ROMANCE IN FRANCE

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Chapter 5

Back in France, Jemma stood staring at the young man who stood in front of her thinking, ‘He’s English,’

‘Who are you and what are you doing here?’ he asked her. His emotions seethed, he still felt quite angry and sounded it.

Jemma could see by his expression that he was apparently still upset, but she couldn’t see the reason why he should take his temper out on her. After all, she had explained the circumstances to him of how she had come to have Alice in her possession.

‘I could ask you the same,’ she replied in a tightly controlled manner.

He looked at her in surprise, lifting his eyebrows. She looked so young but acted quite grown up.’ His brain telling him, that he ought not to be fooled by the make-up. ‘She only looks thirteen or fourteen,’ was his first thought. Grudgingly he answered her, admiring her forthrightness. ‘My name is Carl Robinson, and the child,’ he said pointing to Alice ‘Is my, niece.’

Jemma looked at him puzzled. ‘What was he doing with his niece?’ she thought the baby was his daughter. ‘How do I know that she’s your niece?’ Jemma said, looking him straight in the eyes, her tone of voice questioning him.

He felt exasperated. How was it, that all of a sudden she was asking the questions? ‘Because,’ he said taking a deep breath, ‘Alice, happens to be my brother’s child, she is registered on my passport, as if it’s any business of yours. And, I still don’t know who you are yet Miss? You haven’t told me your name.’

He was looking her up and down as he said it, and noticed the backpack on her back. The child, Alice, had dropped off to sleep, draped over Jemma’s shoulder. The combined weight was beginning to tell on Jemma, and she tried to hitch the child up her body a bit more, to ease the heaviness.

He noticed the movement and thought. ‘Hell! I’m a brute, the kid’s only skin and bone and Alice weighs a ton when she’s asleep.’

‘Here, give her to me.’ Carl stepped towards Jemma to take the baby away. ‘She’s heavy when she’s asleep,’ he said, and put his hand up on Jemma’s shoulder to slide under Alice’s head.

That was when pup, pushed his nose out of the bag on Jemma’s back and gave a fearsome growl.

‘What!’ Carl dropped his hand, and stepped back sharply. ‘What are you carrying in that bag?’ Surprise and alarm showed on his face as he moved quickly away from her.

Jemma laughed loudly, at the grown man being afraid of Pup, and the child snuggled further into her neck. Carefully, she peeled the baby away from her body passing her gratefully into the man’s arms, thankful to be giving up her heavy burden. Then she took the haversack off her back, and retrieved Pup. Grinning broadly at the man, Jemma stood, cuddling Pup’s small warm body close to her chest trying to shush his deep growls.

‘Good god!’ said Carl shocked; the astonishment at the size of the dog was clearly etched across his brown sombre features. ‘Look at the size of him! He’s so tiny. With a growl that loud, I expected it to be much bigger, made me think twice,’ said Carl, the admiration clearly evident in his voice. ‘But, you still haven’t told me who you are, or, what you’re doing here?’ His stance indicated that this time, he wanted an answer.

‘Jemma Carlton.’

He studied her thoroughly, as she answered him, revising his opinion of her age. ‘Probably fifteen or sixteen,’ he thought, now that the child and the backpacker had been removed from her body, he had a clearer view of her. Jemma guessed what the next question would be and forestalled him. ‘I came here to work my way around France hitch hiking. I’m looking for work.’

Carl gave her an inquiring look as he asked her pointedly. ‘What kind of work?’ And he watched her face closely as she replied.

Jemma felt stumped for a minute, she hadn’t expected a return question. ‘Oh-err cafe work, you know, washing pots, or working in the vineyards collecting grapes, anything actually,’ she said, her voice tailing off as he stood staring at her, his face thoughtful.

‘‘How about baby minding?’ he said, inquiringly. She’d kept the baby quiet for a while, so maybe she could help them out. He sighed despondently. ‘They definitely needed some kind of help.’ The thought about asking her to be a baby-minder had entered his mind, shortly after she’d said she was looking for work.

‘We’ll. I suppose I could.’ She smiled at him engagingly. ‘But, I should tell you, I haven’t had much experience with babies.’

‘Neither have I,’ said Carl. A flicker of a smile crossed his features as he said it and Jemma caught the tiny movement. ‘Huh, his face nearly cracked,’ thought Jemma picking up her backpacker.

’Follow me, ’said Carl and he walked over to a blue Citroen, parked a few feet away from them.

