Is there anything more exhilarating than that first, heady flush of love? The world becomes a wonderful place and life is suddenly full of possibility. Birds swoop against the bluest of skies, singing a cheery accompaniment as the new lovers embark on a romantic adventure.
Of course, if one doesn’t choose wisely, heartache will eventually follow (think of Marianne Dashwood and Mr. Wickham, for example). But for those who do manage to choose a like-minded object of affection?
Life becomes very sweet, indeed.
In my third and final Jane Austen Factor book, Who Needs Mr Willoughby, Marianne and her family must leave their comfortable home in the English countryside and move to Northumberland. Money is tight, and so Marianne secures an interview for a job assisting the local veterinarian, Matthew Brandon. Things couldn’t go any more wrong between them.
And yet…will love plant its seed in their hearts, growing and flourishing over time into something more? Read on, dear reader. Read on…
♥ ♥ ♥
Just a few kilometres outside of Endwhistle, with a cough and a shudder and a cloud of steam, the check engine light came on and the estate car coughed and sputtered to a stop.
Marianne turned the key in the ignition; she checked the gas gauge (nearly full); she got out and lifted the bonnet to allow the billow of steam to escape; then she peered down at the engine in hopes that looking at it would help her figure out what was wrong.
It didn’t. The car was officially and irrevocably dead.
What to do now?
“I’ll call someone to come and get me, of course,” she said out loud. Surely one of the local petrol stations would have a mechanic and a towing truck on hand.
Marianne reached in her pocket for her mobile. And although she called every petrol station in the area – all two of them – no one answered.
“Right, I’ll call Mrs Fenwick,” she decided, and tried to tamp down her panic. “She can send Bertie or Jack to fetch me.” She took her phone out and stared at it, her fingers poised over the screen.
Marianne groaned. She didn’t know the bloody number. She’d never bothered to programme it into her phone.
“Oh, that’s just great, that is.” She slumped against the side of the car. “I don’t know a soul, the petrol stations won’t answer, there’s another arsing storm on the way –” she glared up at the lowering skies “and I haven’t even got an AA card.”
Just then, over the distant rumble of thunder, she heard the sound – the wonderful, welcome sound – of a car approaching. Marianne whirled around to see a yellow Hyundai Accent motoring towards her.
Immediately she ran into the road and began to jump and wave her arms back and forth like a demented boy-band fan.
As the car got closer it slowed and stopped, and two men got out. “What seems to be the trouble, miss?” the driver, a youngish bloke in jeans and trainers asked.
“Do you know anything about cars?” Marianne asked hopefully. “Mine’s just died.”
“A bit,” he said, and frowned. “Is the engine petrol or diesel?”
“Right. I’m Brian,” he said by way of introduction, and smiled. “I tinker a bit with cars. Let’s have a look at the dashboard works.” He slid in behind the wheel and turned the key until the gauges and dashboard info came to life. “Ah, there’s your problem. The temperature gauge is pegged high.”
“That’s not good, is it?” Marianne ventured.
He didn’t answer, but called out to the other man in the Hyundai. “Danny, fetch me that water jug from the boot.”
Brian walked around to the engine and peered under the bonnet. “Just as I thought, your coolant’s low. You’ve probably got a crack in the water pump. I can fill it with water, and it should get you wherever you’re going, but you’ll need a new pump soon as you can manage it.” He took the jug from Danny and poured water into the coolant tank.
“A new water pump,” she echoed. “Right.”
He lowered the bonnet. “Now let’s see if she’ll start back up. If she does, you can be on your way.”
“Thank you,” Marianne breathed, “thank you so much. I’ve an interview in Endwhistle tomorrow – in fact, I just came from there – and I was afraid I wouldn’t make it back home.”
Danny, she noticed, had returned to the Accent, opened the driver’s side door, and got in behind the wheel. She frowned. Strange. Hadn’t Brian been the one driving?
