Authors: Pamela Kavanagh
The Love Spoon
Â© Pamela Kavanagh 2009
First published in Great Britain 2009
Robert Hale Limited
London EC1R 0HT
The right of Pamela Kavanagh to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
2 4 6 8 10 9 7 5 3 1
Typeset in 10Â½/14Â½ pt Palatino
Printed in the UK by the MPG Books Group
hea Partington left the house and came out into the shadowed stillness of a perfect June dawn. She was an attractive girl, of average height and willow slim, with bright blue eyes and glossy dark-blonde hair worn in a long plait. On her finger, the diamond and sapphire ring felt new and strange.
Proud and happy to be engaged to Geoff at last, Thea paused to admire the circlet of gold with its cluster of precious stones.
Last night's celebration party had gone so well. Her mother and father had looked better than they had in a long time, ever since the recent agricultural crisis had threatened to shake the very roots of their existence here at Woodhey Farm on the sleepy Cheshire peninsula known as the Wirral.
They were over the worst now, with Chas having made radical changes in farming practice and her brother Richard taking a temporary cut in wages and Mum â hard-working, resourceful, enterprising Mae â pulling out all the stops and turning the big family kitchen into a mini-bakery, where she supplied the local farmers' markets with her splendid home-bakes.
It had proved to be a lucrative money-spinner.
Mae's catering had gone down a treat the previous evening. Geoff's mother, Helen Sanders, had even requested a recipe for the lemon cheesecake â a big breakthrough that had brought the two women closer.
Thinking of Geoff, his crisply curling fairish hair, his kind, light-brown eyes and slow smile, Thea's heart warmed. It had been romantic, the way he had brought her out into the courtyard at the
back of the house that Mum had decked with pots of geraniums and a white, scented jasmine on the old sandstone wall, to place his ring on her finger.
âI love you, Thea,' he'd told her, his face serious in the light of a new moon. âAnd I'll do my utmost to make you happy.'
âMe, too,' she had murmured. As she had lifted her face for his kiss a cloud had drifted over the moon, throwing the landscape into sudden shadow.
Despite all the fun and feasting and the dancing that had gone on into the small hours, this morning Thea had awoken feeling refreshed. She threw a rueful glance at her sister's window where the curtains were tightly drawn. Bryony would surely emerge, dewy-eyed and flushed with slumber, long after all the clearing up was done and the best china washed and put away. That was her style.
It was Sunday and the faint pealing of church bells mingled with the muted slap of the tide in the distant estuary and the plaintive cries of seabirds. Thea crossed the farmyard and, calling a greeting to her father who was hitching the trailer to the tractor prior to getting in the round bales of hay from the thirty-acre, headed for the field where her ponies grazed.
She had six now, not counting the foals, attractive little Welsh ponies with which she was making a name in the showing ring.
Breeding show ponies was what Thea called her hobby and Geoff said was more a way of life. And he could be right, she thought ruefully, recalling how every morning, come hail, rain or snow, it was ponies first and then a dash to get ready for school and a challenging day with her infant class at the local primary.
Reaching the field which ran alongside barren stretches of saltmarsh, Thea called to the ponies and rattled the bucket of feed she carried. Heads shot up and the mares, three with foals at foot, came charging over to the gate to see what she had brought them.
All except one, that was. Seeing her current show prospect, a pretty dappled grey, come limping up behind the others, Thea froze.
âDancer? What is it? What's wrong?'
With growing dismay she entered the field. Tipping the contents of the bucket into the metal feeder for the others, she latched the leadrope she carried on to Dancer's headcollar and led the little mare back towards the stables.
In the farmyard, Chas Partington stopped what he was doing and regarded the slow procession with concern.
âCould be. It's a foreleg. She must have pulled something, Dad, could you call the vet while I take a look?'
Chas, a thick-set man with wind-reddened cheeks and a head of iron-grey hair, wiped his oily hands on a rag from the pocket of his blue boiler suit and set off instantly for the house.
Not long afterwards the vet's mud-splattered pick-up pulled into the yard. To Thea's surprise, instead of the usual man, a stranger sat at the wheel, and her spirits sank accordingly. She didn't want an inexperienced student messing about with her ponies!
