The Clerembeax Palace Hotel and Spa – To Wear a Pink Ribbon
The beautiful Downshire village of Clerembeax St Giles was situated to the west of Abbeyvale located between Grace Hill and Bushy Down and on the outskirts was the Clerembeax Palace Hotel and Spa.
It was once the home the Clerembeax’s, who arrived in Downshire following the Norman conquests and stayed for a thousand years before the name died out following the death of the reclusive Marcus Clerembeax at the age of 96.
The current owner was Yvonne Labuschagne, who decided to open it as a Hotel and Spa.
The Spa was a good attraction, but it was crucial for them to maintain a high occupancy rate, however things were tough in the Hotel trade with the success of Travelodge, Premier Inn and Holiday Inn Express and so places like the Palace needed to offer something extra to attract the guests, apart from the Spa.
So, they put on novelty weekends, such as “Murder Mysteries” and in addition, they had a sizable Ballroom which was used for special occasions, high days and holidays, which boosted occupancy and Spa numbers at the same time.
But it was necessary to offer guests as wide a range of activities as possible during their stay, to attract them in the first place, and hopefully to come back, which was why they bought and stabled horses up at Stevens Farm, in order to offer riding.
The Stevens farm bordered the Clerembeax Estate, so it was a natural choice and they it was a large farm which had at its center a large farmhouse, parts of which dated back six centuries, which had been added to over the years to accommodate the changing needs of the family.
There were also a significant number of out buildings, including a stable block.
The farm was run by Russ Stevens and his three sisters, Mary, Rose and Muriel.
However, they had plenty of farm work to keep them busy, so they had little or nothing to do with the horses, so Hotel Manager Hannah Morgan employed the Storey Brothers, Adam and Craig to do the job.
The Stevens girls were all good looking, with red hair and striking Celtic green eyes, twenty-five-year-old Muriel was taller and fuller figured than her sisters who were smaller leaner and wiry.
Muriel was a divorcee and recently returned to Clerembeax, she married Gary straight after University and they were married for two years and divorced for another two after she returned to the farm.
She had remained single after the divorce, it hurt her more than she would admit, and she had loved Gary and thought he was the one, so she was in no hurry to repeat her mistakes, but that was before she saw Craig Storey.
It happened on the first day he drove up to the farm
“Mr Storey?” she called as he got out of the car.
“That’s me” he replied as he walked towards her and offered his hand and said
“Muriel Stevens” she said taking his hand
“Everything is ready for you”
“Excellent” he said
“You can leave your car there for the minute, but I’ll show you where you will need to park in future”
“Fine” he agreed
“I understood there were two of you?”
“Yes, my brother Adam” he replied “He’ll be here later he’s picking up some gear”
“I see” she said, “Will it always be the two of you?”
“No, there will be a couple of stable girls once we’re up and running” he responded
“And of course, Hannah will pop in from time to time”
“It that a significant other?” She asked
“No, I don’t have one of those” he replied and laughed
“No, Hannah is the Hotel Manager” he explained “she’ll definitely be checking up on us”
Muriel was surprised by how pleased she was to find he was single.
About a week after first meeting Craig, Muriel had just finished the milking and was on her way back to House and this took her past the stables and she noticed a light on, so she decided to pop in and see if it was her Mr Storey or one of the stable girls.
She hadn’t seen him since the day he arrived, and she was surprised to find how disappointed she was about that.
It surprised Muriel firstly because she didn’t believe in instant attraction and secondly because he wasn’t really her type.
She didn’t like tall, well-made men, big and cuddly was not her thing, she preferred someone about her height and a bit scrawny.
He wasn’t bad looking though and he had a good sense of humour and he was the same age as her.
She knocked on the door and waited a moment before pushing the door open.
“Morning” she said brightly when she saw it was Craig
“You’re here early”
“Morning Miss Stevens” he retorted “yes still a lot to do”
“Call me Muriel” she said “Come up to the house, they are bound to have the kettle on by now”
“Thank you, that would be very nice” he said
“And you never know your luck there might still be some breakfast to be had”
“So, you do the cooking then?”
“Me? No, I burn water” she replied and laughed
“My brother does it, he’s a brilliant cook” she said as she opened the kitchen door
“Ah talk of the devil, I’ve got another victim for you Russ”
A few days later it was Muriel’s day off and as was her habit on such days she spent it walking the woodland on the northern side of the farm, the onto the bridal path which lead back to the village, it was a well-worn route from her childhood that she reacquainted herself with as soon as she returned.
It was also her escape from the family, the farm and the mundane.
As she walked back through the village she was really looking forward to a coffee, but she couldn’t wait until she got home so she decided to go and have on at the pub.
She walked in through the doors and had only taken two paces when she heard
When she turned around she saw Craig sitting in the window
“Oh hello” she responded
“Have you come for lunch?” he asked
“No, I’m gagging for a coffee” she replied
“Come and sit and I’ll get you one”
After Craig got the drinks he sat down opposite her and when he settled himself she asked
“So how are you getting on at the stables?”
