Authors: Christina Jones
Tags: #Fiction, #General
Jay shook his head. ‘I could always call it off.’
He kissed her again, and she kissed him back and they smiled dreamily at one another.
‘We’re very lucky to have booked this for the wedding, aren’t we?’ Erin sighed, staring across the sparkling-jewelled sweep of gravelled drive to the Swan: centuries old, mellow and swathed in a tumbling mantle of blue wisteria
Surrounded by the curve of the River Maizey, the Swan gave the impression of having been built on an island, with gently swaying willows, enticing pathways snaking between immaculate lawns, tumbling trellises and hidden arbours. The vast grounds sloped gently away to a glistening lake, encompassing a plethora of fragrant pastel-coloured flower beds, with weather-worn rustic bridges criss-crossing the irregular paths of the Maizey’s many tiny tributaries.
It was, Erin thought, the most beautiful place on earth.
‘Mmm. I just wish we could have kept it a secret from Mum and Dad for a bit longer.’
‘Me too,’ Erin agreed. ‘It would have been lovely to hang on to the wow factor until the wedding day. Still, they’re going to love it, aren’t they?’
‘Course they are.’ Jay took her hand. ‘They’ll be knocked out. Anyway, rather
than fry out here in the car park, shall we go and have a drink down by the river until they arrive?’
‘Oh, yes – something long and cold.’ Erin nodded. ‘A spritzer would be great. In fact, anything but ginger beer. Dora Wilberforce offered me ginger beer – as an antidote to the spider – the Nook Green cure-all.’
Jay chuckled as they walked hand in hand towards the Swan’s imposing entrance. ‘Ah, yes – the spider … want to tell me about it?’
‘Not really.’ Erin shuddered. ‘Same as usual. I’ll get some help soon, I promise, but right now I’d rather talk about something else. Why are you in Maizey St Michael anyway?’
‘I’d finished morning surgery early and I had a house call,’ Jay said, as they ducked under the Swan’s low arches in to the dim coolness of the shady bar. ‘Or rather, a farm call. I did what I could, and I think it’ll be OK, but –’ he smiled at the barman ‘– oh, hi, two white wine spritzers, please – oh, yes with soda, not lemonade – thanks.’
As the barman bustled with glasses and bottles, Erin gazed round with renewed delight at the glorious glowing panelling, the curving deep stone staircases, the sculpted archways, the gleaming leaded-light windows, as she always did when they came to the Swan.
In a tiddly bit over six weeks’ time, the whole fabulous place would be filled with everyone she and Jay loved, celebrating their marriage.
Oh, she was so lucky …
Fighting the urge to do a little happy dance on the spot, she contented herself with just sighing blissfully.
‘Are you booked in for lunch, sir?’ The barman clinked ice.
‘We are, yes.’ Jay said. ‘But we’re waiting for my parents to join us.
We’re going to have our drinks down by the river – could you point them in the right direction when they arrive, please?’
‘Of course.’ The barman smiled, placing the tall glasses, tantalisingly beaded with ice-cold droplets, on a tray. ‘A good choice, the river, on a day like this.’
Jay nodded agreement, and paid for the drinks, then skilfully whisked the tray away from Erin’s outstretched hands. ‘It’s OK. I’ll carry it. I’m all for equality but I’m also desperate for a cold drink – you’re wearing heels and you might drop the lot before we get out of the door.’
‘True,’ Erin giggled. ‘Today I’m practising walking in sandals that aren’t just flip-flops.’
‘Because you’re wearing heels with your wedding dress?’
‘Don’t pry about my wedding outfit. It’s not allowed. And I’m practising because I’m wearing heels on my hen night. Actually –’ she wrinkled her nose at him ‘– I’m going barefoot on our wedding day.’
They laughed together. It was so lovely, Erin thought, to be madly, insanely in love, and blissfully happy, and be best friends and understand one another so well. And then to be married as well …
She really, really, really couldn’t wait for the wedding day.
Six weeks and counting.
‘Ouf!’ Erin exhaled as they stepped from the cool darkness of the Swan and into the full glare of the sun. ‘Anyway, sorry – I think we got a bit side-tracked by shoes, or lack of them. You said you were in Maizey St Michael because you had a farm visit, which I know isn’t the best sort of call-out for you, and …?’
‘A pony with a damaged hoof.’
Jay carried the drinks across the lawn. ‘Luckily it was something I could deal with, but again, I’m a small animal specialist and this is such a rural area I really need someone in the practice who can handle the needs of the farm livestock. I’m having to turn a lot of work away at the moment.’
