Chapter Eleven

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As I leant against the front doorway, I watched Nicholas make his way back up the driveway on his horse and buggy. He had promptly fetched his packed lunch from Mrs. McCulloch, retrieved his horse and buggy from the barn and stables, and left without looking back.

I bet he was glad to see the last of me.

I sighed, gently closing the door behind me. Mr. Valentine was expecting me for lunch so I could meet the rest of the family, but I was in his home for one reason only. To find that painting.

Nicholas had mentioned Mr. Valentine was going to hang the painting up in his living room. The house was so big, though, for all I knew it had five living rooms. I had yet to venture past the foyer and the sitting room we were in earlier, so I wasn't even sure which direction to start. The sitting room was past the foyer on the right, so I decided to go left.

As I turned, a staircase stood before me, leading up to the second floor. I knew that most likely led to the bedrooms, so I wouldn't bother looking up there.

A hallway ran beside the staircase leading to the unknown, and to the left of the staircase, well, what do you know? A living room.

It was similarly furnished as the sitting room; fancy velvet sofas with curved legs, a mahogany coffee table and a display case filled with numerous decorative items.

Mr. Valentine certainly wasn't one to hide the fact he was wealthy.

As I glanced around, I noticed the bare wall space above the fireplace, and wondered if that was where the cottage painting was going to go. He either hadn't hung it up yet or I was in the wrong room.

Just as I was about to turn to continue my search, I jumped at the sound of Mr. Valentine's voice behind me.

"Miss Fletcher, there you are. We've been waiting for you in the dining room."

"Oh, I'm sorry to keep you waiting. I got lost," I lied.

He chuckled. "It's just through here," he said, gesturing down the hallway. "I'll have Isabella show you around later. We can't have you getting lost all the time, now can we?"

I faked a laughed. "Thank you. That would be very helpful," I said, as I went towards the location he was pointing. I was a little annoyed at having my search interrupted, but a tour guide would help me find the painting faster.

~

Lunch turned into an uncomfortable hour-long game of Ask Tilly One Hundred and One Questions About Herself. Present at the table were Mr. and Mrs. Valentine and Isabella, and all eyes were on me as I fumbled my way through my answers. Even Mrs. McCulloch popped her head into the dining room a few times to get her two cents in.

I did learn, however, that Mr. and Mrs. Valentine's five other children were all older than Isabella, married with children, and their eldest, Henry Jnr, who inherits Clay's Cottage in the future is actually a reverend for that beautiful church in town.

I was relieved when lunch was finally over, and Mr. Valentine had suggested Isabella show me to my room. As I placed my jeans and jumper neatly on the bed, she asked me with one eyebrow lifted, "Is that all you brought?"

"Yes," I replied. As she continued to stare at my clothes, I added, "It's a long story. Maybe I'll tell you about it one day."

"Sounds mysterious," she said, grinning at me. She was very pretty; dark blonde hair, large blue eyes and rosy red cheeks. "I'll take you back downstairs now and I'll show you the rest of the house. Then I'll take you to meet my babies!" she squealed, excitedly.

It turned out that the apple didn't fall far from the tree, as Isabella Caroline Shore was as talkative as her father.

Her dark grey dress twirled around her as she spun to leave the room, and it reminded me of the one Nicholas offered to me to wear at the cottage.

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