Final preview Chapter from the wonderful Beneath The Moon and Stars by Amelia Thorne.
Finn was standing at the bottom of his garden, staring at the heather covered hills that swept up from his back fence. It was early morning and the sun, if it had bothered to come out at all, was currently hiding behind heavy rain clouds. He had never minded the rain. In fact he loved it, it was always so peaceful. The only noise he could hear was the soft thud of raindrops hitting his hood. That was until he heard a wailing behind him.
He turned quickly, wondering if someone had been hurt, and immediately saw Joy dancing around in her bedroom window, seemingly singing or rather shrieking her version of ‘It’s Raining Men’. She was wrapped only in a towel, a tangle of red wet hair hanging down her back. She spun around and as she did the towel fell away. His eyes drank her in. In a flash, his hands were caressing her pale, milky skin, feeling the fire of her hair between his fingers, pulling her warm body against his.
Unashamed, she carried on dancing. If it could be called that. Every part of her seemed to be wiggling as if she was attached to strings and controlled by a very drunk puppeteer. Her arms were punching up and down, her hips going side to side and her knees knocking together. But none of this detracted from the incredibly beautiful body. The innocent enthusiasm was incredibly endearing. After the night before, he expected her to be moping around, but it seemed nothing could keep Joy in a bad mood. He couldn’t help but smile at her.
The music obviously changed, because the next thing she was screaming along to ‘Lady Marmalade’ by All Saints. He didn’t need to be fluent in French to know the lyrics meant ‘Do you want to sleep with me tonight.’ Every teenage boy on his university trip to France made sure they knew those words if nothing else. The terrible dancing had changed too. It was still terrible but was now what could only be classed as provocative, as she ground her hips round in slow circles.
He couldn’t take his eyes off her. What an absolute creep he was. But no matter how much he despised himself, he could do nothing to stop it.
Suddenly anger flooded through him. She knew he was out here, that’s why she was dancing like this. How could she not see him? He was wearing a bright yellow hoodie; it’d be pretty hard to miss. She was either trying to turn him on, or she was just teasing him to wind him up.
Either option was not pleasing in his book.
He stormed back into the house, out onto the street and hammered on her front door.
It took a few moments for her to answer, when she did she was thankfully wrapped in a white robe. Her face was flushed with happiness, which immediately vanished as soon as she saw him.
‘Let’s get one thing straight, I don’t like you, and I certainly don’t fancy you. That little show you’ve just put on for my benefit only made you look ridiculous.’
Her mouth fell open, her face going a bright shade of red. She’d clearly had no idea he was out there. But he’d started now, so he was damned sure he was going to finish.
‘I suggest if you want to dance, badly may I just point out, that you put some bloody clothes on or draw the curtains. That way I won’t see something I really don’t want to see.’
With that he marched back to his house.
But she was hot on his heels.
‘You arrogant, conceited, jumped up little shit. I was not dancing for you. I didn’t even know you were there. And you know what, if I want to dance naked in the privacy of my own home, I will. I suggest if you are offended by my nudity, you look away, instead of perving on me like the disgusting creep that you are.’
She flounced away.
He caught her arm and span her round.
‘Hey!’ came Zach’s voice, protectively, though he was wise enough not to come any closer.
Finn stared down at Joy, his jaw clenched. Her eyes, currently filled with hatred, were an intense olive green, tiny freckles covered her nose and shoulders. Her lips…
He let her go, taking a step back before he closed the gap between them and kissed her. What was wrong with him? She infuriated him; he certainly didn’t like her in that way.
He flashed Zach an obligatory filthy look, looked back to Joy, at her wet hair dripping down her neck, at the swell of her breast that was peeping out the top of her robe, and then stormed back into his own house.
Joy watched him go, her heart pounding.
‘You ok?’ Zach stepped up to her a fraction too late.
She nodded, aware that her hands were shaking.
‘What was that about?’
‘Er…’ she tore her eyes away from Finn’s front door and looked at Zach instead. ‘Just Finn making it very clear he doesn’t like me.’
