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Love Takes Hold ~ A free romantic mystery novella

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Love Takes Hold

Sophia Powell

Copyright © 2016 Sophia Powell

All rights reserved.

ISBN 10: 1530785979 

ISBN-13: 978-1530785971 

Although no one can go back and make a brand new start, anyone can start from now and make a brand new ending” – Carl Bard

CONTENTS

 

Chapter 1 – Erin’s Family Pg. 4

 

Chapter 2 – Riley’s Family Pg. 39

 

A letter from Sophia Pg. 71

 

Free book sign-up Pg. 72

 

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1 ERIN’S FAMILY

 

“Libby, would you hurry up?”

Stuart, her husband, was bellowing from the family hallway. It was 8am and if they were to get up to Manchester in time to collect up their now newly–graduated daughter and her belongings then they needed to beat the rush-hour traffic.

“I’m coming…” Libby bellowed back in equal frustration.

Stuart sighed and leant against the open front doorway, as Libby appeared five minutes later clutching her scarf and rushing down the stairs towards him.

“I do wish you wouldn’t rush me, Stuart, you knew I was looking for the scarf Erin got me for Mother’s day just gone. She had made it especially for me, and so I felt it was only right to wear it today, on her big day!”

Stuart sighed, again. Libby continued

“Instead, it would have been nice if you’d offered to help look? Anyway, I’m ready now.”

As Libby slipped into her shoes and grabbed her bag she walked straight past her husband and straight in to the already awaiting opened front passenger car door, seating herself rather triumphantly inside!

Stuart muttered to himself, something about ‘there’s no pleasing some’ and ‘I’ll lock up the house then, shall I?’

It was 8.10am by the time they had started their journey, ten minutes now lost to the already heaving commute. So much for getting the advantage by beating the local traffic, he thought. As Stuart shut the front door, and made his way over to his company executive car.

An estate car would surely give enough room and space for all three of them as well as all his daughter’s many belongings, wouldn’t it? He pondered as he sat behind the wheel; adjusting his driver’s position, with seat-belt on, car door shut and engine purring, they pulled out of the family drive and out onto the same suburban street in which they had lived in for the past thirty years.

In Manchester meanwhile, Erin was stirring awake slowly, painfully coming to with an almighty hangover! She slipped her foot out from under the warm duvet, bashed the alarm clock with a fist of annoyance and sat upright, turning to face the aftermath of, oh yes, now she remembered, the last ever house party they were ever likely to have as students. Hitting her head like a riot of what had only been going on just a few hours ago.

“Oooooowwwwwwww!”

Erin groaned, reaching for some water and squinting at the alarm clock.

“Never, ever, ever again!”

It was then that she remembered her parents were arriving in only a couple of hours’ time, this required substance of coffee and toast. Slipping on her dressing gown, she moved quietly out of her bedroom in her shared house, down the stairs and into the freezing cold kitchen. While it was summer it was still cold. The garden, which was overgrown with trees, kept the kitchen in particular shaded all year round. Picking up the kettle and filling it from the tap, she rested it back on the base and waited for it to boil.

The kitchen was strewn with glasses, empty bottles of all sorts of god knows what alcoholic beverages, scrunched-up beer cans, crusts of food, broken and bashed crisps and those stray lonely peanuts. There was at least one clean unused cup left in the cupboard, and so for now coffee was at least an achievable mission even if the state of the kitchen was not! There was, however, no bread! Just what was Erin thinking in the mist of her hungover, and so to which, toast sadly became a distant fading and ever hopeful Erin type of thought.

With coffee steaming warmly in her hand, Erin walked towards the comfort of the lounge, which was strewn with sleeping and snoring friends: they too were nursing hangovers upon hangovers, so with nowhere to sit she retreated back to the stairs and sat there thinking just where to start?

Because her mother’s imminent arrival, this hangover, with a house like this, was going to be worse than all the University lectures she had ever endured in the course of the past three years! The coffee eased the impending doom of her mother’s arrival, as her housemate stirred from her room and walked toward the bathroom.

It was here that Erin and her housemate whispered a pained, and very hoarse sounding “Morning,” it was the briefest of exchanges. Erin’s coffee was sadly now finished and with the bathroom free she dived in for the first and last hot shower as a student. The hot water had never lasted long in a house full of girls, so getting the luxury of being first was always an opportunity not to be missed.

Once Erin was dressed her hair was left still wrapped inside a towel. Erin began the task of turning the house from grim, messy party den into a ‘motherly-presentable’ clean, respectable student residence. Tutting and tssking at those who remained blissfully sleeping throughout all the noise Erin was creating as she frantically cleaned, with an accompanying thought which grew in annoyance of: ‘you do know my mother is arriving here sometime soon!’ For those who did stir, stirred slowly and ushered their weary bodies and hungover heads off in the direction of their own student digs.

Stuart had by now been driving for well over an hour into their journey when they reached the halfway marker on their route, just as he’d planned. He knew his daughter well enough to know that a delay to the inevitable arrival would be welcomed and so he suggested to Libby that they stop-off for a coffee and a bit of a rest before continuing their journey a mere 30 minutes later. The idea was to arrive at Erin’s, not only later than Libby would have liked, but to be more refreshed and perhaps even a little bit rested, not that resting was ever possible with Libby beside him in the car; he received a full and frank running live-commentary of what everyone in the car park was doing whether he wanted to hear it or not! Neither did Libby actually look or take a blind bit of notice of his tightly-closed eyes.

During this time, Erin meanwhile had cleared all the discarded party recycling and rubbish, wiped down the sides, loaded the dishwasher, put the actual dishwasher on, swept the floors, opened windows and ushered the last two annoying stragglers off in the direction of their own homes. The house was looking more mother presentable, and with at least another 45 minutes to go before Erin would expect them she began the final part of her packing. She did this by chucking, quite literally, the last of her remaining clothes into her last spare suitcase.

Sitting on the bed, of her now-empty room, her thoughts quickly turned to the next stage in her life, the impending dread of living back at home whilst she sorted out her life and her career. The sadness she felt was having to leave behind the friends she had made. Not a single thought entered her head about love or finding a man, little did she know what was about to happen, and with that a car horn tooted from the road, breaking her from her thoughts and forcing her to go to her bedroom window to see that, yes, in fact, it was her parents coming to take her back home. Erin immediately noticed that her mother was wearing the scarf she’d made: that was her mother’s way of showing her support in this next transition of her daughter’s life. But this made Erin think only of the time she’d had here at university, where she could enjoy her life and embrace her freedom.

It was well-meaning loving support from her mother, her not so subtle way of showing her daughter how much she cared. But it was also the one thing Erin could have well done without, because her mother’s gesture just compounded her uneasy and unsure feelings even more, realizing she was leaving behind this life that she’d grown to love; a life that was free from her overbearing mother.

Erin maneuvered her way around the boxes and suitcases of her packed-up bedroom, rushed onto the landing and made her way down the stairs, to get to the front door just in time, before her mother’s rather self-important, loud, frantic doorbell etiquette began.

“Hi mum,”

Erin said as she pulled the door open on what would be her last time in this drafty, damp, student house, as she looked out on to the row of houses for what would be the last time she’d live here; her sadness grew on seeing this road full of smart, and somewhat presentable Victorian terraced houses that she had come to call her home.

“Hello, Erin darling.”

Her mum exuded excitement and happiness, hugging her daughter tight, all of which was just too much for Erin to bear what with her current heavy-head thoughts and sinking-heart feelings.

“Come in, I’m nearly ready to go,”

As her mother stepped inside, her father Stuart followed in behind. He hugged his daughter, in a more, gentle supportive manner.

“Hi Dad,”

Erin said as they embraced, they both turned to watch as Libby had walked forcefully in ahead of them straight into the kitchen, to do a rather surreptitious glance around and complete a motherly eye-raising type of inspection. ‘So this is how my daughter has been living’ you could see the thought process of Libby developing the more she looked.

