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Wanted for Christmas-Chapter 1

Chapter One

 

“Darn it Greg. You didn’t have to die and leave me in this mess.” Danny Reed pursed her lips contemplating the up-coming festive season. In a little over two weeks’ time, she’d have to present a happy and stable family front, or everything would change. It wasn’t so much the happy part that eluded her—it was the stable.

 

Moving over to the window of the old farmhouse, she pulled back the drapes from the mist covered glass. The outlook, typical picture postcard scenario for this time of year—snow. Trailing a finger down the windowpane, she traced a matchstick man through the moisture. A smile tugged at her lips recalling doing this on many an occasion in the past when she was growing up here.

 

The Reed family had owned the farm for over two hundred years. In the beginning, it had been predominantly wheat farming and over time had changed to accommodate the changing lifestyles of people to keep in business. Now, the farm was a mix of organic crop farming as well as free-range chickens, turkeys, and ducks.

 

Sighing, she shook her head. Greg was her twin brother, elder by an hour. When their father had a heart attack ten years ago, he retired from the farm and their parents moved to a cottage by the sea two hundred miles away. The farm automatically passed to Greg. A no-brainer really, Greg had been dad’s understudy from…the first moment he could walk she supposed

 

“Yep, he loved living here, it was his life,” Danny muttered. Memories of her brother racing after chickens and then being chased back through the yard when he was barely able to run had her tearing up.

 

It had been a long time coming when Greg married Susan Lancaster, he was thirty-five. There was no surprise that the patter of tiny feet soon came along. Eventually that patter ended up as three.

 

Liam, at ten, looked like Greg from his curly brown hair to his bright blue eyes that seemed to be laughing all the time. He was bright and loved the farm—the apple hadn’t fallen very far from the tree when he was born.

 

Sally, at eight, a slim child, with a snub nose, washed out grey eyes and a halo of blonde hair. She was studious, tending to shy from strangers although a very loving child lay beneath her rage over her parents’ death.

 

Jack, at five, was chubby tending to fat with a precocious smile, sea-green eyes and a mop of ginger hair. He definitely had some of the characteristics of his mother. At times, he tended to be fiery when confronted by something he really didn’t want to do—otherwise he was the most loving of the brood.

 

Moving away from the window, she turned to survey the heart of the house—the kitchen. The large AGA stove was keeping not only the bacon, sausages and hash browns warm, also the room. The enormous kitchen table, which could seat twelve with the extra leaf in, was set for the morning meal. The welsh dresser filled with both serviceable crockery and antiques from years gone by filled one wall. The doorway to the larder and the adjoining laundry/boot area had a dog the size of a small pony lay apparently fast asleep, his ears up waiting for that special word beginning with a ‘w’. The kids had apparently fallen in love with the stray when Greg found it three years ago by the river that ran through their property. Little did they know that the cute mutt with the big feet was going to turn out to be such a monster. The kids called her Tiny—that was kid logic for you.

 

Molly, the tabby, purred as she twirled around Danny’s legs for her five minutes of attention and most of all, food.

 

“Morning, Molly. I guess the mice didn’t want to be caught this morning huh.” She reached down stroking Molly’s ears and her purr increased in tempo. Glancing at the clock on the whitewashed wall over the outer door, she sighed.

 

“Time for the monsters to be woken,” Danny said softly to Molly who was now washing her back oblivious to the comment.

 

Heading towards the doorway that led to the twisting stairs, Danny took them two at a time and was soon on the hall landing. The first door to her left was Sally’s room. She knocked lightly and opened the door. Sure enough, Sally was doing exactly what she did most mornings—a tiny ray of light from a mini flashlight focused on a book as her niece read.

 

“Hey, Sally, did you sleep well?” Danny asked, smiling as she headed towards the bed.

 

“Yes, Danny.” Sally blinked rapidly as she moved the covers to look directly at Danny.

 

“Wonderful. It’s time for you to get up, have breakfast and then get ready for school. You can do it the other way around your call. First one up always gets the hottest water.” Danny drew back the curtains in the room to allowed the light reflecting off the snow to stream into the room.

 

“I’ll take the bathroom first.” Sally climbed out of bed and collected her school clothes.

 

“Good idea…see you soon.” She watched the girl walk out of the room and did a cursory tidy up of the room. Fortunately, Sally wasn’t an untidy child. The boys… a different kettle of fish.

 

With a quick look around again, she left the room and headed for the next on her list, Liam. Knocking louder this time, she waited for a reply. At ten, the boy had requested his privacy first thing in the morning, and she’d allowed it unless he was late for school. Smiling she heard a groaned reply.

