Life in Little Leyton is never quiet, and when handsome developer Max and his bride-to-be Ellie, receive some sad news, he decides to whisk her away for a romantic break. The time away gives Ellie a new perspective, and she’s eager to get home to get on with planning their wedding.
But a devastating incident at the pub she runs, The Dog & Duck, puts everything in jeopardy. And, at their home Braithwaite Manor, tensions are heightened when Ellie’s future mother-in-law turns up with all her worldly belongings, much to Max’s sister Katy’s despair.
With Max preoccupied with problems at work, Ellie’s left literally holding the baby, while dealing with a seemingly endless list of dramas. And as Christmas approaches, Ellie begins to wonder if she’ll ever get her happily ever after…
Jill Steeples’ heart-warming Dog & Duck series is the perfect escapist read for all fans of romance, laughter and unforgettable stories.
EXTRACT FROM THE BOOK
Although I was itching to tell everyone our news, we kept the secret to ourselves for another few weeks until we were certain that we would be able to make everything happen for our chosen date in December. I got in touch with our friend, Reverend Trish Evans, from St Cuthbert’s Church to ask if she would be able to marry us on that date, spoke to Dave at Yardleys, the butcher’s in the village, to see if they would be able to help with the catering, and checked the bookings for the barn at The Dog and Duck to see if it was free that weekend. With the stars conspiring in our favour it soon became clear that I needed to get a move on, as I had a wedding to organise, and in only three months’ time too!
A few days later, with that in mind, I made the trip down to No. 2 Ivy Lane Cottages.
‘Darling! Come in.’ Mum’s face lit up at seeing me, or probably more accurately at seeing Noel. She bent down to unstrap him from his buggy and lifted his little body, clad in fetching blue shorts and matching T-shirt, up into her arms, showering him with an array of kisses. ‘Look who’s here, Malc!’ she called through to my dad, who came wandering in from the garden.
‘Ah, my two favourite people!’
Mum’s brow furrowed as she chastised him with a dark look.
‘Let me rephrase that. My three favourite people in the world, all in the same room. How lucky am I?’
I had to smile. In truth, I was the lucky one, having my parents back and living in the village. When I’d fallen pregnant with Noel they were out in Dubai, enjoying an ex-pat lifestyle in the sunshine, spending their time with their newfound friends, sipping cocktails and dining out at the yacht club. They’d been due to stay out there for another couple of years when suddenly they made the surprising decision to move back to Little Leyton shortly after Noel was born. There was no consultation or warning, they just did it, seemingly on the spur of moment, and I couldn’t help wondering then what was behind, what seemed to me, a rash decision.
Had there been a falling out in Dubai, were they facing financial difficulties or did they feel they had to come home to support me with the baby? I’d had so many questions. As it turned out it was none of those things. It had been a few weeks later that I found out the real shocking reason for them coming home. Dad had been diagnosed with cancer. At first I couldn’t believe it. That someone who had always been the strong one in our family, so vibrant and full of energy, could be susceptible to such a horrible disease. I’d believed my dad to be invincible and couldn’t imagine a time when he wouldn’t be around. Coming face to face with his mortality had been a huge shock to us all, bringing home the fragility of life and everything we had to be grateful for. The thought of losing Dad, and Noel growing up not knowing his grandfather, was heartbreaking.
Even now, when I thought about it, a cold shudder rippled through my body.
Luckily Dad was able to undergo treatment swiftly and – touch wood, fingers crossed and saying the occasional prayer to anyone who might listen – it seemed to have been a success. Now the hospital staff were just monitoring him at regular intervals.
‘You all right, Dad?’ It didn’t stop me from worrying about him though, checking his face and looking into his eyes every time I saw him just to see if I could detect any changes. Today, with him in his shorts and T-shirt, his skin bronzed from the sun, you would never know there had been anything wrong.
‘Me? I’m dandy. Shall we go and sit in the garden? I’ll pop the kettle on,’ he said jauntily.
Meanwhile, Mum was obviously doing her own familial checks and placed her hand on my shoulder, gazing into my face intently.
‘Are you all right, love? I was saying to your father, you haven’t seemed quite yourself in recent weeks. And you look a bit peaky. There’s nothing wrong, is there?’
Honestly, I’d swear Mum had a sixth sense. She could always tell when something was bothering me or if I was under the weather. I loved her dearly, but this was exactly the reason why I didn’t want her to know about the miscarriage. She would be devastated and concerned for me, I knew, and dealing with her grief and sense of loss, on top of my own, was something I didn’t feel strong enough for just now. We’d been through so much with Dad’s illness that I didn’t want to inflict any further worry or concern on them. Not when there wasn’t anything they could do to change things.
‘I’m fine, Mum, really.’
She raised her brow at me, clearly not convinced by my explanation.
‘You’re overdoing it, Ellie. You’ve not stopped since you’ve had this little one. And you’ve got Arthur and Katy to look after now too. Then there’s all the work you do for the pub. Not to mention that mad dog you’ve taken on. No wonder you’re worn out.’
When she put it like that it did sound a lot, but honestly I’d felt perfectly fine when I’d arrived, only I was beginning to feel steadily worse by the moment. Mum was hardly to know though.
‘Then there was all that time and effort you put into organising Polly’s wedding,’ she went on. ‘It’s hardly any wonder you’re completely frazzled.’
‘Oh, I know.’ I nodded, glad Mum had steered the conversation in a different direction. ‘But it was such good fun, I wouldn’t have missed out on a moment of it for the world.’
‘True. You did do an amazing job.’
Polly had married the famous writer, George Williamson, at St Cuthbert’s church in the village and I’d organised a champagne reception for them in the old barn at the back of the pub, honoured to be chosen as Polly’s maid of honour. The sun had shone all day and it had been the most perfect occasion.
‘Well, actually… I’ll be back in wedding planning mode very soon. Just as soon as we get back from our holiday.’
Mum’s eyes widened and her face lit up.
‘Don’t tell me you’ve set the date at last?’
‘Yes! That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.’
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jill lives with her husband, two children and an English Pointer named Amber in the Bedfordshire countryside. Her short stories have appeared in women’s magazines around the world as well as in charity anthologies. When she’s not writing, Jill loves spending time with family and friends, reading, films, musical theatre, walking, baking and eating cakes, and drinking wine.
Twitter handle: @jillesteeples