Forgiven (Forgiven #1) - Garrett Leigh
Sandgrove Country Park was my entire childhood. Even years after I’d left Rushmere, I still missed the scent of the Christmas tree farm buried in the forest there. How it smelled festive all year round, even in summer, and I recalled with perfect clarity my mum bringing us to choose the cheapest tree to brighten up our budget celebration. Add in Safeway frozen turkey and a slice of Mr. Kipling cake, and I’d been the happiest girl in the world.
I missed that girl too.
With one last breath of earthy pine filling my lungs, I walked back to the dodgy Astra I’d bought on eBay when I’d got off the ferry in Dover last night. I’d driven till dawn to get home—a place so strange and familiar—but the sign for Sandgrove had reeled me in before I’d reached Rushmere, and now I was finding it hard to make myself leave.
On cue, my phone buzzed.
Gus: where are you?
I ignored him. Buried him again, like I had over and over for the last five years, pretending I hadn’t missed him too. I leaned against my car and tilted my face to the bright spring sky. Five more minutes.
Sandgrove had always had a way of sucking up my time, but eventually even the clean air and birdsong couldn’t block out my phone blowing up in my pocket.
With a heavy sigh, I got in the car and called my annoying little brother back. “I’m on my way. What are you hassling me for?”
“I’m not hassling you, sis,” Gus said. “I was worried. You said you’d be here an hour ago.”
I wondered when he’d turned into my mother.
And when I finally made it back to the house we would share on the outskirts of town, I wondered too when my gangly younger sibling had turned into a strapping hottie.
“You’re a man,” I said stupidly.
He cocked a dark eyebrow and enveloped me in a strong-armed bear hug. “Je ne me souviens pas avoir prétendu être autrement.”
He’d missed my point, but that was fairly standard when it came to Gus and me. I talked, he shut me down, then we reversed our positions and pressed repeat. At least, that’s how things used to be. I didn’t know what we were anymore.
Gus pulled back to unlock the green front door of the house he’d bought with his half of our mother’s life insurance. I’d never seen the interior, only Facebook photos of the outside, but as soon as I stepped inside, it became clear that he’d made better use of his inheritance than I had.
I spun around the tidy living space. “This is nice.”
Gus appeared behind me with a couple of beers. “You sound surprised.”
“I’m more surprised that you’re cracking open the booze at nine a.m.”
He shrugged. “I didn’t sleep last night, and I’m guessing you didn’t either, so we can call it a nightcap.”
Worked for me. I was already missing my French diet of coffee and red wine. Sipping my beer, I took a tour of the cosy house my brother called home. Fresh and clean, it was beautiful; he’d even put flowers in my room.
“I figured we’d be overrun soon enough, so I’d better get used to them.”
“Don’t talk shit.” I rolled my eyes. “You think I’m going to bring my work home with me?”
“Wouldn’t know. I’ve never lived with a florist, so I don’t know whether to expect rose petals in the bath or mouldy daffs in the skip outside.”
“What’s that for, anyway? The skip, I mean. I thought you’d finished the renovations?”
“I have.” Gus stepped around me and opened the blinds, letting more spring sunshine flood into my bedroom. “It’s leftover from when we did the roof. It’s being collected next week.”
Out of habit, I inwardly flinched, picturing the big black van with the name of the local roofing firm plastered across it. I couldn’t remember the last conversation I’d had with old man Jon Daley. His nephew, though? Jesus Christ. Every syllable was etched on my heart, and now that Rushmere was my home again, I’d never been so thankful that my first love—my only love—had abandoned me to join the bloody Navy.
I blinked. Gus was in front of me, brandishing a stack of clean towels. He pressed them into my hands and I smelled the French washing powder our mother had stockpiled for all those years, distrustful of the brightly coloured English brands our friends’ parents had used. The crack in my heart widened, and I blinked again, harder this time.
Gus slid his