The man â not quite as youthful as she had first thought â let down the window and stuck his head out.
âGood morning,' he called in a voice that was decidedly Irish. âWould I be right in thinking this is Woodhey Farm?'
Incredibly deep-blue eyes viewed her from a lean, intelligent face. He had thick, wavy black hair and the sort of mouth that could twist readily into a smile and just as easily tighten in displeasure. Gazing across at him, captured by that blue, appraising gaze, Thea felt her heart give a treacherous and totally unexpected leap.
âYes, this is Woodhey,' she replied, collecting herself hastily. âGood morning. I'm Thea Partington. I was expecting Freddie Barnes.' Freddie was the equine specialist of the practice.
The new man smiled engagingly.
âSure now, Freddie was out on another call so they sent me instead. My name's Dominic Shane, and this little lady is Trina.'
He ran his hand over the smooth, domed head of a very beautiful, shiny-coated red setter on the passenger seat beside him.
âRight then, where's the patient?'
To Thea's huge relief the new vet was thorough and obviously knew what he was doing. With increasing reassurance she watched as his sensitive fingers gently probed the troubled knee joint which had now swelled alarmingly. At length, he straightened.
âI think it looks worse than it actually is. You say she's been turned out with the others? Sure, isn't that the best way to keep equines? Anything as close as you can get to their natural environment. My guess is she's either received a clout from one of her mates, or she's pulled a tendon having a scamper around.'
âThat's what I thought.' Thea looked glum. âHow long will it take to come right? She's entered for the shows. I expect that's it for this season.'
âNot necessarily,' Dominic said. âShe's in peak condition. With a bit of treatment she could get over it in no time at all. I'm tempted to go for a simple comfrey poultice and rest. I'll give you a muscle relaxant to mix in her feed and we'll take things from there.
âWe could fix her up with a magnotherapy boot as well. They used them with good results at a racing place I attended back home in Ireland. Will you be around if I call back tomorrow?'
She looked doubtful.
âI don't generally get home from work until after five, but Dad or my brother will be here. You can safely leave any instructions with either of them.'
He smiled again, and once more her heart gave a powerful leap. It was the most compelling, most disarming smile she had ever encountered and in spite of her worries, Thea smiled back.
âAt least Dancer hasn't broken anything,' she said brightly. âI'd better see if we've got any comfrey. There should be some in the garden.'
âD'you know how to make up the poultice?'
âOh, yes the pony we had as children was always knocking himself. I grew up wrapping his legs in comfrey leaves!' She paused. âAre you in a hurry, Mr Shane? Mum's sure to have the kettle on if you'd like a cup of coffee or tea.'
âCoffee would be great, thanks, Thea â¦ and it's Dominic.'
âRight, this way, Dominic. Don't worry about the dog. We don't have one at the moment so your Trina's fine to come inside. If my sister's there she'll probably get spoiled rotten.
âI'm afraid you'll have to take us as you find us this morning,' she added as an afterthought. âWe had a party last night. It was to celebrate my engagement, actually. We haven't cleared up properly yetâ¦.'
Dominic spread his hands in an eloquent gesture of acceptance.
âSo congratulations are in order?' Well, I wish you every happiness. ' He smiled. Stowing his bag away in the car, he followed her indoors with Trina loping at his heels.
Mae Partington added the final piece of Old Willow to the stack of afternoon tea plates and aimed the tea towel with remarkable accuracy to land on the top of the washing machine.
âPhew! What a chore washing up is! Still, I don't like to risk the best china in the dishwasher.'
âIt's probably wise, Mum.' Thea returned the silver spoons she had been buffing to their case. âThat's those done. Only the cake stand to polish and then we're finished. Remind me not to put silverware down on my wedding list. It's too much like hard work.'
âBut well worth it. You can't beat silver for adding class to a table, especially old silver like this.' Mae pursed her lips in remembered satisfaction. âHelen Sanders admired it last night.'
âI bet she did! Geoff says his mum's idea of an outing is a day doing the rounds of the antique shops in town. She's actually quite good fun once you get to know her.'
Thea dipped her cleaning cloth in the metal polish and applied it to the ornate Victorian cake stand.
âWhat a morning! I could have done without Dancer being put out of action.'
