It is with great excitement that I realised the 6th instalment of the popular Daniel Lawson series is due to be published in just a couple of days time! A while back, I promised to share the first couple of chapters with you, so please find them below. As always, this book is available to pre-order from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com.au at a reduced price. So please grab yourself a bargain before the price increases.
Just in case you’ve had the misfortune to miss out on Daniel Lawson so far, here is a little reminder.
“I cannot wait for the next volume of this intoxicating and addictive series.”
Poised to become World Champion in his chosen sport, British showjumping hero Daniel Lawson, along with his irrepressible group of friends, is riding high. From the excitement of Eddie and Trudy’s Scottish wedding, to the pranks and mischief that accompanies the event, the friends delight in each other’s company. Back home, new friendships are forged and old relationships rediscovered, as they continue with their extraordinary lives.
And then an event of such magnitude takes place, that the friends question whether they’ll ever be able to get past it.
Can they hope to recover from their darkest night?
This story is the sixth book in the Daniel Lawson series and continues to follow the lives of the key characters first introduced in the earlier books:
1) ‘First Love, Second chance: would you dare tell the truth?’
2) ‘Perfect Stranger, Strangely Perfect’
3) ‘Feels Just Like Starting Over’
4) ‘No Rain, No Flowers’
5) ‘Easy Come, Easy Go’
With just forty-eight hours to go before Trudy and Eddie’s wedding day, it was as though nature had pulled out all the stops in glorious celebration of the event. The orange sun blazed through the early evening sky, illuminating the surrounding mountains as though they were on fire. Meanwhile, in the distance, only just audible, was the weak, rasping call of a Golden Eagle soaring overhead. Rugged, remote and largely unspoilt, rural Scotland was unarguably one of the most beautiful places on earth.
Tom, Eddie and Daniel had spent a fun-packed day enjoying a range of outdoor activities, from kayaking and zip lining, through to caving and abseiling. Eddie, also known as Edward Lennox-Beaufort, the fourteenth Earl of Kinlochshire, was now peacefully curled up asleep on the back seat. Somehow, he had managed to fold up his long, lithe body into the back of the Range Rover, which was quite an accomplishment in itself; despite it being a very valuable car, there really wasn’t a great deal of room.
Eddie had sensibly decided against a formal stag party. As a young, rich, titled landowner, he had always held a certain fascination with the public. Consequently, the media were predictably buzzing around the local area, in the hope of getting a juicy story. The last thing any of them wanted to do was willingly provide one. Instead, he had agreed to a day out with two of his closest and most trusted friends.
Tom chanced a glance back at Eddie, as the car continued to eat up the miles. Daniel had insisted on driving at the start of the day, informing Eddie that it gave him the freedom to partake in some local whiskey sampling, should he feel so inclined. The real purpose for wanting to be in charge of the driving, they had neglected to share.
‘Now’s a good time,’ murmured Tom in a low voice, as Daniel eased his foot off the accelerator pedal and they naturally came to a halt on a long, straight stretch of road, miles away from anywhere. Mountains loomed around them in all directions and there wasn’t a building in sight, let alone another motorist. ‘But are you absolutely sure about this?’
A smirking Daniel cast a glance at his very oldest and dearest friend.
‘Live a little Thomas,’ he replied in an undertone. ‘Besides, Trudy deserves some payback for all the shit stirring she’s subjected me to in the past few months.’ It was true that Trudy and Daniel’s relationship, which had always been filled with playful banter and teasing, had intensified recently. Tom visibly hesitated, the moment his sister was mentioned; he really didn’t want to go upsetting her, just hours from her big day. ‘It will be okay,’ Daniel mouthed to Tom, before turning to face the back seat.
‘OH FUCK!’ he yelled in the loudest voice he could manage.
The sheer volume made Tom jump in his seat and he’d been expecting it. The impact it had on Eddie was almost comical, as he quickly sat bolt upright, his brown eyes glancing around in a dazed manner.
‘Whassup?’ he yelped, rubbing a large hand across his lightly freckled face, before automatically pushing back the brown hair which had flopped down over his eyes.
‘I just hit something!’ admitted Daniel, looking seriously concerned.
Tom glanced across at Daniel in amazement, his heart beating fast. Really, the man was wasted as one of the world’s brightest equestrian superstars; he undoubtedly would have a successful career on the stage.
‘Can someone look under the car, please? Before I pull forwards?’
‘Yeah, sure,’ grunted Eddie, still not fully awake. Grabbing at the door handle, he practically fell out of the vehicle, clearly wishing he was still asleep. Closing the door, he knelt down on the tarmac and gingerly glanced under the chassis.
‘There’s nothing there,’ bellowed Eddie, as Daniel slowly edged forwards.
Still half asleep, Eddie dragged himself to standing, only to observe his ride continuing to travel very slowly down the narrow carriageway. Striding forwards to catch them up, he was astonished when he heard the sound of the central locking system activating, essentially ensuring he remained outside.
