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Sweet Surrender With the Millionaire

By:Helen Brooks

Sweet Surrender With the Millionaire
Helen Brooks


SHE'D done it! It was finally hers. A place where after all the trauma  and misery of the last few years she could pull up the  drawbridge-metaphorically speaking-and be in her own world. Answerable  to no one. No matter it was going to take her years to get the cottage  sorted; she could do it at her own pace and it would fill her evenings  and weekends, which was just what she wanted. Anyway, if it had been in  pristine condition she wouldn't have been able to afford it.

Willow Landon heaved a satisfied sigh and then whirled round and round  on the spot before coming dizzily to a halt as she laughed out loud. She  was in control of her life again, that was what this cottage meant, and  she was never going to relinquish that autonomy again.

She gazed round the small empty sitting room, and the peeling wallpaper  and dusty floorboards could have been a palace, such was the expression  on her rapt face. Walking across to the grimy French doors in which the  glass was cracked and the paintwork flaking, she opened them onto the  tangled jungle of a garden. Monstrous nettles and brambles confronted  her, fighting for supremacy with waist-high weeds and aggressive ivy,  which had wound itself over bushes and trees until the whole had become a  wall of green. It was impossible to see any grass or paths, but she  thought she could spy what looked like an old potting shed in front of  the stone wall at the end of what the estate agent had assured her was a  quarter of an acre of ground.

She shut her eyes for a moment, imagining it as it would be when she'd  finished with it. Roses and honeysuckle climbing the drystone walls,  benches and a swinging seat on the smooth green lawn and little arbours  she'd create, a fountain running over a stone water feature. She'd  cultivate lots of old-fashioned flowers: foxgloves, angelica, lupins,  gillyflowers, larkspur, and pinks-lots of fragrant pinks and wallflowers  and stock. And she'd have her own vegetable plot. But those plans were  for the future. For now she'd simply clear the jungle and rake the  ground free of the worst of weeds and debris for the winter. The most  pressing thing was to get the house in shape, and that would take plenty  of elbow grease, patience and money. The first two she had, the third  would filter in month by month when she saw what she had left after  paying the mortgage and bills.

Her mobile phone rang, and as she fished it out of her jeans pocket and  saw the number she sighed inwardly even as she said, 'Hi, Beth,' her  tone deliberately bright.

'Willow.' Her name was a reproach. 'I've just phoned the flat and one of  the girls told me you moved out today. I can't believe you didn't tell  us it was this weekend you're moving. You know Peter and I wanted to  help.'

'And I told you that with you being seven months pregnant there was no  way. Besides which you're still trying to get straight yourself.' Beth  and her husband had only moved from their tiny starter home into a  larger three-bedroomed semi two weeks before. 'Anyway, I've had loads of  offers of help but it's not necessary. I shall enjoy cleaning and  sorting out at my own pace. I've got a bed and a few bits of furniture  being delivered this afternoon, but there's so much to do here I don't  want to buy much as each room will need completely gutting and the less I  have to lug about, the better.'

'But to attempt to move on your own.' Beth made it sound as though  Willow had gone off to Borneo or outer Mongolia on some hazardous  expedition. 'Have you got food in for the weekend?'

Before Willow could reply there was the sound of someone speaking in the  background. Then Beth's voice came high and indignant. 'Peter says I'm  acting as though you're eight years old instead of twenty-eight. I'm  not, am I?'

Willow smiled ruefully. She loved her sister very much and since their  parents had been killed in a car crash five years ago they'd become even  closer, but she had to admit she was relieved Beth would soon have her  baby to fuss over. At thirty, Beth was definitely ready to be a mum.  Soothingly-but not absolutely truthfully-she murmured, 'Course not.  Look, I've taken some holiday I had owing to get straight. I'll pop in  for a chat soon.'                       


'Great. Come on Monday and stay for dinner,' Beth shot back with alacrity.

Again Willow sighed silently. The planning office in Redditch where  she'd worked since leaving university was a stone's throw from Beth's  new place, and not far from the house she'd shared with three friends  for the last twelve months. The cottage, on the other hand, was an  hour's drive away, the last fifteen minutes of which on twisting country  lanes. Until she'd got familiar with the journey she would have  preferred to drive home while it was still light. Now, in late  September, the nights were dropping in. But if she suggested going to  see Beth for lunch instead it would mean virtually a whole day's work at  the cottage was lost. 'Lovely,' she said dutifully. 'I'll bring dessert  but it'll be shop-bought, I'm afraid.'

They talked a little more before Willow excused herself by saying she  had a hundred and one things to do, but she didn't immediately get to  work. Instead she sank down on the curved stone steps that led from the  French doors into the garden. She breathed in the warm morning air, her  face uplifted to the sun. Birds twittered in the trees and the sky was a  deep cornflower blue. Silly, but she felt nature had conspired with her  to give her a break and make moving day as easy as it could be. It was a  good start to the rest of her life anyway.

A robin flew down to land on the bottom of the three steps, staring at  her for a moment with bright black eyes before darting off. She  continued to gaze at the spot where the bird had been, but now her eyes  were inward-looking.

This was what the cottage signified: the start of the rest of her life.  The past was gone and she couldn't change it or undo the huge mistake  she'd made in getting involved with Piers in the first place, but the  present and the future were hers now she was free of him. It was up to  her to make of them what she would. Just a few months ago she had wanted  the world to end; life had lost all colour and each day had been  nothing more than a battle to get through before she could take one of  the pills the doctor had prescribed and shut off her mind for a little  while. But slowly she'd stopped taking the pills to help her sleep, had  begun to eat again, been able to concentrate on a TV programme or read a  book without her mind returning to Piers and that last terrible night.

She lifted up her slender arms, purposely channelling her mind in a  different direction as she stretched and stood up. It had taken time,  but she was able to do this now and she was grateful for it. In fact it  had probably saved her reason. Whatever, she was herself again-albeit an  older, wiser self.

Turning, she went back inside and through the house to the front door.  Her trusty little Ford Fiesta was parked on the grass verge at the end  of the small front garden, which, like the back, was a tangle of weeds,  nettles and briars. The car was packed to the roof with her clothes and  personal belongings, along with a box containing cleaning equipment and  the new vacuum cleaner she'd bought the day before. She had roughly four  hours before her bed and few items of furniture were due to be  delivered, and she'd need every minute. The old lady who had lived here  before she'd finally been persuaded to move to a nursing home had  clearly been struggling for years to cope. The nephew who had overseen  her departure from the cottage had apparently cleared it; removing the  carpets and curtains-which the estate agent had assured Willow had been  falling to pieces-along with everything else. What was left was  mountains of dust, dirt and cobwebs, but from what she could see of the  grimy floorboards they would be great when stained. And at least she  could really put her stamp on things.

Four hours later she'd emptied the vacuum bag umpteen times, but at  least the dust from the carpet underlay, which had disintegrated into  fine powder, was gone, and most surfaces were relatively clean. The  cottage wasn't large, comprising a sitting room, kitchen and bathroom  downstairs, and two bedrooms upstairs. There was a kind of scullery  attached to the kitchen by means of a door that you opened and stepped  down into a six-foot by six-foot bare brick room with a tiny slot of a  window, and it was evident the old lady had been in the habit of storing  her coal and logs for the fire here. There was no central heating and  in the kitchen an ancient range was the only means of cooking. The  cottage had been rewired fairly recently though, which was a bonus in  view of all the other work she'd need to do, and it had a mains supply  of water.