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Authors: Susan Lewis

The Hornbeam Tree

BOOK: The Hornbeam Tree
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Contents

About the Book

About the Author

Also by Susan Lewis

Title Page

Dedication

Acknowledgements

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

Chapter Twenty-Six

Chapter Twenty-Seven

Copyright

About the Book

Just as celebrated columnist Katie Kiernan thinks life is over, it suddenly arrives on her doorstep in the shape of her sister Michelle, and all the intrigue Michelle brings with her. Friction, resentment and old jealousies make life in their house doubly challenging, as Katie struggles to cope with a rebellious teenager and Michelle longs for the man she has left behind.

After a devastating betrayal Laurie Forbes is trying to rebuild her relationship with Elliot Russell, when she is plunged into a whirlwind of passion that threatens to tear them apart completely.

Top journalist, Tom Chambers, the man Michelle left behind, faces the greatest challenge of his career when highly classified documents fall into his hands. Realising how explosive the material is, Tom calls upon Elliot Russell to help with the investigation, and very quickly they are caught up in the deadly efforts to stop them going to print …

About the Author

Susan Lewis is the bestselling author of twenty-seven novels. She is also the author of
Just One More Day
and
One Day at a Time
, the moving memoirs of her childhood in Bristol. Having resided in France for many years she now lives in Gloucestershire. Her website address is
www.susanlewis.com

Susan is a supporter of the childhood bereavement charity, Winston’s Wish:
www.winstonswish.org.uk
and of the breast cancer charity, BUST:
www.bustbristol.co.uk

Also by Susan Lewis

Fiction

A Class Apart

Dance While You Can

Stolen Beginnings

Darkest Longings

Obsession

Vengeance

Summer Madness

Last Resort

Wildfire

Chasing Dreams

Taking Chances

Cruel Venus

Strange Allure

Silent Truths

Wicked Beauty

Intimate Strangers

The Mill House

A French Affair

Missing

Out of the Shadows

Lost Innocence

The Choice

Forgotten

Stolen

No Turning Back

Losing You

Memoir

Just One More Day

One Day at a Time

For my cousin, Karen,
with love and thanks

Acknowledgements

A very big thank you to District Nurse Sarah Moore for taking the time to guide me through Katie’s illness and for answering my endless questions. I’d also like to thank Chris Floyd and Michael Evans for their help with the political story. Another big thank you to Hilary Andrews for the ‘tour’ of Washington. And to Mort Rosenblum for additional help with Washington. Much love and thanks to my dear friend Fanny Blackburne for showing me Pietrasanta. And more thanks to Ellie Gleave for letting me use her lovely home in Burgundy as a ‘hideout’.

An especially big thank you and lots of love to my beautiful goddaughter, Alexandra Hastie, for all her help with Molly. I couldn’t have done it without you, Alex.

Chapter 1

STRANGELY, THE SKY
hadn’t fallen. Nor had the ground split apart. Houses were still standing, trees remained rooted, people were walking on their feet. No, nothing had changed from the way it had been an hour ago, before she’d entered the building, yet now it all felt so different that she could be stepping back into another world entirely.

The automatic doors swish-closed behind her. She waited for a car to pass, then crossed towards a small patch of green. She could see Judy waiting and wanted to run towards her, but she carried on walking, zigzagging through the car park until she was close enough to make out the concern on her friend’s plump, normally cheery face.

‘Do you know what today is?’ Katie demanded, looking at her over the roof of the car.

Judy eyed her, not sure how to respond.

‘It’s Day One of the rest of my life,’ Katie informed her.

Judy looked surprised, then laughed as Katie
gazed
around, seeming to absorb a whole new world.

‘Did you already know?’ she asked, her eyes coming back to Judy.

Judy nodded.

Katie felt as though she was seeing her friend differently to the way she had a minute ago, then, shrugging it off, she smiled and got into the passenger seat.

‘Would you have preferred me to tell you?’ Judy asked, sliding in next to her.

‘Would you have wanted to?’ Katie countered, not without irony.

‘No.’

Katie laughed at the frankness that was her own stock-in-trade.

‘So what would you like to do now?’ Judy asked, turning on the engine. ‘On Day One of the rest of your life.’

Katie’s gaze was fixed ahead. Her face was gaunt, seeming to cling to the bones, the shadows beneath her hazel eyes were grey and blue, the texture of her skin was like ash, powdery and pale. There wasn’t much sign now of the full rosy cheeks or wickedly humorous eyes that for several years had graced the small photo over her newspaper column. Nor was she the heavy-set, energetic woman who’d worked so hard to win the villagers over when she’d first moved down from London. She’d changed a lot in the past year, and now she was going to change again.

