Sealed with a Christmas Kiss (5 page)

BOOK: Sealed with a Christmas Kiss
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On cue, she heard footsteps on the gravel. Roddy was striding across the courtyard, keys to the car in his hand.

‘Maddy, I’ve put your stuff in the Land Rover. Just let me know when you want to get going.’ He was gruff in his embarrassment, awkward at the whole thing having been such a

‘You can stay tonight if you’d prefer, Maddy?’ Kate felt she ought to offer, even though she suspected it’d be prolonging the agony for everyone. ‘Are you sure
you’ll be okay getting the train on your own?’

‘I need to get used to it.’ Maddy gave half a smile which didn’t reach her eyes. There was an awkward silence, and Maddy blew her nose.

‘If it’s okay with you, can we go now?’ She put down her cup with a watery smile.

Kate stood in the big wooden doorway, watching the car disappear down the drive. The snow was melting under the faint heat of a thin midwinter sun, but she shivered. Last night
had been a complete washout, all things considered, and now she had an irate Sian on her back, a non-existent wedding to promote, and a distinct feeling that it was all her fault. If she
hadn’t picked up the phone last night, if Leo hadn’t given her the creeps, perhaps none of this would have happened.

And then Maddy, who seemed perfectly lovely, would be marrying a cheating git who had goodness knows how many other women on the go. So, no – it was a lucky escape, after all.

Willow appeared from the sitting room, ball in mouth. Having heard the door opening, she was all set for a walk.

‘Oh, come on then, you.’ Kate grabbed a thick coat and slid her feet into wellington boots. Perhaps she should take her own advice. A walk down on the beach might clear her head.

The waves lapped the rocky shore. In the distance, Kate could just make out the ferry curving in towards the harbour of Kilmannan. The water sparkled cobalt blue in the
December sun. All around her was silence. The tide was out slightly, exposing the bigger rocks which sometimes provided a basking spot for the pod of seals which lived around the island. Kate
fished in her pocket, half hoping – and there they were. She pulled out some binoculars, training them on the rocks. Focusing in, she could see that some of the rocks were in fact moving. A
couple of seals lay basking in the thin light of the midwinter sun. She smiled to herself, thinking of Flora, the pup she had rescued with Roddy when she’d first arrived on the island. Since
then they’d established a wildlife spotting centre on the far side of Auchenmor and brought in a whole new wave of tourists and money, securing funding and jobs at a time when all the young
talent was being bled out of the island economy. The whole point of this wedding business was to bring more money to the island and make the estate sustainable – and it was bad luck that
their first potential wedding clients hadn’t exactly been ideal. But there was always a way round these things.

Kate stood up, folding away the binoculars. She’d been right about coming down here – it had given her the chance to gather her thoughts. Sian was as keen to make this work as they
were – more so, probably. She had just over three weeks until the wedding shoot. All they needed was a happy couple – how hard could that be? She turned back up the hill for home,
whistling Willow, who hurtled towards her, sea-soaked and covered in muddy sand.

‘That went well, then.’

‘Don’t even start.’ Roddy handed Kate a mug of coffee and sat down beside her on the sofa.

‘She got off on the boat okay?’

‘Determined face, gritted teeth, no tears. I think it’s just as well you stayed here; I don’t think she needed us doing the happy couple bit and waving her off on the boat
whilst holding hands.’ He reached his hand across, and Kate laced her fingers with his.

‘What a massive git. And what a total nightmare. I’ve had Sian on the phone four times already today – first asking how last night went, and now she’s in crisis
management mode.’

‘How did that go?’

Ten minutes after hanging up on Kate earlier, Sian had called back with a brainwave.

‘I’ve spoken to Mel, who works in PR with Bluebell TV. Y’know Mod and Eleanor from
Geranium Heights

Kate had looked at the phone for a second, frowning, before she’d managed to place the names. They were a perma-tanned couple who were forever pasted across the covers of the brightly
coloured gossip magazines at the newsagent in Auchenmor.

She sighed as she replied. ‘Yes?’

‘Right, well, between you, me, and the gatepost, he’s actually happily in a relationship with a make-up artist called Darren who works on that dancing show, but their publicist is
well up for a bit of—’

‘Sian,’ Kate managed to interrupt as her friend took a breath, ‘I really don’t think we want to have two reality TV stars getting married.’ She tried to hide the
horror in her voice. The thought of Auchenmor being filled with Botoxed reality-TV celebrities made her shudder.