Putting Pup down on the grass at the edge of the car park, Jemma hesitated for a moment unsure of herself. Then she shrugged her shoulders resolutely. It seemed suddenly as if someone had already mapped her life out for her. Perhaps it was her destiny. She put Pup back into her bag and followed Carl over to the bright blue Citroen where he stood patiently waiting for her. He had put Alice into a car seat in the back of the car and there were one or two toys strewn around, indicating that the child probably did belong with him.

‘He did treat her gently,’ thought Jemma, noticing because the child still lay asleep in the chair. He opened the front door for her as she approached and motioned her into the front seat, hardly waiting for her to sit before he’d jumped in himself and pulled away. Jemma hoped and prayed she was doing the right thing, there again she would feel awful if she left the child. Perhaps the child had been placed in her arms for a special purpose. Therefore like Pup, she just couldn’t abandon it.

‘Where are we going?’ she asked the young man who sat opposite her politely.

‘Our place!’ answered Carl brusquely, the tone of his voice enough to put anyone off asking further questions.

So she sat, gazing through the windscreen quietly watching the beautiful countryside whisk by.

Pup had once again dropped off to sleep after giving a couple of grisly growls in the back of his throat. He lay curled up peacefully on her lap. The child slept peacefully in her car seat that was fastened to the seat in the back of the car. Everything was so quiet. Jemma’s eyes slowly began to close as the soft purring of the engine and swishing view lulled her senses, eventually sweeping her into oblivion.

She awoke again as she felt the car slowing down, the driver eventually pulling into a small car park in front of a cafe. Alice was awake and chattering happily.

‘Would you like something to eat?’ asked Carl, pulling the hand brake on and switching off the engine.

Jemma was starving. ‘Yes,’ she said gratefully. Unbuckling her seat belt she carefully placed the dog back into her backpacker and followed Carl and the baby in to the cafe. Inside the cafe they had high chairs for children and Jemma took over the feeding of Alice. In-between feeding Alice and herself she managed to sneak bits to Pup, who lie hidden in the top of her backpacker under the table.

Carl watched her unobtrusively his expression thoughtful, as he gazed admiring at the short bob cut hair and the neat look. She was very attractive thought Carl and would probably turn out to be a beauty in a couple of years. His thoughts took him by surprise, as he remembered the events of the last few hours. Who was he, to forecast anything? When they found out their grandmother had willed the vineyard to them, they had thought everything would be wonderful, even though, she and their parents were lost to them forever.

He looked again at the young girl and the child. They seemed to like each other and even if the girl wasn’t an experienced child minder, she seemed a very caring kind of person. Take the way she treated the pup for instance. He had seen Jemma sneaking just about half of everything she had on her plate to the dog. He watched as she finished feeding the child. She took some of the paper napkins out of the box conveniently left on the table and wiped the child’s face and hands gently.

Alice smiled happily at Jemma and held her arms up to be lifted. Jemma picked her out of the chair, putting her arm under her bottom to take the weight. It felt rather wet and Jemma new the child would be uncomfortable.

‘Do you have anything to change her with?’ she said and looked at Carl inquiringly. ‘I’m afraid she needs changing.’

A look of distaste crossed his sad face. He hated that part of looking after Alice. That was one of the reasons he had tried to get a nanny for her.

Then what does the stupid girl do? He shook his head angrily, hardly believing what had happened. He thought the girl that they had hired, as a nanny would be reliable. They had taken all the necessary precautions, by applying to a reliable agency that was registered, or so he had thought.

The nanny had taken the baby to the toilets to change her, or was supposed to have. He had needed the toilet himself and expected her to have returned to the car. After hanging around for a while, waiting by the car, he had gone looking for her. Thinking maybe that she had forgotten exactly what the car looked like, and was probably wandering around looking for it.

Fancy the girl giving Alice to someone in the toilets. Luckily for him, it had been this girl. He shuddered, thinking about what could have happened. ‘His brother would never have forgiven him. Where the devil could she have gone?’ he wondered irritably, and how had she managed to fool him and the agency, his brow furrowed angrily as he thought about it. He would have to deal with them and his brother when he arrived home.

Gingerly, he took Alice off Jemma and headed for the car. Opening the boot he laid the child down, noticing at the same time that the nanny’s bag had disappeared. ‘She must have taken it when she came to get a nappy for Alice,’ he thought. He rummaged haphazardly among the packages for a nappy himself, his mind still on the girl’s strange disappearance.

Jemma had seen to Pup and stood at the side of him. ‘If you show me how they work, I’ll do it,’ she said. Carl looked at her gratefully. A few minutes later they were back on the road. ‘Who was the woman who ran off?’ asked Jemma, hoping that by now he might be in a better frame of mind.