‘Hey!’ shouted Eddie, jogging to keep up, suddenly wide awake. ‘Let me in! What the fuck are you playing at?’
‘It’s traditional for the groom to get left somewhere. Often they are tied naked to a lamppost,’ explained a grinning Daniel, through the crack of his window. ‘This is the posh boy’s equivalent. And given the photo opportunities the lamppost option would provide, we thought you’d be grateful for this version.’
‘Don’t you dare do this, you arseholes!’
As he jogged along the road beside them, Eddie’s hands naturally searched his pockets for his mobile phone and wallet, only to find that he had neither.
‘Looking for these?’ asked Daniel innocently, raising Eddie’s missing belongings to the window, before flashing him a wide smile. Unbeknown to Eddie, whilst he slept, Tom had removed the items from his clothing, replacing them with a single five pound note.
‘You complete fuckers!’ yelled Eddie, as the distance between him and the vehicle lengthened. ‘You can’t leave me with nothing!’
Immediately, the car slowed and Eddie hoped they’d seen sense, but he wasn’t destined to be that fortunate.
‘You’re right,’ agreed Daniel, lobbing a bottle of water out of the window, which somehow Eddie managed to catch. ‘And you’ll find a fiver in the top pocket of your shirt.’
Eddie slipped his fingers into the aforementioned pocket and pulled out a grubby, crumpled-looking five pound note.
‘If you do this, Trudy’s gonna fucking massacre you,’ he said directly to Daniel. Moments later, the car had pulled away.
With a long sigh, Eddie gazed in despair at the departing vehicle. Within what felt like seconds, it became a speck in the distance, on what he assumed was the long, winding road back to Kinlochshire, where Eddie’s fifteen thousand acre estate resided. He glanced around, trying to recognise the remote location in which he stood, but he came up with nothing. He literally had no idea where he was. Knowing there was only one option, he began to run in the direction that Daniel and Tom had driven. Eventually, he was bound to find someone, or something, that might be able to assist him.
Sitting in the luxury car which easily ate up the miles towards their destination, Daniel and Tom sat in complete silence. They might not have exchanged a word since they’d left Eddie, but that didn’t mean Daniel wasn’t fully aware of Tom’s discomfort. Kind, thoughtful and gentle to a fault, an agitated Tom had been periodically running a hand through his sandy, blond hair, huffing in a disconcerted manner.
‘Spit it out,’ drawled Daniel at last, when he couldn’t bear the awkward atmosphere any longer.
‘Eddie had a good point, mate,’ shrugged Tom. ‘Trudy is not gonna be happy. Not by a long shot…’
‘You’ve never been afraid of your sister before! She certainly doesn’t scare me,’ chuckled Daniel, flashing him a glance with his killer blue eyes, which helped maintain his status as a sex symbol with women across the world. Of course, the fact he was rich, handsome, talented and in perfect physical fitness, thanks to being an Olympic athlete, all helped to contribute too. However, none of these factors had any effect on Tom.
‘Well, perhaps she should.’
‘I like to live on the wild side,’ shrugged Daniel. ‘Danger is my middle name.’
‘No, it isn’t. It’s Charles,’ huffed Tom, clearly unimpressed. ‘Look, I think we should go back and get him.’
‘Why? It’s a rite of passage.’
‘I don’t remember doing anything like this to you, in the days leading up to your wedding to Emma,’ muttered Tom. ‘Come on! It’s getting dark and I’m supposed to be his best man, for God’s sake!’
‘Fine,’ submitted Daniel, driving to the next suitable location and undertaking a U-turn. Maybe it hadn’t been their best idea. They really were in the middle of nowhere and it was starting to get cold already; Scotland’s evening temperatures were noticeably fresher than those he was used to. They hadn’t seen any vehicles in the quarter of an hour since they’d left Eddie and no more than a handful of houses and farms. Plus Eddie’s phone hadn’t stopped buzzing and beeping since they’d taken ownership of the damn thing, and it was seriously starting to get on Daniel’s nerves; wasn’t he ever allowed to switch off from running his business?
Unfortunately, when they returned to the location at which they’d unceremoniously dumped Eddie, the place was deserted. For the next hour, they drove randomly around the remote mountainside, a sense of dread slowly growing within them. Eddie was nowhere to be found.
‘Maybe he got a lift?’ suggested Daniel, as they returned from exploring another dead-end track and were forced to flick on the headlights. It was properly dark now, without a single light to be found in the surrounding landscape.
‘Yeah. And maybe we’ve screwed up, big time,’ sighed Tom, rubbing a large hand across his face.
‘We should get back to base,’ suggested Daniel, not wanting to agree with him out loud. ‘With any luck, Eddie will already have found his way back home again.’
