The brilliant author of our new favourite festive read The Christmas We Met, Kate Lord Brown, has written us a gorgeous short story set on One Book Lane as a birthday present!
The Christmas We Met, Kate’s wonderful winter tale about the secrets revealed by a collection of family jewels, is out in paperback, ebook and audio on 22nd October 2015.
‘Two hundred pounds,’ the auctioneer called out, his gavel raised above the desk. ‘Going once . . .’
The tick of the longcase clock across the packed Book Lane auction room seemed to grow louder in the expectant silence, and Melody realised she was holding her breath, her pulse racing. Her hand shot up.
‘Two hundred and five, lady at the back . . .’
I just won’t eat this month, she thought, giddy with adrenaline. The silver mermaid on the coral bracelet around her wrist caught the light as her hand waved. Come on, Grace, bring me some luck. The charm had always been ‘Grace’ to her, named after the jeweller’s logo on its battered box. She used to play with it at her mother’s dressing table, decked out in ropes of pearls and glittering rhinestones, and loved it so much that her mother gave it to her. Melody gazed up at the projected image of the first edition The Little Prince behind the auctioneer. Come on . . . come on . . .
It was standing room only. Leather-bound books lined the wood-panelled walls, copper leaves drifting past the darkening windows. An old couple in front of Melody stepped aside, heading for the exit, and she felt someone watching her. Him.
At the viewing she had been standing in front of a glass case, gazing at the copy of The Little Prince. She knew already how it would feel in her hand, the weight of the pages, the toasty smell of the paper.
‘See anything you fancy?’ the auctioneer had said. He leant against the case. He always had too many buttons undone on his artfully dishevelled indigo shirts.
‘Maybe,’ she said.
He took a step closer, put his hand on her upper arm. ‘I’ve got something special in my office. Come and see . . .’
‘I don’t think so.’ She tried to step away, but he held her firm.
‘There you are, darling!’ A stranger with shaggy blond hair strode towards them and took her hand. ‘Sorry I’m late.’ He glared at the auctioneer, who stepped away.
‘Thanks,’ she said, walking to the door, ‘but I could have handled him.’
‘Sure you could,’ he said, smiling. He held her gaze for a moment. ‘But that wouldn’t have been any fun.’ She watched him striding away along Book Lane, his hands deep in the pockets of his blue reefer jacket.
Now he was staring at her across the saleroom.
You, she thought. You’re the one I’ve been bidding against? Please don’t, please don’t . . .
She felt herself shrink inside her coat as his hand went up.
‘Two hundred and ten,’ the auctioneer said. Melody desperately calculated her bills that month. She couldn’t go any higher. ‘Any other bids?’ I could sell something. ‘Going once . . .’ She shook her head, and the noise of the auction room flooded in as the gavel went down.
Melody stepped out onto the pavement, pulling on a pair of gloves. The evening air chilled her cheeks, a sparkle of frost carrying the scent of bonfires and damp leaves. She frowned, disappointment tight in her throat, and kicked at the piles of gold and ochre leaves as she walked home.
‘Excuse me?’ She turned at the sound of a man’s voice, and saw the blond man from the auction house jogging to catch up with her.
‘Congratulations,’ she said.
‘If I’d known it was you I was bidding against . . .’
‘You’d have let me win?’ She smiled. ‘That wouldn’t have been any fun, would it?’ They strolled along Book Lane towards the harbour, and the elegant rows of stucco houses near the golf course gave way to a riot of colourful cottages once they crossed the High Street. ‘Aren’t you a bit old for The Little Prince?’
He pretended to be shocked. ‘You are never too old for The Little Prince. It was my favourite book when I was a kid.’
‘Mine too.’ She glanced at him.
‘My parents didn’t have much time for books, but I won a copy at school for something or another.’
‘Chivalry? Rescuing damsels in distress?’
‘Possibly.’ She noticed the dimples in his cheeks when he smiled. ‘That copy fell apart. I always wanted a first edition.’ He looked down at the parcel. ‘Dad teases me I could open a book shop if the restaurant doesn’t work out.’
She stopped by a two-up two-down clapperboard cottage overlooking the harbour. ‘This is me.’ A lamp shone in the window, warm and inviting, woodsmoke curling from the chimney into the star-filled sky.
‘It’s lovely. I’ve never been this far down.’
‘You don’t live here?’
‘Other end of town. I live above the restaurant.’ He handed her his card. David. She recognised the name of the elegant new bistro on the High Street.
‘I love the light,’ she said, letting the implication of him going out of his way settle in her. ‘I’m an illustrator. Children’s books.’
‘Ah . . . I get it. That’s why you wanted the book?’
‘Not exactly.’ She paused. ‘It’s mine, you see.’
‘But I bought it─’
‘I promise, it’s mine. Or it was,’ Melody said. ‘May I?’
She unwrapped the parcel and turned to the frontispiece. A bookplate inscribed with her mother’s beautiful calligraphic hand said: Melody Hayes.
‘Melody? You’re Melody?’
‘My dad wanted me to be a musician like him.’ She shrugged. ‘Huge disappointment.’
‘I’ve been looking for it for years.’ She ran her fingertips over the cover.
‘Listen, I’ll let you buy it, bit by bit.’
‘You will?’ She reached for her bag, but he touched her hand.
‘There’s no hurry. Pay me when you come for dinner tomorrow?’
The phone was ringing when she unlocked the door. ‘Mel,’ her mother said. ‘I got your message. What’s up?’
‘I found The Little Prince.’
‘Well done, darling! Your dad had no right selling all your books as well as mine. Spite, it was, pure and simple.’ Her mother sighed. ‘Still, it’s all over now. You know, you can’t change the past.’
‘I know. I just want to find as many of the books as I can.’ She leant against the window, watching David striding away along Book Lane, hands deep in his pockets. Already his walk felt familiar, dear.
‘Look to the future, Mel.’
David turned, walked backwards for a few paces, watching the light from Melody’s window, and raised his hand.
‘I am,’ she said, raising hers in return.