Read What Happens At Christmas... Online
Authors: T A Williams
For the perfect Christmasâ¦
When career-girl Holly Brice learns that her estranged father has died, she decides to take a trip down memory lane and find out about the man she never knew. Arriving in the sleepy little Dartmoor village, she's shocked to discover that she's inherited the cosy little cottage she remembers so fondly, a whole load of money â and her father's adorable dog, too!
Head to snow-covered Devon!
And as the first snowflakes begin to fall and Holly bumps into her gorgeous neighbour, Jack Nelson, life gets even more complicated! Men have always been off the cards for high-flying Holly, but there's something about mysterious writer Jack that has her re-thinking her three-date ruleâ¦
A fabulous, feel-good festive read, perfect for fans of Debbie Johnson and Carole Matthews.
The Room on the Second Floor
When Alice Met Danny
What Happens in Tuscanyâ¦
What Happens in Cornwallâ¦
What Happens at Christmasâ¦
T A Williams
lives in Devon with his Italian wife. He lived and worked in Switzerland, France and Italy, before returning to run one of the best-known language schools in the UK. He has taught people from all over the world, among them Arab princes, Brazilian beauty queens and Italian billionaires. He speaks a number of languages and has travelled extensively. He has eaten snake, live fish and alligator. A Spanish dog, a Russian bug and a Korean parasite have done their best to eat him in return. He has written historical novels, humorous books and thrillers. His hobby is long-distance cycling, but his passion is writing. You can follow him on Twitter,
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or visit his website:
With thanks to my lovely editor, Charlotte Mursell
To Mariangela and Christina with love
âSo why did your dad choose to come and live all the way out here? It's very pretty and all that, but, let's face it, it's the back of beyond.'
Five minutes earlier, they had turned off the busy A38 trunk road and now found themselves plunged into a totally different world of narrow winding lanes, woodland, rivers and hills. So far the only other vehicle they had seen had been an ancient tractor pulling a trailer full of sheep.
Holly shook her head in annoyance and glanced across at Julia. âI wish I knew for sure. It's like I've been telling you, I know virtually nothing about my dad at all. Mum refused to talk about him. The news that he'd died was the first I'd heard of him for over twenty-five years.'
Julia still couldn't get her head round that. âBut surely you must have known if he was dead or alive?'
Holly shook her head. âNo idea at all. I haven't seen or heard from him since he left. And, don't forget, I was only seven when that happened. I barely remember him at all. He could have been anywhere, alive or dead.'
Still puzzled, Julia arched her back and did her best to straighten her legs. âI love your car to bits, Hol, but bloody hell, it's uncomfortable. I feel as if my backbone's about to come out through the top of my skull. Any chance of stretching my legs? Apart from anything else, I'm dying for a pee.'
They had been driving non-stop for over four hours. Holly pressed back against the steering wheel and stretched her back. âNow that's a thought, Jules. And a hot drink would be a good idea too. The next service station I find, I'll pull over. Coffee and a comfort break coming up.'
Twenty minutes later, they still hadn't found a petrol station. Holly's old Porsche was loving the twisting, turning road that snaked up and down like a rollercoaster through an ever changing patchwork of fields, woods and open moorland. The road was getting steadily narrower and the warning light on the dashboard was now reminding Holly that it might have been prudent to fill up with fuel before heading out into the wilds of Dartmoor. Beside her, Julia was squirming around in the passenger seat. âDo something, Hol, I'm really getting desperate now.'
Then, miraculously, they came down a steep hill to a ridiculously narrow humpbacked granite bridge and spotted a sign on the right advertising,
Last fuel before the Moor
. Holly pulled in and drew up in front of one of only two pumps. As a gesture towards the festive season, a Christmas tree had been planted rather incongruously in a rusty oil can. The wind had removed most of the decorations, but a lone glass ball remained lodged in the middle of it, looking rather forlorn. Holly climbed out of the car, feeling a frozen blast of air on her neck as she did so. She reached back inside and grabbed a coat. She was zipping it up when an old man appeared. He was wearing ancient overalls, apparently held together by the oil and paint stains that covered them like camouflage, the military impression heightened by the khaki-coloured woolly hat on his head. He limped across to her, his eyes alternating between the bright red car and her long legs. Clearly, he was fascinated by what he saw.
âMorning, miss. Come far, have us?' His accent was deepest Devonshire and the wind whipping round her ears didn't help comprehension, but Holly nodded and grunted, and he appeared satisfied. He ran his hand along the sleek wing of the car, nodding quietly to himself, before looking up. âFill her up for you, my sweetheart?'
âYes, please, and is there a toilet we could use? And maybe somewhere we could get a cup of coffee?'
âNo coffee, I'm afraid, my lover, but you've got the Fisherman's Rest two miles up the road. They'll give you coffee. The toilet's round the side of the building.' He pointed vaguely behind him and left it to Julia to locate what proved to be an unexpectedly modern loo.
