Always By Your Side | Julie Haworth

Author Julie Haworth

We’re thrilled to bring you an exclusive extract from Always By Your Side by Julie Haworth, an uplifting summer read out on Kindle on August 9…

About the story…

When school teacher Rose loses her dream job at a London primary school, her self-confidence takes a knock. Worse still, her stockbroker fiancé, Ollie, sees it as the perfect opportunity for her to join his firm, which only adds to the feelings Rose has that their relationship might be coming to an end.

An unexpected phone call, and an elderly aunt who’s taken a fall, means Rose must drop everything – including Ollie – and return to Blossom Heath, the Sussex village where she grew up.

With no job to rush home to, Rose decides to stay in Blossom Heath for the Summer, trading London for the idyllic countryside. Here Rose finds herself reconnecting to the village life of her childhood in more ways than one, including falling head-over-heels for local farmer, Jake.

So when her London life comes calling, Rose is faced with an impossible choice… to return to the high-pressure life of her past, or embrace the joy of a new life in the country.

Always By Your Side by Julie Haworth (Simon & Schuster, Kindle Edition, £0.99) is available now from Amazon, Apple Books, Google Play and more. Enjoy an extract below…

Exclusive Extract from Always By Your Side – Chapter 2

Rose woke early the next morning. Her throat felt dry and parched and she was aware of a terrible thumping growing in her head. She stretched an arm out from under the duvet, feeling around for the glass of water that she usually kept on the bedside table. Locating it, she lifted the corner of her eye mask, sat up and took a large gulp. Exactly how much had she had to drink last night? The events of the previous evening still felt a little fuzzy, but Rose had been touched by just how many of her colleagues had come out to see her off and told her how sad they’d be to see her go. The Trinity Grove chapter of her life may have come to an end, but who knew what would be next for her?

Feeling suddenly buoyed by the possibilities that the future might offer, Rose grabbed her mobile phone from the bed­ side table and crept out of the bedroom, being careful not to wake Ollie, who was still snoring deeply under the duvet. She made her way to the kitchen, opened the blinds and the room filled with glorious sunlight. The kitchen of the flat she shared with Ollie was modern and stylish, the decor perfectly co-ordinated and minimalistic, and yet, somehow, she had never felt quite at home there. Rose knew she was fortunate to live in such an exclusive development – it was something she could never have dreamt of on her teaching salary alone – but she always felt as though she didn’t quite ‘fit’. The only piece of furniture she’d brought with her on moving day was an antique oak chair that had belonged to her parents, but Ollie had been quick to cover it with an expensive angora throw as soon as the removal men had left. Rose made a point of removing it every time she sat down. The first day of the Easter holidays looked as though it was going to be a beautiful spring day. Rose grabbed her favourite mug from the kitchen cupboard; it was pale pink and had the slogan ‘World’s Best Teacher’ embossed across it in gold lettering. She made her morning coffee and switched on her mobile phone. It beeped furiously to let her know she had missed calls and messages.

Honestly, she thought, my phone’s only been off for a few hours.

What on earth could be so desperate?

Rose had nine missed calls. Most of them appeared to be from her dad, whilst the rest were from a number she didn’t recognize. Rose felt a sense of panic rising in her chest. Her dad was currently on a world cruise and wasn’t due back for weeks. He was supposed to be in the middle of the Caribbean Sea. He’d only be calling if it was a real emergency. Rose dialled her voicemail to hear the first message.

‘Rose, it’s Dad. Listen, don’t panic, sweetheart, but I’ve just had a call from the hospital in Sussex. It’s Great Aunt Jean. She’s had a fall and it sounds like a bad one. They’ve taken her in with a fractured hip. I don’t have all the details but she’s been there a couple of days. They couldn’t get hold of me, so I’ve given them your number. We’re the only family she’s got, and I know you’re busy with school, but I was hoping you might be able to head down to Sussex and find out what’s happening? I’m looking at flights to get home and our ship’s in port tomorrow, sweetheart, so I’ll call you again then as I should have a phone signal. Love you.’

Rose skipped ahead to the next message. An unfamiliar voice with a curt, hurried tone rang in her ear.

‘This is a message for Rose Hargreaves. I believe you are the next of kin for Jean Hargreaves. Jean’s had a nasty fall and we’ve admitted her to Nightingale Ward here at Conquest Hospital. Please call us on the following number and ask for extension 284 so we can update you on her condition.’

Rose’s brain whirred as she noted down the hospital’s phone number. Great Aunt Jean. A fall? In hospital? All alone? Rose had always been close to her Aunt Jean, and their bond had become even stronger after her mum had passed away. Rose had spent most of her school holidays with her in East Sussex. Rose berated herself for not checking her messages when she’d got in from the pub last night. Think of all those valuable hours she’d lost. What to do first? Pack a bag? Call the hospital? Get in the car? Get on a train?

