Mia stood on the beach and watched Jet walk away.
Was this all some extraordinary dream or had that really just happened?
Fireworks whooshed into the darkening sky, exploding like a cannon boom and sending crackling sparkles of red, gold, green and white through the warm night air.
Mia willed Jet to turn around, to at least glance back in her direction, but he disappeared into the crowd as Hettie and Fred bore down on her.
'Coo-ey!' Hettie waved again, looking surprised, no doubt because Jet had marched past her without returning her greeting or acknowledging Fred.
Mia wanted to run, but her legs wouldn't move. It was as if her feet were stuck in quicksand. A feeling she knew well.
She had made a complete and utter fool of herself.
Had she actually grabbed Jet's shirt collars, yanked him towards her and kissed him? Worse than that. Had she honestly asked the man to sleep with her? Even worse, had the bloody man truly said, 'No'?
What was wrong with her?
Was it because she was missing Garrick? His loving smile. His passionate kisses. Being held in his arms each night.
Or was it because she simply wanted Jet? Wanted him to kiss her. To hold her. To tell her he loved her.
Well, that was clearly never going to happen.
Although for one brief moment, she could have sworn he was enjoying that kiss. That he had even returned it.
'Deary me' Hettie said, the second she reached Mia's side. 'What's upset Jet? Oh goodness. The naughty boy hasn't tried to have his wicked way with you, has he, deary? Did you give him a flea in his ear? I've always had a soft spot for him, as you know, dear, but if he's tried to add you to his list after what you've just been through, I'll give him a clip around the ears, you mark my words.'
Mia sighed. 'No, Hettie. He didn't. Quite the opposite, in fact.'
Hettie glanced at Fred, who shrugged, smiled at Mia and turned to watch the rest of the fireworks.
'Quite the opposite, deary? Now what can that mean?'
Mia shook her head. 'Nothing, Hettie. It means nothing.'
Hettie gave her a curious look. 'Well never mind about that. How are you dear? We've all been very worried about you, you know. Prince Gustav hasn't been eating properly and Hector's delayed moving on to his next life until I can tell him you're as right as nine pence. Fred hasn't been able to concentrate on anything and as for me, deary, well, I've been a bag of nerves. Ella says you don't want to talk about it but I'm not sure that's wise. Not good to keep things pent up. Leads to all kinds of stress, that does. I was always saying to Hector, "You need to be more open, Hector. Keeping feelings pent up inside will be the death of you." I was wrong about that, of course. The car hitting him, tossing him in the air, and him landing on his head was the death of him. But if the car hadn't killed him, stress would have. Take my word for that. Oh deary me. There I go again. Talking ten chickens at a time. What was I saying? Oh yes. You need to talk about it. So how are you feeling, deary? Broken-hearted, I don't doubt. I thought that gorgeous Garrick was a lovely young man but it seems I was mistaken. To get another woman pregnant when he was engaged to you and to then run off with the trollop. Deary me. Of course you're heartbroken.'
'Hettie!' Mia glowered at her. 'That wasn't what happened at all and I truly hope you're not going around telling everyone it was. Fiona fell pregnant when she and Garrick were still together. She just didn't know she was until a couple of weeks ago. And yes, I am heartbroken, but so is Garrick. It wasn't easy for him to leave. It wasn't easy for me to let him go. It wasn't easy for any of us. And knowing that everyone in this damn village is gossiping about us, isn't making it any easier for me. We did what was best for all of us, but that doesn't mean it wasn't difficult. I'd be very grateful if, for once in your life, you could stop being such a nosy old woman, stop spreading gossip and keep your mouth shut.' She turned and stormed away but she didn't get very far before guilt hit her in the chest. When she turned back, Hettie was standing open-mouthed and Fred had wrapped his arm around her.
