Authors: Jennifer Bohnet
About The Author
Jennifer is a West Country girl now living in the wilds of rural Brittany, France. She's still not sure how she ended up there! The saying 'Life is what happens while you're deciding what to do' is certainly true in her case. She's always written alongside having various jobs: playgroup leader, bookseller, landlady, restauranteur, farmer's wife, secretary/p.a – the list is endless but does provide a rich vein of inspiration for her stories.
For three years she wrote a newspaper column in The South Hams Group of Newspapers (Devon)where she took a wry look at family life. Since living in France it is her fiction that has taken off with hundreds of short stories and several serials published internationally.
Allergic to housework and gardening she rarely does either but she does like cooking and entertaining and wandering around vide greniers (the French equivalent of flea markets) looking for a bargain or two. Her children currently live in fear of her turning into an ageing hippy and moving to Totnes.
To find out more about Jennifer visit her website:
Copyright © Jennifer Bohnet 2016
First published in Great Britain in 2010
by Robert Hale Ltd.
The moral right of Jennifer Bohnet to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act of l988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission of the copyright owner.
All the characters in this book are fictious, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
For my husband Richard
The day before she was due to fly to the south of France for the Cannes Film Festival, Anna Carson was in Somerset looking at a possible location for her latest film.
Marshland House lay at the end of a long drive flanked by flowering white rhododendron bushes. From the outside the brick-built Victorian mansion looked perfect. The agent had told her that the major part of the house was untouched since the nineteenth century and, importantly for the film, the basement kitchen still boasted its original fixtures.
Anna parked her rental car and glanced at her watch. Fifteen minutes before the agent was due. Time enough for her to have a quick look around the grounds on her own and take some photographs. Apart from the set designer needing some, she knew Leo would want to see photographs of the house and its location. A smile touched her lips as she thought about Leo.
Just four months ago she’d thought she was as happy as she was ever going to be. She had a successful career she enjoyed, her own home and money in the bank. Falling in love again hadn’t been on her radar.
Then one evening at a restaurant, mutual friends had introduced her to Leo Hunter, a widower who worked in publishing. Unprepared for the feelings he’d stirred in her, she was wary when he telephoned the next day inviting her to the theatre but within days she knew she’d fallen unequivocally in love with him. The realisation that Leo felt the same way about her had been, and still was, overwhelming.
Anna smiled at the memory of their first date; the way they’d just clicked. Within days they were acting like lovesick teenagers.
Unexpectedly too, she’d found herself being accepted as part of a family when Leo introduced her to his two grown-up children who unselfishly welcomed her presence in their father’s life, pleased to see him happy again. With her own parents dead for years, it was a long time since she’d been part of a close family unit.
Wandering around the grounds, Anna tried to banish all thoughts of Leo and concentrate instead on this latest film she was working on, In The Shadow of Mrs Beaton. A costume drama based on the life of a little-known Victorian culinary expert, Mrs Agnes Marshall, even in pre-production days it was already stirring up a lot of interest. With a script written by a famous writer and a couple of big name stars lined up to play the principal roles, it was being tipped for box office success.
Her mobile rang while she was standing looking out over the lake that was part of the landscaped gardens to the rear of the house. Leo.
Taking a deep breath Anna answered the phone trying to speak naturally but try as she might, she’d never yet managed to stop her heart thumping or her hands shaking whenever she heard or saw Leo. This time was no different. She hadn’t felt this way about anyone since those giddy days of her teenage love.
‘Hi, how are you my darling? Have I told you how much I miss you when we’re not together?’
‘Missing you too.’
‘Is the house all the agent promised it would be?’ Leo asked, knowing how important it was for Anna to find the right location.
‘If the inside of the house is as good as the grounds, it will be perfect,’ Anna told him. ‘I’m glad I made the effort to come today. At least it’s one less thing to worry about while I’m in Cannes.’
‘Ah Cannes,’ Leo said. There was a slight pause before he continued, ‘I sincerely hope you know what you are doing, Anna my darling. Going back and raking up the past is not always a good idea.’
Even from two hundred miles away, Anna could hear the concern in his voice.
