The rest of Sunday was relatively undramatic. Simon wasn’t fired upon, clothes and laptop were retrieved and a delayed meal enjoyed.
As evening drew in, Simon once again played chauffeur, delivering Cesca to the station and Lexi to Ally’s cottage before wending his own way home.
Lexi had announced during the afternoon that she was going to take up guard post in the cottage to make sure the twerp didn’t do something stupid. Ally smiled ruefully and simply asked her not to bash him with anything breakable. When she returned to London late the next day, without seeing anything of Timothy, her stockpile of unbreakable items had to be returned to their various cupboards and drawers.
Ally updated her on the latest from their grandmother, having called to arrange the required visit. Apparently calls had been made to Timothy’s mother and grandmother and certain observations made on missing the boat, appropriate forms of behaviour and polite society.
Lexi laughed, “So you’ll never see or hear from him again. Go Grandma.”
Ally replied, “Indeed, although now, Chris is going to be up in front of the judge, jury and executioner. I was rather enjoying not subjecting him to our crazy family and, well, it just being us.”
“Best to get the scariest over first then. He already knows all about them, so it’s not like it’s going to be a surprise, and you can’t hide yourself, or him, away for the rest of your lives, however much you might like to.”
“There’s a big difference between knowing about them and dealing with them in real life. I know they’ll all meet him sooner or later, I just wanted a bit more time.”
“Doesn’t matter when it is, it’ll always be too soon. It’ll be fine though, he was great with Lady Louisa.”
Ally sighed, but subsided. Tea with Grandma was nearly a week away and worrying was not going to help anyone.
She stayed an extra night at the farm, just in case, but returned to the cottage mid week. She was greeted with concern and interest by her neighbours and found herself retelling the story in all the local shops and over multiple cups of tea.
All too soon, the fateful tea appointment arrived and Ally found herself, hand in hand with Chris, outside the intimidatingly restrained house where her grandmother lived.
She rang the bell and nearly jumped out of her skin when the door flew open to reveal her father, rather than the dignified lady she was expecting.
“Ally, darling! Mother said you were dropping by, so of course we simply had to stop in and join you.”
Before she had time to react, she’d been enthusiastically hugged, a smacking kiss had been plonked on her hair and she was gently put aside for the jovial assault on Chris.
A voice came from within, “Just leave him to it Alexandra, your young man will cope I’m sure. Come in and explain why you saw fit to introduce him to Louisa before me.”
Reluctant to abandon Chris, she kept a death grip on his hand and dragged him through the door in her wake, with her father caught up in the tangle. Once clear of both door and parent, the latter being warned off with a fierce glare, Ally collected herself.
She slipped her arm through Chris’s, waited for him to catch his breath and, with an encouraging smile, walked into the sitting room.
Her mother was perched on a sofa and Ally spared her a smile as she walked directly to where her grandmother was enthroned, steering a still slightly shell-shocked Chris with her.
She bent and kissed her grandmother’s cheek, “Thank you so much for your help last weekend Grandma, I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t stepped in.”
She straightened, “Grandma, may I introduce Chris Whittaker. Chris, I would love you to meet my grandmother, the original Alexandra Gresham.”
Chris grinned in delight, “It’s a pleasure to meet you Mrs Gresham, I’ve been looking forward to it.”
“Oh really, I would have thought Alexandra would have had you quaking in your boots.”, She waved them to a convenient seat.
Ally took the moment to quickly introduce her mother, Sarah, who was looking on with great interest.
Chris said and did all the right things, then resumed his conversation with the family matriarch.
“She has a very healthy respect for your opinion but between conversation with Lady Louisa and the fact they turned to you for help with last weekend’s upset, you’re clearly someone very important to her, and I think rather more alike than most people would guess.”
Ally’s father choked, “Hush Michael.”
“Yes mother, but what’s this upset from last weekend?”
Ally rolled her eyes, “I told you Dad, and Mum as well. Timothy turned up at Chris’s house on Sunday afternoon and tried to claim me as his fiancee. Lexi threatened violence, Chris kicked him out and Grandma put the fear of God into him by way of his mother.”
Chris put in, “You forgot your home guard neighbours.”
Mrs Gresham raised her eyebrows and before she knew it, Ally was sharing the whole adventure; Mrs Rightmore, Roddy Smithson and his potato weapon, Simon’s request for protection and the care and concern of her neighbours in the following days.
Michael Gresham roared with laughter and asked Ally to organise a turn with the potato gun and a beer with its inventor for him when they came down to visit.
Sarah was more interested in Simon and was clearly surprised when her mother-in-law was able to provide the most information on him.
“He grew up on the edge of the Acrewood grounds and was constantly running about the place, Louisa ended up taking him in hand and they’ve been partners in crime on various projects for years.”
Chris grimaced, “Well this is likely to be their biggest and most complicated ever. I’d like to take it on, but I don’t see it going smoothly.”
Mrs Gresham turned to Ally, “Louisa thought he and Francesca were rather well matched.”
“Lexi thinks so too, and told her before they even met, so, while I agree, I think he’s got his work cut out for him as she does so hate to be predictable.”
Sarah asked, “So who have you got lined up for your cousin since everyone seems so determined to pair each other off?”
Ally looked blank, “No one, I’m not about to interfere in Lexi’s business any more than she would in mine.”
Mrs Gresham snorted, “Well someone needs to give that girl a purpose in life, whether it’s a relationship, a cause, or a job. At the moment she’s just flibbertyjibbiting about and it’s not good for her.”
Ally suggested that was a conversation better had with Lexi than with her, and they moved on to other topics.
Half an hour later, the doorbell rang and Michael went to open it. He came back with Lexi following.
She looked around the room, “Nothing like a family reunion to thoroughly scare off Chris. When are my parents arriving?”
Michael jumped to his feet again, “Good idea, I’ll call Steven now!”
Ally gave her cousin a Look, Lexi responded with a shrug, “I forget how suggestable Uncle Michael is, and it may be best to get it all over with at once. Especially since there seems to be some dodgy individual with a camera lurking about outside.”