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First pages

Prologue

Nobody knew that Lara's last thoughts as she lay in her hospital bed at Eastbourne General had been massive regret at not securing her charges' future more thoroughly. Her illness had crept up on her. One moment she'd been able to carry on as normal, the next, calling for an ambulance as she'd struggled to breathe. At least the ambulance staff had been very good about locking up behind her. It gave her a crumb of comfort that she knew the estate was secure. She remembered thinking that the last thing she'd want to come back to was a burglary, not realising at the time that she wouldn't be going back, that she'd had her last glimpse of the place that had been her home for the whole of her life.

She'd been born in Bailey's Park, grown up amongst the flower gardens, the large ponds, and the creatures. As a little girl, she'd played with pixies and fairies as well as getting into mischief with the elves and dressing up the poor griblets in her doll's clothes. After her parents had died, she'd taken on the role of protector, supplying the creatures with basics, food that they couldn't produce themselves, as well as medical care and even the odd bag of nails. Her father had always stressed the importance of keeping them secret, a lesson that she'd taken to heart and followed to the letter, especially after breaking his rule about allowing them into the house. That had proven to be a dreadful mistake, after which she'd heeded all the advice that he'd handed down before he'd died.

She lay listening to the beeps of the machines, wondering if she'd done the right thing, not sharing their existence more widely. Only the medic, Ms Rummage, had ever seen any of them, and she'd been sworn to secrecy. Their previous doctor, Dr Fraser, who was Ms Rummage's uncle, had only confided in her once his cancer had become terminal and he was near the end.

Lara knew she should have contacted Daniel and warned him of what was to come. She'd written him a letter, but hadn't managed to post it. She didn't even know if the address was right, as she hadn't spoken to Marie and John, his parents, for quite a few years, and when she'd tried to phone, their number had been dead. There'd always seemed plenty of time. In truth, she loathed the thought of having to confide their existence to another human, having left Ms Rummage's enlightenment to Dr Fraser.

As she lay in the boiling hot room, gasping for every breath, she wondered if she should tell the nice blonde-haired nurse who had propped her up on a pyramid of pillows, helped her drink a nectar-like sip of cool water, and press the button on the morphine driver as Lara's heartbeat began to fade away. She spotted the girl, bustling down the corridor bearing a tray. She looked kind. There was no more time to wait, she decided.

She tried to tell the nurse, but unfortunately by that time, she was unable to speak. Only the merest whisper came out of her lips. The nurse would've put her mutterings down to the strong drugs she'd been given to ease the pain of her illness, she reasoned. She could only pray that Daniel would come through, that Hargreaves would do as she'd asked and find him.

 

The nurse gently pulled the sheet over Lara's head, covering her body until the porter could come and take her body to the hospital morgue. She set about clearing away her things. The clothes they'd taken from her were placed unceremoniously into a black bag, along with her bag, glasses, and the string of pearls she'd been wearing when they'd brought her in. "Who's the next of kin?" She asked the administrator who was waiting impatiently for the bed to be freed up for a new admission, currently on a trolley in the casualty department. She glanced at the file in front of her.

"No next of kin, just a solicitor's name to deliver her stuff to. Body's being taken to King's College for the students to work on." She paused to read her notes. "You live near Heathfield, don't you?"

The nurse nodded.

"Could you drop the bag off on your way home? Save me getting a courier? You know how tight our budget is."

Jane, the nurse, nodded. "No problem." She glanced over to the tiny body laying under the sheet. "So, the poor old girl didn't have a single soul in the world to even come see her?" The administrator shook her head.

"Well, I'm glad I held her hand as she passed then," Jane said firmly, placing the black bag in the corner of the room, out of the way as the porter arrived.

Chapter One

Pandora didn't know that Lara had died. At the precise moment Lara took her last breath, Pandora was swigging back a large mouthful of the cider that Bezos made every year after the apples dropped from the trees in the orchard. She'd been singing along to the griblet band, a group of particularly talented musicians, as griblets usually are, taking a break from the wild dancing she'd been doing a few songs prior. Eloise was still up dancing, her long, pale hair flaying as she boogied with the pixies to the griblet's version of 'All the Single Ladies'.

