The previous four blogs introduced seven of the main characters in the story. So for the final character introductions blog before the book is released next Tuesday (1 November – I may have mentioned this before!) – I thought I would give a brief overview of some of the others…collectively known as ‘the guests’.
Six guests arrive at Winterbourne House on the 23rd December for the start of the four day Christmas programme.
JJ and Shelley are from Manchester. They’ve had a long train journey to reach their destination. After arriving at King’s Cross, they had to take a Tube train to Waterloo station on the south side of London to then catch a train from there to Brighton on the south coast of England and from there another local train to Winterbourne Village. They probably could have driven down in the time it took to do all that. So, although JJ is enchanted with the place when they arrive, Shelley is in a bit of a mood.
Also arriving from London on the same train, via Hong Kong and Australia, is Clare Finlayson. She is an actress who specialises in playing kick-ass female characters in martial arts films. She has a nostalgic reason for coming back to Winterbourne.
Candice and Marguerite arrive in a rental car. They are from Canada and have been travelling around the UK and Ireland, as Candice is keen on tracing the roots of her family tree.
Sally Hunter lives in London and arrived by a later train, then walked from the station to the house, a distance of about five miles. She wants to write a biography of the former owner of the house, Kim Russell, and thinks that posing as a guest will help her gain the information she needs.
This scene from Chapter One is from Sally’s point of view when she arrives in the lounge for the pre-dinner drinks on the first evening.
When Sally saw the group gathered around the fireplace, her first thought was to grab a glass and a couple of the freshly baked mince pies and retreat to her room. Sherry wasn’t something she was prepared to drink, even to be sociable. Dipping into the bottle of Irish whiskey she’d brought for a medical emergency would be acceptable, though.
She recognised two of the women seated on the sofa. They had stopped their car on the way up the drive to ask if she wanted a lift to the house. She had declined, even though her rucksack was feeling heavier by the minute as the lane wound uphill. And the woman seated on the easy chair in the corner, well that was an unexpected bonus. This was going to make missing out on her usual round of Christmas parties in the city worthwhile. To top it all, she would be able to prove that cantankerous old woman wrong. On the long walk from the station, that had been foremost in her mind.
“This looks cosy. Mind if I join you?” She pulled up the upholstered stool next to the sideboard and placed it conveniently between the two from the car and the subject of her interest. “I’m Sally.” She smiled brightly, letting her gaze travel around the room.
“Oh, yeah. We saw you walking up the lane. That’s some trek from the main road.”
“I walked from the station.”
“What? Are you nuts? That’s like five miles.”
Sally figured the accent for American. “Well, it wasn’t raining. That’s always a bonus in this country. And living in London, a walk in the country is something to be treasured. I feel tons healthier already, just breathing in proper fresh air.”
“I’m Candice and this is my partner Marguerite. That there’s Shelley and,” she pointed to the figure lounging in the other easy chair, “JJ from Manchester. And this, can you believe it, is Shay Finch from AR4 and 7. Sorry, hon, I don’t remember your real name.”
Sally thought she heard the woman in the chair next to her mutter, “They never do.”
The door opened and the cute little red-haired butch who had greeted her at the front door came in carrying an armful of logs. She dumped them in the basket by the fireplace, sat herself down on the stone hearth and looked around at the group.
“Hi, I guess you’ve had time to introduce yourselves, so I won’t ask you to do it again. This is the welcome speech but I’ll keep it short, and if you have any questions, feel free to butt in. We like to keep things informal here. There is a Christmas programme that you will have seen, but please don’t take it as written in stone. It’s just a guide to activities which you can either take part in or not. The evening meals and buffet lunches will be supplied as advertised. Breakfast, however, is up to you. The cupboards in the kitchen are labelled so you can find what you need. One of us will be up early enough to get the coffee pot going. There’s also a selection of teas. Fresh eggs and bacon are available if you want to cook your own. We just ask that you clean up after yourselves and leave the place tidy. My partner, Gaby, is nine months pregnant but still insists on taking care of the catering. She won’t let me anywhere near the kitchen when she’s cooking, but she might be amenable to letting you help out if you feel so inclined.
“And if you want a change of scene, we can recommend the pub in the village. It’s run by two good friends of ours, Toby and Mark. They’ll be joining us for the festivities on Christmas day, as will Felicity and Rose who run the stables, and our two friends and business partners from London, Ade and Rita. You’ll also come across Gaby’s parents at some point, Teresa and Guido. They’ve been here a number of times so they’re also a good source of information. Any questions?”
Sally glanced around at her fellow guests and wondered who would be the first to ask a question. The instructions they had received after making reservations had been very detailed but no one ever took time to read such things properly.
The one called JJ spoke up. “When can we use the pool?”
A mental tick. Yes, that was on the sheet.
Wil Tyler didn’t blink. She just said calmly, “There’s a key on a hook inside the back door. You can use it anytime. We ask that you lock up the chalet and return the key. It’s kept locked, not because we usually have any trouble with local kids wanting to get in, but if anyone did we would be considered negligent if we left it open. There are towels in the cupboard down there. Just leave them in the laundry basket when you’re finished.”
“We booked a riding session online.” Candice ventured.
“Yes, that’s right. I’ll be going out with you. Just turn up at the stables about ten minutes before and we’ll sort you out with riding hats. Oh, and dress warmly. Also, for anyone else visiting the stables, there are two dogs in residence, Daisy and Raffi. You might also see them roaming the grounds. They’re Labradors and very friendly but please don’t feed them. Even with all the exercise they get around here, it’s an effort to keep their weight down.” She stood and gave the group another once over. “Well, if you’re all okay for now, I’ll leave you to it. Don’t eat too many mince pies. It’s champagne and canapés in half an hour.”
When she closed the door behind her, Candice sighed and said, “Well, isn’t she just the cutest thing. I could listen to her talk all day.”
And which part of small town America are you from? Sally wondered. She glanced at the woman slouched in the chair next to her who was looking like she wanted to blend into the background. Getting her out of Candice’s clutches would be Sally’s first task. It made her job easier. She would be able to gain her trust. Yes, she thought, the old woman was going to be made to eat her words.
So, only a week to go and you’ll be able to find out more about what happens over the four day Christmas holiday at Winterbourne House.
Read the beginning of Chapter 1 from Christmas at Winterbourne on the Affinity website. The book is due for release on 1 November 2016 – on the Affinity website and Amazon.
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