While the old man filled the car with fuel, Holly flicked the engine cover up and checked the coolant level. It was reassuringly normal and there were no unexpected oil leaks to be seen either. Her hard work the previous evening had clearly been worthwhile to ensure the thirty-year-old car made it all the way to Devon without mishap.
âDo you want me to do that for you, sweetheart?' The old man had finished refuelling and was hovering alongside her, clearly fascinated to see a girl looking at an engine. Holly, reassured that all was well, stood up and slammed the cover shut, wiping her hands on a tissue.
âNo, thanks. I thought I might have a coolant leak last week and I was just checking. But it all looks fine.'
âYou know your way round cars, then?'
Holly grinned at him. âI'm an engineer. Classic cars are my hobby.'
âWell I never.' He was still standing there looking awestruck when she emerged from the loo in her turn. By now, Holly had got over this almost inevitable reaction from most people she met when she told them what she did. In fact, she worked in insurance, but her engineering degree was essential for the type of work she did, and the old Porsche was her pride and joy.
The Fisherman's Rest was just over another quaint little bridge, before the road started to climb steeply out of the trees towards the barren moorland. It was a long white building, with a grey slate roof. Picnic tables dotted the garden that sloped gently down to the edge of the fast-running moorland river, no doubt teeming with trout. Holly shivered. Today was certainly no day for sitting around in the garden. She checked her watch as she pulled into the car park. They had made a very early start from London, in the vain hope of getting round the South Circular before the worst of the traffic, and it was now eleven-thirty. A sign outside the pub indicated that it was open all day but, nevertheless, the door was locked and they had to bang on the heavy knocker for some time before a man appeared. He was lanky, stooped, and gloomy-looking, and he bore an uncommon resemblance to Boris Karloff.
âHello, any chance of a coffee?' The man's initially uncommunicative face turned to a welcoming, if slightly creepy, smile when he saw Holly's long blonde hair and the length of Julia's skirt. He stepped to one side and they both felt his eyes on them as they filed in.
Holly waited until he had disappeared behind the bar. âWhat's that film?
? He's a bit creepy, don't you think, Jules?' She picked a table near the door just in case.
âNot really.' Julia sounded quite relaxed. âThe Docklands Light Railway on a Monday morning's full of far more sinister characters than him.' She looked around at the selection of stuffed trout, horse brasses, pewter tankards and framed prints of animals that dotted the walls. âThe dÃ©cor's a bit different, though. I'll give you that.' Fairy lights and fake snow on the windows did their best to give the place a Christmassy feel, although the overall impression was still rather depressing. In a way, this suited Holly's mood. As if sensing how she felt, Julia returned to the topic they had been kicking around for the past three days, ever since Holly had got the letter from the solicitor.
âAnd this house he's left you; was that where he was living?'
Holly shrugged her shoulders. âI imagine so, but I really don't know. All I can remember was my mum telling me he'd gone to Australia. Presumably he came back.'
âYes, but why come back here to Dartmoor?' Julia was still puzzled.
Holly had been thinking hard about this. âI've got a feeling the house was in his family â you know, passed down from generation to generation. I've got a few childhood memories of coming to Dartmoor for holidays with my mum and dad when I was a little kid and I can vaguely remember us staying in a sort of L-shaped house, but maybe I dreamt it. I may be totally wrong, but I seem to recall a house with a stream going past it, and ducks wandering about, but who knows?' Her eyes focused on a very dusty stuffed duck, incongruously sitting on a shelf beside the dartboard. From the state of its feathers, it was clear that it, too, had often been a target.
âAnd your mum didn't talk about him at all?'
âI told you; his name was never mentioned. And I mean never.'
Julia shook her head in disbelief and pulled her jacket tighter around her shoulders. The fire in the fireplace was smoking, but no flames could be seen and it was decidedly chilly in the pub. Fortunately at that moment the lugubrious barman arrived with their coffee and, unexpectedly, two slices of fruit cake. As he set the tray down, he mumbled, âChristmas special,' before wandering off. The two girls looked at each other and did their best not to burst out laughing.
After a while, Julia tried again. âSurely you could have asked her when you were grown up?'
Holly tasted the coffee and found it very hot and remarkably good. âI know, and I should have done. Anyway, I kept putting off asking her and then, of course, she died and that was that. For all I knew, I'd lost both my parents.' She took another sip of the hot coffee. âNow, I know I have.'
She picked up a piece of cake and studied it suspiciously. It was solid and heavy, a deep brown colour, and studded with black bits, presumably raisins. She risked a bite. Despite appearances, it was excellent, but it didn't cheer her up.
Julia did her best to lighten the mood. âDo you think the landlord's put the drugs in the coffee or the cake? Maybe I should wait until you've eaten yours before I have mine.'