Authors: Amelia Thorne
Home, sweet home…
Joy Cartier has been to some of the most beautiful places in the world – but none of them have ever felt like home. So moving into a tiny cottage in the idyllic village of Bramble Hill, walking distance from her childhood home, seems like the perfect plan
That is, until she gets there. The surly inhabitants of Britain’s Friendliest Village are anything but welcoming. Even her neighbour, reclusive Hollywood star Finn Mackenzie, takes one look at her and walks in the other direction
But when the village animosity steps up a gear, it is the infuriatingly brooding Finn who keeps coming to her rescue. Slowly Joy begins to realise that maybe a happy home isn’t about where you live, but who you’re with…
International woman of mystery. Owns a goat and rides a penny farthing. May have a secret identity. Some of the above may not be true.
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Thank you to everyone at Carina who have supported me in making my dreams come true, and to my friends and family who have stood by me as I’ve slowly gone insane with self-doubt and hysterical with joy, you are all amazing and I love you all.
To all the wonderful book bloggers and authors out there who have tweeted, retweeted, blogged, reviewed or shouted about this book, you are incredible and your support touches me every day. One day we will all meet in a big room with lots of cake and I’ll get to go round and hug you all, for now, this book is for you.
Beneath the Moon and the Stars
Joy crouched down behind the bush, her heart hammering against her chest. Someone had called the police and now, after two years, she was finally going to get caught.
Her car was hidden in the dark trees behind her and she glanced towards it, trying to decide whether to make a run for it. It was quite far, maybe a hundred metres or more. She peered through the leaves at her would-be captor. He was a lot older than she was and held a bit of weight on his stomach. She was certain she could outrun him. But running would draw his attention, as would the noise of the engine.
She couldn’t get caught, her life would be over.
The policeman walked slowly towards where she was and she tried to make herself as small as possible. He was only a few metres away now. If she was going to run, now was the time to do it.
Suddenly another policeman came round the edge of the house with a dog; a great, snarling Alsatian.
‘Come on Phil, there’s nothing there,’ the dog handler called. ‘There’s no sign of a break in, no damage, it was probably just kids messing about. They’ll be long gone by now. Or shall I release Tiger; he’s dying for a run around?’
Tiger? Joy swallowed as she felt cold sweat prickle her neck.
‘Keep that savage beast on the lead, you know we don’t see eye to eye,’ Phil called back, rubbing his bum as he obviously remembered his last run in with the evil hound.
Tiger and his owner disappeared back round the house and with a last look in her direction Phil turned away too.
Just then her stomach gurgled loudly and Phil whipped back to face her, grabbing his baton like it was a loaded gun.
‘Colin!’ called Phil.
Her heart in her mouth, she leapt up and ran.
‘Oi! Police!’ yelled Phil. ‘Stay where you are.’
Joy leapt over a log and tore through the trees. Behind her she heard Tiger bark and she pushed herself faster. The branches caught her clothes and hair, like fingers dragging her back.
Black metal gleamed in the moonlight and she ran for it. She threw her rucksack into the passenger seat as torchlight danced through the trees towards her.
She quickly started the car, threw it into reverse and seconds later she hit the road. Thanking her brother for teaching her the darker side of how to drive, she slammed her foot on the brake and spun the wheel, executing a perfect J-turn manoeuvre, before tearing off up the road.
The road stayed empty behind her.
She took the first turn off and her wheels screeched as she took several other corners in quick succession. She turned the engine off as she parked outside a quiet, unassuming row of cottages and threw herself across the passenger seat.
A minute later she heard the sound of the police car tearing along the main road. The siren faded into the distance and she knew she was safe.
With a shaky hand, she pushed her hair from her face and waited for her heart to stop pounding. That was close, too close.
‘Please let me lick it,’ Joy said.
‘Uh uh, no way, not in my car,’ Alex said. ‘I’m driving as fast as I can. Bloody stupid country lanes, could you have picked anywhere more remote than this to live?’
She smiled as they passed the village sign: “Bramble Hill; Voted Britain’s Friendliest Village for the Last Nine Years.”
‘I love that it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s so cute and quiet. Fifty-six people live in this village Al, can you imagine. Pretty soon I’ll know them all by name. There’ll be Mrs Twinkly Eyes who will invite me in for a slice of homemade lemon drizzle cake whilst she regales me with stories from her youth. Mr Silver Hair who will come round to offer advice on my garden, and lovely mummies who will invite me round for coffee and we’ll chat in the garden whilst the angelic little cherubs play quietly nearby. And there’s a local pub, a proper local. Do you know how long I’ve wanted a proper local? Somewhere the landlord knows your name, knows your usual tipple and has it waiting for you on the bar as soon as you walk in. There’ll be cake sales and village fairs and people will give me eggs and fresh vegetables in return for my delicious apple pies. I can’t wait.’
