Would you like to read the first chapter of The Secrets of Meadow Farmhouse to see if you like it?
Well, here you go…(don’t say I never treat you to anything nice!!)
The Secrets of Meadow Farmhouse
The sights and smells of the Paris flea market were almost too much for Amelia’s hungover
senses to bear. Only her excitement at living in the city she adored, and a need to be out of her
apartment, led her forwards.
Though the baking emanating from the nearby shops smelled delicious, the aromas changed
with every step causing her stomach to roil and calm in equal measure. The strong scents of
garlic and onion were overtaken by that of sweet pastries and butter. The crowds wove around
her, all heading for the farmers’ market at the bottom of the tiny street or returning up the hill
with bags laden with fresh produce. In between, shopkeepers cast open their windows
displaying the eclectic range of goods they had to offer. Amelia’s eyes darted between the
numerous chandeliers that hung from the ceilings of one store, onto antique vases side by side
on a small side table. Traditional French furniture lined the street outside along with stacks of
paintings. On the other side of the street, smaller objects like perfume bottles, vintage jewellery
and trinkets glittered as the sun hit the windows.
All around, the sound of chatter penetrated her ears, resonating through her sluggish brain.
Fluent in French, Amelia could make out most of what was said, but when so many voices
merged and the locals spoke so quickly, she struggled to keep up. Snippets of conversation met
her, forming unusual and humorous sentences. She pushed her large round sunglasses further
up her nose to shield her eyes from the sun’s strong glare and her stomach rumbled loudly.
Spring in Paris was a magical affair as flowers bloomed around the city, giving the air an
overwhelmingly floral scent. She’d been there for eight years now, but the capital never failed
to impress her. Each season affected the city differently, but whereas summer could sear the
streets with a hazy heat, spring gave all the golden glow but with a much more temperate feel.
Pausing at her favourite café, with a mix of folding metal and wicker chairs tightly packed
around small circular tables, she took a seat and ordered a café crème and a buttery, flaky
croissant; the perfect thing to soak up the rest of the wine lingering in her system while she
waited for Océanè to join her. She’d want to know all about her date with Bastien last night
and by the time Amelia had something to eat and chatted to her friend, she’d feel well enough
to look again for the perfect items to finish off the job she was working on. As an interior
designer, Paris – with its chic fashions and varied shops – was ideal for her business. Could
she have built this career in the tiny English village she’d grown up in? Probably not. Though
regret at the way she’d left bubbled inside, causing her insides to roll again.
Twenty minutes later, Océanè arrived and ordered the same as Amelia. Amelia asked for
another café crème before the waiter disappeared, knowing the questioning was soon to begin
and a second caffeine hit would help her endure it. Her friend didn’t exactly mince her words.
‘So?’ Océanè asked in her heavy French accent. ‘How was your date last night? Was
Bastien attentive? Did he buy you champagne? You have seen him, what? Five times now?’
‘He bought me wine. And lots of it. Too much, in fact,’ Amelia said, adjusting her
sunglasses once more as the sun moved across the sky, climbing higher. The coffee was helping
her headache, but she still felt a little fragile. This morning she had dived to the bathroom and
hastily scraped her black hair into a chignon and swiped bold red lipstick over her lips, knowing
it would give her pale complexion some colour. Over the years she had tried to absorb the
Parisian style of dressing: classic, expensive pieces, simple lines, and most of the time she
managed to pull it off, but there were times, like this morning, when fashion wasn’t important.
She’d thrown on old loose jeans and a jumper but it only took a moment with a real Parisian to
make her feel sloppy and slobbish, and as Océanè cast her eyes over her outfit, she knew she
Océanè swiped her blonde hair over her shoulder. ‘You do look a little, how do you say . . .’
‘Under the weather?’
‘Thanks.’ Amelia giggled.
‘Did you not have a good time? He is very handsome, non?’
‘We had a very nice time.’ For once, Amelia was grateful that she looked so ill any blushing
wasn’t likely to show as thoughts of his intense and passionate kisses rang through her head.
‘And yes, he is very handsome. He wined and dined me, paid me compliments, made me laugh,
but I’ve left him to make his way home while I’m out.’
‘You are avoiding him?’ Her friend’s tone was incredulous.
