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by Barbara Adams
Description: When Sue's timid Aunt Alice meets and marries the charming Ben, Sue worries about her Aunt's happiness. Despite assurances that all is well, Sue cannot shake her misgivings. Ben's overbearing and bullying behaviour and his obsession with spiders, fuels Sue's desire to uncover the truth. An intricate web of lies and deceit is slowly unravelled. But where does Sue's boyfriend Jason fit into the puzzle? The reader is drawn towards an enticingly sticky ending in Barbara Adams' first romance-mystery--a contemporary novel set in New Zealand over a two year time frame. It is a story of greed, betrayal and revenge.
eBook Publisher: ebooksonthe.net/ebooksonthe.net, 2006 ebook
eBookwise Release Date: October 2007
1 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [279 KB]
Reading time: 183-256 min.
A brown hairy spider lurked in its web, high up on the corner of the verandah. Alice reclined below, in her white wicker chair.
Only a few minutes to go, she thought, before I close the gate. Then I can take off this heavy dress and have some quiet time with Sue.
She glanced upwards and saw the spider leaving its web, unraveling its silky thread, swaying gently with the slight breeze, and dropping towards her. She was usually repulsed by spiders, but this one's jerky movements fascinated her. There was a definite pattern to its descent. It fell rapidly, then stopped and hung limply, suspended on its gossamer, before descending again with a spurt and swinging closer. She shifted her chair and watched from a safe distance.
Alice didn't see a short plump man enter the property and walk along her gravel path. She was tired. Sundays often left her like that. Then she noticed the dark blue of his wind jacket as he strolled across the lawn towards the trees.
Why on earth has he left it so late? she thought. But he's still got fifteen minutes. He'll need to be quick.
He wandered around the front garden, casually and leisurely, bending right down to observe some of the plants and then pausing while he lifted the head of a fresh spring bloom. He turned it towards the dwindling light and studied it, then dawdled past the flower beds near the verandah where Alice was sitting, but didn't look in her direction.
With a confident stride, he quickened his pace across the loose pebbles below the front steps until he reached the herb garden under the kitchen window. He stood inhaling the pungent odors as if drugged, then bent his face down really low, and gently swung a small chive plant towards himself with one finger. He read the label, then gave a smile of approval.
Alice was intrigued by the man's actions. She leaned over the end of the verandah, hoping her body was hidden by the climbing roses. She didn't want him to see her staring. He probably couldn't, but just in case, she went inside the house and beckoned to her niece who was carrying the tea tray up the hall. They watched him from behind the lace curtains of the lounge. He spent some time looking at the curved bed of white flowers by the walnut tree, peering at the pale anemones and the clumps of lily of the valley. They could clearly see him shaking his head. Then he pushed back the sleeve of his jacket, glanced at his watch and with an apologetic look towards the graceful old house, headed towards the gate.
"Quick, go and find out what's going on," said Sue, "he's different to our usual visitors." She eased her aunt towards the front door.
"No I can't. You go."
Sue didn't move. "Come on Aunty, go and talk to him."
"I can't, Sue. Not to a stranger."
"Yes you can!" Sue gave her a gentle prod.
Alice delayed for a few seconds, then she swept along the hall, across the verandah, and down the front steps with her long skirt flowing on the ground. She reached the man as he lifted the heavy latch on the gate.
"Good afternoon," she said. "I'm sorry we're due to close. Did you have enough time to see the garden?"
He looked steadily at her with an amused expression. Then he slowly took his glasses from his jacket pocket, shone them on a clean folded handkerchief, and held them to the light, before putting them on.
Alice fidgeted with her skirt, and looked down at the ground, waiting for him to answer.
"I can't believe this," he said at last. "Am I dreaming? Are you real?"
She shuffled her feet, wondering how to reply, but he spoke again. "You gave me quite a fright appearing like that out of the blue. Wherever did that grand outfit come from?"
"It's been in my family for years. Hand sewn in the days before machines." She touched the taffeta of the full, dark colored skirt, lifting it slightly at the sides. Then she nervously fingered the metal buckle of the wide black belt.
He stood scrutinising her, his eyes moving up and down over her white muslin chemisette. She was conscious of her thin body.
He put his spectacles back in his pocket, but continued to gaze at her, frowning slightly. "Why do you dress up like that?"
"I like doing it."
"Well I can't deny it looks good on you. And it certainly needs someone petite like yourself to show it off properly, but why?"
She smiled coyly. "It brings a sense of history to the place. That's really why I do it. I love history."
"I love it too. Always have." He held out his hand. A firm, decisive grip. She liked that.
"By the way my name's Ben. Ben De Garis."
He pointed to the display board by the gate. "You don't need to tell me who you are. You must be one of the Biddlecombe family."
"Yes. I'm Alice Biddlecombe."
"That's a good English name."
"My parents were from Somerset. There were lots of Biddlecombes there. There still are. Your own name? Is it French?"
"Mais oui, Madame." He made an exaggerated bowing movement, bending low from the waist and tucking his hand into the crease of his plump abdomen.
Alice smiled. "Are you really French?"
"No, not really. My ancestors were from Guernsey though. They came here about a hundred or so years ago."
He indicated the house. "Do you still live in it, or is it just for show?"
"Of course I live in it. It's my home. It'd be an invitation for criminals if I left it empty."
He made no effort to leave and his eyes still surveyed her. She noticed their unusual deep blue color, and that the whites weren't clouded like typical elderly eyes.
His hand was now firmly placed on the gate but he still hadn't opened it.
"I don't want to be rude," she said, "but was something wrong in my garden? I saw you shaking your head."
"I'm sorry. I didn't know anyone was watching."
"I couldn't help noticing. What was wrong?"
"Do you really want to know?
"Of course I do. If something's wrong I need to know. I welcome comments."
He pointed to the decorative plot beside the walnut tree, "Well, as you've asked, those flowers are perfect blooms, but the whole area needs some color."
"Color? Why would it want color? It's a white garden. It's restful. It's meant to be like that." She was aware of the edge to her voice.
"Well, it's your garden. From the gate it looks fine, but when you get close, it's dreary and insipid. I'd suggest some bright yellow daisies in amongst the white, and some decorative green edging. That would lift the whole thing."
She considered leaving at that moment and joining Sue back inside the house. Visitors usually enthused about her garden. She wasn't used to criticism. She'd never spoken to anyone as direct as this man, but his eyes were gentle and they were focused on her, completely.
"But then," he continued with a cheeky smile, "it only has to suit you. You live here. You're the one who sees it every day."
She gave a tense giggle. "I'll probably never change it. I do the garden the way my parents did. They're dead, but their gardening timetable is still on the wall in the shade house. Nothing ever changes around here. I like routines."
The man watched her closely, studying her expression. He waited, then added brightly, "You haven't asked me what I've liked. I'd much rather be positive."
When he smiled, his whole face lit up.
"So it's not all bad then?"
"Of course not, Lass. Your herb garden is the best I've seen in years."
Lass, Alice thought. Me. At 60!
He continued, "The labelling's accurate too. You've done your research. It's a credit to you."
Then he held his hand out to her. She shook it again.
"I must go now. There's a long wait if I miss my bus. May I come again when I've got more time? I see the house is open for viewing too."
"Of course. The house and garden are open every Sunday afternoon."
"I come past here from time to time. I've got a friend in a rest home around the corner. I'd like to come back. When I've got more time."
He finally lifted the latch, pushed the gate back, and set off briskly down the road. He turned to look towards the house again, paused, gave it a long appreciative look, then continued on to the bus stop.