Copyright © 2012,
Published by Whiskey Creek
Reviews For THE GATE HOUSE
by Kathleen Heady
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Sample Chapter For THE GATE
HOUSE by Kathleen Heady
Nara Blake punched her pillow for the fifth time,
kicked off her twisted blankets, and sat up in bed. She had to stop
this—this feeling of helplessness. She was not the type of person
to continue pining for what she couldn’t have.
The windows in her upstairs bedroom were still dark, but she was wide
awake, with the familiar sense of dread and loneliness that had kept
her awake so many nights since she and her father, Jack Blake, had
moved to England. She shivered in the chilly bedroom. It was only September;
she had not expected to feel so cold so soon.
Nara pulled the blankets around her body and allowed herself the luxury
of missing the warm tropical nights in St. Clare—and Davis. She
hugged herself and thought of the way his strong arms felt wrapped
around her body the night before she left St. Clare, his warm breath
as he whispered in her ear, the tingling in every fiber of her body
as his lips brushed her face, her throat. They were warm and safe,
with the sounds of the tropical night and the waves of the Caribbean
lulling them to sleep; they planned to marry. They talked endlessly
about what they would do when he finished his pediatric residency and
established his clinic on the island. Nara would be working with her
father, managing his import business, preparing to take over the company
sometime in the future when he retired. Eventually they would build
a house on the island and have children.
Then everything changed.
The nagging cough that had plagued her father for months turned out
to be lung cancer. The doctors in St. Clare recommended treatment in
London; it was superior to what they could provide in their small Caribbean
hospital. Jack’s sister, Sue, had just purchased a bed and breakfast
in Springfield, Lincolnshire, about an hour from the hospital in north
London. Sue had been a nurse and would be able to provide proper care
for her brother—if Nara would help run the bed and breakfast.
Nara was devastated when her father told her the plans he had made
for both of them—not only because she was being torn away from
the man she loved, but she had no interest in changing sheets and cleaning
bathrooms for tourists, or “guests,” as Sue insisted she
call them. The hearty English breakfasts she learned to cook for the
guests—a fry-up of eggs, sausage, beans, mushrooms and tomatoes—turned
her stomach, and she longed for the fresh papaya and pineapple she
had enjoyed on St. Clare.
Nara had begged her father to let her stay in St. Clare to oversee
the import company, but he was adamant. He had a capable manager, Michael,
who had worked for the company for ten years and knew every aspect
of the business, and Jack trusted him implicitly. Besides, her father
wanted Nara near him in what could be his last few months of life,
and she couldn’t deny him that. They had always been close. She
had the rest of her life to spend with Davis; she could give a few
months, or even a year, to her father.
But now, after a month in England, e-mails from Davis had grown more
and more infrequent. He was busy; she knew that. The pediatric residency
in the small hospital demanded his time. She had tried to call him
soon after her arrival in Springfield, but he always seemed to be out.
She left messages at the hospital, but he had not returned her calls.
Now, in the darkness and quiet of the Lincolnshire night, Nara could
admit to herself that her sense of foreboding was real. Obviously,
the relationship had meant more to her than it had to Davis.
She was here in Lincolnshire, buying woolen sweaters to bundle up against
the rainy fall days that would soon turn into the cold days of winter.
Nara had never experienced winter—she had attended college in
Miami—and if the cold chill of September was any indication of
what was to come, she was not going to enjoy it. Especially when the
man she loved was a world away.
Even as she thought about letting go of Davis, at least for now, tears
slid unbidden down her face. Wiping them away impatiently with the
back of her hand, she slipped out of bed, wriggling her toes to find
her fuzzy blue slippers. Imagine—fuzzy slippers in September,
she thought crossly as she pulled her robe from the tangled bed covers
and tied it around her. The robe was too large for her, although it
was the smallest the store carried. Nara’s slight build made
her look far younger than her twenty-two years. She pushed her wavy
black hair back from her face and thought again that it needed a trim.
She definitely looked more mature with a good hair cut and makeup,
but it seemed too much bother when the main part of her day was spent
doing housework, caring for her dad, and occasionally shopping in the
Nara quietly opened her bedroom door and stepped out into the hall,
which was illuminated by one of Aunt Sue’s ever-present night
lights. This one was in the shape of a diminutive Victorian milk maid
with a pail in her hand. There was no sound from her father’s
room; he was sleeping for once. Perhaps the new medicines were working.
Nara tiptoed carefully down the carpeted stairway, her thoughts on
a cup of tea. She would get a pad of paper and a pencil and make a
list of things she needed to do to get her life back on track. She
had to face the fact that she was going to be here for a while, and
by the time she got back to St. Clare, Davis might not be part of her
life. She had picked herself up and worked through the pain before;
she could do it again.