‘Oh that. Don’t take it personally, he doesn’t like anyone.’
She noticed Zach’s eyes travelling down her body, his pupils widening with lust. She looked down to see that her wet hair was making the robe damp and see-through. Folding her arms across her chest she moved back towards the house.
‘I’ll see you later.’
His face fell slightly as she closed the door.
How strange to be so desired and so hated within a matter of seconds. Her heart was still pounding furiously. In part it was down to anger at Finn’s arrogance and comments, but she knew mainly it was down to a wave of desire and need that had crashed over her when he had grabbed her and spun her around. If he had thrown her over his shoulder and carried her back to his cave right then, she would have only protested out of principle.
Suddenly a disgusting smell hit her nose. She looked around to find the source and saw a piece of paper, with what could only be dog poo on it. Scrawled across the paper in large angry capital letters was the word BITCH. It had clearly been posted through her letterbox that morning, but because she had opened the door, she had dislodged half the poo and it had mushed into the carpet and underneath the door.
Retribution for Mrs Kemblewick was swift indeed. She stomped into the kitchen to get a bowl of hot soapy water to clean up the mess and knew she would have to come up with a plan and quick.
Casey let himself through Finn’s back door and helped himself to a bottle of beer from the fridge before moving through to the front room. Finn was sprawled out on his sofa, reading a book and he looked at Casey over the top of it when he walked in.
‘Could have got one for me while you’re raiding my fridge,’ Finn said, marking his place in his book and throwing it onto the coffee table. He stood up and stretched, showing the toned muscles in his stomach for a brief second. If Casey didn’t know better, he’d think Finn was deliberately torturing him.
Casey sat down, picking up the book as Finn went to get a beer for himself.
‘Any good?’ he waved the book in the air as Finn returned.
‘I have no idea,’ Finn sighed.
Casey smiled. ‘Yeah, I thought you might say that. Are you doing ok?’
‘Joy’s incredibly beautiful.’
‘She’s not my type.’
‘Oh come on, are you saying that to convince me or yourself?’
Finn sat down. ‘Me, obviously. If I say it enough, I might start to believe it.’
Casey stroked the head of Billy, Finn’s straggly dog. His heart went out to Finn. For him to have his heart broken twice by the same woman must have been horrendous. Finn’s child would have been a year old now and Casey wondered how often Finn must think about that.
‘Admittedly Joy has red hair like Pippa but that’s where the similarities end. She’s lovely. You’d really like her if you gave her a chance.’
Finn stared at Casey as if he’d just suggested he should chop off his own head.
‘I can’t do a relationship again, I just can’t. Pippa hurt me spectacularly and I never want to be hurt like that again.’
‘Mate, I’m not suggesting you marry her or even jump into bed with her, I’m just saying be nice. Don’t treat her like scum just because she has the same hair colour as your ex-wife. She’s had a bit of a rough life…’ He hesitated in telling Finn about Joy’s parents, but there was a vulnerability in Joy that he wanted to protect. ‘Her parents were killed when she was a kid. I feel like she’s come here for a fresh start and now the villagers are all giving her grief over this stupid Mrs Kemblewick fiasco – which has nothing to do with her, by the way. Her landlord is Joe Carter, the man that kicked Mrs Kemblewick out, she just has a similar name.’
‘No, she has no idea who Mrs Kemblewick is. Look, she needs a friend and if you can’t manage that, then at least be civil to her.’
Casey put the empty bottle of beer on the table. ‘I’m going next door to see if she’s ok after last night. Anything you want me to say to her?’
Finn shook his head as he stared at the floor. Casey smiled sympathetically at him. Finn had gone through a rough time too, but Casey was damned sure he wasn’t going to let Finn take his anger out on Joy just because he was still messed up over his own heartbreak.
