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A Handmade crime - out now...

A sneak preview of the latest Amy Hammond. Christmas is coming to Swansmere in July. What could possibly go wrong?


It was a gorgeous summer's day and all the little craft and artisan shops that framed the courtyard that should have held tables and chairs that were shielded by umbrellas should have been busy with customers. Instead, they’d been transformed into something that looked as if it belonged on a Christmas card; and the more Amy looked at it, the less she liked it. The film company had only been there for a few hours but she’d already had enough of the Christmas music that was being played at them, allegedly to get them in the right mood before filming started. The thick layer of artificial snow that lay along the windowsills and covered the ground might look great from a distance but it was jarringly fake when you got closer, especially in an area where snow was so unusual that it tended to cause chaos even if it was only a light sprinkling.

Her head had been throbbing for the last hour and if the helicopter that was doing what they were calling the intro shots came swooping down low one more time then she’d abandon her natural tendency to be law-abiding and encourage Lord Fenton to try to put his threat to shoot the damn thing down if it didn’t stop buzzing him into practice despite the inconvenient fact that she wasn’t sure whether he could do it with a shotgun. As if all that wasn’t bad enough, there were so many cables almost hidden beneath the white crunchy stuff that was mimicking snow that someone was bound to trip and break their neck before the day was out.

Her current run of luck meant that it was likely to be her but that wouldn’t be all bad. Okay, she’d be stuck in hospital but at least the only people who’d be bothering her would be doctors, nurses and visitors who could only come at set times. It was still a pretty drastic way out and she wasn’t really a Grinch so she pasted on a smile and tried yet again to enter into the spirit of things as she made a careful way across the courtyard that had once been a cobbled farmyard. Her spirits finally began to lift as she reached the craft shop but only because it had just struck her that she was almost as bad as her cat Fluffy when it came to handling changes that she hadn’t chosen.

She was better than the cat because she’d learned that you didn’t get paid to pick and choose what you did a long time before she’d reached her half-century, but she’d never been as enthusiastic about what still struck her as being a crazy idea as her boss was. Now her boss was caught up in a happy family emergency so she’d had to delegate the coordination of the whole affair. Amy had been the obvious choice, but no one could ever call her a hyper-organised detail junkie of the sort that they’d need to be if they were to have any chance of staying in anything that remotely resembled control, so it was no wonder that she was feeling so stressed out.

When she forced herself to look at the situation as rationally as the redoubtable Gloria, Countess of Swansmere, who was proud of being exactly that sort of person, had always specialised in doing, Amy could see that this was a wonderful opportunity. All they had to do was survive a couple of weeks of chaos and then millions of people would be able to watch one of the nation’s best-loved crafters learning how to prepare for what she claimed would be the best Christmas ever. She’d be enjoying every second of making a range of projects in the idyllic surroundings of a craft complex that was nestled in the gorgeous grounds of a minor stately home which in turn was situated in the beautiful Dorset countryside. The show would be going out in the first two weeks of December and would be on catch-up TV all the way to Christmas and probably repeated every year for years afterwards, so there’d be plenty of time for people to come and visit the real thing and spend lots and lots of lovely money in the equally lovely shops.

Its star, the allegedly also lovely Meg Betteridge, who overused the word that Amy was starting to hate, would be shown chatting to, watching and working with and learning from the craftsmen who worked at the centre. Almost all of them also sold their wares online so it’d be great for them. It’d be good for Swansmere as well because this sort of publicity was effectively ten half-hour commercials and an hour-long edition for the Sunday. All in all, she could see why Gloria had jumped at the chance to be paid well for doing it and simultaneously raise the profile of their new self-catering cottages and the courses they ran.

Early July was usually relatively quiet so it had made sense to close Swansmere apart from selected regulars who would act the part of casual shoppers whenever they were needed; assuming, of course, that they didn’t die of heat stroke in their Christmassy woolly jumpers first in the way that Amy felt as if she was about to. So really, there was nothing to be grouchy about and she had to pull herself together and get back to her job of being the happy, approachable Centre Manager. Inside the privacy of her mind, though, she had to admit that she’d far rather have hidden somewhere quiet and cool until they’d all gone away and things had gone back to normal.

“There you are, Amy. Have you got a minute?” An all too familiar shout from the young production assistant who seemed to be even more of a dogsbody than she currently felt had reminded her not to tempt fate long before Kip went on plaintively. “We can’t get the snow lorry through the big gates that lead down to the grotto.”

