ETWG First Chapter Book Awards: First Place Romance

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Recluse and The Beauty by Ellie Gray is the First Place Winner in the Romance Category of Published Books in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.

 The Story

Following the recent death of her father, and in need of both a job and somewhere to live, Kiya takes a housekeeping job on the spur of the moment.

She soon finds herself living in a beautiful but neglected mansion, working for a strange and reclusive man.

St. John is a man scarred by the past, both physically and emotionally, and is determined to live out his life alone. They are two very different people, drawn to each other almost against their will, but can Kiya convince St. John that he is not the monster he believes himself to be?

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First Place Winning Chapter:

Live-in Housekeeper wanted. Tel. 896721

Ellie Gray
Ellie Gray

The card in the Post Office window was yellowed, the ink faded with age. More than likely the vacancy had been filled some time ago, but Kiya decided to ask inside the shop anyway. The bell jingled as she pushed open the door and approached the counter; in a small village like this, she was sure they would know if the job was still vacant.

‘Excuse me?’ Kiya was encouraged by the middle-aged shop assistant’s friendly smile. ‘The advert in your window for the housekeeper? I was wondering if you knew whether it had been filled. I mean, the card looks quite old but, as it’s still in your window…’

‘You don’t mean the housekeeper for the O’Neill place?’ The woman seemed more surprised than was necessary for such a simple question.

‘I’m not sure. The card doesn’t give a name, only the telephone number.’ Kiya frowned, puzzled by the woman’s rather strange response.

‘Yes, you mean the O’Neill house,’ nodded the assistant. ‘But surely you don’t want to work there.’

‘Why ever not?’ asked Kiya curiously. ‘Is the job still open then?’

‘Well, I believe so, but…’ The woman was becoming surprisingly flustered and turned to the doorway leading into a back room. ‘Doreen? Doreen, I’ve got a young lady here enquiring about the O’Neill place.’

A rather severe-looking woman appeared through the open doorway, frowning at Kiya over wire-rimmed spectacles.

‘What were you wanting to know about Mr. O’Neill, my dear?’

‘I was wondering whether the card in your window advertising for a housekeeper was still relevant,’ said Kiya, with forced patience.

‘Oh, but you’re not wanting to apply for it, are you?’ She gave a sharp glance to her companion.

‘Yes, I am,’ Kiya swallowed an irritated sigh. ‘Look, I don’t mean to be rude, but it is a simple enough question. Do you know whether Mr. O’Neill, if that’s who it is, has found a housekeeper yet or not?’

‘No, as far as I am aware, he hasn’t. Though I can’t say I’m surprised. I find it hard to believe that he really thought someone from the village would actually apply.’

‘Strange man,’ cut in the first woman, with a knowing nod.

‘Margaret,’ chided Doreen, with an attempt at pretending they didn’t relish the chance to gossip with a stranger. ‘He’s just… he’s more of a recluse; eccentric, I would say. I’ve heard that he’s some sort of a writer. Rarely leaves his house; has all his groceries delivered to him and such. No-one really knows anything about him.’

‘Well, he frightens me,’ Margaret carried on. ‘On the rare occasion he does show himself in the village, he glowers at you for no reason; never stops to give people the time of day. There’s just something about him.’

Far from deterring her, Kiya’s curiosity was aroused and she smiled in amusement. If he was aware of all the rumour and gossip that obviously surrounded him, it was hardly surprising that Mr. O’Neill rarely visited the village.

‘Thank you very much. You’ve been very helpful.’

‘You’re not thinking of going there, are you?’ Margaret asked with a worried frown.

‘I’m not sure yet. Thanks again for your help.’ Kiya turned and left the shop, pausing to write down the telephone number from the card.

Suddenly hungry, she walked back to the pond that she had seen earlier in the middle of the village, wheeling her bicycle along the pavement, and sat down on the only bench set under the shade of an old oak tree. The midday sun shone brightly through the trees surrounding the pond and the dappled sunlight created a checkerboard of dancing light across the water. Despite the beautiful weather, there was no-one else around and, having retrieved a sandwich from her rucksack, Kiya gazed at the peaceful surroundings of this little Yorkshire village and pondered her situation.