Rose Hargreaves, you stop panicking this instant, she said sternly to herself. Panicking will get you nowhere. Stop, take a deep breath and think.

Rose’s first instinct was to wake Ollie and let him know what was going on. He had met Aunt Jean several times and she valued his advice in a crisis. She was sure he’d know what to do.

‘Ollie? Ollie!’ she said with gradually increasing volume.

He continued to snore. ‘OLLIE!’

‘Rose, what on earth? I was fast asleep.’

‘Listen, I need your help. There’s been a family emergency. It’s Great Aunt Jean. She’s had a-‘

‘Great Aunt who?’

‘Great Aunt Jean. Look, just listen, will you? I’ve picked up a voicemail from Dad. He’s been trying to get hold of me all night. Aunt Jean’s had a fall and she’s in hospital. I don’t know how bad things are, but Dad’s asked me to head down to Sussex and make sure she’s okay.’

Ollie sat bolt upright.

‘What do you mean “head to Sussex”? You can’t go to Sussex today!’

It took Rose a few seconds to process the callous nature of Ollie’s words. Not go to Sussex? He surely couldn’t be seri­ous? Could he?

I’m not sure you’ve grasped what I’m saying. Aunt Jean’s hurt – badly enough to have ended up in hospital.

‘But, Rose, you can’t,’ Ollie howled. ‘We’ve got tickets to watch England at Twickenham this afternoon. This is too last minute; you can’t let me down. What will everyone think?’

‘Let you down?’ Rose hissed. ‘Are you serious? There’s an eighty-two-year-old woman lying in a hospital bed, with no family to count on apart from me. Watching a load of oversized men with inflated egos chase each other around a rugby pitch isn’t something that I’m particularly concerned about right now.’

Turning her back on Ollie, Rose flung open her wardrobe, grabbed her overnight bag from the top shelf and threw in a random assortment of underwear and clothes. She needed to pack enough to get her through a few days at least. Anything she’d forgotten – well, she could sort that out once she’d got to Sussex. Ollie threw back the duvet, got up from the bed and grabbed her arm.

‘Come on, darling. Your aunt’s not going to expect you to drop everything to rush to her bedside, is she? It doesn’t even sound as though it’s anything life-threatening. It’ll be a wasted journey.’

Rose shrugged his arm away.

‘I really can’t be any clearer about this, Ollie. I’m going to Sussex, and I’m going now. The matter isn’t up for debate.’ She turned to face him. ‘Do you know what? I actually thought you’d be able to help me with this. I assumed you’d have my back and ofter to come with me for moral support. Looks like I couldn’t have been more wrong. Just let me finish packing and then I’m on the first train out of London.’

‘Well, how long do you think you’ll be gone for?’

‘Seeing as I don’t know what the situation is yet, I’ve no idea. At least a few days, but maybe longer if things are bad.’

At that revelation, Ollie flapped his arms in outrage.

A few days?! But I’ve arranged that meeting for you with Marcus in HR about the project management vacancy for first thing on Monday morning.

‘I never asked you to do that, Ollie. I’m not even remotely interested in a career as a project manager. Anyway, I’m sure that Marcus will understand, given the circumstances.’

‘Understand, given the circumstances,’ Ollie parroted back. ‘Oh, well, that’s all okay, then. Don’t worry if it reflects badly on me.’

‘I hardly think me dropping everything to dash off and help a relative reflects badly on you, does it? Ollie, you know how important Aunt Jean is to me. I spent practically every summer with her in Sussex after Mum died.’ Ollie shifted his gaze uncomfortably. ‘I know I don’t always get back to visit as often as I like, but she needs me now.’

Ollie took her hand. ‘Look, I’m sorry, Rose, I know Jean means a lot to you. If you need to go, I understand. Just hurry back, won’t you?’

Rose zipped up her overnight bag, pulled on the pair of Converse trainers she kept by the front door and left the house, closing the front door behind her. As she walked down the steps leading from their apartment building, Rose tried to ignore her sense of unease about Ollie’s reaction to Aunt Jean’s fall and concentrate instead on getting to East Sussex as quickly as possible. She didn’t want to waste time getting the Tube to St Pancreas Station, so instead hailed the first black cab she saw.

Once she was on her way, a quick Google search on her phone revealed that the trains to Rye ran regularly from London on a Saturday, but she’d have to change at Ashford International. If everything went smoothly, she might even be at the hospital by midday. Rose tried her dad’s number but it went straight to voicemail. She reminded herself that there wasn’t great network coverage in the middle of the Caribbean Sea and wifi on board was expensive – he wouldn’t be able to connect until he docked. She’d have to try later.