She’d spent the best part of two days with him a few weeks before while they’d measured everything that could be measured. They’d checked the dimensions then and there’d been six inches to spare so she was very tempted to ask ‘what do you expect me to do about it?’ What she actually said was. “What a nuisance for you. I’ll call the estate team right away and get the gate and gatepost taken down.”

She did her best to tune out what were already seeming like inevitable whinges about how they were running behind and this shouldn’t be happening and tried to squash the feeling that it was somehow her fault for not anticipating things that she hadn’t been told about as she made the call. After that she took refuge in a place where no one went without permission for very good reasons that involved lots of potentially dangerous power tools. There were also hand tools with sharp edges and someone who was normally easy going, but who defended his territory like a mama tiger does her kits.

“I suppose it’s got to get worse before it can get any better,” Their talented woodworker and furniture restorer said as he bolted the door behind her as soon as he let her in.“Has Meg Betteridge arrived yet?”

“She’s not due till tomorrow, but her stand in’s arrived and they’re planning to film some indoor shots in the cafe today.” She didn’t add that the poor woman seemed to spend most of her time apologising for her far more famous sister’s absence, because Liam was, obvious as it sounded, a man. And men, in her experience, all too often only saw what they wanted to when it came to women, especially when they were marketed as being a lovable and lovely cross between Nigella Lawson and Kirstie Allsopp. That tunnel vision tended to get narrower still if they wore dresses that showed off substantial assets that might or might not be entirely natural but seemed to be unfairly well preserved for someone who had to be at least in her late forties. Having glossed lips and equally glossy, tossable long wavy chestnut hair never hurt either. Nor did a manner that some people felt was cute and friendly but Amy was already suspecting could turn out to be more than a little on the passive-aggressive side.

She hadn’t met the woman yet so she couldn’t say any of that without sounding like a real bitch and she was pretty sure that she wasn’t usually that sort. She might well be wrong about Meg Betteridge, and if it turned out that she wasn’t then they were being very well paid to create a happy atmosphere so she had no intention of being anything less than a total professional. Besides, everyone else seemed to be throwing themselves into what Meg had described as an adventure of a lifetime when she’d been pitching the idea to Gloria so maybe she had got it all wrong.

Either way, Amy limited herself to swearing that this was the only time that she’d ever let herself be involved in a TV production and didn’t say anything that could be used against her later. That didn’t take any effort or willpower because her mobile had started bleeping for attention yet again. It was bound to be someone who wanted her to do something that she didn’t want to do, didn’t have time to do and almost certainly wouldn’t be able to see the point of doing so it was hard to resist the temptation to throw her phone on the floor and jump up and down on it till the noise stopped forever.

But she was glad that she hadn’t when she saw who it was. Peter Cunningham, her long-term significant other, and next-door neighbour, was, as he’d declared when he heard about the whole kerfuffle, long past the age of being interested in busty brunettes and had made it clear that the only crafty female he loved was the one who lived next door to him and whose bed he was sometimes lucky enough to share, just as she sometimes shared his. He’d even gone so far as to tell Gloria’s husband Piers that he wasn’t sure that the filming was a good idea, which must have taken major courage given Gloria’s well-known steamroller and entrepreneurial tendencies. He hadn’t told Amy what Piers had said in reply, but the Earl of Swansmere had decided to go and visit his daughter and her children for a fortnight that just happened to coincide with the time that the film crew were planning to be on-site so would be escaping in a few hours time.

“Do you need rescuing yet? Say no if you do and yes if you don’t, and then no one will catch you out.” Peter said with ghoulish cheerfulness.

That was so unusual that a few more alarm bells started ringing because Peter was… Well, actually it was so close to impossible to explain him to anyone who didn’t know him well that she wouldn’t have bothered trying in the unlikely event that it had been safe to and the person who had asked her to had a right and need to know. After all, no one would believe her if she said that she’d ended up living next door to a retired James Bond who couldn’t break the habit of investigating stuff that struck him as being odd. Or that he drew her into his investigations even though people thought it was all her fault and he only tagged along after her to try to keep her safe. And sometimes it was because the more often she got involved in sorting things out the more often people seemed to come to her for help. But this was one time when she intended to make sure that anything that went wrong wasn’t going to be her fault and stick firmly to doing her job.

“I ought to say no,” she refused to play his game, not because she didn’t want to, but because there was no point indulging in dreams of escape when she couldn’t leave and shouldn’t be hiding away like this.