She needed a job and she needed somewhere to live. The housekeeper’s job sounded ideal, and to live here in the heart of Yorkshire would be an added bonus. Mr. O’Neill was probably a perfectly nice man who simply preferred to distance himself from the usual small village tittle-tattle.

Deciding to ring and find out for herself if the job was still open, Kiya dug out her phone from the bottom of her bag, angling her screen slightly away from the bright sunlight to see if she could get a signal. Three bars – not bad. She tapped in the number from the card. The telephone was answered on the second ring.

‘St. John O’Neill.’ The deep voice offered his name with the less formal pronunciation of Sinjin.

‘Oh, Mr. O’Neill? Er… well, my name is Kiya Williams. I saw your advert for a housekeeper in the village shop, and I was wondering if the position was still open?’ She spoke rapidly, feeling inexplicably nervous all of a sudden.

‘It’s still vacant,’ he replied after a pause. ‘Are you wanting to apply?’

‘Yes, I think so… I–’

‘Do you have any experience?’ He cut her off.

‘Well, not experience as such… not directly. I mean, I had to leave my university course last year to nurse my father who was extremely ill, and now I need a job and a place to live and…’ She swallowed, aware she was babbling. ‘I work very hard, Mr. O’Neill. I promise you wouldn’t be disappointed if–’

‘I take it you are able to start immediately?’

‘I… er, yes.’

‘Very well, then I shall expect you tomorrow.’

‘Tomorrow? But… tomorrow? Don’t you want to interview me? Get personal references or anything?’ asked Kiya in surprise. ‘I mean, I could be anybody, or–’

‘Miss Williams, do you or do you not want the job?’ his deep voice cut in coldly.

‘I do, but–’

‘Then I suggest you quit while you’re ahead,’ he said shortly. ‘Do you know the address?’

He proceeded to give her directions and then hung up abruptly, leaving Kiya staring absently at her phone. This was a rather unexpected turn of events, considering that she had simply decided to go for a leisurely bicycle ride on this lovely sunny afternoon. Fate, she mused. Perhaps this was fate?

 

The following afternoon, Kiya watched the taxi driver lift her two suitcases and place them in the boot of his car. Everything she owned was in those suitcases, and she turned for a last look at her father’s bungalow before climbing into the taxi and giving the driver St. John O’Neill’s address.

During his final months battling with cancer, her father had fought desperately to be allowed to stay at home rather than die in hospital, and Kiya had granted him his last wish, assuming the role of his main carer. Having already gone through the pain of losing her mother some years earlier, and being an only child, she now found herself an orphan, left to cope with the funeral and financial arrangements.

A visit to the family solicitor had simply added to the pressure she was already under. Her father’s house and contents would have to be sold and there would be very little money, if any, for Kiya to inherit. She needed a job and a roof over her head before she could even begin to contemplate her future.

Eventually the taxi pulled up outside an impressive set of wrought iron gates, through which could be seen a sweeping driveway disappearing into thick foliage. Only a couple of miles from the village she had visited yesterday, the grounds were obviously large, although nothing could be seen of the house by virtue of the high stone wall surrounding the property.

‘Will you be all right here, love?’ enquired the taxi driver, placing her suitcases on the ground beside her.

‘Yes, this is fine, thank you.’ Kiya paid the rather considerable fare, wincing slightly at the expense, and watched as he drove away down the narrow lane. She turned back to the huge gates, wondering how on earth she was supposed to get in, then noticed the electronic box set into the wall at one side. Moving closer, she pressed the button hesitantly.

‘Yes?’ Despite the crackle of static, the deep voice managed to convey irritation.

‘Hi, it’s Kiya Williams, I…’

With a click, the intercom abruptly switched off and the gates swung slowly open. Kiya stared down the driveway in exasperation; during the limited conversation she had had with the man, she had not yet managed to complete a single sentence. Realising that the gates were beginning to close again, she snatched up her suitcases and hurried through.

Kiya followed the curving driveway with more than a fair amount of trepidation, the less than reassuring words of the two shopkeepers she had met yesterday flying around her head. She came to an abrupt halt when the house came into view, her breath quite taken away.

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