Eddie had covered a couple of miles by road, before he began to fully accept that Daniel and Tom were completely serious about leaving him out here to fend for himself. He had half hoped that after a few minutes, his friends would return, joking and laughing, before they all returned to his hotel for a celebratory group dinner and drinks with their respective partners. Despite this blow, Eddie was determined not to be the impractical rich boy they clearly had him marked as. He would treat this as an adventure; a chance to survive in a penniless, unaided scenario which, thanks to his privileged upbringing and good fortune, he had simply never experienced.
For all Eddie knew, this road could go on indefinitely. Furthermore, given that he hadn’t seen a car since Tom and Daniel drove away, there was no guarantee that another one would be along for the rest of the night. Pausing at an informal crossroads, Eddie gazed up a stony track set at right angles to the main road. He became convinced that he could hear the rhythmical chugging of a distant engine. Perhaps the track led to a farm, or other residence. It had to be worth a shot.
Besides, the track headed up the side of the steep mountain, which would allow him to gain some elevation and provide a much better view of the surrounding landscape. With any luck, he’d be able to get his bearings and calculate which way he ought to head. Grateful that he’d worn his walking boots for their activity day, Eddie purposefully set out on his off-road adventure, hoping that daylight would hold out long enough for him to reach safety. This track could be his only chance of finding human habitation, before daylight was lost.
Tom and Daniel skulked back into the hotel later that evening, hoping to return to their rooms without being seen. Unfortunately for them, the Spanish Inquisition, in the formidable guise of Trudy, met them head on before they’d even crossed the foyer.
‘I thought you’d all be back ages ago!’ she grinned, glancing behind them. ‘Where’s Eddie?’
‘Oh, hi Trude,’ replied Tom, already looking guilty. Unlike his sister, he wasn’t capable of any form of subterfuge; Tom was the classic open book.
‘Where’s Eddie?’ repeated Trudy, her voice much colder this time, staring daggers straight at Daniel.
‘He’s not here?’ asked Daniel hopefully.
‘Why would he be? He’s spent the day with you two. What the hell is going on?’
‘Now, I’m glad you asked that…’ he began, sounding unusually unsure of himself. ‘You see… And I don’t want you to overreact when I tell you this, but…’
‘Yeah?’ encouraged Trudy, as Daniel ground to a halt in his explanation. No matter how he worded it in his head, he ended up sounding like a complete arse.
‘We kind of played a pre-wedding trick on him,’ admitted Tom, feeling incredibly guilty for their behaviour. ‘We left him at the side of a road, in the middle of nowhere.’
‘Well, just go back and find him!’ ordered Trudy, her face flushing redder and redder, with every word she spoke.
‘I’m afraid we, er, tried that, Trude,’ admitted Daniel. ‘But Eddie had disappeared.’
‘Okay. Then we’ll phone him,’ instructed Trudy, struggling to understand why Daniel and Tom were being so incredibly impractical. Pulling out her mobile, she began to scroll through the screen to dial Eddie’s number. Sheepishly, Daniel pulled Eddie’s phone out of his jacket pocket and handed it across, just as it started to ring.
‘He doesn’t have his phone?’ she asked in astonishment. Eddie literally carried it with him everywhere. It was one of the few elements of being with Eddie that Trudy wasn’t entirely enthralled about. Instead, she had to accept that he was responsible for a multi-million pound enterprise and, as such, it was incredibly difficult for him to be off-grid. He simply must be contactable, in case decisions were needed. As it was, Trudy had managed to negotiate that Eddie wouldn’t take his phone on honeymoon with them, instead temporarily returning responsibility of the business to his father. And that had taken every bit of persuasive ability she possessed.
‘No,’ admitted Daniel. ‘Or this,’ he added, passing across Eddie’s brown leather wallet.
‘You left him with nothing?’ exclaimed Trudy. Her voice was growing shriller with each word uttered. Consequently, she was starting to attract the attention of the hotel staff.
‘We left him with five pounds,’ he replied, not looking half as sorry as Trudy thought he should. ‘And some water…’
‘You complete fuckwit!’ she roared, prodding Daniel forcefully in the chest and causing him to take a few steps backwards. Almost a foot shorter than Daniel, what Trudy lacked in stature, she certainly made up for in personality and, in that single instance, fury.
With their attention drawn by the commotion, Emma and Abby rushed over from the bar area, where they’d been enjoying a cocktail.
‘Hey!’ spoke Emma’s calming voice. ‘What’s up?’
Daniel glanced gratefully across at his wife, a strange rush of emotions filling him up. The first was a combination of love and lust; with her tall frame, long blonde hair and curves in all the right places, there hadn’t been a moment his desire for her had faltered, in all the years they’d been together. The other emotions were more unusual however; a sense of embarrassment and shame for his actions, and concern about what Emma would think of his misguided attempt at a practical joke.
