Captivated by Her Innocence

By: Kim Lawrence

CHAPTER ONE

IF PRACTICE DID, as they claimed, make perfect, then Anna’s smile would be delivering just the right mixture of cool, collected confidence and deference. Beneath her neatly buttoned pink tweed jacket, however, her heart was thudding so hard that she had an image of it battering its way through her ribcage as she reeled off her opinion of the recent changes in the primary school curriculum.

Her heart stayed in place and, speaking with the appropriate level of confidence, she held her audience’s attention—or behind their intent looks were they actually planning their evening meals?

Anna lifted her chin and pushed away the doubts. She told herself to relax, and if she messed up? Well, it was only a job. Only a job? Who was she kidding?

The philosophical attitude might fool the rest of the world but this was not just any job for Anna—a fact she had realised when her two interview dates had clashed. The choice seemed simple, between a highly regarded local school within walking distance of her flat, where it had been hinted, strictly off the record, that she was a very strong candidate, or the post at a remote school on the north-west coast of Scotland—a job she wouldn’t have even applied for had she not seen that article in the dentist’s waiting room.

Clearly a no-brainer, and yet here she was desiring this job more than she had wanted anything in a long time.

‘Of course, we all want young people to turn into rounded individuals but discipline is important, don’t you think, Miss Henderson?’

Anna tipped her head and nodded gravely. ‘Of course.’ She focused on the thin woman at the far end of the line-up who had posed the question before including the rest of the panel. ‘But I think in an atmosphere where every child feels valued and is encouraged to reach their potential, discipline is rarely a problem. At least that has been my experience in the classroom.’

The balding man sitting to her right glanced down at the paper in front of him.

‘And this experience has been almost exclusively in city schools?’ A significant glance and wry smile was shared with his panel members. ‘A crofting community like this one is not exactly what you have been used to, is it?’

Anna, who had been anticipating this question, relaxed and nodded. Her friends and family had already voiced the same opinion, only not so tactfully, implying that she’d lose the will to live within a month in this cultural desert! Ironically the only people who hadn’t offered a negative opinion had been the ones who probably hated the idea more than anyone else.

If Aunt Jane and Uncle George, whose only daughter had recently made her home in Canada, had thrown up their hands in horror at the prospect of the niece they had always treated like a second daughter leaving too, it would have been understandable but, no, the couple had remained their normal, quietly supportive selves.

‘True but...’

A page was turned and bushy brows lifted. ‘It says here you have a good working knowledge of Gaelic?’

‘I’m rusty, but until I was eight I lived on Harris. My dad was a vet. I only moved to London after my parents’ death.’ Anna had no memory of the horrific accident that she had escaped totally unscathed. People had called it a miracle but Anna thought miracles were kinder. ‘So working and living in the Highlands would be returning to my roots, something I have always wanted to do.’

This conviction that her life, if not her frozen heart, belonged in the Highlands had made her ignore advice and push ahead with her application for the post of head teacher at this tiny primary school in an isolated but beautiful part of the Scottish north-west coast.

This was not a knee-jerk reaction to her ex, Mark, or the near-miss wedding and she was most definitely not running away!

Teeth gritted, she pushed away the thought and lifted her chin. Mark, who she had never persuaded to take a holiday anywhere without sun and sand let alone north of the border, would have been bewildered by her choice but his bewilderment was no longer a factor. She was a free agent and she wished him and his underwear model all the happiness they both richly deserved, and if that involved the stick thin blonde gaining a hundred pounds all the better! Anna might not be heartbroken or devastated—she had seen devastated and had taken active steps to avoid it—but she was human.

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