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"The past is always with us" is now available on Amazon Kindle

And here's a sneaky peak at the latest Amy Hammond

CHAPTER 1


“Is it so very wicked of me to want to have a tiny little bit of my life that’s just for me? And maybe a way for me to earn some money of my own someday? I know Miles keeps saying that he couldn’t look after the twins anything like as well as I do and that everything is ours not his, but I still feel… well, unequal.”

Oh yes, it’s evil. Your every thought should revolve around your children not only now but for as long as you live. What’s more, you should constantly be on your knees while you grovel to your husband because he has more than enough money to keep all of you living very comfortably for the foreseeable future. While you’re down there, you ought to be a lot more grateful that you don’t have to do what most women do and go back to work as soon as your maternity leave’s up while watching every penny. Better still, you can afford the very best nursery in the nicest part of town along with anything else you fancy, Amy thought more or less flippantly but, obviously, she didn’t say any of it.

Instead, she bent her head to hide her expression and cut off a few more lengths of thread from the reel that she’d threaded a dozen or so needles onto earlier that morning. But it really didn’t seem fair that Bethie was letting off steam when she’d decided to work at home so that she could get on with making her samples for the quilting course that would be starting uncomfortably soon because people kept interrupting her at the shop. After that, she reminded herself that Bethie was only just twenty-one and had thrown her heart and soul into caring for the twins who were currently at that excellent nursery for the very first time. She was bound to be struggling with such a drastic change in her life so she limited herself to a gentle.

“I think it’s only natural.”

“Did you ever feel like that when you were looking after Gran and Grandad? I know you were working as well and I sound like a real whinger who doesn’t realise how lucky she is, and I do know that I’m lucky but…” She glanced down at the new iPhone that was resting in her lap, exactly as it had been since she’d arrived at Amy’s house an hour and a half before, double checked that it had a signal and that no messages had been received or calls missed. Then, Amy suspected, she used all her willpower to resist checking in with the nursery as she’d already done twice since her unexpected arrival.

“That was different. It all happened so gradually that I didn’t think about whether I wanted to be a carer while there’d have been time to change anything and in the last year or so I didn’t have time to think about anything except getting through each day without forgetting anything too essential. Your mum did her best but she was so busy that she couldn’t have helped any more than she did and your Uncle Neil was in Canada so there wasn’t anyone else who could do it. That meant that all I could do was get on with it and be grateful that the bank could give me those months of unpaid leave and I had the savings to make it possible to be there for them at the end, the way they’d been there for me all my life.”

She confessed quietly because this was something she’d thought about a lot over the last few years, albeit not in this context. After that, she shoved some memories that she’d rather not revisit back into a nice dark corner of her mind and made the effort to smile as she finished.

“Then they died within days of each other and I went back to work because I couldn’t see what else I could do. But everything felt as if it had changed so when the Bank started looking for volunteers for redundancy, all I could think was ‘there has to be more than life to this.’ I took it and promised myself that there would be, and then I found myself in an entirely different rut.”

“But then Peter came along and you started finding bodies and now you’re together and you look years younger and you’ve got a great job. Even Mum approves of how much you’ve changed so there must be hope for me but I don’t want stuff like crime and corpses.” Bethie grinned so unrepentantly that Amy considered demoting her from her usual status of favourite niece despite being glad that she’d cheered up.

“I have only ever found one body.” She protested as she gave the official version of events that halved the number of bodies that she’d actually found. Then she picked up another pair of half-square triangles and began taking tiny precise stitches without needing to estimate the quarter-inch seam that she’d advise her students to mark on the fabric with a pencil until they got used to it.

“Why aren’t you using your machine?”

“Because the point of this course is that you don’t have to buy anything expensive until you’re convinced that you want to get into quilting. They’ll buy the fabric they need for each month before each session starts or bring their own and if they decide that it’s not for them at any point then I’ll show them how to make the block into a cushion so nothing’s wasted. Or it could be a lap quilt if they last a bit longer, but there’ll never be a sense of failure. They’ll simply have gone as far as they want to, and with any luck, some people will make it the whole way through and then come in for one of the sewing groups so they can chat while they work and either take more courses or learn from YouTube or books or each other. Or not learn anything new at all, if that’s what they’d rather because there are twelve blocks in this quilt so you could make a lucky thirteen quilts before you started repeating anything with different fabrics.”