‘I’ll tell you what’s wrong!’ exclaimed Trudy, almost gibbering with rage. ‘Your complete WANKER of a husband and my complete ARSE of a brother, have left Eddie without money, identification, or the ability to help himself, whilst in THE MIDDLE OF FUCKING NOWHERE!’
Daniel had been expecting his cool, calm, logical-thinking wife to soothe Trudy, whilst de-escalating the situation, as she had done a hundred times before. Trudy and Daniel regularly antagonised each other, often leaving Emma as the go-between to clear up the mess. This time, however, Emma sided wholly with her best friend.
‘You two are such knobs,’ she observed coolly.
‘Hey!’ objected Daniel, almost speechless, whilst Tom simply hung his head in shame.
‘What? It’s deserved.’
‘Why don’t we move this conversation somewhere private?’ suggested Abby, who had so far remained very quiet. The media had already been circling, in search of a salacious new angle to report on; just a simple wedding between a loving, happy couple, surrounded by their adoring friends and family, apparently wasn’t quite going to cut the mustard. And although members of the press were officially banned from the hotel, nobody would have been surprised to find out that they’d infiltrated it.
Tom glanced across at Abby. She was so much taller than most girls he’d ever met, that he could peer into her beautiful dark brown eyes, straight over the heads of Emma and Trudy. Her long black hair momentarily fell in a curtain across her face, hiding the concern about the situation in which they found themselves. With a few meaningful glances, the party made their way into the bar, ordering a raft of drinks en route.
‘We need to get a search party together!’ stated Trudy, once they were installed in a corner booth.
‘Before we do, let’s think about this logically,’ continued Abby bravely. She always felt a little bit of an outsider, within this group of friends who had all known each other since childhood. Indeed, the presence of Eddie, who was also a relative newcomer, typically made her feel more at ease. She was missing him already. ‘How far away from the hotel were you?’
‘Dunno exactly,’ admitted Daniel. ‘Probably thirty miles away.’
‘And I’d doubt Eddie would recognise where he was,’ admitted Tom quietly. ‘We were on a real back road and when we kicked him out of the car, he was still half asleep.’
‘Tom!’ complained Trudy, shaking her head in amazement, and making her brother feel even more guilty. ‘I expect this kind of idiocy from Daniel but not from you!’
‘Oh, thanks very much,’ muttered Daniel, feeling obliged to stand up for himself. ‘Although you did bring this on yourself.’
‘How so?’ demanded Trudy.
‘I asked you a few months ago, if you really wanted me to be actively working against you, just before your wedding. I believe your response was “bring it on”.’
For a long moment, Trudy glared at Daniel who stared back insolently. It was true; Daniel and Trudy’s history had been peppered with practical jokes and teasing; it was the natural response of two people who had known each other almost all of their lives and consequently considered themselves like brother and sister. Earlier in the year, Trudy had sneakily won a bet against Daniel, which he’d been confident of winning. In so doing, she had caused him a modicum of embarrassment within their group of friends. Wired not to lose, Daniel hadn’t been at all appreciative of Trudy’s unexpected victory and subsequent gloating, and had vowed to repay her in full.
‘Don’t you dare tell me this is what you envisaged, barely a day before my wedding! Because if it is, you’re no friend of mine and you can fuck off home right now!’
‘Okay, let’s just calm down,’ suggested Emma. Taking Trudy’s hand she squeezed it gently, well aware that much of her best friend’s reaction was down to pre-wedding jitters.
‘I’m sorry,’ said Daniel soberly, reaching out for Trudy’s other hand. ‘You’re right. I didn’t think this through. It’s me who’s entirely in the wrong. I’m so sorry.’
‘Me too, Trude,’ added Tom, glancing out of the window to note that dusk had settled in. And Eddie was still nowhere to be found. ‘I thought it would be a bit of a joke, but in retrospect, it wasn’t such a great idea.’
‘So, whereabouts were you?’ asked Abby, trying to move the conversation forwards.
Grabbing a map which was lying nearby, Daniel opened it up on the table in front of them, causing everybody to move their respective drinks to make a little space.
‘Somewhere around here,’ he explained, circling his finger over a wide area of mountainous terrain, with a small road running straight through the centre. Immediately, they all peered a little closer, to try and gain a sense of what they were dealing with.
‘And what time did you leave him?’
‘Dunno. Two hours ago? Three?’
‘And Eddie’s pretty fit right?’ confirmed Abby.
‘Yeah,’ agreed Trudy. ‘In more ways than one,’ she said without thinking. Normally, such a comment would be accompanied by sharing a cheeky grin and giggle with Emma. But as Trudy raised her eyes towards her best friend, neither woman so much as smirked. That interaction alone was testament to the dire severity of the situation.
‘So running, he could easily travel at six miles an hour?’ continued Abby, unaware of the shared glances that had been taking place around her. Checking the scale, she drew her finger in a rough circle around the distance Eddie might have travelled by now, from the location at which he’d been dropped. The area looked enormous, encompassing lochs, mountainous heathland, huge swathes of forestry, a little used, rural railway line, a single track road and several small, isolated hamlets, along with a handful of much more scattered dwellings.