‘Anita Berringham!’ Jemma heard the aggressive tone enter his voice again, and wasn’t certain she should ask any more questions. It seemed that Carl didn’t like answering questions. ‘Perhaps it would be wiser to keep quiet and retain the peace between them,’ thought Jemma, and shut up.

Carl, expecting another question, felt quite disconcerted when she didn’t say anything. He glanced up into his mirror taking a quick look at her, because she had moved into the back seat to sit with Alice when they came out of the cafe.

Alice’s chair had a tray attached, and Jemma sat turning the pages of a soft book for the child to look at. Alice was chattering away at the book excitedly, her chubby little fingers pointing to the pages, as Jemma explained to her what the pictures were.

‘She was supposed to be a nanny for Alice,’ he said. Feeling somehow as if he was in the wrong again and then realising that she wasn’t to blame for what the other girl had done. He thought wearily that it was only fair he should probably give her an explanation.

‘She sure knew how to bring him to his senses,’ was his next thought. ‘After all, it wasn’t her fault the stupid person had run off.’ He thought of all the trouble he had gone to, ‘first the advertisements and then checking the references. Then to top it all he had made the journey to England to collect the nanny and took Alice with him. He’d tried his damnedest to make sure she would be happy with the nanny they had chosen. He hadn’t thought it was right that she should just have anyone. After all having a mother that didn’t love you was bad enough. Now here he was, taking this Jemma Carlton home and he didn’t know who this girl was from Adam and yet Alice seemed quite happy with her. Life was indeed strange,’ he thought trying to console himself with the thought of Jemma taking care of her.

An hour or so later, Carl drove up a tarmac drive, past well-tended lawns and flower beds and pulled up outside a well-built stone house with honey suckle and clematis clinging to the old stones.

‘It looked quite lovely,’ thought Jemma happily. The evening sun coloured the old stones of the building, reminding her of warm honey and Jemma had the strangest feeling of coming home, as if the house were welcoming her.

Carl took the now sleeping child Alice out of the car seat to carry her in. Jemma picked up her backpacker and Pup and followed him around the house to a side door. The door was thick and heavy and made of old oak. Carl opened the door and entered the large kitchen; Jemma followed him warily glancing around her at the well-laid out kitchen.

He turned and said apologetically. ‘I’ll have to put Alice, to bed.’

‘Of course, I’ll help you,’ said Jemma kindly, and they walked out of the kitchen and along a tiled passage. As they passed one of the doors along the passage Carl turned to look at Jemma, his face if anything appeared even sadder than before.

‘These are my brothers’ rooms here,’ he said nodding towards one of the doors. ‘He doesn’t like to see anyone. So, please, try to keep out of his way.’

Jemma felt surprise, but kept her mouth shut.

She followed Carl up the carpeted stairs enjoying the feel of the thick heavily patterned carpet beneath her feet. At the top of the stairs, the landing split in the middle and they turned left. Facing them were three cream coloured doors. Carl opened the door at the end nearest to them, and they entered a room that was decorated in nursery colours and was quite obviously the little girl’s room.

In the middle of the nursery floor stood a large spotted rocking horse and against one of the walls stood a large pink and white cot with pretty draperies. Jemma had never seen anything quite as elegant. It was the kind of nursery that any child would be happy in and Jemma felt happier for Alice by the minute. It showed a great deal of love and care from someone.

One wall in the room displayed an arrangement of pink and white drawers with cupboards above. Jemma realized she would probably find clothes and such for Alice in them. She walked across the room, dumping her backpacker down in the middle of the floor she turned her head to look at Carl as she approached the cupboards asking softly.

’Which one do you keep her night clothes in?’

Pup popped his nose out of her bag inquisitively. ‘You be good, and stay,’ she said.

Pup watched her, his ears pricked up as she started to look through the drawers and when he saw Carl walk over to her, he yapped.

Carl turned round to look at the dog. ‘Good dog, Pup.’ The dog watched him steadfastly following his every movement as he laid the baby down gently on to the changing table.

Carl, feeling slightly inadequate, watched shamefacedly as she began opening and shutting the drawers and cupboards, trying to find Alice’s clothes.

‘I’m afraid things aren’t as tidy as they probably should be, I pushed a lot of things into the drawers. I was trying to tidy up before bringing the nanny over here.’

He stood, watching her rather guiltily, as she rummaged through the drawers trying to find something for the baby to wear.

Eventually Jemma found an all in one terry suit. She remembered she had seen dolls in the ‘baby shop’ windows, wearing this kind of thing. She pulled it out of the drawer and walked over to the changing table, where she carefully started to undress Alice.

