If you haven’t started reading my romantic thriller novel, it might be worth looking at the reviews on the 'My Books' tab. They may change your mind.
On the other hand, if you're continuing the journey, I assume you’re hooked on this story.
I posted Chapter 1 way back on 13 January. Subsequent chapters have appeared each Friday, and will continue to be posted until all 50 have appeared here. You can find those already posted via the archive; just search by chapter number.
If you missed the start, you’ll find it here: http://stuartaken.blogspot.com/2012/01/read-free-my-novel-here.html
Read, enjoy, invite your friends to join us.
‘You ever going to finish that letter?’
She looked up from the desk, face full of indecision, then glanced at the handwritten page she’d just completed. Sudden resolution made her fold the single sheet and slip it into the stamped envelope. ‘Post it for me, Leigh. Then I can’t change my mind again.’
I took the proffered letter from her hand and stuck it in my jacket pocket, certain I wouldn’t post it. Netta was impatient by the door, eager to visit Matilda, whom she hadn’t seen in the three weeks since my birthday.
‘You’ll be all right alone?’
‘I’ll be fine. It’s only a couple of nights. I’m going to do a bit more printing, if that’s okay? Some of the landscapes I took last weekend.’
‘Brilliant! The rate you’re progressing, I’ll not need to advertise to replace Merv, it’ll be another Girl Friday I’ll need.’
‘I can do both, if you get that extension in the darkroom, as you promised.’
She was right. That she’d learned to print from Merv still astounded me. Her determination had impressed me more than I’d let on and I was more proud of her than I could say, especially in light of what the bastard had allegedly done to Netta.
‘Ring and get it organized. Okay?’
‘I will. You get off down to London, Leigh and take care on the journey. Tell Zoë I’m following her advice and the signs seem promising so far.’
I’d no idea what that was about but I said I’d tell her.
‘Are we going now, Leigh?’
‘Keep your hair on.’
‘See you Sunday, Netta.’
‘Yeah. Don’t wait up, though, Mum might not bring me back until late.’
Faith shook her head at us. I knew what she was thinking. Her social knowledge had increased exponentially; no longer was she the naïve little girl I’d taken on. And she was wondering how Netta and I, who were at it like rabbits, could spend time with different partners for a few days. She had yet to learn the value of freedom to sexual relationships. But then, she’d yet to learn everything important about sex.
Netta was quiet for the first part of the journey; I wondered if she was having one of her too frequent sulks because I’d refused to take her to London. I could hardly stay at Zizi’s with Netta in tow.
‘I’ve never said this to a bloke before, but I’ll miss you, Leigh.’
I was impressed, and slightly unnerved by her admission. I had no wish for her to get serious on me. ‘We’ll continue where we left off. Be all the better for a short break. You know what they say about a change. Matilda’ll have something special lined up to take your mind off me for the rest of the week.’
‘Don’t you care that someone else will be pleasuring me, making me gasp with delight?’
‘No more than you care about me doing the same. There’s little enough pleasure about, Netta. We should get it where and when we can.’
Matilda greeted me with a hug and a full kiss as I took Netta’s case in. ‘I’d have stowed away in the boot if you were mine.’
‘Cold and cramped. And it’s a long way to London.’
‘Worth every bump and ache. Want a cuppa before you set off?’
‘Thanks, but I’ve a small errand to run before I take the motorway. See you for Netta’s birthday, if not before.’
‘Hope it’ll be before then, Leigh. That’s another six weeks.’ She kissed me again and took the case.
Netta was a bit clingy but I was in a hurry. I stroked her lovely rump and parted her lips with my tongue. ‘Stay moist and ready for my return, sex kitten.’
‘I wish… Yeah, right. See you on Thursday, Leigh.’
She really was going to miss me. I was still unsure whether I was more pleased or troubled by that.
