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Authors: Eleanor Jones

Shadow on the Fells

BOOK: Shadow on the Fells
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He's a danger to everything she holds dear

With his unruly dog, big-city airs, and obvious ignorance of the Lake District and its traditions, Will Devlin is Chrissie Marsh's worst nightmare. There's nothing the shepherdess loves more than the land she lives and works on, and nothing she hates more than the tourists who threaten it. Except Will isn't a tourist; he's her new neighbor. And he intends to turn her hallowed fells into a playground for people on holiday. But when he keeps showing up at her farm to offer—and ask for—help, she realizes she'll need to put a stop to her own feelings before she can even try to stop him.

Chrissie watched helplessly as sheep disappeared in every direction.

She whistled to her collies, but she would have needed half a dozen dogs to keep the terrified sheep together.

“Max!” cried the man. “Max! Bad dog. Come here.”

The big dog ignored him, but he managed to grab hold of its collar. For a moment, they struggled, and then the man staggered forward. If the situation hadn't been so desperate, Chrissie would have laughed as he sprawled to the ground.

She whistled to Tess and Fly, and they raced over. The sheep had calmed somewhat, but at best she'd be spending the rest of the afternoon gathering them. At worst…well…she didn't want to think about that just yet.

“Good dogs. Stay.” The man was on his feet now, his leather shoes much the worse for wear and his suit pants ripped at the knees.

“You,” she said in a cold, flat voice. “You should get back to the city…and take your idiot dog with you. I'd have been well within my rights to shoot it, you know.”

He held her gaze with his piercing eyes. “But you haven't got a gun.”

“Then I'll start carrying one.”

Dear Reader,

This is the fourth and last book in my Creatures Great and Small series. I do hope you enjoy it. Any thoughts, comments or questions you may have about
Shadow on the Fells
or any of the other books in the series would be very welcome. I really do appreciate feedback from my readers, for without you I would have no reason to write.

You can contact me at
[email protected]
or through Facebook.

All very best wishes and happy reading,

Eleanor

Shadow on the Fells

Eleanor Jones

Eleanor Jones
was brought up on a
farm in the north of England and learned to love animals and the countryside
from an early age. She has ridden all her life, and after marrying her husband
at just eighteen years old and having two wonderful children, they set up a
riding center together. This is still thriving over thirty years later, doing
hacks, treks and lessons for all ages and experiences. Her daughter competes at
the national level, and she is now a partner in the business and brings her
adorable three-year-old son to work with her every day. Eleanor's son is also
married with two children, and they live nearby. Eleanor has been writing for
what feels like her whole life. Her early handwritten novels still grace a dusty
shelf in the back of a cupboard somewhere, but she was first published over
fifteen years ago, when she wrote teenage pony mysteries.

Books by Eleanor Jones

Harlequin Heartwarming

The Little Dale Remedy

A Place Called Home

The Country Vet

Footprints in the Sand

Harlequin Everlasting Love

A Heartbeat Away

Get rewarded every time you buy a Harlequin
ebook!
Click here to Join Harlequin My Rewards
http://www.harlequin.com/myrewards.html?mt=loyalty&cmpid=EBOOBPBPA201602010002

I would like to dedicate this book to my grandchildren, Dan, Emma and little Ollie

CHAPTER ONE

C
HRISSIE
STRODE
OUT
across the rough, damp earth, well-worn wooden crook in hand, reveling in the signs of spring. Green shoots broke through the parched brown of tufty winter grass, bringing new life to the fell; the sound of birdsong, different now, bright with hope and promise, filled her ears with nature's own sweet music as they sang to the end of the cold, hard winter. And it had been hard this year, up here on the fell. She'd lost a dozen sheep to the snow and ice, only finding their sad, frozen bodies after the thaw.

Closing her fingers more firmly around the knotted wood, taking comfort from its familiarity, just as her father must have when he walked the fells with the help of the same curved crook, she stopped to take stock.

Today wasn't about death; that chapter was closed, until next year at least. Today she was embracing new life, for lambing time was imminent and she needed to gather the ewes and take them to lower ground. There was a time when four or five shepherds, each with at least two dogs, would meet to gather up their sheep, bringing them down all together, as a team, but right now it was just her sheep on this part of the fell.

