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Five Months Earlier

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Five Months Earlier

A loud splutter of machinery shatters a sleep so deep that I feel drugged. For a second, I assume it's our next-door neighbour trying to start his ancient Land Rover, before an impenetrable wall of sticky heat hits me. Hair is plastered across my forehead and sweat sticks the bed sheets to my body. It drags me roughly back to reality as I remember where I am.

Fricking Tennessee.

After a ten-hour flight over five time zones, my body aches. Although, I'm sure the pain is as much homesickness as jetlag. Today, I should be waking up in a noisy dorm room, not alone and saturated in sweat. This weekend - the last of the school year - I should straighten my newly won House Prefect Badge and receive the Gymnastics Cup from Mr Carstairs, our ancient headmaster. I should. But I'm not. Not when home is four thousand miles away.

The whirring sound returns, louder this time. Too hot to go back to sleep, I pull back the sodden covers. The wooden floorboards are cool beneath my feet, bringing a slight release from the humidity. Leaning over piles of packing boxes, I pull open the shutters and peer out. Bright sunlight filters through the window.

Eyes wide open, I take in my surroundings. I'd stumbled half-blind into the unfamiliar house after last night's late-night pickup from Nashville, followed by the long drive here. Dawn, shell-pink and as fresh as new linen, casts delicate patterns over a glittering lake and swathes of green forest. It's far more beautiful than I expected, which sours my mood.

Peering further out, through a tall cherry tree bejewelled with glossy leaves, I search for the source of the noise. Just out of my sight, I catch a flash of blond hair and a glimpse of muscular, tanned arms. My stomach flutters. The view is a definite improvement on Mr Latham with his high-waisted trousers and walking stick, even if it's on the wrong continent. I lean out further to find a gap in the foliage, but hard as I try - twisting my head this way and that and rising on my tiptoes - it's impossible to spot the mystery boy.

I rack my brains to remember what Mother had said about the owners of the cabin: Daddy's new boss from the firm, doing him a favour until our new house is ready. Finding only blanks past that, I sigh and grab the book sitting on my bedside table.

Padding down the unfamiliar stairs, I come into a large, open-plan kitchen. Two large fans rotate above a wooden island, keeping the room cool despite the sub-Saharan temperatures outside. The view from here is just as beautiful as my bedroom, with large glass doors overlooking a wide deck that seems to float above the water. Whoever they are, this family has some serious money.

Oscar's already up and wolfing down a plate of golden pancakes and bacon drowning in syrup.

My mother appears from behind the island, looking radiant in a silk dressing gown, her thick, black hair framing her heart-shaped face. She clutches a pan of steaming water. 'Morning, darling. Tea?'

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