Mia took a deep breath as she stood in front of Hettie. 'I'm sorry, Hettie. I didn't mean that. I'm upset but I shouldn't take it out on you. Please forgive me. But I hope you'll understand that I would really rather not talk about it. Stress may kill me, but I'll take my chances.' She smiled apologetically.
Hettie sniffed and gave a little smile. Fred didn't say a word.
'I understand, deary. And you're right. I am nosy. I should mind my own business, shouldn't I? Nothing to forgive, my dear. We all say things we don't mean when we're upset. No harm done.' She leant a little closer. 'Is that why Jet looked so cross? Did you shout at him too? Oh deary me. There I go again.' She ran her forefinger and thumb across her mouth in a zipping motion. 'There, deary. My mouth is zipped shut. You won't hear another word from me tonight.' She smiled. 'What did you think of the fireworks? Aren't they gorgeous? Really gone to town they have. Mind you, it is a big celebration. Even if they have got the dates all mixed up. I don't know how many times I have to tell that vicar this village has been here long before his church and no foundation stone is ever going to convince me otherwise. I know you're friendly with the vicar, deary, so I don't suppose you'll take any notice, but I've always thought there's something not quite right with him. I told you that the day you came, I'm sure I did. Wouldn't get too friendly with him if I were you. Although I've heard a whisper that he'd quite like to step into young Garrick's shoes, deary. Oh I don't mean with Garrick's new – or old – sweetheart, of course. I mean with you, deary. The vicar would like to put his shoes beside your bed, if you get my drift.' She clasped her hands beneath her ample chest and pursed her lips. 'But my mouth is zipped shut so I won't say another word about it. Just be careful, deary. Heartbreak can make people do a lot of silly things they normally wouldn't.'
Mia was tempted to say Tom had told her himself he loved her. But there was no way she would tell Hettie. Neither would she tell Hettie that she knew heartbroken people did silly things because she'd done a really stupid thing herself by asking Jet Cross to sleep with her. Hettie would love to spread that news, especially if Mia added that Jet had turned her down. Instead she simply smiled and as Ella and Justin were heading towards them, she didn't need to respond.
'What's up with Jet?' Ella asked, glancing over her shoulder even though Jet was nowhere to be seen. 'He completely ignored us.'
'Mia told him she wasn't having any of his nonsense, deary,' Hettie said, before darting a look at Mia. 'But I'm minding my own business so I won't say another word.'
Mia almost laughed, except it wasn't really funny. Ella gave her a questioning look.
As much as she hated the thought, she would have to say something. She couldn't risk Hettie spreading that rumour, even if the truth meant Hettie would now, no doubt, consider Mia to be 'a trollop'.
She took a deep breath. 'Actually, Hettie, Jet didn't do a thing. It was me. All me. I kissed him. I asked him to spend the night with me. He said no and walked away.'
'Bloody Nora,' Ella said.
'Jet walked away?' Justin gave Mia a look of surprise and disbelief.
'Good heavens, dear.' Hettie's expression was similar to Justin's.
Fred merely smiled and shook his head. Mia had no idea what he was thinking.
'For obvious reasons,' Mia continued. 'I'd rather the entire village didn't hear about it. But I don't want anyone spreading lies about Jet either and that's the only reason I've trusted you all with the truth. Okay?'
'My lips are sealed, deary.'
Ella gave Hettie a doubtful look. 'I won't say anything and neither will Justin. Will you?' She nudged Justin's arm.
'No.' Justin shook his head. 'But may I just ask one thing? Jet honestly said no?'
'Yes. He definitely said no.' Now Mia did laugh. But it still wasn't funny.
'Mia!' Tom's voice rang out in the distance and Mia saw he was fast approaching.
Hettie glanced over her shoulder, pursed her lips and shook her head. 'It's high time we went home, Fred.' She tapped Mia lightly on the arm. 'We covered Prince Gustav's cage with a throw to lessen the sound of the fireworks but the little dear has probably tried to eat it. I'll see you bright and early in the morning, deary, and we can have a good old natter then. Nighty-night all.'
