eye with satisfaction that Patrick had thrown a shocked blank, unable to think what to say. She came round the bed to his side, planted a smacking kiss on his brow, and said, ‘You're so sweet. I'm just going to pop into the bathroom, and then I'm going to jump into bed and thank you properly.'

He didn't manage to dredge up a word, but as she headed for the bathroom door he did jerk out a hand and make a gurgling noise which she assumed was his attempt to stop her. Too late. With her heart pounding she opened the bathroom door. Despite knowing what she was going to see, it was still a jolt to find a strange woman in there, clad in bra and pants, sitting on the cork-topped stool (
gotcha!
I know every sound this flat makes!
) trying to put on her tights. The woman (about her age, slim, blonde, horribly attractive) stared at her with a kind of sick, shocked look that provided just a touch of balm to Jenna's bruised soul. Like Patrick she had nothing to say. She looked as if she might cry.

BOOK: Country Plot
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