“But you don’t want to, do you? You’d like me to sweep you away to somewhere where there aren’t any TV researchers and hardly any reporters or TV crews.”

“What are you up to?” She asked because one thing that she had learned long ago was that things that seemed too good to be true almost always were. She didn’t think that Peter would manipulate her deliberately, but he did have a tendency to play games for the sheer joy of it that she couldn’t cope with on top of everything else.

“Why should I be up to anything?” He proved her right by saying with injured innocence.

“Because you almost always are,” she pointed out as temptation grew, but she lost the opportunity to give into it when she heard a scream from outside and said a hasty. “I’ve got to go. I’ll call you back as soon as I can.”

Liam had reached and unlocked the door while she was heading for it and he was a few yards ahead of her as she went out into the courtyard where a little brown and tan Yorkshire terrier had a bit of what looked to Amy very like wool from a Christmas jumper clamped between its jaws. It also had a nasty smug expression in its beady little eyes as it somehow managed to jump up and down and bark loudly without letting go of it.

“Come on, Bitsy, settle down,” Sue Betteridge was pleading as she tried to get him to calm down enough to let her clip his leash on, but Amy was more interested in poor Chloe, their florist, who was rubbing her enviably small and firm backside.

“What have you done this time?” Liam asked with all the tact and concern that most women can expect from their older brother.

“I was only trying to persuade him not to water my flowers. I wouldn’t have gone anywhere near him if I’d realised that he could jump that high or bite that hard.”

“They shouldn’t be out here. The contract makes it clear that everything has to be Christmassy.” The production assistant who was currently Amy’s main nemesis protested while he stayed out of range of the yappy little horror in a way that suggested that this wasn’t Bitsy’s first crime.

“The contract says that it all has to be Christmassy when filming starts, but the exterior shots aren’t due round here till tomorrow and you aren’t paying me for disruption till then so I need to make as many sales as I can.” Chloe couldn’t be seriously hurt because she’d pulled the filming schedule out of her back pocket and waved it triumphantly under the teenager’s nose as she finished “And there’s nothing in it about being attacked by a nasty little rat of a dog, and we get a lot of children here so you need to keep it under control.”

“Bitsy is Meg Betteridge’s pet.” Kip was stiff with offence.

“Then maybe Meg Betteridge needs to come and control the little….” Chloe clearly saw no reason to back down because she was faced with someone that Peter would have described as having delusions of competency and an overly healthy sense of his own importance. In fact, she was proving that every slanderous comment that Amy had heard about redheads and tempers might just have had a grain of truth behind them after all.

“Are you ok, Chloe? He didn’t break the skin, did he?” Liam intervened while Sue Betteridge was still trying to apologise and Kip was broadcasting offended dignity for all he was worth. “If he did, then I’d better run you across to A&E for tetanus jabs and all that sort of thing.”

“We have on-site first aid,” Kip seemed to have realised that he was outnumbered and outclassed but he still didn’t have the sense to apologise or take any notice of Sue’s desperate attempts to take control of the dog and the situation, let alone try to help her.

“I think he got the jumper more than me.” Chloe conceded as she touched her backside and then brought her hand away without any signs of blood. “But I wasn’t expecting it and you know I don’t like dogs at the best of times.”

“I’ll make sure he’s kept away from you from now on,” Kip promised with all too familiar officiousness. He looked around for someone to foist the job off onto and Amy turned on her heel and headed for the shop before he could decide that she’d be the ideal candidate because she wasn’t all that keen on spoilt yappy little creatures either. Then she turned back when she heard Sue say a relieved.

“Oh, there you are, Lindsay.”

“Let me guess. I’m on rat-catching duties again. Come here you nasty little beastie, and who am I apologising to this time? Whoever it is, I promise you he won’t be allowed off his leash again, and I know I can’t expect you to believe this, but he isn’t such a bad dog when he’s not over-excited and under-exercised.” She took the leash from Sue and bent down and clipped it onto the barking dog’s collar. Bitsy promptly gave up barking and tried for a cute, hangdog look in what looked to Amy very like an attempt to say ‘it wasn’t my fault.’ Unfortunately for him, neither she nor the teenager who was now looping the leash round her fingers with reassuring and absent-minded competence that made it clear that the dog was now very firmly under control was fooled by it.

“Me,” Chloe said but she didn’t sound anything like as angry as she’d been and Liam was now grinning openly. Amy could see why because the speaker was a tall, leggy brunette with the sort of looks that Meg Betteridge probably had to work for hours to get because the crafter had to be at least in her mid-forties no matter how much of a glossy image she showed the world whenever a camera was around.

