tagNovels and NovellasAshton Hill Fools

Ashton Hill Fools

byxelliebabex©

Authors note: Hello everyone. Although set in the same town as another of my stories this story is about different people within the town, though you may see cameos from past characters. Thank you once again to Paul for being my second set of eyes. I hope you enjoy this tale. ~ellie.

*

Prologue

Quinn sat dazed and confused. She looked uncomprehendingly at the debris that lay scattered around her. She blinked, looking up at the man beside her. He had a large gash on his face that dripped blood onto the front of his shirt. He was hurt and dirty, but he didn't seem to care as he tried to pull her from her chair. He was saying something, but it made no sense to her, and she shook her head, trying to pull away from him.

A second man, all in black and looking authoritative, replaced the first one and picked her up from where she sat, carrying her from the building. She struggled and shook her head as she was handed to a paramedic to be examined. She was given a face mask, and, as she breathed in the life-giving oxygen, the world began to come back into focus.

Like most correspondents, she went where the stories were, but on the odd occasion she got to pitch one herself and had been overjoyed when the network had let her shoot a special piece for Valentine's Day. She had been interviewing young couples whose families had been on opposite sides of the ongoing conflict in these border towns. It was dangerous, not only for them, but for her as well to meet in such a public place. However, she had never believed that an act of terror would occur here in such a highly populated suburban area.

Her brain finally registered that she couldn't see either of the young people she had been interviewing, and that she needed to find her phone and camera. She pulled the mask off her face and, before the paramedics could react, she darted back to the café in search of her equipment. The world would want to know about this now. She needed her phone desperately.

"Let me go!" she yelled. "I need my camera! My phone! How will I tell my friends I am alive? I'm a journalist, god dammit! Haven't you heard of freedom of the press?" There was a scream from close by, and, with her captors momentarily distracted, Quinn freed herself and darted into the building to where she had been sitting.

The bomb obviously had been activated from outside the building and had blown the windows in so that only the booth tables and benches which had been bolted to the floor remained in place. Quinn had been sitting with her back to the windows behind a column and seemed to have escaped the serious injuries that had been inflicted on the other patrons of the café. She needed to find her friends and finish the interview, if they would even talk to her after this.

As if by the same miracle that had protected her, she found her handbag and camera on the seat where she had been sitting. She snatched them up, and it was only then that she really looked around. The restaurant was a hive of activity as emergency workers searched the wreckage for the injured and dead. She took the protective cover off her camera and began to shoot rapidly. There was no time for eloquently staged shots of the debris.

A hand took her arm roughly, and she was dragged forcibly back out of the building and left once again with the medical teams. She continued to take in everything she could and searched her bag for her phone as she was manhandled by paramedics. Compared to the other patrons she thought she was fine, and her editor and producer would want this firsthand account.

A hand pressed into her side and began to tear at the shirt she was wearing. Only then did she look down and see the blood staining her side and hip. She didn't understand where it was coming from. She hurt, but that was only to be expected, it wasn't like she was dying. As if her brain finally acknowledged the injury, she felt her world spin on its axis, and she crumpled into the man inspecting her wounds.

*****

Chapter 1

Six months later.

Quinn woke slowly and sat up. She'd arrived in the city late last night, and it took her a moment to get her bearings in the Hotel. Checking the time, she swung her legs off the bed and sat up in one smooth motion, stretching her arms above her head.

The constant travel had been wearing her thin before her injuries and the long-broken flights home. Her prolonged hospital stay had been gruelling, with all of the media hype around what had happened to her. She was glad to be having a break from work and her well-meaning colleagues, who continued to treat her like a broken doll rather than the hard-ass correspondent she had been. She was looking forward to a couple of weeks away from everything before going into the editing room with fresh eyes to edit her piece, which would include her own brush with death. She'd missed the deadline for Valentine's Day; but the piece was still valuable in regards to the conflict. She felt a pang of sadness as she thought about the young couple who had been torn apart yet again by injury and recriminations. She sincerely hoped they would find their way back to each other and the love they had felt.