Finn watched Casey go and groaned. Joy’s parents were dead. That made things so much worse. He had this innate need to protect, to comfort. That was how he had met Pippa. She had driven her car into a ditch at the side of the road and although she was unhurt, she was very shaken and tearful when he had pulled over to see if he could help. Her tears, her clinging to him as he held her, was what had done it. He had been lost, beyond redemption from that point on.
Now he wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms round Joy and hold her.
An orphan. She could only be about thirty and she had lost both parents. He would be distraught if he lost his, he couldn’t even begin to think what that would feel like. And she had moved here and the welcome party was well and truly out.
He would have to try to be civil to her from now on. He wouldn’t be friends with her, that would lead to trouble, but at least he could be polite.
There was a knock on her door as Joy was knee deep in tissue paper and pretty lilac notelets. The kitchen smelt delicious and Darcy had moved downstairs in the hope of scrounging some morsels. She should have taken poor Darcy for a walk ages ago, though she seemed happy to sleep on the cool tiles of the kitchen floor at the moment.
She hurried to the door; Casey was standing there, looking lovely and dishevelled.
‘Hi, how you feeling today?’
‘I’m good, come in, you can help me.’ She turned back down towards the kitchen and Casey followed her.
She watched him look at the chaos and mess across the breakfast table and then at her with amusement. She tried to look at it through his eyes; the desperation of a mad woman.
‘What are you doing?’
‘These are my friendship cakes. I’ve made one for each house in the village. I’m wrapping them in tissue paper and putting a note in with each one explaining who I am and inviting them all to a housewarming barbeque this Sunday. Here, read the note and tell me what you think.’
He picked up one of the lilac notelets and read it. It explained that she was Joy Cartier and was renting from Joe Carter, that though their names were similar she was not related to him or the previous owner. It said she was very sorry for what had happened to Mrs Kemblewick, but it really had nothing to do with her. It was brief, friendly but to the point, and had taken her hours to construct those few little lines.
‘It’s fine,’ Casey said. ‘But I don’t know if it will work. They seemed to be quite irate when I was in the village shop this morning. I tried to explain to them who you were, but they practically shooed me out of the shop, telling me it was village business and as such was none of mine.’
She stopped in the middle of wrapping up another cake in red tissue paper. ‘You don’t live here?’
‘No, I live in Ashton Woods, the next village.’
‘Oh.’ This bothered her more than it should. She thought that she had at least two friends in the village, now it was down to only one – and Zach was only friends with her because he wanted to sleep with her. ‘Well, it’s clear they’re never going to be my best friends but maybe I can persuade them not to push me in the pond again or post dog poo through my letterbox.’
‘What?’ Casey’s eyes widened as he picked up one of the cakes and artfully arranged the tissue paper around it in a way that she could never achieve.
‘Found it this morning, with a note telling me I’m a bitch.’
He shook his head. ‘Well then, you certainly can’t make it any worse. I’ll give you a hand.’
They worked diligently between them for a while until all the cakes were wrapped.
She sat down, her back aching a bit, and looked out the window at the rain that hadn’t stopped all morning. The hills looked dramatic, silhouetted against the grey sky.
‘It needs to stop raining by tonight, I really need to go out to work,’ she said, then wished she hadn’t as that was bound to lead to questions.
‘A lady of the night are you?’ Casey’s eyes gleamed with excitement. ‘A prostitute? A spy?’
‘Yes to both. Spying doesn’t pay well, so I supplement it with a bit of prostitution.’
‘I thought so. Oh that’s what I meant to ask you,’ she quickly changed the subject. ‘When Chloe was threatening me to keep away from Zach, she also said that I couldn’t have you because you were with one of her friends.’
Casey picked up a crumb of cake from the baking tray. ‘Umm… yes, Arielle.’
She waited for more details but clearly none were forthcoming. ‘You’re dating a girl?’
‘Yeah, well not really dating, sort of…’
There was another knock on the door, interrupting what Casey was clearly finding embarrassing to tell her. She presumed it was Finn or Zach and found herself straightening her hair as she moved to answer it, then cursed herself for doing it.
