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Authors: Anna Martin

Cricket (6 page)

BOOK: Cricket
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“Here,” Shenal said and pushed the scrap of paper toward him. “I’d start there, Stella and Ryan Burgess. She runs the local pub, and he owns a farm. Stella is one of the best cooks you’re going to find in this town, and if she doesn’t want to cater for you, then she’ll be able to recommend someone who will. The stuff that comes out of the farm is going to be the best quality and the best value you’ll find within twenty miles of here. If people know you’re buying from Ryan, then they’ll back you. It’s as simple as that.”

Henry nodded and accepted the paper. “Thanks.”

“You can buy me lunch to say thank you,” Shenal said with a little smirk and tossed her long braid back over her shoulder.

It was the least he could do.

The farm, as Shenal had put it, spread over twelve acres. Or so Henry assumed, since it was called Twelve Acre Farm. He was still wary about driving. There had been little need for him to own a car while living in Manhattan, and he’d taken and passed his test as a formality. In the past ten years, he’d not spent all that much time on the road.

And here, well, it was another story entirely. If it was just the manual transmission, or the driving on the wrong side of the car, or driving on the wrong side of the road, or the fact that the roads were impossibly twisty and lined with hedges and likely to have a tractor coming round them at any moment, then he could handle that. But all those factors combined made a risky activity downright dangerous.

Henry walked up to Twelve Acre Farm and turned out to be quite grateful he did.

The constant rain of the past few days had eased off, and even though it was still cold, the sky was blue and dotted with little fluffy clouds. The air actually felt fresher in his lungs, cleaner, which had the unwelcome effect of making him crave a cigarette. He was trying to quit. Unsuccessfully.

The pleasantness of the weather was just a backdrop, really, for the simply stunning views he was afforded out over the county.

Although the village was fairly contained, and they were less than an hour away from one of the county’s cities, it was almost impossible to know that from where he stood now. From the back of his mind, Henry summoned the phrase “England’s green and pleasant land.” It had never meant much to him before, but now….

The countryside really did roll. It wasn’t flat, like the plains of the Midwest he’d encountered on a college road trip from New York to Las Vegas he’d taken with his friends. In the middle of America, occasionally a feature would thrust itself up from the land, claiming prominence from the unrelenting flatness.

Here, the land seemed to rise and fall, hills and forests and farmland blending together in a patchwork of green. Apple orchards and cows in fields and horses grazing in pastures… this was the idyllic England he thought didn’t really exist. Surely it was too much of a cliché to be real.

The walk took him nearly an hour, but only because he kept stopping to snap pictures with the vague thought of e-mailing them back to his mother, not that she’d appreciate them. Henry wasn’t much of a photographer, that much he knew, but it was hard to take a bad picture of this landscape.

At the door to the farmhouse, he hesitated and checked that he had the right name, then knocked. Henry had called ahead, checking that Ryan Burgess was at home and open to a visitor. He was still slightly nervous about approaching the man attached to the gruff voice who had grunted his agreement to a meeting.

From somewhere deep inside the house, a dog barked and a man yelled at it. The door swung open to reveal a man, barefoot, in jeans, wearing a thick knitted sweater.

Henry guessed this must be Ryan.

Ryan pushed his hand through his thick crop of light-brown curls and frowned.

“You’re Henry?”


“Ryan.” He offered his hand, which Henry shook. “Come in.”

Henry had a few moments to gather his impression of a warm, welcoming house with rich wooden floors before a huge dog ambled up, sniffed his crotch, then reared up to plant big, furry paws on his chest.

“Hulk! Down!” Ryan shouted, grabbing hold of the scruff of the dog’s neck and hauling it back. “Sorry, mate, he’s a bit of a nightmare. Hulk!”

The dog turned several circles, then insinuated himself between Ryan’s legs.

“Is that a sheepdog?”

Ryan gave him a lopsided sort of smile. “It’s a cross between a purebred English sheepdog, belonging to my mum, and whatever mongrel fucked the bitch down the park and knocked her up.”

“That explains it.”

“It’s a fucking pain in the ass, is what it is. Sorry. Want a cuppa?”

“A cup of what?”


“Oh. Yeah, sure.”

