Home > The Christmas Surprise (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #3)(7)

The Christmas Surprise (Rosie Hopkins' Sweet Shop #3)(7)
Jenny Colgan

There was a pause while they both wondered, briefly, about Rosie’s father, a travelling man Rosie had never known.

‘That child is going to have plenty of family,’ said Angie fiercely, putting Rosie’s thoughts into words. ‘Too much probably. You don’t have to worry about that.’

‘No,’ said Rosie.

She rang off promising to send a picture of her bump week by week, though the idea that she would even have a bump seemed very odd to Rosie, some kind of medical miracle that she couldn’t imagine happening.

She went back downstairs. Stephen didn’t quite look up; he was gazing at his laptop, as usual cursing the ridiculous slowness of their rural internet connection. It never really bothered Rosie. Angie posted pictures of the children on Facebook every single day, along with inspirational messages about guardian angels and things you had to ‘like’ if you loved your daughter or your niece or stuff like that, and Rosie normally let it load at its own speed then crawled through it later. It was nice keeping up with her old friends – Mike and Giuseppe both changed their relationship status about once every two days – and she ordered supplies for the shop, but apart from that it wasn’t something she was crazy about. Stephen, on the other hand, liked to read the papers and keep up with rugby teams and so on, and was always grousing about how long it took.

‘So, you know,’ she said, ‘we’ll have to move to Peak House. We’ll freeze our bums off.’

Stephen looked up.

‘I didn’t think of that,’ he said and bit his lip thoughtfully.

When Rosie had arrived in Lipton, he had been living in Peak House, the draughty Georgian pile that belonged to the big house. It was right at the top of the hill, open to the wind and rain, but the views were staggering. Stephen’s memories of it were not, however. He associated Peak House with cold and loneliness; and Lilian’s little cottage, where they now lived, with cosiness and warmth and coming home, and being happier than he’d ever known.

‘Are you sure?’ he said. ‘Babies are only little.’

‘I’ll be sure until the first time it crawls straight into the road and gets run over by Isitt driving his sheep to market.’

‘Well Lilian and her brothers all grew up here.’

‘Yes, and they slept four to a room and had an outhouse in the garden.’

‘Sounds cosy enough.’

Rosie looked at him.

‘Seriously?’ he said.

‘Seriously. Talk to your mother.’ She smiled tentatively. ‘If we’re going to be a family …’

‘Oh, pulling that one, are you?’ said Stephen, smiling, and dragged her over to sit on his lap. ‘You’ve got this all figured out, haven’t you?’

Rosie shrugged.

‘It does have a lovely big garden,’ she said. ‘And maybe … maybe we could put double glazing in.’

‘No, it’s good for children to grow up totally freezing in a haunted house,’ said Stephen airily, and she knew she’d won him over.

‘And,’ she pointed out, ‘we should sell this place anyway. Lilian’s home is getting so expensive, and if I’m going to be taking some time off …’

Stephen winced.

‘I hate being skint sometimes, it sucks.’

He turned and kissed her.

‘Would you have preferred it if I’d gone off to London to become one of those banker boys after all?’

She grinned.

‘No! Anyway, you’d have been rubbish. Always staring out the window and thinking about the hills and reciting poetry.’

‘Rubbish doesn’t matter if you’re a banker. They give you millions of pounds anyway. And if you don’t make millions of pounds, they get the taxpayers to give it to you.’

‘Oh yes,’ said Rosie. ‘Maybe we should all do that.’

Then they both looked cosily into the fire together and smiled at the same time.

‘Neh,’ they both said, as Mr Dog came up and lapped at their hands.

‘I am the smuggest witch in the entire world,’ said Rosie, getting up to put the kettle on, already feeling pleasantly drowsy although it was only early in the evening. Stephen went back to his computer. She heard him from the kitchen.

‘Hmm,’ he said suddenly.

Rosie popped her head round the door.

‘Hmm,’ he said again, and Mr Dog scampered over in case ‘hmm’ meant ‘I appear to be holding some unwanted treats.’

Stephen was staring at the computer screen.

‘Do you want to tell me, or is it just going to be a mystery?’ said Rosie. ‘Have some aliens landed? Prince William is a woman? A sheep is a bit poorly over in Carningford? They’re introducing a new baby tax and the government is going to want forty per cent of our income?’

‘Sssh,’ said Stephen, not taking his eyes off the computer. ‘My French is rusty.’

‘Ooh, my French is rusty,’ mimicked Rosie. She often teased him about it, but she envied his wonderful education really, even if his own mother thought it had been wasted. He spoke excellent French, had good Latin – though it wasn’t much use – and even though (against his father’s wishes) he’d studied English at university, he had a knowledge of geography, physics and history that Rosie couldn’t remember them even touching on at her school. ‘Dear me. Perhaps I shall first translate it into Mandarin and then work it out from there. Also, don’t shush a pregnant lady! I am not to be shushed! I am extremely special!’

‘Hush,’ he said. Then he looked up. The expression on his face was completely unreadable. ‘Um,’ he said. ‘Would you like to …’

‘I can’t read French,’ said Rosie.

‘I’ll translate.’

‘What IS it?’ she said, completely confused. She didn’t like his face at all; the colour had drained out of it and his eyes had taken on a fixed, distant look. ‘What is it? Is something wrong?’

Stephen didn’t answer, merely blinked, which made her even more curious and worried. She nudged a protesting Mr Dog out of the way, then crawled up next to Stephen on the sofa and peered over his shoulder at an official-looking email. All she could make out was the Médecins Sans Frontières logo.

Before Rosie had fallen in love with Stephen, she had nursed him back to health after his accident in Africa. Her greatest fear was that he would want to go back there again when he was well, but he had sworn that he didn’t; that he had never been happier than he was here in Lipton with her, teaching at the little local school, the pair of them lunching in the Red Lion, taking long, chilly walks across the moors at the weekends, which Rosie normally would have hated, but because she was walking next to him as he brandished his stick and told her old stories about the hills, with Mr Dog running about like mad, and because it always ended up in the nice tea room two villages over that did great cream teas and Eccles cakes, she actually loved.

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