The wagon pulled up in front of what used to be an impressive set of stairs, sweeping down to the carriage turn from an imposingly arched front door. Now, it looked sad, and a little apologetic, as it did its best to hold onto the crumbling stone with overgrowing tendrils of ivy and to fill in holes and gaps with little blankets and cushions of moss.
Chris helped his three musketeers off the wagon, keeping a steadying arm around a quietly anxious Ally and wondering how worried he should be at this interesting development. Simon bounded up the stairs with the ease of long practice in avoiding the holes and bumps, checking slightly when the door swung open before he got to it.
The woman at the door most assuredly was not Lady Louisa. Nor was she terribly welcoming.
Chris gave a quiet groan, “Never rains but it pours.”
“Who is it?”
Cesca had been watching Simon’s less-than-delighted reaction with interest.
“That is this region’s Local Area Conservation Officer, they make sure any renovations or adjustments made to heritage-listed houses follow the rules.”
“I thought you approved of that sort of thing”, Ally looked up at Chris’s decidedly grim expression.
“I do, unless the Officer in question has more time on their hands than they know what to do with and is determined to get a building in their region listed as Grade I as they think it’ll make them more important.”
The other two architects were clustered with them as well at this stage and looking worried.
“Do you think she’s got a chance to upgrading this place?”
“If she does, it’ll be curtains for it, it’s not important enough to get any of the grants available to more significant places, and the additional costs would sink even Simon’s budget. The best thing she can do is back off and let the place remain a Grade II with half a chance of being turned back into a loved and living home.”
“Is she going to back off?”
Lexi piped up, “If she annoys Lady Louisa enough, she’ll be backing all the way to Bermuda. We need a plan.”
They’d dawdled long enough, the group reluctantly moved toward the front door, where Simon and the officious-looking woman stood waiting for them. The stairs proved something of a challenge for the other women, who hadn’t have the benefit of Chris’ contingency planning, and were still in stilettos or wedge heels. Since Lexi and Ally insisted on staying at the back of the group, their climb was slow and full of fast moves to catch increasingly unhappy, stumbling women with increasingly apologetic partners.
When everyone had finally reached the top, Simon moved to make introductions, “People, this is Marge Hamilton, she’s the local area conservation officer and is here to make sure we’re not going to turn Acrewood Hall into The Shard. Which is a terrible pity as that’s exactly what I had in mind.”
The small crowd tittered as required and followed the pair through into the main hall. Once inside, despite Marge’s best efforts, Simon took the lead and the role of host.
“If you’d like to come this way, Lady Louisa promised tea in the library.”
The building was large, dark and lonely, but there were hints of a previous life of a happy family home, and Ally hoped a balance could be found, between preservation and new life, to let it return to its purpose.
Light spilled out as Simon pulled open a set of double doors, leading to what had clearly been a magnificent library and sitting room, now drab and shabby, but still somehow welcoming and warm. The warmth may have been in part the result of the greeting between the mischief-loving tech magnate and the regal-looking woman sitting in an armchair by the empty fireplace.
Once everyone had gathered inside, and found somewhere to perch or loiter, Lady Louisa looked around.
“Good afternoon Lady Louisa”, the twin chorus was immediate, and changed the sparky cousins into charmingly gauche schoolgirls.
Cesca hid a snigger.
Simon rolled his eyes, “Seriously?”
One of the other members of the group looked confused, “She only said one name, why did both of you answer?”
Lady Louisa snorted, “Because their fathers are idiots who don’t check important details with each other, they’re both named Alexandra after their paternal grandmother.”
Simon bust into laughter, “Oh that is priceless! Lady Lou, you need to tell me all about it when they’ve gone. There must be some great stories.”
Seeing the cousins clearly struck dumb by one of the gorgons of their childhood being addressed as ‘Lady Lou’, Cesca stepped up.
“Really Simon, if you’re that desperate, just go online. I’d recommend the story of the gossip mag writer who was convinced there was only one of them.”
That brought chuckles from both Alexandras and attention moved to Cesca, except for a couple of the group members who had their phones out and were following her suggestion.
“And you must be Francesca Overton, the girls’ grandmother has mentioned you – a good influence on one and a bad influence on the other she said. That’s quite a talent.”
Cesca correctly read that as a predisposition to approval and took advantage.
She moved closer to Simon and hooked her arm though his, grinning at his surprise, “Now enough about those two, Lady Louisa you simply MUST tell us about this reprobate’s antics growing up.”