 

“Liam, Sally’s in the bathroom why don’t you get Jack up for me and I’ll have your breakfast on the table when you get downstairs. See you both in five.”

 

There was another groaned and brief okay. Danny grinned heading back down the stairs to dish up the food.

 

Five minutes later, the two boys arrived, Liam clothed in gym shorts and a t-shirt with Spiderman on the front. Jack dressed in his pj’s filled with animals of every description on the planet.

 

Danny felt small arms wrap around her denim clad legs, Jack looked up at her. “Morning, Jack. Did you sleep well?” Ensuring first that the food wouldn’t burn, she bent to pick up her youngest nephew and kissed him good morning.

 

“Danny, can I play in the snow today?’

 

“School, Jack. Maybe when you get home, I can take you up the hill to toboggan until it gets dark.” Danny smiled.

 

“Danny, it’s winter it will be dark when we get home.  Christmas is in ten days’.” Liam announced. Then sat, picked up a piece of toast, and liberally coated it with butter, munching happily, butter dripping down his chin.

 

“Sorry kiddo. Hmm, okay guys who wants what?” She gave Jack a hug and then placed him down on the floor, watching with a tender smile as his stubby legs waddled off towards his chair.

 

Ten minutes later, Sally arrived, sitting in her usual chair at the table. Her hair was tied in a ribbon, her school clothes were neat and tidy, nothing out of place.

 

“Morning again, Sally. What will it be today?”

 

“Egg and hash browns please, Danny.”

 

Danny pushed her chair away from the table and got up. She quickly broke an egg against the skillet that her mother loved, realizing that it had to be as old as she was. The egg sizzled in the pan and a couple of minutes later they were all seated together.

 

“Okay guys, just five school days to go before the term ends. Are you looking forward to Christmas?”

 

Liam gave a nod but didn’t say anything.

 

“Sure, I want that robot that walks and talks.” Jack grinned.

 

Sally remained silent.

 

Danny knew it was a difficult time—it would be the first year without their parents. God only knows I feel the loss keenly. Her life since her brother and sister-in-law’s death in a car accident had been traumatic on several levels.

 

“I’m looking forward to the school’s Christmas events on Friday.” Finally breaking the melancholy silence descending on the table, attempting a little levity.

 

“Can you make it for everything, Danny?” Liam’s expression solemn.

 

“Yeah, I’ll be there for it all.” The uncertainty in the boy’s expression tugged at Danny’s heart. I haven’t the faintest idea how I’m going to manage a half day away from here and work, I will…God help me, I will.

 

“Oh, I told Mrs. Harris my teacher you probably wouldn’t make it.” Sally declared. Danny hurt at the inference, except it was true, over the years, she had never attended any of the events she’d been invited too regarding the kids.

 

“Don’t worry, Sally, I wouldn’t miss you at the carol singing, Jack in his play, and Liam playing the flute. That’s what an aunt does right?” Danny gazed at the child and blew out a small breath. Jack and Liam grinned and nodded. Sally gave Danny a piercing glance.

 

“I suppose this time might be different.”

 

“Hey guys, go get ready for school. Jack, when I say clean your teeth, clean them and not just rinse with water.” Danny winked at the small boy as he followed his brother back up the stairs.

 

Danny drew in a deep breath as she eyed Sally sitting quietly while munching on her toast.

 

“Why did you think I wouldn’t be there Friday, Sally?” Sally stopped chewing and looked at her aunt with a gaze so unlike an eight-year-old. It was more like an adult.

 

“Mom said she invited you every year, but you were always busy. Now I figure you have even less time.”

 

Wow from the mouth of babes. It was true she was, had been, still was big time. Her career as the partner in a graphic design business had fortunately afforded her the ability to work from home on projects since her brother’s death. That meant being able to pay a farm manager to look after the organic crop side of the business. Still, she had to look after the animals, the house, and the kids. Her finances didn’t stretch to a full-time housekeeper although that’s exactly what she needed. Her current workload had exploded and if she wanted to maintain her credibility, she had to make the deadlines, or the company wouldn’t survive. With that in mind, she’d placed an ad for two days in the local paper that might help—assuming anyone answered. Turning her attention back to Sally, she said,

“You know why I’m busy though, Sally, don’t you?”

 

“Yes, to take care of us so that we don’t have to go live in town with Gran and Grandpa Lancaster.” Danny nodded.

 

“Yeah, that’s right. However, I promise you that I will be there Friday.” This time she moved closer to the child, bent her head, and kissed the blonde head. “Now go speed up your brothers or the bus will go without you.”

 

Sally smiled for the first time that morning and with a nod, disappeared back up the stairs.

