Authors: June Hopkins
Tags: #chick lit, #Romantic Comedy
chick lit, romantic comedy
The right of June Hopkins to be identified as the Author of the work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988.
First published in January
Apart from any use permitted under UK copyright law, this publication may only be reproduced, stored, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, with prior permission in writing of the author or in the case of reprographic production in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency.
All characters in this publication are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
Copyright © 2013 June Hopkins
All rights reserved.
For Dad, Mum, Pete, Sam and Matt.
To my amazing family and friends those still here and especially to those we’ve lost.
I want to say thank you to the following people for reading this again and again and for your advice and support: Rose, Leila, Rachel, Shelly, Claire and Karel - without your feedback, kind words and encouragement I couldn’t have finished this second book.
My sister-in-law Barb for your fabulous editing skills and the long hours you put in to help me get this right.
Pete my lovely husband for reading and formatting. Your patience is appreciated especially as this isn’t really your cup of tea.
And last but not least, thanks again to my cousin Ellen Hopkins for producing another fabulous front cover.
Having struggled through a ten hour shift, the last thing Mollie needs is a summons from Lord Sedgwick, her boss. Pissed off doesn’t come close to how she is feeling as she marches sulkily to the study at the front of the house. She just wants to go home, have a lovely soak in a hot bath and watch crap TV.
Taking a calming breath and plastering on a fake smile Mollie knocks on the varnished cherry wood door. On hearing the command to “Enter” she lets herself into the softly lit interior.
Lord John Archibald Sedgwick invites her from behind his oversized desk. “Ah Mollie my dear, thank you for sparing me a few minutes, please sit down.”
Closing the door behind her she follows his outstretched hand to the two impressive Chesterfield brown leather armchairs and takes a seat across the desk opposite him.
As she settles herself nervously on the edge of her seat he sits back down in his captain’s chair. He is out of sorts; he seems to have shrunk in size. She realises with a start that Lord Sedgwick is looking old. Giving him a closer appraisal she notices that his ruddy cheeks are much redder than usual and his wiry grey hair slightly messier than usual. He is kneading his weathered old hands together in an agitated fashion. She frowns.
The room smells of pipe tobacco, stale whisky and musky sweat. Wrinkling her nose she waits for him to fill her in on whatever is bothering him. Her mind races as she mentally tallies up the day’s tasks, the whole week’s in fact.
Has she got something badly wrong?
Lord Sedgwick clears his throat gruffly and leans over the desk towards her, his kind pale blue eyes darting everywhere but to her face. Eventually his eyes find hers and she holds her breath.
“I am so sorry my dear; I have some bad news for you. We have sold the Hall and I have to let you go.” He blurts out the words quickly and pulls himself back to sit upright in his chair; his hands now gripping the edge of the desk in front of him as if he half expects the thing to take off.
Mollie lets out her breath sharply, her eyes widening. She stares at her employer of the last thirteen years in disbelief.
She hadn’t been expecting that.
Lord Sedgwick gazes at her from across the desk. He actually looks scared now. Is he expecting her to scream, or beat her chest and wail? Actually all things considered that wouldn’t be such a bad idea, she thinks to herself miserably
This is unbelievable!
In the last six weeks her husband of five years has left her for another man. She has been chucked out of her home (well, in theory she had stormed out but that wasn’t the point) and now finds herself back living with her parents. So this little announcement is the icing on the ever-so-slightly-overloaded, cake.
As Lord Sedgwick’s words sink in she feels gutted.
This was just bloody typical.
Her shoulders sag. She enjoyed working at the Hall; it was hardly her childhood dream but it had its compensations and she had made the job her own.
What a complete pain in the backside.
Without a job God only knew how long it would be before she could afford her own place again.
Lord Sedgwick notices the dejected slope of her shoulders and feels terrible. Mollie, although young, has been the best housekeeper they have ever had. Sedgwick Hall has been his home since birth and as he is now sixty-eight, he believes that to be a considerable achievement.
At the age of eighteen Mollie had started at the Hall as a part-time cleaner to help fund her university course. On completing a business degree and graduating with a first, she had slowly increased her hours whilst searching for ‘a proper job’. She had swiftly acquired more and more tasks, mainly because the previous housekeeper had been a lazy old crone who enjoyed nothing more than delegation. However Mollie had shone and the housekeeper eventually resigned, much to the entire household’s relief. Mollie naturally stepped into her shoes. Since then she had been Lord Sedgwick’s right-hand woman, virtually running the entire show; the accounts, purchasing, dealing with suppliers and tenants and managing the staff of ten. In short, she now ensured the smooth running of the entire estate.
Mollie had turned out to be a real godsend, but for all the help and business acumen she brought to the Hall, nothing could stop the relentless spending machine that was his family. His wife’s penchant for all things extravagant, his daughter’s desire for all things designer and his son’s obsession for drugs, alcohol and a party lifestyle. Lord Sedgwick sighs deeply.