When she reached the ground floor hallway, Nara gasped. A dim light
shone in the den just off the guest sitting room, and it seemed to
move slowly back and forth just inside the doorway. The house was old;
it had been a railroad gate house in the nineteenth century, and of
course there were stories of railway workers who had been killed on
the tracks and were now stuck here forever as ghosts, unable to go
Nara was enough of an island girl that she half believed all the ghost
stories that were told to frighten children. In fact, the nanny who
raised her after her mother’s death always comforted Nara when
she came home in tears, scared to death of the stories the older children
told of the “child-eaters” and the old woman with the skull
face hidden beneath her scarf. She would wrap her arms around the little
girl and hold her close. Nara would listen to the woman’s heart
beating beneath her ample bosom and know she was safe from unseen things.
But she had also watched her nanny kiss the amulet she wore around
her neck when a hurricane hit the island, or someone had been found
murdered. She hung little crosses in the rooms of their house and touched
them when she was afraid, when she thought little Nara wasn’t
Nara heard a scraping noise in the den and walked quickly over to the
doorway, causing the old wooden boards under her feet to creak. Immediately
the light went out, and she heard a soft curse from outside the window.
A cold draught of night air coming out from under the door told her
the window was open. Someone is trying to break in, she thought. Heart
pounding, she switched on the overhead light and opened the door. The
room was empty. She glanced at the darkened window and realized that
whoever was outside would be able to see her standing there in her
robe. Switching off the light, she retreated to the kitchen. She picked
up the phone and with shaking fingers dialed the police.
Someone just tried to break into our house.” Her voice sounded
unnaturally loud in the sleeping house.
All right, miss. What is your address?” the tired voice on the
other end of the line answered, followed by a muffled, “It’s
another break-in,” to someone else at the police station.
Nara recited the information and the dispatch officer promised to have
someone there in a few minutes. She mulled over what he meant by “another
break-in.” Hands trembling, she filled the kettle for tea. She
would have to wake Aunt Sue immediately, but the whole house would
be awake once the police arrived anyway. The small battery clock on
the kitchen counter showed four a.m. These tourists—or rather
guests—would have a story to tell when they arrived home.
Nara climbed back up the stairs and knocked on Sue’s bedroom
door. Without waiting for an answer, she opened the door a crack. “Aunt
Sue? Aunt Sue? Someone just tried to break into the house. I called
the police and they’re on their way.”
Aunt Sue leapt out of bed quickly, then sat down again on the edge
of the bed. She rubbed her hand across her stomach as it growled with
hunger. “That’s impossible, Nara. There are no break-ins
in Springfield. Why would anyone want to break in here? Maybe you left
the window open and forgot about it.”
Nara gave an exasperated sigh. This is a waste of time. Like her father,
Nara liked to cut to the heart of the matter. What was, was—then
you dealt with it.
I went downstairs to the den and there was someone outside with a light,
opening the window.” She was still keeping her voice to a whisper,
but it seemed to her as loud as Big Ben.
Sue looked at her bedside clock. “What are you doing in the den
at four in the morning?”
Nara was becoming more and more exasperated with her aunt. Sometimes
she had a difficult time understanding how this stubborn woman could
be her father’s sister. She shifted back and forth in her slippered
feet; whether from impatience, anxiety, or the cold, she wasn’t
sure. “I went downstairs to make myself a cup of tea because
I couldn’t sleep. I saw the light and went into the den. Now
get up! The police will be here any minute.”
Nara turned and left the room, closing the door behind her. She stood
shivering in the hall, astonished at the way she had just spoken to
her aunt, whom she had only met a few times in her life and in whose
house she was living. A moment later Sue emerged from the bedroom,
wrapped in a maroon silk robe that Nara had never seen before.
There couldn’t possibly have been break-in, Nara.” Her
voice betrayed both her sleepiness and her exasperation with her niece. “There
must be a simple explanation. It was probably someone wandering home
after too many hours at the pub and stumbling into the wrong house.”
The pubs closed hours ago, Sue.”
The older woman sighed and followed her niece downstairs to wait for
Downstairs Nara and Sue met the two constables at the door. “I’m
sure it’s nothing,” Sue said. “Nara heard a noise
That’s not what happened, Aunt Sue.”
The sergeant smiled at the contradictory reactions of the two women. “Why
don’t we come in and take down some information?” he asked.
Then can I get you some tea?” Sue asked, pulling the belt of
her robe more tightly around her waist. Nara suppressed a smile at
Sue’s obvious discomfort in the robe whose fabric clung to her
No, thank you,” the sergeant replied as he stepped inside, followed
by his colleague.
Nara showed the two of them to seats in the lounge and sat down herself
on a wooden straight-backed chair. Sue looked around and then chose
a similar chair for herself.
The sergeant asked the questions, which Nara answered clearly and succinctly.
He ignored Sue’s protests that it couldn’t have been a
When they finished their questions, the junior of the two officers
went out to inspect the ground outside the window, while the sergeant
examined the den. When they met back at the door, the junior officer
announced that there were clear signs of forced entry. Nara had caught
the intruders just as they had pried open the window. “A few
minutes later and he would have been in the room,” he added.
