Sealed with a Christmas Kiss

BOOK: Sealed with a Christmas Kiss
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For Mae, my favourite niece

Contents

1 An Island Wedding

2 Catastrophe

3 A Falling Out

4 Roddy’s Mistake

5 Moving Backwards

6 Gin and Tonic Therapy

7 The Return of Bridezilla

8 Sealed with a Christmas Kiss

Acknowledgements

About the Author

Also by Rachael Lucas

1
An Island Wedding

The first snowflakes whirling outside Duntarvie House were already settling on the stone lions in the courtyard. Looking out at the perfect winter scene, Kate was perched
against the Aga, still-frozen hands wrapped around a mug of tea.

‘If we could make this weather last until Christmas Eve, it would be perfect.’ Kate shivered with excitement, as much as with the cold.

‘You need to get yourself warmed up, young lady.’ Jean, housekeeper and grande dame of Duntarvie, tossed a crochet blanket across the table to Kate. She was clearing up a pile of
papers from one end of the huge oak table, stacking them haphazardly together and plonking them onto the dresser.

‘Jean, you haven’t just put all those council applications in a heap, have you – oh.’ As if he was able to see through the door from his study and into the kitchen,
Roderick’s voice was heard, followed a moment later by the sound of footsteps.

‘Ah, you’re back.’ Dropping a kiss on Kate’s forehead (‘you’re freezing, darling – I’ll run you a bath in a second’), the Laird of Auchenmor
looked across at Jean with a mock-disapproving expression.

‘Roddy, if you will leave all this stuff lying about when you’ve got a perfectly good study through there, I’m going to put it out of the way when we’re about to have
lunch. Now would you pass me over some soup bowls from the dresser there, please?’

With the resigned expression of a man who knew his place, Roderick lifted the crockery out of the dresser, pausing only for a moment to cast a double-checking eye over the vital paperwork.

‘Everything organized for tomorrow?’

Kate nodded. She couldn’t talk, because halfway through slicing some of Jean’s gorgeous home-made bread to go with the soup, she’d sneaked in a test slice, and the only noises
she was capable of making were muffled sounds of agreement.

‘Good. This is going disturbingly smoothly, isn’t it?’ Roderick’s expression was one of surprise. The plan to launch Duntarvie House as a romantic wedding venue had
hurtled from a notion they’d discussed over breakfast in bed to reality far faster than they’d expected.

‘Well, considering we’d been planning to start things off next summer, not now, yes.’ Kate looked at Jean with a smile. She had been a brilliant support when they’d
presented her with the idea, throwing herself into preparing the grand reception rooms of Duntarvie House for weddings, and coping with the arrival of the builders and surveyors who were detailed
with ensuring that the ancient house met modern Health and Safety standards.

Jean dished out the soup into three bowls, and they sat down together at the table.

‘Well, I’d be telling fibs if I said it wasnae a bit of a shock to the system having to go from running this place with just Roddy pottering around to turning it into a show house
– but I’d rather be on the go than taking early retirement.’ She shuddered at the words.

‘I think we should raise a toast,’ Roddy picked up his glass with an affectionate look at Jean. ‘To the three of us, and to Duntarvie House weddings.’

‘Cheers.’ Kate watched as they drank, thinking as she did how good – and how right – it felt to call Duntarvie House home.

Considering she’d arrived on the island of Auchenmor to work as a Girl Friday just over a year ago – and had in that time overseen the conversion of derelict farm buildings into
holiday cottages as well as setting up a thriving seal and marine research post – it wasn’t surprising that she occasionally felt like she’d turned up, the English outsider, and
changed the safe, comfortable way that the Duntarvie Estate had been run forever. Island life had changed Kate, too. She’d learned to slow down, and through trial and error (and there had
been plenty of both) she’d learned to trust her own judgement. And now she was being pushed forward as the one behind this new idea. It had been greeted by most of the islanders with open
arms. But change always comes at a cost, and she’d heard the occasional muttering when she popped into the island’s main town, Ardmannan, for shopping. Not everyone was keen on the
island being ‘full of incomers turning up here and no’ spending a penny in the town, taking themselves off to the Big House and spending their money there’.

Stung by the comment she’d overheard in the local butcher, she’d made a point of writing an article for the local paper explaining the plans they had for Duntarvie House, including a
rather over-detailed explanation of her plan for the weddings to use locally sourced products wherever possible. Roderick, with what she felt was a flash of to-the-manor-born arrogance, had told
Kate she was massively over-thinking everything as usual. She’d realized there was a truth in what he said – she was still prone to worrying long into the night, concerned the islanders
would turn against her and close ranks. Roddy seemed to have an inbuilt confidence – sometimes Kate felt she was on the outside, looking in. But their friends Susan and Tom had cheered her
out of her mood and poured her another large glass of wine, Susan teasing Roddy about being stuck up and out of touch.

A few weeks back, when Kate’s friend Sian from university had called with a wheedle in her voice, she’d known something was up. It turned out that word travelled
fast in the wedding world, and as editor of a brand new wedding website, Sian had seen the perfect opportunity for them to work together.

‘You’ve got a brand new wedding venue, darling, and I’m launching a brand new wedding website . . . we’re a perfect match!’

Texting her best friend Emma, who knew Sian of old, Kate felt a lurch of panic in her stomach.

Ferry approaching loaded with Sian and her latest harebrained scheme. Have I lost the plot completely?

Emma’s reply flashed back straight away.

Rather you than me. She might have improved with age?