‘I know.’ Erin nodded as they made their way across several tiny weather-worn bridges. ‘And you’d like to keep it all in-house rather than passing it on to other practices? That makes sense. So, are you going to advertise?’
Jay shook his head. The ice cubes danced in the spritzers. ‘No, actually I was thinking of offering Kam a partnership.’
?’ Erin erupted with laughter, luxuriating in the cooling breeze from the river, as they eased themselves onto rustic benches beneath the willows. ‘Your cousin Kam? Are you mad?’
‘Kam’s a great equine and bovine specialist, you’ve agreed I need a partner – I thought you liked Kam?’
‘I love Kam,’ Erin chuckled. ‘You know I do. I adore Kam. Kam’s amazing – and he’ll be a fabulous best man – but a partner in the practice? You know what he’s like. You won’t get a minute of work out of Sophie and Bella. And every woman in Berkshire will be queuing round Nook Green, drooling, much like they were over you until I took you off the market.’
‘That’s a very sexist remark.’ Jay raised his eyebrows in mock-horror. ‘And, OK, I’ll admit we Keskars do have something of an animal magnetism.’
‘Which is why you’re vets?’ Erin giggled. ‘And don’t be so big-headed. But, seriously, as long as you can keep the slavering hordes at bay, I think it’s a great idea. But would Kam give up his current job to join you?’
‘I think so. He’s a locum
for the Cumbrian practices at the moment – a partnership would be a great career move for him. And I could certainly do with him. Still –’ Jay reached for her hand across the table ‘– like your spider phobia treatment, it’s something that can wait until after the wedding.’
‘Mine can, yours can’t.’ Erin stroked his fingers. ‘I know how pushed you are. Honestly, I think you should ask Kam sooner rather than later. Ring him tonight and see what he says.’
‘Mmm, I might just do that.’ Jay smiled gently at her. ‘So, what about your morning? What happened at Dora Wilberforce’s – apart from the spider?’
Erin sipped her spritzer, told him about her morning and laughed with him as they talked, watching the eponymous swans gliding past on the unruffled river, the water reflecting the cornflower-blue sky.
The honey-sweet air was filled with butterflies and birdsong. The sun danced in dapples across their entwined hands on the tabletop. And there wasn’t another soul in sight. Just the two of them, madly in love, with their whole future stretching blissfully ahead of them.
Erin jerked her head up, rudely dragged from the romantic rural idyll.
Deena and Tavish Keskar were carefully picking their way across one of the rustic bridges towards them.
As always, no matter how carefully she’d prepared, Erin felt instantly scruffy and slightly grubby as soon as she saw Deena. Stifling a groan, she watched the elegant vision, arctic cool in sleeveless pale-green linen and nude heels, sweep as gracefully as the swans on the Maizey, towards them.
Jay was already on his feet, and they all indulged in the ritual mutual mwah-mwah cheek-kissing and hugging.
‘Erin!’ Deena embraced her in a cloud of sweet-scented something so obviously expensive that it had probably involved passion flowers and unicorns and angels and hummingbirds. ‘How lovely you look.’
‘Thank you,’ Erin said, still slightly dazed by the perfumed embrace and catching a glimpse of tiny emerald studs glinting in Deena’s ears beneath the glossy black bobbed hair. Emeralds to go with the pale-green linen, of course. Emeralds echoed in the many golden bangles that slid sinuously up and down Deena’s slender brown forearms. ‘And so do you. As always. I know I’ve got an awful lot to live up to.’
‘Nonsense.’ Deena smiled. ‘It’s the other way round, darling. You’re a very beautiful girl – so young and fresh. I always feel like some ancient crone when we’re together. You’re going to be such a spectacularly gorgeous bride I might have to hide myself away in a corner.’
‘That’s hardly likely, is it?’ Erin said, right on cue, knowing exactly what was expected of her. ‘After September I shan’t be known as Jay’s wife in Nook Green, but simply as “that girl with the stunning mother-in-law”.’
Jay and Erin exchanged grins as a mollified Deena preened and headed for the table.
Tavish Keskar beamed at Erin. ‘What a beautiful spot.’ He helped his wife onto the bench seat after brushing it free of any minute traces of rustic debris. ‘Just right on a day like today. Let’s hope the weather holds for the wedding, eh?’
‘I’ve got everything crossed.’ Erin smiled at Tavish.
Despite being slightly
intimidated by her, Erin was very fond of Deena, but she absolutely loved her future father-in-law. He was an older version of Jay, easy-going and laid-back; and although his black hair was threaded with silver and the laughter lines round his dark-brown eyes were deeply etched he was still a very attractive man.