‘We could contact the police?’ suggested Emma. ‘Mountain rescue?’
‘If they even agree to search for Eddie, I’m not sure they’re going to do it in the dark,’ admitted Daniel. ‘They’ll wait until morning. We might as well give him the benefit of the doubt and wait until daybreak too.’
‘I personally think we should have some faith in Eddie. I don’t think he’s as impractical as you’re all implying,’ said Abby.
‘Well, for the sake of both of your ongoing chances of fathering any children,’ said Trudy coolly, in Daniel and Tom’s direction. ‘I seriously hope you’re right. Because if anything happens to Eddie, I swear I’ll castrate the pair of you.’
With aching calf muscles, Eddie powered on up the steep incline. Dusk was seriously starting to take a hold of the landscape now and he knew he must act swiftly, to avoid having to sleep outside on an exposed mountainside. At last, he reached a suitable vantage point. To his relief, he could see a tiny railway station, lit by a single row of white lights, which he estimated was barely half a mile from his current location. Surrounding it were a small number of isolated buildings. That had to be his goal. There was simply no time for him to make it anywhere else, before darkness truly fell and the round, white moon became his only available form of illumination. Wiping a sleeve across his brow which was dripping with sweat, he ran as fast as his fatiguing body would allow, towards his intended destination.
Ten minutes later, thankfully having avoided stumbling too seriously on the rough terrain he was crossing with increasing haste, Eddie collapsed against the bench outside the small railway station that he’d spied from afar. Despite the fact that his lungs were on fire with exertion, convinced he could hear an approaching train, Eddie dragged himself towards the small ticket booth. It was manned by a couple who looked to be in their fifties. The woman was sitting at the cash register, twisting her straggly hair around her ink-stained fingers and wearing the most unusual colour of knitted hat. Meanwhile, the red-faced man leaned his enormous belly casually against the sill of an open window, occasionally puffing on a smoking pipe.
‘Aye?’ she grunted, somewhat unhelpfully.
‘Single ticket to Kinloch station, please,’ gasped Eddie, peering up the track to try and ascertain how far away the train was.
‘Eight pound ten,’ she said in an extremely rich Highland accent.
Tapping his jacket pocket for his wallet, Eddie suddenly remembered he was without it.
‘I’ve only got a fiver,’ he explained, shaking his head in embarrassment. ‘I’m sorry.’
The couple exchanged a heavily loaded look.
‘Naw ticket, naw travel,’ the woman stated with a curious kind of insolence.
‘Please, you don’t understand. I get married in just over a day. I’ve been left here with nothing as a practical joke. Please let me board the train and I will pay when I’m reunited with my wallet. I give you my word.’
‘Hell slap it intae ye!’ the woman exclaimed, gesticulating wildly.
‘I beg your pardon?’
‘She says it’s your own fault,’ explained the man coolly, standing up to welcome the incoming train onto his station. ‘And I’m afraid we take no-one at their word here.’
Eddie stood flabbergasted; never before had somebody not trusted him. It was an entirely new and thoroughly unwelcome experience. He watched the couple go about their business on the platform. Perhaps unsurprisingly, no passengers embarked and no passengers disembarked. Eddie would have been their only customer, had he been permitted entry. Feeling hugely frustrated, he considered making a dash for the doors, just before they closed and the train pulled away. However, in his heart, he knew he wouldn’t get away with it. He would simply just have to remain here until the next train and argue his case. He spent his life negotiating multi-million pound deals. If he couldn’t talk his way around this highly eccentric couple, he was clearly losing his touch.
As the train pulled out of the station, the couple returned to their booth and began to tidy things away.
‘Er…when’s the next train due?’ queried Eddie, now feeling mildly concerned.
‘Ah dinnae ken,’ replied the woman, shrugging her shoulders in the internationally-accepted gesture which confesses that you don’t know.
‘Ten past seven tomorrow morning,’ grunted the man.
‘That was the last train of the night?’ confirmed an exasperated Eddie. ‘But I must get home. I’ve got nowhere to stay! Please help me!’
‘Whit’s fur ye’ll no go by ye!’ shrugged the woman, as they locked up the station gate and began to walk towards one of the nearby houses.
‘Say what now?’ huffed Eddie, starting to lose his customary cool. They literally could be talking a completely different language, and that rich, regional accent in addition was a killer.
‘She says what’s meant to happen will happen,’ nodded the man, taking the arm of his wife.
‘Look, I’m the Earl of Kinlochshire,’ admitted Eddie, trying not to cringe. He hated using his social standing to try and influence others, but this was becoming an emergency.
‘Sure you are, mate,’ huffed the man, clearly disbelieving that this scruffy, grubby, sweating stranger was who he claimed to be.
