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Belinda Jamison gazed at the gleaming parquet of the floor, newly varnished, and couldn’t keep a swell of pride from practically lifting her off her toes.
Poised to take a few balletic steps into the room, she stopped herself just in time. The varnish needed at least a week before anyone so much as put a toe on it, and she certainly had no intention of scuffing its pristine surface, not before her first class, anyway. After that there would be plenty of scuff marks, and that would be fine. That would be wonderful.
With a grin spreading over her face, she switched off the lights and turned from the room. As she clattered down the stairs, her landlady Monica poked her head around the till of Wychwood Waggy Tails, the shop she ran and that Lindy rented a room above.
“All finished?” she asked cheerfully as she cradled a mug of tea.
“Yes, for now. It needs a week of simply sitting pretty and then I’ll jazz it up a bit.” She already had a wall of mirrors planned for one side. “It’s going to be perfect.”
“You’re very optimistic. I like that.”
“I have to be,” Lindy said simply. Perhaps it was the way she was born, or simply the way she’d chosen to live, but she wasn’t going to let a few unexpected bends or bumps in the road get her down—and there had been a few since she’d moved to Wychwood-on-Lea in June, over two months ago now.
Moving to a small village in the Cotswolds hadn’t been in Lindy’s life plan, and yet when she’d made the decision last April it had felt suddenly and wonderfully right. She’d been working in Manchester as an accountant for over a decade, and the years had started to feel as if they were slipping away from her.
Thirty-six come December, and she hadn’t had much to show for it besides a nondescript flat and a stellar CV. Yes, she had a handful of lovely work colleagues and she was friendly with her neighbours, but thanks to the way her life had gone—and she wouldn’t let herself regret a bit of it—that tribe of kindred spirits and cosy relations most people took for granted had completely passed her by. She was pretty much all alone, and she realised she didn’t want to log the lonely nine to five for the rest of her life.
Then her friend Ellie had suggested she move down south, just as she had done herself three years before.
“It’s so lovely here, and people are really friendly. I mean really friendly. They will absolutely insist you be friends with them.”
“Now you’re starting to scare me,” Lindy had joked, even though secretly she thought it all sounded rather wonderful—the bevy of kindly friends, the impossibly quaint village, the stable yard of converted cottages where Ellie had assured her there was space. Willoughby Close, it was called, and it had already sounded like home.
And so, somewhat recklessly, Lindy had agreed. Thanks to parents who had worked hard all their lives and loved their only child devotedly, not to mention her own respectable savings, she didn’t have to worry too much about money. She could rent number two, Willoughby Close, and pursue her pet project for at least a year or two without having to count pennies—or at least not count them too carefully.
“Cup of tea?” Monica asked and Lindy nodded. It was only half past five, and she had nowhere to go but home that evening.
“Thanks, Monica, that would be lovely.”
As Monica went to the tiny kitchen in the back of the shop to make her a brew, Lindy perched on a stool and considered all the last two months had—and hadn’t—brought.
When Ellie had suggested the move, Lindy had made sure to get everything in place before she signed on the dotted line, because as impulsive as she could be, she still liked to be prepared. Ten years of accountancy work counted for something.
She’d rented the cottage in Willoughby Close, and made a verbal agreement with Wychwood-on-Lea’s parish council to rent out their newly refurbished village hall for her classes. And it had all looked as if it was going to go swimmingly when she’d arrived in June with a moving van in tow and a head full of dreams, just in time to offer a few free lessons at the summer gala up at the manor.
But then it had all suddenly fallen apart, and over the wretched floors, of all things. Someone on the parish council decided they didn’t want people tapping their toes or really, digging in their heels, on the village hall’s gleaming new parquet floor, and the council had, sorrowfully but firmly, revoked their offer of hosting Lindy’s classes.
Lindy had done her best not to get down, even though it soon became apparent that there was no other suitable space in all of Wychwood, or any other nearby village, to host the dream she’d been cherishing—Take a Twirl School of Ballroom Dancing.
