Ellie Browne, landlady of The Dog & Duck, is looking forward to a relaxing Christmas Day before the arrival of her and her partner Max’s baby in the New Year. But with a snowstorm brewing outside, it seems that things might not go quite to plan.
After the dramatic events of the holiday season, Ellie settles into her new life at Max’s huge country mansion Braithwaite Manor, juggling work and family as best she can. When she’s asked to help organise a summer wedding for one of her best friends it’s only natural that her mind turns to her own, non-existent, wedding plans!
But with Max decidedly lukewarm on the subject and other family complications threatening to disrupt life further, Ellie fears there’ll never be wedding bells at the Dog & Duck after all.
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‘ ‘I’m just desperate to get back to some kind of normality.’
Gemma laughed ruefully. ‘Are you kidding? Nothing will seem like normal for a long time to come.’
I gave a weak smile in return. I suppose with five young children of her own, Gemma would know about these things. It was all a mystery to me. Even with Junior’s arrival imminent, I still couldn’t quite believe I was about to become a mother. Honestly, ‘out of my depth’ didn’t nearly cover it. It was almost as if it was happening to someone else. I put that down to the fact that none of this was planned. I’d always thought a baby was something for the future, at a time when I had my whole life in order, but life has a habit of throwing you a curveball when you least expect it. I looked down at my huge bump, cradling my arms around its fullness. Not that I’d want to change anything in the slightest.
‘Still,’ Gemma went on, ‘you haven’t got long to wait now.’
‘A couple of weeks.’ Although from where I was standing that seemed like a lifetime away.
‘Ha, no,’ said Gemma, looking from my bump to my face intently, observing me as though she was a midwife at the maternity unit, and not my barmaid. ‘I reckon the next day or two.’ She nodded sagely. ‘You mark my words.’
Mulling over that thought, our attention was commanded by Max, who was standing at the bar, pinging a spoon against a glass.
Ah, the Max effect. Warm squidgy vibes engulfed me. It hadn’t lessened in the slightest, in all the months that I’d known him. Just to catch a glimpse of him across the room, to see his dark wayward hair doing its own thing, his intelligent questioning eyes, the warm, wide smile on his lips, still stirred feelings inside me which I wasn’t sure were entirely appropriate for a heavily pregnant woman.
‘Okay everyone, if you’d like to make your way out to the barn, lunch will be served shortly. Just a word of warning. You can’t fail to have noticed the crazy weather out there, the snow has been coming down heavily for the last couple of hours. We have cleared and salted the path, but just be careful. We don’t want any broken bones or any nasty accidents.’ Max fixed his brown eyes on me, raising his brows, as though I might be a prime candidate for an accident. Then as his gaze warmed and softened, I felt myself smile, a warm sensation flooding my chest.
‘I can’t believe this weather,’ said Polly, one of my best friends and owner of Polly’s Flowers, the shop next door. She was currently hanging on to the arm of her new boyfriend, George, as though her life depended on it, something to do with the number of glasses of Prosecco she’d been knocking back this morning, I imagined. Still, it was lovely to see her so happy. Seeing them, a proper couple now, so loved-up and content, only added to the festive feeling. George had moved into the village this year, taking up residence in our family home, while my parents were away working in Dubai. It took me a while to figure out what he was doing in the village, and despite my unsubtle attempts to find out, it was Katy, Max’s younger sister, who put me out of my misery by informing me that George was none other than the bestselling author GG Williamson.
That had certainly caused a frisson of excitement in the village. Katy, having read all of his books, was one of his biggest fans and was now hanging onto George’s other arm, leading the way out into the beer garden, chattering away excitedly.
Gemma rounded up her five kids and husband, shooing them in the direction of the back door and Dan, my right-hand man and bar manager, who’d been keeping all our guests’ glasses filled over the last hour or so, took hold of his girlfriend Silke’s hand and stepped backwards, waiting for everyone to go through in front of him.
I owed a huge debt of gratitude to Dan. He’d volunteered to move into the pub with Silke while I was on maternity leave to take up the role of caretaker/manager. As it happened, the narrowboat they lived on was due to go into the shipyard for urgent repairs over winter and was likely to be out of action for a couple of months, leaving them homeless, so them moving into the pub had worked out well for everyone concerned.
My move into Max’s imposing Georgian house, Braithwaite Manor, wasn’t half as traumatic as I suspected it might be, although I realised for most people the idea of moving into a mansion would be far from traumatic. I’d put it off to the last minute possible though, reluctant to leave The Dog and Duck, the place that had been my whole world for almost two years, telling everyone I’d be back soon. What was I thinking? For so long I’d been so emotionally invested in the pub, that I’d been reluctant to let go of the reins. It had been a whirlwind couple of years admittedly. Thinking back to when I first returned home to Little Leyton, from my busy corporate life in London, to take some time out to consider the next steps in life, I could never have imagined just how dramatically my life would change.’
‘Wedding Bells at the Dog and Duck’, is the third book in this series and the first one I’ve read. It reads perfectly well as a standalone novel but having finished it I enjoyed it so much I want to read the first two in the series to discover Ellie and Max’s early love story.
Romance and humour fill the pages of this gentle love story, which depicts English village life centring around the country pub and its charismatic landlady Ellie Browne and her sexy, partner Max Golding. Romantically involved they are about to have their first child and Max wants to marry Ellie, but she is holding back.
It’s Christmas, and most of the villagers are having Christmas dinner at the pub, which leads to one or two surprises for Ellie and Max. There is a wealth of carefully crafted characters who bring the pub and village to life, they all have their own stories, and these subplots continue throughout the book adding interest and realism.
Who is the mysterious character knocking on the pub door on Christmas day, I did guess, but it doesn’t matter because it adds an element of mystery to a story about family, friendship and making the most of what life gives you.
The Dog and Duck is the quintessential village pub, a focal point for village life and Max is the modern day squire breathing life into the village and ensuring all are taken care of. If you fancy a slice of English village life with lots of laughs, a few tears and lashings of romance read on…
I received a copy of this book from Aria via NetGalley in return for an honest review.
Jill Steeples lives in a small market town in Bedfordshire with her husband and two children. When she’s not writing, she enjoys reading, walking, baking cakes, eating them and drinking wine.