The next day, Abbey and Jemma sat in the kitchen having breakfast, while Alice sat in her chair and Mark sat reading the morning paper. Abbey, telling Jemma about her wedding plans.
‘Mark and I would like to get married as soon as possible.’
‘Are you sure Abbey? I know you seem very happy with Mark, but it’s not that long since you thought you wanted to marry Craig. You don’t have to worry Jemma, what Craig and I had it was just a schoolgirl thing. We’d had a crush on one another since we were children. I know that now and Craig probably recognised the difference when he met Lenora. We met last time I was home and recognised it for what it was. We have decided to stay friends, because as you know we really were good friends. I explained things to mum too. She was glad we broke up actually; she said Craig wasn’t my type from the start.’
Jemma gazed mildly at her friend thinking. ‘Yes, she does seem to have changed a little. Remembering suddenly how she had asked her for advice on what to wear the first time she had had a date with Craig.’
‘Of course I’ll have to go home first, and make the arrangements to leave work, and I’ll have to explain to mum. That’s if she hasn’t realised already.’ She said with a laugh. ‘I did nothing else but talk about you all last time I was home, especially Mark. I’m sure she’ll like Mark.’ She screwed up her brow and gazed at Jemma enquiringly, but Jemma didn’t say anything. ‘So, it’s going to be a couple of months before we can start to make any real plans. In the meantime, we’ll be together all over the Christmas holiday.’ She sat back on the kitchen chair, hugging her self happily, a look of shear bliss on her face.
Jemma smiled at her friend ‘I really am very pleased for you Abbey, and I hope everything turns out just as you want it to.’
Jemma was happy for her friend, even though she worried about herself and Pup. She loved her work at the vineyard, and had become increasingly fond of Alice. She didn’t want to leave, but if Abbey married Mark, she would probably take over the care of Alice. Abbey would of course be her stepmother. This would make her redundant she thought unhappily.
Abbey looked at her friend. ‘What was the matter with her? Why did she seem so reticent?’
Then, Jemma changed the subject and began to talk about shopping for Christmas, so Abbey put it out of her mind.
’Shall we have a day at the shops Abbey? We can take Alice to see Father Christmas. It will probably be her first time. I do hope she doesn’t cry I did when I first saw him, so my mom said. I’ll go and get her ready.’ She picked Alice up and left the room, going upstairs to change and get Alice ready to go out.
Mark who had only been half listening to the conversation whilst eating his breakfast, smiled at Abbey and rose from the table. ‘I’ll ring the garage and see about the car,’ he said leaving the kitchen.
He returned a few minutes later, a look of sheer disbelief on his face. ‘It seems. Someone cut through the brake pipes. I can hardly believe it.’ Mark’s perplexed face looked with disbelief across the table at Abbey as he sat down again in the chair he had just vacated. ‘The mechanics at the garage declare it wasn’t an accident.’ He paused, sounding rather dazed. ‘And, the garage recommends we get the police on to it.’
Carl entered the kitchen as Mark finished saying the last few words. ‘What’s that about the police?’ His eyebrows lifted inquiringly as he gazed at Mark. Mark repeated his conversation with the person from the garage.
‘My God!’ Carl bristled. The anger seemed to radiate from him in spirals. ‘You could have both been killed.’ He sat down on one of the kitchen stools suddenly, as the anger seemed to drain from his body, leaving him feeling helpless.
‘I can’t believe it!’ His shoulders sagged and he put his elbows on the table, his head in his hands slowly shaking his head. ‘Who would?’ then he shut up, quickly lifting his head again to stare straight into his brothers’ eyes. Shock and sudden knowledge etched across his face. ‘She wouldn’t? Surely not; she couldn’t?’ said Carl as he stared into his brothers’ eyes, hardly able to believe the words he was saying, but seeing the grim expression etched across his brothers face, he knew it was probably true.
Mark said, ‘Yes. She would!’ Carl knew then without a doubt, that he believed him. ‘She must have either bribed, or paid someone to do it for her’ said Mark, shrugging his shoulders expressively. ‘Now, I must inform the police,’ he said and stood up decisively, turning to leave the kitchen and return to the office.
Alice was becoming fidgety she had stood for what seemed like ages waiting for the grown ups to take her out. Jemma suddenly realised that Alice still had her coat on, and was waiting for them to leave.
She caught hold of her hand. ‘Sorry Alice, come on Abbey, we’ll catch the bus to town, there’s nothing we can do here.’ Both girls put their coats on and left the house, taking Alice to the village to catch the bus and leaving the men behind to sort out their problems with the police.
