The Flower Girls by Margaret Blake by Margaret Blake - Read Online

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Summary

Poppy leaves all she loves in Florida to join her sister in Yorkshire. Jasmine has been writing frantic letters letting Poppy know that she's frightened of her husband, Seth Sanderson. Yet when Poppy arrives in Yorkshire, she finds that Jasmine is away. No one seems to know where she's gone but Poppy learns it's something she frequently does. Seth doesn't know and although his cousin Edward appears to know more than he's saying, the mystery cannot be solved. Poppy finds Seth not frightening at all, in fact she finds herself more and more attracted to him. Guilt overwhelms her when she discovers what has happened to Jasmine, yet the attraction to Seth continues...
Published: Whiskey Creek Press on
ISBN: 9781611607994
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27

THE FLOWER GIRLS

by

MARGARET BLAKE

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Published by

WHISKEY CREEK PRESS

Whiskey Creek Press

PO Box 51052

Casper, WY 82605-1052

www.whiskeycreekpress.com

Copyright Ó 2014 by Margaret Blake

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to 5 (five) years in federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Names, characters and incidents depicted in this book are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental and beyond the intent of the author or the publisher.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN: 978-1-61160-799-4

Cover Artist: Ester Rose

Editor: Dave Field

Printed in the United States of America

Dedication

For my grandchildren – love ya’ll!

And many thanks to my editor, Dave Field. Thanks also to my cover artist.

Chapter 1

Poppy Lord gave her apartment a last loving examination. She loved the colors, mimosa and orange, so appropriate for the hot Florida sun. It was too bad, if she had been the kind of girl who cried over material things, she thought she could have sobbed. As it was, stiffening her spine, she turned and walked out, quietly closing the door behind her.

The keys were in an envelope, duly stamped. After popping the envelope in the mail slot, she took out her phone and dialed a taxi number. The sun was warm, not hot and sweaty as it could be, but a delicious seventy-five degrees. A brief resentment rattled its way through her and it stayed as the cab pulled up and she slid inside. It was there with her right through security at the airport as she slammed her small onboard luggage onto the belt.

She wandered through the scanner, pleased that there was no bleep, and then struggled to drag her bag from the belt and pull on her soft white sandals. The air terminal, although small and clean and neat as only a Tampa airport could be, did little to ease the resentment.

Wandering over to Starbucks, she ordered a latte and then went and sat by one of the windows overlooking the runways. Her life was going to be so different.

The short flight to Atlanta was crowded; they asked if anyone had any bags they could check. She mused on checking her little bag but then couldn’t be bothered. That was the trouble; she couldn’t really be bothered about anything anymore.

Damn Jasmine.

Eschewing the train at Atlanta, she walked to the international terminal; she’d be sitting for eight hours and decided she needed the exercise. They were just calling her row when she arrived and she tagged herself onto the end of the queue. As she shuffled along she said a little prayer silently to herself. Something she always did when she was flying. After all this time she still felt a little apprehensive.

Exhausted on arrival she nevertheless marched through the airport to the train station. There was only a ten-minute wait; she had to have done something right, she mused. Anyone with any decency would surely have met her at Manchester. So what if Heaton Grange was over fifty miles away, it was nothing in US terms. But how could she expect Jasmine’s husband to do anything for her, wasn’t that the reason she was coming to stay with her sister? To act as—what—a buffer or whatever between Jasmine and the man she’d married? The dreadful Seth Sanderson. Seth, who called their kid Seth? It was the name of the Egyptian god of chaos and storms. The god Seth had murdered his brother. It was a name that had doom all around it and her younger sister had married the guy. Marry in haste, regret at leisure, that was what Jasmine was now doing.

Jasmine had told her what station to alight at. From here she was to take a taxi. It would cost her thirty pounds. The lazy lout couldn’t even be bothered to drive that distance to collect her.

She shivered violently.

God, it’s so damned cold.

The wind whipped around her, penetrating the soft silk of her jacket. It was spring in England and she’d forgotten how cold a British spring could be. The station looked desolate. There were tubs of daffodils and a freshly painted green bench but little else. She was the only passenger to leave the train. No ticket collector or stationmaster. Outside there was a small forecourt and parked up was a private hire car. Donalds car hire, it stated on the door. She noticed there was no apostrophe after the d in Donald.

Are you here to pick me up? she asked.

The man was about fifty, overweight and wearing a T-shirt on which was written the name of some football club she’d never heard of.