She had become the golden girl at the network from the moment she had first called her editor, having had the presence of mind to document what was happening during the minutes after the car bombing that had taken several lives and caused her own injuries. She had been respected for her fieldwork before, but after that she was celebrated, and she had enjoyed her fifteen minutes of super fame. Now it was finally time to rest and let everything that had happened to her sink in so she could recover properly.

Once the shock had worn off she had realised just how badly injured she been from several large lacerations and a penetrating wound at her hip. She had been airlifted out of what had become a dangerous battle zone and, once safe again, had worked from her recovery bed, steadfastly refusing to turn her phone off or decline visits from her media team. Physically she had fully recovered, mentally she felt fine, but she knew that the memory of that day lurked in her subconscious and presented itself at the strangest of times. The flashbacks were the worst, and she shuddered, pushing them from her mind again. She was stronger than that. She was a tough, independent woman who could look after herself. She didn't need or want anyone else in her life who would, or could, help support her through this recovery.

Standing to walk into the bathroom, she disrobed and stared at herself in the mirror. The livid pink scars that told of just how injured she had been littered her right side, with the largest looking like a jagged red wheel. She sighed and went to shower. The cream she had from the dermatologist was working, for the most part, and the smaller wounds shouldn't scar permanently, but the larger ones were still tender to the touch. Her face showed only a few dimpled scars on the right side that were easily hidden with makeup.

Quinn dressed casually and checked out of the hotel, preparing for the two-hour drive from the city to Ashton Hill where she said she would meet her sister for a late lunch this afternoon. She hadn't seen her sister since she had broken her engagement and run away from Ashton Hill, leaving behind a heartbroken lover and a small child. Quinn had fought with Rheagan over her callous disregard for her child and the child's father as she chased the newest thing to catch her eye. As if being the wife of a billionaire wasn't enough for Rheagan, she had left her fiancé and their small hometown with a media producer she had met through trying to get in contact with Quinn by showing up at the network offices.

Quinn sighed. It had been years. She could hope that her sister had grown as a person and had called to tell her she had finally gotten her shit together. It wasn't likely, but she could hope. She could hope that a lifetime of resentments and recriminations could be brushed away. She could hope for a sisterly bond to build between them, but, after years of disappointment, she had little hope left. She had no idea what Rheagan had asked to meet her about, but it had sounded urgent, so she had agreed. There were worse places she could take her vacation than the hometown she had left so long ago and only returned to for her mother's funeral two years ago. Perhaps it was time to deal with her estate, which she'd left to Rheagan and made her, Quinn, the executor, as if Rheagan couldn't do it herself.

Rheagan was the spoilt and indulged child from her mother's second marriage. Quinn had always been the reason her mother had to give up her dreams and the life she wanted to be with a man who treated her badly and eventually left her and his daughter to make a new life with a new family in another state. While Quinn had never done anything her mother approved of or praised her for, Rheagan could do no wrong, despite being constantly in trouble, and her mother indulged the behaviour, offering a multitude of readymade excuses for anything she did. It was always somebody else's fault, and, more often than not, Quinn was made the scapegoat for not looking after her little sister better and protecting her from the temptations she couldn't seem to resist.

As soon as she had graduated, Quinn had left home, working part-time and taking student loans to put herself through a small college with reasonable fees. She was then blamed for abandoning Rheagan when she began to get into some serious trouble with her friends who partied too hard and lived life in the fast lane. Quinn believed Rheagan had finally settled down when she began a relationship with Grayson Ryde and had fallen pregnant. However, a few months after having the beautiful baby boy, and on the eve of her wedding, Rheagan had fled the responsibility of her life with Grayson and her son with a television producer and never looked back.

Rheagan had come home for two days when their mother had died, looking pale and gaunt, then she left just as quickly, leaving Quinn to handle everything, as usual. She'd said she was living in the United Arab Emirates, but, aside from that, she had said very little. That was two years ago, and the sisters had not spent any time alone together during that visit. Rheagan had given her instructions and details to the lawyer and had left again swiftly without a word to anyone.