With a low whistle to her dogs, Tess and Fly, Chrissie gazed up into the wide gray sky that never failed to soothe her soul. She watched the tumultuous clouds slide away, revealing the clearest, palest blue that seemed to stretch into eternity. For twenty-eight years she'd gazed up into that same sky, here in Little Dale, following the traditions set by her parents and their parents before them, caring for the sheep way up in the bleak and beautiful Lakeland fells. It was a tough, harsh and lonely life, but one she wouldn't swap for anything.

The border collies, one black-and-white and the other a distinctive blue merle, sank to the ground, heads on paws and keen eyes alert for their mistress's every gesture, waiting patiently as she looked back down the steep slope toward the huddle of buildings that nestled in the crook of the land.

High Bracken, the place where she had lived alone with her dogs for almost seven years since her parents were killed in a car crash. It had happened on the first holiday they had taken for as long as she could remember. She had been only nineteen then, and already dedicated to the land and the sheep, so it had seemed the most natural thing in the world to carry on the traditions she had been learning for her entire life.

After the accident, her mother's sister, Hilda, had arrived to help her niece organize both the funeral and her future. She'd been horrified when Chrissie revealed that she intended to live in her family home all alone and carry on working with the sheep; Hilda's pleas for Chrissie to pursue a more “suitable” career had been a waste of time then—and still were—but Aunt Hilda kept turning up unannounced every few months to stay a while and nag Chrissie to change her job.

Her aunt had left Little Dale that very morning, in fact, which was why Chrissie was so late. If she hadn't had to run her aunt to the station then she'd have had all the sheep safely down the fell and nearer to the farm by now.

Hilda had left, of course, with yet another well-meaning lecture.

“It's not natural for a young woman to live like this,” she'd grumbled over breakfast. “You'll never meet a husband nor have any children if you don't shape up. You need to stretch your horizons, get out more...do something more feminine.”

“But I'm always busy and I do get out,” Chrissie had retorted. “I'm involved with Little Dale's young farmers group, I'm on a couple of committees, I meet lots of people through my dog training and I even competed in some sheepdog trials this year.”

“Exactly,” her aunt had snorted. “That's what I mean—it's all about sheep farming and dogs and the land. Most of the farmers around here are already married and the single ones aren't worth having. You'll never meet anyone in Little Dale.”

Chrissie's insistence that she didn't need a husband and was perfectly happy on her own fell on deaf ears, but she'd been moved by the brief hug her aunt had given her at the station before heading back home to her comfortable cottage by the sea. Hilda had seemed satisfied that she'd at least tried to do the responsible thing for her poor dead sister. And Chrissie had to admit that High Bracken always felt empty after Hilda had gone.

A smile warmed Chrissie's heart as she thought about Hilda. It was comforting to know that she still had at least one relative who cared, even if her aunt did try and persuade her to give up the way of life she loved.

Then again, perhaps Hilda was right. Perhaps Chrissie was becoming a bit reclusive. There was a time when she'd dated a bit and gone to the movies with friends, but that had gradually slipped away as everyone she knew got married and settled down. Maybe she should make a bit more effort to be sociable before she ended up being pigeonholed as a batty old lady.

She'd go down to the pub in the village tonight, she decided, to have a meal and catch up with her friends; at least it would be something. It was hard to be social, though, when everyday life took such effort. There was always so much to do with the sheep and the dogs that there never seemed to be enough hours in the day.

Just yesterday she'd taken on yet another young dog to train—stupid, really, when lambing time was nearly here, but she needed the money. Although she loved the farm, it was barely paying its way. Remembering the nervous young black-and-tan Welsh collie, Floss, who had arrived last night, Chrissie put her half-hearted idea of socializing on hold. She needed to spend time with the new arrival and begin the process of bonding. Her dogs were trained through love and trust, not fear and force, which was so often the way.

She shook Aunt Hilda's words out of her mind. Chrissie didn't usually have such thoughts; she had everything she wanted right here. Yet she couldn't help but notice that the landscape she loved so much was changing. And she didn't welcome change.

As she headed even higher up the fell, Chrissie spotted movement at Craig Side, the small farm that was her nearest neighbor. There were two four-by-fours in the yard, she noted, as well as a large truck with something on the back. Tiny figures moved around it.

That was a surprise; the place had been empty and up for sale for almost a year, ever since James and Doreen Allen retired, sold Chrissie most of their sheep and moved down South to live with their son and his wife. When Andy Montgomery, Chrissie's vet, had stopped by last week, he'd told her that it had finally been sold and there was a rumor that the new owner might be converting the farm into holiday rentals. But Chrissie hadn't expected anything to happen so soon.

