On a Midnight Clear Excerpt

I stare at the builder who is sitting opposite me. His florid face glows in the light, and even as I watch, he runs his handkerchief over his forehead, mopping up the sheen of sweat. Then he folds his arms and directs a belligerent glare at me. 

“Listen, Lord Greenwood. I have the utmost respect for you, but the time’s come to stop playing silly games.”

I wonder idly why people always say they have respect for you and then go on to prove the direct opposite but put a polite smile on my face as he carries on with his tirade.

“I want King’s Wood, and I mean to have it.”

I spread my hands and lean back in my chair at my desk. The leather creaks warningly, but like so much about my house, it just squeaks through. “Then we have a problem, Mr Thompson, because I own that wood, and I have no intention of selling it to you. You want to bulldoze it and build housing on the land.”

He glowers. “So? Is there something wrong with building new houses for people who need them?”

“Not at all,” I say mildly. “Only the people you build them for don’t need them, per se, as they are all rather rich. You build mansions and not social housing. Roughly translated, they’ll be clogging up the country lanes with their huge cars, speeding everywhere, and being appallingly rude to the local people as if the simple act of possessing three cars and holidaying in the Maldives automatically puts them out of the reach of politeness.” 

He scoffs. “It’s not exactly your business.”

I wrinkle my nose. “It sort of is, Mr Thompson. That wood has been in my family’s possession for thousands of years. It directly abuts my gardens. My father entrusted it to me with a solemn undertaking to keep it safe. Do you know anything about King’s Wood?” He shakes his head crossly, but I continue. “Druids worshipped there. There is still a circle of ancient stones in the centre about which we know very little.” 

Druids,” he says in a tone of disgust. “Are they those funny folks who run around in their nighties?”

“I’m so glad you could sum up our ancient pagan history in just a few words.”

He blows his nose belligerently. “I don’t hold with any of that London nonsense.”

I blink. “Well, it’s actually local business. King’s Wood is sacred land.”

“Bloody ridiculous. It’s prime building land, Lord Greenwood, and I want it.”

“Well, as my old nanny used to say, we can’t always get what we want.” I pause. “It was either her or Mick Jagger.” I smile politely at him. “I feel we are at an impasse.”

A smile crosses his face that instantly makes me nervous. “Well, we’ll see about that.”

“What do you mean by that, Mr Thompson?”

He shrugs, standing up and pulling on his coat. “It means that Mr Watson and I play golf together.”

“You play golf with my bank manager? I’m unsure why that was said in such a threatening manner unless he cheats or steals your balls.” Despite my flippancy, anxiousness stirs in me, and by his smug smile, he knows it.

“Him and me, we’ve had some very interesting chats.”

I sigh. “Spit it out, Mr Thompson. I think we’re finally coming to the point after months of these chats of ours.”

“Mr Watson says that you’re in danger of losing all this.”

He waves his hand to encompass the room, and anger boils inside me at his careless gesture.

“Oh really?” I say silkily. “That’s what he said, is it? And did Mr Watson have any more gems to impart in his quest to break all the rules of confidentiality?”

“He says you’ve got until the middle of January to pay the money that is owed to the bank, or he’ll be foreclosing on you.” He smiles at me again. “He confidently expects that you’ll never be able to do that. And when it happens, I’ll be first in line to buy everything lock stock. So, you see, Lord Greenwood, I will own the wood and the house.” He looks around assessingly. “I wonder how many houses I can get on the plot when this old monstrosity is torn down.”

I get to my feet. “I’d like you to leave,” I say in a cold voice, and he has the grace to flush, but he stays where he is.

“I’ll offer you fifty grand more than my first offer,” he says urgently. “Sell me the wood, and you can clear some of your debts with the bank.” I stare at him, my mind racing, and he shrugs. “I still think you’ll lose this place eventually, but it’ll buy some time, and I’ll get what I want. I usually do in the end.” He pulls on his gloves. “I’ll let myself out, Lord Greenwood, and leave you to think about it. Don’t wait too long. I’ll be back on Christmas Eve to know your answer.”

The door slams loudly behind him, and a book falls off a shelf in a puff of dust. I collapse into my chair, hearing the leather creak again, and stare at the pile of paperwork on the worn wood surface of my desk. It was my father’s desk before me and his before him. Generations of Greenwoods have sat here running the estate and probably doing a much better job than me. 

I groan and rub my eyes, but the paperwork is still there when I lower my hands. I prod it with my finger, and the papers separate, revealing bills all with the words “final demand” stamped on them. Bank statements are stapled neatly together, telling a story of a chronic lack of funds and a house and grounds that consume money faster than I have a chance to make it. Let’s face it. If I owned the Bank of England and could print my own money, I’d still never make enough for Greenwood Hall.

On a Midnight Clear

On a Midnight Clear

From bestselling author Lily Morton comes a truly magical romantic comedy.