Reading is a form of escapism for many and we really hope you enjoy this beautiful short story from the Sunday Times bestselling author Veronica Henry. Read about Kitty and adorable Draco and what goes on in Kingfisher Cottage.
The table looked just right, Kitty thought. Casual but pretty and not too fussy. She’d held off on a candle in the middle, even though she loved candlelight, because it looked presumptuous and had too many connotations. She’d used her favourite tablecloth and left the napkins loosely folded at the side of the forks, as if she’d just plonked them there and not spent hours tweaking them. One big wine glass and a tumbler for water each; little pinch pots of sea salt and black pepper. Just … a table set for a normal kitchen supper you would have any night of the week. Not a romantic dinner for two.
She’d moved the jug of blowsy pink peonies onto the dresser, next to a bottle of red she’d opened so it could breathe. He’d said he would walk through the woods to her cottage, so as not to worry about driving. There was white in the fridge too, and a couple of bottles of beer. As a newcomer to the village, she knew nothing about him. Except that, according to his van, he was a tree surgeon. Exactly the sort of person you expected to meet when you moved from the city to the depths of the countryside. An arborist, to use a more technical term. Most of her friends worked in finance or law and couldn’t tell an oak tree from a birch. Nor could she, though she was learning fast.
Tonight was a thank you to her new neighbour for bringing back Draco. Draco the ridiculously naughty rescue dog, so named because of his white blonde coat and propensity for evil. Kitty had fallen head over heels the moment she saw him at the rescue centre, and was even deeper in love by the time he came to live with her at Kingfisher Cottage. She had needed him for company, after the split. She hadn’t lived on her own for more than ten years.
Seven times, Draco had run away in the first week. Always looking at her as if to say ‘What’s the great fuss?’ when he eventually came back, which he always did. He’d been away for over twelve hours when Jamie Karslake appeared with him on her doorstep. Kitty had been up all night, wandering the lanes, calling out Draco’s name. She looked terrible. Hair wild, clothes creased, black circles under her eyes.
‘How can I repay you?’ she’d asked Jamie, trying not to notice the toned biceps, the russet hair almost to his shoulders, the clean scent of his freshly laundered t-shirt and cargo pants.
‘You could ask me for dinner,’ he said quite cheerfully and openly. ‘I’m sick of the menu at the Fox and Goose, I hate cooking and the takeaway is always cold by the time I drive it home.’
‘Oh,’ said Kitty, surprised. That wasn’t the response she’d expected, but she was glad she could repay him, for if Kitty could do anything, it was cook.
He was due at Kingfisher Cottage at eight. She took a final glance at the beef Wellington on the side, ready to slide into the oven. Just green beans and a madeira gravy to go with it. There was a lemon curd meringue roulade to follow. No starter – that was too fussy – but she’d marinated some black olives in her own herbs. She flicked a glance at the kitchen clock. Five to. She just had time to nip upstairs and check her hair and make-up and put a squirt of scent down her front.
She came back down at one minute past to see Jamie standing outside the half-open stable door, Draco staring up at him.
‘Come in, come in!’ She unbolted the door and he walked in, pressing his cheek to hers in a kiss of welcome and sliding a bottle of white wine into her hands.
‘Cute,’ he said, looking round at the pale primrose walls. ‘You’ve done a lot. Opened it right up. It needed someone with imagination. Old Jeffrey Short was a great gardener, but the place was a tip.’
‘You’re telling me,’ agreed Kitty. ‘It’s been quite the project.’
It had taken her mind off things, though. Endless weekends scraping wallpaper and sanding floors and painting. But this was now her dream kitchen, although she had always felt as if something was missing. Now Jamie was here she knew what it was. Company. Another human being. This was a kitchen for cooking and conversation, not perfection.
She searched for a corkscrew, reached for two glasses, then frowned. Something else was missing.
The beef wellington. It was nowhere to be seen. She looked down at Draco, who flumped onto his side and gazed up at her, nonchalant. There was no other explanation.
‘He’s eaten it,’ Kitty said, faint with panic. ‘He’s eaten the supper.’ She pointed at the empty plate. ‘I’d made beef wellington.’
Jamie laughed. ‘Of course he did. There’s Labrador in him somewhere. He wasn’t going to pass up that opportunity.’
‘It’s not funny.’ Kitty was beside herself with despair. ‘There’s nothing else to eat.’
‘You’ve got eggs.’ He pointed at the bowl full on the dresser.
‘Well, yes, but that’s not a very exciting thank you.’
‘Don’t worry about that. I’ll make us an omelette.’
She stared at him.
‘I thought you couldn’t cook.’
‘I lied.’ He grinned at her. ‘I was angling for an invitation.’
He gave a shrug, quite unashamed.
‘I’m happy to go. If you think you’ve been duped.’
‘No!’ She shook her head. That was the last thing she wanted. ‘Do stay. There’s lemon curd roulade. I can’t eat all that myself.’
‘Well, sit down, then. Drink your wine while I cook.’
There was a moment when she debated contradicting him. But he had already pulled a cast iron pan off the shelf and grabbed a handful of brown eggs. She sat at the kitchen table and watched as he cracked the eggs with one hand and sipped at his wine with the other. Dextrous, she thought, and felt a peony-pink blush on her cheeks.
Underneath the table, Draco looked up at her with a quizzical expression as if to say, ‘No need to thank me’. She smiled, resting her bare feet on his warm side, and took another sip of wine.
There was promise in the air, mingled with the sweet scent of honeysuckle outside the back door, and five minutes later Jamie slid a perfect crescent of yellow omelette onto her plate. It was almost as if he belonged here. As if he had been here forever.