She surreptitiously licked a tiny droplet of chocolate ice cream off her hand and looked up at Alex who was smiling at her.
‘What’s it like in your head Joy, is everything slightly rose-tinted? Your glass is permanently overflowing isn’t it? When it rains you smile because it’s good for the garden. Joy by name, Joy by nature.’
She smiled at the turn of phrase he had used for years as he pulled up outside the house.
He leaned over her looking out on the tiny whitewashed cottage. ‘Are you sure about this place? It’s quite close to Blueberry Farm.’
She frowned slightly. ‘I know. That wasn’t my intention. When I agreed to move here, I had no idea it was so close. Maybe it’s fate though; maybe it’s time I came home.’
His face darkened at this. It was the same disagreement they’d had for the last few years. He put his fingers to his heart. ‘Home is in here, you know that, it’s not a much-revered bunch of bricks. And you shouldn’t allow fate, tradition or sentiment to dictate where you live. You just need to open your heart to new possibilities.’ He brushed a stray hair from her face. ‘This is a fresh start for you; I hope you get everything you want from this.’
‘I’ve had a lot of fresh starts and none of them worked. But I have a good feeling about this place.’ She ignored the protest that Alex was quickly forming and pressed on. ‘It’s not just its proximity to Blueberry Farm. There’s something about here that feels like coming home.’ She negotiated the door handle with her little finger and carefully clambered out, holding the two ice creams precariously in her hands. ‘You’ll see. Moving here will be the best thing that has ever happened to me.’
She ignored the look from Alex. Admittedly, she’d said that for the previous eight places she had lived in over the last few years, but this time she hoped it would be different. She turned back towards the house and walked straight into someone.
‘Oh sorry.’ Joy leapt back and to her horror realised that the man now had two large round chocolate stains on his gleaming, white shirt – almost as if two fake breasts had been painted on. An expensive shirt too, she recognised the little logo on the breast pocket.
‘Oh god, I’m so sorry, I…’
He glared down at her and then down at his shirt in shock. She balanced the ice creams in one hand and fished a tissue from her pocket. But as she started to wipe away the ice cream, all she succeeded in doing was mushing the chocolate stain into a larger area across his shirt. He stood watching her as she desperately tried to get some off but made the stain bigger every time she touched him. Now tissue bits were sticking themselves to the shirt too. She abandoned the tissue, which was now hanging off him, and used her hand instead. As she felt his heart thud against her fingers, he suddenly caught her hand and moved it off him.
Joy’s mouth went dry. The man was huge, the largest man she had ever seen in her life. He was almost like a bear in terms of size and build, the hand that had pushed her own hand away was like a giant paw. His hair was a shaggy, dirty blond mess that fell across his eyes. Slate grey eyes, like thunder clouds.
In stark contrast to the angry bear before her, a shaggy grey mongrel stood at his side, wagging his tail, his tongue falling out of his mouth in what looked like an amused grin.
Emboldened by the dog’s smile, she tried one of her own. ‘I really am very sorry. I’ll pay to have your shirt cleaned of course and…’
Suddenly Alex was by her side, obviously sensing there was trouble brewing.
‘Hey, there’s no harm done here – we’ll pay to have your shirt cleaned or for a new shirt, and as it was obviously an accident it would be a shame to start off on the wrong foot. This is Joy, your new neighbour, and I’m Alex, her brother.’
Joy watched as the big man tore his glare away from her and his eyes slid to Alex.
‘Brother?’ he asked, deliberately ignoring Alex’s outstretched hand.
‘For Christ’s sake,’ he muttered as he stormed away.
‘Well you certainly know how to make a good first impression,’ Alex said.
‘I’m sure I can win him round.’
‘I’m sure you can. You’re my favourite person in the world and if he can’t see how fantastic you are, then he’s blind.’
Joy passed Alex his rather squished ice cream and followed him into the house. She glanced back at the large man disappearing down the road and tried to ignore the butterflies that were fluttering with unease around her stomach.
The sun was setting over Bramble Hill as Joy drove down towards the tiny village with the last load of her stuff. She had picked it up from Alex’s house, nearly an hour’s drive from her new home, and waved away offers for him to spend the first night with her.
Next to the village sign she’d just passed was another that she hadn’t noticed before. It was weather beaten, decorated in tiny delicate flowers and said; “Bramble Hill, Home of Finn Mackenzie.” She wondered who that might be; the village founder perhaps, or some old scout leader who had taken boys camping and taught them how to make fires since before she was born. She was sure she would find out over the next few days.
The village looked beautiful basked in the rosy glow of the sun as she drove down the hill towards the cluster of whitewashed cottages. It was peaceful and quiet. There was a tiny duck pond, glinting pink and gold as the little white ducks bobbed on the water, an old beamed pub, called charmingly The Peacock’s Pride, a tiny shop, and that was it. Life here would be as idyllic and quiet as the village itself.