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Allie and Bill

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Dear Fanny,

Thank you for your letter of two months ago. It was lovely to get all the latest news from Kirrin Cottage. I hope you have fully recovered from the shock of finding out the children's tutor was not all he seemed. I do hope Quentin will leave any such future decisions up to you. I'm sure you would have recognised him for a 'bad-un' and not engaged him to begin with.

I have some news of my own. Are you sitting down? I have adopted two children! Oh, not babies. Jack and Lucy-Ann Trent are orphans, aged fourteen and eleven. They shared a madcap adventure with Philip and Dinah, not unlike Georgina and her cousins. Does she still only answer to George?

Of course you will want to hear the details of what happened, and perhaps we can compare grey hairs! Doctor Maynard had given me strict orders to rest. Work was making that little problem of mine worse. How he thought I'd manage that over the summer holidays, I have no idea. I ended up sending Philip and Dinah to stay with Polly and Jocelyn at Craggy-Tops. Polly was glad of the extra money. Children are so hungry at this age, as I'm sure you're aware.

I believe I've mentioned Craggy-Tops overlooks the Isle of Gloom, rather like your Kirrin Island. A gang of crooks was using the old mines on the island as a secret hideout to make counterfeit money. The boys almost drowned and Jocelyn's handyman Jo-Jo turned out to be a gang member. Polly was most distressed, however, there is a happy ending. Polly and Jocelyn have left Craggy-Tops as the well water turned to salt water when the gang used explosives to flood the mines. There was a secret tunnel connecting the mines to the well. Polly is pleased with their much smaller house. She looks ten years younger already.

That's not all. The children received a reward for catching the crooks and I've been able to give up work. I'm now twice as busy looking after four children, and Jack's parrot, Kiki. Kiki talks - she's very fond of repeating rhyming words. Dinah seems to cope with Kiki more easily than she's ever done with any of Philip's regularly changing menagerie. He's so like his father that way. Do you remember how we used to call Roger 'Dr Doolittle'.

I do have something else I want to tell you. I know I scoffed when you told me about the quickening, and what you and Quentin have. Soul bonds are the stuff of epic romances, found only between the pages of books or at the cinema, I said. I loved Roger, but what I felt for him never quite matched with your descriptions. I even thought you may have made it up to explain why you've stayed with Quentin. We both know he's a bad-tempered, absent minded, mad scientist! I've pointed out his faults to you more than once and all you do is smile back at me, with the expression on your face that says you know something I don't.

Oh, Fanny, I've met someone! Roger was a dear man, and our marriage was good, but when I look at Bill, my heart beats faster, I feel warm all over, my palms grow sweaty, and I want. I want what I thought I'd never have again, only I want it more, and I want it with Bill. I feel twenty-one again! My insides, well, you would know what my insides are doing. Every time I see him, the feeling gets stronger. What's more, I believe he feels it too. I catch him watching me, me, a widow with four children, and there's a certain look in his eyes.

He actually met the children first, when they all solved the mystery of the counterfeiters. He likes them and they like him. Now all I need is for him to more than like me. Already, the thought of him with someone else tears me up inside. I can hardly believe what I'm about to say, but I'm as certain as a woman of my age can be that this man is my soul mate. I sound like I'm eighteen years old.

Write back quickly, Fanny, and tell me I'm not going out of my mind. Tell me it's the quickening.

Your friend,

Allie Mannering

P.S. Don't laugh - I was so tempted to write Allie Smugs, or Allie Mannering and Bill Smugs with a heart drawn around our names. I must be fifteen.