Carl hung around, watching for a few minutes; quickly realising she seemed to know how to handle the child. ‘It must be the mother instinct in some women,’ he thought. He always felt scared stiff when he handled her, worrying that he might be too rough with her and pull her arms off or damage her in some way.

When she’d finished changing Alice, he carried the child over to the cot still fast asleep. Placing her inside the cot, he pulled the covers gently over her.

Jemma had walked over to the window meanwhile. She closed the curtains, noticing the lovely gardens as she did then turned in time to see him gently kiss the child’s cheek. She smiled to herself, content in the knowledge that he did love Alice.

Carl showed her how to switch the baby alarm on before they left the room.

‘We’ve had it fixed so that we can hear it anywhere in the house’ he said, looking at her solemnly. ‘While we’re up here I’ll show you where your room is,’ and he led her through the next door into another large room.

Half this room was imaginatively decorated as a bedroom and the remaining half set out as a sitting area. Along one side of the room in the sitting area, stood a range of shelves that someone had filled with a large amount of childcare books. Carl waved his hand negligently at the rows of books. ‘I’ve read most of them but I don’t think I’m cut out to be a nanny, although I do love my niece a great deal and I wouldn’t let anyone hurt her,’ he said, a slightly menacing tone entered his voice as he finished the sentence.

Jemma left her backpacker at the end of the bed and followed Carl. He led her into the next room a beautifully tiled bathroom. It was decorated with pale green marbled tiles and a thick carpet Jemma imagined must feel luxurious under bare feet.

‘Perhaps you would like a drink and sandwiches before you retire?’ said Carl, glancing over his shoulder at her as he left the bathroom.

‘Yes, thanks,’ said Jemma. Silently they walked down the stairs, Jemma carrying Pup in her arms.

In the kitchen Jemma sat on a stool at the breakfast bar watching the young man automatically making a sandwich and a cup of tea.

‘He didn’t look that old’ thought Jemma, watching him as he prepared the sandwiches. He was tall slim and athletic looking but not the bulging muscle type. Jemma had reached an age when men were actually becoming interesting creatures and as he stood with his back to her, she began to appraise the nice shape of his bottom. When he turned and walked towards her, she looked down at the table quickly, blushing slightly hoping he hadn’t noticed her staring at him.

Nothing happened to be further from Carl’s mind. He was worrying about the vineyard and all the work that needed doing. Although they had a couple of workers to help them with the work, events this year had over taken them. They were so much behind and he knew it would take a massive amount of work on his part, to bring things up to date. He placed the sandwich and mug of tea in front of the girl then remembered the dog as he saw it on her knee.

‘Don’t give him half your sandwich Jemma I have a tin of corned beef in the cupboard. I’ll give him that.’

‘That’s very kind of you,’ said Jemma, smiling up at him gratefully. ‘I can buy him some food tomorrow. I have some money,’ she said, then stopped, as she remembered it was English money. ‘Only, it’s English money,’ she said lamely.

He looked at her sad face, seeing the dilemma there. ‘That doesn’t matter’ he said, ‘I can change it for you.’

‘Oh could you?’ she lifted her face eagerly towards him. ‘Poor Pup I can’t let him starve?’

He sat down to join her at the bar once he’d put the meat on a plate for the dog.

’Why do you call him Pup, doesn’t he have a proper name?’

Jemma explained to him how she had found the dog tied up in a plastic bag and left to die in a cardboard box.

Carl was as shocked as she had been.

’However could anyone be so cruel?’ he said angrily, shaking his head slowly in disbelief.

’I don’t know,’ said Jemma. She smiled warmly at him aware of his real consternation at the pup’s experience. ‘There are some very nasty people about in this world nowadays if you ask me,’ she replied softly.

She thought about her poor mother as she said it. ‘She would be worrying herself sick,’ thought Jemma. She had promised herself she would ring her mom, when she was far enough away but she hadn’t had the chance yet. ‘Dare she ask Carl? He didn’t seem such a bad sort really even though he never seemed to smile. He’d fed her and Pup and given her a job.’

‘Carl,’ she said looking at him with those luminous green eyes. ‘Could I ring my mum please?’

Carl stared deeply into the beautiful green eyes and felt an immediate attraction.

’Another couple of years and no man would have a chance if she looked at him that way,’ thought Carl as he felt himself respond to the look in her eyes. Quickly, he hardened his heart and glanced away. ‘Yes, of course you can Jemma. You must let your parents know immediately where you are.’ Thinking as he answered her, ‘I don’t want to get into trouble for kidnapping.’

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