Footsteps from upstairs alerted them to the presence of the other housemates who Erin shared with, soon these footsteps then came down the stairs. Erin glanced back to see who it was and more importantly if they were in fact presentable to meet her mother.

A former shadow of her effortlessly chic glamorous self, Bea appeared, wrapped in her exotic Japanese silk dressing gown and as usual she was barefooted. Bea looked to Erin and from Erin to each of Erin’s parents, only Bea could foresee the look of despair which was etched tightly on Erin’s face, frowning she was at the impending prospect of having to go home. Erin broke the silence by formally introducing Bea

“Mum, this is Bea. Bea has just graduated like me. You remember when I introduced you at our graduation ceremony we had together last month?”

As Erin looked to her mother and back to Bea.

“Oh yes, I remember, how lovely to see you again?”

Libby replied looking at Bea and giving her an insincere smile. Stuart smiled at Bea, then over to Erin and then lastly at Libby. He was very good at sensing the difficulties and the fraught-ness of what it would require in having your first, unimpressed conversations with his wife.

“Hello Bea, it looks like one hell of a student party happened here last night!”

Bea smiled and rubbed her head, Erin look perplexed at her father.

“How did you know?” Erin asked, and then perhaps wished she hadn’t.

“The overflowing recycling bin outside, the fact that I can certainly smell heavily-used air freshener, the guilt-ridden face of you, my dear daughter, and last but by no means least, is the pile of sick I very nearly stepped in, beside your front door!”

Stuart stated smugly and with a great sense of deep self-righteous satisfaction of rumbling not least his daughter but also her housemate too. Clearly his daughter had failed to remember that her father had once been a young student himself!

Bea’s mouth opened as if to say something, and then closed on her as in a second thought.

“Well, cheers Dad, thanks for ratting me out to mum,”

Erin said through gritted teeth and crimson-coloured cheeks.

“My dear girl, regardless of your father’s very extremely powerful skills of observation and frighteningly strong sense of smell. I too can smell the alcohol seeping out of you and the fact you really look like you’ve not slept, gave the game away long before your father dared mention anything.”

Erin sighed inwardly. Nothing was ever going to get past her parents, and the next, however long, she was stuck living back at home with them. She knew with her mother on her case she was always going to be suffering much like she was now! This all served to Erin as a sharp reminder, of a clear, very certain and what was going to be a very frustrating, indication of her new life.

“So Bea, what are your plans?”

Stuart asked, easing the tension that lingered in the winter-jasmine-party-masking air.

“I’ve got a six month long placement with a French fashion designer in Paris. He was invited over by our course leader to come see all of our graduations fashion show. He liked some of my work and got in touch with me afterwards. So that’s where I am off too at the end of summer,”

Bea replied feeling secretly proud of herself, especially because when said like that, people would nearly always start thinking of the big fashion houses of Paris; picturing the glamour, the models and the big well-known designer labels, of which this man was certainly from neither. It was evident Bea was imagining the grandeur of life, living as if she was starring as the lead role in some glamourous, alluring French perfume TV advert; the reality of which she was yet to find out, was very far removed from any such expense, and certainly from any such luxury.

“Well, that all sounds very glamorous and exciting,”

Stuart replied and then there was a pause. “Can you speak French?” he asked.

“Ha, Well that’s going to be my plan over the next two months: a very intensive, fast-paced French speaking course!”

Bea stated assuredly, because she was in some parts dreading the course. Then as the four of them stood awkwardly together in the kitchen, Bea desperately wanted to get to make a coffee and Erin desperately wanted to get her father to start shifting stuff out of her bedroom and to load up the car, because for her, the sooner today was over, the better.

“Right Dad, shall we make a start on packing up the car, it’s going to take us both a while to complete and we mustn’t forget we’ve got the drive back to consider too.”

This ever-pressing need to get this transition in Erin’s life started to grow more and more imminent, especially after and not helped least by, Bea’s annoying announcement about Paris. Erin knew the car journey home would involve a full, and frank conversation about why Bea had this career all lined up and Erin was still just a job applying graduate.

“Yes, that’s a good idea, lead the way,”

Stuart stated as the two of them walked out of the kitchen, climbed up the stairs and into what was now Erin’s old bedroom.

A scene which any father would probably have recoiled in horror at seeing greeted him inside the room; there were boxes upon boxes, suitcases upon suitcases, bags of stuff upon more bags of stuff. Stuart suddenly had the dawning realisation of the ever-shrinking size of his car boot, ‘where was everyone and everything going to go’, he thought.

Stuart muttered a little prayer and patted his heart, hoping one or other would either give him divine intervention, or at least strength!

“Well, I hope this will all fit in the car – it might even be a bit of a squeeze to get you in, Erin!”

Stuart smirked and began picking up a suitcase handle which was clearly heavier than he had anticipated, and began dragging it down and out toward the car. Slowly over time as more and more trips were made, Erin’s room grew barer, the car more laden as loud groaning sounds of worrying protest came with each case or box that was being added into the boot! Not to mention her poor father was growing more and more exhausted with each and every lugging load. All this meant for Erin was that her reality was growing nearer and nearer. Sooner than perhaps she would have liked.

Her mother meanwhile was busy cleaning up the sorry state of Erin’s messy student house. Erin would be the last but one housemate to leave. Bea was planning on staying for a day or two longer, her parents were away some place exotic and Bea was in no rush to pack, clean or tidy, so Libby worked around the girl, as her ever expanding speech bubbles of discontent could be imagined escaping from out of the top of her head.

By now, the kitchen was cleaner than any hospital surgical ward and the lounge actually looked more like a lounge to relax in. All in all the house was looking more respectable and less party-laden and trashed as it had done so earlier, despite Erin’s earlier efforts, Libby had now transformed the place.

The car was now ready, Stuart was recovering with a glass of ice-cold water, sitting on the shaded steps in the back garden. Libby was frantically finishing emptying the dishwasher and stacking the cupboards, as Erin was busy chatting and saying her last farewell to Bea.

They hugged knowing they would probably never see each other again, nor make the effort to, but in all likelihood as these things would go, they would only ever hear about how well or how badly the other was doing in their mutual fashion careers.

Erin slipped into what was the one fully upright, functioning seat in the back of the car; beside her laid all her belongings and the stark prospect of no freedom, no peace, and no time for anything but family upon more family.

The engine turned over, the car creaked and groaned as it pulled away from the Victorian house, Erin turned and waved at Bea (still in her dressing gown) standing barefoot in the doorway and that was the last sight and memory Erin would have of what was now to be her old student life.

The journey was bearable. Stuart had put Radio 2 on which was blaring out in surround sound, hoping to silence his wife for at least one of their journeys today. But sadly for him it was still accompanied by Libby’s short, sharp and constant running commentary on other clearly bad drivers.

Stuart’s thoughts were mostly filled with the impending dread of repeating the process of lugging, and Erin was wondering what the hell she was going to do all summer long stuck in their Kirkbride home.

It wasn’t exactly a quiet journey home, but it was at least a car full of thoughtful ones, one that took over two hours to complete.

That evening, as the family shared the first of their evening meals around the family table in her mother’s recent pride and joy, an expensive brand new redesigned kitchen-breakfast room. Her sister Clara was coming to stay for the weekend, travelling from London by train, this would certainly help Erin to bear the brunt of returning once more into the family fold.

The family chatted like old times over a glass of wine as the tipsier Libby became, the more sentimental her stories of her young daughters flowed.

As Erin slept in her old teenage bedroom, now laying there as a grown woman, a woman with prospects, a future and a career all within her grasp, and the sooner she got out of this teenage bedroom the better, and it didn’t even need to be in Paris!

The weeks passed by slowly as Erin began the task of job hunting and interview attending and after a few weeks of highs and lows she landed a job at the big new clothing retailer in town. It wasn’t the couture design that Bea was no doubt doing, but it was at least in fashion. She was proudly the assistant sales manager at ‘Marcy Laine’.