“Let’s start ‘’er up,” Brian said. “I’ll just have a look at your temperature gauge and make sure the engine’s cooled properly afore you take off again.”
“That’s so kind,” Marianne exclaimed. “Thanks.”
With a nod, he slid once again behind the wheel as she stood on the side of the road and waited.
As Brian reached down to start the engine, Danny did the same, loudly revving the Accent’s engine; then he shifted into gear, peeled away from the layby, and sped off with a spray of gravel.
Marianne stared after him. She scarcely had time to wonder where he was off to in such a hurry when Brian turned the estate car’s ignition and started the engine.
“It’s started,” she called out, excited. “Thank you!”
But her joy was short-lived.
Without warning, the driver’s door slammed, nearly catching the hem of her skirt as it shut; and the car lurched forward with a spray of gravel and a squeal of tyres. Marianne, her mouth rounded in shock, stood at the edge of the road and gawped stupidly at the estate car’s rapidly retreating rear end.
She let out a shriek of delayed outrage and ran forward, shouting, “Wait – come back here! That’s my car, you sneaky bastard!”
Although she gave chase, it was no use. The lumbering old estate car picked up speed, and with a cheery wave of his arm out of the window, Brian floored it, and he and Lady Violet’s car were soon lost to view.
Marianne couldn’t believe it. She simply couldn’t believe it. Brian and Danny had stolen Lady Violet’s bloody car right out from under her.
The cheeky bastards!
“Have to…to call…the police,” she huffed, winded after running down the road in fruitless pursuit.
She grabbed her mobile and notified the local police, who took down the information and said they’d file a report straight away.
“Can you send a car to pick me up?” she asked.
“It’ll be a while, miss. The only squad car’s gone off to Carywick to check on a reported robbery.”
“It’s probably mine,” Marianne snapped, and rang off. “Idiots.”
Another growl of thunder rumbled overhead.
She’d barely finished the call when rain began to fall, slowly at first, then more rapidly. Within seconds – déjà vu all over again – she was wet through and shivering, her hair plastered to her head.
At least the slime-sucking, lying bastards who’d stolen Lady Violet’s car hadn’t got her handbag…or her mobile.
But how, she thought with a sinking feeling, was she to get back to Barton Park now?
Marianne was about to turn around – to do what, exactly, she had no idea – when a pickup truck, battered and faded, approached and slowed down. Three dogs – border collies, one black, one reddish-brown, and one white and tan – occupied the truck’s bed.
She froze and eyed the vehicle warily as the driver let his window down. He had rumpled brown hair and wore a quizzical expression on his face.
“Having a bad day, are you?” he inquired in a broad Northumberland accent.
“I’ve had better,” Marianne retorted, and kept walking.
The truck kept pace and drew alongside her once again. “It’s not the right sort of weather for a walk today.”
“Do tell,” Marianne snapped.
“What’s happened? Did your car break down? And if it did,” he added, frowning as he surveyed the road behind and ahead of him, “where is it?”
“Yes, my car broke down. A lovely man named Brian stopped to fix it,” she informed him grimly, still walking, “and after he started it up, he stole it right out from under me.”
“Did he, now?” His eyebrows shot skyward. “So did you call the police?”
“I did,” she said. “But there’s nothing they can do, apparently, aside from filling out forms and making excuses, and they told me their only squad car’s out on a robbery call.”
“Aye,” he nodded, “that’ll be the hardware store in Carywick, I reckon. Someone threw a wrench through the front window this morning and broke in.”
“Was one of them driving a yellow Hyundai?” Marianne asked. “If so, they’re the same bastards who stole my car.”
“I don’t know about that,” he said. “Did you call a petrol station?”
Her feet were beginning to ache, but she kept walking. “Yes, I did,” she snapped. “I called all two of them. No one answered.”