Making sure you didn’t need to spend a lot of cash until you were sure this was the right hobby for you was one of the guiding principles of the craft centre that she helped to run and helped to explain why its courses were so popular. It also gave Amy a way to try to distract her niece by asking. “Have you decided which course you’re going to use your voucher for yet?” because Bethie’s parents had bought her it as a gift to mark the momentous transition for the twins.

Amy was also as aware as she was sure that Bethie was that it was intended to be a subtle hint that she needed to stop being what her mother described as consumed by motherhood. That was typical of Laura, but it didn’t seem fair to Amy, because having two babies at once was bound to be harder work than having one.

“They all look lovely, but I don’t want to commit to anything until I’m sure they’ve settled in properly. Even then, they could easily pick up some sort of bug and then share it around so maybe it’d be better to wait a bit.” Bethie frowned and tugged at a strand of her enviably long and shiny hair, which was out of its usual ponytail or plait while there was no one around to pull it or dribble - or worse- over it “What if nursery doesn’t work? What if they’re traumatised?”

“What if you wake up tomorrow morning and find that the sun’s forgotten to rise and a herd of wild elephants have broken into your garden and eaten all your plants?” Amy not only couldn’t resist saying but wasn’t at all repentant when her niece glared at her for almost a minute before she laughed a little helplessly.

“All right, all right. I know I’m being daft and I’m sorry, but…”

“But they’ve become the centre of your world so it’s bound to be hard to watch them go off without you for the very first time and you’re a great mum and I’m sorry, but I’m afraid I’m not the right person to give you advice on this.”

It wasn’t that Amy minded never having had children because the girl who’d been sitting in her living room with her cat on her lap while she scoffed her chocolate biscuits had always been close to her and so had her sister. Bethie’s husband had also made it clear that he considered her a big part of his chosen family and there were other youngsters that she’d got to know more recently who came to her when they wanted a sympathetic ear and, she liked to think, the benefit of her wisdom and experience. That meant that she had all the fun parts of parenting and Great Aunting without too much of the angst that she’d been dealing with for the last hour and a half while she’d been reminded how lucky she was.

“Which course do you think I ought to do?” Bethie asked without commenting on that.

“You were always good at art, so…”

“Not drawing. I want to do something that I might be able to make into a little business. I’ll never be as good at quilting as you are so that’s out too but two of the mum’s at baby yoga have signed up for your course and they’re really looking forward to it.”

Amy bit back the temptation to say that she wasn’t looking forward to her first foray into teaching and still couldn’t see how she’d found herself doing it because that’d sound cheap and churlish. After all, she had won a prize at a major quilt show with one of her quilts, and lots of people not only came to her for advice but kept coming back so she must be doing something right.

So maybe Gloria and Peter were right and she was the only person who couldn’t see how far she’d come since she’d been a scared beginner who’d taken completely the wrong course and been so far out of her depth that it was a miracle that she’d gone on with it? That had been a gift from Laura too, so she’d make sure that she didn’t ‘encourage’ Bethie into anything until she was ready for it.

There again, it could be so hard to tell when you were ready for something that sometimes you needed someone to give you that initial push. That applied to her as well because she wasn’t sure if she was heading in the right direction or where she wanted to go next. It wasn’t that she was unhappy because she loved her job as a sidekick and general facilitator to Lady Fenton who was transforming the Swansmere Estate from a bottomless pit into which money vanished at a rate that must have given a succession of bank managers nightmares to a hub for a growing variety of thriving small businesses. It was just that it took up far more of her life than she’d expected it to when she’d been thrilled to be offered a part-time job at Swansmere and she’d increasingly had the feeling that Peter wished that it didn’t.