Her new job meant she was out of the house for most of the day and into the early evenings, and her time at home grew more bearable as Erin was only ever home long enough to eat, shower and head straight back out for a drink or two with her work colleagues. With whom she had now become very good and close friends with.

With her sister Clara living and studying for her law degree in London. Erin’s odd weekend spent there was a blissful retreat and escape from home life. It was a chance for her to marvel at the fashion stores of her dreams, sample the city nightlife and come home more heavily laden than when she had first set off! Not to mention her being a little less well-off financially and nursing yet another hangover.

Life was somewhat settling down for Erin and whilst her boss Richard was turning into a proverbial pain in the neck, Erin was quickly learning the ways of becoming a successful assistant sales manager while also at handling Richard’s ever-increasing stress inducing antics at work. With clothes sales booming as well as repeat customers growing in both number and in profits, it meant Erin was entitled to a much-welcome and a very much-needed bonus, the kind of which could now enable Erin to finally move out of the family home and into a young, fun shared house nearer to the town centre.

Erin gave up her much loved Friday evening out to search for shared house adverts, as she sat at the kitchen table with her laptop open, a glass of white wine beside her and a large bar of chocolate she gave herself a “cheers”, took a swig of wine and hit the button which said: ‘send a message’ alongside the first advert she had found that she liked, which was in the part of town she wanted to live, at a price she could reasonably afford.

As she began typing her message, her mother bundled nosily in through the front door. She had completed the weekend food shop having also dragged in a very, tired, grumpy looking husband following wearily in behind.

“Oh, we weren’t expecting you to be in on a Friday night, what are you up to?”

Libby asked, noticing the wine beside her daughter’s laptop and more surprisingly her daughter choosing to sit in on a Friday night in her pajama’s.

Erin faced a choice here: she could give her mother a tiny white lie, were she could simply say she wasn’t at all looking to move out. Or her other option was by not say anything at all, and pretend she hadn’t heard her?

Well until she’d at least been to view and meet the other housemates it was perhaps wise not to alert her mother too soon to her planned departure once more from the family abode.

“Well I’m just looking…” and before Erin

Could even finish her sentence or her white lie, her mother had glanced over at her daughter’s laptop screen, seen what Erin was doing and gasped in despair, the shock, at the suddenness and the sadness of her daughter’s life moving on once more.

“You’re looking at shared houses, you want to move out. Oh no, well I mean I realise that you have to live your life, but a little notice would have been nice!”

Libby exclaimed, while trying not to let this momentous life-changing news take hold over her, and yet desperately failing.

“Mum, I’ve only just started looking this evening. I can’t live at home forever!”

Erin replied with a sinking feeling it was going to be a hard change for her mother to come to terms with.

“Stuart, Erin is looking at shared houses in town, she’s going to be moving out!”

Her mother shouted out towards the hallway where Stuart was trying to hang up his coat, and grab the remaining bags from the hall to bring them through into the kitchen. He did this urgently sensing the tone in his wife’s call, and the support his daughter was no doubt going to need, facing this with Libby in full force. He’d had far too many decades experiencing Libby like this, so much so he’d become well versed in handling these kind of ‘Libby situations’.

As he walked in and noticed the same scene unfolding as Libby had done first of all.

“Is this true, Erin?” Stuart asked

“I’m just looking Dad. I need my own space and my own freedom,” she replied

As Stuart who could well read between the lines as to what his daughter was hinting.

“You have plenty of your own personal space here though, Erin. You have your own room? You can come and go as you please? I don’t think your mother or I, ask you that many questions of where you are going or what you are doing,” he said.

In what was fast unfolding as a tense family conversation, one that Erin hadn’t planned on having with her parents just yet,

“Yes I know all of that, dad, but it is not the same as living on my own, being nearer town and my workmates,”

Erin added, while shifting uncomfortably in her now rather hot seat. The never-ending bus journeys were a frustrating factor in Erin’s life, they ran brilliantly for her morning commute but the last bus home was too early for Erin to want to come back and there was no night bus! So if she wasn’t having to blag lifts off friends she was paying for endless taxis, or worse still, facing the shame and embarrassment of being picked up by her ever dutiful parents.

Libby took this to mean, that regardless if Erin was just curious about moving out, that it was now inevitably going to happen, and happening sooner than she would have liked. While adjusting to the news wasn’t something Libby was going to do at any great Libby-type-of-adjusting speed.

Stuart had begun quietly and systematically emptying out the shopping bags and placing items into the fridge, he was desperately trying to think of a way to play peacemaker and yet also thinking about how he was going to make some food and go enjoy a nice whisky in the lounge to drown away his week.

“Libby my dear, we have to realise that our girls are fully grown women now. They have to have independent lives of their own, now. Clara is working down in London and so it’s only really right that Erin should want to be in her own place and no longer living with her parents,”

Stuart added, trying to helpfully remind his wife that they knew this time would eventually come yet trying to support his daughter with changing both hers and Libby’s circumstances. Stuart had always found familiar territory in some kind of middle ground, ground he had come to know quite well over the years. It was here where he would usually end up stuck between supporting his wife or supporting a daughter, or worse still both daughters! Oh how he had longed for a son.

“I know, Stuart, but it was just a shock, is all. I’ve been used to us having Erin here and us all spending time together, it is how it should be, it is nice to have meals together and talk about each of our days,”

Libby added making them both feel bad and yet sorry for her all at the same confusing time.

Erin quickly hit send on the message she’d been quietly typing on her laptop in between the unfolding drama of the Kirkbride’s mother-father-daughter conversation, and she vowed she’d do a few more later just as backup plan!

Erin sipped at her glass of wine. Her mum finished unpacking the shopping, and her dad had slipped off to get himself and Libby a drink. Within 10 minutes they were all sat back together at the table, sitting in what was now an awkward silence, drinking their respective tipples and then Erin’s mother said the fateful words no daughter ever wants to hear.

“You know, I was rather excited when I saw you were on the laptop just now, Erin,”

Libby stated as Erin grew a little intrigued.

“Oh?”

Erin asked wondering what was to come next from her mother.

“Yes, I was excited as I thought you’d joined up to one of those online-dating sites,”

Libby said or more to the mortifying point rather too obviously, hinted at to her daughter.

“Ergh mum, really… seriously, that’s what you thought?”

Erin replied trying not to shout and yet feeling like that’s precisely what she wanted to do.

“No way, absolutely not, why would you want me to be on a dating site?”

Erin asked and then realized that was a particularly stupid question to ask. Stuart grew a little uncomfortable at this kind of mother-daughter exchange, quietly sipped his whiskey and looked very interestedly at the newspaper sat on the table, although his ears were still fully tuned in to and receiving the ongoing conversation.

“Well Erin, your sister has Jaime, and it’s only right that it would be just as good to see you with someone,” Libby announced.

Erin was thinking how to reply and then before she could, Libby started again:

“Because you know Margaret’s daughter is now engaged with Luca, and Jane over at The Fox and Hounds, her daughter is getting married this summer and well, you…” and

Libby paused and thought how best to phrase this next part as Erin gulped feverishly at her wine.

“Well, you’re just single and that makes me very sad for you.”

Libby ended her awkward conversation just as more wine had slipped down Erin’s throat, Erin swallowed, looked over at her Dad who was still pretending not to be listening, Eirn looked back at her mum who now looked very concerned for her daughter and as Erin simply smiled, shut down the laptop screen, grabbed her wine and the chocolate and departed the table. Her mind turned to reaching the relative safety of her cringe-worthy teenage bedroom, feeling more and more despairing of her single situation as her time at home went on.

“Oh Erin!!!”

Libby exclaimed as her daughter stood before her clutching all her belongings as if her life depended on it.

“Mum its fine, really. I know what you’re trying to say.”

