Authors: Holly Hepburn
First published in Great Britain by Simon & Schuster UK Ltd, 2016
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Copyright © Tamsyn Murray, 2016
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For Brid and Peter, AKA the bee and bunny
JoJo and Jamie are delighted to invite you
to celebrate their wedding
at St Mary’s Church, Little Monkham, Shropshire
and afterwards at the Village Green outside the
Star and Sixpence, Sixpence Lane, Little Monkham
on Saturday 4 June at 1.30 p.m.
The renovations were not going exactly to plan, Nessie Blake decided, as muffled swearing floated down the stairs from the attic rooms. With a sigh, she got up from the tiny
kitchen table and closed the door that led to the landing. Why had she let her sister talk her into opening the rooms above the Star and Sixpence to guests? The project had already overrun,
although it was probably better that they’d discovered the missing roof tiles sooner rather than later, and was costing more than they had originally budgeted. Didn’t they have enough
to do making sure that the pub ran smoothly, without the added stress of dust, clumping boots and roaring testosterone? Sam insisted it would all be worth it eventually but Nessie wasn’t so
Her natural instinct was to take things slowly but, as usual, Sam had bulldozed ahead and booked in an overnight wedding party for the start of June, less than a month away. It was too soon,
Nessie thought, cradling her coffee as the curses got louder. They’d only moved into the pub six months ago, when they had inherited it from their estranged father after his death, and
heaping on extra responsibility now felt like running before they could walk.
Nessie glanced at the clock; she’d have to go downstairs soon. Joss the cellarman had his own key and usually let himself into the bar, but Nessie liked to be around to say good morning;
although more and more frequently she found herself bumping into him on the landing as he came out of Sam’s room after staying the night. He never showed the least sign of embarrassment but
Nessie felt her own cheeks flame every time. It wasn’t that she disapproved of the relationship – in fact, she’d never seen Sam so happy – but running into an employee
dressed in only your sister’s dressing gown wasn’t something they’d covered on the pub management course she’d done.
There was a crash from upstairs, followed by a thud and a furious shout. Nessie gulped down her last mouthful of coffee and took refuge in the bar, where it seemed less likely the ceiling would
fall on her head. There wasn’t much to be done – Tilly the barmaid and Joss made an efficient team and had done most of the work after closing time the night before. Nessie busied
herself clearing out the wide hearth, sweeping out the ashes and setting the fire again ready for the evening. She stood, glancing out of the diamond-leaded windows as she moved to take the ashes
outside. Bright sunshine played over the village green, dazzling her eyes with emerald and gold. After the threat of snow in March, it had been a mild April and a warm May so far – some
customers had ventured into the beer garden around the back of the pub to enjoy the blue skies and sun, although the evenings were still chilly once night fell. Last night, Owen Rhys, the
blacksmith from the forge next door, had stopped by with his son, Luke, and Nessie had spent so long watching them that her sister had wryly joked she was worse than a teenager mooning over her
‘He’s not my boyfriend,’ Nessie had said, cringing inside. Did thirty-four-year-old women have boyfriends?
‘Whatever you want to call him then,’ Sam replied with a grin. ‘You can’t keep your eyes off him.’
Embarrassed, Nessie had found some work to get on with and when she’d glanced out again, Owen and Luke were gone. The truth was, she didn’t really know where she stood with Owen.
They’d been on one date since Valentine’s Day and Nessie thought it had gone well, but between the renovations at the pub, the demands of the forge and a nasty bout of a winter sickness
bug from Luke, they’d somehow failed to get together again. Now they were in a sort of friendly no-man’s-land and Nessie didn’t know how to get out. It didn’t stop her
looking at him, though, along with half the other women in the village; with his dark good looks and Welsh lilt, Owen Rhys was arguably Little Monkham’s most fanciable man, and Nessie knew
she’d been the subject of several disapproving, envious looks once word got out they were dating. Except they weren’t, Nessie reminded herself, as she dragged her attention from the
sunlit green. You couldn’t call a few drinks at a nearby pub dating . . .
