The Knot Garden by Marina Oliver - Read Online
The Knot Garden
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Summary

When Mr Greenslade, owner of Green Valley Garden Centre, falls from his wheelchair one night and is rushed into hospital, his daughter Tansy, talented interior designer, gives up the chance of a prestigious commission to go home to the Cotswolds and take charge. Things have been going wrong at the Garden Centre, small irritating mistakes, petty vandalism, and what increasingly seems like major sabotage. Is the incompetent manager responsible, or the charismatic Karl, whose company is trying to buy the centre?

Marina Oliver has published over fifty novels and several non-fiction books. Many of her historical novels, twentieth-century sagas, contemporary romances and crime books are now available as e-books.

Published: Marina Oliver on
ISBN: 9781465796462
List price: $3.99
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The Knot Garden - Marina Oliver

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Page 1 of 1

OLIVER

Chapter 1

Tansy pulled out her briefcase, locked the car, and began to jog towards the studio. Anxiety as well as tardiness impelled her feet. Thank heavens she'd worked into the small hours last night finishing her report. The phone calls, then the crawl to work through London rush hour traffic, and the search for a vacant parking spot had made her late for the meeting. It was only October but the Christmas shoppers were out in full force, further impeding her.

Inside the front showroom she paused and breathed deeply. She was out of condition. It had been months since she'd exercised regularly, she'd been so busy. But she also needed to think what she had to say to Tom and Darcy. They wouldn't like it one little bit.

Cheryl, their young assistant, sitting beside a man at the table, smiled across at her. They could have been taken for sisters, both tall and slender, with short blonde curly hair and blue eyes. Gemma, her real sister, couldn't have been less like her. Gemma was small and dark, and on the phone had been near-hysterical.

'Morning, Cheryl,' Tansy managed, and glanced at the ceiling. 'I was held up, I'll explain later. Has Tom arrived?'

Cheryl nodded, and behind the client's back winked. They shared a private joke that Tom, the senior partner, must have a penchant for fluffy blondes, since Darcy had straw-coloured hair, and though his was long and lank, the rest of him was decidedly fluffy. She was sitting at the table, legs primly and neatly disposed to one side as she showed a book of photographs to a tall man who lounged negligently in the armchair alongside. He was flicking through the pages, not looking properly, and Tansy wondered briefly why he was here if he was so little interested.

He glanced across at Tansy, frowning, gave her a swift appraisal, and without changing the bored expression in his cold blue eyes, unless it was to deepen his frown, turned back to the book. Tansy grimaced slightly at the back of his head. His dark hair was too long, curling slightly over his collar, he was too young, early thirties, she guessed, and his attitude too casual for him to be an important client. People had to have serious money to afford their services, which meant they were usually older.

'The meeting isn't due to start for ten minutes, Miss Greenslade.'

Tansy glanced at her watch, surprised. 'Thanks. I thought it was later than this.'

'Mr Scott and Mr Winstanley have a client with them, and there's a pot of coffee made,' Cheryl said formally. She'd only worked with them for a couple of months, since August, and everyone used first names, but Cheryl, product of a very prestigious secretarial college, considered it improper to do so in front of potential clients. Tansy gave her a grateful smile as she walked past towards the tiny office-cum-kitchen at the back. She hadn't had time for breakfast, there'd been too much else to do. Even in her eagerness to get going she needed a dose of caffeine.

She poured herself a mug of coffee, and stood sipping it by the small window which overlooked a malodorous alley cluttered with overflowing wheely bins.

The hospital had phoned Gemma first, and she'd rung Tansy before they had. It had taken several minutes to find out why she was so distraught.

'He's in a coma, but he might wake up! I can't go home, Tansy, I just can't!'

'Calm down, Gemma, I can't understand what you're saying. Who's in a coma?'

'Dad. Oh Tansy!' and she'd dissolved into a flood of new tears.

Eventually she'd calmed down enough to tell Tansy the bare facts, but had become incoherent again when Tansy tried to insist it was her duty to visit the hospital. 'I can't,' she'd repeated over and over again, and eventually Tansy had told her brusquely to go and pull herself together while she rang the hospital and got the details from them.

'I'll ring you back, so don't go away.'