Once Rose was on the train, she found herself a seat at an unoccupied table, threw her overnight bag into the overhead luggage compartment and began setting up her laptop. Her first job was to call the hospital and find out exactly how bad her aunt’s injuries were. She reached the ward on her first attempt. The ward sister only confirmed what her dad had already told her and Rose explained that she was on her way from London and would be with her aunt soon.

A fractured hip wasn’t ideal, but it could have been so much worse, Rose thought. At least it was nothing life­ threatening. She inhaled deeply. This was positive news, wasn’t it? Rose tried to call her dad but, once again, she was unable to get through. She decided to send him a text instead. At least that way if he did manage to pick up a phone signal, he’d have an update.

I’m on a train now and should be arriving at the hospital in a couple of hours. Don’t worry, I’ve got this xx

As she was popping her phone back into her pink leather handbag, she heard it buzz and made a sudden grab for it, assuming it was her dad. Her heart sank a little as she realized it was a message from Maya.

Hey lovely, was such a great leaving do last night. Let me know how you get on with the supply agencies next week. Onwards and upwards. Maya xx

Rose smiled. Maya was always looking out for her and supporting her decisions. Why couldn’t Ollie be more like that? Surely it wasn’t too much to ask that her fiancé would be able to see things from her point of view and take her side, if only once in a while?

Things hadn’t always been like this between them. She remembered how sweet Ollie had been when they’d first got together. On the night he’d officially asked her to move in with him, he’d arranged a beautiful candlelit supper on the rooftop terrace of his London office – a space usually reserved for entertaining clients. He’d set up an elaborate treasure hunt leading Rose to an envelope taped beneath her chair, which contained the estate agent’s listing for the flat he’d just rented for them – their first proper home together. It had been the most romantic evening of her life and she still had the envelope safely stashed away in her memory box among her other most treasured possessions.

Rose shook her head. She had more pressing concerns to focus on right now. The first of them being getting to the hospital to find out how Aunt Jean was.

As soon as the train driver announced their arrival at Rye, Rose gathered her belongings and hurried towards the doors as the train pulled into the platform. She knew her way around the station well, having been down to visit Aunt Jean more times that she cared to count.

She’d always loved coming to Sussex, ever since she was a child, and she had so many happy memories of staying at Jasmine Cottage. When she was young, she had thought the place was an adventurer’s paradise. As an adult it had always been a safe haven – somewhere to retreat to when she needed some peace and quiet or to recharge her batteries and escape from the stress of daily life. Since qualifying as a teacher, Rose had always made sure she visited Aunt Jean for a few weeks every August, and she always returned to London feeling refreshed and reinvigorated.

Some of the happiest times in her childhood were spent with her aunt in the village of Blossom Heath. She would always take her exploring, and they’d pack a picnic and go out for the day to see what new adventures they could find. She remembered one particular summer, her aunt had pitched a tent in the garden of Jasmine Cottage and they’d had hours of fun building a fire, toasting marshmallows, telling ghost stories and looking at the stars before they fell asleep. She couldn’t help but smile when she thought about those days.

After a short taxi ride from the station, Rose soon found herself passing through a set of cream double doors with the words ‘Nightingale Ward’ clearly marked above them. She located the nurse’s station and went over to introduce herself. ‘Hello, I’m Rose Hargreaves,’ she said to the blonde-haired nurse sitting behind the desk. ‘I rang ahead earlier? I’m here to see Jean Hargreaves.’

‘Ah yes, it was me you spoke to. I’m Sister Clarke.’

‘How is she? Can I see her?’ Rose asked quickly.

I’m afraid Jean’s fracture was a complicated one, and she’s had to have surgery to insert some pins to keep the injury stable. She’s doing well physically, although it’s going to be a long road to recovery for her.

‘It’s actually her mental state we’re more concerned about. She’s very down, and her confidence has taken a real knock. I believe she lives alone?’

‘Yes, that’s right.’

‘Well, that may be an issue going forward,’ said Sister Clarke. ‘She may not be able to live independently after a fall like this. It could be a risk to her safety.’

‘Oh, I see,’ said Rose, her face falling. ‘Yes, I can see how that might be difficult for her,’ she agreed. ‘She’s fiercely independent though and I’m honestly not sure how she’d cope if she thought she couldn’t go home again.’

‘Well, let’s not jump the gun just yet,’ replied Sister Clarke. ‘Best not mention anything to her and let’s see if your visit can lift her spirits. Let me take you to see her.’

She led Rose into the ward and motioned to one of the rooms along the corridor. ‘She’s just up here, third bed from the left,’ she said.