Opening the door, Joy came face to face with a spaghetti thin blonde, her hair scraped back in a very severe looking French roll. She was dressed in a very expensive, very short dress with matching jacket and her face had that look of someone who had sucked a lemon. She was pretty, Joy supposed, and would be even prettier without the excessive makeup and angry pursed lips. She was holding an umbrella over her that matched the colour of her dress suit exactly.
‘Is my fiancé in there with you?’
Joy felt like she’d just received a smack to the face with that news, but quickly collected herself. Clearly this woman had come to the wrong house.
‘Arielle, hi,’ came Casey’s voice behind her.
There was a silence as Joy processed this information and Arielle cast her beady eye over her.
‘This is Joy, she’s just moved in next to Zach,’ Casey said.
‘Evidently,’ said Arielle, icily.
‘Er…’ Casey fumbled for something to say. Gone was the happy, relaxed Casey – he had rapidly been replaced by someone who was clumsy, awkward and clearly petrified of his fiancé. ‘Joy is my cousin. Remember me telling you about Uncle Raymond, well this is his daughter.’
Arielle stared at Joy vacantly for a moment as well she might. Joy was feeling equally confused. Finally Arielle nodded and stretched out her hand for a delicate and formal handshake. ‘Of course, Cousin Joy, it’s a pleasure to finally meet you. You’ll be coming to the wedding next week?’
‘Yes, we invited her ages ago, she RSVP’d straightaway. We were quite close growing up.’ Casey squeezed past Joy who seemed to be frozen in the hallway.
Arielle cast her eyes over her again. ‘Of course, well if I don’t see you before, we’ll see you then. Casey do come along, we must meet with Jules to discuss the flowers. Apparently I can’t change the roses to daffodils as they aren’t in season. You need to talk to her.’
Without waiting for an answer, Arielle marched down the path to a little red convertible that was gleaming on the street. Casey glanced at Joy as he followed.
‘I can explain, I promise,’ he said and hurried after Arielle.
‘I can’t wait,’ Joy shouted after him.
But whether he heard or not, she didn’t know because her voice was lost in the noise of the engine as the car roared up the road.
Joy delivered the cakes to each doorstep in the village, though she hadn’t quite been brave enough to knock on the doors. Then it was time to take Darcy for a walk.
She intended to trek along the hill range past Menton Hall. She had a job to do there that night, if the rain stopped, and she wanted to get an idea of the lay of the land.
That’s what she was telling herself, it wasn’t at all because the hills held sentimental attachment to her.
When one of Alex’s friends had mentioned that his cousin was doing up a place in the country with a view to renting, Joy had taken it as a sign that it was time to move on from the busy town of Milton Keynes. She had been a face in the crowd there and had no more than a nodding acquaintance with her neighbours of three months.
It was only as she had driven round to see the house that the village names started to sound familiar. She had rounded a corner and was suddenly met with the striking hills that bordered the cluster of villages, the same hills that she had trekked over every weekend with her dad, right up until the weekend before he died.
Even before she saw the house, she knew she was going to say yes. Maybe she could never go back home, but maybe walking these hills with Darcy, as she had done many years before with her dad, would be all she needed to feel at home.
Joy sighed as Darcy left her side and went galloping up to greet Finn’s straggly dog. Seemingly, in the dog world, you just had to shove your nose up the other dog’s bum and you were best friends for life. She wondered what Finn’s reaction to that would be if she tried it. She hung back a little, hoping Finn would try to avoid her, but he was obviously on his way home now, so their paths had to cross if she intended taking Darcy on the walk she had planned. Finn called his dog away from Darcy, but Billy, tongue hanging out, stupid grin in place, was very interested in her. He had that demented look about him when a dog smells a bitch in heat. Damn it. Darcy had been a bit listless the day before, but Joy had put it down to the move. Still they wouldn’t be here long enough for Billy to get lucky. Hopefully Finn would pass without a single word.
