“Whose idea was the wheelbarrow again?” Robin asked.
“That was Dean. I was trying to explain to him how my grandmother used to take dishes to church for lunches and the like.”
“In a wheelbarrow?” Robin laughed.
“No, she’d wrap the dish in layers of newspaper and put it in a good sturdy basket so it wouldn’t get broken!”
“And if it was good enough for Grandma . . .” Robin said.
“Well, that’s what I thought, and Katarina agreed!” Charlie said. “At that stage my heart was in my mouth, but I was determined that all our hard work wouldn’t be wasted. We had to do something, didn’t we?”
“Yes, Charlie, indeed you did. And thanks to you, the evening – and possibly the weekend – was saved. Oh, and Grant Thornberry said that he thinks those ideas of yours are wonderful,” Robin added, helping himself to another slice of Katarina’s black forest gateau.
“Grant did?” Charlie said. “But I thought he and Harriet would want to have the swimming pools and the weddings and all the rest of it.”
He shook his head.
“That was always Harriet’s dream, but Grant is more pragmatic. He was chatting to me before dinner and he said to play to the house’s strengths.
“We can’t compete with his family’s hotels, but they don’t have the views or the history. And since Harriet and Grant are engaged now –”
“They’re not, are they?” Charlie was shocked.
“Yes, they were going to announce it soon but didn’t want to steal your thunder.”
“I’m so pleased for both of them,” Charlie said.
It was funny, she thought, how Harriet seemed to have blossomed since she’d met Grant, as if she, too, needed a new beginning. Would Charlie have her own new beginning?
“So am I,” Robin said. “Harriet hasn’t always had it easy and she deserves some happiness. Plus, they’re planning a redesign in one of his father’s hotels.”
“Oh, Harriet will be so happy!” Charlie exclaimed.
The old Victorian carriage clock on the mantelpiece chimed the quarter hour.
“I really must go to bed,” Charlie admitted. “I promised that I’d help Katarina tomorrow with the clean-up and doing breakfast and everything.”
Robin tucked a strand of hair which had come loose from Charlie’s hastily put together top knot off her face.
“Will you . . .? I mean, do you think we could . . .?”
Charlie thought of Robin, who had welcomed her into his battered, beautiful home. Robin, who had let a teenage runaway sleep in one of the cottages, and who had looked after his dear, airy-fairy mother and had never once thought of himself.
The same Robin who had found a way into her rather battered heart. She realised that she couldn’t imagine life without him.
She realised that maybe part of her had known this since the day she’d first arrived at Anna Grace, with sleet, draughty dining-rooms and all.
Charlie had felt this love all along, but had buried it under work. She hadn’t wanted to risk her fragile heart again. But it was time now, she thought. She wouldn’t let this opportunity slip away.
She thought of Anna’s wise, kind face in the simple portrait in the hall. Anna, who had survived so much, and in the end triumphed and finally had her story told. Anna had filled this house with love.
Charlie linked her fingers into Robin’s.
“Yes, Robin, I think we probably could,” Charlie replied.
And he leaned over and kissed her.