She’d had to cancel her already booked schedule of summer classes, including her tiny tots holiday week that she’d been especially looking forward to. She’d scrambled to look for a space, and in mid-August Monica Dewbury had offered her the room over her pet shop and dog bakery, which was small but adequate and the only space she could find.
An elegant woman in her fifties with a silver bob and a ready smile, Monica had followed her dream by opening a dog bakery of all things, and now she wanted the same for Lindy. She’d assured her she didn’t use the upstairs, and this would be putting it to good use. Lindy promised her free dance classes, to which Monica laughed and said she had two left feet.
“So you must be ready soon,” Monica said now as she handed Lindy her cup of tea. “When is your first class?”
“Not for a few weeks. I still have to get all the publicity out—” which she’d had to revise, thanks to the change of venue “—and I’m still hoping to put up the wall of mirrors. Ava’s husband Jace said he might be able to do it.”
Lindy had been wonderfully overwhelmed by the outpouring of friendship she’d encountered almost from the moment she’d driven into Willoughby Close. Her neighbours in the close, Olivia and Emily, had both welcomed her with casseroles, bottles of wine, and an invitation to go to the pub with a whole bevy of former residents.
“It’ll have to be The Three Pennies,” Emily had said with a wry little grimace, “unless you’re willing to sit outside.”
“Emily’s boyfriend Owen runs a pop-up pub,” Olivia had chimed in. “Man with a Van. It’s brilliant.”
There had been so many people to meet and names to learn—Olivia’s fiancé Simon was a music teacher at the primary school, and then there was Ava and Jace and their little boy William, plus Alice and Henry up at the manor, and Harriet and her family in the village. And of course there was Ellie, living in Oxford with her husband Oliver.
Lindy had met Ellie when they’d got to chatting on the bus into Manchester, both commuting daily for work. She’d been hoping to see more of her now that she’d moved to Wychwood, but she hadn’t quite twigged until she’d arrived that Ellie lived over half an hour away, worked in Oxford, and was generally very busy with her daughter Abby doing GCSEs and a husband who had a demanding job at the university, and was a viscount to boot.
But that was okay. Lindy was used to having to fit in to other people’s busy lives, and it had never bothered her before. She wouldn’t let it now—because although she’d made a lot of friends in the two months she’d been living at Willoughby Close, they were all friends with boyfriends or husbands, children or pets or both, and when it came to a Friday night or a Saturday afternoon, they tended to be rather busy. Which was fine, because Lindy was busy too. Mostly. She certainly would be busy when she finally got her school up and running—or really, up and dancing.
“I think it’s brilliant you’re doing this,” Monica said. “Following your dream, no matter what. I love it.”
Lindy smiled her thanks. She knew more than one eyebrow had sceptically risen when she’d arrived in the village, planning to start a school for ballroom dancing. She wasn’t exactly the expected model for the teacher of such a school—standing at just over six feet without shoes, and with a figure that was more statuesque than supermodel, Lindy was surprisingly light on her feet, but also a perfectly satisfied size fourteen. Still, she knew people had been expecting someone a bit, well, tinier.
“Have you had many people enrolling yet?” Monica asked.
“A few. I need to do more publicity.” Lindy was trying not to worry about the lack of enrolment. After she’d done her sample lessons at the charity gala back in June she’d had a whole host of sign-ups that she’d had to postpone when the village hall made their unfortunate U-turn.
Now that she had a new location, only a handful of those previously booked had bothered to re-enrol, despite her determination to contact each and every person. Lindy wasn’t worried about money, but she knew the importance of having a critical mass to get the momentum of enthusiasm she’d need for the school to be a success. She hated the thought of having it limp along for a few months before she had to close up shop.
But she was getting ahead of—or really, behind—herself in thinking that way. Her first class, an evening class for beginners, was still a fortnight away.
“Well, I for one hope it will be a success,” Monica said firmly. “And I tell everyone who comes into the shop about it, as well.”
“You’ve been wonderful, Monica, thank you.”
Lindy finished her tea before taking both her and Monica’s mugs and washing them in the kitchen in the back of the shop.
