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Escape to Oakbrook Farm: A wonderfully uplifting romantic comedy (Hope Cove Book 2) by Hannah Ellis (1)

Chapter 1

The best man was looking at Josie curiously. He was obviously about to strike up a conversation and she wished he wouldn’t. She’d had enough of making polite conversation with strangers at her sister’s wedding. Finally, she’d found an unoccupied bench and thought she’d get a few minutes to enjoy her champagne in peace. Sam had casually sidled over and she smiled benignly up at him. They’d never met before but she’d heard his name mentioned often.

On a normal day he was probably pretty average-looking, but his suit was cut perfectly and made him annoyingly easy on the eye. Annoyingly because she’d only split up with her boyfriend a few days earlier and was keen to project her negativity to men in general, rather than just her ex, Jack. It was difficult when they looked absolutely delicious and gazed at you with sparkling green eyes.

“I’m going to have to ask.” Sam took a seat beside her. “What’s with the shoes?”

“Excuse me?” she said, taken aback.

“Your shoes… Did you forget to pack them or what?”

“No.” Her tone was frosty. “My shoes are on my feet.”

He looked slightly awkward. “Those are the shoes you intended to wear today?”

“Yes. Why?”

“No reason.”

She glared at him. “If you have an issue with my shoes you may as well say it.”

“They don’t go with your dress.”

“They’re Converse,” she said. “They go with anything.”

His gaze roamed over the guests mingling in the hotel gardens. It was a lovely location on the Devon coast, very close to her sister’s house in Hope Cove. The cherry trees in the hotel gardens were in full bloom, creating an explosion of pink. It was quite a sight with the fallen petals making a delicate pink carpet.

“You’re wishing you never started this conversation, aren’t you?” Josie was amused by how uncomfortable he looked. Everyone else who’d commented on her footwear had said they looked cute and much comfier than high heels. Josie couldn’t stand wearing high heels and her sister, Lizzie, had eventually given in to her demands to wear her favourite trainers with the elegant silk bridesmaid dress.

“Not really.” Sam adjusted his tie, the same shade of teal as her dress. Then he glanced at his shiny black dress shoes. “I’m wishing I’d worn a pair of trainers. My feet are killing me.”

She beamed. “That was my argument. Why spend the day being uncomfortable just to follow convention?”

“It’s a good point, and one I wish I’d brought up earlier.”

“Go barefoot,” she suggested. “The beach is right down there. People go barefoot at beach weddings. You’ll probably start a trend. I’m sure everyone’s dying to take off their fancy shoes at this point.”

“You wouldn’t thank me for taking off my shoes and socks. People would pass out.”

“Keep them on then, please.” She felt self-conscious as his gaze shifted back to her feet. “They don’t look that bad, do they?”

“No. Just unusual. It’s quirky.”

An elderly lady wandered slowly over to them and Sam moved to let her sit between them. “Have you met my neighbour?” he asked Josie.

Annette smiled. “We’ve met before. At Lizzie and Max’s house.”

“The Boxing Day get-together.” Josie thought back. Things had been difficult with her and Jack then as well, and he’d backed out of making the trip with her at the last minute. He never had been keen to spend time with her family.

“We’re pretty much family now,” Annette said. “I’m Max’s aunt, you’re his sister-in-law. What does that make us?”

“I’m not really sure,” Josie said.

“Me neither.” Annette glanced downwards. “I’m very envious of your shoes. They look very comfy.”

“They are.” Josie cast a cheeky grin in Sam’s direction.

Annette patted his leg. “Get me a drink, will you? A tonic water. I’m parched.” There was a short silence while he moved away. “He’s lovely,” Annette said out of the side of her mouth. “Single too.”

Josie spluttered out a laugh.

“I’m just saying.” Annette shot her a sly smile. “In case you’re interested. Don’t say I said anything, though – he’s always telling me off for trying to set him up with women.”

“I thought I was special for a moment,” Josie said. “Now I find I’m just one more in a line of women you’re trying to set him up with…”

She chuckled. “He’s thirty-five; he needs to find someone. Max is finally settled. Just Sam now and then I can die happy.”

Josie’s smile slipped and she glanced away. “I was sorry to hear about Wendy.” Annette’s partner had passed away a couple of months earlier. She’d had a hip replacement that refused to heal and led to a host of complications. Pneumonia killed her in the end. Josie had heard all about it from Lizzie.

“Thank you,” she said quietly. “I’ve found today difficult, to be honest.”

“I’m sure.” Josie gently put a hand over Annette’s and gave it a quick squeeze as they watched the party.

Sam reappeared with a glass of tonic water for Annette a couple of minutes later. “We’re supposed to head inside,” he said. “The dancing is about to start.” 

“I’ll find a spot to sit and watch,” Annette said, getting up.

Josie followed. “I’ll join you.”

“You’ll have to dance with Sam,” Annette told her. “It’s tradition – the bridesmaid and the best man…”

“I don’t think Josie likes to stick to tradition,” Sam said, looking pointedly at her shoes.

“I just didn’t want my feet to hurt. I didn’t realise my footwear would cause quite such a stir.”

“If you’re worried about your feet hurting, maybe you shouldn’t dance with me! I can’t promise not to tread on them.”

Inside, the three of them found a table just in time to watch the first dance. A jazz band played and the atmosphere was smooth and sophisticated. Everything had been planned to perfection.

“Lizzie looks gorgeous, doesn’t she?” Annette said, pulling a tissue out of her handbag and wiping at her eyes.

Josie reached to pinch a tissue, nodding and trying not to let Sam catch her being so sentimental. What was it about the first dance at weddings that was so romantic? Lizzie looked radiant, and she and Max both beamed as they glided round the dance floor. They could easily be the happiest people in the world.

“Come on then.” Sam stood and reached for Josie’s hand as the song ended and another began.

“Okay,” she said with a sigh. She didn’t want to seem too keen, but secretly she was desperate to get on the dance floor. She caught a whiff of Sam’s aftershave when he pulled her close and closed her eyes as she breathed it in.

“Was Annette okay?” Sam asked. “She looked a bit tearful outside.”

“She was just saying how hard it was today, without Wendy.”

He looked in Annette’s direction, flashing her a smile. “They were together almost sixty years,” he said quietly. “I can’t get used to seeing Annette without Wendy. They were always inseparable.”

“It’s so sad.” 

They were silent for a moment and Josie was aware of the feel of Sam’s hand on her back. He’d obviously been joking about being a bad dancer and she definitely didn’t need to worry about him stepping on her toes.

“Did Annette say anything embarrassing about me?” he asked. “She’s so keen to set me up with someone, I swear she’s going to start paying women to date me soon.”

“There was no money mentioned,” Josie said, grinning. “But she does seem concerned by your marital status.”

“I think it gives her sleepless nights,” he said. “I’m worried she’s going to take out an advert in the local paper. I’ll be in the classified section under Free To a Good Home.”

She laughed at his cheeky grin as they moved with the music. “What would the advert say?”

“Thirty-five-year-old male,” he said without pause. “Good-looking.” He raised an eyebrow and grinned. “Charming, healthy, owns his own home… albeit in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a load of gossips and next door to an eccentric old lesbian! She could probably leave that last bit out.”

“Sounds like she should be auctioning you off, not begging someone to take you…” The words came automatically and were quickly followed by a blush.

“That’s you and Annette who think I’m a catch then.”

“I’m not sure I said that.”

The song ended and he gazed at her with bright eyes. “It’s what I heard.”