Ash turned to Calum.
“Yes,” she said. “I’m staying here.”
His brows drew together.
“Not because of me?” he asked quietly.
“No. Because of both of us,” Ash replied. “I could never live in London. I would hate the constant pressure of competing to catch the boss’s eye. I want to work on my own, build up my own brand.
“I’ve already phoned Jim Turner and told him, and he’s wished me well and given me good advice,” she went on.
“I’m to spend six months or so working harder than ever before, to come up with a new portfolio and a range of new designs.
“Then I’ll pay the best professionals I can afford to design my website. Jim says that a lot of design work comes from online contacts. He’s promised to be my first customer, provided I can impress him.”
She watched most of the words wash over Calum.
“But you’re staying?” he asked again.
She took his hands.
“I’m staying to build up my own business, just as you’ll be building up yours. We can prop each other up when times are bad. As long as we’re together.”
Her voice became a shriek as he picked her up and whirled her round.
“I thought you were going!” he exclaimed, his eyes dancing.
“Oh, no,” she replied. “You’re not going to get rid of me as easily as that.”
She turned as her father came across to hug her, too.
“Any money you need,” he said, “any support, just ask and it’s yours.”
Ash hugged him back.
“I know that,” she replied, a catch in her voice.
She turned to Gabrielle to find the older woman staring fixedly at the far wall of the shed.
“What is it?” she asked.
“It’s happened once before. A feeling of something so strong, and it seems to be coming from that old carving on the wall.”
“The wooden heart?” Ash asked.
“It’s only a rough carving,” Stephen said. “It might be the last thing my father did.”
“Take it down,” Gabrielle demanded. “It has a message for you somewhere.”
Stephen placed a stool against the wall and reached up.
Stepping down, he rubbed his sleeve across the wooden carving, creating fresh clouds of dust as he turned it over.
Then he froze.
Very slowly, his eyes rose to Ash, then his hand came up to silently offer her the wooden heart.
“It’s for you,” he said quietly. “A message from the past, from a man you never knew, because he refused to recognise you.”
Ash took the rough wooden heart. When she turned it over to the side which had been hidden against the wall, the surface spoke of superb craftsmanship – and something else.
The precisely carved words blurring behind her tears, she read:
To Asha, the granddaughter I never met. With love.
She felt Calum’s strong arm slip round her shoulders, and leaned against the comfort and security it offered. Then she turned to her father, holding the wooden heart against her own.
“I did meet him,” she said quietly. “From the very first time we came here and I stood inside his house and place of work, I felt welcomed, as if the man who had been here before us was glad to see me and accept me into his home.”
Twice, Stephen tried to find his voice and speak. Then he cleared his throat.
“Does anybody fancy a mug of tea?” he asked.