It wasn't as bad as Gemma had said. Their father was ill, but not in any danger of a coma. An hour's delay before she drove to Oxford would hurt no one. It would allow the rush hour traffic to clear.

Tansy forced her attention back to the present. On the drive in she had rehearsed all she needed to say, and she couldn't concentrate on work. That, fortunately, was all in order. She glanced out into the alleyway. She didn't know where it led, or whether there were doors giving access to any of the other offices and shops in this street or the one behind. She just knew she wouldn't care to try and navigate the alley even in broad daylight. There were bound to be rats, if nothing worse. The thought of it unlit, in the dark, full of obstacles to trip over and places for attackers to hide made her shiver, and then she told herself not to be fanciful. She had no cause ever to explore it, and she has far more important things to think about, such as her father's situation, and her sister's inexplicable behaviour.

As she rinsed the mug, Cheryl came in and closed the door behind her.

'Are you OK?' she asked softly. The partitions were flimsy, not entirely soundproof, and Cheryl would not dream of discussing private matters before potential clients.

'Sure, I'm fine, but my father's had an accident. I have to go and see him, and meet my sister who's coming by train.'

It had taken persistence, and some sisterly brutality, but at last she had persuaded Gemma that she had to come. 'You can explain things to me at home,' she'd said when Gemma had started to make rambling explanations of why she was reluctant to leave college just at this time, even for a one day visit. Reluctant, Tansy wondered. She'd sounded afraid. But why on earth should that be? What had happened in the six months or so since she'd seen Gemma? Her occasional letters had been normal. Her course was going well, the vacation work had been enjoyable, her brief holiday on an organised college tour visiting gardens in Scotland had been fascinating. So what was wrong?

'You're meeting her in London?' Cheryl asked.

'No, Oxford. Her college is on the far side, there's a direct train. I'd better go up.'

She glanced at her watch, and moved towards the stairs. If the meeting was still going on she could be sorting through her small desk until the client left, and her employers were ready for what they liked to call their weekly grand strategy meeting. The front room on the upper floor was another showroom, but behind it the space had been carved into two relatively large offices for Tom and Darcy, and a tiny cubbyhole for her. Apart from the desk top, which rested on two short filing cabinets, and which had, most inconveniently, to be cleared when she needed to adjust it to provide a drawing board, there was one small chair, two shelves above the desk which were only partly accessible without standing on something, and a couple of hooks on the back of the door. As the chair had to be shifted to close the door, Tansy normally left it open. One day, the others had promised, when they had time to set it up, they would convert the floor above into a proper office suite. Then they might employ a secretary too, so that Cheryl didn't have to do all their typing on the ancient and temperamental computer which sat on one of the kitchen counters.

Darcy's door opened, and Tansy heard him, still talking in his rather high-pitched voice, as he escorted the visitor downstairs. She caught a glimpse of Darcy's bright blue suit, which in no way flattered his short, dumpy figure, and as she stood up Tom Scott, his hair as usual tousled, poked his head out of the door.

'Oh good, you're here. Come in, we're ready to start now.'

Tansy took another deep breath, picked up her briefcase, and followed him into the room. There were two stacking chairs on this side of the desk, and an ancient leather swivel office chair behind it where Tom now seated himself.

'Tansy, sit down. I'll be with you in a sec when I've found the damned things.'

Tansy sat down and opened her briefcase. Photographs, swatches of wallpaper and material, and paint cards littered the top of Tom's desk, partly hiding the layer of scattered papers beneath. As Tom busied himself sweeping away the samples, in the process sending several sheets of paper cascading to the floor, Tansy marvelled that he ran the studio so effectively. His was the business brain, while she and Darcy provided the artistic talent, but both of them were far more methodical than Tom.

'Where are they?' Tom muttered to himself, and suddenly dived onto the floor after some folders he'd dislodged. 'Here they are. How the devil did they get there? Right, let's begin.'

'Darcy – ' Tansy began, and at that moment Darcy bounced back into the room and gave a thumbs-up sign. Tansy grinned at his obvious excitement. He had another customer.

'He's going to phone when he's made arrangements with his wife, for us to go and see the house,' he said as he took the final chair. 'And there's the big one.' He grinned across at Tansy, and she grinned back. His enthusiasm was infectious. It was one of the things she most liked about working for the Scott Winstanley Studio. And then she remembered, and the smile died.