Following Ryan through to the kitchen, Henry had time to solidify his initial impressions of a house that had to be huge. They passed several rooms, although many of their doors were shut, before entering a sun-drenched kitchen that looked out onto the countryside Henry had been admiring.

“Nice view,” he commented as Ryan filled a kettle and set it on a wide stove to boil.

“It’s hard to find a bad one around here. Sit down.”

Henry did and found the mongrel-sheepdog’s head on his knee within moments.

“Do you not like dogs? I can kick him out if you like.”

“He’s okay. My mother had a poodle that she was in love with. It died a few weeks before I moved out here.”

“Ah, it’s hard to lose a pet. I swear this one answers to Hulk more than he does his proper name, but I wouldn’t do without him.”

“Do you actually have sheep?”

“Fuck, no. They’re stupid fucking animals, sheep.” Ryan moved around the kitchen with ease, selecting two striped mugs from a cupboard, milk from a large fridge. There was a matching teapot on the counter that had tea leaves dumped in it, then the boiling water, which was allowed to steep before being filtered into the mugs.

“The only tea I’ve ever drank before was Lipton’s,” Henry admitted as Ryan passed him a mug and pushed the sugar pot toward him.

“Get used to it, then,” Ryan advised. “Everyone around here will offer you tea.”

“No coffee?” Henry asked, somewhat hopefully.

Ryan snorted. “Yeah, we’ve got coffee. It comes out of a jar, though.”

“I’ll stick to the tea.”

“It’s probably for the best. What can I do you for?”

As they settled for the first time since shaking hands, Henry was suddenly struck with how impossibly handsome this man was. Sure, he was wearing a cream knitted sweater that was absolutely hideous, but his eyes were a rich, dark brown that contrasted with the lightness of his hair. Ryan’s jaw was chiseled, and he wore a fairly healthy beard over it. His hands were strong but rough, expected, given his profession.

For a tiny moment, Henry stuttered. Then he composed himself.

“I’m Nell Richardson’s great-grandson.”

“Yeah,” Ryan said, smiling. “I’d heard.”

“She’s agreed to invest in the renovation of the house, and I want to reopen it for events.”


“Yeah, partly, and conferences, maybe put a little restaurant in there as well.”

“Wow. You know you’re not in New York anymore, right? This is a small community, Henry.”

“I know,” Henry said, stung. “It’s probably got a bigger catchment area than you’d think. You’re close enough to a couple of big towns to be able to pull people down here. Plus, you’ve got the tourist trade.”

“Hey,” said Ryan, putting his hands up in a defensive gesture, “it’s your money, mate. Do what you want with it. I guess you’re wanting me to supply for you?”

“If you’re interested, yeah.”

“Don’t see why not. Do you have a chef yet? Any idea of menus?”

“I’m working on it,” Henry said stiffly. “I used to do this for a living. I know what I’m doing.”

Ryan shrugged, seemingly unaffected. “If you say so. Local, organic, sustainable—that’s what I do. And I do it well. And you’ll pay well for it, but you can charge well for it, so it’s worth the price. So,” Ryan said, standing and dumping his mug in the sink. “Do you want the grand tour?”

“Sure,” Henry said and tried not to be annoyed.

It made sense to start with the stables, since they were closest to the house, although Ryan seemed intent on emphasizing that they weren’t his horses. He had built the stables himself after he’d been approached by someone interested in renting the land from him: a father, with two daughters who wanted ponies.

There was space for paddocks, and the family mostly took care of the stables and the horses themselves, Ryan only stepping in for occasional maintenance. On the building, not the horses. As they walked down the path toward the small building, Henry was hit with the smell of hay and beast.

“They’re friendly,” Ryan said as the two horses ambled over to the fence. “Probably looking for a treat.”

With nothing to hand, Ryan reached down at the edge of the fence, pulled up a handful of long grass, and offered it to the dark chestnut horse, who munched on it appreciatively. Having never encountered a horse before in his life, Henry copied his movements, although warily.

Ryan snorted.


“You’re such a city boy, is all. They won’t bite your hand off.”

“That’s what you think,” Henry said grimly.

They moved on.