Bastien was almost perfect and she liked him well enough, but Amelia wasn’t very good at
the small talk made the next morning. It made her uncomfortable and embarrassed and to be
honest, she hadn’t had a lot of practice at it. An image of Adam flashed into her brain and she
shook it away. Ever since she’d left him back home in the tiny village of Meadowbank, he’d
pop up in her mind, most often when she was thinking about or trying to date someone else.
No matter how much she tried, she couldn’t shake him off.
‘But you will see him again tomorrow?’ Océanè asked. ‘He is in love with you, I think.’
‘I don’t think he’s in love with me. I know he likes me, but—’ Amelia paused while the
waiter delivered their drinks. She took a sip of coffee and saw the imprint of her red lipstick on
the rim of the cup. ‘I don’t think it’s love.’ Sometimes, she found it hard to believe that someone
would ever love her. Her life had been so destitute of it from such an early age. ‘And to be
honest, I’m not sure I’m in the market for that sort of thing at the moment. I like him, but . . .’
The words died on her lips. What could she say? He was another man who over the years
hadn’t made her feel the way Adam had? Océanè would laugh at her for thinking of a love that
happened so long ago. An image of their goodbye at the train station floated before her, causing
her throat to tighten. She dropped her eyes to her cup, focussing on the coffee inside it, hoping
it would draw her mind and the pain away.
Océanè took a moment to understand the phrase, but realisation quickly dawned. ‘You are
mad. He has everything a woman could want: money, success, good looks.’
Bastien did have all those things and he was also kind and funny, which is how they’d made
it to five dates rather than just one, but despite her best efforts, he still hadn’t managed to break
through to her heart.
‘You are a cold woman. You care only for your work.’
Amelia raised her head at this remark. Was she cold? She didn’t think so. She had friends
and had been through some decent relationships, but they’d never felt strong enough to last.
She wasn’t cold, she was just focussed on living her life to the full. She’d worked hard to
become one of the foremost interior designers in Paris, and she wanted more than just a man
who was perfect on paper. She wasn’t prepared to invite a man into her life for the sake of it.
She’d always done fine on her own and her life was far too busy for loneliness.
Océanè continued. ‘I do not know how you can be so immune to his charms. Our men –
French men – Parisian men – know how to win a woman’s heart.’
‘Your French men are pretty charming, but I’m far too busy with work to worry about love.’
‘Don’t your parents want you to get married? Mine do. They say that I should marry Émile
and have children before they are too old to enjoy being with them. They say my eggs will die.’
‘Your eggs?’ Amelia almost spluttered her coffee.
‘Eggs.’ Océanè motioned towards her lap. ‘Your parents do not worry about your eggs?’
A sharp pain shot into Amelia’s chest and a hurt she’d convinced herself had been dealt
with stabbed anew. ‘My parents are dead. They died when I was a child.’
Océanè’s hand paused as she tore off a piece of croissant. ‘You have never told me that.
We have been friends for years and yet you make no mention of this. Why not?’
Amelia shrugged one shoulder. ‘It’s never come up before.’ That was a lie and she quickly
changed the subject, unsure why she had suddenly admitted it. Perhaps she was more tired than
she realised. Her temples started to pound again. She’d been out with friends every night this
week, and last. Maybe a decent dinner cooked by herself – something hearty and wholesome
rather than tiny, minuscule restaurant portions – and a quiet night in were in order. ‘Once we’re
done here, I’d like to take another look around. I’m after some special pieces for an apartment
I’m working on in Montmartre.’
‘You will have to do that alone; I have to meet Émile. But you must think about Bastien.
There are many women who would like to take your place in his bed.’
‘He was in my bed, actually,’ she replied, playfully eyeing Océanè over the rim of her cup.
‘You know what I mean.’ Océanè raised one perfectly shaped eyebrow. ‘You can be too
hard, Amélie. Too independent.’ It always amused Amelia that Océanè called her by the French
version of her name when she was being serious. ‘One day, you will push a man too far away
and he will not bother coming back.’
Not if he’s the right man, Amelia thought, but didn’t bother saying so. She hadn’t planned
on sleeping with Bastien last night and it had been a moment of weakness she was paying for
this morning. She hoped that by spinelessly hiding out until he’d left, she’d avoid an
‘You have a great business, yes?’ Océanè said. ‘You have a great apartment, yes? But you
are never alone. Always you are with friends. A person cannot exist without love. Eventually,
you will have to let someone into your heart. Why not Bastien?’