No, why? Have you booked someone? he muttered, glancing at the back of her as if expecting a line of people.

No but I thought my sister might have. Are you free?

Depends where you’re going.

Heaton Grange.

Oh well, ’eaton Grange, eh? It’ll cost you.

Thirty pounds I believe.

Aye, that’ll do. Get in then.

Right, two bags… she said. Without leaving the car he popped open the trunk. Obviously she had to put her own bags in the back.

No wonder you’re so fat, she thought but did not feel like alienating him. After all she had no idea where she was or what direction to travel in.

Once settled in the back, she refrained from trying to have a conversation. The man just started the car, steered off the forecourt and took a left. He didn’t seem like he wanted to talk either, which was a relief.

They flew through a small town, past a row of tired-looking shops, through one set of traffic lights and then onto an open road. On either side there were a couple of grand-looking villas and then nothing but desolate moorland, extending as far as the eye could see. These were dotted with sheep, an occasional lake or reservoir, but it was really an empty landscape that didn’t appeal to her sense of beauty. It was too harsh, too cold and colorless—even the sky was a dirty gray color. The hills were a brownish-green and she could see no flower, tree, or anything that she could remotely call attractive.

What a dump, she thought, thinking about lush green and warm Florida. No wonder Jasmine’s going mad here. What one earth persuaded her to live in this miserable corner of England with a man who patently doesn’t love her and who dragged her to this dreadful place?

Now and again they sped by a small village or hamlet. She remembered her own county, in the south, soft and verdant. She’d left that as soon as she could and through various circumstances had ended up in the States where she’d been for nearly ten years.

The car turned at last, taking a narrow road. On one side—the side she was sitting—the path was precipitous, and down below she could see a stream. There had to have been a lot of rain for the water was rushing by at tremendous speed, causing lots of white spray. Now and again, a stream of water tumbled down the hillside, and like a mini-waterfall poured itself into the water below.

Another turn and they were going upwards. The car bumped over loose stones, she could hear the driver muttering ominously, but then another turn and they were on a well-tarred path. The ride smooth. It was a driveway; there were a couple of trees, leafless and bent into weird shapes that would look like long-fingered monsters in the gloaming, she surmised. Then it was there. Heaton Grange.

Oh my, and the words came out loud. The driver turned and gave her a leer that she supposed was his idea of a smile.

Aye, Heaton Grange. Nice place eh?

I wouldn’t dispute with you over that statement, she thought.

A Stuart house she guessed, perhaps a tad later—slate colored stone, mullioned windows. No turrets, no gothic twist, but pleasing lines. Not a palace, or a castle but a gentleman’s house, that was for certain. How on earth had Jasmine managed this? In the beginning, when she thought about Jasmine and the man she’d married, she’d imagined a small, old farmhouse, either that or a large Victorian terrace but this…this was something else.

Chapter 2

After struggling to grab her own bags from the back of the car, she went up to the huge wooden door and rang the bell. She shivered. There was no sound but the wind. She rang the bell again just a moment before the huge door was flung back.

A small woman stood looking at her. Judging by her wrap-around overall, Poppy assumed she was a cleaner.

Well? You rang the bell didn’t you? the woman barked ungraciously.

I’m Poppy; I’m here to see Mrs. Sanderson.

Mrs. Sanderson? A frown puckered the woman’s brow. She wasn’t that old, forty or fifty. Peering around Poppy, her gaze alighted on the bags. They yours?

Yes.

You think you’re coming to stay here?

Yes. Jasmine—I mean Mrs. Sanderson—invited me. I’m her sister.

Is that so? Now the woman put her arms akimbo, something resembling a smile turning her mouth. Well thou best come in, leave them bags there. Jason’ll bring ’em.

Thinking it best to do as she was bid, Poppy nodded her agreement, trailing after the woman across a stone-flagged hallway. It seemed dark and dreary. There were a couple of doors of dark wood. Light snuck in from a window at the top of a wide staircase.

Opening one of the doors, the woman ushered her forward. You best sit here, in the parlor. I’ll find someone for you.

But I only want Jasmine, and not just someone.

But her protest was silent—truthfully she felt a little overawed. This was definitely not what she expected.

The parlor was warm and cozy, a huge fire played in the grate and Poppy wandered over to it. There was a sofa; she sank into its comforting folds, holding her hands out over the roaring flames.