“Kip will sort out replacing your jumper.” Lindsay went on confidently even though she was a mere runner, so the lowest of the low, and Kip was, as he’d explained to anyone he could get to listen to him, the production assistant and the director’s right-hand man. Amy wasn’t convinced that the director thought that he was anything like as vital as he did, but it was early days so they were all bound to be tense and she really had to start trying to convince herself that this wasn’t a disaster in waiting before her attitude helped to make it exactly that.

“Don’t worry about it. I bought it in a charity shop for a couple of quid and it’s not my usual style so I can’t see myself wearing it again.” Chloe said hastily. “So I’ll be fine if Amy can show me how to darn it so it’ll last through filming. Don’t worry if you can’t or haven’t got time, Amy because I can always tie my apron so it covers the hole.”

“Hand it over and I’ll see what I can do.” She was more than happy to say because it looked as if the crisis was not only past but hadn’t been serious.

Chloe stripped it off and handed it over, leaving her in the comfort of her usual unofficial summer uniform of a white t-shirt and faded, well-fitting jeans which hadn’t got holes in so no serious damage had been done to their owner. Amy slid her fingers under the area by the hem and saw that the damage wasn’t much more than a pulled thread, and the jumper was so big and baggy that her darn should be hidden once Chloe put it back on again, then said a relieved. “I can match the colour if I use tapestry wool so I can have it back to you in half an hour or so.”

“Thanks a million, and I promise I’ll keep him away from you from now on. Right, you little fleabag, let’s see if you’re still as much of a pain once you’ve had a walk down to the woods to see if the reindeer have arrived. I wouldn’t bark at them if I were you because they’ve got nice big antlers that could gut you in seconds.”

Lindsay seemed to be unnaturally in control for someone who couldn’t have been more than eighteen or nineteen, and Bitsy was now so docile that Amy could only watch admiringly as the pair of them ignored the instructions that Kip was giving them while apparently paying close attention to them. She’d bet that Kip wouldn’t have a clue that neither had any intention of doing as he’d told them to, and it was very naughty of her to enjoy watching them running rings around him as much as she was. But there had to be some hope for her because at least she wasn’t making all that many mental notes about the techniques they were using.

“I’d better get on,” Liam said as Chloe headed back into her shop and retreated back to his Den, as he called the old granary that he worked out of. But this time he left the big double doors wide open and Amy hoped that Chloe would be as reassured as she was by the wordless assurance that he’d be keeping a close eye on things from now on.

“Who’s he?” Lindsay asked as she enjoyed the sight of long, lean legs encased in faded denim and a well-muscled torso under an equally well-fitting black t-shirt.

“My brother Liam.” Chloe seemed proud to be able to say.

“I bet he’s taken because the good men always are.”

“I’m not.” Kip pointed out when Chloe nodded in silent commiseration.

“That proves my point, doesn’t it?” The girl said with a wicked grin and then removed herself and the dog before the boy had stopped blushing, let alone worked out how to answer that.

“I really am sorry.” Sue Betteridge said yet again.

“You don’t need to be because you weren’t the one who bit me and I was more shocked than hurt.” Chloe seemed to have gone back to being her normal friendly self now that the dog was under control but Amy still made a mental note to keep a closer eye on the little beastie. Because Chloe had been right to say that they got a lot of children, and there’d be plenty of them around during filming and the last thing they’d need were the sort of injuries that might lead to a court case. “So, what’s due to happen next?” Chloe went on as if to make it clear that the subject was well and truly closed as far as she was concerned.

“I’ll film some of the cake icing with Ruth to get her reaction shots, and then tomorrow we’ll do it all again with Meg, but this time in one long take. It’s an old-fashioned way of doing it, but it worked for the old sitcoms and it’s surprisingly quick as long as you’re prepared to adjust your storyline to fit what’s going on rather than trying to stick to a script. It also gives it a nice spontaneity because what’s happening really is new to Meg.”

And by then, Amy thought as another few of her illusions fell away, Sue would almost certainly have done all of the difficult stuff. No wonder they’d all had to sign confidentiality agreements, but they’d been well paid for doing it and she was far too old and cynical to feel sad that none of this was real - well, apart from the chaos, of course. Besides, as long as filming went smoothly it should all be over in a couple of weeks, which was a very good reason for her to do everything that she could to make sure that it did.

