The Garden of Forgotten Wishes - Trisha Ashley Page 0,1

seemed to have a bond of loss in common.

He was charming, very clever and emotionally manipulative in ways I’d never even thought of. I had no idea what I was letting myself in for.

Mike was a wiry man with the deceptively skinny physique of the runner, and had attractively spiky silver and black hair, bright dark eyes and an engaging smile.

He owned the veterinary practice in Merchester where Treena was providing a year’s maternity cover for one of the staff, which is how I came to meet him. Treena, however, was the only member of the family who didn’t think Mike was the perfect man for me, right from the start.

‘He’s a good vet, but the animals don’t like him,’ she’d warned me, before the wedding. ‘And he’s the only vet I know who doesn’t have pets of his own.’

She herself had two dogs and three cats, and for the last year I’d shared a small rented cottage with her and her menagerie on the edge of Merchester, where the Ellwoods ran their garden centre. Just before I met Mike, my adoptive family had fallen in love with the rundown Château du Monde in France, which came with extensive grounds and outbuildings, a lake and campsite. With hard work, it would provide a home and a living. Unlike her married older brother and her sister, Treena herself had decided to stay put in the UK and I’d been in two minds whether to go or stay. There were gardens to restore at the château and the Ellwoods hoped eventually to set up a garden centre there, too. But moving to France had never been my dream. In any case, I was successfully working my way up the gardening hierarchy of the Heritage Homes Trust, and had just been offered a promotion at a property in the North-East.

Falling for Mike scuppered both those options, though he seemed to understand my ambition to become a head gardener one day, as well as sharing most of my aims in life … and really, I can’t imagine how I got that impression, because it wasn’t long before I realized that he was intent on making me over in an entirely different pattern of his own design.

But of course, the benefit of hindsight is a wonderful thing. And at first he was very subtle in his technique: one small thing after the other, each designed to isolate me from family and friends, undermine my self-confidence and independence and lead me further and further under his control.

It didn’t help that in public he showed a different face, so that for a long time he fooled everyone (though never Treena) into thinking he was the perfect husband and I the ungrateful and difficult wife.

The very first pinprick to start deflating the rosy bubble of romantic delusion had come right after my small wedding, which was a close ‘family and friends’ affair. Aunt Em (I continued to call them Aunt Em and Uncle Richard, even after they adopted me, as they were friends as close as any family) had made my beautiful white silk dress herself, a floaty boho affair, and instead of a veil I just wore my long, black wavy hair loose, with a circlet of flowers on my head.

I’d noticed Mike hadn’t smiled at me when I came down the aisle, or said anything other than to make the responses during the ceremony, so when we went to sign the register I asked him if he liked my dress … to which he’d replied coldly that he would have preferred something more sophisticated that made me look less like a child bride.

In that instant, with that casually cruel remark, I saw a stranger in his eyes and my world rocked. Then just as suddenly, he was giving me the old charming smile and turning away to speak to someone else, leaving me wondering if he could have meant it as a joke. If so, then it wasn’t kind. I mean, given his wiry, skinny physique, his sharp-shouldered suit made him look a bit as if he was dangling from a wire coat hanger, but I wouldn’t have dreamed of hurting his feelings by saying so.

At the reception in a small hotel, he was so very much the happy bridegroom, saying how delighted he was with his beautiful bride and introducing me to his elderly, but strangely cowed parents, who had travelled up from Hastings for the occasion. He left me alone with them only for