It wasn't their fault; Lara hadn't told them that she was ill. They'd seen her shrivel with age, even resorting to using a stick to walk from the house down to the folly, but she'd never seen fit to enlighten them as to the realities of how frail and ill she really was, certainly never burdening them with her worries and fears. In Pandora and Eloise's world, nobody aged, they only died from disease or war, which never happened in Bailey's Park, as it was isolated from the world by a high stone wall and Lara.

As the song drew to a close, Eloise flopped down next to her on the mossy seat, which the pixies had fashioned into a sort of sofa shape. Pandora grinned at her before pushing Eloise's wild, white hair off her face. "The griblets are great tonight, aren't they?" Pandora said. Eloise nodded enthusiastically. She always preferred their covers to the originals which they'd played on the wind-up radio that Lara had given them. The griblets, although small and strange-looking, had an impeccable sense of rhythm and could tweak almost any song to make it brilliant for dancing. They'd recently learnt to rap too, which everyone liked.

The campfire crackled merrily in the centre of the folly, which had half its roof missing, removed by the pixies so that it didn't get too smoky while they were burning the firewood that the griblets collected for them each morning. As the flames leapt about, pixies danced, drank, and laughed at their own jokes. They were the educated ones, the practical men and women who organised life in the woods. It was thanks to the industrious nature of the pixie-folk that Pandora and Eloise were well-fed, had plenty of delicious cider and blackberry wine, and also the trappings of a modern, civilised woodland society.

As the sun began to peep across the horizon, Pandora took another swig of cider and got up to dance before it got too light, and the griblets would have to stop singing and start their morning chores. Her long black hair bounced as she danced around the fire, her jet-black wings safely tucked into a black bow to stop them getting in the way, or worse, catching fire. It had happened to Eloise once, the edges of her snowy-white wings turning brown and crispy when she'd danced too close to the flames. It'd taken ages to grow out.

They spun round and round, the beat from the drum surging through their slender bodies, commanding their movements, lifting their feet and forcing their arms into the air in tribute to its seductive bidding. As the music stopped, they both flopped down onto the ground to get their breath back. "I feel a bit sick," Pandora admitted. "It must've been all that slug casserole I ate for dinner," she said, ignoring the fact that she'd drunk eight cups of cider that night.

"Best sleep in the tree then," Eloise suggested. "I don't want you throwing up in the cabin again. Remember last time? It took ages to get poor Draco cleaned up." They both began to laugh at the memory of Pandora being sick over their pet dragon. The griblets had terrible trouble picking the glittery slime out from between his scales. He'd stunk too.

Bezos interrupted them by thrusting a plate of roasted beetles under their noses. Pandora waved it away, too nauseous to eat, but Eloise took a handful and crunched one between her teeth. "Where's Lara?" Pandora wailed. "She hasn't been back since the white box with the blue light took her away. That was three sleeps ago." She'd sat and watched it happen from the top of the Tall Tree. Draco had flown her up there to get a better view.

Eloise simply looked sympathetic, being unable to reply with her mouth full of roast beetle, which was delicious. "What if she never comes back?" Pandora wailed. "We might never get a cheesy Wotsit again. Imagine that? Never again experiencing the cheesy, puffy goodness of a Wotsit. We'd have to survive on just the pixie food."

Eloise could only shrug due to the beetle being wrapped around her teeth. She sucked on them frantically. "I mean, who would supply us with treats? Fabric for new dresses? Chocolate?" Pandora went on as Eloise used her finger to prise the chewy inside of the beetle off her incisors.

"She'll be back," she eventually managed to say. "Besides, didn't she tell us that there was a prophecy? That someone else would take care of us?" She crunched another delicious beetle and led Pandora by the hand through the small opening of the folly and out into the woods, before undoing her wings and fluffing them out. With Draco already asleep, Pandora would need them to get up into the cradle of a branch.

She watched as Pandora began to flap, slowly at first, before screwing up her face to flap her little wings at a fast enough pace to lift her off the ground and into the bosom of an oak tree, where she flopped drunkenly into a place where a branch forked. "Sleep well," she called out, before making her way back into the folly.