Erin replied she bent down to kiss her mother on the cheek whilst escaping for the sake of her own sanity.

“Dinner will be at 7 pm!”

Stuart shouted out after Erin, as she began the weary and quite depressing soul-crushing climb upstairs toward her room, Erin thought ‘moving back home had been such a bad idea’. Stuart hoped his daughter would return in an hours-time after everyone had had a much needed time apart.

Dinner was painful. Conversation awkward. The intentions of everyone different from each other, one thing was for certain Erin was going to most definitely have to move out, she had reached her limit of her mother! Her mother knew that this was now going to happen, and so now that this was family knowledge Erin knew it was not a conversation that Erin would need to face. As for Stuart, he knew he’d be back on fatherly duty for lugging stuff up, down, in and out of cars and houses yet again in the foreseeable coming weeks. God bless his heart.

That following Saturday Erin went to view the room on her lunch break, the walk to the house viewing would clear her fuggy head, as she pondered on her mother’s desire for her to find a man, but no desire to allow her to move out to do so, she noted!

She knocked on the door only to be greeted by a very happy and bubbly woman named Anna, together they must have spent a good 20 or so minutes looking around the house, discussing the rent & the bills, the other housemates and what Erin should know and expect from them.

With her lunch break now over in a future changing flash, she quickly departed and raced her way back through the crowded, busy and packed shopping centre towards her work. Richard wasn’t best pleased with Erin’s late return back into work, but late to Richard was 5 minutes and late to Erin was 15 minutes, she however was only 10 minutes late, Erin texted Anna before getting back onto the shop floor, “I’d like to take the room” as she hit send forcefully, life just had to improve even just a little bit today, she thought.

The following week Anna arranged to meet up with Erin at the nearby wine-bar in town; she brought with her Penny, Sarah and Sophie the existing housemates and by the end of the evening and two bottles of wine later Erin was now an official housemate.

Erin moved out eagerly the next weekend, her father was back on his lugging duty as he rightly predicted, he secretly hoped this would be the last time he would move and re-settle his daughter, her mother liked the house and the girls that Erin was soon to be living with, and those two combining factors gave Libby the much needed emphasis to finally cut her apron strings to that of her youngest child.

Erin had booked the following Saturday off in advance from work to move in, get settled and be free to help her father for the numerous trips back and forth from her parent’s house to her new place.

But Richard, being typically Richard, was having numerous ‘Richard’ disasters at work! So the afternoon which Erin had arranged off was constantly now being interrupted by Richard. As he rang Erin either in-between the many car trips her dad was making, or whilst she was in the middle of lugging boxes of her belongings up the stairs and in to her new room, it was becoming really frustrating and very inconvenient to say the least.

So in the end, Erin suggested it was best if she went in for an hour, this way her poor father could rest, her mother could continue finishing her inspection of the house and the housemates could spend their time getting to know Erin’s parents, who were clearly going to be ‘popping in’ every now and then. This would work brilliantly Erin thought as she darted off on her ‘rescue Richard mission’.

Erin was back within an hour, which was a new personal best in dealing with Richard. He was now much less stressed thanks to Erin, the tills were working again thanks to Erin’s know how. So with the till-system now back up and running, the staff could get back to serving the queue of customers who had been waiting for long enough, all thanks to Erin. For which she received no word of thanks from Richard!

As Erin passed-by the bakers on her return walk to her new abode, she decided to buy a selection of cakes, everyone back at the house must by now be in great need of a caffeine, sugar, energy fix. As Erin began choosing a selection and variety of cakes for everyone from the bakery. Erin made sure that for all their help they would certainly be thanked for all the hard work they had done and together they could enjoy a very well deserved cup of tea. She knew for certain that her father would by now, definitely be in of an energy boost!

She was really looking forward to sharing a home with a bunch of fantastic girls who she hoped were going to become new friends.

It was the start to a brand new beginning for Erin, and a chance to grasp at a vibrant, Libby free life. Finally, she could live the life like that of any modern career-ranking young woman; a young woman who was now having to sadly consider and ponder about the real merits for joining online dating. Her mother just might well have been right about one of them!

It was Sunday evening, what was now Erin’s second night in her new shared home. Erin was back home from an exhausting afternoon at work by 4 pm and busily making herself a cup of tea in the kitchen, Anna walked in to make a coffee and suggested to her that they all went out for a drink or two, this evening.

As they both joined the others in the lounge they sat together deciding on a drinking plan of attack. First stop to the cheap wine bar in town and then they’d move on from there to the further end of town, to a pub Anna knew called ‘Fletchies’ A pub unbeknown to Erin.

Erin’s unpacking could and would certainly be easily enough to put on hold, given the spirit of yet another un-official house warming, especially when anyone was to mention wine, a woman would always know how best to prioritize!

Months had passed, as the girls grew closer. As the house grew messier, there were times when some never-ending, quite silly and rather pointless drama would occur between them, which was mended and soothed just as quickly as they had happened. You can imagine living with a group of strong, independent, and feisty women who shared living conditions as well as someone else shampoo, there were bound to be the odd upset or drama going on at some point in time. Erin’s parents had only popped in one weekend in those months and life was being truly blissful.

Work was work, enjoyable and fast paced, and Richard was, well, Richard! Online dating hadn’t started well, and after a few disastrous dates Erin decided an adventure was just what she needed, and so she rang her glamourous friend Bea; first to see how Paris was working out and second to see what her work did actually involve and maybe if she could bear listening to the gushing Bea for just long enough she could apply her third option, which was to wangle a free trip out there.

Erin needed a pick-me-up, so if she could just manage to arrange a whole weekend with Bea in Paris were there was all the French fashion she could marvel at, all of the fine looking Parisian men to look at, where seeing the sights as well as all those romantic couples could and would prove to her that love did happen, just not online! Then that would work for her, and if she found herself feeling a little blue, and none of that would work, there was always the good wine to drink, the strong, tasty variety of cheeses to eat, and by far the most important of all, the shopping!

Erin had even managed to persuade Richard to give her a weekend off to go and investigate the Paris fashion world, but not only that she had managed to get Richard to give her some funds, only on the strictest of his instructions that she invest in just a few new lines for the store. He gave her, wait for it, a cool £1000 budget, and a credit card to buy it with. Richard spent the whole week leading up to Erin’s ‘research trip’ reminding her of her budget, reminding her of the limited stock storage space and shop display space they had left available to them.

That she was to make careful, considered, well thought out business-minded decisions, slowly over time he was really beginning to knock all her joy and excitement out of her Paris weekend, but then she had to remind herself Richard had kindly brought her the train ticket too.

So, essentially this was now a free ticket to free shopping in the world’s biggest fashion destination, Erin was super excited but as for Richard, poor unsuspecting Richard, just what had he done!

Erin knocked off work early and went to met the girls for a drink at their second home, the cheap wine bar in town, it was happy hour and if Erin was going off on an adventure such as this, it would certainly require a very typical “4 Staplehurst Road” all girl send off. With happy hour sadly over by 9 pm, which was too early for anyone to consider thinking about going home! The girls decided that they should head straight for ‘Fletchies’ instead, tottering wearily, tipsily and excitedly in the direction of more wine.

The downfall halfway through the evening in ‘Fletchies’ came when they had all realized that none of them had eaten anything. The girls were now happily and merrily enjoying their second shared bottle of wine, when just at that moment the pub door burst open and with it came a massive bunch of loud, rowdy, noisy, clearly drunken men staggering in, as they let in the cool September air, they let in a potent, strong smell of beer intoxication mixed with overpowering mixtures of varied man scent, and with that they had slowly turned the girl’s thoughts to the relative peaceful, quiet, man-free and warm home, alongside which, once home they could order a much needed Chinese takeaway, to be delivered!

