“You should come to London,” she said.
“You’d be snapped up.”
“Not much point if the woman doing the snapping doesn’t fancy the idea of life on a farm,” said Bram. “A girl who hates cold mornings and mud is no good to me. That’s obviously where I’ve been going wrong all these years. All my girlfriends have been town girls. What I need is a country girl.”
Sophie looked at him affectionately. Yes, a nice country girl was exactly what Bram needed. Surely there was someone out there who would be glad to make a life with Bram? On winter nights she could draw the thick, faded red curtains in the sitting room against the wind and rain and sit with Bram in front of the fire, listening to it spit and crackle.
“I wish I could marry you,” she said with a wistful smile.
Bram put down his mug. His mother’s clock ticked into the sudden silence.
“Why don’t you?” he said.
Jessica Hart was born in West Africa, and has suffered from itchy feet ever since, traveling and working around the world in a wide variety of interesting but very lowly jobs, all of which have provided inspiration to draw on when it comes to the settings and plots of her stories. Now she lives a rather more settled existence in York, England, where she has been able to pursue her interest in history, although she still yearns sometimes for wider horizons. If you’d like to know more about Jessica, visit her Web site www.jessicahart.co.uk
Books by Jessica Hart
3844—HERE COMES THE BRIDE (2-in-1 with Rebecca Winters)
3861—CONTRACTED: CORPORATE WIFE
BRAM was unloading bales when Sophie found him.
It was a delicate business to lift each bale from the back of a trailer, and she watched him for a while as he stacked them carefully outside the farm shed, marvelling affectionately at how calm and methodical he was about everything.
There was something almost graceful about the way the tractor moved backwards and forwards in a slow and cumbersome ballet, and Sophie began to feel calmer. She waved to attract Bram’s attention the next time he turned his head, and he stopped at the sight of her, hunched in her jacket, the cold wind blowing her unruly curls around her face.
‘Hello!’ He jumped down from the tractor, followed by the ever-faithful Bess, who ran over to greet Sophie, wriggling and squirming with pleasure in a manner quite unbefitting a sheepdog as she bent to pat her. ‘I didn’t know you were coming up.’
‘It was a spur-of-the-moment thing,’ said Sophie, straightening.
She had decided to come home the moment her mother had told her that Melissa and Nick were on holiday. Although now she wished she hadn’t.
‘I’m just here for the weekend.’
‘Well, it’s good to see you.’ Bram enveloped her in a hug. ‘It’s been too long.’
Bram’s hugs were always incredibly comforting. By rights they ought to be bottled and handed out to the lonely and the heartbroken, Sophie always thought. When he held you enclosed in those powerful arms you felt safe and secure, and insensibly steadied. He didn’t need to say a thing. You could just cling to his strong, solid body and feel the slow, calm beat of his heart and somehow let yourself believe that everything would be all right.
‘It’s good to see you too,’ she said, hugging him back and smiling up at her oldest friend with unshadowed affection.
By unspoken agreement they moved over to the gate that looked out over the wide sweep of moor. It was just the right height for leaning on, and in the past they had had many discussions with their arms resting on it.
‘So, how are things?’ asked Bram.
Sophie’s reply was a grimace.
‘What’s the matter?’
‘Oh…everything,’ she sighed.
Careless of the green mould, Sophie folded her arms on the top bar of the gate and gazed across the valley at the moor opposite. It looked bleak and brown on this raw November afternoon, but at least you could breathe up here. She thought of the small flat she shared in London, where the only view was of concrete backyards or the busy road where traffic growled through the night.
She took a deep breath. She could smell heather and sheep and the faint autumnal tang of woodsmoke drifting up from the village nestled into a fold at the foot of the moors, and she felt the tension inside her ease as her shoulders relaxed slightly, almost in spite of herself.
It was always the same at Haw Gill Farm. There was something about the air up here, high in the moors. She would arrive in state of turmoil, feeling desperate and churning with drama and emotion, but a few breaths and somehow things wouldn’t seem so bad.
‘Just the usual, then?’ said Bram, and the corner of Sophie’s mouth lifted at his deadpan tone.
Typical Bram. Nothing ever shocked him or startled him or enraged him. It was amazing that they had been friends for so long when they were so different. She was chaotic and turbulent; he had raised understatement to an art form. He was thoughtful and considered, while she was prone to excitement and exaggeration. Sometimes he drove her crazy with his placidity, but Sophie knew no one more steadfast or more true. Bram was her rock, her oldest friend, and he always made her feel better.
‘Don’t make me laugh,’ she complained. ‘I’m not supposed to be feeling better yet. Not until I’ve had a good moan and told you what the matter is!’
‘Everything sounds pretty comprehensive to me,’ said Bram.
‘You may mock, but nothing’s going right at the moment,’ Sophie grumbled. The wind was blowing her curls about her face, and Bram watched her trying to hold them back with one hand. Sophie’s hair, he always thought, was a bit like her personality—wildly curling and unruly. Or you might say, as her mother frequently did, that it was messy and out of control.
A lot of people only saw the unruliness—or messiness—and not the softness