‘For fuck’s sake,’ muttered Eddie under his breath. This was like pulling teeth. ‘Look it up on the internet if you don’t believe me.’
‘The web?’ explained Eddie, concerned about the blank looks he was receiving.
‘The what now?’
‘Broadband? 4G? Online?’
‘Ah!’ exclaimed the man and Eddie experienced an unexpected spark of hope. ‘Don’t have it. Modern, new-fangled, technical nonsense. Stamp and envelope never did my parents any harm, did it?’
That was questionable contemplated Eddie, as he gazed back at them in disbelief.
‘So, you’re saying you don’t have access to the internet?’ he confirmed, trying to keep calm.
‘Aye.’ They had reached the front of their small cottage now, the woman carefully unlocking the green door, paint peeling from neglect.
‘Please might you have a phone I could use?’ queried Eddie urgently, only to be met with two shaking heads. ‘A car?’
‘Naw,’ the man replied, gazing upwards to appreciate the vast, starry sky. ‘Where’s the use in one of those? We’ve got a train.’
As the door closed in his face, a disbelieving Eddie was forced to appreciate that there was logic in that statement somewhere. Why was today turning out to be so unfathomably shit?
For a moment, Eddie simply breathed in the night air. It was seriously dark now and the twinkling stars and light of the moon was all that remained to guide his way. Closing his eyes, the smell of pine trees from a nearby plantation drifted through the air. He felt an unexpected flash of loneliness, accompanied by an urge to be encompassed in Trudy’s loving arms. Eddie was starting to feel increasingly uncomfortable; tired, hungry, thirsty and cold, shelter and safety had suddenly become his number one priority. It was probably no surprise that, in that single moment, he felt unusually vulnerable.
Opening his eyes once more, he spied a faint, distant light from a nearby crofters cottage. He knew he could either give up and sleep on the grass, hopeful that the weather forecast wasn’t too severe. Or, he could chase down every option and refuse to give up. Eddie didn’t need to consider the conundrum for very long; he was a fighter… always had been, always would be. With a renewed sense of determination, unable to see the ground surface on which he was treading, he carefully picked his way towards the only other evidence of human habitation in the vicinity.
After a few false starts, Eddie managed to avoid suffering a twisted ankle and eventually found himself on the doorstep of a tiny stone building with a slate roof and ancient leaded windows. Hopeful that the residents would be friendlier than their neighbours, he tentatively raised his hand and rapped his knuckles three times against the solid front door.
‘Who is it?’ queried a timid female voice from inside.
‘My name’s Eddie,’ he began, trying to keep his voice clear, soft and non-threatening. Suddenly feeling extremely emotional, probably due to tiredness, he was however unable to stop it from breaking. ‘I’m getting married in two days and my friends thought it would be funny to abandon me here. To be honest, I could really, really do with your help,’ he admitted, slumping down to sit on the doorstep. Why would what he assumed was an elderly, single woman allow an unknown man access onto her property in the dead of the night? Obviously she wouldn’t. Which meant he was sleeping outside, with no fixed plan of how to return home.
And yet, to his utter astonishment, Eddie heard the shuffling and turning of locks above his head. This was followed by a loud creak as the door opened. Quickly, he scrambled to his feet.
‘Hello,’ said a small, elderly lady, who was utterly swamped by Eddie’s elongated frame. With wire-framed glasses and her grey hair piled up onto her head in a bun, she was the closest thing to an angel that Eddie had ever imagined. ‘My name’s Doris.’
‘Doris!’ smiled Eddie, genuinely delighted to find a person that not only seemed friendly but whom he could also understand. ‘Is there any chance that I could possibly make a phone call, please?’
‘I’m sorry my dear,’ replied Doris, looking genuinely distressed as she shook her head. ‘But I don’t have a phone.’
‘Oh,’ muttered Eddie, able to feel the positivity leaking out of him, with each second that passed. ‘I don’t suppose you have any form of transport?’
‘No, but I can give you shelter,’ she smiled kindly, stepping back from her door. ‘Please come in.’
‘But you don’t know me,’ he stuttered. ‘You have to consider your own safety.’
‘I’ll take my chances,’ she chuckled. ‘Come on.’
Eddie didn’t need telling twice and shot gratefully into her home.
‘I swear I will repay you for this,’ vowed Eddie, as he greedily ate his way through a generous plate of pasta which Doris had prepared for him. She tried her best to conceal a mounting sense of despair. Eddie’s meal represented the last of her food stock, and her pension wasn’t due to be paid for another few days. She had trained herself to have a small appetite and could easily have stretched the pasta Eddie was now ravenously consuming, out over several days.
‘That’s alright, my love,’ she sighed. ‘Your need is greater than mine and a little human kindness costs nothing.’
‘You should tell that to your neighbours,’ grinned Eddie, rolling his eyes in amusement. Pushing away his empty plate, he felt replete and surprisingly relaxed.