Then a few of these noisy men broke away from the group only to prop themselves up at the bar, as they gathered trays of pints with shot glasses to follow, the other remaining men had gathered in their masses at the long tables situated by the entrance way that over looked the car-park. They all took and begun drinking the round of beer with whisky chasers as they made enough noise and disruption to wake up any much historical fabled ghostly inhabitants which might have lurked within the walls of the Fletchers Arms.

It was of course enough noise to cause Erin to glance over at them, for she was her mother’s daughter after all! She glanced over for about 30 seconds, but it was a glance at one person in particular. She looked towards the man that was clearly responsible for this rowdy bunch of merry men, and as he looked back at her, there was then a moment of calm, a moment of peace as if everything and everyone was stood still, it was as everything around them both had blurred into quiet insignificance.

One moment was all it had taken, as a look was shyly exchanged across the pub between them, two strangers of the opposite sex, but in that moment, they both felt their hearts flutter.

Whoever this man was, she wasn’t quite sure if she should leave now for her much needed ‘Paris’ recovery to take its place, or to stay here and glance at this rather handsome man for just a little bit longer, and as cruel as fate was, here was Erin facing a dilemma; she was stuck between two opposing kind of thoughts, that of, her desire for a ‘man’ or that of her need for ‘fashion’.

 

 

Chapter 2 Riley’s Family

 

Riley’s life had revolved around a whole host of extra circular activities on top of his private schooling. His teenager years were all about the Scouts and then later on to the Cadets. As his sporting excellence at the school grew it made him the ideal candidate for a great majority of the schools sporting teams, he was captain of the cricket, rugby and football sports teams for 3 consecutive years.

All this activity meant lots of achievements and there in the hallway of his parent’s home was a glass cabinet full of his trophies, cups, badges, and awards. It was something both his parents would equally enjoy showing off to all their friends who came to visit, especially each time when something new had been added to the collection.

Riley’s younger brother by three years, Oscar was the wise cracking joker of the Armstrong family. He would at any given opportunity he could, continually and routinely plague his older brother with jokes about ‘the Riley cabinet of glory’, he’d rib him whenever there’s was the age old problem of having to make yet more room inside, for yet another sporting trophy, but what masked all this camaraderie was the obvious inherent jealousy Oscar felt toward his high-achieving older brother. For Riley was his parents brown eyed marvel, not a foot could he ever put out of line, despite his intentions to try to do so! Because, despite his initial resistance to his schooling, and then later to his father’s planned career choice for him, it had become a futile line that even Riley had now grown too frightened and too reluctant to cross.

Riley’s father Edward was a strict, foreboding and strong he was certainly not the type to be messed around at any time by anyone, least of all his children, least of all either of the two boys and least of all by the elder of them.

As tradition would dictate in the Armstrong family, which meant that all male heir’s lives were mapped out. All of the first born sons of Armstrong men would have to follow in their father’s and forbearers footsteps, regardless, in completing all of their military training. It was this that saw Edward then followed by his son Riley entered in to this one very particular private sporting type of school, Riley had to contend with it being one that not only had his father attended, but now that he was attending he was also following in the shadow of his father’s high expectation.

The school Riley was attending also had well-known links in getting their students from there, straight into being accepted at an equally well know military training school, Sandhurst. The highly regarded sports curriculum devised by the ex-military teaching staff at the school, gave the students the much required and necessary physical physique to be selected.

The school had a long standing tradition with Sandhurst, as well as a well-known reputation that the military retained many of its recruits especially from this school. It was a very much a closely and fiercely guarded secret as to how this particular private school managed to gain their connections to enter its students into the Sandhurst training school, but suffice to say there was something very distinctly old school, gentleman’s club about it all.

So that was where Riley’s future was heading whether he agreed, liked it, wanted it, or even appreciated it. There was to be no choice on the matter; to be no negotiation over it, it was not a subject to be brought up, discussed, mentioned or changed under any circumstances, and low and behold you, if you did!

It had been instilled in Edward from a young age, that this was to be the only type of career path he would follow, an exact path and the very same path which Riley himself was on, the only difference now was it was Edward providing the insistence of it; he was pushing his son down this path whether he appreciated it or not, it was to be for his own good! Riley knew and could foresee that together and between them both, they would become the next Armstrong men to have to carry on this long-standing family tradition of theirs.

Having experienced this very real situation for himself, even Edward could relate to some of what his own son Riley was now having to go through. However, Edward was not going to become known as the one who relented, immortalised in history as the one who broke the tradition. This meant for Edward he would always have to keep the tradition alive and at the forefront of his mind, even more so on the day when his first-born son arrived into the world.

Riley’s mother Pamela was very much the one who was against Edward’s stance on this and wanted him to desperately break with this family tradition at all male cost, so whenever they would discuss their prospective yet to be conceived, children, her beliefs were always in allowing her children, (their children) a chance to excel wherever they wanted too, in subjects in which they felt able. For the longer Edward would not back down on this matter, on the importance of history, name and tradition, the more Pamela grew to realise, she would have to learn to accept this as a part of him, whether she wanted to or not. It was a big part of the Armstrong family that she was slowly being warmly welcomed in to, and that too with the man she was also slowly falling in love with.

She wasn’t a weak woman, far from it, but over time, it became more about an acceptance and a realization on when and where to pick which battles with her fiancé. Her girlfriends at the time would try and persuade her not to get married, to think of what she wanted, to try and make her see what was best for her, but despite this, there was one stumbling block, that of her feelings and thoughts of her soon to be husband. He was the only one for her, he had romanced her in such a way she couldn’t see herself marrying anyone else. So her fate, her future children’s fate and the fate of her first born were sealed from the very beginning.

Riley was adamant that this would not be his life, his life would not be dictated to in such a way, he rebelled at school, he rebelled at home, he made sure that his father knew his feelings on the matter, despite everything Riley could and would do to prevent this from happening, protesting as much he did, it would change absolutely nothing. So much like his mother many years before, he too had to mellow into accepting what his fate would be, his mother used to joke with close family friends that Riley’s reluctance must have transferred from her whilst she carried him in the womb.

Oscar had it easy; he of course would have the much longed for freedom that Riley would have so desperately wanted and of course the expression to develop as his own person in an area he wanted to explore. His talents lay in art and then, later on, design and whilst Riley was away from home training at Sandhurst, Oscar was feverishly studying for his A-levels to get the grades to get into University to study Architectural Design. He was going to be an architect. With the sole aim of which to leave some monolithic building in his father’s name and lifetime; that was his goal, if Riley was going to have the trophy cupboard Oscar was going to be the one to house it in some overtly, huge grand house that he had built.

Edward was very dismissive of this notion, he believed his second son didn’t have the skills, mindset, strength nor the determination of his first. So whenever Oscar would mention a floor plan layout or design some grand new feature or better yet present another grand scheme to his father. Edward would only ever pretend to be the ‘naturally interested’ father. When it came to his other children, rarely in front of Oscar would he compliment him, congratulate him or be at all enthusiastic of the work Oscar produced for him. Everyone else could see in his eyes that there was no belief in his younger son, his belief and hope lay in Riley, no matter what Oscar ever did.

Pamela secretly worried about Riley, she knew her motherly love wouldn’t and couldn’t protect him from the world or the plans that were to be made, she knew that the dangers Riley could face at any given moment were potentially life threatening and she tried, as he grew from a recruit and then into that of an officer, Pamela knew that she would one day have to comprehend the realisation that there may come a time when he might not be there, that what could be his last achievement could well be his downfall, his demise and ultimately even his death. She’d faced this once before with her husband, now she was facing it for a second time with her son, life could be so very unbearably cruel.

Fortunately, for now, Riley wasn’t on any active service list, he was an officer responsible in bringing up to speed the latest recruits, and it was a job Riley took immense pride in and worked tirelessly at. His results and retention rates proved he was good at his role, and many of the young men looked up to him, he was a leader but not only that, he was a very good friend and a dependable shoulder to all. The life of an officer would take Riley away from his home life, away from his family, he missed his siblings and he of course missed his mother. He didn’t particularly miss his father, their relationship over the years had become very strained, it seemed no matter how hard, or how long Riley worked he was never quite up to the exacting standards his father wanted.

