Today it's my pleasure to share with you an extract from Bella Osborne's serial Willow Cottage, the first part Sunshine and Secrets was published yesterday.
Beth is running away. With her young son Leo to protect, Willow Cottage is the lifeline she so desperately needs. Overlooking the village green in a beautiful Cotswolds idyll, Beth sees a safe place for little Leo.
When she finally uncovers the cottage from underneath the boughs of a weeping willow tree, Beth realises this is far more of a project than she bargained for and the locals are more than a little eccentric! A chance encounter with gruff Jack, who appears to be the only male in the village under thirty, leaves the two of them at odds but it’s not long before Beth realises that Jack has hidden talents that could help her repair more than just Willow Cottage.
Over the course of four seasons, Beth realises that broken hearts can be mended, and sometimes love can be right under your nose…
‘You have reached your destination,’ announced the Sat Nav with ultimate confidence. Beth pulled the hire car into the curb, switched off the engine and looked around. She was parked by a large area of greensward, which was dotted with trees and encircled by impressive old properties of differing sizes.
Beth picked up the auction catalogue and peered at the small grainy photograph, then re-read the description underneath – ‘Willow Cottage stands in a secluded position overlooking the village green within the picturesque Cotswold village of Dumbleford. Rare opportunity to purchase this freehold detached dwelling. Plot circa 0.6 acres with stream running through the property. Renovation opportunity.’
Somewhere in the back of Beth’s mind she recalled a certain person saying that he wouldn’t live in the countryside if his life depended on it and right now that felt like an added bonus. She checked the backseat. Leo was stirring from his journey-induced slumber and he instantly smiled when he saw his mother. The six year old was too tall for his car seat and would soon need to upgrade to a booster, but for now Beth just wanted to keep him safe.
‘I wish you’d brung my iPad,’ said Leo as he stretched.
‘I’m sorry. I couldn’t find it. And brought is the past tense of bring. Okay?’ What did they teach them at these private schools? ‘Shall we go and explore our new home?’ Beth waved the auction details excitedly.
Leo yawned and stretched. ‘I’m hungry, Mum.’
Having anticipated this, Beth went to rummage in the boot and handed Leo a small bag of dried mango pieces as he got out of the car. Beth crouched down and showed Leo the small photograph of Willow Cottage on the auction sheet.
‘Now all we have to do is find our cottage. Which one is it, do you think?’
They both studied the small photograph. It was taken at an angle and part of the cottage appeared to have a climbing plant growing prettily up one side. There was a biggish garden in the foreground and very obviously a Willow tree. It was quite a dark picture so it was hard to make out much else.
‘It can’t be hard to find a cottage with a tree like that in the garden, now can it?’
Leo shook his head as he shoved another mango piece into his already full mouth. He thrust the empty packet at his mother and hand in hand they started to walk around the green, checking out each house.
‘There’s no swings in the park,’ observed Leo.
Beth chuckled, ‘It’s not a park, it’s the village green. It’s more like a garden.’
‘Whose garden is it?’ asked Leo.
‘No one’s and everyone’s, it’s for everybody to use.’
‘Huh,’ said Leo, looking a little perplexed at the concept and possibly at the pointlessness of a space such as this without any swings.
It really was a divinely pretty village, thought Beth as she looked about her. The village green itself was the biggest she’d ever come across with well-worn paths crisscrossing it and a mixture of mature trees that she would need to consult Leo’s Book of the Countryside to identify correctly. Well cared for benches, with no signs of graffiti, were dotted at strategic points and the whole area was surrounded by the prettiest white chain-link fence that scalloped its way from post to post around the perimeter. A very grand mock-Tudor building had a prized position overlooking the centre of the green and two very symmetrical red brick buildings either side stood slightly back as if knowing their place. A couple of the smaller ones were thatched and Leo shouted excitedly as he spotted a thatched figure on the roof.
‘Pigeon!’ he squealed.
Another sign her son was London born and bred.