That was yet another problem about being in a relationship with someone who very rarely talked about his feelings, and that was yet another thing that she hadn’t meant to do but was very happy that she had. So maybe she would take to teaching like a duck to water rather than a duck to newly laid concrete. Not all the disasters that had been haunting her nightmares since she’d said she’d do it could happen. Probably none of them would and someday she’d look back on all this and laugh at how daft she’d been. Someday soon would be nice, but she had a feeling that she wasn’t going to get that lucky.

“Oh, that’s nice.” Bethie breathed as Amy unpinned her finished block and held it up to check that all the seams were straight and the pieces met at the corners and were in the right places and admire the simple yet complicated-looking piecing of what would be the fifth block of her sampler quilt. “I love the colours. Sort of shabby chic.”

“We’re running a course on something like that in a few weeks’ time, although furniture upcycling strikes me as being a posh name for something very old-fashioned.” Once, it had been the sort of make-do and mend that most young couples had had to practise when they moved into their own home. They’d bought the best that they could afford from auctions or second-hand shops; or had been given it if they were really lucky, and used paint and fabric to make it feel like theirs. Not her though, because she hadn’t moved out of the family home until her parents had died and a fair amount of her new furniture had come courtesy of the insurance company following circumstances that she really didn’t want to think about. Yet again she hadn’t consciously changed and she’d have to watch it or she’d get herself in as much of a state as Bethany already had. That proved the unfairness of life yet again because Bethany seemed far happier as she said.

“I saw that one, and Miles laughed like a drain when I told him about it.”

“So did I until I met the man who’s running it and saw some of his work. He’s got this sewing box footstool that he’s repaired, reupholstered and repolished and he showed me the pictures of it when he’d bought it and I couldn’t believe that it was the same thing that he’d picked up at a car boot sale for a fiver. He reckoned that all he’d needed was a screwdriver, some wood glue, cleaning stuff, sandpaper, some material and polish and a bit of time.”

“His stuff did look beautiful.” Bethie glanced at her phone yet again, then smiled when it pinged with an image of two dark-haired children playing happily in a sand pit with a couple of other kids who looked about the same age, none of whom were crying or hitting anyone else.

She showed it to Amy, who duly admired it and then fished her iPad out of the oversized bag that usually had to carry enough stuff for either a small army or two adventurous toddlers and called up the craft centre website. A few clicks from there brought her to Liam Gordon’s website and a far more contented silence fell as Amy picked up the next batch of pieces that she’d cut the night before and began to turn them into a finished quilt block, and then smaller sections of it so that people could see how it went together and what it ought to look like at each stage.

Tomorrow, she’d lay out all the blocks and blocks in progress on one of the big tables at the craft centre and photograph them, all ready to become part of the course notes. Once those were finished they’d be sent to the printers to be turned into a professional-looking booklet, which meant that she had to finish them today if they were to be back in time to be displayed in the shop, cafe and barn. Or, she accepted not as reluctantly as she probably should have done, more likely late tonight, because she could recognise the signs of an absorbed Bethie and was pretty sure what was going to happen next well before her niece said.

“It says that you need to bring your own piece of furniture and the big Heart Foundation Shop in Westerham has all sorts of stuff, but you’re busy, aren’t you?”

“Yes, but I can easily finish it this evening and it’d be nice to have a look at what’s available in case people ask me where they can find stuff,” Amy said because she’d just finished a length of thread and, to be honest, she’d had all the agonising that she could take. Besides, it was a lovely day after weeks of the sort of weather where no one sane went outdoors for a minute more than they had to be. Maybe they could have a coffee and a bite to eat while they were out and she’d be able to distract herself from her own worries by concentrating on Bethie’s. In her experience, a lot of problems tended to solve themselves if you got on with life and stopped picking at them like a spot, so this would probably be the best thing for both of them.