Quinn had spoken briefly to Grayson at the funeral, which he was kind enough to attend, and she had fussed over her small nephew, who looked grave and serious. Rheagan had all but ignored them, as far as Quinn could see, and she felt bad for them both, but had done little to bridge the gap between the families herself, aside of apologising for her sister's behaviour, like she always did. Quinn continued to obsess about her irresponsible, selfish sister throughout the drive to her small hilltop hometown until she finally arrived at the small cosy café where they had agreed to meet.

"Hello," she greeted the waitress. "I am running a little late, I was supposed to meet a woman who looks a lot like me," she brushed her hair over her shoulders away from her face, knowing the family resemblance between herself and Rheagan was strong. They were both younger versions of their mother in looks.

"Yes, she was just over there in that booth, she must have gone to the bathroom," the waitress led her to a table and took her order for coffee. Quinn didn't want to order any food until she knew why Rheagan had asked to meet. She played with the menu and turned her head to smile at the baby in the aisle beside the booth. She looked so sweet sleeping peacefully there. Quinn liked children, but they weren't in her future at all. She studied the parents and wondered how the child got her colouring, both parents had lovely bronzed skin, and the little angel sleeping peacefully was pale and blonde, and Quinn would hazard a guess that she was also blued eyed, though that was unlikely with these parents.

The longer Quinn sat there, the worse her gut feeling that Rheagan was in trouble again became. She stared at the bathroom door, willing her sister to reappear, but, as the minutes ticked by, the door remained tightly closed. Then the couple beside her got up and moved to leave. It took her only a moment to realise that they had each obviously thought the other would get the pram holding the angel, so she called out to them.

"Wait! You've forgotten your baby!" she exclaimed.

"That's not our baby, the lady at your table came in with the baby," the woman said with a laugh.

Stunned by this information, Quinn sank down into her seat. Rheagan was irresponsible and selfish, but to have another child and... "No! No! No! No!" she whispered angrily. This had to be a horrible April fool's joke. She couldn't have abandoned yet another child without a backward glance. And did she expect that Quinn would just give up her life and her career to take on her selfish sister's responsibilities while she jetted off to the next exciting thing? That wasn't happening. She sat and fumed, staring at the bathroom door, willing her sister to reappear. For this had to be some colossal April Fool's Day prank, it had to be. 'Please let it be a prank!'

The waitress came over to ask if she would like more coffee, and Quinn asked her to check the restroom for Rheagan. When the waitress came back, she said it was empty and claimed to not have seen the woman leave the restaurant.

"I'm sorry," she said, "she must have left when I was waiting on a table," the waitress fidgeted nervously under Quinn's furious stare.

"I'm sorry, it's not your fault, I know," Quinn sighed. "Can you watch her for a moment? I just want to check outside, I'll leave my handbag, so you know I will be back for her if I can't find her mother."

"I guess," the waitress said dubiously.

The street was busy, and, despite her best efforts in her search, Quinn could find no trace of Rheagan, and she went back inside to think about her options and what to do with the baby. She had no experience with babies. She'd never even changed a nappy before. 'What did babies eat? Did the little baby even eat real food yet? Would she need formula and bottles and...' her head filled with a thousand impossible questions, and then a well-dressed woman stood in front of her saying Rheagan's name.

"Rheagan Myers?" the woman asked with a frown.

"No, Quinn Thomas. The one who always has to deal with the consequences of my sister's spoilt, shallow existence!" she spat angrily. "Don't tell me she owes you money or stole some family heirloom or something. Well, whatever you're looking for, I don't have it, the only thing I ever get from her is drama! Unless..." she eyed the woman speculatively. "I don't suppose you've come to claim your granddaughter?" Quinn asked hopefully.

"She's a little angel, and reminds me a great deal of my grandson, but, no, I haven't come to claim her. She's not yours, I take it?" The woman said, kindly taking a seat across from Quinn.

"Rheagan's," she shook her head. "I don't suppose you're in on some colossal April Fool's joke that she's pulling?" At the blank look and shake of the woman's head, Quinn sighed, "It's not the first child she's abandoned, I'm afraid."