Carl followed Mark slowly into the office, as his brain turned over the events of the last few weeks. Mark looked up from the desk, putting the phone down and watched Carl as he entered the room his face was grim.
‘The police are going to the garage to look at the car.’ He sat down in the big leather chair behind the desk. Watching as Carl lowered himself into the chair on the opposite side of the big desk. ‘I didn’t expect her to go to this kind of length Carl. She’s mad! Why? What’s she doing it for? She doesn’t really want Alice.’ He sat back, his head resting wearily on the back of the leather chair behind the desk, and looked across at Carl.
‘No. She doesn’t Mark. She’s probably heard how well the vineyard and the caravan parks doing. She wants in, she thought she had taken it all from us and now she’s filled with jealousy and hate, because we managed to make it work again.’
‘I’m sorry Carl. There I am, prattling on about marrying Abbey, when we’re having all this trouble, first the winery, and then the caravan getting blown up, then to top it all, the accident with the car. How do you put up with me? You must be out of your mind with worry. I’m the eldest and I, should be the one sorting it out.’
’We are brothers Mark, I’m just happy you found someone like Abbey. Not every girl would want to marry an ugly duckling like you.’ Said Carl and he laughed at Mark, trying hard to lighten the situation a bit. It didn’t seem quite believable, that anyone would resort to the kind of things that they had endured over the last few months.
Mark smiled at his brother’s image of himself. ‘It’s about time you found someone. I thought that you liked Jemma. Have you changed your mind?’
Carl swung his chair round, turning away, and hiding his face. ‘She has a boyfriend.’ His reply was terse, as he rose from his chair and walked out of the door.
The girls came back from shopping in a gay mood, full of plans for decorating the house for Christmas. They tumbled out of the taxi, and Pup danced excitedly around their feet, as they carried in the parcels. The kitchen table soon filled up with bags’, packets and parcels of every size and shape.
Alice tried to help, while everyone laughed happily at her efforts. The girls emptied the bags filling the tables and sides with tinsel and wrappings and proceeded to fill bowls and dishes, with fruit and bon-bons, while little Alice wanted to try eating everything.
Worried about the incidents that had happened at the vineyard, the brothers had to try hard to enter into the spirit of gaiety, as they helped Jemma and Abbey to put up the shining decorations. Eventually the gaiety of the girl’s infectious laughter took over. The brothers began to enjoy themselves, laughing helplessly at each other, as they stuck one end of a trimming up to have the other end fall down. Mark went to buy a tree, and returned with the biggest he could find. He then helped the girls to hang the decorations on it, lifting Alice up, to put the fairy on the top.
Alice became so excited, helping her daddy and the girls to decorate the tree, that it seemed a shame to put her to bed. So everyone agreed she should stay up with the grown ups to enjoy herself. Until finally tired out, she dropped off to sleep in one of the armchairs, curled up with Pup. Mark carried her upstairs, leaving Jemma to undress her and put her into bed.
Christmas day, everyone tried to enter into the party spirit. It was hard work as each of them was obsessed with their own problems. The brothers worriedly watching for anything that might spark off another accident, on tenterhooks wondering what would happen next, and Jemma worried if she would still have a job after Abbey and Mark married.
Alice and Abbey seemed to be the only ones that were truly happy. Abbey sat contentedly with Alice, demonstrating how to feed the baby doll she had brought her.
Everyone helped to make dinner, which turned out beautifully, and Alice fell asleep in her high chair again after the day’s excitement, and she was put to bed.
Jemma had promised to go out with Michael Christmas night. He had arranged to take her to a party at one of his friends. She had treated herself, making a special effort, as it was Christmas and buying a pretty top for the occasion.
It was a soft filmy affair in green that showed off her complexion. The bra she wore underneath was lacy and quite daring for Jemma, showing a deep cleavage through the filmy material.
Carl sat in his armchair at the side of the hearth, gazing sombrely into space, his mind on recent events, when Jemma entered the room to say she was leaving. He leaned forward staring at her, absolutely amazed at the difference. He couldn’t quite believe it was the same Jemma. Carl had become quite used to her nights out at the disco with Michael. Usually he tried to evade seeing her leaving with him, but tonight she had aroused the feelings in him again that he thought he had overcome. She always looked so demure around the house, like a schoolgirl in her jeans and tee shirt, nothing like this Jemma, a vital alive, young woman that made his pulse’s race excitingly.
She smiled her eyes taking in all the company, saying goodnight and wishing them all a good evening. Then bending down to Pup’s basket she gave Pup his customary pat, before she left them sitting in the cosy living room.
