The Hostage Heart

The Hostage Heart

by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781847518422
Publisher: Severn House Publishers
Publication date: 10/01/2018
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 192
Product dimensions: 5.55(w) x 8.74(h) x (d)

About the Author

Cynthia Harrod-Eagles was born and educated in London and had a variety of jobs in the commercial world before becoming a full-time writer. She is the author of the internationally acclaimed Bill Slider mysteries and the historical Morland Dynasty series. She lives in London, is married with three children and enjoys music, wine, gardening, horses and the English countryside.

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CHAPTER 1

The third time Emma saw the advertisement, she stopped and read it more closely. It had appeared in the Guardian and the Times Educational Supplement without causing her more than an amused glance, but finding it again in the trade journal she wondered if it could be serious after all.

It was the word 'governess' that intrigued her: so very Jane Austen, so unexpected in the nineteen-nineties.

Governess wanted to teach and care for girl aged 10. Large house. Other help kept. Excellent pay and conditions for dedicated person. Mrs Henderson, 3 Audley Place, W1.

It was the 'large house', she thought afterwards, that made her decide to write off. Not because she had ambitions that way, but because in conjunction with 'girl aged 10' it seemed to her infinitely pathetic. She pictured a poor little only child rattling round in a vast, echoing mansion. She had grown up one of seven – an unfashionably large family even in those days – in a three-bed terraced house in Hoxton. She shared a bedroom with her two younger sisters; her four younger brothers had the large bedroom; and Mum and Dad had the smallest room, which was only just big enough to take a double bed, so that their wardrobe had to stand out on the landing, a hazard to shins in the night when you had to go to the bathroom.

Downstairs was a front room – designated the quiet room where homework was done – a back room where everything else happened, and the tiny kitchen. Outside in a minute square of garden the grass struggled unequally against an army of tramping, scuffing feet, for it provided the only play area apart from the street.

In this confined space they had tumbled over each other, played and quarrelled, helped and hindered each other; nine mouths jabbering, eighteen eyes precluding privacy, thirty-six limbs always in the way whenever you tried to move. Noisy it was, inconvenient always, exasperating often – but lonely, never. In moments of high irritation with the brothers who made a noise like a Panzer division when she was trying to revise for an exam, or the sisters who borrowed and spoiled her tights and her lipstick and her favourite sweater, she would cry out for peace and quiet and a room of her own. But she always knew how lucky she was to belong to so many souls. The old saying was: Home is the place where, when you go there, they have to let you in. When you had six siblings, you knew there would always be a lot of places you could call home.

So she thought how sad it must be to be a child, aged ten, in need of a governess. Was Mrs Henderson disabled in some way? Or was she away from home a lot? Perhaps she was in the Diplomatic Corps: Audley Place was May fair, where a lot of embassies were situated. A poor little rich girl, presumably. Well she would send off a letter and her CV, and see what happened. It would be interesting, at least.

Her flat-mates did not see it in quite the same way.

"Are you crazy, or what?" Suzanne said, staring at her over the coffee-tray she was bringing in. She was thin, dark and intense, with eyes that bulged slightly behind her rather John Lennon-ish, wire-rimmed glasses, and fine, straight hair that was always slipping out of its pins.

"What's crazy about it?" Emma said mildly.

"Going into service is crazy," Suzanne said, banging the tray down on the coffee table. "This is the twentieth century. Governess! You're not Jane Eyre, you know."

"Oy, look out!" Alison said, annoyed. She was painting her fingernails, her left hand laid out flat on a pile of books on the table which Suzanne had jogged. "You'll have the bottle over."

"Well, you shouldn't do that in here," Suzanne retorted. "It's disgusting. Some of us eat on that table."

"Blimey, I'm only painting them. It's not contaminating," Ali said. "It's not like Rachel cutting her toenails in the bathroom and leaving the bits all over the floor."

"One bit, once. Don't exaggerate," Rachel said, without looking up from the stack of homework she was marking. "I missed it. It wasn't deliberate."

"What is that colour anyway?" Suzanne said, staring now at Alison's hand. "It's nauseating. You aren't going to work like that tomorrow?"

"Of course I am," Ali said. "It's the latest thing: Amazon Green."

"Gan Green more like," Suzanne said. "Are you taking sugar or not today, Rache?"

"Yes. No, wait – make that no. I'll try without again." Rachel dieted on and off, though nothing she did seemed to make much difference one way or the other. She was a full-bodied sort of girl: not fat, but no Kate Moss either. Emma thought she worried too much, but Suzanne and Ali were both walking twigs, and Rachel looked at them wistfully when they swapped size eights and passed by the bra department without pausing. She took the mug from Suzanne and sipped it flinchingly. "Ugh! I wish I could get used to the taste."

"You don't persevere, that's your trouble," said Alison, waving her hand about to dry it. "Put two in for me, Suze. Anyway, go on, Em, what's all this about?"

Emma, who had been waiting patiently for all the sidetracking to end, passed the copy of the advert round for them to look at.

Suzanne frowned over it. "I'm sure I know that address."