He drew closer. He always looked so cool, even today tramping over the rain sodden fields with his dog, he looked like he’d just stepped out of a clothes commercial. He was wearing a simple baseball cap and a waterproof hoodie, but he still looked sexy. And also, as he drew closer, she saw he was wearing a sneer just for her. Her heart sank. Well attack was sometimes the best form of defence.
She marched up to him. ‘Why is it you hate me so much? It can’t possibly be about the ice cream, that would be unbelievably petty. And as you don’t get involved with village matters it can’t be about Mrs Kemblewick either, which by the way had nothing to do with me. So it’s either like Casey said, you hate me because I have red hair, which would be very shallow and small minded or it’s just that you’re a bastard for no other reason than you like to make people’s lives a misery. So tell me, which is it?’
He glared at her but when there was clearly no answer forthcoming, she turned away from him. ‘I’ll take that as the latter then. Darcy, heel!’
She walked away from him, her hands clenched into fists in her pockets, and refused to look back.
Damn it. Finn watched her go, his hand on Billy’s collar, who seemed very keen to follow them. Just like his owner. She was right, he was a bastard. He felt beyond guilty for shouting at her that morning just for singing and dancing – and then as she walked towards him, he had been appalled by how turned on he was after seeing Joy dressed in her waxed jacket and cap. It was a waxed jacket and cap, how could it be sexy? The black dress she had worn the day before was sexy. Not a waxed jacket and a pair of battered walking boots. He was determined to be polite, regardless of these insane feelings for her slamming through him. He was going to say hello, that was as good a start as any but as his emotions clawed away inside him his face must have been a picture as he battled with a sudden fear of redheads, a fear of intimacy and a fear of what might happen if they got too close. And whatever she had seen in his face had not been good, going on the defence before he attacked her again.
So now not only did he have to be polite to a woman, a redhead none the less, but he was going to have to work on his facial expressions too. He practiced a smile, the feeling of his mouth turning upwards felt alien to him. He looked down at Billy with the rictus grin stuck on his face, Billy glanced up at him and whined with something akin to fear. Finn sighed and headed for home.
The sun finally decided to make an appearance late afternoon as Joy came back home from her walk.
Though would it ever be the place she could finally call home? She would give Bramble Hill a chance, just like all the other places she had tried over the years. Joe, her landlord, had said if she wanted to stay, permanently, he would sell the place to her, but he was quite happy to rent in the meantime. She could easily afford the asking price if she decided to buy it; her job paid her ridiculously well. But as with the other places, she rented first, in a “try before you buy” type way. So far, she’d not found anywhere that she had wanted to buy.
As she drew close to her house, she noticed a collection of flies and wasps around her front door. More dog poo? But then the wasps wouldn’t be interested in that.
She moved closer and realised, with a crashing wave of disappointment, that many, if not all, of her lovingly made friendship cakes had been deposited on her doorstep. Some had seemingly been stamped on and some had even been forcibly shoved through her letterbox. They either hadn’t bothered to read the notes once they spotted it was from her, or hadn’t believed the declaration that she’d had nothing to do with the ousting of Mrs Kemblewick. It did seem slightly implausible that she was Joy Cartier and her landlord was Joe Carter; she and Joe had laughed about it when they had first met. It was much more believable that she was lying about who she was.
She couldn’t even get through the front door, there were so many wasps. She had legal access to her back garden through Finn’s garden. There was a side gate that allowed her to walk through his garden and into hers. She hadn’t used it yet, though she had every right to do so. She thought that it would be the polite thing to do to check with Finn before she strolled across his land. But since the man was an arse, she certainly wasn’t going to extend that courtesy to him.
She opened his back gate, which legally had to be kept unlocked, and walked purposefully towards her own gate, biting her lip as she hoped she could get past unnoticed. She would just walk across his garden as if she had every right to do so, which of course she did. Five metres away, four, three… and if he had noticed her he hadn’t come out and yelled at her yet. Suddenly something in Finn’s downstairs window caught her eye, and despite her best intentions to be in and out in mere seconds, she couldn’t help but look.
There was Finn, stark naked, drying his wet hair with a towel.
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