Sliding her arms into her leather jacket, she went outside, and climbed into the car. Michael gave her his customary whistle of approval as she climbed into the seat. Leaning over to gently kiss her on the mouth, he handed her a present. It was a long box, wrapped in shiny silver paper with a red bow.
Jemma thanked him. Then taking a tiny box from her pocket, she gave it to him.
‘Happy Christmas Michael.’
They both sat opening their presents.
Jemma’s was a gold charm bracelet. In the middle was a gold heart.
‘There, now you know you have my heart Jemma,’ said Michael. He took the bracelet from her cold hands and fastened it around her wrist, before bending to kiss the inside of her wrist his lips lingering softly. His eyes glowed, like blue sapphires, filled with the love he felt, as he lifted his head to smile at her warmly.
‘Thank-you Michael, it really is very beautiful.’ Jemma saw the look of love he gave her, in the beautiful blue eyes, and felt a great sadness. She knew she didn’t love Michael, although he was everything a girl could wish for, he wasn’t Carl.
‘So is mine, thank-you Jemma, now, let’s have a ball. The party should be in full swing when we arrive.’ Michael had noticed that she seemed very sad, not her usual happy self at all, and decided determinedly that he was going to cheer her up.
The party was in full swing when they arrived, Jemma loved to dance and Michael swung her straight onto the floor. For a while she forgot her problems enjoying the dancing, until they sat down for a drink.
‘You seem much happier now my Cherie, why were you so sad, when we came out?’ Jemma looked at him in surprise. She didn’t think he had noticed.
‘Jemma, I know you much better than you think. Please Cherie; tell me what it is that’s troubling you?’ Michael’s voice echoed his concern and the blue eyes that gazed at her were filled with understanding and love.
Making Jemma aware, that she was probably guilty of giving Michael false hope, an even deeper feeling of sadness engulfed her. ‘Why couldn’t she love Michael? He seemed to love her so much and she knew to be fair to him she should tell him he had no chance. Here her courage failed her it was Christmas after all. He had just given her his heart he said. How could she destroy the man, especially tonight when he had been so patient and had such high hopes’ she sighed despondently?
‘I may be leaving France after Christmas Michael.’ At least breaking it this way might make him look for someone else she reasoned hopefully. Michael grabbed her hands.
‘Why!’ She looked up into the desperate blue eyes.
‘Abbey, and Mark, are getting married.’
‘The pale blonde girl, your friend, the one who came for a holiday from England?’ said Michael.
‘Yes, and once they get married they probably won’t need me any more.’
’Are you sure, what about all the other work you do?’
‘Probably Abbey will take over those responsibility’s too.’ ‘I think that maybe you are jumping a little too forward, they will probably still need you.’ His French accent became prominent, as he tried to find the right words with which to reassure her. His hands still held hers and he stroked them tenderly.
Jemma shrugged her shoulders wearily tired of the worry that seemed to play on her mind. It was Christmas they should be enjoying themselves. Smiling briefly at him she pulled him onto the dance floor. ‘Come on Michael, let’s go and party.’ Jemma let herself go it was Christmas, and she had a very handsome young man to dance with. She gathered herself together, determined to enjoy herself.
A little later, as they were on their way home she realised she’d had a couple of drinks too many. She began to feel a little dizzy, and she hoped that Michael was sober enough to drive them home
Back at the winery, Carl was pacing up and down his bedroom floor as if he was a tiger in a cage. In his mind, he was going over all the accidents that had happened over the last few months at the winery. Detail by detail, racking his brain, trying desperately to come up with some answers. The wine cask, the mowing machine, the brakes on the car, how had she managed it? No one had seen anything, except Yvette and Jemma, when they had seen the figure running among the caravans. Did she have an accomplice somewhere? He tried to think who it could possibly be, was it someone they employed at the winery? No! He quickly rejected that idea. They all seemed pretty reliable. Could it be someone from the village? Could Sonya have had something to do with the fire at the house as well? There had been no evidence found to prove anything, nothing not a single clue to his or her identity. The more he thought about it, the more puzzled and angry he became.
He had come to a halt in front of the window, his eyes staring out but not seeing.
When Michael’s car pulled up, he watched angrily as Michael walked around the car to help Jemma out. She was giggling and seemed unsteady on her feet. She was drunk? ‘Women’ he thought angrily. They were all the same. He stood watching intently, waiting for Michael to come back to the car. ‘Where was he?’
Jemma knew she’d had too much to drink, she giggled helplessly as Michael helped her around the corner of the house. He propped her up gently against the wall. Then putting one arm around her waist he tried to stop her sliding down the wall and open the door at the same time. She was very unsteady on her feet and swayed helplessly towards him still giggling.