“Well, the one in Lambert’s closed, now that I think of it. Bobby’s wife just had their sixth this morning. Six kids!” He shook his head. “And if you call the Endwhistle station, you need to hang on the line for at least seventeen rings before old Malcolm’ll hear and answer the phone.”
“Good to know,” she gritted.
“I’m headed to Endwhistle now. I can give you a lift if you like. If you don’t mind sitting in the back of the truck with the sheepdogs, that is,” he added.
She stopped. “Why should I have to do that? Why can’t I sit up front?”
“I’ve a passenger already.”
She peered past him. “But I don’t see anyone –” Just then, she glimpsed a small, black-faced sheep curled up on the seat beside him.
“Oh, how cute! Who is she?”
“That’s Emily,” he said shortly. “She often rides with me.”
“Well,” Marianne said, trying hard to hold on to her temper as the rain plastered her shirt to her skin, and uncomfortably aware that her bra was plainly visible through the thin cotton, “do you think you might make room for the both of us?”
He grunted and heaved Emily into the center of the bench seat, and Marianne, wet and shivering (not to mention highly annoyed), pushed the wellies on the floorboard aside and climbed in.
With a reproachful look from Emily and a slight, bemused shake of the head from the driver, they set off.
♥ ♥ ♥
“I hope the police find my car,” Marianne said.
“I wouldn’t bank on it,” he informed her. “Those lads – and your car – are probably long gone.”
She turned to glare at him. “Thanks so much for your reassuring words of comfort.”
He shrugged. “Better to face reality than believe in fairy tales, I always say.”
“Listen…do you think you could take me to Hadleighshire instead? I don’t have enough money for a taxi back.”
“Hadleighshire?” He let out a snort of disbelief. “But I’m not going to Hadleighshire. I’m not a taxi service, you know.”
“It’s only sixteen kilometres. More or less.”
“Only sixteen kilometers, she says!” He scowled. “Petrol’s expensive, in case you didn’t know. And I’ve got the dogs.” He reached out to ruffle the lamb’s ears. “And Emily.”
“At least it’s stopped raining,” she pointed out. “The dogs can dry out on the way.”
“And tell me – why should I go so far out of my way for you?”
She glared at him. “Because you’re obviously such a kind, considerate person.”
“If – and that’s a very big ‘if’ – I decide to take you there,” he said after a moment, “I’ll have to charge you.”
Marianne’s eyes widened in outrage. “Charge me? Are you serious? Well, so much for north country hospitality.”
“Twenty-five pounds. Take it or leave it.”
She gasped. “Twenty-five pounds to drive me sixteen kilometres? That’s outrageous!” Furious, she reached for the door handle and flung the door open. “No, thanks. I’ll walk.”
She slammed the door; she was certain he’d apologise, and tell her to get back in the truck.
And with a shifting of gears, he gave a shrug, and drove off.
♥ ♥ ♥
Walking downhill on gravel in a pair of kitten heels was not, Marianne soon found, an easy thing to do.
Nevertheless, her fury at farmer what’s-his-name propelled her onward. What an arsehole. What a rude, money-grubbing, inconsiderate arsehole.
“‘Better to face reality than believe in fairy tales, I always say,’” she mimicked him under her breath. “Well, you’ve certainly helped me to face reality, you – you sheep-loving jackass!”
She was nearly at the bottom of the hill when she heard it – the rumble of an approaching vehicle.
Marianne walked faster. She hoped it was him. She hoped it wasn’t him. She never wanted to see that smirky, jaded face of his, ever again –
The truck drew alongside of her. “Get in,” he said gruffly.
She kept walking. “I won’t, thank you all the same. I can’t afford it.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. You can’t walk all the way to Hadleighshire in those – those faffy little Audrey Hepburn shoes.”
“They’re not ‘faffy little shoes’. They’re brand new; I just bought them. And I’m surprised you even know who Audrey Hepburn is,” she retorted, and kept walking.