“It’s going well” he replied
“There’s a lot to do” she mused
“There is, but Adam and I are up to it”
“So, have you always been around horses?” she asked
“No not at all, I hadn’t even been close to a horse until six years ago” he admitted “The same for Adam”
“How come?” she quizzed
“Equinophobia” he replied
“You’re scared of horses” she announced
“I was” he responded in some discomfort
“You wuss” she said and disintegrated into laughter, and so did he
Later on, after she had calmed down, she asked
“So, you said you “were” afraid of horses?”
“From a very young age, and then when I was 18, I did a course of horse therapy”
“What about Adam?”
“Oh no he just went with me to make sure I didn’t bottle out”
He admitted and then as she finished her second mug of coffee Craig asked
“So how come you’re not in a hurry today?”
“It’s my day off” she replied
“And this is the most exciting thing you could find to do on such a lovely day” he asked
“Well I’ve been walking” she said
“You can come with me next time, I promise it’s not scary”
Craig realised he was not going to easily live down his former fear of horses and he similarly realised that it mattered to him what she thought of him.
Over the next couple of weeks Craig was increasingly distracted by the fact that Muriel hadn’t been around to the stables for a chat.
He had thought on their last meeting they had made a connection and had even made a date of sorts.
He tried to put it out of his mind and put it down to his innate inability to read women.
One thing he was sure of was that his sleep was suffering, what little there was of it.
Craig needn’t have worried, the reason she hadn’t been around was nothing to do with him.
Her ex mother in law had been suffering from a brain tumour for several years and the last six months she’d been in a hospice, but her health had suddenly nosedived.
So, she rushed to the hospital in Abbottsford, her condition was serious but stable, but the prognosis was uncertain.
Despite the fact she had divorced her son she still cared about her, so as a result she was away from the farm for a week, and on her return, she needed to knuckle down and pick up the slack.
Which meant she was unable to indulge her habit of chatting with him over the stable door and even had to forgo her days off and her walks in the country.
By the middle of October Craig had given up trying to figure out why he hadn’t seen Muriel, twice he had been to the farm house looking for her on some pretence or another and on both occasions his trip proved fruitless.
“Maybe she’s gone on holiday” he said to himself as he closed the stable door on a rainy Thursday morning as he was on his way to the office for a third time in as many weeks.
He walked briskly across the yard towards the Farm House and as he walked towards the door he caught sight of Muriel through the window and he suddenly got butterflies and he chastised himself for his foolishness.
“You’re a grown man” he said to himself and opened the door.
As soon as he stepped over the threshold Muriel turned to see who it was, and her face lit up in recognition.
“Hi Craig” she said and beamed
“Hello stranger” He responded, “Have you been on your hols?”
“No” she replied wanting to tell him the whole story but said instead
“A sick friend”
“Oh God I’m sorry” He gushed “Are they ok?”
“As she ever will be” she replied again holding back and then quickly changed the subject
“So, what brings you to Stevens Farm HQ?” She asked
“I was hoping to avail myself of your hospitality and test your water boiling skills” he said and grinned
“The cheek of the man” she retorted
“I’ve missed you popping in to the stables for a chat, and sitting in your kitchen drinking coffee” he said as he got up to leave
“Well I don’t think I’ll be popping in this week I’m afraid, I have so much to catch up on” she replied
“Next week then” he suggested
“Definitely” she replied “it’s a date”
She blushed a little at her Freudian slip which Craig noticed and that set his butterflies off again.
For the rest of the week Craig knuckled down and was kept gainfully employed and made some significant progress, and by the end of it they were ready for the rest of the horses, thanks to late nights and early mornings.
On Friday Morning he was just contemplating going to the farmhouse for a coffee break when there was a knock on the stable door and too his surprise and delight it was Muriel
“Good Morning” she said brightly
“Hi” He said “I didn’t think I’d be seeing you this week”
“I got my head down and by burning the midnight oil, I caught up”
She said “So I have earned a day off and as it’s such a lovely day, I thought you might like to join me on a walk”
“Well as I too have been working hard I have also earned a day off, so I’d love to” He replied, “am I alright as I am?”
“You’ll do” she replied and laughed
She had felt guilty about not telling Craig the whole story about her mother in law’s illness so on the way up to the woods she unburdened herself.
Muriel told him about her brain tumour and how, despite her illness, she had been there for her during the break up of her marriage, and how she lost her mother to breast cancer when she was 16.
Each word came harder than the one preceding it as she drew them out into loose painful sentences.
When she got to the part about having to say good bye to her in the hospice, knowing she would never see her again, she faltered so Craig took her hand and kissed her as the Autumn wind blew through the trees, and saying good bye again in a hospice brought it all flooding back.
When they continued on their way Muriel gripped his hand tightly and the words flowed easily from her.