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Authors: Helen Scott Taylor

Tags: #family drama, #pets, #england, #clean romance, #holiday romance, #sweet romance, #christmas romance, #second chance romance

Silver Christmas

BOOK: Silver Christmas
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Silver Christmas

by

Helen Scott Taylor

*

Copyright © 2015 Helen Taylor

Cover design © Helen Taylor

*

The right of Helen Taylor to be identified as
the author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with
the UK Copyright, Designs, and Patents Act, 1988.

This is a work of fiction. All the characters
in this book have no existence outside the imagination of the
author, and have no relation whatsoever to anyone bearing the same
name or names. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or
persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

All rights reserved. No part of this
publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical,
photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior permission
of the Copyright owner.

Chapter One

Jennifer
Dean sat in her parked car, watching the children as they streamed
out of Rosemoor village school at the end of the day. She ignored
the small children and concentrated on the older ones. Her Chloe
would be ten now, in the top class, although Jennifer hadn't set
eyes on her since she was a newborn.

Raising her phone, she glanced at the screen,
at the photograph Owen Bramwell had sent her of Chloe eleven months
ago, last Christmas. How much might Chloe have changed in a year?
In the photo, the girl's long dark hair was loose around her
shoulders, laughter in her brown eyes as she held up a huge black
Labrador puppy.

Jennifer moved her gaze between the phone
screen and the children, trying to identify her daughter, her chest
tight with remorse that she might not even recognize her own child.
Some of the kids left on bicycles, some dashed out to meet mums and
dads, while the rest set off in twos and threes along the edge of
the road to walk home.

A constant stream of cars arrived at the
school in the picturesque Cotswold village, their headlights on
against the early twilight at the start of December as they vied
for parking spots. A large black four-wheel drive with the Rosemoor
estate motif of a gold angel inside a red Tudor rose drove up and
parked on the opposite side of the road. Her heart jolted and her
breath froze as the door opened and Owen stepped out.

Jennifer sank low behind her steering wheel,
her heart pounding at the thought of being caught here watching.
Not that she was really doing anything wrong. Nobody had ever told
her to keep away from Chloe, nobody except Owen. He might not
recognize her now, anyway, not with the long blond hair she'd been
so vain about chopped short, and she'd lost a lot of weight in the
hospital.

She hadn't set eyes on Owen since the day he
took Chloe from her, ten years, three months, and four days ago. He
hadn't changed much. Reluctantly, she noticed he was still
handsome, maturity making him even more good looking. The last ten
years had been kind to him, his hair still thick and dark, his
shoulders broad and his waist trim. He still had that arrogant air
about him as if he were the master of all he surveyed, and he was,
more or less. The Bramwell family owned most of the village.

Yet she didn't care if he
was
gorgeous
and loaded, there was no way on earth Jennifer would
ever
let herself fall under his spell again. She was here for one
reason—to get to know her daughter.

The other parents turned and greeted Owen,
stepping aside to make way for him as he strode towards the school.
Jennifer remembered the way he'd been back when she met him,
throwing money around, sweeping her off in his sports car to house
parties in mansions and castles with the nobility. It was as if
she'd fallen through a rift into an alternate reality where people
didn't have to work for a living. Stupid, naive girl that she was,
for a short while she'd been dazzled.

Owen raised a hand in greeting as he
approached the school gate, and Jennifer followed his gaze. She
pressed a hand to her mouth, her heart pounding as a tall, slim
girl with long dark hair tied back in a ponytail made her way
through the throng of students.

Jennifer's phone slipped from her fingers,
hitting the steering wheel with a clunk, but she barely registered
the sound. It seemed impossible that the tiny baby she'd handed
over to Owen so rashly had grown into this beautiful girl.

"My daughter," she whispered, her voice
little more than a croak. "My Chloe." Tears filled Jennifer's eyes,
and she sucked her lips to hold the flood back.

Owen put his arm around Chloe's shoulders,
and kissed her cheek. A sob tore at Jennifer's chest. Pain shot
through her body from the scar on her belly. She pressed a hand
against the place where she'd been shot by poachers in Africa, and
gritted her teeth until the ache subsided.

Lying in the back of the wildlife warden's
pickup, she'd thought she would die. As blood and sweat soaked her
clothes, her belly was a burning clench of pain. One of the rangers
had leaned over her, pressing on her wound to stop the bleeding,
and told her to focus on someone she loved. As she'd drifted in and
out of consciousness, all she could think of was her sweet baby in
her arms, her tiny Chloe.

Jennifer watched surreptitiously as Owen and
Chloe climbed into their vehicle to be greeted by a rabble of
excited dogs with wagging tails. Then the vehicle drove off. Once
it turned at the end of the road and disappeared, she gave herself
a moment, wiping her eyes and checking her face in the mirror. She
didn't want to turn up at Rosemoor Farm looking a mess.

When she was satisfied with her appearance,
she started her car and moved off along the road. In the last ten
years, time seemed to have stood still in Rosemoor. The ancient
stone cottages of golden Cotswold stone lined the narrow street,
and she had no trouble remembering the way to Rosemoor Farm.

At the entrance to the driveway, she pulled
up at the cattle grid between the imposing stone pillars topped
with statues of the Rosemoor angels, and sucked in a steadying
breath before continuing on, her headlights cutting through the
gloom.

Rosemoor Farm was lit up like a beacon in the
wintry countryside, the Jacobean house too grand to be called a
farmhouse. She pulled up beside Owen's vehicle, her pulse racing.
She was so close to what she'd dreamed of during the months she
spent in the hospital. The only barrier now was Owen Bramwell, and
she wasn't sure what reception to expect from him.

