A Lion Is Not Just For Christmas
by Henriette Gyland
A Lion Is Not Just For Christmas
Is there life after the circus has left town?
Circus performer Justine Belmont works with big cats, but when the circus is disbanded and the old lion is sold to a private menagerie at a stately home in Norfolk, she is asked to spend a few weeks settling him into his new environment. When she arrives at the estate, however, she receives a mixed welcome.
The groundsman Tom Yates resents her presence as he doesn’t feel he needs her help with the lion. He revises his opinion when he sees the bond between her and the big cat, and she and Tom grow closer, although Justine remains torn about her feelings for him. The lady of the house, Priscilla – who is married to the reclusive owner, Lord Brooks’s, grandson – is not so easily convinced. She perceives Justine as a threat for the male attention and her plans for the manor. And her two young daughters are a little too curious about the lion for their own good.
When unsettling events occur, Justine begins to wonder if there is more to Priscilla’s animosity than meets the eye. Can Justine keep herself and everyone else safe until it’s time for her to leave again and start a new life elsewhere?
Now, that’s a title to grab your attention, right?
And here’s an excerpt to further whet your appetite:
Justine has arrived at the stately home, and the lady of the house, Priscilla, is showing her where she’ll be staying while she’s here, a self-contained flat above the garages.
Priscilla opened the curtains in the bedroom to another French balcony and pointed across the yard. ‘Because the grounds are open to the public we have a small tearoom over there, in what used to be the old stables. Tom’s idea.’
She sighed again. Clearly not her idea.
Looking across at the red brick building, Justine noticed flowerpots and ornaments behind the windows of the stables. A shop sign with the single word ‘café’ hung above the double doors, and a blackboard outside proclaimed today’s specials, but Justine was too far away to make out what these were. An old-fashioned, stone mounting block in the corner of the yard outside the café was the only evidence that this building was once the stables. The sight of the mounting block made her frown – so tempting for a young child to clamber on and fall down onto the cobbles.
Memories of the countless times she’d suffered the humiliation of skinned knees coupled with Priscilla’s demonstrative sigh made her change the subject. ‘Is the estate in financial difficulties?’ she asked, even as she knew it wasn’t any of her business.
‘Whatever gave you that idea? Did Tom say that?’ Priscilla tilted her chin and looked down her slim, elegant nose.
‘Tom didn’t say very much at all.’
Priscilla sighed again. ‘Well, naturally it’s expensive to run an estate like this. Stonybrook is a national heritage and has to be safeguarded for future generations. So yes, we have to be careful. Which reminds me, we recently had to let one of the ladies serving in the café go, so when you’re not busy, perhaps you could make yourself useful over there.’
The words were delivered with a coquettish smile, but the steely look in Priscilla’s blue eyes told Justine she was being put in her place. Not that she minded helping out; Rexus didn’t demand around-the-clock care, and she’d rather be busy than not. It would help combat the feeling of loneliness that had begun to creep over her.
But it still rankled.
‘Of course,’ she said. ‘I’ll do whatever is necessary.’
Priscilla smiled again, and a snake would have looked friendlier. ‘I’m glad we understand each other. And, by the way, you need to be wary of Tom. The last thing he needs is someone else to mess up his life.’
Oh yes, they understood each other just fine; Justine was being kept out of the way in a Cinderella-like existence because Priscilla didn’t want any competition for the male attention, or for the position as first lady, but it puzzled Justine that Priscilla should think she had any plans in that direction.
It didn’t matter. She’d settle Rexus, and then she was out of here, handsome, red-haired groundsmen notwithstanding.
Henriette Gyland grew up in Northern Denmark but moved to England after she graduated from the University of Copenhagen. She wrote her first book when she was ten, a tale of two orphan sisters running away to Egypt, fortunately to be adopted by a perfect family they meet on the Orient Express.
Between that first literary exploit and now, she has worked in the Danish civil service, for a travel agent, a consultancy company, in banking, hospital administration, and for a county court before setting herself up as a freelance translator and linguist. Henriette recently began to pursue her writing in earnest winning the New Talent Award in 2011 from the Festival of Romance and a Commended from the Yeovil Literary Prize.
Henriette lives in London.
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