Valley of Brave Hearts
68 pages
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68 pages
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Description

Living in an isolated static caravan in the Lake District of north-west England with her beloved dog, Bertie, would seem to be the ideal solution to mend Judith’s broken heart and get her life back on track. However, Fate intervenes in the shape of unforeseen disasters. Her only recourse is to seek help from a local matchmaking teenager and his reluctant, embittered and widowed father. The fact that the man is also a vet and a local hero just complicates matters further…

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Publié par
Date de parution 15 mars 2012
Nombre de lectures 1
EAN13 9781773627403
Langue English

Informations légales : prix de location à la page 0,0032€. Cette information est donnée uniquement à titre indicatif conformément à la législation en vigueur.

Exrait

Valley of BraveHearts
By JuneGadsby
 
Digital ISBNs
EPUB978-1-77362-740-3
Kindle 978-1-77299-561-9
WEB 978-1-77362-741-0
 
Amazon PrintISBN 978-1-77299-562-6
 

 
Copyright 2012 byJune Gadsby
Cover Art byMichelle Lee
 
All rights reserved. Without limiting the rightsunder copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may bereproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, ortransmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical,photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without prior writtenpermission of both the copyright owner and the publisher of thisbook.
 
 
 
 
 
Chapter One
 
‘Spare a quid fora cuppa, missus?’
Judith didn’t knowwhere the old tramp had come from, but suddenly he was there on thepath in front of her, barring her way.
‘I never carrymoney,’ she told him sharply and Bertie gave a low warning growl,pulling back a menacing upper lip.
The tramp raised ashaggy eyebrow at the dog.
‘Nasty-looking mutye’ve got there,’ he said.
‘He can get evennastier if he has to,’ Judith told him, upset by the insult to hercompanion of fifteen years.
On cue,Bertie’s growl became louder and even more menacing than thethunder that was rolling around the Lakeland valley. The teeth heshowed were white and sharp and she knew that he would use them ifhe thought she was being threatened.
‘ Damn stupiddog, that, wi’ only three legs. Bet ye I could outrun‘im.’
‘Then you’d loseyour bet.’
Judith wasdetermined not to show fear, even though her heart was palpitatingbecause of this unpleasant individual, which she could smell acrossthe short distance separating them.
Before things hada chance to get nasty, a jeep came trundling along the rough trackand skidded to a halt, spraying muddy water everywhere, butespecially on Judith and Bertie.
‘ Is there aproblem here?’
The deep voiceboomed from inside the jeep, but it was the youthful passenger, aboy of about seventeen, who alighted. He took in the situation,hands on slim hips, eyes regarding her with open curiosity.
‘ Is thatyour Citroen C3 in the ditch back there?’ Not the same as the firstvoice, but it had a similar timbre.
‘Yes. I skidded onsome mud…’ she said, glancing pointedly down at her mud-drenchedskirt that had been caused by their jeep more than her landing in aditch.
‘Sorry aboutthat,’ the boy apologized with an embarrassed grimace.
‘I suppose itcouldn’t be helped,’ she said.
Judith’sembarrassed gaze wandered to the driver of the jeep, who waskeeping a low profile. No doubt he had a disliking for helplessfemales, and didn’t appreciate them wasting his time.
She wasn’t allthat helpless, she argued silently in her own defence. Except, ofcourse, when it came to getting cars out of deep mud in torrentialrain.
The tramp gavethem one last stare, then wandered away, grumbling to himself.
There was amuttered conversation between the two jeep men that she couldn’tmake out because of the howling wind and driving rain. The boyturned to her again. He was a good-looking kid with friendly eyesand probably set all the girls’ hearts aflutter with just oneglance.
‘ Take nonotice of Fred,’ he said, nodding in the direction of the tramp’sretreating back. ‘He’s harmless. Hop in and we’ll give you alift.’
