Home is Where the Heart Is

BOOK: Home is Where the Heart Is
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Home is Where the Heart Is

 

Jean Long

 

 

©
Jenny Lane 2013

 

Jenny Lane has asserted her rights under the Copyright, Design and Patents Act, 1988, to be identified as the author of this work.

 

First published 1980 by Robert Hale Ltd.

 

This edition published 2013 by Endeavour Press Ltd.

 

 

Chapter One

 

Arriving at Balliam Halt that bitingly cold January afternoon, Lindsey shivered and glanced up at the leaden sky, wondering if it would snow.

A dark blue Fiat hurtled suddenly into the station yard and stopped abruptly. A young man got out, looked across at Lindsey and then, having satisfied himself that there really was no-one else in sight, he came over.

He was a tall blond Adonis with startling blue eyes that twinkled at her in a most disconcerting manner.

"Well, hello there! Are my eyes deceiving me or has the old agency turned up trumps at last? I suppose you are Miss Meredith?"

Lindsey smiled back. "Why yes, I am…I was just wondering whether to get a taxi."

He picked up her suitcases. "I'm afraid I got held up—couldn't find the car keys. Typical...! Is this the lot?"

She nodded, and he opened the door for her before stowing her luggage in the boot. "You know you don't look the slightest bit like a housekeeper." He laughed at her obvious dismay. "Oh, don't get me wrong. I'm sure you're perfectly capable, just very different from the others
that's all. Much younger for one thing. Not that my cousin will take any notice of what you look like. He's mostly on a different plane—The professor in his ivory tower type, you know."

"Your cousin?"
Lindsey repeated in surprise. She had quite thought her escort was the chauffeur.

"Yes, although Simon and I don't acknowledge the relationship more than is strictly necessary. Occasionally I come in useful, like acting chauffeur, but normally, we don't have much to say to each other—Cigarette?"

"Not just now, thanks."

 

He grinned wryly. "You might change your mind when you've sampled my driving." He lit one for himself and she felt his eyes travelling over her, as if trying to sum her up. She wondered if she met with his approval. She knew that she was quite attractive but no real beauty: her best features being her dark-lashed green eyes and ash-blonde hair, at present complemented by the honey tan that indicated how recently she had been abroad.

Well, she could only hope that he would not be too curious about her. She could do without too much probing, and he had already implied that she did not look the housekeeper type.

He smiled, as she met his gaze, and turned on the ignition suddenly.

"Okay, let's get going—Oh, and you'd better fasten your seat belt."

As they drove along, he kept up a steady flow of conversation which only now and then warranted a reply. It was eight long years since Lindsey had last visited Kent. She drank in the beauty of it all. How she loved the rolling country-side—the freshness and the autumnal tints that remained here and there in spite of the winter season.

Although a Kentish Maid, Lindsey had spent most of her life on her father's ranch in Kenya, but she was truly British at heart and, whilst she had grown fond of Africa over the years, her first love and loyalty had always been for her native country. She smiled as she thought of her brother Rob. This was not the case with him, Africa was in his blood. He'd go back tomorrow if he could.

In October, when Rob had come over to agricultural college in London, she had finally persuaded her father to let her have this holiday in England.

She had arrived the week before Christmas, intending to stay with her Aunt Mary, at White Chestnuts, the family home in Cambrook, Kent. Unfortunately, things had gone decidedly wrong.

Rob had met her at the airport and whisked her away into London, where he had calmly watched her spend a small fortune on fashionable clothing, before breaking the news.

"Lin, there are a couple of things I think you ought to know," he had said at last, his hazel eyes unusually sober. "I'm afraid father's craze for surprises has badly misfired this time. If only he'd let us write to tell Mary we'd both be spending Christmas in England!"

"Rob, just what exactly are you trying to say?" Lindsey had demanded uneasily.

"Well, I might have found out earlier, only I've been so tied up, I didn't even try to contact Mary myself, until recently. Well, one Sunday, about three weeks ago, I thought I'd nip down to Cambrook on the off-chance and give her a surprise—only it was me who got the surprise! White Chestnuts has gone, Lin! Instead there's a spanking new bungalow complete with landscaped gardens!"