‘But it’d be
coverage. You’d get
magazine, and—’

‘And we’d be linked to a celebrity divorce eight months later. Seriously, it’s not the market we’re aiming for. I thought Tie the Knot was all about the retro vintage
thing, anyway?’

Sian gave a sigh of resignation. ‘All right, it is. You’re right.’

Kate could picture her friend’s expression. ‘Don’t worry, we’ll sort something out somehow.’

‘We’d bloody better, Kate, or I’m toast.’

Roddy looked at Kate kindly, tucking a curl behind her ear. ‘We don’t need to do this, Kate. There’s got to be another way to keep the estate afloat . . . we
just haven’t thought of it yet.’

She wasn’t willing to give the idea up just like that. They’d rushed through building work to get the approval they needed from the local council, and even repaired the
pothole-covered driveway. The house had been painted and spruced up and they’d decorated for Christmas with extra care, knowing that the photos were going to be used as the selling point in a
prominent feature on Sian might be a pain in the backside but she was very good at her job, and Kate knew that a Christmas wedding at Duntarvie House would be the perfect
opportunity to make their plans work.

‘No. We can do this.’ Kate put down her coffee. ‘All we have to do is grit our teeth and let Sian do her thing.’

‘Well, she’s got three weeks to find a couple who want to get married.’

‘A week.’ Kate looked at Roddy.

‘Not three?’ He looked confused.

‘No. Whoever it is needs to confirm their details with the registrar fifteen days before the wedding. Did you miss that bit?’

Roddy looked at Kate, running his fingers through his hair so half of it stood up on end. ‘I’m sure Sian will sort it out.’ He looked rather less convinced than he sounded.

‘Darling, this all sounds awfully chaotic. Are you sure you can cope with me coming up for Christmas?’

It was Monday morning, and Kate was sitting in her favourite cafe in Kilmannan. Her mum was flapping, which wasn’t really helping her state of mind. The immense plate of bacon and eggs
which had just appeared in front of her nose, on the other hand, was incredibly cheering.

‘Mum, it’s fine. There’s just been a change of plan – hang on, Bruno’s trying to tell me something.’ Having handed over Kate’s breakfast, the cafe owner
was mouthing something at her.

‘Tell your mum I’ll give her a wee call later on.’ Bruno, owner of the cafe, had become very attached to Elizabeth, Kate’s mum, over the last few months. He leaned over,
blowing a kiss down the phone. Kate heard a girlish giggle.

‘Can you two get a room and keep me out of this, please?’ she laughed, handing Bruno her phone.

, how are you today . . . ?’

Kate shooed Bruno off, happy to hand her phone – and her mum – over so she could focus on the more important task of having breakfast. She’d left Roddy at home puzzling over
paperwork and escaped to her favourite spot. Bruno’s cafe was a gem. Genuine 1950s Formica tables, cosy booths with red leather padded chairs, a jukebox which had Elvis’s Christmas
album on repeat at this time of year, and the best breakfasts she’d ever known. Roddy had spent his teenage years working here behind the counter, where Bruno treated him as another member of
staff rather than the laird’s son. Bruno had been over the moon when Kate and Roddy finally got together after months of skirting round each other, and he’d fallen head over heels for
her mum. The feeling seemed to be mutual, the only trouble being that Elizabeth lived 400 miles away in the pretty English market town of Saffron Walden. A long-distance relationship seemed have
worked so far for the two of them, though, Kate thought, watching Bruno laughing down the phone to her mum. She’d noticed that the gaps between her mum’s visits to the island were
becoming shorter, and her stays at Duntarvie House were getting longer.

‘Anyway, here she is back.’ Bruno handed Kate back her mobile, looking very pleased with himself.

‘Kate, I’m sorry, I’ve got to rush out. I’ve got to be in Cambridge for eleven. You can catch me up on all the news about this wedding later.’

‘There isn’t a wedding, Mum, that’s what I was trying to tell you—’

‘Later, darling. Love you!’

Kate looked down at the silent phone. Her mum would be here in a few days, anyway, and she’d hear all about it from Bruno, no doubt. Meanwhile, there wasn’t much else she could do
but leave it with Sian and keep her fingers crossed.