Judith lookeduncertainly at him and at the silent driver of the jeep, who seemedto be doing his best to ignore her.
‘ It’s allright. I have a static caravan not far from here. It’s just sod’slaw that the storm broke before I got there.’
‘ We get alot of storms in this valley. I bet it was a bit of a shock,skidding into the ditch like that.’ The boy grinned. ‘I’m BenTelford, by the way. And the old grump at the wheel is mydad.’
Ben wasfondling her dog’s silky ears and Bertie was actually trying toshove his nose into the lad’s hand, which was unusual. He wasnormally mistrustful of strangers.
There was asharp word from the driver of the jeep, masked by a loud burst ofthunder. The boy responded with a few impatient words, then heshrugged his shoulders and turned back to Judith.
‘ Come on. Wecan take you as long as you don’t mind calling at the Barrett farm first,’ he said.
‘Oh, I wouldn’twant to put you out,’ Judith told him, feeling ridiculous standingthere in the rain, loaded down with her luggage, water running inrivulets down her face and dripping from her nose and chin.
‘Look, would youplease stop dithering, woman, and get in before you drown!’ Thebrusque command came from the dim interior of the jeep.
Withoutfurther ado, Ben grabbed her holdalls and threw them aboard, as ifhe were well used to making decisions for other people. He gave herand Bertie a helping hand to mount into the back passenger seat andbefore she could catch her breath the jeep started off with adisgruntled roar, shooting up great fountains of mud in itswake.
‘ Don’t mindmy father,’ Ben smiled at her over his shoulder as they drove offup the hill with an angry crunch of gears. ‘He’s not known for hisgood manners, but he’s the best vet for miles around…’
‘ Which iswhy I’m in a blessed hurry right now,’ the driver of the vehicleground out and threw her a hasty look in the rear view mirror. ‘Ihave an urgent call to make. A prize bull with a bad case ofpneumonia. Where’s this caravan of yours, then?’
Judith’seyes met his for the first time in the mirror. They were dark andbrooding and she decided that she might have been better offwalking after all, despite the storm. However, a pathetic whimperfrom Bertie, sitting beside her, giving off that particular wet-dogodour, changed her mind. Like most animals, Bertie was scared ofstorms. He wasn’t the only one.
‘It’s on the hilloverlooking Merrivale,’ she told him, wincing as a flash of forklightning sliced through the darkening sky on the road ahead.
‘ I know theplace, Dad!’ Ben exclaimed and looked at her for confirmation.‘Isn’t it called Rose Cottage?’
Judithlaughed and nodded. Her friends had bought the static van as aholiday home not long after they had married. George and Maggie hadlovingly turned the surrounding land, which they also owned, into aperfumed English garden and there were even roses climbing aroundthe door. She had spent a weekend there once and found it idyllic.But that was before Tom; before they got married – and before thedivorce.
‘ Are youhere on holiday, then?’ It was Ben who asked; his father seemed toodistracted to even try to be sociable. But then, he did have a sickbull to visit, Judith thought, trying to find an excuse for hislack of courtesy.
‘Sort of,’ shetold them hesitantly, not wishing to enter into the reason behindher visit. ‘A long break. I needed to…to get away. I’m renting RoseCottage for a few months.’
‘Genial!’ The boysounded unusually enthusiastic and she guessed that he was that wayby nature, unlike his morose father.
She lookedup to find that the dark, fathomless eyes of the vet were againupon her. They were such penetrating eyes. Judith gave aninvoluntary shudder and put a comforting arm about Bertie. The doggrunted a response and shuffled closer, pressing himself againsther side.
‘How did your doglose his leg?’
She lookedup, surprised he had noticed. Bertie had been an expert at managingon three legs for a number of years now. Until recently, he couldstill outrun any of his canine counterparts. However, old age wasfinally catching up with him.