As soon as I was out of sight of the bungalow, I took Faith’s letter from my pocket to check the address. It was out of my way and a bit isolated, but I knew exactly which cottage it was. Faith had put a huge, secret effort into discovering it and I wanted to make sure she hadn’t made a mistake.
I left the market town and headed for the fells to the northwest. The single-track road appeared at last. It was gated to keep the sheep from straying. Rising steeply beyond the gate, it dropped just as precipitously over the brow. I followed it through a farmyard in the valley and across a narrow bridge where the river had become a trickle in the late spring drought. Another steep climb took me out of the deep vale and there was the turning on the right, a handmade sign pointing the way to Windyhill Cottage and stressing that the road was a dead end going nowhere.
The gate was ajar on rusty hinges. An ancient Land Rover crouched under a corrugated iron lean-to at the side of the stone built house. A pile of rough cut limestone lay against the fallen wall as if someone had started a repair and then given up. A stone slab path crossed the meadow grass that fronted the house and approached a solid front door that hadn’t seen paint for a decade. I knocked and waited. From inside the house a large dog barked once.
A very tall, elderly man appeared from the side of the house where the Landrover was parked. ‘Not interested, whatever you’re sellin’.’
‘Hi; Leighton Longshaw. I’m not selling. I’m looking for David Lengdon.’
The old man scrutinized me in silence, nodding his head slowly whilst making up his mind. ‘Why?’
‘I’ll tell him that when I find him.’
‘Will you, now?’
‘He’s not well. I’ll not have his strength wasted on nowt he don’t need.’
‘Sick, is he?’
I thought of leaving it at that, but Faith had put in so much hard work to find him. In any case, if there was no reply to her letter, she was quite likely to try to make her way to the cottage herself. I wanted a chance to weigh up the situation first. The last thing Faith needed was a rotten man for her real father.
‘Tell you what; I’ll wait out here. Give him this and let him decide whether to see me when he’s read it.’
‘What is it?’
‘An’ I thought it were an elephant. Who’s it from?’
‘Not me. And it’s not a summons or anything like that. It’s personal.’
He eyed me up again, his head cocked on one side. Then he was gone without another word, the letter in his bony hand.
I surveyed the landscape from outside the front door and listened to curlews calling their melancholy over the nearby fells. Somewhere water cascaded down a rocky course. Wind sighed quietly through grass, carrying the muttering of sheep and the piping of lapwings. The sky was devoid of cloud; a clear, fresh blue unmarked by haze or vapour trails. A small copse of mountain ash, their blooms abundant and creamy white, stood unmoving on the far side of the narrow road. In grass kept short by sheep, the white scuts of rabbits flashed as they scuttled to their burrows at the noise of the door opening behind me.
‘Best come in then. Bruce’ll not harm you as long as you behave yoursen’
I followed the tall figure down the dark, narrow corridor and into what was obviously the front room of the cottage. The large, black Labrador followed me, his nose prodding the back of my leg, and sat just inside the door as we entered the room. The room was too warm and smelt of sickness and dog. The window framed the scene I’d been observing. A bed took up much of the space, a single armchair between it and the window. A man who was dying, and had reluctantly come to terms with the fact, occupied the chair. He held out a hand and I approached to shake bones wrapped in parchment.
‘Leighton Longshaw, but I prefer Leigh.’
He surveyed me frankly for a moment before indicating the bed. I sat as invited.
‘You’ll take some tea?’
‘Thank you, though I’m on my way to the deep south so I’ll not stop long if you don’t mind.’
The thin old man grunted but left.
‘Don’t mind Eric, he has a need to protect me.’
‘Kind of him.’
‘Yes. Is Faith with you?’
‘She’s at Longhouse.’
‘Is she your lover, Leigh?’
‘Would that she were. Faith is… you’ve read her letter, I haven’t, so I don’t know what she’s told you.’
He handed the single sheet to me. ‘So, I find myself wondering what motivates your visit. The Bluebeard of Wardledale brings me a letter from a daughter I had no idea existed. She is not, he claims, his lover, though not for lack of trying. I have to conclude therefore that my daughter is extremely attractive but either chaste or lesbian or inaccessible for some other reason.’
