THE PROMISED FIRST CHAPTER

PROLOGUE

‘Hello. Stevie Bellingham here. I’ve an appointment with Tony Frogmore.’

‘Hello.’ She called. Louder. And again. Still no response.

Weird. If I was so minded I could run off with all the art works in the gallery. Nobody would know. Where’s Frogmore for goodness’ sake?

CHAPTER 1

Irritation replaced the euphoria Stevie had enjoyed at seven-thirty that morning. Under the shower shortly after her early morning run around the lanes near her cottage, she’d sketched a celebratory high five. That bastard Andreas hadn’t once sneaked into her mind since waking.

She’d managed her early morning run without his curdling her brain and had even eaten her breakfast fruit without recalling he did not like kiwis.

Andreas: he of the challenging brown eyes, of the instant smile. He, whose touch she knew could still send delicious tremors through her.

He whom she’d finally kicked out when she could no longer stand his belittling comments. Or his constant attempts to take absolute control over her life.

He, who had stolen her money and used it to fund his own dreams, leaving her broke and in debt. He, despite all, whom she feared she still might love.

Six months of wallowing in despair, drinking too much and cutting off contact with all her friends had taken its toll. She had been left physically and mentally bereft.

But worse than that he had turned her innate trust of people into a sceptical disillusionment, one which now coloured every aspect of her life.

Since she’d thrown him out she’d managed to pay her way, managed to keep up payments on the mortgage, but every month it had become harder. Now, even though her bank balance was almost back in the black again, her life had become one of scrimping and fear of losing everything.

If she could land the job she was being interviewed for today it would bring financial peace of mind back into her life – and maybe then she might be in a position to live again.

‘You sound as if your background and skills are exactly what I’m looking for.’ Mr Frogmore, the owner of the new gallery in Beverley had said ‘I realise you have never actually worked in a gallery before, but you are an artist yourself. That surely means you will understand more than I do about the creative side of things. Come in for a chat and we’ll see how we get on’.

As a professional artist, Stevie’s pictures sold well. It must be said, though, still at a price only sufficient to support a meagre lifestyle. Her bank account was only now recovering after she’d kicked Andreas out. It had been a while before she’d learned how often he’d ‘borrowed’ her bank card during those final months.

And an even worse blow was how, as a goodbye gesture, he’d raided her wallet on the day he left, taking its contents to the last penny.

Her own fault she’d admitted when the overdraft letter from the bank arrived. For months she’d never bothered checking her statements, Instead she’d lived on cloud nine, totally enthralled in what she’d imagined was a permanent love affair. A perfect idyll – a pastoral shared life. Her with her painting, he turned small-holder, mini-farmer ……. She must have been mad.

So here she was. Saturday Market. Beverley. The addess of the new gallery.

No problem at this early hour in finding a parking spot close to it. She slid the Mini between two delivery vans alongside the newly refurbished bandstand with its spire gleaming white in the sunlight. The vans would soon be on their way. In the next half hour, she knew, all the large vehicles would be gone, leaving the square pedestrianised and crowded with tourists adding their melting pot of multinational accents to the local Yorkshire dialect.

As she flicked off her seat belt the bells of St Mary’s Church, not far away in the nearby Georgian Quarter, chimed out the hour, confirming she’d made good time.

Ever since she was a young girl and her father had brought her here each Saturday she had loved it. Especially on those days when it was filled with its namesake market stalls.

They had bought cheeses and crusty bread from the Italian baker and bell peppers and kiwi fruit which she loved more than any. And juicy black olives and farm bread chicken which they would cook back at the cottage if the weaher was good on the brick built barbeque her father had designed himself. How easy it was to fall into reminiscing.

The appointment was for a quarter past nine. ‘Good going Min. We’ve a few minutes to spare. A little deep breathing I think. Wish me luck. I’ll certainly need it. Now to get a parking ticket. Don’t want a fine.’ A wry smile. Had things got so bad she’d even started talking to the car?

Walking to the ticket machine gave her ample time to enjoy the square. On Saturday it was filled with market stalls selling local produce, hardware, luxury goods, and everything in between from picture framing to beauty products and dog food.

Today, without the market, she was able to see the whole area of the square and reflect on the multitude of public houses still serving Beverley. They reminded her that this was a town built when horses provided the only means of transport, when the hostelries not only provided food and lodgings for the human travellers but also sustenance for the horses. No wonder a national newspaper had desribed Beverley as one of the best places to live in the whole of the UK.

Back at the car, parking ticket in hand recalling the reason for her being here, her stomach lurched. Uncomfortably. Many moons had risen since she had last been interviewed. Interview. The word unleashed bad memories of those meetings with college tutors when her work had seemed never good enough to please them. At the thought of their derogatory comments her fragile confidence began to crumble. It took only a moment before Andreas picked up the reins and led her to the top of the slide.

It did not take much these days to put her on the downward track. As from nowhere a feeling of apprehension flared in her mind. It seemed the very buildings bordering the square mocked her. How could she even imagine the gallery job could be hers?

Her gaze swept across the cobble stones. Right. Left. The Cafes …… all around the Saturday Market again. This time it seemed she searched friendly support. But it was too early yet for the local shoppers or tourists to arrive.

Too early also for the tempting aromas of cooking which later in the day would filter out from the numerous restaurants and various cafes. Each wanted visitors to sample their menus and tried at this early hour to entice workers to buy a take-away as they wended their way to offices and shops.

Her mouth watered. No time for that now. Instead she promised herself a cappuccino if she got the job. The thought seemed to do the trick of ridding her of her doubts.

‘And a large slab of chocolate cake to go with it,’ she added showing a bravado she did not feel. Taking care over the cobbles this time she prepared to face her fate.

The reality of her dwindling bank balance drew her onwards to the window of the Frogmore gallery. Nothing more.

Like a lamb to the slaughter she was unaware of what lay ahead. Certainly no capuccino or chocolate cake.