Authors: Jennifer Bohnet
‘Nanette, this has been just a perfect day. You are so clever to have found this place for us. I can’t thank you enough.’ Vanessa hugged her friend tightly.
Nanette and Vanessa were standing by the entrance to The Old Folly. Set in the middle of a snowdrop-covered field with views tumbling down the Devonshire countryside towards a distant river sparkling in the late afternoon winter sunshine, it had proved to be an ideal venue for Vanessa and Ralph’s wedding.
Nanette smiled at her friend and employer.
‘I must admit to being a bit worried about organizing your big day. It’s been such a long time since I’ve done anything like it.’ She paused. ‘I did wonder whether I was still up to it.’
‘You did a great job. No problems at all,’ Vanessa said.
‘You were a beautiful bride,’ Nanette said.
‘Right, enough of this mutual admiration society,’ Vanessa said. ‘I need to talk to you urgently.’
‘Can’t it wait until you return? You are only away for the weekend. Incidentally, you have to leave in about ten minutes,’ Nanette said, glancing at her watch. ‘Surely Ralph
must be wondering where his new wife is?’
‘He knows I’m with you. It’s important for me to talk to you before we leave. I have to ask you something.’
Vanessa glanced at Nanette.
‘You know that Ralph has got this big filming project lined up in the Amazon?’
‘Yes. He was telling me earlier it’s his biggest project yet,’ Nanette said.
‘He wants me to go with him. We’d have a week’s belated honeymoon in Brazil and then I’d become part of his team filming the documentary in the rain forest.’
‘For the whole of the five months?’
‘How do you feel about being away for so long? What about the twins and your business— Oh,’ this, as realization dawned. ‘You want me to step into your shoes while you’re away?’ Nanette took a deep breath.
‘Looking after the twins, fine I’m used to that – but running the business? I don’t think I can do it.’ Nanette shook her head. ‘Organizing today with the help of your office, is one thing, running your business in your absence, would be totally different.’
She looked at Vanessa anxiously. ‘You know I haven’t done any PA work since.…’ She shrugged and didn’t finish the sentence. ‘I did think after organizing today, I’d ask if I could come in and do a regular stint in the office to get me back into the swing of things but being in charge—’
‘No, I don’t want you to run the business,’ Vanessa interrupted. ‘Caroline is more than happy to look after that side of things for me – she’s been taking on more and more responsibilities recently anyway. But I do want you to carry
on looking after the twins for me.’
Nanette breathed a sigh of relief.
‘Of course I’ll look after the twins while you’re away, but five months is a long time. What happens if there’s an emergency? Do I have full responsibility? What about Mathieu?’
There was a pause as Vanessa fiddled with the sprays of freesias pinned to her wedding dress, before she looked directly at Nanette and added quietly, ‘I want you to look after the twins in Monaco.’
Vanessa held her hands up in a conciliatory gesture as Nanette looked at her aghast.
‘I know, I know. You vowed never to go back. And I promised you wouldn’t have to. But Mathieu has agreed to have the twins for six months on condition that you go too and look after them like you do here for me. He says he’s too busy to become a school-gate-dad.’
Nanette turned away and watched silently as an all-enveloping mist began to rise from the river and drift up towards the medieval Folly. The day was turning cold as the last rays of sunlight vanished.
Damp air began to swirl around them as the reassuring presence of the old building became shrouded in the mist. Nanette tried unsuccessfully to suppress a shivery shudder of apprehension at the very thought of returning to Monaco. Painful memories of a place she’d pushed into the darkest recess of her mind began to swirl into her consciousness.
‘Can’t Mathieu come over here?’ she said desperately, turning back to face Vanessa. ‘I’ll willingly look after him and the twins here.’
Vanessa shook her head. ‘Apparently not. He says it’s
impossible for him to leave the country for so long. He’s got some sort of business deal going through and needs to be there.’
Vanessa placed an arm around Nanette’s shoulders.
‘I realize I am asking a lot. I know how difficult it will be for you to even think about returning and if you can’t face it, I will understand. So will Ralph,’ Vanessa said. ‘But will you please consider the idea while Ralph and I are away this weekend?’
Patsy, her sister, was waiting as Nanette shepherded the twins, Pierre and Olivia, off the train later that evening.