“We’ve got about fifty chickens, give or take the odd few that escape and usually end up in Foxy.” He gestured to another building about the same size as the stables with the birds pecking at the ground outside. “They’re all free range. I sell the eggs to the pub, or the grocers in town, or sometimes people come to the back door for a tray. I do a pretty good deal for locals. We inherited the ducks. No one bought them. They just turned up one day and invited themselves in. I don’t really mind. Duck eggs sell pretty well around here.”

“Are those ducks too?” Henry asked, pointing to a smallish pond with a few larger birds floating serenely on it.

“No, they’re geese,” Ryan said with a touch of humor coloring his voice.


The farm was split down the middle by a central road…
dirt track
, Henry corrected in his mind. Although he’d not seen any large machinery or tractors, there was evidence that the latter, at least, must exist somewhere due to the deep tracks in the mud.

The horses and birds were closest to the house, and on the opposite side of the track, Ryan pointed out a mass of wildflowers and herbs, not seeming to grow in any particular order.

“The organic flower industry is still fairly young,” Ryan said, “but there are more conscientious florists starting to crop up. We supply nearly everything to a couple of shops in Bristol and one in Exeter.”

“Who maintains it?”

“Me, mostly,” Ryan said. “But a lot of it takes care of itself. I buy stuff from local markets and stick it in the ground. Some of it grows, some of it doesn’t. The stuff that grows works well. It’s like a cottage garden, really, just on a much bigger scale. Plus, I like the smell.”

“Counteracts the horse manure?” Henry offered.

“That,” Ryan agreed. “And there’s a reason why the pigs are behind it.”

“Pigs?” Henry echoed faintly. Ryan just smirked.

“We keep them for educational purposes, really. After the first four or five school trips I had come through, I realized that there’s a good opportunity to offer tours and the like, and people will buy into it. Pigs are good for that. People like to see pigs on a farm. And the goats.”

They stopped at a gate, and Ryan easily hopped up onto the first rung and leaned over, whistling sharply. Henry edged up to the gate, where five enormous black and pink pigs ambled around a fairly large enclosure.

“These are Gloucester Old Spots,” Ryan said. “Not entirely sure what I’m going to do with them. Don’t think I could stand sending them down to the butcher.”

“Do you get attached to them?”

“Sort of. I can’t really kill anything that has a name.”

“They have names?”

“Of course. Victoria, Emma, Melanie, Melanie, and Geri.”

“The Spice Girls?”

“Yup. But we refer to the Mels as B and C.”

Henry laughed and shook his head.

“You know what the sad thing is, though? Children these days have absolutely no idea who I’m talking about. I should have named them after those runty kids in One Direction.”

“Please,” Henry said, shaking his head. “Don’t.”

“Wait till you meet the goats.”

“I take it they’re named too?” Henry asked as they left the pigs and moved to the next enclosure down.

“Yup. Elton and Gaga.”

“Ah. The queens of pop.”

Beyond the pigs and the goats, the farm stretched away into fields where vegetables were grown organically, to the very edge of the property, where there was one final barn and an apple orchard.

“I’m trying to make my own cider,” Ryan said. “Not allowed to sell it yet, though. I don’t have a license. I’m working on it, so keep an eye out for it in the pub.”

“I’ll do that.”

They started to make their way back up the dirt track, and Henry shook his head.

“I can’t believe this place. I suppose, logically, English agriculture had to be around somewhere, but Hollywood tends to make you think that it can’t possibly be real.”

“This is no idyllic dream,” Ryan said, frowning. “It takes a lot of work to maintain.”

“And you run it all yourself?”

“No,” he admitted. “I’ve got two regular workers who mostly take care of the land and whatever grows in it. And I take kids who are travelling through the area for casual work during harvest, and sometimes, if they’re good with the animals, they stay on for a while.”

“Any plans to expand?”

“Not right now. I’ve got my local connections, the pub in town, a couple of grocers, and there’s a pretty big boarding school just a few miles down the road. They get pretty much all their fresh veg from me.”

“Not a bad deal,” Henry said as Ryan opened the door to let him back into the kitchen.

“I can keep up with more, though,” Ryan added. “I mean, if you want to use me, then that’s okay.”

Then he blushed. “You know what I mean.”

“Yeah,” Henry said. “I mean, it looks like you’ve got a good setup here. If you can recommend a good butcher too, I think this could work for us.”

BOOK: Cricket
12.31Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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