Feeling the prickle of embarrassment inch its way over her skin, Amelia pulled her compact
from her handbag and topped up her red lipstick. She’d been without love all her life, since her
parents’ deaths but she couldn’t face talking to Océanè about that now. ‘I’ve done fine without
a man so far,’ she said light-heartedly, hoping that would be the end of the conversation.
After they had finished their coffees and talked about their plans for the rest of the weekend,
Océanè left and Amelia took another walk around the flea market. Temptation sat on her
shoulder and whispered into her ear as her eyes fell on different objects that would suit her
already overflowing apartment. Some of her clients liked a minimalist style, but when Amelia
saw something she wanted, it was almost impossible to resist. As a result, her small flat was
now packed with possessions and her wardrobe overflowing with clothes.
Amelia haggled with a vendor to buy an ornate perfume bottle – a finishing touch for the
Montmartre apartment – and a vintage copper milk jug for her own place. She’d find
somewhere for it to go later. Maybe the bathroom? And made her way back to the metro.
As she climbed the steps from the metro station, the cold, fresh air blew through the
elaborate dark green metal bars and under the glass ceiling. The station design was so iconic
she had a picture of one in the living room of her apartment. She’d bought it shortly after
moving in all those years ago, and though it had been fairly inexpensive, it was still one of her
most prized possessions.
Her apartment in Saint Germain was in a typical eighteenth-century block with white
shutters and decorative ironwork across the windows. On hot summer days she would cast the
windows open and let the light flood her apartment. As she stepped inside the communal
hallway, she gathered her post and made her way upstairs. An envelope postmarked from
England caught her eye and her lungs turned to stone. It had a company name she didn’t
recognise. Even worse, the town it came from was dangerously close to Meadowbank; the tiny
village she’d grown up in with Great-Aunt Vera who had begrudgingly taken her in after her
parents had died.
Curiosity almost forced her to open it there and then, but Amelia valued her privacy and
continued upstairs. She pressed the key into the lock, hoping once more that Bastien had left
by now. She really didn’t fancy talking to him. He’d try and convince her to spend the rest of
the day with him and all she wanted was to nap on the sofa as the soft breeze blew over her.
With a gentle push, the door opened and all was quiet inside. No sounds of snoring, no
sounds of movement, and sighing with relief, Amelia advanced down the hall and into the
open-plan living room and kitchen, anchoring the milk jug under her arm so she could see the
envelope again. It nestled amongst bills, inviting Amelia to ignore everything else and tear it
open without any further delay.
‘Good morning, ma chérie.’
Glancing up, her eyes fell on Bastien, lying naked on her kitchen counter, one leg bent, the
other outstretched and all of him on display. The copper milk jug fell from underneath her arm,
landing on the floor with a deafening clatter. Bastien wobbled precariously and almost toppled
forward onto the floor. His hand shot out, gripping the edge of the counter to steady himself.
Amelia nearly dropped the pretty perfume bottle as well, but somehow managed to keep hold
of it. She gazed around as if it might help her understand why he’d chosen the kitchen as the
best location for his seduction.
‘Bastien!’ Her neck grew hot. ‘What are you . . . umm—’ So much for avoiding an
embarrassing situation. Amelia decided the best thing was to pretend everything was perfectly
normal, which was a bit of a stretch but doable if she kept her eyes only on his face. ‘Wh –
what are you still doing here?’
‘I am waiting for you,’ he replied, regaining his balance and lowering his voice to nothing
more than a seductive grumble. In the current circumstances, it didn’t really work. Bastien
pinned her with his eyes, and his gaze never shifted. Of all the things she thought she might
face if Bastien were still here this morning, she wasn’t quite prepared for him to be naked and
spread-eagled in her kitchen, and she found herself momentarily lost for words.
Amelia placed the perfume bottle on the counter, thanking the Lord it was still intact.
Unsure what else to say, she stammered, ‘I’m, umm, I’m a bit busy today, Bastien. Sorry.’
‘Too busy for love?’
The sound of the L word twice in one day stiffened her shoulders as another image of Adam
shot into her brain. Bastien gave her puppy-dog eyes and Amelia’s headache intensified. How
on earth was she supposed to remove him from her kitchen? It wasn’t like she could grab a fish
slice and prise him off the counter. ‘Bastien, can you please put your pants on and maybe umm,
get your bits off my worktop?’
He didn’t move. ‘Do I not tempt you? Come now.’ He held out his hand to her but all
Amelia could do was rub her forehead.
‘Bastien, please, pants on.’
‘Let us spend the day together.’