‘ It was atumour,’ she said. ‘It started in his paw and worked its way upuntil the vet thought it would be better to amputate.’
‘He must have beena nice-looking dog in his heyday.’
‘ He’s stillbeautiful to me,’ she said warmly and felt his eyes on her again.He was probably mocking her for getting all soppy over a bedraggledold mongrel with only three legs. She wished he would simply ignoreher and concentrate on the driving.
The jeep swervedoff the rough road onto an even rougher track, skidding andsquelching through watery ruts, bouncing over tree roots andstones.
‘ Here weare. You’d better come in. I don’t know how long this is going totake.’
‘ Oh, no,really, Mr…um…’ Damn! She had forgotten his name. ‘I don’t want toput you out any more than I have to…’
‘ Nonsense! Idon’t want to have to think about you sitting out here in the stormwhile I’m trying to do my job. That would be too distracting. Bringthe dog, too, but keep him on a tight leash. There are newlambs.’
He switchedoff the engine and the jeep shuddered into silence. When he got outand strode off around the back of the rambling old farmhouse,Judith couldn’t help noticing his height and his powerful build.His waterproof was voluminous, but there were broad shoulders andmuscles lurking beneath it that were impressive even in the growingdarkness.
‘ He’s had abad day,’ Ben said apologetically. ‘It’s been nothing but bad newssince early this morning. Dad doesn’t like losinganimals.’
Judithpulled her anorak around her as she hurried with the boy towardsthe farmhouse: ‘Don’t tell me he’s really a big softie atheart?’
She didn’t mean itto come out quite so sarcastically, but when she saw Ben’sexpression, she knew her words had struck him like barbs.
‘ If you knewhim, you wouldn’t have said that,’ he told her, his foreheadcreasing into a frown. ‘Everybody around here likes Rory Telford.He’s their hero. Mine too.’
Maybe it was theshock of the accident, the unexpected encounter with the tramp, orthe storm – Judith didn’t know, but she felt depressed andirritable and here was this nice boy defending his most aloof andsurly father, and it irked.
‘ Well, I’msorry, but I really thought his behaviour was uncalled for,’ shesaid as he pushed open the big front door and called out to someoneinside. ‘Look¸ I’m obviously in the way here, so if you can pointme in the right direction, I’ll find my own way to Rose Cottage andleave you and your father in peace.’
Ben lookedperturbed. He shyly touched her hand, then turned to Bertie andgave the dog’s head a caress.
‘ Don’t besilly! It’s miles to Rose Cottage. You’ll drown. Besides, we haveto pass that way to get home.’
‘Well, I…’
Too late tomake a decision. A stout, rosy-cheeked woman in a floral wraparoundapron came stomping down the hall towards them, a beaming smile ofwelcome lighting up her jovial face.
‘ Well, lookat you, m’dear!’ The woman took Judith’s arm and led her into afirelit livingroom where the air was filled with the tantalisingsmell of freshly baked bread and meat stew. ‘Rory said he’d pickedup a waif and stray on the road here. Bless you! You’re soaked tothe skin, you and your poor wee dog. Here, my loves, come and sitby the fire until Rory is finished with Samson.’
‘You’re so kind,but I don’t want to be a nuisance…’
‘ Get awaywith ye, lassie! Any friend of Rory Telford’s is a friend of oursand most welcome.’
‘Oh, but…’
‘ Not anotherword, now. I’ll make us a pot of tea – and no doubt you, Ben, willbe wantin’ a hot cheese scone or two, eh?’
Ben noddedhappily. ‘I was hoping, Mrs Barrett.’
‘ I thoughtyou might, so I baked some specially for ye, as soon as I knew yewere comin’.’ The woman then frowned at Ben. ‘He’s not lookin’ sogood th’ day, laddie. But then, it’s a bad time for the poor man,being as how it’s the anniversary.’
‘Yeah, and itseems like everything’s gone wrong today too.’
‘ Ach, thatdoesn’t help. Well, I’ll just go and fetch those scones. They’restill warm from the oven. I suppose ye’ll want butter on them too?Course ye will!’
Having answeredher own question, she hurried off, humming a cheerful tune, herrounded hips undulating with every rolling step.