“I don’t know what to choose,” Bethie said an hour later as she stroked a coffee table that must have been the height of fashion seventy years ago before wandering back to the far end of the shop to take another look at a chest of drawers that reminded Amy of the stuff that had been in her grandparents’ house. Heavy dark wood, deep drawers, bun feet and, currently at least, looking scratched and worn and unloved, with wobbly handles and the remains of a poor paint job that suggested that someone had already tried to renovate it. “It’s got to be this one.” She said decisively. “I can imagine it in our room, all white and crisp and with a matching mirror standing on top of it like that one over there.”

“Shouldn’t you check with Miles first?” Amy asked although she already knew that Miles would be more than happy to agree to anything that stopped his wife endlessly rehashing the whole question of their children starting at day nursery. As far as he was concerned, if the twins were happy there then they’d gradually build up to more days as they got older and if they weren’t then they’d come out and they’d try somewhere else instead. And if Bethie wanted a nanny so she could do her own thing or go to University or whatever else she fancied or for him to do more then he was cool about that too, so Amy could see why feeling ungrateful was so close to the top of Bethie’s ‘to worry about’ list.

“I’ve already sent him a picture on Snapchat and he thinks it’s a great idea,” Bethie said cheerfully and then headed off to find the sales assistant. Amy watched her go and then went back to trying to resist the temptation of a footstool cum sewing box that looked very like the one that Liam had renovated. She didn’t have time for any more hobbies and there was no guarantee that she’d be any good at it, but Liam’s updated box had been so beautiful and it’d help to stop her sewing from taking over her lounge. It also had a lock, which could be very useful now that the twins were so much more mobile and curious about everything. And it was only ten pounds and the money would be going to such a good cause and…


“I think I’m beyond hope.” She admitted happily to Peter Cunningham that evening when he arrived for his supper and noticed the new addition to her furniture.

“I think most people worked that out when you took up with me.” He said as he lifted the lid and looked at the tattered fabric lining, then closed it again, presumably because he’d smelt the unmistakable aroma of furniture that had languished in a shed or garage for years. Once she’d finished her samples she’d give it a really good scrub on the next fine day and pop it outside so that it could air and dry thoroughly before she got started on it. Or more likely, she admitted ruefully and in the safety of her head where no one could tease or lecture her, she’d end up putting it under the stairs or in the garage to await that elusive someday when she’d have more time.

“Don’t be so daft.” She began, then took a closer look at him and asked. “What’s happened?”

“Nothing exactly, and it’s worrying me.” He headed across to the window and glanced out at the street in the way that was automatic for him but reminded her yet again that she’d begun this strange relationship when a nothing like as retired as he claimed he wanted to be James Bond had moved in next door. He claimed that he’d been set on a peaceful, solitary and preferably dull life but they’d got to know each other because they’d been trying to return the cat who’d lived in what was now his house to her former pet humans. The cat had had other ideas, so in the end, they’d decided that they might as well adopt her between them since she was so much happier on familiar territory. That had led to a friendship and then they’d fallen in love gradually, and without any conscious intention on either of their parts that she’d been aware of.

It had taken a while for both of them to realise that that was what they’d done but now they were happily not living together and sharing their cat and their space whenever it suited them. Sometimes she got fed up with the number of people who thought that they should be moving in together and/or getting married but that was the only real downside to their relationship so Bethany was almost certainly not the only one who kept wasting time worrying about things that might never happen. It looked as if Peter had been doing it too which was so unusual that she wasn’t smiling as she said. “Please don’t tell me that you’re worrying because there isn’t any trouble?”

She was enjoying everyday life all the more because it was such a contrast to the dramas that they’d survived, but that sort of thing had once been everyday life for him so she could see why he could be pining for it.

“Not precisely, but maybe I’m like Bethany and need a new hobby.”

“Don’t you already have enough to do?” He might regularly claim to be retired and dedicated to a life of sloth and self-indulgence but he volunteered to assist a dizzying number of causes that needed someone with a gift for organising and an ability to get things done without treading on toes and was every bit as busy as she was.

“Not really.”

“It’s spring and you’re clearly ready to spread your wings, so how about some hill walking? Drew said we were welcome any time and I’ve got some holiday time to use up.”