Meanwhile, she needed to check her territory and then ring Peter back and find out what he’d wanted her for. She began to think that she’d been over-reacting when no one seemed to need her when she visited all the shops before she allowed herself that luxury. Duty done, she headed into the craft shop where some of her favourite regulars were sitting in the little workroom, knitting, sewing, beading and chatting while they waited for their moments of glory. She listened to them chat for a while to make sure that no one needed her there either, then collected a bottle of cold water from the fridge and headed into the stockroom where she might just, if she was really lucky, manage to get some privacy to call Peter. She’d put the phone on the loudspeaker while she darned Chloe’s sweater so she wouldn’t feel guilty about indulging herself by doing something she wanted to do for what felt like the first time in days.

“No bodies yet?” He didn’t help himself by asking when he answered.

“Just a yappy little Yorkshire terrier jumping up and nipping Chloe after she told him off. It didn’t break the skin but I hadn’t realised that she didn’t like dogs.”

“Lots of people don’t and terriers can be mean.”

“I don’t think this one is because he settled right down as soon as Sue’s daughter took over. He’s just spoilt and bored and he took it personally when Chloe told him not to wee on her flower buckets.”

“Ah, the exciting world of TV production,” Peter sounded as smug as only someone who didn’t have to deal with it could so she felt justified in saying.

“So, what did you want me for?”

“To see if you could get away, but don’t worry about it because I’m sure it’ll be fine for me to go by myself.”

“What’ll you be doing?” She challenged because she’d long ago learned that the more innocent he sounded, the more trouble he either had found or was hoping to find.

“Going to lunch with the Prince.” He stunned her by saying. “He’s over at Poundbury and he said he’d like to meet you because he’s heard so many good and intriguing things about you. That’s as close to a Royal command as you’re ever likely to get but I’m sure he’ll understand that it’s short notice and he hates TV cameras and press attention so much that he’ll probably send you all his sympathy when I explain what you’ve got landed with.”

“The Prince of Wales wants to meet me?” It was just as well that no one else was around because her voice had gone almost an octave as she’d said that and it had been all she could do not to blurt out ‘but I’m wearing my work stuff and a daft sweater.’

“That’s right. Is there any reason why he shouldn’t?”

Because he’s rich and powerful and he’ll be king someday and I’m a middle aged, and slightly too cuddly ex bank clerk from a little Dorset town that most people have never heard of, she had just enough sense left not to say. Instead, she thanked God for the production team that she’d been cursing a few minutes earlier because it meant that she could say. “I’m sorry, but there really is no way that I can get away,” with a clear conscience.

“Fair enough. Shall I cook tonight?”

“How about if I have something hot at Ruth’s for lunch and we just have salad tonight?” She countered before saying goodbye to him because her partner was enviably lean and not quite handsome in that ageless upper-class sort of way that makes it hard to tell whether a man is forty or seventy but she had to watch her weight if she wasn’t to go beyond cuddly and into ‘risk to health’ territory. His well-cut hair had a bit more silver in it than it had had when she’d first met him but the rest of it was so fair that it didn’t show unless the sunlight caught it. It only made him seem more distinguished when you did notice it, which was yet more proof that life wasn’t fair.

Thinking of appearances meant that she nipped into the loo and ran a brush through her choppy reddish-brown bob and topped up her lipstick to make sure that she looked as good as she could while she was representing Swansmere. For once, she’d got her timing right because five minutes later she followed the others out of the shop as they heard the call to come to the set and headed across to the cafe that also ran cookery courses and a freezer filling service.

Ruth ruled the place with a mostly benevolent rod of iron so it was going to be interesting to see how she and Meg got on; as long as you could watch them from a safe distance. Thankfully, Sue was really sweet and bent over backwards to put people at ease so there shouldn’t be any trouble there. Apart, of course, from Ruth having to work with fondant icing that kept going sticky under the lights and Amy having to keep going in and out of the kitchen while the cameraman got his angles right even though she hadn’t expected to have her first moment of so-called glory till the morning.

That, she had to admit, as long as it was only to herself, was the real problem. She’d never wanted to be on screen and was horribly aware that Gloria would not only have done it so much better but had wanted to do it so much that she’d promised her that she wouldn’t have to do any of this side. And it wasn’t Gloria’s fault that she couldn’t do it because her son and his partner had been desperate to have kids for years. They’d recently applied to foster and had not only been approved unexpectedly quickly but offered a chance to care for a pair of kids whose special needs had turned out to be more severe than they’d been warned. They needed and deserved all the help they could get as they all settled down together so of course she’d volunteered to keep things running at Swansmere. It definitely wasn’t Gloria’s fault that she was now wishing that she hadn’t because she couldn’t see what else either of them could have done.