“I should get going,” she told the older woman brightly. “I’ve still got quite a lot of paperwork to sort through.”
“That’s not a very exciting plan for a Friday evening,” Monica said with a wry grimace, and Lindy shrugged.
“Needs must, I’m afraid.” She still had a great deal of work to get through before she officially opened—insurance forms, health and safety checks, and putting the finishing touches on her website. “See you next week,” she told Monica, and then she headed out into the still-bright light of an August evening.
Everything looked golden, not quite twilight, the sun slowly sinking towards the horizon, spreading out like melted butter. Lindy headed down the high street, enjoying the pretty sight of the terraced shops of golden Cotswold stone, the village green a verdant square at the bottom of the street.
Wychwood-on-Lea was impossibly quaint compared to the Manchester suburb where she’d lived for the last ten years. It reminded her a little bit of her childhood, when she’d lived in a topsy-turvy cottage that had been four hundred years old, on the edge of the rugged Peak District, the only place she’d ever really called home.
She let herself feel a single, nostalgic pang for that lovely house and all the happy memories it contained before she made herself move on. In actuality, despite being rural, this village was very different from the one she grew up in. There were no peaks, for a start, and the prettiness of the village was decidedly of the gleaming Land Rover and pristine Farrow and Ball variety, every house like something out of Country Living, the wealth of the area on quietly ostentatious display.
Not that she minded…it took all sorts, and Lindy tried not to begrudge anyone anything. And, she hoped, the well-heeled residents of Wychwood-on-Lea would be willing to turn up those heels at a dancing school.
As she left the village behind for the Willoughby Manor estate where she rented number two in the Close, she wondered how she could drum up some more business. Right now she only had three people for her evening class, and three little girls and a boy for her junior one on a Saturday morning. She’d been hoping to run four or five classes a week, but that seemed like a distant dream at the moment.
Still, she was determined to be optimistic. It was just like her dad used to say, why be pessimistic when you can always hope? Lindy was most definitely in the glass-is-half-full camp. As far as she was concerned, the glass was overflowing no matter what was or wasn’t in it. It was all a matter of perspective.
Humming a little under her breath, she turned into Willoughby Close as the shadows started to lengthen. She could see Olivia and Simon in the lighted windows of number four, eating dinner and no doubt talking about their wedding plans. Emily’s cottage was dark, and Lindy suspected her neighbour was at her boyfriend Owen’s house on the other side of the village, where she spent a lot of her evenings. Number three hadn’t been rented yet, but Lindy was looking forward to another neighbour, when they came. Perhaps it would be someone single, like her.
Her mobile phone started to ring just as she unlocked the door to number two and stepped into her own cottage—laid out exactly like the other three, with an open kitchen and a living area with a wood burner and French windows leading out to a tiny terrace and garden.
“Hello,” Lindy sang out as she nudged the front door closed with her hip, her mobile cradled between her ear and her shoulder.
“Am I speaking to the proprietor of the Take a Twirl School of Ballroom Dancing?” a rather stern voice asked.
“Indeed you are,” Lindy answered after a second’s surprised pause at the slightly aggressive tone of her caller. “May I help you?”
“I am ringing to enquire about availability in Monday’s evening class for adult beginners,” the man answered in that same stern, slightly supercilious tone that both intrigued and irritated Lindy in equal measure. Who was this guy?
“Yes, there is availability,” she answered. “Are you interested in learning how to dance?” Although, judging by his voice, the man seemed like the least likely candidate for a ballroom dancing aficionado that she could imagine.
“I am not,” the man replied rather severely, startling Lindy with his vehemence. “That is to say, I am not at all interested in learning how to dance.”
Oh-kay. She took a second to gather her scattered thoughts. “You’re not interested?” she repeated. “Then why…are you calling?”
“As I said, I am ringing to enquire about availability,” he told her, now beginning to sound a bit annoyed. “Did I not make that clear?”
