It Started with a Secret by Jill Mansell Read Online (FREE)
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Lainey could hear the helicopter before it came into view over the tops of the trees, the powerful thud-thud-thud of the rotor blades quite thrilling out here in the depths of the French countryside. She wondered what it would be like to actually take a trip in a helicopter.
Blinking, she shielded her eyes from the bright afternoon sun. ‘Here they are then, right on time.’
Bill, standing next to her on the ancient stone steps of the chateau, said, ‘Remember, anything they want, they get. Before they even know they want it.’
The faint tremor in her boss’s voice signalled just how vital it was that this stay was a success. Lainey passed him a tissue so he could mop his brow. ‘Everything’s going to be fine.’ They’d worked so hard; every eventuality had been covered. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, apart from water pipes bursting, ceilings falling in or the electrics blowing up, but now wasn’t the time to think about things like that.
Together they followed the grey and silver helicopter’s trajectory as it drew nearer, descending from a cloudless cobalt-blue sky and aiming for the landing pad in the centre of the front lawn.
Bill puffed out a lungful of air and wiped his palms with an already damp and mangled tissue. ‘Everything has to be better than fine. It needs to be perfect.’
Lainey felt his pain. Behind them, Bill’s wife was shrilly calling out to everyone to gather on the steps in order to greet their all-important guests, Downton style. Bill and Biddy, in their late fifties, were lifelong Francophiles who had made the decision two years ago to take the plunge and exchange their immaculate semi in Hounslow for a dilapidated twelve-bedroom chateau in the Loire valley, with the aim of living the good life, enjoying the warmer weather and spectacular scenery, and socialising with like-minded expats and friendly locals alike. In order to finance the dream, the plan had been to host guests at the chateau, and hold weddings and special events there too.
In theory it had sounded like everyone’s idea of an idyllic existence, but it hadn’t turned out to be nearly as easy or as much fun as they’d envisaged. A centuries-old chateau was an always-ravenous money pit, and the small bequest left to them by Biddy’s parents had soon been swallowed up. The moment the fences were repaired, the drains collapsed. Once the leaking roof was fixed, fifty huge window frames needed replacing. No sooner were the chimneys unblocked than the ancient plumbing system disintegrated and the floorboards developed dry rot.
But Bill and Biddy had valiantly ploughed on, addressing the locals in loud mangled Franglais and getting frustrated when they were unable to make themselves understood. A year ago they’d taken on several members of staff, Lainey amongst them, and finally opened their expensively refurbished doors to paying guests.