‘Leo, I have no intention of “raking up the past” as you put it. I’m simply going to the film festival. I know I’ve managed to avoid it for the last thirty-odd years but it’s time to lay the ghost now. Besides, how could I refuse to go this year? For the first time ever, a film I’m associated with is “In Competition” at Cannes. Both Rupert and Helen have asked me to be there for the film’s premier.’
Picturing Leo and longing to feel his arms around her she said softly, ‘Besides I can’t wait to show off my handsome leading man on the red carpet. You are still joining me before the weekend aren’t you?’ she added anxiously. ‘It will be our first holiday together.’
‘I’ll be there as early as I can,’ Leo promised. ‘Must go. I’ll ring you tomorrow to make sure you’ve arrived safely in Cannes. Love you.’
‘Love you too,’ Anna smiled happily to herself, her hands trembling as she switched off her phone.
Looking out over the countryside, Anna sighed thoughtfully, her fingers toying with the chain of the gold locket she always wore around her neck. Was she tempting fate returning to Cannes? Would the errors of her past rear up and confront her – maybe even destroy what she had now? Leo hadn’t mentioned marriage in so many words yet, but Anna suspected, hoped, he would soon.
Standing in the grounds of Marshland House that afternoon, Anna resolved to talk to Leo again about her past. In detail. He deserved to know the whole truth.
What she had told him so far had been the merest skeleton of events. Until she knew him better she’d been afraid to tell him the whole story but now she was confident of her strong love for him, and his for her, she wanted him to know the complete story. She was determined to be totally honest with Leo. It was the only way.
Hearing car tyres scrunch along the gravel on the drive, Anna made her way round to the front of the house where the agent was parking his car alongside hers.
An hour later as the agent left for another appointment, Anna switched on the car radio and sat for a few moments writing up her notes.
Inside, the house had been everything she’d hoped it would be and she’d instructed the agent to draw up a contract to allow filming to begin there in the autumn and send it to her office. Now she could go to Cannes and enjoy the festival.
Pressing the shut down button on her laptop before sliding it into its case, she turned up the volume on the radio to hear the last item of the news bulletin.
‘Some news just in. The respected French film-maker Philippe Cambone has died in America. Responsible for some of the biggest blockbuster movies of the twentieth century he was recently awarded an industry lifetime achievement Bafta which was to be presented at this week’s Cannes film Festival.’
Automatically Anna reached out and turned off the radio before closing her eyes and leaning back against her seat as a wave of numbness and desolation flooded her body.
How could Philippe Cambone die on the eve of her return to Cannes?
‘I’m sorry to land on you last minute like this,’ Daisy said, paying off the taxi driver who’d driven her from the airport, before turning to face Poppy, her sister. ‘I really couldn’t face sharing a small apartment with Marcus and his cronies and there’s no hope of finding an empty hotel room in Cannes this week. Besides, I’d far rather stay here with you.’
‘You know you’re more than welcome anytime,’ Poppy said. ‘Just so long as you don’t mind camping out with Tom and me in the old cottage.’
‘Hi Tom. How you doing?’ Daisy gave her young nephew a high five before hugging her sister.
‘So, who have you rented the villa to for the Festival? Pleeease tell me Johnny Depp and his family are going to be in residence.’
‘Sorry to disappoint you but the villa has been booked in the name of Anna Carson. I’ve never heard of her, but that doesn’t mean anything,’ Poppy answered. ‘You know what I’m like, haven’t got a clue about celebrities.’
‘Anna Carson,’ Daisy said thoughtfully. ‘Nope it’s not a name that rings any bells with me either. Obviously not gossip column material. Where’s Dan by the way?’
‘Convenient business trip to America. You know how he hates the whole festival scene. When I was asked to rent the villa for a sum that will pay the mortgage for a couple of years, he said, “Go for it, but I won’t be here!”’
‘Fair enough I suppose,’ Daisy said, knowing her brother-in-law's views on film-stars and so-called ‘A list’ personalities. ‘Makes life easier for you that way as well. When does this Anna Carson get here and take up residence?’
‘Tomorrow afternoon,’ Poppy answered. ‘She’s asked me to arrange for a car to collect her.’
‘So we’ve still got the place to ourselves this evening and tomorrow morning,’ Daisy said. ‘We can at least have a swim when I get back tonight. Thought I’d go and collect my press pack and accreditation pass this evening instead of in the morning when every hack in town will be down there,’ she added. ‘I told Marcus the photographer I’d see him there in about an hour.’