Ben turned asmiling face on Judith, who was hugging the fire and trying not toshiver.
‘Mrs Barrett makesthe best scones and cakes in the world,’ he told her.
‘That’s quite arecommendation,’ she smiled back.
‘She’s a superperson. She was very good to us when Mum got too sick to look afterherself.’
‘ That’s whenyou find out who your friends are, Ben,’ Judith said. ‘I hope yourmother has recovered now.’
Ben flinchedand his tongue flicked out over his lips. She saw immediately thesadness that crept into the boy’s dark eyes, eyes so like hisfather’s.
‘ Mum diedten years ago – ten years today, actually. That’s why Dad’s in abit of a mood. He looked after her for years while she was sick,but they couldn’t save her. Mum was very brave, but she just wastedaway and he never got over it.’
‘Oh, Ben, I’m sosorry.’
‘ You weren’tto know, but now maybe you can understand why he was a bit offhandwith you. He never used to be like that. He was always laughing andjoking – you know – enjoying life. I don’t remember much before Mumgot ill – I was very young. But people are always telling me thatthey were an ideal couple.’
‘ Aye, theywere an’ all,’ Mrs Barrett rattled through the doorway carrying awell-stocked tea tray and set it down before them. ‘We all hopehe’ll find someone else. Lord knows he deserves some happinessafter what he’s been through, but…’
The woman raisedher eyebrows and shrugged.
‘Well, maybe oneday…’ Judith ventured, but her words received a definite shake ofthe head.
‘ RoryTelford is the most stubborn man you could ever wish to meet,m’dear. He says there’ll never be another for him, ever, and whenhe gets that look on him, we all know he’ll not be budged, comehell or high water. Isn’t that so, Ben?’
Ben pulled aface and nodded, then the scrape of a shoe on the stone flooring inthe hall made them all look up. Rory Telford was still frowning,but looking more relaxed as he joined them, his urgent taskcompleted.
‘I’m happy toannounce that Samson will live to sire a lot more little bulls andheifers,’ he said, the suspicion of an attractive smile lighting uphis strong face.
‘ Well,that’s good news indeed,’ Mrs Barrett heaved a sigh of relief.‘Now, sit you down and relax for a wee while, unless you havesomething more important to attend to.’
‘She’s baked ussome cheese scones, Dad,’ Ben told his father, whose face brokeinto a real smile, shedding years.
‘ In thatcase, Mrs Robbins’ kittens can wait.’ He glanced across at Judith.‘I don’t suppose you fancy taking on a kitten or two at RoseCottage? I’ve been asked to find homes for six of the littleblighters – again. The woman refuses to have her cat spayed, thenshe doesn’t want to know when the poor animal gives birth likeshelling peas three or four times a year. I’ve even offered to dothe operation free, but she says it’s not natural and that’sthat.’
Judith wonderedwhy he was staring at her so expectantly, then realized that he hadasked her a question which she hadn’t responded to – for the simplereason that she was finding the grumpy driver of the jeep far tooattractive for her own good.
‘ I wouldlove a kitten, Dr Telford,’ she said, a warm flush spreadingthrough her. ‘Unfortunately, Bertie wouldn’t agree.’
At the soundof his name, the dog raised his head, waggled a pair of large earsand gave a soft moan. The vet leaned over and gave him astroke.
‘ Yes, Isuppose he’s too old a dog to learn new tricks. Okay, son, nokittens. You deserve to live out the rest of your days withoutstress.’
‘Unlike some Icould mention, who are far too young to be resting on theirlaurels,’ Mrs Barrett said with a sly wink, exchanging a secretsmile with Ben that made Judith feel particularly left out.
‘Maybe Bertiewould like a nice lady dog,’ Mrs Barrett said with a sly wink.‘Unless he’s too set in his ways, like some people I know.’
‘Who would thatbe?’ Rory Telford scowled good-naturedly and reached for abutter-drenched scone.
Mrs Barrettand Ben exchanged knowing glances and laughed, the complicitybetween them strong. The vet’s gaze fleetingly met Judith’s, thenslid away.
Chapter Two
 
