Carl & Paul at the White Hart Pub

The reason we cut this scene is that we decided to NOT have Carl come back for another visit. We pushed his needs/desires into the background so that Laura was free to explore her relationship with Todd. One of the things I liked about this scene is that it showed the chivalrous side of Paul, and a glimpse into his feelings for Laura. We were always cognizant that the story was a long one, and if we didn't keep trying to rein in the word count some readers would be hesitant to read the book. I do wonder how the majority of our readers would have felt if we'd kept all the scenes that showed Laura's relationship with Carl, Paul and Todd. There was a lot of testosterone being shuffled around. Feel free to weigh in at Facebook and leave a message.Kit whistled softly as Laura came into the pub. This could be a sticky wicket. She was with her brother, a tall chap, and flanked by another American who looked like an advertisement for a country club. Kit cast his mind back over the recent visitors to Tenney Village and then remembered Laura’s boyfriend, an arrogant man who had been pouring the drinks at the funeral reception for Eleanor. Paul was already at the bar, looking like his team had just lost a match.

The boyfriend, looking bored, helped himself to an empty corner table. Ignorant of pub custom, he sat there waiting for service; an air of impatience clung to him like stale smoke.

Paul mumbled to Kit, “There’s a upper class prick for you.”

“He’s a plonker, all right, but he knows what he wants, and I think he’s come back to get it.” Kit returned to wiping glasses and watching Laura.

She started to say something to her boy wonder then changed her mind and waved him into his seat before he could get up. She and Edward came to the counter to place their order. “Hi, Kit. You remember my brother, don’t you?”

“Nice to see you again,” Edward said.

Kit poured a single malt for Edward, a pint of Fuller’s for Laura, and started a Guinness flowing for their friend. “Bit of a slinging match,” he said, looking past Laura’s shoulder. The boyfriend was still at his table, and Paul had stalked over to have a word with him. “Never a dull moment at the White Hart,” Kit said.

*****

Carl reminded himself that it was never wise to bet on a weak hand. It looked like he was going to spend a few days trapped in the decrepit mansion.

Laura was still dealing with the shock of losing her mother, and then, so soon afterward, the old maid. She seemed overwhelmed, and her prickly attitude reflected a troubled frame of mind. Having a wedding to plan would be a good distraction.

She was forcing his hand, and he knew it. Laura wasn’t going to come home until he proposed. Well, he’d upped the ante and was throwing in the keys to a new house in Marblehead. Not as large as Bannock Manor, but it wasn’t a crumbling wreck, either. If she wanted a big home he’d give it to her, complete with Italian marble and a decent zip code. What the heck, he’d even throw in running water.

Without warning, Paul leaned over and said, “You’re a real wanker. You expect Laura to drop everything because you show up – uninvited. She has enough problems without you coming round.”

“What did you say your name was? Heathcliff?”

“I’ve read Wuthering Heights, you pompous Yank.”

“Supposedly, you’re only working for Laura until you get your handyman business started. Tell me something – can you even support yourself?”

“Laura loves the manor more than she’ll ever love you.” Paul clenched his fist.

He had muscular arms, Carl noted, but Laura would never go for brawn over brains. Never. “You’ve got a crush on her.” He laughed. “The plumbing is only a temporary problem.” He watched Paul’s face closely. “Laura cares about other things. Intimate things. What do you know about that?”

The man was so blond that when he flushed, even his scalp turned pink. Carl was satisfied. If this guy had slept with Laura, then he wouldn’t be standing there silently. He’d be bragging rather than blushing.

“Just as I suspected,” Carl said. “You don’t know Laura at all.”

Laura angled between them, set the Guinness in front of him, and turned to Paul. “What can I get for you?”

“I’ll get my own.” Paul stared Carl down before backing away.

“He reminds me of a pit bull,” Carl said. “All attack and no strategy.”

Laura glared. “You shouldn’t have come all this way.”