"Is Pandora alright?" Asked Fredlen, a senior-ranked pixie. He took his job of councillor very seriously. It was an unwritten rule of the Woodland Constitution that fairies should be well looked after by the other species, mainly due to their rarity, plus the fact that only they could manufacture the dust which made them all immortal. In fact, according to the Snorp tree and the nearby colony in Markyle Lane, Pandora and Eloise were the last of their kind. The two girls believed they'd been saved only by the fact that they were isolated in Bailey's Park and hadn't been struck down by the allegedly fatal fairy flu which had decimated all the colonies across England.

Eloise nodded. "She keeps asking where Lara is. Suppose she never comes back?"

Fredlen sighed. "I don't understand it either. We're all worried. All we can do is keep faith that her prophesy will come true, that somebody else will come. In the meantime, we make do. We still know all the wisdom of the ancients, the pixies which lived solely off the land. We can always Snorp the Markyle Colony if we get stuck."

"I don't like them," Eloise wailed. "Their griblets stink, and they're all country bumpkins. They've never had a human pet and haven't got a clue about modern life." She smoothed the front of her silky white frock, which had been made out of an old dress that Lara had given them to cut up. She'd called it her wedding dress and said that it had never been worn. Brock, the tailor, had been delighted, and after making her a dozen dresses, had carefully folded the remainder away for future use, calling it "good stuff."

"How do you know their griblets stink?" Fredlen asked, "You've never met them."

"I was Snorping one of their wood sprites. He told me they don't wash them every summer like we do. Their griblets only get scrubbed down every five summers. Ours are bad enough, theirs must be gross."

"Hmm," Fredlen said. "Well, best get some sleep. There's a few busy days ahead. I've got to attend the council meeting later." He puffed his chest out in order to make himself appear more important. "Lots of plans to make for the upcoming Solstice party, then we're debating the motion that the griblets tabled, claiming that they don't need bathing this year." Eloise wrinkled her nose. "We also need to discuss what we'll do if Lara doesn't come back. There's every risk that another colony might try and invade if they think we've lost our human."

Eloise gasped. "They know we're here though? Pandora and I?" The thought that invaders might come, possibly exposing her and her sister to disease was terrifying. They'd been told that fairy flu had claimed their parents as well as the rest of their colony. Fredlen nodded.

"I heard through the Snorp that the Markyle Colony is under threat. There's a rumour that their land is to be stolen by the humans. We've told them that they can't come here, that they need to find another woodland, but they say that they don't have many options. It's a worry, but not something you need be concerned about." He tipped his hat and strolled off back to his own cabin in the folly.

Eloise opened her door quietly, trying not to wake Draco, who was curled up asleep at the end of her bed. Their cabin was on the top floor of the old building, partitioned off, as were all the cabins, by a wooden screen that separated it from the staircase. There were two carved wooden beds, topped with moss and feather-stuffed mattresses. The pixies had woven beautiful green bedspreads for them and had filled pillows with feathers collected by the griblets.

Draco stirred as she slipped into bed, winding his long green tail around her small body in a protective gesture. She cuddled into him, his scaly, shiny body comfortingly warm as she contemplated the things Fredlen had said.

Pandora woke up just as the sun reached its midpoint of the day, pushing itself through the leaves and shining, unwanted, into her eyes. She stretched and yawned loudly before sitting up and scanning the ground for evidence of anyone else. She spotted Draco waiting patiently, sitting on the grass like a guard dog, or in his case, guard dragon. His blue-green scales shone in the dappled sunlight. He was a handsome dragon, a touch overweight perhaps, due to the pixies feeding him too many treats, coupled with a lack of exercise. Dragons are built to fly long distances, and given that Draco couldn't leave the park, he'd developed a bit of a pot belly, which Pandora thought made him more cuddly. As he heard the leaves rustle above him, he twisted his long, elegant neck to see up into the branch. He watched as his mistress tried to fluff out her wings, which were as creased and crumpled as her hair, certainly no good for flying. She'd learned early on that her wings needed to be sleek and smooth for successfully getting airborne and staying that way. It was easier to hitch a lift on Draco, whose wings were strong and thick and never needed ironing.

