Christmas at Willoughby Close (Return to Willoughby Close #3) - Kate Hewitt

Chapter One

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