Both Sue and Nara were silent as the reality of what might have happened
The sergeant closed his notebook with a snap and replaced his pen in
his pocket. “We’re taking this seriously. You have a lot
of antiques here, Sue.” He looked around at the shelves full
of delicate porcelain with elaborate designs, nineteenth century photographs,
and Victorian-style lamps, some with fringed shades, others with colorful
glass shades in the style of Tiffany. “There was another burglary
in town tonight.” He cleared his throat before continuing. “Someone
broke into the church and stole that seventeenth century tapestry that
hangs in the small chapel and a pair of gold candlesticks. They are
probably the two most valuable pieces in the church. They obviously
knew what they were looking for. And they removed a stained glass window
and took that along with them. The vicar is beside himself. Who around
here would break into a church? And they can barely keep up the building,
old as it is, and now to worry about security.” He sighed and
looked around the room again. “Strange that they would come here
on the same night—assuming it was the same people.”
Nara felt cold, as if a sudden draft had gone through the room. She
had admired the vast collection of antiques and bric-a-brac that decorated
every room in the house. She had picked up the treasures, examined
the marks on the bases, and stroked some appreciatively. But she hadn’t
had time to learn anything about them. Now the little animal figurines
and china cups and saucers took on a sinister look. These trinkets
couldn’t be worth enough that someone would try to burglarize
the house, could they? Or perhaps, were they looking for something
By the time the police had finished their inspection of the crime scene,
the sky had lightened to pink along the horizon. Nara put on a pot
of coffee and started chopping fruit for breakfast. It was better to
keep busy. Sue nibbled on a piece of dry toast, then set the table
for their guests. Nara sat silently with her own thoughts of the night’s
The first of the guests came down for breakfast, asking questions about
the medieval church in the neighboring town of Donington, which was
mentioned in the Domesday Book of William the Conqueror. Sue told them
the church contained stained glass windows from the fifteenth century.
Their interest, however, was in the stained glass window in honor of
Matthew Flinders, a Lincolnshire native who, in his ship the Investigator,
was the first man to circumnavigate Australia and had sailed with Captain
Cook. Sue answered their questions cheerfully while Nara started bacon
and sausage sizzling in a pan.
She was going to Lincoln today to register for business classes at
the college, and although she still couldn’t see herself running
a company, she was excited about the classes. It would give her an
opportunity to meet new people, make new friends her age. She was eager
to do something—be someone—but she wasn’t sure what
or who. She moved the bacon and sausage to a covered plate to keep
it warm and started frying eggs. While they cooked she popped two more
slices of bread in the toaster. How someone could eat all this food
for breakfast was beyond her.
When the eggs were done as the guests had requested, soft but not runny,
she moved them to two plates and arranged the meat, along with the
fried mushrooms, tomatoes and beans and carried them in to the dining
room, automatically putting a smile on her face. “I’ll
be back in a moment with your toast. Is there anything else I can get
The couple tucked into their breakfast with satisfaction. “No.
Nothing at all. This looks wonderful.”
* * * *
Jack Blake lay in his bed upstairs, free for the
moment from the coughing spells that wracked his chest all too frequently
these days. He felt
well and surprisingly comfortable, lying there in the dim room. The
street light cast a glow across the foot of his bed, reminding him
of the moon in St. Clare. But he wasn’t in St. Clare. He was
in Lincolnshire, England, in his sister’s home, and it had been
his idea to come here. The chemotherapy treatments were going well,
and he was not as sick as he had been warned he might be. True, he
had lost his hair, but he rather liked himself bald. There was a certain
sexiness about a bald head; just think of Yul Brynner, he thought.
Yul Brynner had died of lung cancer, too. Not a good line of thinking
to pursue. Sean Connery, then. Or Michael Jordan. Jack was not an old
man; he was just fifty-two years old. He would get through this, and
he and Nara would go back to the Caribbean where they belonged.
Jack listened to his sister and his daughter tiptoeing around the house.
He had heard them much earlier, he remembered now. At one time he would
have been out of bed like a shot, taking over, managing the emergency,
whatever it was. Tonight he had been content to just lie in his bed
and listen. They would tell him in the morning, or they might not.
He had just about drifted back to sleep when the room was filled with
the glare of headlights, and he heard the sound of a car in the gravel
car park. Must be a late guest arriving, he thought, as he drifted
back to sleep.
The smell of coffee and bacon woke him up soon after, and Jack sat
up and stretched. He felt well today. Maybe he wasn’t going to
die after all, at least not yet. And damn it, he wanted to live. He
wanted to see Nara married, with children—his grandchildren.
And he really didn’t care if she took over the business or not.
He had a capable shipping manager in St. Clare. Maybe he could give
him a nice raise in salary—a part ownership, and Nara could do
what she wanted in life. She deserved it. He would tell her today to
forget the business classes and do what she wanted, whatever it was.
Jack headed for the shower with a spring in his step.