The Winter Garden (Nightingale Square #3) - Heidi Swain

Chapter 1

Before I moved to the Broad-Meadows country estate in Suffolk, I’d never celebrated either the summer or the winter solstice, but meeting octogenarian estate owner Eloise Thurlow-Forbes had soon changed that, along with a lot of other things.

‘In order to garden successfully,’ she had told me the day we met, which just happened to fall on the summer solstice three years ago, ‘one has to be in tune with nature, the seasons, Mother Earth, the moon and all their cycles.’

I had been tempted to mention how the human race, global warming and the rising sea levels were set to change all that, but thought better of it. Even though I’d only just met her, Eloise Thurlow-Forbes, with her elegant white bun and refined features, looked to me like a woman who knew her own mind and I wasn’t long in her company before I realised my hunch was right. It came as something of a surprise, however, to discover that she knew my mind too.

‘Come on, Nell,’ I said, pulling my thoughts back to the present and climbing out of my van. ‘We need to hurry or we’ll miss it.’

With much stretching and yawning, the fawn-coloured Bedlington Whippet cross reluctantly levered herself out of the passenger seat and trotted along behind me. We weren’t the only ones who had taken the journey to Ness Point, the most easterly spot in the UK, to watch the sunrise, but we stood a little apart from everyone else and I gazed in awe as the sky turned gold before the sun appeared majestically over the horizon, the few clouds in front of it turning the beams into something akin to an art deco sunburst.

‘What shall we do now?’ I asked Nell once the spectacle was over. She responded by leaning heavily against my legs and pushing her damp nose into my hand. ‘Shall we go and see Eloise?’

Her tail thumped and her eyes brightened a little at the sound of her mistress’s name.

‘Come on then,’ I said, turning back to where I’d parked the van. ‘Let’s go.’

By the time we arrived, I had mixed feelings about the visit. I couldn’t talk to Eloise without mentioning what it was that I had lain awake half the night trying to find the words to say, but I knew I couldn’t put it off much longer, no matter how unpalatable it was.

‘I really hope I’m mistaken about this, Eloise,’ I swallowed, pulling my thick, dark plait over my shoulder in a gesture she was sure to recognise as me seeking courage and comfort, ‘but I have a horrible feeling that Jackson’s gearing up to sell the estate. I might be wrong,’ I quickly added, ‘but there’s a couple of things he’s said during the last few weeks and I get the feeling…’

My words trailed off and I flicked my hair away again. Eloise was a great one for trusting her instincts and she had taught me how to rely more on mine, so there was really no point trying to sugar-coat the situation. Nell sighed, rested her head on her paws and stared at me. Her gaze struck me as reproachful.

‘It’s no good looking like that,’ I told her. ‘It’s nothing to do with me. I’m hardly going to be able to change his mind, am I?’

I wondered what would happen to Nell if Jackson did sell up and move back to America. I couldn’t imagine for one second that the comfort of his great-aunt’s rescue dog would be high on his list of priorities.

Given that, if he did cut and run, I could well lose not only my job but my home too, I really had more pressing things to worry about, but I was fond of the dog and, unlike me, she had no say over her fate.

Little had I known when I first went to visit Eloise that fate had led me to her beautiful house and garden not to size the place up as a potential venue for my forthcoming wedding, as was the original plan, but as somewhere, for want of a less clichéd phrase, where I could find myself.

Within hours of my arrival I had broken off my engagement and accepted Eloise’s offer of a gardening job and a place to live. The last three years had been an education, both personally and professionally, and even though I didn’t feel ready to graduate, circumstances, this time beyond my control, suggested that I was going to be moving on again.

‘I’m sorry