Pandora waved to him. "Here boy," she called out. She watched as his large wings unfolded from their usual nook on his back and began to flap. Within moments, he was level with her, lazily doing half-flaps in order to hover next to the branch. She hopped onto him and held on to one of the scales that he helpfully popped up to give her a handle. "Take me to the Snorp tree," she commanded. He swooped down and flew along the line of the stream until they reached an ancient oak. He plopped down beside it rather haphazardly. "Not a bad landing this time," Pandora said encouragingly. She patted his scaly head and slid down his back and off the end of his tail, landing on the grass with a plop.

At the base of the large oak was a honey fungus shaped like a pair of lips. Pandora tapped it gently to wake it up. "What's new?" She asked.

The lips began to move.

"Nadlia is preparing food for everybody at the cave kitchen. The menu today is grilled crickets, bread, and apple pie for afters. There is a council meeting in the glade this afternoon when the sun has moved over the tall tree. The toadstools inform me that Eloise is already dining." The Snorp's voice was deep and melodious.

"She's no meal dodger," Pandora replied. "Is Lara back yet?"

"There have been no sightings," the Snorp said. Pandora pulled a face before setting off down the path towards the cave kitchen.

Eloise was on her second plate of crickets, having already scarfed down some bread and strawberry jam. She waved as she saw Pandora and Draco approach.

"Hey there," Pandora called out.

"How're you feeling?" Eloise enquired. She fully expected Pandora to be rather poorly.

Pandora grinned. "Never better. Where's Nadlia? I'm starving." She sat down at the long bench, opposite Eloise, and grabbed a cheeky cricket off her plate.

"Hey," Eloise yelled, "keep those grubby mitts of yours away from my food. You as well, Dragon-face," she shouted at Draco as she spotted a claw creeping towards her lunch. He snatched it away before she could rap his knuckles with her fork.

Nadlia bustled over bearing two metal plates, laden with crickets, still sizzling from the barbecue. "You want bread and jam?" She asked them.

"Yes, please. Just plain bread for Draco though, you know how fizzy sugar makes him," Pandora said. She watched as Nadlia sliced a long, crusty loaf, made from their precious stash of flour. "What happens when the stores run out?" She asked her.

Nadlia sighed. "I'm not sure. That's what they'll be discussing at the meeting today." She concentrated on her slicing, unwilling to let the two fairies see how worried she really was. Placing the bread to the side of their crickets, she smoothed down the front of her green tunic and headed back into the cave kitchen to stir the pot of gruel she'd made for the griblets.

That afternoon, the entire colony assembled in the clearing for a council meeting, with the most important pixies in the centre, followed by a couple of rings comprising of the two fairies, Draco, and the rest of the pixie-folk, as well as a gang of elves and several woodsprites. The outer rings were made up of griblets, most of whom were pretty sleepy. Three o'clock was usually their nap time.

Normally, the meetings consisted of planning for the next party and new building projects in the park. This one was different. Pandora could sense the panic amongst the chief pixies.

Bezos rapped his mallet on the speak-rock to get everyone's attention. "Quiet please, everybody," he said in his rather commanding voice. All the voices petered out. "We have three items on the agenda for today. In fairness to the nap requirements of the griblet-folk, I propose that we debate their motion first, so that they can go to sleep afterwards."

Everybody nodded in agreement.

"The griblets, led by Griblet Mank, have requested that they be excused their yearly bath this summer, as they claim that they don't need one," Bezos said.

The crowd began to boo. Bezos rapped his mallet on the speak-stone to silence everyone. A woodsprite called Ralph thrust his hand up to speak. "Ralph, come to the speak-stone," Bezos said. Ralph made his way down the knoll, taking long, bouncy strides, in that way that woodsprites do. He placed his hand on the speak-stone, as was required.

"They're already starting to smell, and I have it on good authority that Griblet Ming pooed his pants the other day," he said, before bouncing back to his seat. Pandora turned to stare at Griblet Ming, whose face was burning bright red. The other griblets were scowling at him.