‘Beautiful, virgin, modest and morally puritan.’
‘Chaste, then. So, to impress her, you offer to discover my whereabouts and determine my character, maybe my personal wealth, to test the waters prior to her own visit.’
‘Faith found you and she hasn’t the foggiest idea I’m here. You’ll note the stamp on the envelope. She asked me to post it before she changed her mind yet again about the words. Also, Faith hasn’t an acquisitive bone in her body. I doubt she’s even considered your financial position. I came to test the waters, as you put it, because she’s been very badly treated by the man she thought was her father until a few months ago. Until, in fact, she met up again with her mother, Matilda, at my house.’
His face, a controlled mask of pain the entire time I’d been with him, cleared at the mention of her name. ‘Matilda is well?’
‘Matilda is lovely and extraordinary. I’ve grown to respect her, become fond of her since we met.’
‘So, she shares your bed…’
‘Wrong again. If it’s of any consequence at all to you, Matilda’s youngest daughter, Netta, shares my bed at Longhouse, at the moment.’
For a while, the sick man was silent. Eric brought in the tea on a tray. I stood but he waved me back down. Even if he didn’t like me, I was a guest in his house.
‘Don’t tire him, now. I’ll not have him bothered.’
‘It’s okay, Eric.’ He passed the letter to the old man. ‘It seems I have a daughter.’
Eric frowned but read the note. ‘Nice steady hand. Skilful and creative?’
I nodded. ‘Very. Beautiful and intelligent, to boot.’
‘So, you have designs on my financial situation. You want her to meet me, get her hands on my money and then marry her, no doubt. Business in trouble like so many others?’
‘My house, which I own without a mortgage, would swallow this place half a dozen times. I choose the jobs I do. My business is flourishing. I have independent means, Mr. Lengdon. I have no need of your money. Neither does Faith. Her needs are few and she buys what she wants with the wages I pay for her honest and efficient work in the office and, lately the darkroom. I’m glad I came. Your obsession with your money would be harmful to her. I’ll tell her I discovered you’d died and we’ll leave it at that, shall we?’
He maintained eye contact with me for a long time.
‘Good. I’m sorry I was rude and difficult, Leigh. Everything I’ve learned leads me to believe I should meet my daughter. What you’ve told me and what you’ve revealed of your own character and your own feelings for the young woman suggest she’s someone for whom I might risk what little time and energy I have. My money, such as it is, was a ruse and pales into insignificance. Time, you see, becomes a rather precious commodity when you know its limits. And energy, when you’ve resigned yourself to the prospect of death and recently given up forcing yourself to live, is a difficult quality to recapture. Forgive my unpleasantness. It was a necessary test.’
On balance, I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt. He’d played a strange and risky game but it seemed likely his motives were the best. I sipped at the dark, sweet tea Eric had handed me and considered for a moment. ‘I’ll be frank. Faith’s suffered far more than she should have at the hands of others. I don’t intend to expose her to additional hurt by introducing her to you only to find you’re out of her life within moments of the meeting.’
Eric looked outraged. Lengdon smiled a secret smile and shook his head. ‘You’re not as wicked as rumour would have it, are you, Leigh? I have, at best, a year and a half, at worst, a few weeks. From what I’ve learned, I’d guess Faith would want to take the risk.’
‘I’m away for the week. I’ll bring her at the weekend.’
‘I leave it to you to decide how much of the truth you tell her.’
‘You’ll discover that Faith and the truth are inseparable. You’ll also have to put up with me on her visits. She can’t drive and it’s a long way to leave her for a couple of hours.’
‘We’ve a shed out back if it’s raining.’ Eric offered this in a deadpan voice and only his eyes gave him away with their twinkle.
‘I’ll not bother with my umbrella, then. Until the weekend, gentlemen.’
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