Amelia sighed and pressed her hand harder onto her head. This was exactly why
relationships weren’t a good idea. She should never have let her guard down and shared that
second bottle of wine. ‘Bastien, you’re a very nice man and I had a great time last night, but I
really can’t see you today. Please, I really need you to go.’
Sheepishly, he moved. She guessed the kitchen counter had been too cold to sit on for long
because his pants were lying on the floor by her feet. He must have decided to forgo them only
at the very last moment for full-on seduction. At least he was committed. Amelia picked them
up using the tips of her fingers and handed them to him as Bastien’s skin made a horrible
squeaking sound as he pushed himself down from the counter. It looked like she’d be spending
the afternoon disinfecting the kitchen before she cooked anything and seeing as his pants had
been on the floor, she would have to wash that as well.
‘You really want me to go?’ Bastien tried one more time, attempting to impart some lust
into his voice.
‘Yes, please. I’m sorry, but I really have work to do.’
‘But it is Saturday.’
The letter again caught her attention and curiosity built but as much as she wanted to know
its contents, she couldn’t open it with Bastien around. Frowning as she placed the letters on the
counter, she turned away from him and went to grab a bottle of water from the fridge, hoping
he’d get the hint that it was time to leave. Océanè’s words that she was a cold woman echoed
in her brain. She didn’t mean to be cold with Bastien, but how else was she to get this naked
Frenchman out of her apartment? Without turning, she was aware of him heading off into the
bedroom and a few moments later, he placed a gentle kiss on her cheek and said goodbye.
The cold water slid down her throat and concern mixed with anticipation sent goose bumps
over her skin. She didn’t normally get letters from England and the company name sounded
unnervingly formal. After spraying and wiping down the counter, she sat on a stool and opened
the post, starting with the bright white envelope postmarked from England.
As soon as she pulled out the thick white paper, her eyes began to scan the words. An
unexpected wave of emotion hit her, and her body shook in response. For a moment, her
breathing became hard and erratic and she willed herself to calm down. Great-Aunt Vera was
dead and had left her Meadow Farm: the draughty old farmhouse they’d co-existed in for ten
unsentimental and lonely years as well as the land around it. You couldn’t even really call it
living together because that implied a level of fondness that had never existed as far as her aunt
Shaking her head at the memory, Amelia was glad she’d left for university and never
returned. Vera hadn’t wanted her and if it hadn’t been for Adam, the only friend she had in the
village, she’d have run away long before then. He’d talked her out of it so many times when
Vera had told her off for doing nothing more than being a child. Vera had always made her feel
so burdensome and ultimately forgettable.
A moment’s respite from such intense emotions came as she thought of Adam again. The
youthful face she remembered once more pushed its way into her brain and she swallowed
hard. She’d missed him immensely over the years but had never been brave enough to contact
him. He’d been her first love and she regretted that she’d left without saying a proper goodbye
but there was no possible way she could have stayed in that place forever. He’d have got over
it by now, Amelia reminded herself. He’d have forgotten her quickly. He’d probably been
happy to be rid of her.
Swallowing down her feelings, Amelia reread the letter. As shock subsided to be replaced
by grief and guilt, Amelia took another drink of water. She hadn’t even known Vera was sick.
Apart from exchanging Christmas and birthday cards, they didn’t speak at all and her most
recent Christmas card hadn’t mentioned anything about declining health. Had it been sudden?
The solicitor’s letter didn’t mention the cause of death.
Though she regretted how their relationship had ended up, unless someone knew Vera –
knew how cold and hard she was, how unloving – people didn’t understand. Some people were
naturally private, and it was a behaviour Amelia herself had learned, but Vera took it to a whole
new level, hating everyone. Amelia buried the turmoil threatening to rise and overtake her
under the knowledge that she’d made something of herself. She took a breath in, counted to
eight and let it out slowly, counting again as she did so.
Despite everything, Vera had left her Meadow Farmhouse and according to the letter, she’d
made Amelia the sole heir. Amelia had always found the village hard to handle. The concern
when she’d arrived and the constant reminders of why she’d ended up there had been
overwhelming. Meadowbank was one of those places where everyone knew everyone else’s
business and as she’d grown, she’d longed for somewhere impersonal where no one asked her
questions or reminded her of the past.
Would Adam still be there? Would anyone even remember her?
After she’d left, Amelia had never planned on going back and yet now it seemed she had
no choice. She had to return to Meadow Farmhouse.
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