"This Mrs Henderson a mate of yours, then?" Alison asked innocently. She liked baiting Suzanne.

Suzanne rose to it. "No, of course not. You don't think I mix socially with the types who live in Audley Place do you?" She had fiercely left-wing principles, and sometimes had difficulty in squaring them with her job with a top interior designer, where inevitably her customers were drawn from the ranks of the wealthy.

"Perhaps you did a job for her?" Rachel suggested soothingly.

"Maybe," Suzanne said, still frowning. "I'm sure I know the address, but Henderson – no," she shook her head. "It doesn't mean anything to me."

"So you've got nothing against the Hendersons personally?" Emma said.

"I don't need to have," Suzanne said. "You'd be mad to have anything to do with this. Even if it's genuine —"

"Why shouldn't it be?"

"Why should it be! Nobody has governesses nowadays. Nannies or childminders, maybe, for when they're little. Then the kid goes to school. Either there's something wrong with it, or the whole thing's weird. I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole."

"It's probably white slavers, Emma," Rachel remarked conversationally. "They'll drug your tea and whisk you off to the nightclubs of South America."

Suzanne raised her brows. "You think that sort of thing doesn't go on? I could show you an article —"

Alison intervened. Suzanne always had an article on every kind of human exploitation. "Well, anyway, you wouldn't want a live-in job, would you, Em? I mean, it'd make you like a servant. You'd probably get roped in for housework and all that sort of thing. You know how people treat their au pairs."

"And running about after some horrible bratty rich kid," Suzanne put in, "who'll treat you like dirt —"

"Why should she be horrible?" Emma asked, amused.

"Bound to be," Suzanne said briefly.

"I agree with Suze," Alison said. "You'd be no better than a servant."

"Better a servant to one kid than thirty," Emma said. "Whatever this child's like, it can't be as bad as being a class teacher. I've had my fill of that, thank you very much."

Rachel looked up at that point. She and Emma had taught at the same school for three years, but Emma had given in her notice to leave at the end of this term. Neither of them had been physically assaulted yet, but they had endured most other things from the increasingly unruly children. "I know you want a change," Rachel said in her gentle way, "but isn't this a bit drastic? I mean, living in and everything, your time won't be your own. The kid'll be sick in the night and you'll have to change the sheets and all that sort of thing."

"Oh well, that'll be nothing new to me," Emma said lightly. "You forget I had six brothers and sisters. Anyway," she tired of the argument, "this is all a bit previous – I haven't got the job yet. I probably won't even get an interview."

And with that she changed the subject firmly, and a little while later when the conversation had picked up between the other three she slipped out of the room and sought the privacy of her own room.

Each of the girls had a bedroom to herself in the large, shabby flat in Muswell Hill, and they shared the living-room, kitchen and bathroom. The lease was in Rachel's name, but they shared the rent and the bills equally, and on the whole the arrangement worked very well. Of course, they had their quarrels. Suzanne tended to use other people's things without permission; Alison was very bad at clearing up after herself and had to be nagged to do her share of the housework; both of them tended to put upon Rachel, who was mild and gentle and would always sooner clean the bath herself than have an argument with the person whose turn it was; and all three thought Emma was neurotic because she couldn't bear dirt or mess in the kitchen.

But none of the arguments was serious, and the four girls rubbed along happily enough. Emma loved the flat. After her overcrowded childhood, it was paradise to have all this space, a room of her own where no one messed with her things; and after eight raised voices, three constituted peace and quiet to her. There was a big garden out at the back which strictly speaking belonged to the ground floor flat, but in which they were allowed to sunbathe and eat al fresco in the summer. And best of all, there were the wide green spaces and towering trees of the Alexandra Park right on her doorstep, so to speak. She was a Londoner by birth, a real townie, but she liked a bit of nature as much as the next man.

She could see the tops of the trees from her bedroom window, as she sat on her bed and started to prepare the next day's lessons. Her heart wasn't really in it, and she had to struggle to keep her mind from wandering to more enjoyable subjects. So she wasn't too upset at being disturbed when there was a tap on the door and Alison appeared.

"Are you busy? Can I come in?"

"Yes, if you like."

Alison leaned against the chest of drawers and fiddled with things. She was thin and red-haired and rather kooky-looking, given to wild clothes and outlandish makeup. Today she was wearing a leather miniskirt and a sort of sleeveless vest in purple lycra, and her hair stood out round her head in the through-a-hedge-backwards style which was currently fashionable amongst the bright young things. She worked for an very exclusive clothes shop in Bond Street which catered to the 'Daphne's' set, and blackish-green lipstick and nail varnish were nothing out of the ordinary there.

"Did you want something?" Emma asked at last.

"Oh, not really," Alison said, and wandered over to the window. "Did you get the Guardian today?"

"Yes, did you want to borrow it?"

"No, I just wondered."

Emma waited patiently. Alison was never direct about anything. She was one of those people who, when you asked if they wanted a cup of tea, would answer, 'Well, are you having one?' Obviously there was something on her mind, but it would take a while to get to.