Yet another farm, then, lost forever. In Chrissie's opinion, there were far too many farms going the same way, turning their backs on tradition and transforming the fells into a playground for tourists. But what else to do when they could no longer make a living? James and Doreen had lived and worked there with the sheep for decades, but when their son had opted for an easier life there was no way they could afford to keep the farm.

Still, her sense of unease grew. Tourists messed with the way of things, coming up here to upset the sheep with their stupid dogs and lack of knowledge of the land and its traditions...and now it seemed they were about to infiltrate her personal space. She had always assumed that way up here they were far too isolated to have to worry about holiday rentals in the vicinity. Apparently, she'd been wrong. Though hikers crossed her land occasionally, it was nothing compared to the chaos people could create if they had accommodation right up on the fells.

Of course, that barn roof had almost caved in, she told herself, clinging to a tentacle of hope. Perhaps they were just fixing the place up.

With a heavy sigh, she turned her mind to the job at hand, heading on up the steep, rugged slope with the dogs at her side. Totally focused and eager to get to work, they sniffed the wind, tails wagging in anticipation.

The black-and-white-faced fell sheep moved closer together as they noticed the distant approach of the woman and dogs. Hefted here by their mothers and their mothers before them from time immemorial, it was ingrained into their makeup that this part of the fell was their space, their land. They knew every inch of land here, and totally aware of the invisible boundaries of their territory, they rarely moved away from it. If forced to leave, the fell sheep would overcome almost any obstacle to return to their “place,” taking down drystone walls as they clambered over them in their quest to come home.

Chrissie knew the sheep well, each face familiar to her. They were hardy, tough and wild, easily scared but fiercely protective of their lambs. She respected that, and so did the dogs.

Not wanting to panic the animals, Chrissie stopped for a moment, letting them settle before beginning the outrun—the wide sweep around the flock. Then she raised her hand for Tess's attention. “Come bye,” she called. “Come bye.” She gave Tess the signal to run wide of the flock, clockwise. Fly trembled for action, waiting for her cue as her partner ran, low and silent, urging the sheep to move closer together.

“Away...away out,” Chrissie called to Fly, and the eager dog ran wide of the flock counterclockwise. The dogs disappeared, eaten up by the vast space of the fell, and then gradually they came back into view behind a dozen or so outlying sheep who were trotting quickly, heads up and eyes wide with apprehension as the collies herded them toward the flock.

“Easy,” yelled Chrissie. “Slow down.”

A long, low blast on her whistle and both dogs dropped to the ground, allowing the sheep time to huddle together before they began the task of moving the flock steadily down the hillside.

Both Tess and Fly were used to the procedure, barely needing a command from Chrissie as they worked together, reading the reactions of the sheep and going wide or moving closer as the white mass trickled down the steep slopes, jumping over craggy outcrops and negotiating sharp drops and ravines.

They were almost home when it happened, in sight of the open gate that led to the lower, fenced-in land where the ewes would stay for the lambing.

For a fleeting second Chrissie thought it was a crazy sheep racing toward the flock. Then with a sinking heart, she realized that it was a big, cream-colored dog, almost as fluffy as the sheep. That was where the likeness ended, though. The dog was big and fast; it looked fierce as it raced madly toward them, intent on trouble. Its pink tongue waved from the side of its mouth and its ridiculous ears flapped against its head. Tess and Fly stopped in their tracks, looking anxiously at their mistress.

“Lie down,” she shouted, and they dropped to the ground as one, whining their objection to the unwanted intruder and the interruption of their routine.

The sheep began to panic. They were accustomed to the quiet way the border collies worked and respected their boundaries. This was something different. Huddling close together, they started to run back up the fell, but they were too late; the big dog leaped into their midst, barking loudly and scattering them as they fled for the safety of the higher slopes.

Chrissie screamed at the dog. “Get away! Get out of here!” But the wind took her voice as the dog wreaked havoc with the flock before chasing after one small ewe that had split off from the rest.

Chrissie saw them heading for where the rough grass gave way to rocky scree just above an outcrop. She started to run, but she was too far away...

It was just as the ewe disappeared over the ledge that Chrissie saw the man.

BOOK: Shadow on the Fells
11.41Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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