“Would you like to go up to Wales?”

“I’m asking you what you want to do.” She pointed out just a little more sharply than she should have done, but he only smiled his best deceptively gentle and harmless smile and said.

“And I wish you hadn’t because I don’t know what I want. I know I swore that I didn’t want to be involved any more, but…”

“You miss it?” That wasn’t news to her by a long way, but it was quite possible that it was only just occurring to him. For someone who was so good at working out other people’s motives and manipulating their emotions, he could be amazingly poor at understanding his own. When it came to handling his emotions he was still firmly in the denying that they existed and keeping himself too busy to have time to think stage.

“Not miss it exactly, but it became normal without me noticing it.” He said what had felt like a long time later. “And I haven’t spoken to Colin or Becky for weeks; which is good because it means that whatever they’re doing is going well.”

“Yes.” She limited herself to saying because the two young spooks, for want of a better word to describe them, had become friends since Peter had begun to share what they said was his knowledge and experience and he always claimed was the result of a lifetime spent making mistakes and then muddling through and picking up the pieces as best as he could. She knew that was an understatement because she’d seen repeated evidence of the way that his ability to spot and deal with incoming trouble had made him a legend in the intelligence world until he’d walked away and vanished. People called him the Old Master and got very nervous whenever he turned up. Most of them wouldn’t have believed that he could ever have these sorts of doubts or be indecisive so she wasted a second or so gloating that she was one of the very few people who knew him well enough for him to allow himself to be vulnerable with them.

“I expect it’s just because a couple of projects have come to an end.” Peter went on so briskly that she knew the brief flash of vulnerability was being well and truly covered up. “The aircraft museum have got their grant and the police/Polish community integration project’s been taken over by the Polish community. All good, all how it should be. Jobs done and on to the next thing.”

She didn’t need him to say that that was how he’d always operated or that it wasn’t feeling like enough any more and wasn’t surprised when he went on.

“What hours are you working this week?”

“Nothing fixed, because we’ve got cover in the shop all week, but I’ve got to get the last of my course materials sorted and photographed. I’d love a hand with that if you’ve got some spare time because you’re so much better with a camera than I am.”

“So we could go away before your course starts?” He wandered across to the table at the dining end of her long l-shaped living room and looked at the blocks that she’d got laid out. “It’s like a jigsaw puzzle.” He murmured and then surprised her by adding. “Wouldn’t it be nice if life fitted together that easily?”

“Do you want to go back?” She’d been wondering if he would want to go back to his old world ever since his former partner had come back into his life almost two years before but somehow it had never been the right time to ask him before. This almost certainly wasn’t the right time either but this was one time when his habit of easing gracefully around potentially difficult issues until he found a way to present them as a fait accompli that the other party had already agreed to in tiny steps could be disastrous for them.

“God no.” He said gratifyingly quickly. “It’s just… oh, shall I get that for you?”

She nodded as he headed for the phone that had picked such a convenient moment from his point of view to ring. The chances were it’d be someone who wanted to sell her something that she didn’t want to buy and it was always fun to listen to him dealing with unwanted callers. He was never rude but he either span a net of words that left them tied up in knots and desperate to escape or made it crisply clear that their services were not required and he would rather that they didn’t call again; which they usually didn’t.

“Yes, she’s here, Bethie.” He proved her wrong by saying and then put the phone on speaker so that she could hear the familiar and currently excited voice.

“The Heart Foundation delivered my chest of drawers about an hour ago and the twins are shattered and sound asleep and Miles is working late so I went into the garage to have a look at it and you’ll never guess what I found.”

“Go on,” Amy said, with her fingers firmly crossed that it wouldn’t mean trouble because she didn’t have the time for it. Just this once, she wanted life to be how she’d once taken for granted that it would be and for people to be what they said they were and not up to no good. And if they were up to no good then she wanted them to do it without involving her so that she could get on with her life without having to worry about people trying to hurt her or the people she cared about. That wasn’t so much to ask, was it? She’d taken it for granted for most of the first fifty years of her life and it was just as well that Peter couldn’t read minds or he’d have been smiling at her contradictory nature because the part of her that wasn’t dreading trouble was stupidly excited as her niece went on.