‘Hi. Everything go according to plan? Good. That’s a lovely frock you’re wearing, Olivia. Did you enjoy being your mum’s bridesmaid? Of course you did, silly question that. And you, Pierre, how are you doing? The car’s parked right outside; we should be home in fifteen minutes. I expect you’re looking forward to supper – or did you fill up on wedding goodies?’
Listening to her, Nanette felt breathless. She was always amazed at the speed at which Patsy spoke and sometimes found it difficult to get a word in, let alone answer any questions. But Patsy was kindness itself and four years ago when she’d married Bryan, a local farmer, she’d settled into her role of farmer’s wife like a born countrywoman.
‘How are you? Any news? Think you’ve put on weight since I last saw you,’ Nanette asked quickly, when Patsy finally took a breath.
‘I’m fine. My news can wait until later. And talking of weight – you could do with putting on some, you’re scrawnier than ever,’ Patsy said, with sisterly bluntness. ‘I hope you are eating properly – or has organizing the wedding
stressed you out?’
Nanette didn’t answer but sighed happily as they turned on to the track leading to Blackberry Farm. She was really looking forward to this weekend break. Life recently had been busier than she’d become accustomed to for the past couple of years and she was tired after all the excitement of planning the wedding.
She knew the twins always enjoyed themselves down here, and would disappear for hours at a time, exploring the woods and surrounding fields and helping Bryan around the farm, giving her some precious time to herself.
‘How’s Bryan’s mum? Enjoying her new home?’ Nanette asked, as they passed a pristine bungalow at the top of the lane.
‘Think so. But you know Helen. Drove Bryan mad for the first week or two wanting shelves put up and cupboards moved but she’s finally got it as she wants, although the kitchen will
be right – it’s far too small! And, of course, she’ll never like living there as much as she enjoyed the farmhouse – even though she moaned for years it was too big and draughty. She’ll be joining us for lunch on Sunday so you are sure to hear all about the drawbacks of having to live in a modern bungalow.’ Patsy smiled at her sister.
Once the twins had been fed and settled in their rooms, and Bryan was in the study working on the farm accounts, Nanette and Patsy made themselves comfortable in the sitting-room for a sisterly chat.
‘Glass of wine to toast the happy couple?’ Nanette asked, opening a bottle she’d brought from the reception.
‘A small glass,’ Patsy said. ‘I shouldn’t really, but I don’t suppose a sip will hurt junior, Aunty.’ She grinned
mischievously at Nanette.
‘Oh, congratulations,’ Nanette said, hugging her sister. ‘When’s it due?’
‘Late June early July. No definite date yet. But knowing my luck it will be right in the middle of haymaking. Can you be here? I really, really want you around. Helen is already threatening to move back up here to help out. Promise me you’ll tell Vanessa you need to be here. You can bring the twins.’ Patsy looked anxiously at Nanette.
‘I’ll be here,’ Nanette promised. ‘Even if Vanessa is still paddling her canoe up the Amazon I’ll be here.’
‘Vanessa’s going up the Amazon?’ For once Patsy seemed speechless.
‘Yep,’ and Nanette told her sister about Ralph’s wish to make his new wife part of his film team. Patsy took it for granted that Nanette would be looking after the twins whilst Vanessa was away.
‘You’ll all be able to come down regularly. Oh, I’m really beginning to look forward to the next few months.’
Nanette shook her head.
‘Afraid not, Patsy. Mathieu has agreed to have the twins to live with him while Vanessa’s away.’ She took a sip of wine before adding quietly, ‘The only condition is I go with them.’
Patsy’s eyes widened in incredulity.
‘You’re not serious? I know it’s nearly three years ago and you’ve supposedly recovered from all the trauma, but are you strong enough to face things out there? You’re bound to meet up with certain people; certain situations are going to bring back painful memories.’
‘I know. I haven’t agreed yet. My first reaction when Vanessa mentioned it this afternoon was no, no, no.’ Nanette
swirled the wine in her glass thoughtfully. ‘But Vanessa’s been very good to me – I owe her so much. I’d feel as though I’d let her down if I don’t agree. She desperately wants to go with Ralph.’
‘I’m sure she’ll understand if you say you can’t do it though,’ Patsy said. ‘Surely Mathieu could find someone local to help look after the twins for a few hours each day after school. And doesn’t his father, what’s his name, Jean-Claude, live nearby? I’m sure he’d be delighted to have some bonding time with his grandchildren. Personally I don’t think you need to go at all.’
