Rosie Fitzwilliam looked at the sign swinging jauntily in the sea breeze that carried the essence of Brighton – fish and chips, salt spray, vinegar and the raucous cry of seagulls.
‘Great Aunt Ada’s B&B’ written bright and bold under a black and white portrait of Ada herself, followed by the address, ‘Valentine’s Lane, Brighton’
Rosie felt the familiar pang of sadness that Great Aunt Ada wasn’t here to see the relaunch of her much loved establishment. She took comfort from the fact that Ada had at least seen some of the transformation of the dilapidated property into the quirky boutique B&B, before her death a year ago.
She had seen enough to know it encompassed what she had wanted - a place that combined cosiness with style. A place that was ‘somewhere where people could fall in love.’
The thought triggered a sudden vivid image of David, of three years ago, and Rosie closed her eyes in a futile attempt to block the memory.
She’d never believed in love at first sight, not until then. The summer’s day when the front door to the B&B had swung open with its characteristic creak that no amount of repair seemed to mend.
She’d looked up from the reception desk as a man approached. A man about her own age, a man with chestnut hair, highlighted with copper. Sunkissed she’d thought inconsequentially. His eyes a charcoal grey, his nose a decided jut, his chin a determined square countered by the smallest of dimples. Her breath caught as she tried to gather any shred of dignity and pick her jaw off the floor.
He’d come to a halt, returned her gaze, the gleam in his eye a mix of interest and something else that sent a tingle to the tips of her toes.
That had been the start. Rosie shook her head. David was in the past, a romantic interlude, an illusion…. a dream… a fairy tale that had embargoed the happy ending.
‘Rosie,’ A familiar voice called out, pulled her to the present and she turned with a smile to greet Tom. Her best friend since school days, Tom who had been her rock when David had left, just as she’d been there for him when his marriage to Jennifer broke down. Oddly enough Tom had met Jennifer at the B&B – she was a landscape gardener who had completely rejuvenated the overgrown back garden, turned it into a romantic blaze of colour and scent. ‘Where shall I start?’ he asked.
Tom had come to help prepare for the launch party, the grand opening of Great Aunt Ada’s B&B. ‘I’m just coming,’ she called and with a last look at the sign she headed towards him.
David Melrose sat in his sleek Manhattan office and stared at the New York skyline, his mind literally hundreds of miles away, in a tucked away lane off Brighton’s seafront. Valentine’s Lane, with its Regency architecture. Valentine’s Lane where a B& B stood, a B&B with a creaking door and inside….
He pulled his mind from the past, the trip down memory lane triggered by the letters on his desk. The first from Greene, Partridge and Green, a firm of solicitors.
Dear Mr Melrose
We regret to inform you of the death of Mrs Ada Fitzwilliam. Mrs Fitzwilliam passed away a year ago but requested that you should be sent the enclosed at the appropriate time.
Yours sincerely etc etc
You had a place in the restoration of Great Aunt Ada’s B&B and I believe you should be at the opening. I will be there in spirit.
He could picture Ada writing the note, her posture upright as she dipped pen into ink. Sadness touched him, alongside a wish that he could have seen Ada Fitzwilliam again
As he looked at the cream embossed invitation; memories crowded his brain, memories of Rosie.
So vivid he felt he could reach out and touch the glossy silk of her dark hair. See her green eyes spark into laughter or desire. Hear the sound of her laugh. Enough David. It was long since over.
Now he’d achieved the success he’d craved. Founder and CEO of his own mega successful company with the lifestyle to go with it. He partied on yachts, wined and dined with society’s elite…. and yet all that faded beside the image of a B&B on Valentine’s Lane, Brighton, UK.
Madness. He and Rosie had never had a chance. Though back then he’d believed they had the world at their feet.
It had all been so clear in his mind.
The proposal, the fancy dinner, himself on one knee, words of love tumbling out. The sparkle of happy tears in her eyes, the wide beauty of her smile as she said yes and he slipped the simple sapphire and diamond ring on her finger. The fizz of champagne on his tongue as they started to discuss the future.