 
They didn’t spend long over Mrs Barrett’s teaand scones, delicious though they were. The vet was obviously onedge and he got noticeably irritable with his son on a couple ofoccasions, for no apparent reason. Ben, fortunately, was agood-natured lad and it seemed to wash over him like a waveletbreaking on a beach. In fact, Judith thought, Ben seemed to findhis father’s irascibility highly amusing.
‘You be sure to look in on me, m’dear,’ MrsBarrett said as she saw them out. ‘It’s pretty isolated up whereyou’re going. A person can get good and lonely with only her ownvoice to listen to.’
Judith thanked the woman for her kindness,secretly thinking that it would be some time before she got tiredof her own company. After all, the whole idea of her being inGeorge and Maggie’s caravan was to get away from people, and lifein general.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught Bengiving his father a nudge.
‘We’ll invite you round for Sunday lunch, eh,Dad?’
The boy was grinning enthusiastically, but RoryTelford looked uncomfortable. It had obviously been the wrong thingto suggest.
‘I’m sure Judith has better things to do withher time,’ Rory said as he urged them back down the path to thewaiting jeep. ‘Besides, Sunday lunch always seems to be the primetime for veterinary emergencies in these parts.’
Ben shrugged off his father’s rebuff with alaugh.
‘He’s only saying that because he’s a prettyhopeless cook. On the other hand, I cook a great Sunday joint. I’mhoping to be a chef, so it’d be great to have someone to practiceon. Other than Dad, that is. He doesn’t appreciate my hautecuisine .’
There was a short grunt of displeasure fromRory, who was already concentrating heavily on the driving, forwhich Judith was glad. The storm had gathered force and waswhipping across the hillsides, bending the trees in its path.
‘It’s an offer I might take you up on one day,Ben,’ she said, having to raise her voice above the rattle ofthunder. ‘But for the moment I plan to enjoy being something of ahermit.’
‘That’s not much fun,’ Ben threw back ather.
‘Now, Ben, stop that,’ his father gave him asharp look, then turned it on Judith for an instant before thewinding road ahead reclaimed his attention. ‘It’s time you learntto respect the decisions of others.’
‘If you ask me, you two hermits would get onlike a house on fire…’ He stopped short and twisted around to faceher. ‘Oh, you’re not married or anything, are you, Judith?’
Automatically, she rubbed her thumb on thefinger where her wedding and engagement rings had been. It was nowvoid of jewellery, though there was an unmistakable indentationwhere they had been.
‘I’m divorced,’ she said, muttering it in ashort, throwaway line.
Ben didn’t say any more, but smiled at herbroadly before looking at his father. Rory’s eyes were fixedstraight ahead. Not another word was spoken until they slithered toa halt at the perimeter fence bearing the sign: “Rose Cottage”.
‘Help Judith with her luggage,’ Rory told hisson, ignoring the frown he received in return. ‘Go on. It’s lateand we’re all tired.’
‘I can manage, really!' Judith said, anxious tohave time to herself.
‘Don’t you think we should go in with her, Dad?’Ben asked. ‘You know, make sure everything’s okay? It’s beenstanding empty for ages.’
It was true that Maggie and George no longerused the place for their holidays. They were getting on andpreferred the luxury of hotels in warmer climes. However, they hadassured her that all services had been arranged ahead of herarrival.
Before she could say anything, however, Rory wasout of the jeep and marching up the path in front of them, hisflashlight illuminating the long white static van with itsblue-painted door and the bright green spring leaves of theclimbing roses that surrounded it.
‘Really, it’s very kind of you, but I’m sureeverything’s all right.’
‘No, Ben’s right. It is best to check, thenwe’ll leave you in peace.’
The words were thrown carelessly over hisshoulder but she got the distinct impression that there was anedginess in his tone.
The first thing they noticed was a brokenwindow. And a sudden gust of wind showed them that the door wasopen, swinging drunkenly on its hinges. Judith’s heartplummetted.
‘Looks like a break-in,’ Ben said.
Rory was already inside, the flashlight swingingeverywhere. They heard an expression of disgust and a cough.
‘Don’t come in here!’ he shouted and came out soquickly he collided with Judith and had to grab hold of her beforeshe toppled over.

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