'Pleasant dreams,' Mia said.
Ella grinned as Hettie and Fred hurried away. 'She really doesn't like Tom, does she?'
'No. It's weird, especially considering she helps out in the church, and was friends with Grace.' Mia watched Tom stride purposefully towards them and couldn't help but smile. Did he ever wear any other colours but black and white? It suited him though, and now that he had a tan, even more so. When they'd first arrived in the village, he was pale and a little gaunt. Now he seemed to have put on a bit of muscle and she remembered how good he'd looked in just those swim shorts that day he'd come to her rescue at Rainbow's End. Tonight, he wore black trousers, a white T-shirt and a black V-neck sweater, despite the fact that it was a warm night.
'He's even better looking now than when we first came here,' Ella said, as if reading Mia's mind. She glanced at Justin. 'Not as gorgeous as you, of course.'
Justin gave her an odd look. 'He's looking better now, I'll give you that. He took Grace's death hard, but he seems to be getting over it.'
'It's such a shame we never got to meet his gran,' Mia said.
Justin frowned. 'She was a strange old bird. She and Mattie were really friendly at one time but that seemed to fade over the years. Grace hardly left her cottage for the last few years and Bear was always popping in to deal with various 'emergencies' that turned out to be nothing. Bit of a hypochondriac if you ask me.' He threw a sideways glance at Mia and Ella before greeting Tom with a friendly smile. 'Hi Tom. Excellent fireworks.'
'Thanks, Justin. Hello Ella. Mia, you're looking lovely this evening. I wonder, might I have a word?'
Mia glanced at Ella and Justin. 'Er. Yes of course.'
'We'll leave you to it,' Ella said. 'Mia. Don't go home without me. Tom. You make sure she doesn't. Okay?'
'I'm fine,' Mia said.
'I don't care.' Ella frowned at her. 'I promised Lori I wouldn't leave you alone in the cottage, especially after Garrick left, so don't think of going without us.'
'I'll happily walk Mia home and stay with her until you return,' Tom offered.
Ella hesitated but Mia reassured her. 'That's kind, Tom. There, Ella. I'll be fine. I know you two want to go to the pub, which I don't. You go and enjoy yourselves and I'll see you both at home later.'
Obviously satisfied, Ella smiled. 'Okay. We'll see you later.' Both she and Justin then headed in the direction of The Frog and Lily.
The band struck up its rhythmic beat and the crowd began to clap and cheer. The firework display had ended and now it seemed people were dancing on the sand. Mia was tempted to stay. It looked like fun. Instead, she turned and walked towards the cottage and Tom fell into step beside her.
Mia smiled at him. 'Since Garrick left, Ella's hardly left my side apart from a few hours during the day. She won't hear of me being alone in the cottage at night though.'
'Oh? Why's that? You're not still receiving those nasty little messages, are you?'
Mia shook her head. 'No. There's been nothing since before Mum left a month ago. But Mum insisted I mustn't be alone and obviously, now Garrick's gone, she's even more concerned, so Ella's simply obeying her instructions. Mum almost got on the first plane home, but I told her I'd be even more upset if she cut her time in Texas, short.'
'That's understandable.' He gave Mia a hopeful smile. 'You can always call me if you're scared, you know. Or if you want some company. Or anything at all. Just call me, Mia, and I'll be there.'
'Thanks, Tom. That's good to know.'
'I was sorry to hear about Garrick and the rather odd situation. I apologise. Odd isn't quite the right word.'
Mia laughed, but she couldn't hide the sadness in it, she knew that. 'Odd is precisely the right word, Tom. The whole thing was odd. And what is even more odd, is that a bloody fortune-teller predicted it all at the Summer Fête in August.'
'A fortune-teller? Are you saying that a fortune-teller told you that Garrick's ex-girlfriend was pregnant and that he would go back to Scotland with her?' There was a hint of concern in the laugh he gave.