And then the come down, the slippery sliding slope over the next days as the future slipped from their grasp.
Sat in the half decorated lounge of the B&B, Rosie’s frown, ‘But I don’t understand….’
His reply, ‘It will be great. You and Ada will come to New York, set up the B&B there. It’ll be a massive success… and so will my company.’
‘But why can’t you set up over here? You know how much this building means to Great Aunt Ada. To me.’ Her hand on his arm, her green eyes pleading. ‘You’ve helped us, you’ve painted, pulled up floorboards.’
‘Yes and that will make it easier to sell, give you the capital to take…’ his voice trailed off as Rosie took her hand away.
She’d gestured round. ‘This place here on Valentine’s Lane means everything to Ada. She took me in when my parents died, saved me from the care system. I promised her I would restore this B&B where she met her husband and fell in love. I can’t come with you. I made a promise.’
‘And I can’t stay here.’ Because he too had made a promise. Though not one he wanted to share.
The sparkle ebbed from her emerald eyes as they dulled to a muddy green and slowly she’d slipped the ring off her finger. Given it back, leant over and dropped the lightest, most bittersweet of kisses on his cheek. ‘Goodbye David. I wish you success.’
Back in the present David’s gaze dropped back to the invitation.
Rosie looked around the launch party. It looked perfect, just as Great Aunt Ada had wished. Red and white flowers, candles that scented the air with the delicate scent of clean cotton and jasmine.
Ada’s words echoed in her brain. ‘I want our B&B to be a place of love. I don’t just mean the love that leads to happy ever after. There are many different types of love that can come when you least expect them. Like mine for you Rosie. When you came into my life I was lost in my grief after Albert died. You healed me.’
Hope and determination combined – she would achieve Ada’s vision.
The doorbell rang and she headed to open it, saw Jennifer, Tom’s ex on the doorstep.
‘Is… Tom here?’
Before she could answer Tom was at the door a smile on his face, and hope in his eyes. ‘Jen? Come in.’
Rosie watched as they walked away together, saw Jennifer gesture with her hands, show Tom a cream piece of paper. Turning to close the door she froze as a man approached. A man about her own age with chestnut hair, and copper highlights, with dark grey eyes that met hers with interest and a purpose.
He held out an embossed invitation. ‘Ada invited me.’ He paused. ‘I’m so sorry Rosie. Sorry for your loss. Sorry she isn’t here today.’
‘Thank you. The words came out automatically. ‘Do you want to come in?’ Get a grip. Obviously he did – he’d flown all the way here from NY.
But he shook his head. ‘I need to say something. Something I should have said years ago. I couldn’t stay here, because I made a promise too. To my mother.’ His gaze stayed on hers, his voice even. ‘She was a single mum, growing up she wouldn’t tell me who my dad was. All I knew was that he deserted her when she fell pregnant and I knew she deserved better. She died when I was fifteen. When she knew how ill she was finally revealed Dad’s identity. He was a well-known man from a privileged, wealthy local family. She made me promise to tell no-one and the last promise I made her was to make her proud. I decided that I had to prove myself in New York, show my ‘dad’ what a success I was, mix with his crowd, take the business world by storm. In her name.’
Rosie felt her chest constrict. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be. I came here to tell you I got it wrong. Proving myself to a scumbag by becoming like him wouldn’t have made my mother proud. Love is more important than revenge. She would have wanted me to see that. I didn’t. And I’m sorry.’
‘Don’t be.’ She knew that wasn’t fair, suspected that she should have asked more questions, been less caught up in the restoration. Knew that this moment wasn’t the time to analyse, not when her heart was filled with sudden tentative hope. ‘We can talk later, right now it feels that all that matters is that you’re here. At Great Aunt Ada’s B&B. On Valentine’s Lane. Today.’
His face lit into a smile that sent a tingle to the tips of her toes. ‘Come in,’ Rosie said and as he entered, the door, the brand new door creaked in welcome, the sign swung in the wind and it looked for a moment as though Great Aunt Ada smiled.
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