Michael was no saint and he bent his head to kiss the tempting mouth. Gathering her into his arms he felt the slight trembling of her body, and his own responded instantly. He knew he loved her too much to take advantage, but even as the thought entered his mind, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he was swung around and pulled savagely from her arms. The next second, a fist like a hammer, smashed into his face. He staggered back, the surprise nearly flooring him. Michael wasn’t drunk, because he knew he had to take Jemma home and then drive home himself. He wouldn’t risk their lives.
He looked into the angry face of the young man who had just thumped him, seeing the haunted look on his face. He realised, this man, was going through some kind of hell of his own.
‘It’s all right’ he said, putting his hands up to ward of further aggression, and trying to speak calmly said. ‘I’m leaving.’ He turned to Jemma ‘I’ll ring you tomorrow Jemma, thank-you for a lovely evening Cherie,’ giving her a lopsided grin he walked away rubbing the side of his jaw.
Carl watched him walk away, surprised and a little indignant, because he had expected some kind of retaliation. Then he turned back angrily, to look at Jemma. The big green eyes looked at him wonderingly. The strawberry mouth was ripe, soft and lush, ready for the taking. He stepped over to her, the anger he had been experiencing over the accidents at the vineyard, and the jealousy that raged inside him, taking hold of him. He grabbed her arms, his grip was cruel hurting her, and his voice was hoarse with the rising passion he felt.
‘You want to be kissed,’ he crushed the soft mouth beneath his own in savage passion. Jemma yielded, her lips softening at his touch. She knew she loved him. She had dreamed daily of his lips touching hers. The longing fulfilled, she melted into his arms, letting her body take her on the trip of a lifetime. Her soft yielding drove him wild. The passion flared through his body. His ultimate need, suffocating all thought, she was his. Jemma gave into the kiss she had waited for, for so long. Michael’s kisses hadn’t touched her like this. Her insides melted. Her head felt giddy. Her knees buckled as a wealth of feelings swamped her body the waiting had been too long. She fainted.
Carl felt her collapse in his arms, it was only for a second and she came round again. ‘Carl,’ she whispered, but it had stopped his headlong passion. Giving him the respite he needed. He pushed her away. Angry now with himself, for letting his feelings get the better of him, he marched away.
Jemma didn’t know what she had done wrong. She loved him, loved him with all her heart, she lay back against the wall, sobbing uncontrollably, with tears streaming down her face. A cool wind blew around the house, drying the tears as they fell, making her skin feel tight and drawn. A while later, she managed to collect herself together and pulling her coat over her torn blouse, she closed the kitchen door, turned the key in the lock and listlessly made her way upstairs to bed.
Pup was on the end of her bed waiting for her, and looked up as she came in. ‘Oh Pup, what are, we going to do?’ She picked him up, cuddling his warm softness to her chest as he licked the salty tears from her face. Eventually undressing and climbing into bed with the nights’ events still swimming around in her brain, she drifted into an exhausted sleep trying to make some kind of sense out of what had happened.
Abbey walked into the kitchen the next morning to find her feeding Alice, dark rings beneath her eyes.’ Goodness me you look awful! What time did you get in?’ Abbey said, giving Jemma a mischievous grin.
Jemma gave her a tight smile, ‘I don’t remember.’
‘Wow! Must have been some kind of party, did you have a nice time?’ Jemma turned her back on her friend, as the tears threatened to spill, and pretended to be doing something on the side. Abbey watched her friend’s back, puzzled by her attitude. She knew Jemma to be a happy person it wasn’t like her to act like this. She walked over to Jemma’s side, noticing the slumped shoulders and the dejected stance. She caught her friend’s arm and turned her towards her. Jemma held her head down hiding the tears in her eyes but it didn’t stop them falling.
Abbey saw the tears fall to the floor, splashing tiny puddles onto the pale green tiles.
‘Come on Jemma,’ she said, folding her into her arms. ‘This is not like you. This is Abbey your best friend, now come on, tell me all about it.’
Jemma didn’t think she could cry any more. The tears had been coming off and on all night, but down they came again as her friend patted her back. Her friends soft voice, was full of care and concern, it eased the hurt feelings inside of her. Alice sat watching the girls, and was beginning to get upset because Jemma was crying. Jemma was always happy and Alice’s face began to crease up, and her bottom lip began to tremble as if she were going to cry.
Abbey ran across to where she sat in her high chair at the other side of the table. ‘It’s all right Alice sweetheart please doesn’t cry! Jemma’s better now, come on now, don’t you cry too.’