*

'We'll count our chickens when he does,' Tom said, always cautious.

'He will. I showed him some of your designs, Tansy, and he was hooked at once.'

'Let's get onto the agenda first,' Tom interrupted. 'The Hampstead house, Tansy. All finished?'

She had a manilla folder ready and handed it across. 'Here's the report. Mrs Goldstein has approved the final work, and the latest bills and the costings are all there,' she explained rapidly. 'Tom, there's a different problem.' She took a deep breath but Tom waved her to silence as he glanced through the folder.

'Good. I'm glad you've finished, Tansy. I want you to go and look at a really big job, a preliminary look today if possible. It's prestigious, but I think you're ready for it.'

'In your part of the world too,' Darcy put in, and his chubby face was creased into smiles. 'You could spend more time with your father while you're working on it.'

'That's not – ' Tansy interrupted, but Tom raised his voice.

'I want you to do it, but of course the client must approve your ideas, so don't depend on staying down in the Cotswolds,' he said briskly.

Tansy swallowed hard. 'That's just it,' she said quickly. 'I have to go down there today.'

'Yes, I said so. The client will be here soon. He'll drive you down and explain what he wants on the way.'

'I don't want to be driven down,' Tansy interrupted. Occasionally, when in the grip of an idea, Tom was like a juggernaut.

'Do as the client wants,' Tom responded, raising his voice above hers. 'He doesn't have much time, but he's seen some of your work and likes it. You can sort out some suggestions when you've seen the place, but you can go down later on your own to make sketches and work up your ideas.'

'You needn't be afraid he'll abduct you,' Darcy intervened when Tom paused for breath. 'We've had good references, and I can assure you he's not a rapist. He's a – '

Tansy cut him off. 'No I can't,' she said firmly. 'I can't go anywhere with anyone today. I came to give you that report and tell you I have to go home. Dad's been taken into hospital. He needs me.'

'Is it serious?' Darcy asked with quick sympathy.

'I'm sure the client could drop you at the hospital afterwards. Then you could come back by train tomorrow,' Tom said, frowning. 'After all, you can't do much for your father while he's in hospital. We can't let this contract slip through our fingers.'

Tansy sighed impatiently. Tom had a one-track mind where business was concerned, and was totally insensitive to her feelings, her worries and fears for her father. 'I don't know how serious it is,' Tansy said, turning to Darcy. 'Somehow he fell out of his wheelchair late last night, outside, and wasn't found until this morning.'

'Oh, you poor thing! How terrible for your father,' Darcy said. 'Is there anything I can do?'

She shook her head, smiling slightly. 'Thanks, but I don't know much yet. He'd only just been taken in when the hospital phoned my sister, and she phoned me. I rang the hospital but they said it was too early to tell how badly he'd been hurt, or when he could be let out. But it was cold, and I'm afraid he might have pneumonia. I have to be with him.'

'The hospital will cope. Tansy, you're not that far from Oxford, there are some of the best hospitals in the country there. What can you do that they can't?'

'Tom, have a heart. The girl wants to see him, reassure herself.'

Tom shrugged. 'I suppose so, but it's damned inconvenient. Maybe if the client drives you down you could discuss ideas, have a look round, visit your father, and go to see the house in more detail tomorrow? You could stay on a couple of days, do some sketches, make sure your father's all right. When you get back we'd be ready to give the client some suggestions. There's a housekeeper, I believe, to show you round.'

Tansy shook her head. She was determined to resist these steam roller tactics Tom employed when he wanted something. 'Apart from Dad I can't leave the garden centre to run itself. I need more time, not just a day or so. In fact – '

'I thought your father had a manager? He can hardly run such a business from a wheelchair.'

'He's always had a manager, even before the accident,' Tansy defended her father. He loathed being thought incapable just because his body was paralysed. 'His employees do the routine work. The accident didn't impair his brain! But his housekeeper left last week too, so he's on his own.'

'He can employ someone else for that. And you say he has a manager for the Garden Centre.'