‘Ah, you met them, did you?’ smiled Doris, picking up her knitting and starting to click the needles together, only adding to Eddie’s sense of ease. ‘Charming, aren’t they?’
‘To be honest, that’s not the first word I’d use to describe the two of them. Tell me, Doris. Where did you purchase these incredible photographs from? Who are they by?’ Eddie pointed to the various framed images that were adorning the walls. They were, quite simply, breathtaking. Each one perfectly captured the majesty of the Scottish landscape, mostly at sunrise, if Eddie wasn’t mistaken. One particular example caught his eye; an eerie mist rising over a peaceful loch, taken in a way that made the scene look almost primeval.
‘Well…er…actually, I took them,’ she admitted bashfully.
‘Seriously? Then you have a genuine talent!’
‘Thank you,’ she said, bashfully dropping her eyes back down to her knitting.
‘What camera did you use?’ he queried. Eddie had always had an interest in photography, although he had never displayed any of Doris’s obvious talent in the field.
‘Oh, it was my trusty Nikon SLR,’ said Doris, a hint of sadness in her eye. ‘Nothing special, but it suited me perfectly.’
‘You don’t have it any longer?’ enquired Eddie.
‘I had to sell it a few years ago.’
‘Why?’ asked Eddie. The concept of getting rid of an item that clearly suited her perfectly was completely foreign to him.
‘It was a very long, harsh winter,’ she shrugged acceptingly. ‘My pension would never have stretched.’
‘Oh,’ replied Eddie, shocked into silence. Through no fault of her own, simply because her advancing age meant she couldn’t easily find work, Doris clearly led a hand to mouth existence. It was a reminder for Eddie of just how damn lucky he was. What a highly privileged life he actually led.
‘My family are very wealthy,’ he admitted quietly, as Doris continued with her knitting. ‘I’ve never had to go without anything.’
‘Cherish it,’ smiled his host, without a hint of resentment. ‘Life can be incredibly harsh. Besides, I eventually came to realise that I don’t need my camera. If I want to see a view like that,’ she explained, nodding towards one of her photographs. ‘I just have to open the door. So you see, in some ways, my life is incredibly rich.’
‘I can see that,’ admitted Eddie. ‘And I’d just like to reiterate that you will be repaid for your extraordinary kindness tonight.’
‘That is not necessary.’
‘It might not be necessary, but it’s going to happen all the same,’ stated Eddie, in a tone that clearly suggested he wouldn’t be taking no for an answer. ‘Your neighbours didn’t believe me, but my full name is Edward Lennox-Beaufort, Earl of Kinlochshire.’
Doris looked up in surprise but said nothing.
‘I tell you this, to assure you that your astonishing kindness here tonight will be repaid in more than full. And also to try and reassure you that you’re safe with me in your home.’
‘It’s fine, dear. You don’t need to prove anything. One good thing to be said about getting to my age is that your intuition is finely honed. I trust you, and that’s all you need to know.’
‘Thank you,’ he replied sincerely, leaning forward to kiss the paper-like skin on the back of her wrinkled hand. Eddie had lost his own grandparents many years before and had forgotten the joy of spending time with someone of Doris’s age.
‘But if you don’t mind,’ she smiled, carefully rising to her feet in order to retire to her bedroom. ‘You’ll always just be Eddie to me.’
‘I wouldn’t want it any other way.’
Ten minutes later and Eddie was safely installed on the sofa, in front of a gently crackling fire. The itchy woollen blanket that was draped across his body was certainly in direct contrast to the expensive bedding and thousand thread count sheets which he’d enjoyed the previous night, but no less welcome. Surprisingly, given the day he’d had, Eddie was asleep within minutes and slept like a baby until the early dawn light slid beneath the curtains.
The following morning was a desperately rushed one. Having woken early, Eddie learnt rather late on from Doris that the railway timetable was much more of a rough estimation, rather than a true schedule. As a result, he hurried them down to the railway station by a quarter to seven, just in case the train was early; he needed to be on the very first train back to human habitation, to prevent Trudy triggering an all-out rescue attempt.
Somehow, over the course of a simple breakfast of toast and jam, Eddie had managed to persuade Doris to travel back with him. Between the two of them, they’d just managed to scrape together enough money for two single tickets. Doris clearly didn’t have the spare funds to take a jaunt. Yet despite not having enough money to purchase a return ticket back home, she did as Eddie asked, intrinsically trusting in his goodness and his word.
As it happened, Eddie was very glad to arrive so early at the train station, when the two carriage train chugged up to the platform over ten minutes early. Tweedledum and Tweedledee, as he had now christened them, were slouching in their booth, in exactly the same position as the previous evening. They looked at Eddie suspiciously, as he handed over the money for their tickets, doing his best to smile benignly back. Fortunately, with no time for idle conversation, which would have been a challenge if the previous evening was anything to go by, Eddie assisted Doris onto the train and then leapt on himself, just seconds before it began to pull its way out of the station.
