Trouble comes to the sleepy market town of Little Woodford – a world of allotments, pub quizzes, shopping and gossip – the heart of middle England.
Little Woodford has a sleepy high street, a weekly market, a weathered old stone church and lovingly tended allotments. A peaceful, unexciting place, the very heart of middle England.
In Little Woodford no one has fingers in more pies than Olivia Laithwaite, parish councillor, chair of the local WI, wife, mother and all round queen bee. So of course it’s Olivia who is first to spot that The Beeches has been sold at last.
Soon rumours begin to swirl around the young widow who has bought this lovely house. Why exactly did she leave London with her beautiful stepdaughter and young sons? Are they running from someone? Hiding something? Though if they are, they won’t be the only ones. Sometimes the arrival of newcomers in a community is all it takes to light a fuse…
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Olivia Laithwaite, resident of Little Woodford, mother of four, town councillor and general do-gooder, was on her way to her hair appointment when a car zipped across her path, over the pavement and through the gate of The Beeches. So, thought Olivia, maybe this heralded the new owners who were moving in at last. She took a few more paces then peered round the gate post and saw the estate car parked on the gravel drive. A youngish blonde was getting out of the driver’s seat and a sultry-looking teenager with raven hair spilling down her back emerged from the front passenger seat. Out of the back tumbled a couple of small boys, both fair-haired like their mother. From the way the four interacted, chatting, laughing, the girl holding hands with the smaller of the boys, it seemed as though this must be a family, except that the girl bore no resemblance at all to the others. Maybe she took after her father. And where was he? wondered Olivia. Not that it was any of her business.
She strolled on towards Cutz and Curlz, the lone hair salon in the town, passing, as she did, an estate agent. She examined the A4 cards with the house details, pasted in the window. She liked to see what prices houses in the area were achieving – not that she was planning on moving but it gave her a sense of smug satisfaction to know that, if some of the smaller houses round and about were hitting the half-a-million mark, her huge barn conversion, at the top end of the town, must be well into seven figures. She recalled that when The Beeches had gone on the market the previous owners had wanted an eye-watering amount but it had been up for sale for so long that Olivia doubted they got what they’d been after. She remembered that the For Sale sign had gone up way before Christmas and now Easter had come and gone and, in under a fortnight, the schools were due to start the summer term. She longed to know what the final price had been – she expected it to have been north of a million and a half, but not the nearly two million they’d wanted. Which begged the question: how could such a young family afford the place? She was still mulling this over when she reached the hairdresser’s and pushed the door open. At the ping the receptionist looked up. Olivia didn’t think her blue hair did anything for her – made her look quite sallow. What had the girl be thinking of when she’d dyed it that colour?
‘Mrs Laithwaite. Mags is just finishing off another client. She’ll be with you shortly. Can I take your jacket?’
As Olivia shrugged off her navy blazer and handed it to the receptionist to hang on the rail in the alcove behind her desk, she looked across the salon to where Mags the proprietor was working. Mags was little and dumpy with bright auburn hair cut short and brushed into artful spikes. Olivia was in no doubt that both the artful spikes and the colour were courtesy of hairdressing skills and had nothing to do with nature. She sniffed. And wasn’t Mags too old to have that shade of red? If she was any judge, the woman had to be pushing sixty – wouldn’t a slightly less garish shade be more appropriate?
She sat on the sofa and picked up a magazine. Across the salon, she could see Mags puffing spray onto Belinda Bishop’s newly styled hair – at least Belinda’s shade looked more natural. The two seemed to be discussing some reality TV show or other. Olivia sniffed again. Really, she thought, she could understand Mags watching such tripe but Belinda? And when did she have the time? Surely as the landlady of the Talbot, the local pub, she would be better off running her business than slobbing in front of rubbish. Ah well, each to their own. Olivia shook her head. Belinda and Mags were laughing now. Maybe if Mags got on with her job instead of chatting, she wouldn’t be running late for her next appointment. Olivia stopped trying to eavesdrop and instead immersed herself in an article about Carole Middleton. Now that was a family to envy.
Catherine Jones lives in Thame, where she is an independent Councillor. She is the author of eighteen novels, including the Soldiers’ Wives series, which she wrote under the pseudonym Fiona Field.
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