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"It's just as lovely from the inside as the outside," the driver said as he pulled up to the curb. He used his gloved hand to wipe away the steam clouding the window. A cozy old man with wisps of gray hair, he looked as though he belonged in the nearest pub sipping his ale and telling stories to visitors.
Monica Reeves squinted, turning her head from side to side, trying to see between the drops of rain rolling down the outside of the window.
"Waterproof, I hope," she muttered.
"Your grandmother would never have put you into a faulty home, my dear," the gray-haired man said, fondness evident in his voice. "It's withstood a war, you know? This cottage will stand forever if I have anything to say about it."
"Built by a Lancaster?"
"Naturally. If you can't trust anyone else, you can trust a Lancaster. That's the truth."
Monica couldn't help but laugh. "I feel better already."
Henry took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He looked sullen and troubled, as though he'd suddenly remembered something he'd forgotten a long time ago. "There were many houses just like this one destroyed in the blitz. We were quite fortunate back then. Most of the houses over here were rattled a bit, but nothing like it was down there." He gave a sad shake of his head and motioned down the street. "Now those poor people lost more than a window or a nice piece of furniture. We all lost something or someone back then. Your granny will tell you that, love."
"But you both survived."
The driver nodded. "So we did, so we did. Ah, you've brought back memories to me, Miss Reeves. I've forgotten how it used to be back then, when I was your age. Your grandmother loved it here. Wehad to practically scrape her off the furniture when it was time to send her home."
Monica sat forward and inhaled, smelling pipe smoke and aftershave. "I can see that."
"She fell in love with Edington Manor the first time she visited on holiday with her mother."
She couldn't help but smile at her driver's words. Her childhood had been peppered with sweet, romantic stories told during afternoons of stirring brownie batter and making old-fashioned drinking chocolate from family recipes. If it whispered of days gone by, her grandmother brought it to her.
"I thought she was in love with a man named Henry," she teased.
The driver chuckled and shook his head. The eighty-four-year-old still had a boyish smile, which she remembered from photographs.
"Oh, goodness, dear," he said, using his cloth handkerchief to wipe his nose. "No, no, of course not. Good friends, that's all it ever was, though she was the most handsome woman I ever did see." His gray eyes twinkled as he gazed at her reflection in the rear view mirror. "And my, how you look like her, Miss Reeves."
She took a deep breath, smelling his pipe smoke and English Leather aftershave. Every detail of the manor matched the stories her grandmother had told, in every old letter that had greeted her at her college dorm and every postcard from her grandmother's cottage in Michigan. At the age of eighty she'd decided she could no longer travel across the ocean to see her beloved Edington Manor, and now at the age of eighty-five, she'd signed everything over to her granddaughter, a gift of sorts to celebrate Monica finally growing up.
Now that she sat before the stately old cottage, Monica didn't know what to do with it. Up until this moment she'd convinced herself to sell it and use the money to pay off college debts and get a head start on the dream home she and Alan had found nestled along the New Hampshire coast. True, it had been more Alan's dream home than hers, but just because they'd bought it didn't mean they had to stay forever.
"You'll love it here," Henry said as he turned off the car and opened the door.
Monica forced a smile. Now was not the time to go falling in love with charm. She had the reliability of a brand new home with modern conveniences, not a quaint cottage located across the Atlantic.