This hierarchy within the family and the rivalry between siblings had without knowing affected their children, there was little time or mention of Riley’s younger sister Georgie, and with her being the middle child she was often overlooked; for one or other of her brothers were always needing some kind of time and attention from their parents, Riley and all his successes, or Riley with all of his rebelling, Oscar with his many artworks and exhibitions who would now invite his parents to view his grand launches of his building plans and models.

Georgie by now was somewhat used to being overshadowed and ignored so she grew up resenting her father’s focus on her elder brother, and to some degree even her brothers themselves, even if she did love them deeply as siblings do, she didn’t particularly have to like them! As soon as she could, she escaped away to a bright light city and moved to Manchester to study drama and this is where she plugged away at show after show, her parents dutifully came to watch her many performances, as did her brothers, but there was never quite the same level of pride and enthusiasm from her parents in quite the same way.

Riley’s work started out at Sandhurst but it was becoming ever clearer that his department was going to be moved to a new base in Aldershot, Hampshire.

The move was in its very early planning stages and all that Riley knew was that he and his recruits were to be part of a two stage developmental move. The first part meant that the officers would move first, setting up the department and the facilities and then the recruits would follow a month later. Riley had one weekend off to go home and see the family before making the move over, so he travelled back down to visit them in Cornwall. He made sure to book the earliest train out and in between station platform changes he brought some ridiculously pricey flowers for his mum.

Pamela was busy organizing a family meal in the country house that the family had spent the best part of the last 10 years living in; it was situated on the edge of the beautiful, tranquil Bodmin Moor. Oscar and Georgie were already home having travelled up early on the Friday. So everything and everyone were set for the star attraction to arrive over the threshold, and ‘reclaim his ancestral seat’, as Georgie liked to declare, loudly in a thespian manner.

The train journey was always a long one, and travelling was always an exhausting boring phase of Riley’s life, he couldn’t read it made him sick, he’d listen to music on and off but that would soon build to a headache and so he spent the 5 long hours dreaming as the varying countryside passed by his window.

He’d brought with him some much needed paperwork to do over the weekend, hoping his time at home would give him, some peace and an afternoon to get it all done in.

Riley reached his last station change before his next and eventual last train journey to home as he ‘thanked god’ at the prospect and so took this opportunity to go stretch his long legs free of train-seat cramp, he headed into a small station café for a much need coffee and glance at a discarded paper, as he’d got just under 40 minutes before his next and final train was due to depart.

Once he’d finished his coffee and his reading of the paper he walked from the café into the a little shop he’d passed by earlier to buy himself a snack. The next part of his journey was the last 45 minutes of the extremely long, boring 5 hour train route, and as Riley read more of the discarded paper he’d taken with him, he had read between the lines as to why the department move was being set in place.

Riley rang his mother to let her know exactly what time he was going to be at his final station stop and the end point to his journey. This would give her, he hoped enough time to drive the distance of the 15 or so miles to the local station to pick him up. It had been a while since Riley had returned home, and in part, he was actually looking forward to this weekend.

The train pulled in on a typical dreary dusky Cornwall evening, the sign on the platform read ‘Lostwithiel’, an ironic name he thought for the place, when Riley thought about how it sounded, it always made him laugh. The many number of times he had stood here feeling exactly as if he had ‘lost his with all’.

As the train slowed to its station approach he noticed his mother through the train door windows. She was standing happily outside the front of the station building, beside her much loved brand new Audi that Edward had given her as a much desired birthday present only a few months previously.

It was a sporty little thing and so every chance Pamela had to be the family driver, she would elect to drive. Riley got his bag and got ready with his flowers, to make his charming, gesture to his mother. She’d seen him instantly with just his old rucksack perched up high on his broad, strong shoulder, he’d used it for every trip home and when he had first left, his shoulders were nowhere near as broad or as strong as they now were, as she looked at him, his rucksack looked lost on the giant beefy man he’d morphed into.

“Hello mum, how are you?”

Riley beamed, as his mother grinned like a Cheshire cat who’d got the cream. Some local school girls giggled at seeing a man in uniform. He placed his bag down, as he bent down to hug his mother to him being careful not to damage the flowers, as she reached up to take hold of her strapping 6ft+ plus son of hers. How could this man here, no longer be the baby boy she had once cradled in her arms, she could barely reach him!

“Oh Riley it’s really is so lovely to see you and to have you home for a whole weekend. What a joy. Was the journey terrible? I know it drags on and on for so long.”

Pamela chatted into his ear, as he broke free from her embrace he offered her up the flowers as she looked at them smiling, he began to reply.

“It was the usual mum, but it’s good to finally be here. How is everyone?”

Riley replied and enquired.

“Everyone is fine, looking forward to seeing you,”

Pamela replied as she opened the boot for him to put his rucksack inside.

“That’s good, so this is the very sporty little number of a car that dad brought you then?” Riley said admiringly.

“Yep, this is she”

Pamela smiled over the roof of her sporty pride and joy, as they both slipped inside the car, shutting the doors, and putting their belts on, Pamela speed off for home.

“And dad?” Riley asked

As they turned into the country lane reaching ever nearer to the outskirts of village life.

“He’s fine, Riley, really looking forward to seeing you, said he wants to talk strategies with you at some point.”

Pamela knew it was best to get this out in the open sooner rather than later. Riley’s heart dropped and his foreboding of the hours he’d have to spend listening to his father lingered over him. As they pulled into the drive and parked in line with the other cars that sat to one side of the Georgian manor house which nestled into its wide green lawns. Georgie’s and Oscar’s cars were parked neatly beside his father’s 4 by 4. The lights from the house were on, shining out on to the wide sweeping graveled driveway, creating a warm amber-inviting and welcoming glow on what was fast becoming a misty moor like the night. Georgie rushed to the front door to let them both in, in her doing so an old, tubby golden Labrador rolled out to greet them, quickly followed by a much younger, slender bouncy and noisy Jack Russel. They were pleased to have their mum home but just as pleased to see Riley, although he was of course, for once in his life second in line for an approved fuss of them.

“Harvey” Georgie yelled

As the old Labrador trotted off in the wrong hapless direction, Riley stood in the front door way hugging his sister as Pamela dealt with the dogs, ushering them back inside, Riley bent down to give Harvey a much needed fuss and realized just how much time had flown and just how much he missed having a dog of his own. Branston the younger one, was yapping and bouncing his way in behind everyone else, making himself heard as if they needed any further announcing of their arrival.

Oscar got up from the sofa in the lounge as Riley walked in, they exchanged a man hug, one which Edward watched bemused from over the top of his glasses as the brotherly hug unfolded, he began folding his newspaper to one side so as to be able to greet his son. He really didn’t understand the youth of today and he did little to hide it, taking no great shame as he did so. Riley approached his father nervously and the two shook hands. Riley sat down with his family, as Edward who was now stood, turned towards the glasses and an array of alcohol that sat on the bookshelves in the far corner of the room,

“Drink, Riley?” he asked looking at Riley, “Oh yes please dad, any chance of a gin and tonic?”

Riley asked, if he was going to survive the next day or two with his father he’d need some extra spirit. The family settled down with their drinks around the log fire as the dogs laid-lazily for a snooze in front of it.

Riley could smell his mother’s delightful home cooking wafting up the hallway and into the lounge, he was absolutely famished despite his train snacks. It smelt like a curry too which would always go down well with both of the boys. Pamela excused herself to go tend to the meal and picking up her drink left the children with their father, to hopefully chat!

