Chapter 1

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Chapter 1

Ladybird Woods

I'd never intended to move out of LA, but there I was in the countryside, house hunting. It was a chance of a new start after my relationship had exploded before my eyes. The whole episode had drained me after thinking I had found my Mr. Right. What a fool I'd been, with 1 year, 6 months, 17 days, and 3 hours wasted. As an author, I thought about all the words I could have written in the time I'd spent with him planning a future. His words had meant nothing and mine had been spirited away, squandered in the moments we'd shared. For all my bravado, I'd never felt so alone as I did there and then. Putting on a brave face at my new circumstances, I tried to remain positive, sucking in a deep intake of breath, and then expelled it in a drawn-out sigh.

I had a decision to make. The house I viewed was a snip at the price considering the other houses for sale in the county. Maybe the town's steel mill closing down helped. A property virgin on the threshold of putting my toe on housing ladder at twenty-six, it was the ideal buy, despite some misgivings. There had to be a catch. Mom always said to me, 'If something doesn't smell right, then there's probably something wrong.' She wasn't referring to the sense of smell, so unfortunately I ignored the lingering memory of mom's dour expression as she recited her metaphor, and the musty stench that permeated throughout the rooms that had me pinching my nose. After all, the property had been left empty for some time and the leaking roof needed repairing.

"What do you think, Helen?" said Roberto, the real-estate agent who was appointed by the Town Hall's attorneys.

What I was thinking was that it was so dilapidated that the work involved to make it a home would take my mind off my situation.

"It needs a lot of work." I replied, and twitched my nose, hoping to feint disinterest. Trouble was, inside I was screaming, gimme the keys.

"Well, considering the attorneys are open to offers, and the market is slow around here, maybe I can put in a substantially lower bid to them," Roberto said, and set a salesman's false smile.

The setting oozed perfection and ticked all my boxes, even if the house didn't. I wasn't keen on adverbs, not as a crime fiction writer, if only because my editor red marked them for exclusion, but his use of 'substantially' sounded good. If only I hadn't needed to dump Steve, the rat of an ex-boyfriend that he was, or my parents had been alive, they could have advised me. The last thing I wanted was to throw my inheritance away. The advance the publisher had paid for my first book wasn't enough on its own to sit back and enjoy life. And future royalties weren't guaranteed. Even at the asking price, and with a budget for repairs, I would be left with enough invested to keep me in bread and butter until I could write and hopefully sell my next book. At least that was the plan. Temptation hung in the air just to say 'yes' and to start the adventure. The skeptic in me, told me to take a step back.

"I need another look around on my own. It's a big decision."

"Fine, I understand. I'll wait in my car. Just remember, I can arrange for a home inspection report before you make an offer. That way, you'll know the cost of the repairs before you settle on a final bid, not to mention that it will give comfort knowing that it's structurally sound."

It was hard to contain my excitement as I walked the fifty yards along the pathway to the front door. The frontage to the road looked more like a copse than a front yard, with juniper and cherry blossoms in full bloom. There was nothing manicured about the garden, with grass and wild flowers growing the way nature intended, and not a neighbor's home in sight. Its appearance and the surrounding were a far cry from the concrete jungle where I lived in LA.

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