Nanette looked at her sister. ‘I was thinking that maybe I do need to go – return to the scene of the crime as it were. Being airlifted out so quickly there were a lot people I didn’t get to say goodbye to.’
‘Not many of them have been in touch with you since though, have they?’ Patsy demanded. ‘Not even the Heel, despite insisting he was acting in your best interests at the time.’
Nanette flinched. ‘Perhaps by going I can finally close that particular chapter in my life,’ she said quietly.
Patsy shook her head. ‘Oh Nanette. If you feel like that I don’t know what to say or suggest. I just don’t want you being hurt again. I’m afraid you’ll find going back a lot harder than you expect. I only hope you can cope with any recriminations that occur. Just promise me that if you do go and things get too difficult you’ll come straight back here – with the twins if necessary.’
‘Where else would I go?’ Nanette said quietly. ‘But what do I do if I don’t agree to take the twins to Monaco? If I say no and Mathieu organizes some local help with the twins while Vanessa disappears up the Amazon, my job here vanishes.’
‘Oh, come on, Nanette. Vanessa has always treated you as part of her family. That’s not likely to change,’ Patsy said. ‘She’ll probably offer to find you a job in the office. She’s certainly not going to throw you out on the street.’
‘I guess you’re right.’ Nanette sighed looking at her sister. ‘Are you all right? You look a bit pale,’ she said concerned.
Patsy put down her untouched glass of wine.
‘Excuse me – don’t know why it’s called morning sickness, mine comes at all times,’ and she disappeared in the direction of the bathroom. ‘Back in a mo.’
An ashen Patsy reappeared a few minutes later.
‘If you don’t mind, I’m going to go to bed. We’ll talk more tomorrow.’
Deciding to have an early night herself, Nanette followed her sister up the stairs. Unpacking the suitcase in her familiar bedroom tucked away in the eaves of the farmhouse, she remembered the weeks she’d spent here after being flown back from Monaco just days after her body and her successful career had been shattered.
It was here Vanessa had come to find her nearly three years ago. Walking into her room to cajole her back to life she’d said, ‘You’re looking better than the last time I saw you.’
‘Considering I was still black and blue and various bits of me were swathed in bandages, that’s not hard.’ Nanette smiled. ‘How are the twins? Your business?’
‘Pierre and Olivia are fine and the business is really taking off,’ Vanessa said. ‘Mathieu has taken them to Disneyland for a few days. He was a lousy husband but I have to give him credit – he does try to be a good father. I just wish he hadn’t decided to live in Monaco permanently. It makes access a bit complicated.’
Vanessa glanced at Nanette. ‘How about you? Have you made any plans for your future yet?’
Nanette shook her head. ‘No. I’m trying to find the courage to face the world again, but I can’t decide which problem to tackle first: nowhere to live, no job and my savings rapidly disappearing.’ She looked helplessly at Vanessa. ‘I just don’t know where to start. And on top of it all I feel such a fool.’
‘Hey, you’re not a fool. You were holding down a very busy and stressful job when the accident happened. If Zac Ewart had an ounce of decency in him, he’d have supported you, made sure you had a job to go back to, not dumped you before the case came to court.
‘Honestly Nanette, I can’t believe he behaved as he did. Talk about putting the boot in when you were down. You were engaged, for goodness sake. He should have stood by you.’
Nanette bit her lip as she listened to her friend and vainly tried to stop the tears flowing down her cheeks.
Vanessa, instantly contrite, put her arms around her friend.
‘Nanette, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. It’s just I get so mad on your behalf.’
There was a pause before she continued, ‘Will you come and work for me?’
Nanette looked at her in surprise. ‘You need a PA for the business?’
Vanessa shook her head. ‘No. Caroline is doing a great job. What I need is a housekeeper and someone to help with the twins. I know it’s not what you’re trained for, but maybe a complete change for a while would be good? I have to be away a lot in the next few months and I need someone at home I can trust to look after the twins and generally take
care of things.’
‘You’re not offering me a job out of pity?’ Nanette asked.
‘Definitely not. I’m trying to juggle home and work and I’m desperate for some help. Being a single mum is difficult enough without trying to start and keep a business afloat. I need you Nanette.’