‘You wouldn’t believe the traffic.’ Sam burst through the front door, her arms full of catering supplies. ‘Mick McCluskey’s tractor shed its load up by the bridge.
The queue goes back at least half a mile.’
Nessie smiled. ‘It could be worse. It could be the M25.’
Sam shuddered. ‘Point taken.’ She glanced around the bar. ‘No Joss?’
‘Not yet, which is a shame because I wanted him to speak to the builders, see how things are going up there. There’s been a lot of shouting this morning.’
Her sister dropped the packages onto the bar. ‘Why don’t you ask them? It’s 2016, not 1816.’
‘I tried,’ Nessie said, pulling a face. ‘They did their best to skirt around the question and then practically patted me on the head and told me to run along.’
Sam stared at her. ‘Bloody cheek – who do they think is paying for all this work? Give me a hand to unload the car and I’ll go and sort them out.’
Nessie tried not to mind the implied criticism. Why had she let the builders patronise her? Why hadn’t she stood up to them and demanded to know what was going on, the way Sam was about
to? She was the older sister after all, although maybe that was part of the problem; Sam was twenty-nine and turned heads. Nessie was four years older and although she had the same green eyes as
her sister, the similarities ended there. They had different personalities too: Sam was confident and together, whereas Nessie was naturally cautious and reserved. All in all, Nessie knew she
wasn’t in the same league. Even her husband, Patrick, had stopped fancying her by the end of their relationship. No wonder the builders barely noticed when she spoke to them: she might as
well be invisible.
‘I’ve got a better idea,’ Nessie said, squaring her shoulders. ‘Why don’t we unload the car and then go and speak to them together? At the very least I can hold
‘Deal,’ Sam said. ‘And if they don’t play ball, we’ll deploy the F-bomb.’
For a moment, Nessie frowned; Sam wasn’t scared of swearing but she didn’t usually plan it in advance. Then the penny dropped. ‘Oh, you mean Franny.’
‘Yep. There isn’t a builder between here and Birmingham that isn’t terrified of her. If the threat of Franny Forster doesn’t get them working, nothing will.’
Nessie smiled wryly. The formidable postmistress was also chairwoman of the Little Monkham Preservation Society and not much happened in the village without her knowledge. Joss swore she’d
been a Cold War spy and Nessie wasn’t entirely sure he was joking. She certainly had her finger on the pulse on Little Monkham and all the local workmen knew not to cross her. ‘Rather
them than me,’ Nessie said.
‘Although I think she might have mellowed a bit since Valentine’s Day,’ Sam said. ‘Whatever old Henry Fitzsimmons is doing, he needs to keep doing it.’
And that was another thing, Nessie thought: how could Cupid’s arrow have struck fearsome Franny and cantankerous Henry but have entirely missed her and Owen? It didn’t seem fair.
The faint tinkle of broken glass drifted down from above. Sam pushed up her sleeves and made for the stairs. ‘On second thoughts, the unloading can wait. There are some builders’
arses up there that need a good kicking.’
The title of champion at the monthly Monday Night Quiz was always hotly contested. The Little Monkham regulars viewed teams made up of visitors from other villages in much the
same way Nessie supposed Boudicca must have regarded the Romans; invaders to be stopped and quite possibly crushed at all costs. They hadn’t quite come to blows yet but some stiffly worded
remarks had been traded. Nessie tried to ensure that Father Goodluck from St Mary’s Church was there whenever possible, to exert a peaceful and calming presence. Unsurprisingly,
Franny’s team was the most competitive of the lot.
The questions were set by a TV quiz researcher Sam knew and she did her best to secure a celebrity quiz master each month too. Her previous career in PR had given her a little black book most
publicists would kill for and since the sisters had launched the quiz in March, they’d had the sneering ex-host of late-night TV show
and a return visit from swoon-worthy
actor Nick Borrowdale, the star of the BBC’s Sunday night flagship drama,
. Nessie was sure the female quizzers hadn’t played with full concentration that
night; even Franny had seemed distracted, a little less cut-throat. Nessie smiled at the memory. Perhaps they should ask Nick to pose the questions every month.