Lindsey, certain that Rob was pulling her leg, had taken some convincing but, eventually, she was reluctantly forced to believe his story.

"And what about Aunt Mary…? I suppose you did see her?" she had demanded at length. "What explanation did she give?"

"Hold on, Lin, I'm coming to that, and you're not going to find this part easy to swallow either, I'm afraid…Mary's gone abroad for a few months—some project she's working on for the company. She won't be back until well into the new year. To top it all, she's let the bungalow to some people called Jackson whilst she's away. Nice couple—friends of her bosses apparently—I had coffee with them. It appears they've never met Mary, and know nothing about what happened to White Chestnuts."

Lindsey had stared at him dumbfoundedly. Coming from a family which delighted in surprises and wild schemes, she was usually prepared for almost anything, but this affair had taken her completely unawares. Although she was confident that there must be a rational explanation, she was nevertheless saddened by the knowledge that she would never see White Chestnuts again, for it had meant so much to her. Quite apart from this, her immediate plans for the holiday had had to be altered, as she now had nowhere to stay.

They had spent Christmas in a hotel and, by the time Lindsey had paid the bills, her money had dwindled considerably. Her father had told her to arrange the financial side of things for both Rob and herself with her aunt, and so she had been forced to make an immediate decision as to whether to cut short her holiday and return to Kenya or take a temporary job and stay on in England.

Lindsey was not in any hurry to return home for, back in Kenya, Gavin was waiting to know if she was going to marry him and she needed time to think. On an impulse, she had enrolled with a domestic agency, and it was just by pure chance that this post near to Cambrook had turned up so opportunely.

"By the way, I'm warning you my cousin's a slave driver," her chauffeur remarked, breaking suddenly across her thoughts and bringing her sharply back to the present.

Lindsey supposed all authors were temperamental and, after all, Miss Porlock at the agency had warned her that Simon Kirkby was difficult to please. "Oh, I don't mind hard work."

He shot her an amused glance. "No well, I guess that's just as well…Oh, and you'd better watch out for his kids too. They can be a bit of a handful at times."

Lindsey looked at him in surprise. "But I thought his children would be in their teens!"

"No—there's Sue, dreadfully precocious, she's twelve, and Tommy's only nine and a half. Nice brats really, but they've been left to their own devices for far too long, and Mrs. Parker and Polly spoil them to death. They're the cook and daily help respectively, by the way. They're the salt of the earth really and, anyway, domestic staff are hard to come by in this backwater; that's why Simon should thank his lucky stars he's managed to find you!"

Lindsey smiled. They were driving along a winding country lane with spiky hedgerows on either side. The landscape had become bleak and grey in the fading wintry light. Suddenly the hedge on the left-hand side was replaced by a high red brick wall surmounted by rhododendron bushes. They turned in through an impressive gate-way.

The drive seemed interminable but, at last, they rounded a bend and the house came suddenly into view; a red brick Georgian building mellowed with age, surrounded by spacious lawns and flower beds. Lindsey gasped her pleasure.

"Well, there she is—Balliam Point; beautiful in summer, but bleak and like a perishing refrigerator in winter. If you ever do get any free time, by the way, or in case you want to get in touch for any reason, here's my ‘phone number."

She felt instinctively that here was a friend to whom she could turn in times of need. It was an oddly comforting thought. He accompanied her to the house and jangled the bell vigorously; the door opened abruptly and a sharp-featured, middle-aged woman appeared.

"Ah,
Mrs. Parker, here's Miss Meredith—Can't stop now—must get back to Barford. Tell Mr. Simon she's arrived, will you?"

"Very good,
Dr. Andrew."

Andrew turned to Lindsey. "Well, I hope to be seeing a lot more of you." And, with another cheery wave, he turned and strolled back to his car, whistling to himself.

Just for a moment, Lindsey experienced a feeling of panic. She had an uneasy feeling, in the pit of her stomach, that this job might prove to be more than she had bargained for and, certainly, her escort had done nothing to reassure her.