Although it was only very brief, Doris enjoyed the train ride with Eddie enormously; it wasn’t a mode of transport she was capable of affording in recent years. These days, her only trips out, to collect her pension and any shopping requirements, took place once a week, courtesy of a local residential minibus. Thanks to her fellow shoppers being so sparsely populated, it took almost two hours to pick them all up and then drive into the nearest town, but at least it was a break away from her home and an opportunity to see different people and scenery.
Before they knew it, the two of them had arrived at the tiny rural station of Kinloch, less than a mile from Eddie’s hotel.
‘Are you okay to walk?’ asked Eddie kindly, knowing that Doris had mentioned she still enjoyed rambling but appreciating she might not feel like it quite so early in the morning.‘Of course,’ she enthused. ‘Please lead the way!’
‘Good morning, Sir,’ said one of Eddie’s staff members respectfully, as he strolled into his hotel lobby, acquiring astonished looks from some of the residents. They were all used to seeing Eddie well turned out and completely in control. Instead, with an arm linked through one of Doris’s, he looked like he’d spent the past twelve hours on a cross-country night hike, before being dragged backwards through an exceptionally thick hedge.
‘Oh! Thank God!’ screeched Trudy, racing up to her scruffy looking fiancé, mere seconds after he’d arrived. Having received no word of him, Trudy had been up half the night worrying. In the end, she’d managed to sleep fitfully, vowing to bully mountain rescue into mounting a search, first thing in the morning. Eddie hugged her back gratefully, peppering her face with kisses, murmuring comforting words in her ears. When they finally pulled apart, Eddie inclined his head towards Doris.
‘Doris, I’d like to introduce you to my very-soon-to-be wife, Trudy.’
‘Delighted to meet you, my dear,’ beamed Doris, taking Trudy’s hand in her own. ‘I’ve heard so much about you.’
‘Trudy,’ smiled Eddie warmly. ‘This is my guardian angel, Doris McKinley.’
And suddenly, without realising they’d been nearby, Abby and Emma threw themselves on Eddie, hugging him tightly, admitting their relief that he was safely back once more. Glancing around, Eddie noticed Tom and Daniel loitering uncomfortably in the background, clearly unsure of the welcome they’d receive.
‘Doris, these are my very good friends Abby and Emma,’ announced Eddie. ‘Along with my best mates, Tom and Daniel,’ he grinned, waving them closer. ‘It was entirely due to them, that I had the privilege of staying in your home last night.’
‘Mate…’ began Daniel tentatively. He wanted to apologise to Eddie, but good manners ensured he firstly provided Doris with his full attention.
‘Tom, Daniel,’ continued Eddie. ‘This lady is the reason that you two clowns have already been forgiven.’
‘Not by me,’ muttered Trudy ominously.
‘So go and be nice to her… very nice. You can start by taking Doris to breakfast. I’ve got something I need to attend to.’ And with that, grasping Trudy’s hand firmly in his, Eddie turned and walked through his hotel, as though the past twelve hours had never taken place.
‘What’s happening?’ queried Trudy, although she barely cared. The only thing she’d been concerned with was having Eddie returned safely to her.
‘I’ll explain in a second. Michael!’ called Eddie, beckoning his hotel manager into a private area.
‘Yes, Sir,’ replied the man, striding across to join him.
‘I need you to find a spare room for the lady who has just accompanied me through the main door; a Mrs Doris McKinley,’ explained Eddie. ‘She’ll be staying with us, free of charge, for as long as she wishes.’
‘Ah… We are fully booked, Sir,’ Michael started to explain. ‘I’m not sure we have a room…’
‘Just find one,’ ordered Eddie. ‘Make it mine, if that’s all that remains.’
‘Yes, Sir,’ confirmed Michael.
‘I also need you to undertake a number of tasks for me.’
‘Of course, Sir,’ nodded Michael, grabbing a notebook from his pocket to capture each of Eddie’s requirements.
And strangely enough, it was in that instant that Eddie appreciated the power of his money, his land, his title and his position in society. Unlike the way he’d been treated by Tweedledum and Tweedledee, he was automatically afforded respect and reverence. It was a gift he vowed never to take for granted again.
Fenella Ashworth is a British author of contemporary erotic fiction. All of her stories are available from Amazon and free for those with Kindle Unlimited access. Her bestselling novels are ‘To Love, Honour and Oh Pay’ and the Daniel Lawson series.
Fenella also releases stories on BooksieSilk, Booksie, Lush Stories and Literotica, and is often visible in the Literotica ‘Erotic Couplings’ Hall of Fame (Top Rated).
Please sign up to her newsletter for the latest news, and access to freebies, including a copy of the recently published ‘Bad girls go to Heaven’.