"There's more?" the woman asked.

"Just one, but he is lucky enough to have an amazing father who looks after him like a prince. This poor girl has been left with an aunt who doesn't know the first thing about looking after a baby. I don't even know what she needs!" Quinn despaired.

"Well, she has a lovely big bag on the pram. Why don't you check that? And you never know, Rheagan may regret her decision and return for her," the woman said in calming tones, studying Quinn. "She just left you here with the baby?" She asked.

"When I arrived there was just the pram and baby, no Rheagan. I actually thought the baby belonged to another couple who were sitting there," she indicated a nearby table. She took the bag from beneath the pram, pulling it to the table and seeing the letter pinned to it. She snatched it up and practically tore it open and read.

"Hello, Quinn,

I can imagine what you are thinking right now, and you're probably right. I'm sorry. I have to go, and I can't take April with me. I know you think I am reckless and foolish, but I hope one day you can forgive me enough to tell her about her mother who wanted more for her than I could give.

If you need help, go and see Grayson. He is a good man, and April is Noah's half-sister, so he won't turn you away, even if he wanted to. Family is everything to him. Something I could never be to either of you. I'm sorry, Quinn. Believe me when I say I have to go, I have no choice this time, and I can't take April with me. You can do this. You can do anything you set your mind to. I trust you more than anyone to make sure my baby has a good home.

Rheagan."

"Oh God, it's true, I kept hoping this was a huge prank for April Fool's Day! I kept hoping that she'd walk back in, but she won't, she's gone! What am I going to do? I live out of a suitcase and travel from hotel to hotel, I don't even have a home to take her to, let alone offer her one!" she pointed to the sleeping baby. Her mind strayed to her mother's cottage, but it had tenants in it at the moment on a long-term lease.

"Okay," the older woman said in a no-nonsense tone, "We are going to take this little angel to meet her brother and stay with the nanny tonight while you work out what it is you want to do. The Nanny can help you learn the basics while you are there."

"We? Brother? Nanny?" Quinn gaped at the woman.

"Yes, we, my name is Melody Ryde, and my son is Grayson. Noah is my grandson, and he and Grayson live with me in our family home," she said with a smile. "Now finish your coffee while I call the driver around to pick us up. Do you have a car that will need to be taken home?" she asked.

"Yes, my car, but I haven't booked in to stay anywhere in town yet," Quinn let herself be swept up by this no-nonsense woman and her take charge attitude.

*****

Grayson skidded his car to a stop outside the big old sandstone house his family called home and swung his tall, lean frame out of the car and jogged up the stairs two at a time.

"Noah!" he shouted opening the door. "Noah!"

"Stop all that yelling, you'll wake the baby! Noah isn't even home from school yet!" his mother admonished him.

"You said it was an emergency and to come home immediately!" his voice was still raised. "What did you expect me to think? If this is some sort of sick April Fool's joke, I will not be a happy man!"

"I expected you to realise that your mother needed you more than work did for a change," she smiled gently and patted his cheek. "I do not play pranks on April Fool's Day, or any other time, come to that, so be happy and smile before you meet my guests, and do try to remember your manners and not to shout."

Quinn had heard it all and watched as the chagrined Grayson entered the lounge room and took in who was sitting there. He did a quick double take before smiling in a friendly way and walking further into the room.

"I'm sorry to intrude, Grayson, you're mother insisted," Quinn immediately spoke, feeling bad about his obvious distress after the phone call from his mother.

"What's going on, Mother?" he asked, smiling at the baby girl perched on Quinn's lap. "May I?" he asked, holding his hands out toward the little girl. "She reminds me of Noah at that age."

"That's because she's Noah's sister, or half-sister," Melody informed him.

"Rheagan's here?" he narrowed his eyes at his mother, and his voice became hard.

"No," she smiled and patted his arm. "Let me explain, and then we can decide what to do next."

"Fine!" he grumbled as he placed the baby on one hip and ran his fingers through his hair.

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