Georgie was starring as the second most important role in a brand new play with a new production company that she’d just signed up to, and was pestering her father to buy tickets to come and see it. She was also showing her brothers some photos on her mobile of some of her costumes and the expansive stage sets that were taken during her rehearsals. Her brothers were interested and enthusiastic for her, more so than Edward, as both the boys promised to buy tickets to go and see her debut. Her father agreed he would get some for him, as well as their mother and their godparents. Riley and Oscar both hoped they’d go on alternate nights so that they wouldn’t be forced into a god-awful family meal and instead they could go out partying afterwards with their sister, and all the actors, actresses and crew friends she had made.

Pamela arrived back into the lounge to catch the last part of the conversation and nodded that she’d get online later tonight to endeavor to book all of their tickets. Her face was flushed from cooking and she asked Georgie to come set the table leaving the men to chat amongst themselves. Oscar really wanted to talk to Riley on his own, have a bit of a man to man chat about a girl he’d met on the last module of his course, but instead his father asked the question he was bound to ask first and foremost.

“So Riley, how are these new recruits of yours shaping up? You keeping them well trained, physically strong and fit, ready for action at a moment’s notice?”

His father bellowed loudly, as Riley’s face and heart sank. Oscar knew and Georgie knew, how much he hated this kind of attention from his father. Riley secretly hoped that Georgie would return from laying the table and save him from this very conversation. Georgie was very good at taking the spotlight off her brother, to try and save him from his own awkwardness.

“It’s going really well, Dad. The recruits are performing better than last years and we’ve redeveloped some of the training to better prepare them.”

Riley replied hoping that would be an end to the conversation. Which it wasn’t!

“Jolly good, and what’s the new training that you’ve devised?”

His father was clearly going to talk about this now whether Riley wanted to or not, Riley was sure it was only so that his father’s Saturday morning round of golf would be all about him, as he updated his friends on the achievements of his wonderful son.

“We’ve revised the diets of the recruits which now mean’s they are getting, and are storing more protein which means they are storing more nutrients. They are also now doing much longer training sessions at the gym, and more longer outdoor training exercises over longer time frames,”

Riley replied and in part waited and dreaded his father’s next grilling question

“Well that’s very commendable, and I’ve been talking a lot with Simon recently, you know Simon, his son James is also working at Sandhurst, he says that a lot is changing?”

Edward asked clearly wanting to inform Simon of some juicy tip bit that he could use to show off with. Before Riley could answer his mother announced that food was now ready and the family all gathered in the small warm yet cosy dining room adjacent to the kitchen, they ate a curry, drank more wine and the conversation flowed, as everyone began updating everyone else about their lives.

It was 10 pm by the time desert was finished and a round of coffee was being drunk, Riley was exhausted and was thinking of a way to excuse himself and get to bed. As he placed his hand over his big heavy yawn, his mother made the suggestion that he retire to his room and that she would clear away the plates with the help of Edward.

With that Riley stood up, kissed his mother goodnight, turned to his father, Georgie and Oscar in turn and said goodnight and made his way off to bed, back into the room he had as a teenager, his room remained unchanged and untouched, his old posters had faded as they had stayed stuck to the wall, many of which contained a lot of topless ladies and rock bands which engulfed around him. He slept soundly and solidly until the dawn light woke him the next morning.

Riley’s alarm sounded at the usual hour of 6 am, as his routine began, he put on his running gear and did his old route from the family home up to the edge of Bodmin moor and back down towards home again. This time, as Riley ran, it would clear his head and allow him a chance to wind down from all his stresses, plus the additional stress his father heaped on him just about every time he came home. As he jogged back into the driveway he saw his father loading his golf clubs into the back of his car.

“Morning Riley” he bellowed

As his son came to a slowed down jog as he turned in to the bend of the driveway, sweat and steam pouring off and out of him in the Cornish dawn air, as Riley gulped down the last of his water.

“Morning Dad, see you’re off to go play some golf then? Enjoy that!”

Riley puffed in between his fast breathing as he slowly walked back towards the front door of the house, once inside he ran upstairs and headed straight toward the bathroom dying for a much needed shower. With his father away playing golf, Pamela was busying herself in the kitchen; the one thing she loved most about her children’s weekend visits was the Saturday morning secretly cooked breakfast that they could all enjoyed together.

Georgie had accompanied her mother in the kitchen; she was in charge of tea, toast and the eggs. Oscar woke wearily and sat generally in the way, in his dressing gown, talking about his latest big build project whilst the women fussed over and around him. Riley joined them a while later taking his seat at the kitchen table, Branston was lying in his bed in front of the Aga and Harvey was still fast asleep in the hallway, he was a loyal dog who now valued the peace of the hallway as he’d got older, and it was here he could greet Edward when he arrived home later on.

The morning local newspaper was half open on the table and laid directly in front of his mother’s eye-line was the news Riley did not yet want her to see, he closed it swiftly and hid it under a pile of her old gardening magazines, whilst everyone busily drank their tea and lavishly buttered their hot, fresh toast. One thing that all of the children all agreed on and enjoyed was their Saturday breakfasts, and it had nothing at all to do with the fact Edward was not around.

With their bellies full of an extravagant English breakfast and now that Oscar was eventually dressed, the children decided to take Branston and Harvey for a walk into the village and back, it was enough for their little legs and once they entered the village they could stop in on their nearby local for a drink and for some quality time together, here in the pub a more free exchange of conversations could take place, without any disapproval from either of their parents. As Oscar retold his latest love-life dilemma to his siblings, and Georgie mentioned ‘this guy’ she was seeing but it was definitely and absolutely not ‘official’. Her brothers laughed this was not the first time they had heard this kind of talk or comment from their sister.

Then Oscar did the fatal line timed to a great delivery like only a younger brother could do

“So Mr. Uniform, Mr. I’m so fit, Mr. look at all my bulging, manly muscles. Where’s your girlfriend? No wait, Sorry….girlfriends….no hold on….your female legion of a fan club.”

Oscar laughed as he sipped his pint, looking at his brother’s reaction he waited for his ever effusive brother to yet again struggle to not reveal any snippet of detail about his love life, or least of all, his life in general.

“When will this joke get old and boring to you, Oscar?” Riley replied

“About as old as you and as boring as you are now fast becoming, old man! Come on there must be someone?”

Oscar asked trying his best to get his brother to mellow and open up at the same time,

“There really isn’t anyone, I’m not really looking, for one thing I really don’t have the time nor the inclination to find a girlfriend.”

Riley answered in a somewhat downcast sad tone, because actually and secretly this wasn’t as true as he had made his brother believe. For Riley did, of course, want someone to love, he actually needed someone to love, it would be the welcome distraction he needed, plus the additional purpose it would add to his life; in giving him a sense and meaning to his life which wasn’t going to be regimented in some way. But it would take some kind of woman to subsequently appear for Riley to admit differently to Oscar or to Georgie.

“Besides Oscar, I work with over 400 other men, there are relatively few women at work. Those that do work there are either already in relationships or married, so it kind of limits my chances somewhat!”

Riley stated sadly, as he looked to his brother who clearly couldn’t understand the situation as well as he.

“Well, you could try online dating?”

Oscar suggested helpfully but sensing that from his brother’s eye roll that Riley wasn’t as impressed with that suggestion as Oscar had meant it. With their drinks nearing the end and time ticking on, the three of them drank up and muttered about taking the short walk back. They placed their empty pint glasses on the bar, Dave the landlord thanked them and said how nice it must be for Edward and Pam to have them all home for the weekend, they agreed and made polite motions to leave. Then Dave uttered after them,

“You stay safe out there Riley” he called

Riley smiled appreciatively and nodded, while he ushered out his siblings quickly, hoping against hope that neither of them hadn’t heard the landlords comment.

Once home the family were reunited at long last they could enjoy a beautiful home cooked roast dinner, Edward was back and had been for some time, as he saw them all step inside with Branston and Harvey panting madly in tow,

“Nice walk?” he asked they all grinned and nodded in unison.

