New Arrivals at Hedgehog Hollow - Jessica Redland Page 0,1

for the press, local dignitaries and immediate family – we’d had twelve hogs but another two arrived during the evening. I’d been half-expecting someone to thrust one at me today at our Family Fun Day but, so far, there hadn’t been any more patients.

Set out in the pasture was a bouncy castle, face painting (hedgehogs being a popular choice) and various stalls selling locally produced food, drink and crafts. Dad, Uncle Simon, Rich and Dave were in charge of the barbeque. Josh’s mum Connie and her twin sister Lauren (who was my manager at the TEC) were running a tombola and raffle while Chloe and my Auntie Louise were supervising some children’s crafts.

‘I’m off to do another talk,’ I told Hannah. ‘Look after my favourite hedgehog for me.’ I nodded towards Josh.

‘I’ll make sure I keep him hydrated. And maybe a pouch of cat food if he’s hungry.’

‘Yummy! As long as it isn’t fish because—’

‘Because hedgehogs need meaty food, not fishy food.’

I grinned at her. ‘Have I laboured that point too much?’

She shook her head. ‘I’ve learned loads of new things and I’ll admit to being completely smitten with hedgehogs now, thanks to you.’

I waved goodbye and made my way to the barn. If Hannah had learned a lot, my learning curve had been of epic proportions. I’d always loved animals – a trait picked up from my dad who, like Josh, was a vet and from my Gramps who’d adored wildlife – but I’d known very little about hedgehogs. Hours spent researching online, reading nature books and poring over pamphlets from The British Hedgehog Preservation Society, plus three days helping at an animal rescue centre, had given me a speedy education although nothing could beat being hands-on with my very own rescue hogs.

Late that afternoon, I sat forward in my chair in the deserted barn, rested my elbows on the treatment table and closed my eyes. I’d assured everyone I was fully recovered from my time in hospital and ready to face a busy weekend but that had been a big fib. I was still exhausted and ideally needed much more recovery time than I’d allowed myself. If I’d admitted to Josh how drained I was, he’d have insisted on delaying the opening and that was the last thing I wanted. The Grimes boys had already destroyed so much and I couldn’t let them destroy our opening plans too. That would be like letting them win.

Although we hadn’t officially opened for business when they torched the barn, we already had five hedgehogs. I saved four of them but the barn roof collapsed on me when I returned for the fifth. Josh pulled me to safety but I spent nine days in a coma and was devastated to come round to the discovery that the barn was gone and so was Quilly.

Three of the hedgehogs I’d saved from the fire had since been released but Mr Snuffles was still a patient. With a broken leg, he needed much longer to heal. Even though I tried not to have favourites, I’d always have a soft spot for him after what we’d been through together and I was already dreading having to one day say goodbye to him.

I reluctantly opened my eyes again and stood up. If I stayed there any longer, I was likely to fall asleep. Josh and I had no plans for tomorrow so I’d have a much-needed chance to relax and recover then.

Outside, I found Hannah pulling a rope across the photo scene while Josh simultaneously gulped down a bottle of water and wiped his brow with the back of his hand, his paws abandoned on the ground beside him.

‘Aw, Josh! I didn’t expect you still to be in costume,’ I croaked, reaching for a towel and gently mopping his sweaty face. ‘You must be melting.’

‘I am! They never stopped coming. I’ve never been so in demand.’

‘I can’t thank you enough. I owe you big time.’

He winked at me. ‘I can think of a few ways you could make it up to me.’

Hannah put her hands over her ears. ‘Argh! Stop it! Not listening!’

Laughing, I prised her hands away. ‘Sorry. It’s gone well, then?’

She nodded. ‘I think we’ve raised quite a lot.’

I flipped open the cashbox lid and whistled at the pile of notes and coins. ‘That’s way more than I expected.’

‘People have been very generous with their donations. It was lovely to see so much kindness.’

‘The locals have been amazing. I’m so lucky.’ While I was incapacitated,