‘Let’s get you settled in the cottage then,’ Poppy said. ‘Tom and I are sharing the bedroom – I’ve put a clic-clac bed on the mezzanine for you. Hope that’s OK,’ Poppy glanced anxiously at her sister.
‘It’ll be fine,’ Daisy assured her and followed her sister down the narrow path past the swimming pool towards the corner of the garden where the cottage was hidden away from view.
Once a home for the full-time housekeeper and gardener who looked after the villa, the cottage had fallen into disrepair and when Poppy and Dan bought the property two years ago, the cottage, even more than the villa, was in dire need of some tender loving care. Today was the first time Daisy had seen the result of all Poppy’s hard work.
‘Wow, what a transformation,’ she said, looking around the sitting room. ‘First the villa and now this place. You should have been an interior designer – you’ve got such a good eye. I love the Provençal colour scheme in here,’ she added, looking around the sitting room with its terracotta floor tiles and yellow and blue furnishings.
With French doors and windows down two sides, the room had a spacious feel about it and Poppy’s colour scheme and furniture gave the room a welcoming, homely feel.
Poppy led the way up a flight of wooden stairs in the far corner to the mezzanine whose railing ran like a minstrel’s galley along the width of the room.
Daisy put her laptop bag on the chest of drawers standing between two varnished doors and her suitcase on the floor.
‘I’m hoping this will give you enough privacy,’ Poppy said, pulling open a decorative wicker screen that would hide from view the bed she’d placed at the end of the mezzanine.
‘There’s the bathroom and this is the bedroom,’ Poppy continued opening one of the doors. ‘I’ve left some hangers for you to use in the wardrobe so you can at least unpack. These drawers are empty,’ she said indicating the chest. ‘I’ve put towels and things out for you in the bathroom and—’
‘Poppy, stop fussing. You’re sounding more and more like Mum,’ Daisy said. ‘It’s all fine. Incidentally have you spoken to Mum recently?’
Poppy nodded. ‘She and Dad are hoping to come over at the end of the month. Apparently Dad’s won some tickets to see the Monaco Grand Prix. Goodness only knows where I’m expected to put them the first night – Anna Carson doesn’t leave until the next day. Sandwich?’
‘Please and then I must think about walking down to Cannes.’
Downstairs, in the kitchen Poppy had created in what had originally been a lean-to conservatory, Daisy picked up Oscar, Poppy’s fat ginger and white cat and absently stroked him as she looked out over the garden.
‘Is Anna C staying on her own?’
Poppy shrugged as she concentrated on making sandwiches. ‘Some of the time. She’s asked me to make up the bed in the master bedroom and one of the guest rooms but just to leave bedding in the other two rooms in case she has guests. She’s hoping her partner will arrive before the weekend. He’s hiring a car at the airport so at least I don’t have to worry about organising transport for him.’
‘Did she sound okay when you spoke to her? Or does she have “show biz attitude”?’ Daisy rolled her eyes in mock horror.
Poppy laughed. ‘No, she sounded really nice and down to earth. Let’s take this out into the garden,’ and she led the way out to the swing seat under the shade of the linden tree.
‘So what’s this photographer Marcus like? Replacement material?’ Poppy said hopefully.
Daisy laughed. ‘Honestly Poppy. He’s just someone from work. I don’t really know him properly. Anyway I’m not sure I’m ready for another relationship yet.’
‘Daisy, it’s been six months since Ben upped and left you for the delights of Australia. Life goes on. It’s about time you found someone else.’
Daisy nodded, wondering whether to tell Poppy about the letter she’d stuffed in her bag and decided she’d leave it until later, when they’d have more time to talk about it together. ‘I know. I’m quite enjoying being single. Anyway I don’t think Marcus is my type. Far too flamboyant. Talking of Marcus, I’d better get going.’
‘Bring him back for supper if you like,’ Poppy offered. ‘I’d like to meet him. Give him the third degree and see if he has potential as a boyfriend for my little sister,’ she added.
‘No way,’ Daisy said. ‘You and I are having a girlie evening before the film festival takes over my life for the next fortnight. Right, I’d better dash. See you later.’