Perhaps, thought Kate, dubiously, as an excited Sian clattered down the stairs and onto the harbour at Kilmannan. Before she knew what was happening, Kate was driving her through the town
towards Duntarvie House.

‘This is
perfection
!’

Sian’s camera whirred and clicked as she hung out of the window of the Land Rover. Kate found herself slowing up on the corners in case her friend shot out sideways into the sea. The wind
was bitterly cold, but Sian seemed oblivious. She was entranced by the beauty of the island. Kate smiled to herself, remembering her first trip along this road. To think that not even eighteen
months had passed – and now she lived here, part of the fabric of the island community, caught up in lifeboat fundraisers and charity coffee mornings.

‘It’s gorgeous, isn’t it?’ Kate indicated left out of habit, although the road was empty as ever, and they turned into the long drive towards Duntarvie House. The
rhododendrons were still wild, but the worst of the potholes on the driveway had been repaired, so the overall impression was of an artfully unkempt rather than dilapidated stately home. Or at
least that’s what we keep telling ourselves, thought Kate, as they lurched over an unexpected bump.

‘It’s very . . . rural.’ Sian turned to Kate, putting the camera down at last.

‘We’re not trying for perfect – we’re aiming for posh shabby chic.’

‘Ah, well, plenty of time to get the road sorted out, but the whole atmosphere is perfect, really – oh!’

Ignoring the road comment while making a mental note to get Billy out to do some more tarmac patching, Kate stopped the car at the entrance to the courtyard and allowed her friend to take in the
beauty of Duntarvie House.

In the autumn sunshine the stones seemed to glow, and the ornate detailing of the crenellated rooftops stood out against an almost Californian-blue sky. It really was a beautiful place to live
and work.

Sian leapt out of the car, camera in hand.

‘Sod the bumpy road, this place couldn’t
be
more perfect.’

Smiling to herself, Kate parked the Land Rover, waited patiently whilst Sian took what seemed like another two hundred photographs, and then invited her inside.

‘I’m trying to send these, but the signal is awful!’ Sian hadn’t stopped from the moment she got off the boat. A whirling dervish of phone and camera and sunglasses, she
was still working on London time. Now the island’s notoriously dodgy phone signal had given her pause at last.

Kate took a breath and smiled, hoping to pass on some calm. ‘Yes, we don’t really get much reception on this side of the house. If you go round to the front, you will – and
you’ll get five bars if you stand up in the tower. But you get used to it. And there’s always Wi-Fi.’

‘How on
earth
d’you get anything done?’ Sian was still waving her phone around hopefully.

‘We manage,’ said Jean crisply, appearing from the darkness of the kitchen corridor. One whiff of criticism of Duntarvie House and her hackles were up, and somehow she had a sixth
sense.

Kate took Sian’s coat, hanging it up on the rack in the hall. She’d better smooth over the waters quickly: this afternoon’s meeting would take twice as long if she had to
factor in placating a defensive Jean.

‘So let me tell you what I’m thinking.’ Sian reached across the table, helping herself to a couple of fingers of Jean’s still-warm shortbread.

‘We’ve got tietheknot.com ready to go, and we’ve run a giveaway on our sister website, handmade-heaven.com. It’s all super-cool vintage stuff – you would
love
it. We were all set for a dream wedding at Hamilton House down in the Scottish Borders, but then there was a fire – the place isn’t going to be ready for months.’
Sian gave a shrug. ‘Maddy and Leo, that’s our couple – totally gorgeous, by the way – were all set for launch. Course, you can
imagine
how I felt, having to try and
find somewhere at the last minute. Christmas wedding venues are booked up years in advance.’

Kate nodded, knowing that much from the research she’d done into turning Duntarvie House from a slightly chilly island castle into the most enticing wedding location possible. Trouble was,
there was a lot more work to be done before next spring, when they could safely declare themselves open for business. They had to get the place up to scratch to pass the stringent Health and Safety
regulations required, and they still hadn’t had the results back from the surveyor . . .

‘Kate?’ Sian gave her a little nudge. ‘You still listening?’

Kate gave a nod. Sian’s monologue continued.

‘And then I heard on the grapevine you’d not only snagged yourself a millionaire landowner – ’

Hardly
, thought Kate, pulling a wry face.

– ‘but you’ve got yourself the perfect new life and you’re setting up as a wedding venue, and that’s where I come in. Duntarvie House is the perfect Christmas
venue.’

‘But we’ve only just started the process. I thought you were coming here to do a behind-the-scenes feature on developing a wedding venue?’ Kate felt a bit sick. They were
covering Sian’s expenses, and she’d insisted on flying to Glasgow instead of catching the train. It felt like a disaster was beginning to unfold.

‘I was.’ Sian’s face brightened into a smile, showing cat-like teeth. ‘But I realized what a blessing it was for us that Hamilton House went up in flames.’

Kate opened her mouth, and closed it again in shock. She’d forgotten that Sian’s drive could often smother the tiny amount of tact that she had.

‘You need publicity. We’re going to be
everywhere
this Christmas. I promise you, you’ll have bookings coming out of your ears . . . ’

It had taken a fair bit of persuading to convince Roddy that she wasn’t completely mad and that they could tick the requisite building safety boxes within three months,
but the opportunity seemed too good to miss. Jean, despite her misgivings about Sian (‘She’s a right wee madam, if you ask me’), was eager to help Kate, and they’d managed
to make the place respectable enough – at least on the surface – for a wedding to take place. If they could just get the photos done for Sian’s site, and get a handful of
bookings, they could concentrate for the early months of the new year on making sure the place was a perfect venue.

BOOK: Sealed with a Christmas Kiss
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