'He does, but he was worried about the man last time I was down. His new manager wasn't very good, he said, and he thought he was going to have to sack the man. But he didn't say exactly why. I need to see what the problem is. If Dad's ill for long, I can't leave him to cope. He'd be worried sick if he was stuck in hospital, not knowing what was happening, and not able to trust this man.'

'What about your sister? Can't she help?'

'She's only nineteen, I can't expect her to run the Garden Centre, and if Dad's badly hurt it may mean I have to see to it for a while.'

Tom pushed both hands impatiently through his hair. 'Sorry, of course not, though it must make some things more difficult – being in a wheelchair, I mean – getting about, seeing what people are really doing. You need to keep a sharp eye on most employees. You know that, Tansy, supervising the people we hire for our jobs.'

'Yes. That's part of the trouble. This man can't be left on his own.'

'Sack the fellow. Get someone else. But do it quickly, OK? Then come back here.'

'It's not so easy, Tom.'

'We need you.'

'So does Dad. You can easily find another interior designer.'

'Not with your flair,' Darcy interrupted.

Tansy flashed him a brief smile. 'Thanks. But it's not true. Dad's only got me. Gemma's still at college, she can't give that up. And he's suffered enough the past few years. I came to warn you that I might have to resign and go and live there, look after the business for him.'

'What do you know about garden centres?' Darcy asked. 'It would be impossible. Gemma's more suitable, she's the horticulturalist, isn't she?'

'She's studying it, but she hasn't completed her course, and anyway, she's too young.'

'Get someone better if you must, but it would be wicked to waste your talent.'

Tom rose to his feet, pushing his chair back so that it banged against the wall. He leant, clenched fists on the desk, towards her, his tall, thin figure looming over her in the enclosed space.

'This just isn't good enough, Tansy. We're a small outfit, everyone has to pull their weight.'

'I know that, and normally I do.'

His rather beaky nose made her think of a predatory vulture. Tansy's heart sank. His unpredictable temper, always simmering just below the surface, had erupted and he'd be blind to all reason until, just as suddenly, he calmed down.

'If you don't come back before the end of the week you can kiss a partnership here goodbye,' he snapped.

Darcy tugged at his purple velvet bow tie and one end came adrift. He was unaware of it. 'Oh, come on, Tom, that's a bit premature. We ought at least to wait and see what the situation is.'

'There's no time, he said he was in a hurry.'

'But if we explained? He'll understand. Let Tansy take the week, come back next Monday when she knows how her father is, and discuss it then.'

'And if he doesn't understand? We'll lose the biggest commission we've been offered so far. He wants Tansy. He was hardly complimentary about your style, it's too modern.'

'He called it outrageous,' Darcy said, giggling. Tom glared at him.

'He wants something more traditional, to fit in with the house. If he can't have Tansy, and soon, he'll go somewhere else. You'll see this house and be back on Friday at the latest, Tansy. That's all I have to say.'

Tansy stood up abruptly, the sheaf of notes on her lap cascading unheeded to the floor, her anger almost choking her. 'Well, it's not all I have to say! Have you no human sensitivity?'

'Tom, take it easy,' Darcy exclaimed. 'I could go down today, have a look round, take some photos for Tansy and drop them off at her place. She could do some work from them. I can put off that other job.'

'What good would that do? You know perfectly well the man's been recommended by someone who loves Tansy's work – '

Darcy shook his head. 'By my cousin, actually. She sent him to me, but he preferred Tansy's style. Mine's too modern. He won't accept anyone else. So I'm sure he'll wait.'

Tom glowered at him. 'He'll go elsewhere. After all our work, it will be criminal to let this one slip through our fingers.'

'There are other clients. This one will have to wait or take someone else,' Tansy snapped. 'I'm resigning right now and you can discuss ideas with your precious client yourself! I'm going to make sure Green Valley Gardens is run properly, and see my father.'

She turned away, remembered just in time to pick up her briefcase, and stormed from the room.

'Tansy, wait!' Darcy called, and she heard a chair falling over as he rushed after her. 'Please don't go like this. I'm sure that when Tom's had time to think about it we can work something out.'

'You know he won't calm down for days,' Tansy said quietly, 'just listen to him.'

Tom was swearing vividly, and it sounded as though he was throwing all the contents of his desk onto the floor.