“Well, your mothers made a lovely meal, she’s said it will only be another half an hour.” Edward stated

Branston hearing the word meal trotted off toward the kitchen far speedier than he had been throughout all of his walk, as the kids took of their coats and shoes.

Edward approached his eldest son, Riley knew what was coming and knew it was half an hour of his life that he wasn’t ever going to recover from.

“Riley, come with me I want to show you something I’ve been working on.”

Riley realised it was far better to just get this over and done with and dutifully followed his father into his private study. They discussed a great many things behind that closed door and whilst insightful as his father thought it was, to Riley it was barely relevant to the modern day. Fortunately, his time was cut short when his mother called out for dinner.

The roast was cooked for hours yet devoured in minutes, everyone had worked up quite an appetite it would seem, and Riley was a little quieter now, a little forlorn as now he knew his father was fully aware that changes to all of their lives were to be a distinct possibility.

They had promised until such time as word was more official to spare the rest of the family any news, it was an awkward silence to keep and a difficult manner in which to live under and by, especially now as they pretended that everything was normal, acting like they were supposed to, where everything was going to be hunky dory, which as both the men knew, it clearly wasn’t!

For pudding was a sweet homemade apple pie, it was Pam’s most loved pudding by her children and so she knew it would go down well with them all, which it was, as they all gorged themselves. Oscar and Georgie elected to clear up, as Riley went upstairs to his room to finish the paperwork he had brought with him, his train was leaving at 5 pm and he wanted to get everything ready for his return back to work on Sunday.

His father Edward took the weekend papers and magazines into the lounge as he and Pamela lazed in front of the fire, letting the culture as well as the family roast digest. As Oscar and Georgie had finished with the washing up and the clearing up, they joined their parents and together they elected to watch a film, slowly Pamela grew more interested in the film now that it was on and less interested in her magazine. Edward, would however, continue reading on despite the noise and distraction of the film, he was there with his wife and children but not always as present or really with them as they would have perhaps liked.

Riley appeared halfway through the film and watched the last hour with them, before he had to leave to get the train back to Aldershot. He was already packed with his bag placed by the front door and waiting for a local taxi to come and pick him up. He didn’t want any fuss or a massive long drawn out family farewell at the station, preferring instead the taxi option.

The taxi tooted on its arrival into their long driveway, as everyone rushed to their feet to give Riley fond hugs and kisses goodbye, hugs for his sister, a kiss from his mother and a long drawn out hug, a man hug with Oscar and a long tightly knowingly firm handshake from his father, followed by quick little pats in quick succession on both heads for the dogs.

He opened the rear car door to the taxi, slung his rucksack inside, settled into the seat and wound down the window ready to wave, by this point Harvey had toddled out to stand in the doorway to keep a watchful guarding eye over all the commotion, Branston was lifted up into his mother’s arms, and they all waved as the car drove off and out of the driveway. Riley wondered when he’d next get time to visit them, when he’d next see his sister perform and attend an event of his brothers designs, and although he didn’t relish seeing his father as much, he knew if anything, he was going to need him more now than ever.

Riley reached Aldershot station at 11 pm and decided to take the long walk from the station back to his accommodation on the barracks, everyone was in but they to were clearly heading for their dorm beds. He’d texted everyone back home to let them know he had arrived safely, which seemed a tad ironic, and he himself fell deeply asleep, more so because the weekend back home was just the tonic, and all the Cornish air he had needed to give him a much longed for and a far more contented sleep than he had had in the nights leading up to his visit home.

He much to be thankful for, a family and his love for where they lived. His alarm was set painfully early for a 4 am rising, tomorrow was going to be the last of his recruits group outdoor training exercises that they needed to get completed before the big department move the next day.

His parents and siblings had planned a walk around the local woodland with both of the dogs, which wouldn’t be far, as Harvey would probably make it to the bench and would need to rest before the walk back. He thought of them when his alarm clocked blared out at 4 am, the sun wasn’t up, and it was only just turning light. Riley dressed appropriately headed into work on foot, his recruits were already finishing breakfast in the canteen and everyone was to be ready at 4:20 am. Riley grabbed a quick coffee and a hearty portion of porridge.

By 4.15am the trucks were loaded with kit bags and all 30 recruits, at 4.20am, they departed for an unknown location. Riley along with his two colleagues sat up front, Riley was stationing the last stop, so he could and would at least, rest in the truck for a few hours.

They pulled off the main road, then onto a small country lane, then onto a dirt track and appeared to be by now definitely in the middle of nowhere. The recruits jumped out, as did his two second in commands, they all got kitted up and the recruit’s then took the maps Riley was handing out. Then he set his timer it was 6 am and he watched them all march off into the distance.

Once they were out of sight Riley drove off and headed back west, to the end point of this exercise. By 1 pm the fastest recruit’s started to appear on the horizon and by 3 pm the last one arrived back, with them all completing the exercise before the allotted 10 hours they were to be rewarded with a pub crawl to celebrate.

The trucks pulled back in to the barracks at 6.30pm, once stationed back and with the paperwork signed the recruits headed straight toward the showers and then after for a well-deserved supper. By 8 pm the recruits were already two drinks in to their night, and Riley along with his next in command walked them firstly for a drink at the mess and then by 9 pm they took the short stroll into the centre of town to Fletchies.

That was when Riley walked in, just when Erin really should have been walking out. Her train was going to leave early the next morning. But they all bundled in behind him, him and his merry men of thirty, no one could ignore the commotion, and Erin couldn’t ignore this handsome stranger appearing as if from nowhere, Riley had noticed the table of pretty girls drinking wine and giggling, but he had made sure to take notice, in particular, of the one girl who was doing neither and as he looked at her, he thought maybe, just maybe, he could finally shut his younger brother up about his love life.

He smiled at this thought, then in turn, he smiled directly at her, she was beautiful, she was just what he needed, but for all his years of leadership skills and training he hadn’t got a clue what to say or do in this, his very, first, real-life moment.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A letter to you the reader,

The next book picks up right at this moment, it takes you on a journey you couldn’t begin to imagine, characters develop and plots thicken if you thought this was an obvious fairy tale romance and a typical happy ever after you are wrong. Erin and Riley’s love tests them both in different ways, what they endure, what they have to sacrifice, and how they keep themselves together when torn so cruelly apart is a testament to them both.

They are trapped in a never-ending cycle, one which for the sake of their love, their lives, their happiness and a chance for a future will require them both to take the biggest leap of their lives. But they both know without that and without the other neither can survive.

This is not a tale for the faint-hearted, only the strong and the brave can carry on till the end. Only those who can be beside these characters will be the ones rewarded with a great love affair, ever after’s, there can’t be, what can be, is different, it will make you question your beliefs, the thoughts you had on love and the depths that love can really take you.

It’s an adventure, so come with me.

Always with Love,

COMING SOON

RELEASE DATE: APRIL 2017

Can’t wait to find out how Erin and Riley’s lives and love for one and other grows, then you’ll need to await till April 2017 for the release of ‘Keeper of his Secrets’

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Love Takes Hold ~ A free romantic mystery novella

‘Love Takes Hold’ is the prelude to my upcoming book series, which begins with the two main characters Erin and Riley, as it follows them at the start of their very unique love story. Neither Erin nor Riley had been particularly looking for love and neither had expected love to happen. But now as it was appearing in front of them; standing face to face, they had a decision to make? The scene which unfolds had unwittingly and unbeknown to them, been orchestrated by a bunch of their well-meaning friends. As Erin goes to walk out just as Riley walks in. They suddenly find themselves in the right place at the right time, but heading in the opposite of directions. Their choice was a simple one; it would require taking a chance as well as embracing their luck. If they could manage to do that, then perhaps this could be the greatest beginning of when they finally let, love take hold.

  • Author: Sophia Powell
  • Published: 2017-02-12 17:35:21
  • Words: 14205
Love Takes Hold ~ A free romantic mystery novella Love Takes Hold ~ A free romantic mystery novella