'Not exactly. She was, annoyingly, rather cryptic with me. She warned me about a cold wind from the north but she told Ella more precisely. The woman said Ella would soon be an aunt. She also told Garrick she heard a child's heartbeat and something about his past love being present, and his present being past. Why the woman couldn't come right out and say it is beyond me. She was virtually spot on with everything she said. Why couldn't she simply use plain English? But I suppose it's all part of the mystical magic or whatever.' She glanced at Tom. 'It's pretty spooky though, isn't it? I mean, how could she know all those things? How could she be so right about so many different people?'
Tom looked thoughtful and slowly shook his head. 'I don't know, Mia. As a vicar, I don't believe in such things, but as a man, I've seen and heard some peculiar things in my life. Perhaps the reason she was slightly vague was so that, no matter what happened, you, and everyone else who had their fortunes told, would find some truth in her words.'
'Hmm. I see what you mean. But I can tell you, Tom, when I opened that front door and saw Fiona standing there, I felt a bitterly cold wind and a chill ran through me as that woman's words came flying back to me. I think I knew in that second that I had lost Garrick. I simply didn't want to accept it or admit it. I honestly hoped Fiona had come to say she was expecting a child with someone else.'
Tom stopped and took Mia's hand in his, looking her directly in the eyes. 'It must've been awful. I would give anything for you not to be going through this heartache, Mia. But your relationship with Garrick simply wasn't meant to be. And I know I shouldn't be saying this, but part of me can't help but be glad it's over. I'm sorry. But you know how I feel about you. I was dreading having to officiate at your wedding. I would've done it, obviously, but I completely understand what you're going through right now because I've been going through it since the moment you got engaged. Oh dear Lord. I'm sorry. I hadn't meant to say that.' He gave her a pleading look and shook his head in obvious despair.
'It's okay, Tom. I understand. Believe me.' She smiled at him as she eased her hand free. 'We all do and say things we realise immediately afterwards, we shouldn't have. I've done it myself tonight.'
Mia ignored his inquiring stare and resumed walking towards Sunbeam Cottage. 'You're still getting over your gran's passing, and I'm so confused about everything I'm not even sure who I am these days.' She laughed. 'One minute I'm behaving like a sixteen-year-old, the next I see myself as some sort of super-sleuth, intent on unravelling the mystery of Mattie and her past. I'm not very good at either role. I'm yet to have a teenage tantrum – although I have come pretty close. And Mattie is still an enigma. Oh.' She instinctively placed her hand on his arm and he stopped in his tracks. 'But I may make some headway on that front tomorrow. Someone phoned this morning because his grandad's just died and he's discovered letters from Mattie to his grandad. Isn't that wonderful? I'll be speaking to him first thing in the morning. Oh God! Sorry. I didn't mean it's wonderful that his grandad has died.'
Tom smiled. 'I knew what you meant, don't worry. And before you say it, there's no need to apologise about my gran again either.'
Mia grinned. 'I was just about to.'
He grinned back. 'I know you were. I know you better than you may think.'
Mia quickly turned away and headed towards the dunes. 'Anyway. There's me going on about myself and Mattie and completely forgetting that you wanted to talk to me about something. What was it, Tom?'
He fell into step beside her but didn't respond until she looked at him again.
He let out a meaningful sigh. 'It's not my place, I know, but I wanted to have a word with you about Jet.'
'Jet?' Mia came to an abrupt halt. 'A word about Jet? Why? Has he said something to you?'
He shook his head. 'No, no. Not in precise terms. It's simply that I know him so well. I know the way his mind works. I know the way he works.' He took a deep breath. 'Forgive me, Mia, but you're vulnerable at the moment. You're heartbroken and probably lonely. You miss Garrick and probably long to be held in someone's arms. Anyone's arms. Please don't let those arms be Jet's.'