Briefly she considered whether to collect her few personal belongings from her desk, but she was too angry to pause, and she didn't want to argue with Darcy, who was bleating plaintively at her, or for him to follow her and try to persuade her to change her mind.

There was someone leaning against the wall at the top of the stairs but Tansy brushed past, unseeing. As she ran down the stairs she heard a deep, resonant voice saying something about the time but she was far too angry to listen. In the showroom Cheryl was collecting together the photographs, and didn't look up until Tansy was almost at the door.

'Tansy? Why, what's the matter?'

'I've resigned,' Tansy told her briefly. 'Be a dear and send my stuff round to my flat. The caretaker will keep it until I can collect it. Bye.'

Seeing Darcy, puffing, and with one end of his bow tie floating back over his shoulder, emerge from the stairs looking anxious she pushed swiftly through the door, ignoring Cheryl's questions, and almost ran towards her car. Reaching it she sat for several minutes, ignoring the impatient hoots of two other drivers anxious to take over her parking space. She was trembling so much from distress and worry about her father as well as anger at Tom that she didn't want to drive until she was calmer.

She forced herself to forget what he'd said, and rang Gemma from her mobile.

'Have you sorted out train times yet?' she asked abruptly. 'When do you get into Oxford?'

'Tansy, it's not so easy – ' Gemma began.

'You promised,' Tansy interrupted. 'You can't back out now.'

'I won't, but there's so much to do here, so many things to organise. I'll catch a train this afternoon. I'll let you know what time.'

'Mind you do,' Tansy said and disconnected.

Why was her sister being so uncooperative? Would she come, or find some other excuse? It had been difficult enough to force her into compliance earlier that morning, and Tansy vowed that if Gemma did not turn up that afternoon she'd drive down to her college and haul her out of her lecture, or practical, or, if it were late enough, out of bed. She had to come and see her father. It might, for all she knew, be for the last time.

Tansy stifled a sob and began to plan her route from Mayfair to the M40, and then to the hospital. She glanced at her watch. It was still only 9.30, yet she felt drained of all energy, as if it were the end of a long and tiring day. She took a deep breath and turned the ignition key. Damn Tom. It was her father, and his business which had helped him to start a new life, that mattered now.

*

Chapter 2

Tansy looked down at her father's still form. They had assured her that he was comfortable, in no immediate danger, and had suffered no more than bruising and the effects of exposure, but she found his white face and the tubes he was attached to frightening rather than reassuring.

It reminded her of those earlier times when she'd visited him in hospitals. There had been the first vicious attack which had cost him his career seven years earlier, just after she'd left school, and then the car smash just over a year ago in which he'd been paralysed and her mother had lost her life. They had been horrific, she'd felt devastated then, and it seemed like a replay, seeing him so pale and helpless.

She wished Gemma had been with her. Yet Gemma had sounded so terrified, what would this do to her? She'd been very young the first time, and they had shielded her from the worst. When their mother had died she'd coped well, but now she seemed to have changed, and Tansy didn't know why.

'We need to keep him under observation, though,' the nurse added as she showed Tansy into the small side room. 'He's sedated, and his condition's stable, but there could be a delayed effect. Especially in his situation.'

'Do you know what happened? Why is his situation special?'

'We like to be sure with head injuries. All I was told was that he was found in the open, and had fallen from his wheelchair. I don't know how that happened, but he hit his head and he might have a bit of concussion. Also, it was a cold night. He may develop pneumonia.'

'How long had he been lying there?'

'We don't know. I think it was the milkman who found him and telephoned for an ambulance, at about seven this morning. Fortunately your father was still in his day clothes, and was wearing a thick anorak with a hood, or it could have been much worse. Why don't you come back this evening? He'll be awake then, and maybe he'll remember something.'

'Yes. Thank you.'

'What about your sister? Is she coming? I know we phoned her.'

Tansy nodded. 'She's coming down this afternoon. I'll collect her from the station and bring her later.'

She turned away. Her main fears for him were allayed, and she had time for other questions which assailed her. What on earth had her father been doing outside the house after dark? It must have been after dark since the garden centre stayed open until dusk during the winter, and if he'd had the accident before then someone would have found him. And