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London Bound (Heart of the City #3)

By:C.J. Duggan

London Bound (Heart of the City #3)
        Author: C.J. Duggan



Chapter One


I thought life would be one giant tea party.

Lawn croquet and cucumber sandwiches, men with monocles and ladies with lacy parasols. I thought the grass would be green and the sunshine eternal in the summer I came to London. Instead, I sat with crossed legs, indenting the puffy marshmallow cover of my bedspread, my long blonde hair tucked behind my ears as I scowled at my laptop. The blank screen scowled right back. I wearily rubbed the crease on my brow, wondering how my brain could be so devoid of inspiration, yet so full of despair. I looked out into the dull, grey light through the large window of my room. It was raining sideways again, icy splinters hitting the glass discordantly. I tried to convince myself that I was glad to be in here, away from the miserable weather.

Sure, keep telling yourself that, Kate.

'Katherine Elizabeth!'

Bang-bang.

I hated my name. Hated it with a burning passion. The very sound of it, though muffled by the space that divided my floor from the one below, and punctuated by the tapping of walking stick on floorboards, caused me to hide behind my screen and sink deeper into my mattress. 

'Shut up, you old bag,' I mumbled.

'Katherine Elizabeth Brown!'

Bang-bang-bang.

Like the caller, that name, and that sound, were getting old  –  very, very old.

I sighed, slamming my laptop shut and chucking it aside.

'Coming!' I called out in the best upbeat, breezy voice I could manage, despite my dread at facing what lay on the other side of my door. Twisting the gold handle and stepping out into the hall meant two things: I was free from my prison, but about to enter another. The dreaded lower level.

Now don't be misled by all the beautiful old furniture, the impressive sweeping staircase or the sparkling chandelier that reflects off classic oil paintings from a bygone era. Nor by the impressive displays of silverware and china that would give any buck-toothed, tweed-covered Antiques Roadshow host heart palpitations. Make no mistake: beyond the impressive façade of this grand old terrace in South Kensington's Onslow Gardens lies a very tastefully decorated hell and, despite appearances, there's not a skerrick of Jane Austen-esque wit or drama to be found. I took a deep breath and squared my shoulders; my posture was under constant scrutiny these days.

Before the next series of thuds came, I twisted the handle, pushing open the final barrier between my world and hers with a silent prayer.

Plastering on a well-intentioned smile, my gaze moved from her usual spot by the fireplace to the overstuffed lounge near the picture window on the other side of the room.

She had moved? She must crave the sun  …  like a lizard.

Next to the window I saw the silhouette of a distinguished elderly lady, her stark white hair coiffed in an elegant high bun, her bony frame dressed in her usual Chanel and finished with antique double-strand pearls. She was the vision of grace, class and noble breeding. Her delicately arched brow kinked as she turned impossibly bright blue eyes on me, before they dimmed and her seemingly pleasant disposition fell away like the sun behind a cloud.

'Oh, Katherine, are you deliberately trying to look unattractive today?'

My shoulders slumped; my posture wasn't on the agenda today so I might as well rest them.

'No, Nana Joy, not deliberately.' I tried to keep my voice even, a little amazed that even after a month of enduring casual putdowns her comments still stung.

I also tried to stop myself from looking over my attire to see what exactly was wrong with what I was wearing. How could a knee-length grey skirt and cream-coloured cardigan be so offensive? I wouldn't give her the satisfaction of seeing my self-inspection. I was sure she gained power from my paranoia like the emotional vampire she was.

'Tea, Nana?' I asked, placing the empty china back onto the tray I had carried in earlier, glancing at the mantel clock and wishing away the time until Vera, Nana Joy's carer called in for her daily duties.

Dear Saint Vera.

'No, I'll wait for Vera. Vera makes a nice cup of tea,' she said, waving me away.

My curious eyes roamed over the empty teacup and saucer, a little smirk lining my lips. She could say what she liked, when it came to making tea, I knew I rocked it.

'I'm hungry,' Nana Joy whined like a petulant child, which wasn't so far from the truth.

If I were a responsible human being I would have argued that a tray of shortbread (Nana's favourite) was not a good idea lest she spoil her appetite. But if it meant it kept her quiet, if not happy, then I would give it to her. In fact, I'd be willing to sacrifice a goat in her honour, if it kept her from calling me by my full birth name. I had tried in vain the first few days to insist she call me 'Kate' but there would be none of that. The irony of my nana's name being Joy was not lost on me either, because despite the cheery blue china and sugary afternoon snacks, Joy Ellingham was a nightmare. And, for now, she was my nightmare.

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