'I know. Don't be mad at me. I'm only saying this because I care about you so much. I couldn't bear to see you hurt again. Please just hear me out. Jet is hard-working, determined, ruthless even. He always gets what he wants, no matter what he has to do to get it. He wanted Little Pond Farm and he made sure he got it. He needed money. He got it. If he sees a woman he wants, he'll get her. He wants you, Mia, but it may not be for the reasons you think. Oh, I'm sure he's attracted to you. Who wouldn't be? You're a lovely young woman. We both know I've fallen in love with you myself. But you're also new to the village. And Jet likes that. He's a good friend where men are concerned, although he'll happily steal a man's girlfriend and not think twice. All's fair in love and war as far as Jet's concerned. But he's not a good friend where women are concerned, Mia. He's just like his father.'
'Tom! Sorry. But I think you've said enough. It may be true that I don't really know him, but Jet has been nothing but kind, caring and friendly to me. Nothing. Okay, he has been flirting with me. But he's been the perfect gentleman, most of the time.'
Tom smirked. 'Oh, I'm sure he has. Jet has the patience of a saint when it comes to getting what he wants. But there's nothing saintly in his intentions, I assure you. You do know how 'friendly' he was with Mattie, don't you? You do know she gave him money to buy the farm. And I know you've been wondering who is named in Mattie's codicil. I believe Jet thinks it's him. Time will tell, of course. What I'm saying, Mia, is be careful. Jet's feelings for you may not be what you think they are.'
Mia stared at Tom in disbelief. And then the fortune-teller's words came back like a knife in her heart. "I also see someone who you think you can trust. You can't. Beware! Feelings may not be genuine." Had she meant Jet? Was he the one who'd left the toy frog, the dead flowers and the warning card? Was that why he'd said no to her tonight? Because he didn't really fancy her at all? Was he simply leading her on as part of some sort of plan?
'I'm so sorry, Mia,' Tom continued. 'I know this probably wasn't what you wanted to hear. But I had to tell you. I had to stop you getting hurt again. I've got your best interests at heart although you may not think so at the moment. I'm here for you, Mia. I always will be. Just like I was there for you that day at Rainbow's End. The day Jet made sure he wasn't. I love you, Mia. You know that.'
As she stared at him, hurt, confusion and heartache collided in her heart and mind, and something else the fortune-teller said came back to her. "I see love that's black and white and surprising too."
Love that's black and white and surprising too. Tom always wore black and white. His first declaration of love had definitely been surprising. His continued love and loyalty was equally so. Had the woman meant Tom?
She'd also said, "I see happiness and joy beyond your wildest dreams. Choose love wisely. Love may not be where you are looking for it. You could so easily make a mistake. And Autumn will bring many changes and many opportunities."
Was Tom the wise choice? Was this an opportunity? Would he be the one to bring her happiness and joy beyond her wildest dreams?
'Mia? Are you okay? Have I overstepped the bounds of our friendship? Have I said too much?'
Mia gave him a wan smile. 'I'm fine, Tom. And no. I suppose I should be grateful to you. I was just thinking about that damn fortune-teller again.'
'Oh? Why? What else did she say?'
He looked genuinely concerned. Whether all that stuff he'd said about Jet was true or not, he clearly thought he should tell her. That meant he cared. Really cared. Wasn't he always around when she needed him?
And was he suggesting that Jet knew she would go to Rainbow's End even though Jet hadn't been the one who mentioned it? Had Jet effectively, set a trap by not being there himself for the first time, ever? Had she misjudged him so badly?
She seemed to be making a complete and utter mess of everything lately. But then, hadn't she always picked the wrong man? All her ex-boyfriends had been wrong, in one way or another. Even Garrick, as it turned out. Perhaps for once, she should listen to her head and not her heart. And hadn't the fortune-teller been right about everything else so far?
Damn the bloody woman.
She smiled again, albeit a little sadly.
'Come in and have a glass of wine, Tom and I'll tell you all about it.'