Rose spotted her aunt immediately, although she looked much paler, and somehow smaller and more fragile than she remembered. She had lost weight, too, and her face seemed drawn. If Rose was honest, she looked like a shadow of the cheerful, rosy-cheeked auntie that Rose remembered from her visit just last summer.

‘Jean, you’ve got a visitor,’ Sister Clarke said as she approached the bed. ‘She’s travelled all the way from London to see you. Isn’t that something?’

Aunt Jean looked up and Rose saw a glimmer of interest in her eyes.

‘Aunt Jean, it’s me, Rose,’ she said as she approached the bed. ‘What kind of trouble have you been getting yourself into, eh?.’

‘Rose, is that really you? How did you even know I was in here? I told them not to bother anyone. You’ve not really come all the way from London, have you?’

‘I’ll leave you to it,’ Sister Clarke said as she walked back towards the nurse’s station.

‘Of course it’s me and of course it’s no bother.’ Rose pulled up a seat next to Aunt Jean’s bed. ‘I was worried about you. So is Dad. I came as soon as I heard.’

Ah okay, love. I’m glad you’re here, really I am. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. I just hate the thought of you leaving behind your busy life to check in on me.

‘It’s not as if I live down the road now, is it?’ she said, wringing her hands.

‘Well, it’s the school holidays for one thing, so I’ve got plenty of time on my hands, and it’ll be nice for me to have some time away from London. I’ve left it too long to visit and I want to help and make sure you’re okay. You’re my number-one priority right now, so you’re stuck with me for a while.’

‘It’s lovely to see you, dear, really it is,’ Aunt Jean said, clasping Rose’s hand in her own.

‘How are you feeling? Are they treating you well? Is there anything I can get you?’

‘I’m not too bad. I just feel so foolish, taking a tumble like that. Causing all this fuss just because I wasn’t watching where I was going. I’m a silly old fool, that’s what I am.’

‘Now listen, I’ll have none of that,’ Rose said in her best schoolteacher’s voice, wiping a tear from her aunt’s cheek. ‘Accidents happen. That’s just the way life goes. I’m just as likely as you to take a tumble. You know how clumsy I am!’

Aunt Jean chuckled.

‘”Clumsy” – now that’s one word for it. More like a walking disaster zone,’ she laughed, throwing her head back. ‘If I had a pound for every time your mum and dad had to take you to A&E as a child with some mishap or other. It’s a wonder you didn’t end up on social ser­vices’ radar.’

‘Alright, alright,’ Rose giggled. ‘It’s good to see a smile on your face, even if it is at my expense. It really is good to see you, Auntie. I’m sorry it’s been ages. I’m not sure how long I’ll be here for but I wondered if I could stay at the cottage for a few nights?’

‘Of course, dear, I didn’t expect you to be going back to London tonight. A word of warning though, I’m not as house proud as I used to be. To tell you the truth the housework has been getting a bit too much for me these days. You might need to run the hoover around when you arrive.’

‘As if that will bother me,’ Rose rolled her eyes. ‘You know how much I love Jasmine Cottage. It’ll be like a hol­iday, and if I can help you out with some housework while I’m here, well, that’s just a bonus.’

Aunt Jean fumbled around in her nightstand to find the keys to Jasmine Cottage and handed them to Rose. The keychain was a circular, silver piece of metal with a picture of a Border Collie on it.

‘Hey, this looks just like Jack.’ Jack was Jean’s black and white Border Collie that Rose remembered from her child­hood. He had been devoted to her aunt, and his death ten years ago had hit her hard. She’d said she could never get another dog, as she couldn’t stand the pain of losing them.

‘It does look like Jack, doesn’t it? That’s why I chose it. I spotted it one day in the village gift shop and it reminded me of him so much that I had to buy it. He was a dog in a million, that one. I miss him every day,’ she said wistfully. Rose yawned and stretched her arms out in front of her. ‘Right, young lady, you get yourself off to the cottage, settle in and I’ll see you tomorrow. There’s a fish and chip van in the village tonight so you can get yourself some supper and have a relaxing evening.’

‘Sorry, I had a late one last night with some friends and I think it’s catching up with me. Are you sure you don’t want me to stay for a bit longer?’

‘You’ve done more than enough for one day. Do as you’re told for once, will you? Go and get settled and you can come back and see me tomorrow. The key for the car is on that fob too, so make sure you use it to get around in. There’s no point in you taking taxis everywhere, is there?’

‘Okay,’ Rose agreed, realizing that it would be futile to argue. She gathered up her bags, planted a kiss firmly on her aunt’s cheek and made her way to Jasmine Cottage.

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Allison Hay

I joined the "My Weekly" team thirteen years ago and, more recently, "The People's Friend". I love the variety of topics we cover both online and in the magazines. I manage the digital content for the brands, sharing features and information on the website, social media and in our digital newsletters.