At last she said, "You know Phil?"

Phil was Ali's boyfriend. "That's a rhetorical question, I take it?"

"Well," Ali went on, "you know Phil works for British Airways? Well, he's got a friend who owns a travel agency."

"Really?" Emma said politely. Alison turned from the window.

"Em, you're not really going to apply for this job, are you?"

"Yes, I really am."

"I wish you wouldn't. I mean, I know you want a change and everything, but – well, why not make a real break, go into something else? I mean, teaching is bad enough, but this job you're talking about – I bet the pay's lousy, and the hours'd be terrible. What you want is a job that'll let you get out and about and meet people."

"And you've got something in mind?"

Alison looked eager. "This friend of Phil's – he's doing awfully well and he wants to take on an assistant."

"In the travel agency?"

"Yes. OK, he might not pay great bucks to start with, but it'd be an opportunity, because when he opens another branch, you'd be in line for manager. Plus you'd get all the cheap travel and holidays."

"And you think he'd take me on?" Emma said drily.

"I know he would, if Phil put in a word. They're great mates." Alison's eyes pleaded. "Only, if you go for this other thing, you'd be living in, wouldn't you, and you'd leave the flat, and we'd have to get someone else."

"Ah," said Emma significantly.

"Well, that's not the only reason," Alison said indignantly. "We all get along so well, it'd be terrible to break us up. I mean, we'd miss you. And I want you to be happy, do the right thing. Will you think about it at least?"

"I'll think about it," Emma promised. "Thanks, Ali."

Alison idled her way out, and Emma stared out of the window, thinking in surprise that she hadn't realised Alison cared that much.

Only a few minutes later there was another knock on her door, and this time it was Rachel who came in.

"Am I disturbing you?"

"No, it's all right." Rachel came in and stood looking at her, chewing her lip anxiously. "Have you come to reason with me too?"

"Oh dear, I suppose I have. Emma, have you really thought about this? I know it's none of my business, but it's an awfully big step to take. You'll lose your seniority, and then there's the pension and everything. Teaching can be tough, but you've got security, and jobs aren't easy to come by these days."

"It's nice of you to worry about me," Emma said, "but I've given in my notice now."

"Oh, but Mrs Petherbridge would let you withdraw that," Rachel said eagerly. "She was asking me today if I thought you were determined to leave. She doesn't want you to go. I don't either."

"Thanks. But I've thought it out carefully. It wasn't a sudden decision, you know. I really do mean to leave."

"Oh. Well, if you're sure. It was just I didn't think you'd be happy being a governess after teaching at a proper school."

"I haven't got the job yet," Emma pointed out patiently.

"No," Rachel said, brightening. "That's right. You haven't. Well, goodnight, then."

"Goodnight," Emma said, and as the door closed behind Rachel she thought, whatever next?

Emma was the first up next morning, as usual. She was in the kitchen making tea when Suzanne appeared, which was not at all usual: Suzanne did not normally get up until half past eight, and was always last through the bathroom, since she didn't have to be at work until ten most days.

"Hello," Emma said. "Want some tea? It must be a shock to your system seeing the early morning light."

"Don't get smart with me," Suzanne said in mock exasperation. "Because of you I didn't get a wink of sleep last night."

"What, lying awake worrying about my welfare?"

"No, lying awake trying to remember why I knew that address in Mayfair. I just knew it rang a bell, but I couldn't put my finger on it."

"And you've got up at the crack of seven o'clock to tell me that?" Emma laughed.

"I knew if I didn't tell you I'd forget again and it would drive me crazy. It's Akroyd."

"What is?"

"Not Henderson, Akroyd. The people at 3 Audley Place. We did it up just before Christmas, but it was one of Simon's jobs, so I didn't have anything to do with it really, I just heard him talking about it."

"Akroyd, eh?" Emma said.

"You know about Akroyd, don't you?" Suzanne said suspiciously.

"Not a thing."

"Ignorant! Akroyd Engineering. You must have seen the name on motorway bridges."

"Oh, that Akroyd!"

"Yes, and she's Lady Susan Stanley, the Earl of Cheshunt's daughter. So they're rich as Croesus on both sides, I hope you realise." Her voice wavered between triumph and disapproval.

"Look, I haven't got the job yet," Emma said for the nth time. "So who's this Henderson person?"

"Search me. But anyway, at least you can let me know what you think of the house. It was a no-expenses-spared job and Simon raved about it. If you get to see inside, I'd be interested to hear your opinion."

"At last, someone willing to use the word 'if'," Emma laughed.

"I meant 'when' really. They're bound to want to see you," Suzanne corrected herself.

"Oh really? Why?"

"Because you'll be the only person bonkers enough to apply, that's why," Suzanne said, turning round and heading back to bed. "Governess! I ask you!" She turned at the door for a parting shot. "And if you get white-slaved, don't come running to me."

"I won't," Emma promised cheerfully.

(Continues…)



Excerpted from "The Hostage Heart"
by .
Copyright © 1997 Cynthia Harrod-Eagles.
Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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