“I’d been reading up on furniture restoration on the net so I started by taking all the drawers out so the whole piece could air and I could see what needed doing. This envelope and a photo must have been jammed down the back of a drawer because they fell out. It’s got an old first-class stamp on it… can you imagine when they only cost twelve pence?”

Amy could remember it clearly, but she made a vague encouraging noise which hadn’t been necessary because Bethie was already hurrying on.

“And I couldn’t resist opening it and there’s the saddest letter inside. It sounds like a real Romeo and Juliet situation because she’s writing to this boy because her parents have forbidden her from ever seeing him again. It sounds like something out of an old book and the pictures must be of them so I think she hid it for some reason and it never got sent. She’s got big curly hair and this incredible baggy orange t-shirt that looks as if it’d glow in the dark and massive hoop earrings and he’s wearing a tight white t-shirt and looks like every cliche of the handsome bad boy all rolled into one. They’re the little square ones that you get from those photo booths you use for season tickets and passports and stuff, so I think they were probably messing around when they took them, but they’re really sweet.”

Amy didn’t need to imagine that sort of parental crackdown because she was all too aware that it had happened then and still happened in some communities today. Thankfully, Bethie’s parents had always let their girls find their own way and provided such an effective safety net that their daughters had taken their freedom for granted as they grew into three confident and competent, but very different women.

“Anyway, I thought it’d be fun to try to trace her and give her back the letter and picture but I’m not sure where to start.” Bethie finished.

“Ring the charity shop and ask them if they keep a record of donations,” Peter said apparently without needing to think about it. “They probably won’t give you the address, but you could put them in an envelope with a note from you and then stick a stamp on it, and drop it into the shop for them to add the address and post on.”

“But I want to know what happened.” There were times when Bethie could sound very young and ever so slightly whiny, but Amy could forgive her that because she’d have felt the same way if she hadn’t been so busy.

“Maybe she won’t want to be reminded,” Peter said when he must have realised that she wasn’t going to say anything. “Maybe they’ve forgotten it and each other long ago and will be upset or embarrassed.”

“Aren’t you curious? You usually are.” Bethie sounded so deflated that Amy felt guilty even though she knew that she had nothing to feel guilty about. Maybe Peter felt the same way because he said.

“Why don’t you bring it around sometime and we’ll have a look at it together? When are the twins at nursery again?”

“The day after tomorrow.”

“I’m at work then,” Amy said quickly. “And I’m going in tomorrow too.”

“Oh great! Could I come and talk to the man who’s running the course? Mum’s said that she’ll have the twins for a couple of hours and I want to see some of his stuff and discuss what I want to do before I sign up. I know it says we can store our piece in his workshop if it’s too big to lug to and fro, but…”

But Bethie was, as Amy knew from bitter experience and to put it as kindly as she could, more than a little on the impatient side. She wanted to get started and prove herself and maybe meeting Liam would distract her enough that she’d give up the idea of tracing some poor people who might have forgotten all about a doomed love affair. There again, they might have overcome the odds and married each other and now be growing older comfortably together and would love to have the reminders. It was so hard to tell what the right thing to do was, which was no less infuriating for being nothing new.

“I’m not sure if he’ll be in.” She prevaricated. “And if he is, then he might be busy.” Actually, she was pretty sure that he would be but he was so good-natured that he’d probably let Bethie trample all over him and she didn’t want that when he was only just starting out in business for himself.

“But you could find out in the morning and ring me, couldn’t you?”

“Sure…” Amy said because there really wasn’t anything else that she could say. Besides, Liam was a grown man who needed the cash that would come from having students for his course but didn’t need her hovering over him like a mother hen. And the letter didn’t automatically have to mean trouble and if part of her wondered who she was kidding then she had so much to do that it was relatively easy to ignore it.



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