Deena flicked at imaginary grime on the table then reached across and held up Erin’s glass, inspecting it carefully. ‘I always find you can judge the standards of an establishment by the cleanliness of their glasses, don’t you, darlings? I always check for leftover lipstick or finger smudges.’
Erin fought down the urge to say that there would be
like that on the Swan’s glassware and simply nodded.
Having satisfied herself that everything was hygienic, Deena smiled. ‘So, how have you both been? Working hard, no doubt. We’ve heard so little from you recently.’
‘Yes, sorry. We’ve both been busy,’ Jay nodded. ‘With work, and the wedding.’
Tavish nodded. ‘Ah, yes – not long to go now. Everyone back home is getting very excited. Your mother has bought at least nine new outfits.’
Deena laughed and flapped her glass-free, perfectly manicured hand, but didn’t deny it. ‘I only hope I won’t clash with your mother, Erin. Do you know what colours she’s chosen?’
‘The last time I spoke to her, she was wanting to wear peach.’
‘Oh.’ Deena looked disappointed. ‘Peach? Such a bland colour I always think. Always makes pale skin look washed out. Why peach?’
‘I’ve no idea.’ Erin
shrugged, knowing that her mum had probably found something vaguely mother-of-the-bride suitable in peach in a Sydney second-hand shop and didn’t give a tuppenny fig whether it would make her look washed out or not. ‘I do know she wants to wear a hat though. A very big hat. Dad was worrying about getting a massive hatbox into the hand luggage.’ Erin giggled. ‘My mum is so not a hat person. I’ve told her it doesn’t matter. She doesn’t have to wear one. It’s not that sort of wedding.’
‘Well, no –’ Deena frowned ‘– a hat, if she’s not used to wearing one, might be a little uncomfortable. Maybe she could opt for a fascinator?’
Erin shook her head. ‘You haven’t met my mum. My mum in a fascinator would look like an electrocuted emu.’
‘Erin, darling!’ Deena raised both perfectly threaded black eyebrows in horror. ‘That’s not very nice.’
‘No, seriously. My mum is the loveliest person in the world, but she’s the first to admit that she can sabotage the smartest of outfits. She’s much happier in – um – more casual clothes.’
And that, Erin thought to herself, was putting it kindly. Her mother had no interest whatsoever in fashion, in clothes, in shopping. Rose Boswell had no idea what suited her, neither did she care. She wore what was comfortable; most of her clothes were charity shop buys or old favourites, worn until they fell to pieces.
Rose Boswell and Deena Keskar were light years apart.
Jay drained his glass and glanced at his watch. ‘I think it’s probably time for lunch. We can’t wait to show you the dining room. It’s got sensational views.’
‘Mmmm.’ Deena smiled. ‘We did have a little peek just now, actually.’
‘Did you?’ Erin
frowned, slightly annoyed. ‘Oh … but you wait until you see the rest. We’d hoped to keep it as a lovely surprise for you, but –’
Deena giggled. ‘Oh, it will be, and we have a stunning little surprise of our own for you too, darlings.’
Oh, God, Erin thought.
Tavish cleared his throat. ‘I thought we’d agreed not to say anything until …’
‘Oh, I know, but it’s
exciting.’ Deena flapped her hands. Jewels sparkled in the sunshine. ‘Sorry. No, no, Erin, darling, you carry on. Our little surprise will keep until we have lunch.’
Erin and Jay exchanged amused glances. Deena’s surprises were usually notoriously expensive, expansive, huge and totally impractical gifts. The loft in Jay’s cottage was full of them.
‘And we’re both very much looking forward to seeing the rest of the Swan,’ Tavish said firmly. ‘Aren’t we, Deena?’
Deena nodded. ‘Yes, we’re delighted to get an early glimpse at where you’re having your reception. The restaurant is certainly gorgeous and the whole place – what little we’ve seen of it – looks very nice indeed. But …’
‘But?’ Jay raised his eyebrows. ‘There’s a but?’
‘Well, yes, darling.’ Deena beamed. ‘It all seems a little confusing. You still haven’t told us where you’re having the ceremonies. The invitations merely said the Swan – which we knew was for the reception – and we all assumed you’d be sending separate invitations for the rest.’
‘What rest?’ Erin
frowned. ‘Rest of what? We’re having everything here. That’s what it says on the invitations. Our ceremony is taking place in the marriage room, the wedding breakfast is in the dining room, we’ve got the ballroom for the dancing, and the grounds for the entire day. We’re having a buffet during the evening’s entertainment, and we’ve booked rooms for everyone who wants to stay overnight, with breakfast the next morning and –’