Wedding Bells at the Dog & Duck by Jill Steeples
Published: 1st March 2018
Available in Paperback and on Kindle
Today for my stop on the Wedding Bells at the Dog & Duck by Jill Steeples I have a short extract to share with you all, hope you enjoy.
Ellie Browne, landlady of The Dog & Duck, is looking forward to a relaxing Christmas Day before the arrival of her and her partner Max's baby in the New Year. But with a snowstorm brewing outside, it seems that things might not go quite to plan. After the dramatic events of the holiday season, Ellie settles into her new life at Max's huge country mansion Braithwaite Manor, juggling work and family as best she can. When she's asked to help organise a summer wedding for one of her best friends it's only natural that her mind turns to her own, non-existent, wedding plans! But with Max decidedly lukewarm on the subject and other family complications threatening to disrupt life further, Ellie fears there'll never be wedding bells at the Dog & Duck after all.
I sighed, closing my eyes for the briefest moment, the events of the last couple of years flashing through my mind in vivid technicolour. I had no reason to worry. The pub was in safe hands – Dan knew as much as I did about running a good pub and he and Silke would do a great job in my absence. While I would miss being here on a daily basis, I had other more important priorities now.
Max, our baby, Katy and Digby.
We were a little family unit and I needed to take time out of my busy working life to just enjoy this new chapter. The pub would still be here waiting for me when I was ready to return to work.
‘I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to this,’ said Arthur, an old family friend and one of the pub’s most long-standing customers, as he eased himself out of the cosy armchair next to the fireplace. He collected his walking stick, which had been resting against the inglenook fireplace and straightened himself, every movement made in slow motion. A smile appeared at his lips.
‘My Marge would always put on a lovely spread at Christmas. The dinners we had! Mmmm. She’d do all the cooking herself, you know? She made a lovely bread sauce, and Yorkshire puddings the size of billowing clouds. We’d have everyone round, there’d be twelve or fourteen of us sometimes. A bit like today.’ He nodded at the train of people heading in the direction of the barn. ‘Such happy times. That was why I was so pleased when you invited me along. Brings back lovely memories,’ he said wistfully.
‘Aw, and I have lovely memories of you and Marge at Christmastime too. Every year you would pop round to the cottage on Christmas Eve for a glass of mulled wine and a mince pie, to drop off my present. It was the same gift every year – I would have been horrified if it wasn’t – an annual and a selection box, and I can remember that feeling of excitement as I put the present beneath the tree. Christmas Day, after all the excitement had died down, I would curl up on the sofa and read my annual and work my way through all the chocolates in the box.’ I laughed, thinking how I wouldn’t have minded doing the same thing right now. ‘We’re very happy to have you here with us today, Arthur,’ I said, reaching out to take hold of his free hand, knobbly with veins, and squeezing it tight.
Josie, my best friend from way back when, and her husband, Ethan, brought up the rear, with baby Stella, my gorgeous little goddaughter, held in the arms of Eric, Josie’s dad. Everyone who was important to me was here today, apart from my parents who were on standby to fly over from Dubai just as soon as my baby deigned to put in an appearance.
Just then, as we were making our way out to the barn, there was a loud and insistent banging on the door. Max had locked it earlier knowing we wouldn’t be open to the general public today.
‘Who on earth is that?’ said Josie, almost indignantly.
‘Someone wanting their Christmas Day pint, no doubt,’ said Ethan.
‘Tell them there’s no room at the inn.’ Eric chuckled to himself.
I waddled over and called through the door, ‘Sorry, we’re not open.’
Another bang came then, louder and more urgent this time. Maybe it was a friend or villager come to pass on their good wishes for the season. Sharing a curious look with Eric, I went to unlock the door, but he stepped in, coming over from behind me to reach up to unbolt the heavy lock. He pulled open the old oak door and a biting blast of cold air whipped through the entrance, snow flurries obscuring the view of our visitor, creating a snow globe effect.
‘Crikey, that weather is insane.’ Josie shivered. ‘I’ve never seen anything like it.’
The man standing on the threshold took a step forward, coming into focus. Tall, brown hair, forty-ish, with snowflakes peppering his head and shoulders.
‘Sorry to interrupt, but I saw the light on. I just wondered if you had a room available. My car is well and truly stuck in the back lane into the village.’
‘But it’s Christmas Day,’ I said, rather unnecessarily, just in case the stranger had overlooked this vital fact. ‘Where are you heading?’
‘Just driving through, but in these conditions I won’t be going anywhere. My car won’t budge. And the way it’s looking, nothing will be getting in or out of the village. Not for the next twenty-four hours at least.’
‘Ellie!’ Max called from the back door. ‘Are you coming?’
‘Oh sorry,’ said the man. ‘I can see you’re busy. I’ll leave you to it. Do you know of any bed and breakfasts in the village that might have room tonight?’
‘Look, come in for a moment,’ I said, eager to get the door shut before we all perished from the cold.