 

Dragging a hand through her short hair, Danny stacked up the lunch boxes she’d prepared earlier and drank from her coffee, waiting to walk the kids to the farm entrance gate for the bus.

 

 

Belle Farrow glanced around the colonial house she’d lived in for eight years. The lack of work from the temp agency after the professor’s death three months ago had been another in a long line of problems that had beset her. Graduating from Sheffield University ten years ago with minors in domestic science and English language. Though her parents had been supportive, albeit from a distance, it hadn’t been the result she had hoped. Her dad had agreed to pay for her studies on the proviso once she graduated, she made her own way financially in the world. It had sounded a simple enough and easy plan to follow. Now on reflection, she wished she’d taken computer studies or something more technological—there were hundreds of vacancies in that area. Except she was inept when it came to computers and technical stuff. Her cooking skills were good, no match unfortunately for a decent chef’s position. Her ability to keep budgets etcetera had been passable, hardly enough to demand a prestigious housekeeper’s job in a paying establishment. From the first year, she’d managed short order cook jobs and several positions later had ended up as a cook/housekeeper for her old English professor at the university, who had advertised for someone on a temporary basis.

 

That temp job lasted eight years until the professor had a heart attack and died in his sleep. Having loved the old man dearly, she’d been devastated. He was more of a father figure in her life than her own had ever been. Normally, at Christmas, they would have a quiet day together with a few of the professor’s friends and a couple of her cohorts from the art class who were alone that year. This year was different. The professor’s only relative, a spinster cousin of indeterminable years, had issued Belle with an ultimatum—pay the exorbitant rent or leave.

 

Scratching her head in frustration, Belle gazed half-heartedly at the vacant positions in the local paper, dismissing many jobs as way out of her league. She began reading the casual work column. They wouldn’t pay the rent—barely enough to pay the utilities. Dropping the paper on the coffee table, she sank into the professor’s old armchair, pondering what the professor’s advice would be in the circumstances. Her muddled mind didn’t come up with a darned thing.

 

Picking up the newspaper again, she decided that options were limited. There was a chance to be a pixie at the local mall for a couple of weeks, they might pay better than the never-ending cleaning jobs.

 

Glancing at the next column, she frowned. In that column people advertised for all kinds of things not usually work related, how odd. The ad made her smile.

 

Wanted: Housekeeper/cook/nanny for the period of Christmas until the New Year. Board, lodging, and a small allowance available. Immediate start to the right candidate. Interested parties apply to D. Reed, Box 111, Sheffield Street Post office.

 

Belle chuckled. “You don’t want much do you D. Reed. Why didn’t you just ask for a temporary wife? Some people place the strangest ads, it’s a scam for sure.” Tossing the paper into her art valise, she could peruse it better over coffee, after her art class.

 

“You can’t be serious. Someone placed that kind of ad in the wanted column. Talk about desperate,” Jody Allison her friend remarked. They were sitting drinking coffee at the local café opposite where they took the art class.

 

“Here, read it yourself.” Thrusting the paper across the table the page open to the advert.

 

“Definitely desperate. Or some kind of weird joke.” Jody laughed.

 

“Well, if it’s true I’m sure they have a good reason,” Belle softly replied.

 

“No, please don’t tell me you are considering the position?” Jody glanced intently at her.

 

“Not exactly…although it would solve my problems for a few weeks.” She shrugged. “Who knows, it might become a permanent temporary position like with the professor.”

 

“Don’t go there, Belle. This could be a crazed maniac out to snare a hostage for all kinds of nefarious reasons. Besides, you can stay with me Christmas Eve and day…you know that right.”

 

“I know and thank you. Doesn’t solve my financial problems. I need a job and some place to live. You’re leaving town for the bright lights of Rayburn Christmas Eve and somehow arriving with you at Jamie’s wouldn’t quite go down well.” Belle placed a hand on her friend’s arm. “Thanks for the offer though.”

 

“You know I’m going to go crazy with worry if you take this job.”

 

“Ah, but they might not want me. I could always say to …,” she looked again at the name on the ad, “D. Reed that my friend needs to check him out first before I accept.” Jody shook her head. “I think you need your head examined; I get it though, damn why do we need money so much to have a decent existence?” Pulling at her lip, she added, “Hmm, that’s not such a bad suggestion…the checking out part.”

 

Belle chuckled. “I know.” The more she looked at the ad the more it appealed. After all it was nearly Christmas ands lots of wonderful things should and do happen then.

 

Later that day, she wrote a short letter to D. Reed as per the instructions and posted it an hour later. As she dropped the letter in the mailbox, she wondered if she’d done the right thing.

 

“Oh, what the heck with my luck they will throw it in the trash.”

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