How had it come to this?
Having to sell the Gloucestershire estate that had been in his family for generations. As his eyes dart guiltily about the room he feels the accusing glares from his ancestors’ portraits as they balefully gaze down at him. Even his prized stag’s head seems to be looking more vengeful than usual.
Clearing his throat again he tries to find the right words to soften the blow.
“We shall of course pay you a generous redundancy package, Mollie. You have been an excellent housekeeper. You know that I rate you very highly, and I shall of course speak to the new owners. They are coming for dinner this evening and I will try to gain some assurances that they take you all on.” Lord Sedgwick worriedly rubs his hands through his hair.
Mollie gazes at him thoughtfully. Well that explains why she had been forced into running the staff ragged for the last few days, getting the house cleaned within an inch of its life. They had all been racing around making up bedrooms, polishing silver and sprucing up the gardens. Poor Mrs Burfoot, the exceptional cook, had been working like a demon to put together a spectacular dinner for eight guests this evening. Lady Evelyn, Lord John’s somewhat erratic wife, had been like a cat on hot bricks; her demands, coming thick and fast, had been relentless. Mollie had been told that some distinguished friends were coming to dinner and Lady Evelyn was determined to impress. She didn’t want any of the staff to serve during the evening, the aim of the game was to pretend that she had prepared the dinner herself. Mollie hadn’t been suspicious, as this was not an unusual occurrence. Lady Evelyn had a history of passing off the hard work of others as her own. She regularly threw impromptu dinner parties and led the guests to believe that their 5* dining experience had been put together by her own fair hands. How she would cope without Mrs Burfoot Mollie couldn’t imagine; poor Lord John would be subjected to a lifetime of burned beans on toast.
Mollie, however, does feel a bolt of hope shoot through her at the thought of the new owners.
Surely they would keep the staff on? The estate is huge, and it won’t run itself.
“Lord Sedgwick, do you mind if I ask who is buying the estate?”
“A hotel chain Mollie, I can’t remember the name. Evelyn has set the whole blasted affair in motion. Tonight’s gathering is an attempt at putting my mind at rest. They intend to reassure me that they will respect the old place, not turn it into a theme park, that sort of thing.” He snorts doubtfully. “I don’t mind telling you Mollie I am in a rather sorry state over the whole thing but I have no choice. I don’t have the funds to keep the old place running any longer and finance the family’s outgoings.” Lord Sedgwick stares mournfully at her and Mollie’s heart goes out to him.
As bad as this is for her, the Hall is his life and this must be killing him. Unfortunately for him the rest of his family don’t see it that way. The Hall is nothing more than a country estate to show off, and a cash cow to fund their lifestyles.
The two of them sit quietly immersed in their own maudlin thoughts. Mollie is not totally surprised by the announcement; after all she looks after the accounts. A monthly trust fund of mind boggling proportions is in place. It is supposed to cover the running costs of the Hall and land. The estate also earns funds from cottage rents. Unfortunately, owing to Lord Sedgwick’s generous nature, they are negligible. A small amount is also earned from farming and shooting parties, but these extra funds are a drop in the ocean compared with the trust fund.
Mollie knew that the earnings from these other activities could not keep the estate financially viable as it was currently ran, and was certainly nowhere near enough to pay for his family’s extravagances. In the last five years she had noticed that the trust fund money was being used more frequently to top up the family expenses. As a result, the Hall was falling slowly and quietly into disrepair. She has known for a while that this state of affairs couldn’t continue indefinitely and pointed it out to Lord John on a number of occasions.
Surely the trust couldn’t be used if the Hall was sold? But obviously they had considered all of that. There must be some sort of legal loop hole.
Oh well, none of her business anyway.
Mollie turns in her chair and stares around the room. She is annoyed though: the number of times she had offered viable ideas to Lord Sedgwick which would have raised the estate income considerably. Whether it would have prevented this she didn’t know but it would certainly have helped. Lady Sedgwick, however, refused to consider anything which infringed on her home or lifestyle. Ridding herself of the Hall would obviously offer her a considerable boost to her available spending money.
Blimey, imagine having that sort of income at your disposal every month! She’d have a field day!
Mollie shakes her head slowly in wonder.
Feeling sorry for the old chap, who looks as if he’s aged further in the last ten minutes, Mollie leans towards the desk. “I am truly sorry about this Lord John. I know how much the estate means to you. It must have been a tough decision. Please don’t worry about us, I’m sure a hotel will need staff and if not, we will all have to find other jobs. It’s not the end of the world.” She gives him an encouraging smile, one that she finds hard to summon up. She’s not sure that she believes her own crap. “How long have we got?”