Brock was next at the speak-stone. "I'm not making them new tunics if they're not clean," he stated. "Griblet Mank cannot claim that they don't need new tunics, we can all see the state of them." He was right, their simple hemp tunics were torn and stained and needed to be replaced. "Anyway, it's a tradition that they're scrubbed down on new tunic day. If they don't like it, perhaps they should take their chances with the Markyle Colony."

There was a gasp from the top row. Everyone knew that a griblet couldn't just swap colonies. It would mean almost certain death.

Bezos returned to the stand. He addressed Griblet Mank. "Have you anything further to say on the matter?" The curious little grey creature shook his head, dejected. "In which case, motion denied. Now, next on the agenda is the solstice party. Nadlia has suggested a traditional frog roast, which will go lovely with blackberry wine..." Pandora began to doze slightly as various pixies droned on. Solstice parties were always pretty much the same, so she wasn't quite sure why they needed so much debate. Pike, the Scribe, who was a skinny, almost wiry pixie, carefully wrote down the suggestions on the pad of paper, using the short, stubby pencil which Lara had given him. He'd sharpened it especially.

The tips of her pointy ears twitched when Councillor Fredlen stood at the speak-stone to discuss Lara's disappearance. He puffed himself up as he began to speak. "It's been four sleeps now since Lara was last seen. We've distributed toadstools at the front of the big house to report back to the Snorp tree if there are any sightings, but so far there's nothing. We took the liberty of emptying the letter box at the gates, but it yielded no clues as to her whereabouts."

Pandora felt the cold wash of dread run through her veins. Lara had never gone away. Even when she'd gone out for supplies, she'd always returned within a few tree lengths of the sun. She watched as Councillor Rosco took the stand.

He coughed slightly before starting to speak. "We have enough supplies of flour, yeast, and oil to last beyond the solstice. Supplies of wine and cider are assured until the autumn, when we commence the brewing process again."

"What about chocolate?" Eloise yelled.

"And Wotsits?" Pandora added.

Rosco adjusted the belt covering his alarmingly wide girth. "We have none left," he said. Pandora and Eloise looked at each other in horror. "There's an old packet of Garibaldi biscuits left," he offered.

"Even Draco doesn't like them," Pandora yelled. "That's why they're still knocking about." There was a buzz of conversation as the woodland-folk realised just how bad the situation was. Bezos jumped up to bang the speak-stone with his hammer to quieten everybody down.

"Can I remind everyone that your hand must be in contact with the speak-stone. There'll be no calling out. That goes for the two of you too," he chastised, staring directly at Pandora and Eloise. Pandora's mouth settled in a thin, grumpy line.

"I bet he ate all the chocolate," Eloise whispered. Everyone quietened down when Fredlen stood to speak.

"If she doesn't return, there is always the prophesy that someone else will come," he began. There were more boos. People didn't know if it would happen, or if they should trust another human. "Failing that, we must begin farming again. There are still some seeds in the back of the cool-cave. We can Snorp the Markyle Colony for advice if we need to."

Councillor Rosco stood. "If we let them know we've lost our human, there's every chance they'll invade and set us all to work. They could turn the whole park into a huge farm."

There was a collective gasp. The Bailey's Park colony hadn't farmed for almost a hundred years, seeing it as beneath them. "I would propose that we up the griblet breeding program, so that we have sufficient workers," Fredlen said. Pandora watched as the sleepy griblets perked up at that bit of news, a few of them even fist-pumped the air. She tutted at their unashamed show of glee and settled back to listen to the rest of the meeting, watching the sun move across the tops of the trees, marking time until it was over and she could go bathe in the pond and curl her hair ready for the evening's festivities.

Chapter Two

A few weeks later, Daniel Wilding, known to his friends as Dan, sat in his solicitor's office reading through the contract of sale of his company. The buyer was a hot-shot Russian who seemed to be buying up just about all the tech companies in Canary Wharf. As Dan read through the sheaf of papers in front of him, the Russian sat watching. It had been quite unnerving, but Dan knew he was getting a good price, and it was certainly time for a change from the relentless grind. He wondered if the Russian was going to offer him a job. He hoped not.