She'd thought he was a selfish rich boy who
would dump her the moment he heard she was pregnant; instead he'd
offered her an engagement ring. The problem was it came with a
condition. Owen wanted her to be a full-time mother
or
have
no part in Chloe's life.

She'd worked too hard at her studies to give
up her dreams, and she'd let him cut her out of Chloe's life. Now
she was no longer a naive student. Owen's wealth and status didn't
intimidate her anymore. She wanted to get to know her little girl,
and nothing was going to stop her.

• • •

"I'm going upstairs, Dad," Chloe said after she hung
up her coat and took off her school shoes.

"Okay." Owen paused from making a cup of tea
and watched his daughter rush out of the door into the corridor,
her black Labrador on her heels. She had to do everything at a
hundred miles an hour. He must be getting old because he felt tired
just watching her. "Don't let Paddy jump on the bed," he shouted
after her, certain he was wasting his breath. That dog ruled the
house.

His own two dogs—Zack, a Jack Russell, and
Heidi, an elderly border collie—both positioned themselves at his
feet and stared up at him hopefully as he broke a chocolate chip
cookie and popped half in his mouth.

"No. Sugar is bad for you," he said, well
aware he was a hypocrite because it was bad for him as well. He
grabbed a couple of small dog treats from the caddy on the counter
and gave them one each before pouring hot water on the tea bag in
his mug.

He added milk to his tea and leaned back
against the counter, rolling his eyes at the ceiling as his
daughter and Paddy thundered around upstairs like a couple of
elephants. She and that dog were crazy when they were together, but
he couldn't help smiling.

The oven timer dinged and Owen set aside his
mug, grabbed the oven mitts, and pulled a pot roast from the oven.
He lifted the lid and inhaled the mouthwatering smell. Old Mrs.
Tiptree who helped out with the cleaning and cooking was a gem.

As he set the pot roast back in the low oven
to keep warm until dinner time, someone knocked. Zack and Heidi
sprang to life and raced for the back door, barking. A cacophony of
dog claws on the stairs and parquet floor of the corridor heralded
Paddy belting in full tilt, nearly demolishing a kitchen chair as
he skidded around the corner and followed the other dogs to greet
or eat the visitor.

Owen glanced at the clock and sighed. No
doubt it would be someone with a problem they had to have solved
right now. Why couldn't the Rosemoor tenants ring the emergency
help number they'd been given? Surely it wasn't too much to ask for
a little time to himself in the evenings.

Stuffing the second half of the cookie in his
mouth, he padded along the hallway to the back door in his
socks.

"Quiet," he shouted at the excited dogs, and
pushed them back so he could reach the door. He pulled on the door
handle, his fingers through Paddy's collar so the Labrador didn't
launch himself at the person outside and flatten them.

A woman stood in the pool of illumination
from the security light, her slight frame swamped in a pink winter
coat a couple of sizes too big, her hands deep in her pockets. He
squinted at her short blond hair and fine features, sure he'd seen
her before but unable to place her.

"Sorry, it's difficult to keep track of all
our tenants. Do you rent one of the estate cottages?"

The words were barely out of his mouth when
recognition hit—like a hammer to his chest. His breath froze.
Shock, anger, and hope all flared through him while she stood
silently, her bloodless lips pressed tight.

"Jenn?" What had happened to her? She looked
so different.

Owen's grip on Paddy's collar slipped and the
dog bounded out, his tail wagging as he greeted Jennifer. She
turned her attention to the three dogs as they swarmed around her,
withdrawing her slim, pale hands from her pockets to stroke and pet
the eager canine faces.

"Sit," she said softly, and all three dog
bottoms hit the ground, tails still wagging furiously as she made a
fuss of them.

She'd always had a way with animals, as if
they longed to please her and would do anything she asked. He'd
forgotten that about her.

"I didn't recognize you at first," he said
needlessly and swiped a hand over his mouth. He noticed more
details now, small red scars from newly healed injuries on her chin
and the right side of her face, and how frail she was. "Are you
sick?"

"Recovering."

She raised blue eyes to him, unbelievably
blue—he'd forgotten that too. Teamed with the slant of her
cheekbones and spiky short blond hair, she looked like a
supernatural creature, an angel or maybe a fairy. He nearly laughed
at the thought. He'd always been a little crazy around her. Looked
like that hadn't changed.

He blew out a breath, smoky in the cold air,
and realized he should invite her in and not leave her standing
outside in the cold, especially if she'd been sick. But Chloe might
come downstairs.

Owen glanced over his shoulder, his muddled
senses focusing back on what was most important, or more correctly
who
was most important. Since the moment Owen first held his
baby girl in his arms, she'd become the center of his world.

If Jennifer wanted to meet Chloe, it had to
be done right. He had to prepare Chloe, give her time to get used
to the idea. Not just spring her mother on her.

"I'd like to talk, Owen."

"Yes." He ran a hand back over his hair and
made a decision. "Let's go to the estate office to talk."

Lines appeared on Jennifer's pale forehead,
but she must realize he wasn't going to invite her inside right
away. He grabbed his old yard coat from the hook by the door and
shrugged it on as he stuffed his feet in his Wellington boots, and
then picked up the bundle of keys. Before he stepped out, he called
the dogs and shut them inside.

He started towards the estate office but
without consciously making a decision to do so, he diverted and
instead unlocked the sliding door to the goat shed. He stepped
inside and pressed the first switch on the large electrical control
panel just inside the door. The three strip lights illuminating the
service area at the front where the feed was weighed came on.

Owen waited for Jennifer to enter then slid
the door closed against the cold. He wandered to the fence that
divided this area from the goat pen. Resting his forearms on top of
the metal barrier, he stroked the closest Nubian goats with their
attractive floppy ears and roman noses. Out of habit, he cast his
gaze along the fences, because these little devils were master
escapologists.

BOOK: Silver Christmas
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