Mrs. Parker stared at Lindsey with undisguised disapproval; then, hastily wiping her floury fingers on her apron, she shook Lindsey's extended hand reluctantly. "You'll excuse me, Miss Meredith, but I'm in the midst of baking. Mr. Kirkby's busy writing and not to be disturbed until he rings." She stepped aside and pointing up the stairs, gave terse instructions about the various rooms Lindsey would use. "I'll send Polly up with some tea presently—There's a nice fire going in the sitting room."

Lindsey smiled. "That sounds like a good idea. I'm still thawing out; it really is icy today."

"Yes, well I'll be in the kitchen if you want me."

Left alone in the hall, Lindsey turned over the card in her hand. "
Dr. Andrew Kirkby," she noted with some surprise. She had thought that was what Mrs. Parker had called him. Well, she wouldn't mind a GP as handsome as him.

Lindsey found her bedroom easily, and began to tidy herself. It was a spacious room, decorated in tones of pink and green with a large picture window commanding a superb view.

When she was ready, she crossed to the window and stood gazing out at the peaceful scene below. A line of conifers swayed gently in the wind and, in a sheltered corner, a Christmas rose bloomed. How she had ached for cool, green England, for snow and ice, during those stifling hot days in East Africa. Happy childhood memories of White Chestnuts had crowded into her mind, and she had longed to be here in Kent.

When her father had finally consented to this holiday, she had been over the moon. She sighed; if only the circumstances surrounding her visit could have been different. When Rob's news concerning the demolition of White Chestnuts had finally sunk in, Lindsey had demanded to know why he hadn't contacted Kenya immediately.

"Because short of speaking with Mary, there's no way of finding out if this is just another of father's hare-brained surprises, and if by any chance it isn't, then he'd just as likely be out on the next flight…Oh, you know father, Lin. Trouble is, with his heart condition, we just daren't risk it…Besides, quite apart from that, you were so looking forward to this trip that I hadn't the heart to disappoint you."

Lindsey grimaced. "Thanks for nothing! A fine mess you've landed me in through not telling me earlier—No money; nowhere to stay. But yes, on reflection, I daresay you're right—that's just how father would react…I suppose it didn't occur to you to ask at the alms houses opposite? One of the old folk must surely know why White Chestnuts was pulled down."

"Lin, at the time I was so shattered that I just couldn't think straight."

"I can understand your feelings. I'm finding all this rather hard to digest myself for the moment. Well, I'll just have to see what I can discover then, won't I? For a start I very much doubt that Aunt Mary would have had the bungalow built without father's consent, because they both owned White Chestnuts jointly…Oh, if only the Marks weren't away. I'm sure they'd be able to throw some light on the matter."

The Marks, who also lived in Cambrook, had been friends of the family for years and had kept up a regular correspondence with them.

Thoughtfully, Lindsey examined a small pewter jug on the window sill of her new room. It was certainly an odd affair, and the sooner she was able to get to Cambrook herself, the better; although, she was convinced that there must be a logical explanation. Turning away from the window, she surveyed herself critically in the mirror, deciding that her neat turquoise two-piece and white sweater looked smart enough. She was so used to slopping
around in jeans and shirts on the ranch that she still felt awkward when she was dressed up, although she loved good clothes and wore them well. She had swept her ash-blonde hair to the top of her head, feeling that it gave her an air of sophistication.

She gave her skirt a final twitch and then, opening her door, walked across the landing to the small sitting room where, judging from the sound of raised voices, the children were already in occupation. She paused, her hand on the door knob, smiling at the childish wrangling that came from within.

"It's not fair. You chose yesterday, Sue!"

"So what, I'm older than you and, anyway, the programmes you like are so babyish. Fancy wanting to watch that instead of the X Factor —
You must be bananas!"

The voices trailed into immediate silence, as Lindsey opened the door. A small, freckled-faced boy with a shock of blond hair moved away from the TV set and, a sullen-looking girl on the sofa demanded rudely, "Who the hell are you?"

BOOK: Home is Where the Heart Is
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