"It all seems to be in order," he heard Lewis, his lawyer say. It was a straightforward sale, no confusing equity swaps or other arcane concepts. The Russian was paying cash for full ownership of his company. It meant that Dan would have to find something else to do with his time.

"Elle transferred the funds into your client account this morning," the Russian said to Lewis, who seemed to know who he was talking about in his heavily accented English. He turned to Dan. "Have you informed your staff yet?"

Dan shook his head. The sale had been confidential at the Russian's request. He dreaded telling the team. "My takeover manager, Sergei, will accompany you back to your offices to make all the necessary arrangements," the Russian told him, indicating the small, dark-haired man seated beside him. Dan felt the sweat pool on his upper lip as he accepted Lewis' pen and signed away his company.

Back in his office, his team had reacted with stunned silence as he told them that Ivan Porenski would be their new employer. Sergei had assured everyone that they'd be employed by Beltan, Mr Porenski's company, in the same positions and salary. Dan noted that some of the girls seemed positively excited about their new boss. Certainly nobody seemed bereft that he was leaving.

Less than an hour later, he stepped out onto the concourse below the Canary Wharf tower. It was over. Ten years of hard, single-minded work was finished. He felt strange, surreal. He wondered if he was going to have another of the panic attacks which had plagued him for the previous few years, that had driven him to accept the deal rather than continue and possibly end up in the cardiac ward like his father. He wished he had someone to phone and tell the news, someone to share his triumph. His parents would have been thrilled for him, he knew that. The panic attacks had started not long after they'd been cruelly killed in a car crash on their way to Cornwall for a break to help his father recuperate from his heart attack.

Dan's flat was almost bare, he'd rented it as a furnished apartment, complete with a sofa, coffee table, TV, and bed. All the little touches which had made it homely had been removed by his ex when she'd left. He placed the Starbucks he'd bought on the way home onto the coffee table and rifled through his post. It was mainly junk. One envelope caught his attention, a long, cream envelope stamped 'Hargreaves and Co' on the front. He frowned before pulling it open and reading the letter inside.

 

Dear Mr Wilding,

 

It is my sad duty to inform you that your Great Aunt, Lara Wilding, has died. We are the executors of her last will and testament and need to speak to you urgently. Please contact our office at the earliest opportunity.

 

Kind regards,

William Hargreaves

 

He read it again. Dan had a very vague memory of his Great Aunt Lara. In his mind's eye, he could see a tiny, bird-like middle-aged spinster, who lived in a funny old house set behind huge wooden gates. He recalled having jelly and ice-cream for tea in her dining room. He must've been about seven years old. Intrigued, he pulled out his mobile and dialled the number on the letter.

"Hargreaves and Co, how may I help you?" Barked a woman's voice.

"Could I speak to William Hargreaves please? My name is Daniel Wilding."

"Hold the line," she snapped. Dan sat listening to ‘Greensleeves’ for a few minutes, his curiosity building as each tinny chorus played into his ear. Eventually, the line crackled, and a man's voice came through.

"Mr Wilding, it's good to hear from you. We had a bit of a job tracking you down. We only had your parent's address," he said.

"I've not lived there for a few years," Dan replied. He'd handed it back to the council after they'd died, not needing it himself.

"Well, luckily we found you on the electoral register," Mr Hargreaves told him. "My condolences at the death of your Great Aunt."

"Thank you, but I barely knew her," Dan interjected. "When did she die?"

"A few weeks ago now. Let me just pull up the file." Dan waited as Mr Hargreaves huffed and puffed, as though clicking icons on a screen was strenuous work. Eventually he said, "the first of June."

"I see," said Dan. He felt bad that he hadn't known. They weren't a large family by any stretch, so there was every chance that Lara would have died alone. "What about the funeral?" He asked. It was the least he could do for her.

"There isn't one. She left her body to medical science."

"I see," said Dan, "so what do you need to speak me about?"