“We haven’t been doing so well on the phone lately.” Carl had already decided to shoulder the blame. “A lot of it’s my fault.” He paused before pressing his point. “I really care about you, and we want the same things.”

“I’m not even sure what I want anymore.”

He heard the note of defeat in her voice, and it gave him hope. “You want a home.” He caressed her fingers. They used to be beautifully manicured, but now the nails were cut blunt, and her cuticles looked frayed.

“Don’t you understand?” she asked. “Everything that’s happened – it’s breaking my heart.”

“I do understand.” He watched her struggle for control and decided to let her vent.

“The woman I loved like a grandmother just died.” She lowered her voice. “And I’m not so sure my mother’s death was an accident.”

That was exactly why he wanted her out of here. Bannock Manor was the sort of place that drove people mad. “You need perspective.” He gently brushed the hair off her face. “I’ve been thinking a lot about us – our future. I miss you.”

“I’ve spent the last few weeks trying to figure out if my mother ever got what she wanted from life. It scares me to think that she didn’t – and then it ended so badly.”

Laura looked wretched; he was willing to offer her anything. “I want to marry you.”

She was gazing down and didn’t seem to hear him. “I know I have to sell the manor,” she said, “but it feels like another death in the family.” Suddenly she looked up. “Do you even love me?”

“Of course I do.” Laura was coming around, warming up again. He saw it in her eyes. “I want to show you something.” He slipped a photo into her hand. “I bought us a home.”

At last she seemed to be concentrating on what he was saying. “You bought a house?” Her eyes blazed. “You didn’t even talk to me about it?”

“I’m trying to give you what you want, Laura.”

She stood up, and this time she didn’t bother to lower her voice. “Real estate? You think that’s what this is about?”

She was going to walk out on him, and he couldn’t let her go. “I want what’s best for you,” he said.

“You can’t even say I love you.”

Paul had been pounding beers at the bar, and all of a sudden he was back, interfering again. “Laura, I’ll take you home.”

“Mind your own business,” Carl snapped. “Laura, stop for a minute and listen to me!”

She jerked away, and Paul stepped between them.

“Back off,” Carl said. “She’s with me.”

“She wants you to leave her alone.” Paul didn’t budge.

Carl grabbed Paul’s shoulder; it was like trying to wrap his hand around a pillar of cement. “I warned you, Heathcliff.”

Paul knocked his hand away.

Carl regained his balance and rammed his fist into Paul’s belly, but the Englishman absorbed the blow without so much as a grunt. A crowd of jeering locals surrounded them. They were rooting for their own, and Carl was not going to give them the satisfaction of backing down.

Laura grabbed Carl’s arm just as he was about to swing again. “Stop it!” she yelled.

He broke free and she lost her footing, bumped a table, and sent drinks crashing.

Carl didn’t see Paul’s punch until it was too late. The last thing he remembered before pain exploded between his eyes was the business end of a fist and behind it, the ugly plaid of a cheap shirt.

Paul’s arm was cocked for another jab. “You can’t treat a girl like that.”

“Stop it!” Laura was close to tears. “You’re both acting like idiots.”

Splotches of blood soaked into Carl’s sweater and more blood dripped onto the floor. He sank into the closest chair. Distantly, he heard Laura say something to the bartender. He tipped his head back, but that only sent the nauseating blood streaming down his throat. He choked and groped for a napkin, but even the slightest movement sent sharp pain radiating through his face. Carl spat blood. “That ass broke my nose!”

“You’d better have a doctor tend to it,” the bartender said, handing him a towel. “What a mess; blood and beer. I’ll just get a mop while you gents show yourselves out.”

Carl didn’t dare touch his nose but felt gingerly around it. The flesh on both sides was swelling; his lips felt fat, and even his eyes were sore. Laura’s country boy had a violent streak.

Laura was busy apologizing to the bartender.

“Don’t trouble yourself,” the bartender said. “I’ve been full up for days because of your skeleton. You’re good for business, love.”

 

Site Photography by Deborah Reed

Poetry by Lisa Shapiro