“Who doesn’t? I’d have to live under a rock not to know who she is.”
“I thought you did live under a rock, actually,” she shot back. “With all the rest of the gremlins and trolls.”
“Trolls live under bridges.”
“Whatever. Just go away.”
“Fine,” he said grimly. “If that’s what you want, we’ll do this the hard way.”
So saying, he cut the wheel sharply to the right, and she jumped back as the truck’s cab blocked her way. He reached out to fling the door open.
“Now, stop acting like a dafty wench and get in,” he ordered.
Marianne stared daggers at him. But her feet really, really hurt. And her brand new shoes were covered in mud. And she felt perilously close to tears.
“Fine.” She spared him one more glare, then climbed back into the cab of the truck next to Emily and slammed the door. “Let’s go.”
“Mind, it’ll still cost you twenty-five pounds,” he said as he shifted into gear and turned back onto the road. “It’s a fair price, the cost of petrol bein’ what it is.”
She didn’t have the energy left to argue. “Fine. Whatever. I’ll pay you when we get there. I don’t have that much money on me.”
“Suits me. But I’ll come in to make sure you keep your word, if you don’t mind. No running into the house and slamming the door in my face.”
“I do mind. And it’s all you deserve.”
He didn’t favour her with a reply, only scowled and shifted gears once again, and headed south, towards Hadleighshire.
♥ ♥ ♥
The truck slowed to a stop in front of Lady Violet’s country estate forty minutes later.
“Holy shit,” the driver muttered as he took in the impressive stone face of Barton Park. “Should’ve asked you for a hundred pounds, at least.”
“You’ll get twenty-five, as agreed,” Marianne snapped, “and not a penny more.”
She slammed out of the truck and marched up the front steps to the door and rang the bell.
“Can’t let yourself in?” he asked as he unfolded his long legs and got out to follow her up the steps. “Did you forget your key?”
“I don’t live here, I’m only staying for a bit.”
“Oh, aye,” he said, and nodded sagely. “Summering in the country at your best mate’s stately pile, are you? Must be exhausting being rich, I reckon, what with all of that travelling and jet-setting and whatnot. Wears a girl out.”
Marianne didn’t bother to correct him. Let him think what he wanted, she thought grimly as the door swung open and Mrs Fenwick regarded them both in surprise.
“Miss Holland, there you are. I was that worried after your last mishap, I was ready to call her ladyship and tell her you’d not come home yet, so I was.” She peered around Marianne at the truck. “Who’s this? And where’s the car?”
“The car…broke down.” Marianne regarded the farmer with a flinty look and dared him to say a word to the housekeeper about the car’s theft. “Watch my friend here while I go upstairs and fetch him the outrageous sum of twenty-five pounds for bringing me home.”
If she thought he’d be shamed into telling her to forget about the money, she was disabused of the notion when he gave her a cheeky smile and touched a finger to his forehead. “Much obliged.”
She pressed her lips together and stalked upstairs to her room.
Five minutes later, it was done. Marianne handed over the money and showed him to the door.
“Thank you for the ride,” she said, stiffly.
“It was my very great pleasure.” He folded the notes and tucked them into his jeans pocket.
Marianne turned to their guest. “Well, it’s been most interesting, Mr –?” She stopped as she realised she didn’t know his name.
“Just call me Farmer Brown,” he said, and cocked his brow. “Now if you ladies will excuse me, I’ve dogs and sheep to feed and a lamb to see to. A good day to you both.”
With a nod of his head, he returned to the truck and got inside, and drove away down the drive, back to Endwhistle.
“However did you meet that fellow?” Mrs Fenwick wondered.
“Honestly, Mrs F,” Marianne said as she made her way back upstairs, “you wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”
♥ ♥ ♥
To read more of the adventures of Marianne, Kit Willoughby, and Matthew Brandon, please visit Amazon by clicking the link above. Thank you for reading this excerpt – I hope you enjoyed it!