Mr Hargreaves sighed gently. "I think you need to come down to the office. I'd prefer to do this in person. Is there a day that you're available?"

"Any time is fine." Dan felt strange saying it. All his life he'd been committed to being somewhere, either at school, or then work. He hadn't quite wrapped his head around the fact that he didn't need to get up in the morning.

They agreed that Dan would attend the Hargreaves and Co offices the following morning at ten. After getting off the phone, Dan flipped open his laptop to plan the journey. Google calculated that it would take him an hour and a half to make the drive down to Heathfield in East Sussex, which he thought wasn't too bad. As a child, it had seemed to be an interminably long journey. He sucked down the last of his coffee and debated what to do that evening. With no food in, plus a vast amount of cash in the bank, he reasoned that he should be out celebrating. The last time he'd gone out to a bar, he'd had a panic attack. There'd been too many people, too much noise. His eyes had gone funny, tricking him into thinking that everyone was shimmering with crazy zig-zag lines running through them. He'd made a fool of himself, fighting to get out of there, shoving people out of the way and knocking over their drinks.

He flicked on the telly, scrolling through the channels he almost never watched. He settled himself on the sofa, trying to make himself comfy on the hard, angular settee, which had been chosen by the landlord for its looks rather than its comfort. Ruminating on his day, he wondered if being rich was going to be all he'd expected it to be. Dan had never exactly gone without, but he'd always been careful to live within his means, even if it meant living with a rock-hard sofa and a rather empty apartment. He simply hadn't seen the need to buy tons of nicknacks. Besides, he'd barely had time to look after himself, let alone go shopping. He decided that he'd visit the supermarket when he returned from the solicitors the next day. If he was destined to be miserable and lonely, at least he'd be well-fed. To celebrate his new-found direction, he picked up his phone and scrolled through the apps until he found the take-away one. He clicked through the various local ones until he found what he was looking for.

Dan celebrated his new life with a chicken biryani and a bottle of Cobra. Somehow, it seemed fitting. As he sat alone, he wondered how his ex-girlfriend, Bianca, would have reacted had she stuck around long enough to witness him selling up. She'd left him just before he'd been approached by the Beltan Group, shacking up with his now ex-best friend Harvey, claiming that their affair was new, a spur-of-the-moment thing. Harvey with the good hair, Mercedes convertible, and a credit card debt the size of a small country's GDP. He was welcome to her, Dan thought, as he cast his mind back to all the rows and Olympic-level sulking that Bianca did when he'd had to work late. He took another swig of beer and stared at the telephone number-sized figure in his bank account, the thought occurring to him that no matter how much he hadn't fitted in before, he was even more removed from people than ever. He couldn't even imagine being able to find a place where he could just relax and belong, especially given that he was wealthier than he'd ever dreamed about.

The following morning, he set off in his car, an under-used Rav 4, bought for its similarity to a more fashionable Range Rover rather than its off-road capabilities. He sang along to the radio as he cruised down the A21 towards East Sussex. As roads made way to fields and country lanes, the soothing voice of his satnav gently coaxed him onto the correct route, and he made it down to Heathfield with twenty minutes to spare. After parking in Sainsburys, he took a little time to wander up and down the small, rather quaint, high street, with its antique shops and ironmongers. He noticed it had a rather decent coffee shop and made a note to pick up a Frappuccino on the way home, as it was such a hot day.


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I'm an animal lover, a gardener and have always had an over-active imagination. For several years I've written adult fiction, and am now branching out into a more mainstream genre. I'm married and live in the beautiful countryside of East Sussex, which inspired this book.

Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
I wanted this book to be able to inspire people that no matter what, there is a place for you in this world, and a tribe for you.
Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
I drive past this park every day, and from a certain vantage point can just spot the folly through the trees. Its a real place and so romantic-looking that I just had to write about it.
Q. Which actor/actress would you like to see playing the lead character from this book?
A.
Dan is an everyman. I purposely didn't describe him too much as I wanted readers to find their own version of him. If pushed, I'd choose Sam Clafin for the lead role. As for Pandora and Eloise, possibly a CGI version as there aren't many eight inch tall actresses around.

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