Roddy’s Mistake

Full of breakfast, Kate climbed back into her battered little car. She had every intention of driving straight home to get on with some boring paperwork that was waiting for
her, but something pulled her in the opposite direction from Duntarvie House as she started the car. Waving goodbye to Bruno, she turned the car up the hill out of Kilmannan and towards the west
coast of the island.

She parked the car in the layby which stood next to the path down to Selkie Bay. Looking up the hill, she could see smoke curling from the chimney of one of the cottages. There was a group of
university students staying in the bunkhouse this week: marine biologists, surveying the local pod of seals. Zipping her coat up to her nose, Kate secretly hoped that they wouldn’t be down on
the beach. Their plans for a wildlife observation unit had been a huge success, but more often than not she found that Selkie Bay had one or two waterproof-clad observers, binoculars and notepads
in hand, whenever she went there. She still considered it to be
beach: the place where she’d first fallen in love with Roddy. She slipped through the wooden gate and made her
way down through the field, carefully sticking to the well-trodden path. Cows observed her mildly, looking up from their grazing. At times like this, Sian’s insistent calls, the demands of
paperwork and real life seemed miles away.

Kate sat down on her favourite rock, gazing across at Eilean Mòr. The hills there were still tipped with snow and the morning sunlight filtered across the sea mist, casting an eerie glow.
She had a ridiculously busy three weeks ahead: her mother was arriving imminently, there was Christmas to prepare for – her first at Duntarvie House – and this blooming wedding. There
it was again, breaking through the silence. She was beginning to loathe weddings, and everything they stood for. Realizing that she wasn’t going to find any peace, she trudged back up the
path to her car. If breakfast hadn’t cheered her up, and the silent space of Selkie Bay hadn’t done it, perhaps the answer was tea and sympathy.

Arriving back at the Duntarvie Estate, Kate turned the music down on the approach to Morag and Ted’s stable yard. She’d driven the long way home, raising her
spirits with music, and had blasted herself half deaf with a CD full of songs from her university days. She pulled the car up outside the whitewashed cottage.

‘You’re up and about early this morning, love.’ Ted looked up from the table, peering at her from over his glasses. Kate had let herself in, as had become her habit over the
last year or so. Ted and his wife Morag were about the same age as Kate’s parents – in fact, they’d discovered that Ted had worked alongside Kate’s late father years ago,
before his early death in an road accident. Morag had introduced herself to Kate on her first day on the island, and had proved herself a staunch friend and ally. She’d also seen, with the
shrewd eye of experience, that Roddy was in danger of losing Kate through indecision and crossed wires, and she’d been extremely glad to see the two of them get together.

‘I can’t begin to explain. Wedding disasters.’ Kate rolled her eyes at Ted, turning as Morag entered the room, a saddle in her arms. She plonked it down on the kitchen table,
covering Ted’s paper with a scattering of mud and horsehair. He muttered to himself, pulling the paper out sideways, but gave his wife a fond smile.

‘Well, I want to hear all about it. Was the weekend not a success?’ Morag, always keen for a bit of gossip, set the kettle on the Aga to warm up, and found a tin of biscuits.

‘Not exactly . . . ’

‘So that’s that.’ Kate concluded her tale. ‘And if you ask me, we’ve probably bitten off more than we can chew with this wedding plan, but I
can’t say that to Roddy.’ She sighed.

‘Ach, I think you’ll find you just struck it unlucky with those two. Most weddings are lovely, happy occasions.’ Morag gave Kate a sly sideways glance, pushing the biscuit tin
her way. She swirled the teapot before pouring out a huge mug of English Breakfast and passing it across the table.

Ted cleared his throat. ‘Well, I’m sure you two will be finding out soon enough, eh Kate?’

Morag looked appraisingly at Kate, to whom the sports supplement of Ted’s paper had suddenly become fascinating. She stared hard at it for a few moments. Morag reached across and turned it
round to face the right way.

‘If you’re going to read it, dear, you’ll find it’s easier when it’s not upside down.’

Ted stood up, removing his reading glasses, and picked up his cup of tea. ‘I’m going to leave you girls to your chat. I want to listen to the news programme.’

BOOK: Sealed with a Christmas Kiss
9.54Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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