Lindy stayed silent for a moment, unsure how to respond to the question he’d asked as if he thought the answer were glaringly obvious. This had to be the most bizarre conversation she’d ever had. “You did make that clear,” she said finally, speaking carefully, as if to an animal that might startle or attack, “but then you told me you weren’t interested in learning how to dance. So I must confess, I am a bit confused.” She gave a little laugh, to take any possible sting from her words. This man, whoever he was, seemed like the sort of person to be easily offended.
A second’s arctic pause followed, and Lindy feared, despite her best efforts, she’d offended the man, after all. “I am not interested in learning how to dance,” he emphasised, “but I am still enquiring about availability. Do you or do you not have any space in your Monday evening class for adult beginners in ballroom dancing?”
Lindy was starting to feel as if she were in a comedy sketch. Was there a camera somewhere, filming her reactions for some weird YouTube stunt? Or was this man just being strange? Amusement warred with exasperation. “As I said, there is availability. Do you or do you not want to register?”
She’d meant to sound friendly, gently mimicking him, but the question came out with a bit more hostility than she had intended. With all the challenges she’d faced in getting her school up and running, and the fact that it was nearly seven on a Friday evening when she could really do with some ice cream, wine, and Netflix, she did not need some random pedant arguing with her over the phone.
“I do wish to register,” the man answered in a tone stiff with both dignity and affront. “But that is not what you originally asked.”
“You asked if I was interested in learning to dance, and I am not. I thought I made both points equally clear.”
“Funnily enough, you didn’t,” Lindy answered and then she started to laugh. She didn’t mean to; she knew already it would offend the man excessively, and yet somehow she couldn’t stop. The giggles escaped her like bubbles, and she knew she was on the verge of losing it completely, and starting in with the kind of breathless, belly-aching laughs that went on for at least five minutes. This was so not good.
“I fail to see what is so amusing,” the man answered, after several seconds of her helpless laughter. Now he definitely sounded offended.
“I’m sorry,” Lindy gasped as she tried to stifle the laughter that was now coming out in little hiccups. Tears streamed down her face. “I’m so sorry. But surely you can see how funny this conversation is? I feel like I’m in the middle of a Laurel and Hardy sketch.” Her tone, she hoped, invited him to see the joke, but of course he didn’t see it at all. He most likely never did.
“I do not know to whom you are referring,” the man replied. He did not sound quite as offended, but he was definitely still annoyed, or perhaps just perplexed. His sense of humour, if he’d ever had one, must have been surgically removed some time ago.
Lindy’s laughter morphed into a sigh. “Never mind,” she said. “You have said you’re interested in registering, and I am interested in having you register. Why don’t you give me your details, and I’ll put your name down for the class?”
“Very well,” the man answered. “My name is Roger Wentworth and I will be attending the class with Ellen Wentworth. I trust there is space in the Monday evening class for adult beginners for two individuals?”
“There is,” Lindy confirmed. Her urge to laugh had, quite suddenly, completely deserted her; she now felt quite flat, although she couldn’t have said why. “The first class is on September seventh,” she added dutifully. “Is that all right?”
“I have already marked down the dates of all the classes in my calendar,” Roger Wentworth replied with some asperity. “I hardly would have taken the time to ring you and enquire about availability, if I did not believe I could attend the classes as they were scheduled in your promotional material.”
Of course not, Lindy thought with an inward sigh. Already she could tell he was the sort of man to schedule everything, including his own trips to the toilet, no doubt. Having him in her dancing class was going to be interesting, to say the least. Excruciating was probably more like it.
“If you come on the first Monday a few minutes early, you can fill out the registration form,” she told him. “The class starts at seven, and we should be finished by nine.” No doubt he knew that already, and was about to tell her so, but fortunately Roger Wentworth seemed to have had enough of verbal nitpicking for he simply said, “Thank you,” and then, quite abruptly, he hung up.
Lindy was left holding her mobile, shaking her head at the surreal nature of the call, and wondering if Roger Wentworth—as well as Ellen—would actually show up two weeks from Monday. She couldn’t decide if she wanted them to or not.
End of Excerpt