âLet's hope the vet's right and it's not serious.'
Mae smiled encouragingly at her eldest daughter. She was a cheerful woman in her early forties and still pretty.
She wore her ash blonde hair in a bob and had the clear blue
gaze that she'd passed on to Thea and to Richard, the middle one of her brood.
Bryony, the youngest and her father's darling â though Chas would never have owned up to it â was possessed of the golden-haired vivacity attributed to Mae's own mother in her youth.
âWhat did you make of the new vet?' Mae asked suddenly.
Startled, Thea looked up.
âHe's seems OK, Mum. Why do you ask?'
âI rather took to him myself. All that Irish charm!' She chuckled. âGood-looking too.'
âMum, honestly!' Thea sent her mother a glance of laughing reproof. âWhere's Bryony, by the way?'
âOh, she's still sleeping. You know your sister â¦ she'll come down when she's ready. Seriously though, it's about time the Parkgate practice brought in some new blood. Freddie Barnes must be reaching retirement age and the other two aren't far off it. Donegal, Mr Shane said he was from. Do you remember going there on holiday when you were small? It was the first break we'd had for years. Dad kept ringing home to make sure the cows were all right. As if your granddad couldn't cope!'
âDad would be no different even now,' Thea commented, exchanging polishing cloth for buffer. âWe mightn't do dairy any longer but there's still the grain crop to worry over, or the chicory harvest or whatever. Nothing will change him.'
âNor would I want it to,' Mae agreed affectionately. âI only hope your brother feels the same way. I've a niggling feeling that Richard hankers for pastures new. Not that he's said as much. He spends a lot of time at that jazz club.'
âWell, he's twenty-two, Mum. And he plays in the band, so of course he spends a lot of time there.'
âThe lovely singer wouldn't be an added attraction, of course?' Mae suggested shrewdly, and her daughter grinned.
âTracey Kent? Geoff and I went along to listen to them the other night, Mum. They're really good. They're into traditional jazz and Tracey has a terrific voice.'
âShe's a very pretty girl,' Mae agreed. âThat always helps.'
Thea glanced round.
âIs Richard here or is he helping Dad with the bales? I need someone to hold Dancer while I fix the poultice.'
âI'll do it, love. Knowing Richard, he'll be off to Tracey's once they're done on the fields. Will you be seeing Geoff later?'
âYes. We thought we'd take a run into Chester and look in on some estate agents.'
Mae nodded thoughtfully. âMike and Helen Sanders were discussing it last night. Your father mentioned applying for planning permission and building something here at Woodhey for you. Mike Sanders said they could look into converting Roseacre into two separate units. A barn conversion was mentioned, too. Helen seemed to think you might like that. I had the impression they'd prefer it if Geoff continued to live there.' She sighed. âMike's not a well man, is he? I thought his colour was bad.'
âHe had that mild heart attack last year. The specialist told him to take things easier, but you know farmers, Mike's like Dad, lives for his land â or in Mike's case, his pedigree dairy herd.'
âWhat a nice man he is. Geoff's so like him. His state of health must be such a worry for Helen. But getting back to the subject of houses. At least you've got some options.'
âI'd rather stop in the Parkgate area, if possible. There's school to consider. I know Heswell isn't a million miles away but I'd prefer not to have to travel if I can help it. Then there are the ponies. Geoff's dad says he needs his grass for the cattle, and you know horses, they're such fussy grazers.'
âBut nice with it,' Mae chuckled. She caught her breath. âI've just had a thought â¦ there's The Harbour House. Granted, it would need a lot of work, but it's available and with a bit of flair it could be turned into a lovely home. You could coax Dad into leasing you a few acres of grass, and you'd have a house with land within walking distance of the school.'
Thea stared at her mother, her eyes brightening with interest. The Harbour House, a rather neglected property on the edge of Woodhey land, was situated, as the name suggested, right on the quayside.
At one time the sea had come right in and fishing boats had traded busily where now were vast stretches of saltmarsh, criss-crossed with deep channels that could be treacherous during certain tides. The marsh was haunt to seabirds and the cockle and shrimp fishers, who knew the narrow waterways and the whims of weather and sea as well as they knew their own boats.