Starcross Manor - Christie Barlow


Walking back through the town, Julia Coleman swung a paper bag of pastries while swigging a takeaway coffee from a polystyrene cup. It was a beautiful morning, with only a few sporadic clouds floating along in the cobalt sky. Early afternoon the temperatures were predicted to hit a whopping twenty-five degrees, and even though it was every girl’s dream that the weather was perfect on their wedding day, the bride was already beginning to panic that she would be sweltering inside her wedding dress. Julia had caught sight of the dress just moments before she’d headed out and it was, quite simply, a gown fit for a princess. Layers of ruffles that floated all the way to the ground, a bateau neckline and floral beaded bodice. The only two words to describe it were simply stunning. It all seemed set to be the perfect day. Except for the fact that Julia’s good friend, Anais, was marrying a man who Julia didn’t like particularly much – Flynn Carter.

Julia paused for a few minutes on the bank of the River Cree. Sitting down on a rickety old bench, she tilted her face up towards the sun. This was a place she’d spent many a Sunday alongside her grandfather fishing for salmon. The town of Newton Stewart, southwest Scotland, held such wonderful memories for her. Julia had grown up in the town but moved away to Fort William to study tourism and hospitality at the college there. It was only when her grandfather had passed away that Flynn Carter, a property developer, had appeared in Julia’s life.

Her grandfather had worked hard all his life but had no wealth to speak of, except the house he lived in. At the time of his death the property market had crashed, no one was buying or selling, and his house had been left standing empty for nearly two years. This was when Flynn Carter had made Julia a ridiculous offer for the house, which was built on a decent plot of prime land. Flynn was ruthless, had offered cash, thousands below the asking price. According to Flynn the deal could be done and dusted as soon as possible. He was mechanical with his negotiation, showed no compassion or room for manoeuvre, and to add insult to injury made the offer available for only forty-eight hours.

Julia had been torn. The money from her grandfather’s house would be the only way she could follow her own dreams to begin her own hospitality business, but Flynn Carter had made it crystal-clear that her grandfather’s house would be demolished if the sale went ahead. Those forty-eight hours had been the worst of Julia’s life. She’d barely ate or slept weighing up all the scenarios, trying to figure out what was the best thing to do. This was her grandfather’s home, a place she’d felt safe and happy as a child, a place full of such happy memories. Julia had prayed another buyer would miraculously appear, but they hadn’t, and time was ticking. In the end, Julia felt that accepting Flynn Carter’s offer was her only choice, but she hadn’t enjoyed being railroaded into making a decision in such a short space of time. Flynn Carter preyed on the vulnerable, snapping up houses at next-to-nothing prices to further his property empire. But for Julia, any money was better than nothing, to give her that chance of starting her own business. As she signed the legal papers at the solicitor’s she felt nothing but anger towards Flynn Carter. She knew the property was worth more and so did he, but it would be too much of a gamble for Julia to keep hold of it just in case the housing market miraculously recovered anytime soon.

Julia remembered standing on the other side of the road, watching the bulldozers smash her grandfather’s house to smithereens, the tears rolling down her cheeks. A house where she’d spent a happy childhood now a huge pile of rubble. It completely broke her heart; and as much as she longed to get her own business up and running, it still hadn’t made the decision any easier.

Once the property was sold Julia had invested the money in a small bed and breakfast business and settled into the small town of Heartcross in the Scottish Highlands. The last time she’d seen Flynn Carter had been the day in the solicitor’s office, but today he was marrying her oldest school friend, Anais Brown.

Anais had always been the popular girl at school, the