Jemma quickly dried her face and buttered a piece of toast for Alice. ‘Here Alice, have some toast, Jemma’s better now sweetheart.’ She said kissing her cheek and handing her the toast, then gently stroking the blonde silky head sorrowfully. Realising as she did that it wasn’t just what had happened last night that was making her cry.
‘Now, come on’ said Abbey. ‘Tell me what’s going on? And why you were crying?’ Jemma related some of the happenings of the night before to Abbey.
‘He, hit, Michael!’ said Abbey flabbergasted.
‘Why, whatever for?’
’Because, he was kissing me, I think?’ said Jemma feeling bewildered her self.
‘Sounds to me like he fancies you himself, he was probably jealous.’
‘I don’t know what to think,’ said Jemma, ’but I think I love him, poor Michael she said feeling quite sad for him.
Abbey looked up as Mark entered the kitchen. ‘Hi Mark,’ she said giving him a radiant smile.
‘Morning darling,’ he bent down to give her a tender kiss.
‘Don’t know Mark nobody’s seen him around yet’ replied Abbey.
‘S-funny, he’s not in his bedroom. I’ll look in the office.’ Two minutes later he came back with a piece of paper.
‘Says here’ said Mark, reading the note. ‘He’s catching a boat to England, going to see if he can drum up some more business. He never said anything about it yesterday.’ Mark sat down at the table, his face a picture of puzzlement.
Jemma gave Abbey a significant look. ‘I’ll take Alice for a little walk,’ she mouthed at Abbey, proceeding to put their coats on. She ushered Alice and Pup out of the kitchen.
Leaving Abbey to tell Mark what had happened.
Mark sat eating the breakfast Abbey had made him, as she related the happenings of the night before.
‘I wish there were some way we could bring them together. I’m practically sure Carl, loves Jemma, although he hasn’t admitted it. It seems as if he’s holding himself back, just can’t let go, and you say Jemma loves him. It’s all this trouble with Sonya. Somehow, things have got to be sorted out. We just can’t carry on like this.’ Mark picked up the note Carl had left, ’he doesn’t say where he’s going or for how long or anything.
He must have gone off really upset. Damn Sonya!’
Abbey leant across the table and touched his arm sympathetically.
‘I know we wanted to get married as soon as possible Mark, but do you think we would be better putting things on one side for a bit, just till we get things sorted out.’
Mark looked up into the pale blue worried eyes, and thanked his lucky stars he had found someone like Abbey to love him. ‘Oh Abbey, you are the one bright light in my life at this moment, I don’t know what state I’d be in if I hadn’t met you.’
Abbey gave him a big grin, and touched his hand as it lay on the table; Mark’s immediately folded around it.
‘We have to thank Jemma, for that. If she hadn’t run away from home we would never have met.’
’Did she run away from home?’ the surprise was evident in his voice.
’Yes didn’t you know?’ Mark looked at her, rather shamefaced.
‘No. I’m afraid that neither Carl nor I know very much about her. I was still in the doldrums when Carl, brought Jemma, to the house.’ He related some of the story, of how Jemma came to live at the house to Abbey.
‘Then we both have a lot to thank Jemma, for.’
Abbey and Mark were clearing up, when Jemma Alice and Pup, tumbled back into the kitchen after their walk.
‘Hi, Jemma, I think we three have a lot of planning to do,’ said Mark as she came through the door. Abbey and he had agreed the best thing to keep Jemma’s mind off things was to give her plenty to do.
‘Abbey is going home in a few days as you know, and we thought you might like to go back with her?’ Jemma gasped, were they getting rid of her that quick. Abbey and Mark stared at the look of alarm on her face with surprise.
‘What’s the matter Jemma, don’t you want to go home for a couple of weeks?’ Abbey asked gazing at her friends white face worriedly.
‘We thought, as you said your mother would like you and Alice to stay for a while, you remember. When we had the fire, you said your mum would love to have you and Alice, stay for a while’ said Mark who was just as puzzled as Abbey by her attitude.
’You mean. You want me to take Alice, as well?’
‘Of course’ Mark said, ’I know you won’t want to leave Pup, for long. Maybe three weeks, he should be all right with me for that length of time, and Abbey, will have time to tell her mum everything, and put her notice in at work.
’Are you coming back with me then Abbey?’
‘Yes. Mark and I have decided to put the wedding off for a while, until we can sort all these strange accidents out.’
‘They are going to need help with the accounts, and it’s just too much to expect you to cope with everything, especially now that Carl’s not here. So I’ve decided to put my notice in, and come back and help. Mark, reckons this year, things will need a lot more organising to cope with the work load, especially if Carl, sends in more business.’