Set in the Cotswold Confidential world, I hope you enjoy this scene written just for YOU!
Cassandra Brooks stared at the last sweet roll on the plate. The rolls had been a Christmas gift from her neighbor Mrs. Grace, and Cassie had eaten all but one in one sitting.
She shouldn’t eat another. If she did, it meant waking up Christmas morning with…nothing to eat, besides no presents. Oh, there was tea and a heel of bread from a four-day-old loaf, and the promise of dinner at the vicarage. She was to be taken in with all the other strays by Reverend Fitzmartin and his wife, and possibly poisoned. Mrs. Fitzmartin’s eyesight was failing and she often added ingredients that shouldn’t be added. Cassie would make sure she got there hours early to help the vicar’s wife and save souls in her own way.
Cassie was living in disgrace. Her step-father had betrayed Puddling-on-the-Wold and all its inhabitants by selling a story to a newspaper. It revealed in great detail the exploits of one Lord Robert “Robin” Ferrars, the Guest in Primrose Cottage. Lord Robert was the youngest son of the Duke of Harford and since he’d arrived, he’d done everything in his power to escape. Climbing over the locked gates, splashing through Puddling Stream, sneaking onto the Sykes estate and trying to leave by the main road. Mr. Sykes had somehow quashed the story, but he’d turned out Cassie’s step-father as well. So now she lived alone in the tiny weaver’s cottage that had belonged to her maternal great-grandparents before Puddling became the Resort of Last Resort.
Before he’d left, her step-father had taken all of the family’s Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation allowance, and Cassie’s own savings besides. She had not breathed a word to anyone, too ashamed of him for biting the hand that fed them both. Quarterly payments were due in the new year, which wasn’t so very far off. She could manage.
The village was unique—by simply living here and assisting with the various Guests who came to stay and stabilize themselves, each resident shared in the Foundation’s earnings and investments. There were some drawbacks, of course, keeping strict confidentiality being one of them. Sometimes the bakery closed when a Guest was over-fond of sweets and needed to shed a few stone, and the pub was now an old folks’ center which served nothing stronger than coffee. Because Cassie had been born here, she was automatically eligible for her stipend.
Her step-father, however, had been born in Birmingham, and had never fit in. He’d become increasingly hostile once Cassie’s mother died last year, and now was barred from the community.
Cassie could not say she missed him. He had been a harsh man, an indifferent father and unfaithful husband. He’d have to make his own way in the world now without the support of the Puddling Rehabilitation Foundation, and good riddance. She had forgiven him as she’d been instructed to do by the Reverend Fitzmartin, but that didn’t mean she wanted to be under the same roof.
But…Cassie really was hungry. She reached toward the frosted roll—
And heard a noise outside in the back garden. She rushed to the kitchen window, expecting to find her cat Mephisto with an unfortunate bird in his mouth. That was one treat she could happily decline. Instead she saw a young man, who ducked beneath the window ledge at the sight of her.
She threw open the door. “What are you doing hiding in my garden?”
“Shh! They’re after me. May I come in?”
“Certainly not.” She wasn’t going to get kicked out of Puddling like her step-father.
“Please. It’s very cold. And I have sandwiches.”
Cassie argued with herself for all of twenty seconds. She snatched the canvas bag from her uninvited Guest and spread the bounty on the scrubbed pine table.
He did indeed have sandwiches. Two ham and three chicken on his housekeeper Mrs. Kelvin’s wholemeal bread, plus a thick wedge of cheddar, an apple, half a fruitcake, an unpeeled carrot, and a handful of walnuts in their shells.
“I’ve been hoarding for the past few days,” Lord Robert said. “But I don’t mind sharing. I’ll never get out of here today anyway. I think it’s going to snow.”
Cassie poured him a glass of water. She rather liked the idea of a white Christmas. “Why do you want to?”
“I shouldn’t be here! My father is angry because I want to be a clergyman. He wants me to go into the army instead. He thought if I was sent here I’d get bored and come to my senses, but if anything my faith gets stronger day by day. I definitely do not want to shoot people—I want to help them. And I very much enjoy my daily talks with Mr. Fitzmartin.”
“He’s a nice old man,” Cassie agreed, biting into a ham sandwich. God bless pigs. Chickens, too.
“He’s invited me for Christmas lunch after the service tomorrow.”
“Oh! I’m going also.”
He held out a hand. “What’s your name? I’m called Robin.”
“Cassie,” Cassie said, once she’d finished chewing. “Can’t Mr. Fitzmartin put in a good word for you?”
“I think he’s afraid to. My father is a duke, you know.”
“Yes, but you could do a sort of apprenticeship with the vicar if your father won’t pay for divinity studies, and then take over the parish when Mr. Fitzmartin retires.” As he should do soon—the man and his wife were as old as Mr. and Mrs. Methuselah. “With your background, you’d be the perfect person to understand what some of our Guests go through.”
“My word! That’s an excellent idea! Then I wouldn’t have to keep running away. And I could get to know you better.”
Cassie blushed. Could she be a vicar’s wife? Only time would tell.