She yawned. She was so tired, she sat back—feeling her eyes close, she opened them wide, trying to stare. They fluttered closed…it was so hard now to keep her eyes open, if only…

Something soft against her face. Opening her eyes, she saw that her feet were up on the sofa and she was covered in a deep red chenille throw.

God, what’s happened?

She sat up quickly, putting her feet down on the floor, only then realizing that she was shoe-less.

Her shoes were tucked against the end of the sofa. Outside it was darker now; how long had she slept? Brushing her fair hair from her forehead, she tugged it back as if pulling her hair would help drag her fully awake. The inside of her mouth was like the bottom of a birdcage.

Standing, she felt like a newborn, her legs wobbly. Gripping the mantelshelf, she shook herself into some semblance of control. She noticed the bell pull to the side of the fireplace.

Dare I pull it?

Would it bring the formidable cleaning woman? Had she come to her aid? Of course not, it would be Jasmine. For once Jasmine had decided to be unselfish and thoughtful. A first surely!

Taking a chance, she tugged the bell. She heard the footsteps beyond the door. A heavy tread and then the door opened, the threshold filled not by the severe cleaning woman, or Poppy’s slender sister, but by a man.

He was tall and broad. His white shirtsleeves were rolled up to the elbows and the body of the shirt was tucked firmly into the band of dark green cords. He was wearing green wellingtons and looked wind-buffeted. As he came deeper into the room he brought the scent of peat and the great outdoors. Poppy stepped back, suddenly filled with fear. Was this Seth Sanderson? It seemed impossible.

You’re Poppy Lord, he announced, striding now towards her, his arm outstretched. How do you do? he said. His accent, unlike his appearance, was refined, but distant. There was little warmth in his greeting. His voice was deep and not unpleasant. The reverse actually.

Are you…are you Jasmine’s husband? she asked. She offered her hand. His hand was cold but his clasp was firm.

He didn’t smile. You might say that, he answered enigmatically. Jasmine isn’t here; I’m afraid I don’t know where she is.

* * * *

The room was large but comfortable. A fire roared in the grate and there was the hum of background heating too from a large radiator. All mod-cons. She even had her own small bathroom—well, just a shower and a toilet and a sink, very adequate. The heavy brocade curtains were drawn across the windows. Dragging her feet across the floor, she peered out but all was darkness. She could see nothing but a huge moon and several twinkling stars.

The soup and sandwich she’d taken had filled her; she hadn’t been able to finish the delicious cheese and bread. Too tired to take much in, when Seth Sanderson suggested she might like to go bed she agreed immediately.

Alone in the room Mrs. Carrington had brought her to—someone not merely a cleaning woman but a housekeeper-cook it seemed—she had time to reflect on Jasmine and her disappearance. Not that Seth Sanderson was worried. She did that a lot, apparently, took off. Yet she knew Poppy was coming; it seemed a peculiar thing to do. Not that her frequently taking off was not peculiar as well. Just what was Jasmine up to? It didn’t seem as if her life even remotely resembled what she’d written about in her e-mails.

Poppy pulled off her clothes and then scrambled beneath the duvet. It was snug and warm and when she extinguished the light the darkness wrapped around her. There was nothing threatening in it, in fact she welcomed the peace and quiet. Her mind was poised ready to leap into action, to analyze and try to explain just what Jasmine was up to, but her physical tiredness was too strong and she fell into a deep and dreamless sleep.

* * * *

Refreshed, Poppy woke up to see light sneaking in through a crack in the curtains. The fire in the grate had long since died but the room retained the heat of last night. The radiators were obviously very efficient. Scrambling from the bed, she went to the window, threw back the curtains and looked out. A milky sun touched the hills, there were splotches of purple and the trees shimmered in the light. It didn’t look as unappealing as yesterday. Poppy knew that was because it looked nothing like lush Florida, she admitted, she had been resentful arriving in such a cold and bleak place after her long sojourn at Tampa Bay. Resentful too because Jasmine had made her give up so much. A moment’s anger stirred. To add insult to injury her sister hadn’t deigned to stay around to greet her. So much for Jasmine being a virtual prisoner, held in a miserable house by a man who treated her contemptuously. Of course the latter was probably true, but Jasmine was obviously no prisoner, otherwise she wouldn’t have been able to skip off when she liked.

Quickly Poppy unpacked her bag before taking a shower. Dressed in jeans and a warm sweater, she went