‘What about a coffee while we decide?’ Judy offered. ‘We can go somewhere here, in Bath …’

‘You know, I think I’d just like to go home,’ Katie responded.

Disappointed, though not altogether surprised, Judy slipped the car into gear and headed for the exit.

‘Blast,’ Katie said, as they turned left out of the car park towards Penn Hill. ‘I keep thinking of things I should have asked.’

‘There’ll be plenty of time,’ Judy assured her. ‘Did you speak to Simon himself?’

Katie nodded. ‘Not the kind of task he could delegate,’ she responded, ‘though I’m sure he’d have preferred to. You know, a funny thing happened,’ she went on, feeling faintly light-headed as the memory popped up, ‘when he told me, you know … When he said it was all over I suddenly fancied him in a way I never have before. It didn’t last. It was gone in a moment, but it was pretty intense while it was there. To tell you the truth, I wouldn’t have minded running with it a while, because the next thing I knew I was right back in reality, and that’s no place to be at a time like this.’ She sighed, then chuckled and let her gaze slide over a rank of shops as they passed by. ‘He’s a nice man. I’m going to miss him,’ she said.

Judy looked at her, and because everything felt so dislocated and absurd, from the weather to the words, they started to laugh.

‘I didn’t think I’d ever say that,’ Katie remarked, as they headed up over Lansdown Lane into the countryside. ‘It’s true though, I will.’ Before Judy could comment she ran on with her next peculiar thought. ‘I could become one of those irritatingly inspirational women who write best-selling books
about
their miraculous recoveries,’ she declared. ‘You know. The ones who manage to digest enough spiritual guff to vaporize tumours the size of footballs, or start up empires after their husbands have royally dumped them. What do you think?’

‘If anyone can do it, you can.’

‘They’re annoying though, aren’t they, those women?’

Judy laughed. ‘Some, yes,’ she agreed. ‘But Heather isn’t.’

‘No, Heather’s an angel who managed to get it together without writing a book and crowing from the hilltops,’ Katie conceded, picturing her radiantly blonde spiritual counsellor in a fetching celestial get-up. She’d never have imagined finding anyone like Heather buried alive in a concrete jungle just outside Chippenham. What a find. These last months would have been a total nightmare without her, even with her they’d been hell.

Her attention moved out over the sparkling green valley where sheep grazed and horses stood like paintings in the afternoon sun. Suddenly, a huge wave of panic rolled in from nowhere.
I don’t want this to be happening. It has to stop. Now! Please make it stop!
She took a breath, and, like Canute, summoned her will to send the tide back to where it had come from. She wouldn’t let it engulf her now. There was too much to do, to think about and put right. Her thoughts suddenly began hovering around the real danger area, Molly, but she quickly marshalled them back to the innocuous patchwork of passing fields and woodlands, and wondered how the tree she sponsored was faring. It was
around
here somewhere, she just couldn’t quite remember where.

‘Yes, we can do that,’ Judy told her.

Katie frowned. Had she said something? Asked a question without even hearing it? Then quite suddenly she recognized the spot. ‘Can we stop?’ she asked. ‘Over there. I think that’s the right place.’

Surprised, Judy glanced at her, but flicking on the indicator she pulled into the lay-by and brought the car to a halt.

Katie gazed along the narrow track that led into the woodland. With all the misty bands of sunlight and glossy leaves it seemed as enticing as a fairy tale, and pushing open the door she stepped out on to the dusty patch of earth. The sun slipped behind a cloud and she frowned. A moment later it was back, like a child playing peek-a-boo and she walked into the copse, breathing in the woody scent of the air, absorbing the many shades of green, enjoying the playful sparkles of light that shone down through the leaves. She’d never been informed of which actual tree she sponsored, only of the woodland it was in, so on reaching a small clearing she looked around and decided to take her pick. It wasn’t long before she settled on the towering old beech that was set slightly back from the glade, because, to her mind at least, there seemed something permanent and irresistible about it. She moved towards it, aware of the ground underfoot feeling soft and sponge-like, and the birdsong sounding more melodious and inviting.

Not until she reached the tree did she realize
from
the smooth grey bark and sharply serrated leaves that it wasn’t a beech at all – it was a hornbeam. She blinked in surprise. Such serendipity. Such a dizzying coincidence, for hornbeam was used to help ease the feelings of exhaustion at the mere thought of facing an ordeal. It was exactly how she was feeling now, exhausted by the thought of what lay ahead. She gazed up at the tree’s magnificent canopy of tooth-edged leaves, so green and soft, and delicately pointed at the tips; the three-lobed cups of its fruit sprouting in thick clusters of paler green, the unwieldy tangle of branches that for some reason made her think of a mother’s arms.

BOOK: The Hornbeam Tree
5.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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