“All you’ve got to do is say ‘Hi, how’s it going.” Lucy, the producer said so kindly that she must be making even more of a mess of it than she’d realised. “Just pretend it’s the three of you and me and this horrible mob aren’t here.”

“Okay.” Amy chalked up another personal victory by not snapping or giving in to the temptation to point out that it was next to impossible to ignore two cameramen, one sound engineer, one cable puller and clapperboard operator, one camera assistant who doubled as a clapper loader, whatever that was, and a gaggle of other people who were doing God only knew what. There was no way out that didn’t involve throwing up or pretending to faint so she took a deep breath, then walked out and took another one. Neither of them had helped much and it was hard not to grit her teeth as she headed in again and over to the counter, lifted the flap and headed into Ruth’s gorgeous stainless steel kitchen and duly said her line while wondering how it could be so hard to say ‘how’s it going?’ when she said it what felt like hundreds of times a day without thinking about it.

“Great thanks, Amy, and this is going to be gorgeous.” Sue enthused with what seemed like genuine pleasure even though she’d already said it half a dozen times. “It’s so simple, yet so effective. Have you worked here long, Ruth?”

“I’ve run the cafe here for more than twenty years,” Ruth seemed as confident as if she’d been on camera all her life as she gave an edited version of Swansmere’s history that didn’t include anything about what some unkind people called the Curse of Swansmere. And that wasn’t fair when they’d only had three murders in the last five years. She’d admit that that was three more than most stately homes had ever had, but none of them had been anyone here’s fault, and least of all Amy’s. She’d just got caught up in sorting them out, just as she’d got caught up in this after everyone had promised her that she wouldn’t have to. So maybe her beloved but bossy older sister was right to claim that she might as well have had the words ‘gullible mug’ tattooed on her forehead.

More importantly, Ruth was covering a fruit cake that had already been marzipanned with a layer of fondant and smoothing it down in a way that Amy knew was nothing like as easy as it looked. She’d rolled it out on non stick baking parchment rather than the board that Amy usually used, which had made it far much easier to move and position. It also gave a lovely smooth finish without any of the fingerprints that Amy always seemed to end up with when she tried to ice her Christmas cake so she intended to try doing it herself when the real Christmas came.

“Ooh, little reindeer; just like your reindeer down in the grotto,” Sue said as she picked up the little plastic models and held them so that the camera could zoom in on them. “They’re gorgeously retro, and so practical because who has time for fondant modelling at Christmas? Obviously, it’s fun to get the kids to do it, but it’s good to have something like this on hand in case it doesn’t work out or they come down with a cold at just the wrong moment. Where did you find them?”

“Most supermarkets get them in from October onwards, or there’s always the internet and it’s easy to make them look a bit special.” Ruth picked up a cocktail stick and went on cheerfully. “Do you fancy having a go at this? See, it’s easy.” She made a couple of quick jabs and then Sue did the same and there was a trail of reindeer footprints and sledge marks behind the sleigh and reindeer. A couple of little plastic pine trees and a snowman and a dusting of icing sugar completed the surprisingly effective scene and Amy was more than happy to ooh and aah over it because it looked like the cakes that she remembered from her childhood.

“And cut. Good work everyone.” Lucy said in her usual bouncy, upbeat way. “With any luck there’ll be a national shortage of plastic reindeer for the papers to blame us for while they give us loads of lovely free publicity.” She glanced at her watch, frowned, and then went on. “Shall we do the truffles after lunch, Sue? And are you okay if we all have an early lunch, Ruth?”

“That’s fine by me,” Sue said, and Ruth seemed more than happy to get back to what she called her proper job by getting out the spread that she’d spent most of the morning preparing. And her reputation for simple cooking that used good local ingredients and enough butter and cream to give any dieter nightmares was legendary in the area so everyone else was about to be very happy too.

The buffet lunch that she’d done for the crew and extras was ready within ten minutes and Amy was amongst those who were falling on it like a flock of vultures on a corpse. Only that was one analogy that she definitely wasn’t going to use again because nothing was going to happen this time. Nothing at all. Just because it always seemed to these days didn’t mean that it had to now and the more she tried to convince herself of that, the more she could sense it heading their way.


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