He wasn’t actually told ‘don’t go near Ella’ but it was pretty much as near to that as possible. His landlady had told the thirty three year old school teacher that ‘her down Traitors Lane’ with the emphasis on ‘HER’, was trouble and he could see his new neighbours and numerous other villagers looking down their noses at the beautiful woman when she, very occasionally, passed by.

He sat in the pub below his room on that Saturday morning eating a Full English Breakfast and sipping at the pint mug of tea they had given him to go with it. The TV was showing sports but with the volume turned down, but he could read the subtitles having the occasional grin when the robot doing them got the discussion wrong because of the pundits’ broad accents and West Ham’s new midfielder became the London teams new ‘wildfowler’.

He finished his meal and took a long draught of his tea, this was a very nice way to spend a Saturday morning and no mistake.

He had been selected to come along to the tiny four class primary school in this remote Gloucestershire village by the county’s education service seeing as he was a bit of a rising star and due a deputy head’s job anyway, plus they liked that fact that he had previously been an auditor. Part of his job was to quietly crawl over the school’s finances with a view to closure and bussing the seventy or so 4-11 year olds the five or six miles to the nearby town and the under-subscribed school there.

He had to consider the cost of buses, drivers and diesel in against the money the county could make selling the site for development.

“But surely,” he said, “You sell the school and build more houses and you’ll need a school?”

“You let me worry about that,” said the interviewer.

The older lady that interviewed him was very specific about what was needed and no way was anything cut and dried and he would still need to do his sums, learn about the community and report on what he found and make his decision based on ‘facts’. He’d never met her before which was strange’, he’d met most of the senior managers and the top politico’s; her manner, age and dress soon told him she was an elected councillor before he saw the gold edging to her name badge hidden under her scarf that announced she wasn’t ‘staff’.

To his shame though the thing that stood out most about that day was her broad rural Gloucestershire accent and the savage looking scar on her right cheek that he tried so hard not to look at. That and the foul tasting green tea she had made him; shit but it was nasty,

She saw him flinch after his first long sup, “Get it down you,” she said, “it’s great for getting rid of those bags under your eyes Mr Clements, and it’ll make you a big strong boy, and that’s something I need you to be for this job.”

And seeing as this weird looking woman was important in him getting the job, he gritted his teeth and finished it.

He was there to possibly close down the school, and while he wasn’t looking forward to that bit, after his last three years in an urban war zone that survived on government grants and benefits payments, he decided that he would spend a good year or so enjoying the country life before making that particular decision. His interviewer had been very specific about that too.

He decided to buy a place in the village seeing as the pay was one and a half times what he was earning previously. His search had been unfruitful, but eventually he was approached by the local estate agent who discussed some large town houses that were unaffordable in the current market as they stood so were being split as upstairs and downstairs flats. He could buy one, live in one flat and rent out the other. He decided he would do just that, and would live in the upstairs flat with a converted loft, and view of the village green across to the pub he was currently lodging in and in the distance his school. He could sort the downstairs flat at his convenience.

Even undecorated it looked like paradise compared to his flat in the city, with its two locks, chain and double locked windows even on the first floor.

Before house hunting he’d checked the police reports and other than the occasional speeding ticket, crime or any major disorder was pretty much unheard of in this village that seemed straight off of the front of a chocolate box.

The sale of his last flat had been really quick and meant that he could start at his new school much earlier than had been suggested, the county was even paying for his stay at the village pub until his new place was ready, after spare rooms and sofa surfing and the tiresome commutes had almost put an end to his desire to work there.

Within days of driving here with a rented box van full of his furniture and possessions currently packed into the completed loft room of his flat, he was completely under the spell of this funny little village and its funny people who seemed to go through life like the outside world (except for soaps, TOWIE, The Kardashians and Manchester United) didn’t exist. For them the planet consisted of farmers, people that worked for farmers, people that looked after farming families and little else. The tiny children he taught all had a strange and slightly disbelieving look when he told them about his previous school in the big city,

“What?” their cute little faces seemed to say, “so you’re saying there’s… like… somewhere else?”

It was a really great place and he figured his place would be a good investment even if he did end up shutting the school… eventually… there was no rush after all, the politician had been very clear about that and he was looking for ways to stretch his investigatory year out to eighteen months.

Around the outskirts of the village were lots of barn and stable holiday home conversions that were opened up in time for Easter weekend and closed in October as this village was ‘in the heart of the Cotswolds’, and the outrageous weekly rents would pay the quite low mortgage easily if he had to move back to the city.

He sipped more of his tea and looked around him, he couldn’t move in as the conversion was taking the local firm of builders much longer than they had quoted for to finish the work so was living in the pub weeks longer than he’d figured for and this was the end of his first month actually living in the village.

The great food here was making it so much easier to put up with the inconvenience mind you and this chilly Saturday was no exception.

“Good Morning Dan,” said a female voice in the rich country tones the teacher was starting to get so used to, and there she was.

“Well Good Morning Ella!” said the barman, “usual Luvvie?” She nodded and he continued his reach behind him for a long glass and pulled a half pint of the local strong beer. She paid him with a smile, took her drink and moved across the bar to the inglenook fireplace and sat, dipping into her large handbag and drawing out the local newspaper flicking it open to the first page.

She was dressed as she normally was, always in a long dress, sometimes with smocking, loose fitting, but still hinting at what lay beneath. He only saw her very occasionally and she always had what his father called the that slightly far away, incense burning, vegan, ‘hippy’ look. But then she did run the alternative lifestyle, health food shop in the village and always seemed to have either customers or the post office collecting or delivering.

The teacher looked across at her and smiled, raising his mug of tea. She raised her beer glass, and tilting her head slightly smiled back to him. She was stunning close up!

He guessed she was somewhere between mid-twentysomething verging on early thirty-something, her dark mahogany brown hair that looked just washed hung around her pretty heart shaped face framing it to perfection.

He tried to guess if she was older than him — if so it was not by very much and the more he looked at her the harder it became for him to guess, but he just as quickly thought ‘fuck it’ and decided to find some way he could go across and make conversation with her. She smiled back at him and drowsily raised her eyelashes with some level of inquisition as if she had read his mind.

He saw she was working through the paper and her beer, and he went back to the erroneously dubbed BBC News 24 and his smart phone with occasional looks to see if she was looking to see if he was looking at her.

After fifteen minutes she looked over her shoulder with a raised hand towards the barman.

“No, let me,” he said. “That’s a half of Poachers isn’t it.”

“Yes,” she beamed a smile to him, “that would be very kind, thank you.”

“Two halves of Poachers please,” said the teacher walking to the bar with his now emptied plate and mug. He took the two glasses of beer back to the table by the fire, and sat across from the stunning brunette, close but not too close.

Despite what the landlady had said about ‘that woman’ there just had to be a ‘him’ to ‘her’ as when he looked at her he saw the classic busty British country girl and he just knew that at home on the farm, smallholding at the very least, she had a couple of black Labradors, green Hunter wellies, a green Barbour jacket, a matched pair of Purdeys and was married to someone called Henry that had been to agricultural college.

He looked and thought that she was just perfect but the image of country beauty could only be improved by slightly more pouty lips.

“Hi, I’m Steve Clements. I’m the new deputy head at the primary school, you aren’t one of the Mums are you.”

“No,” she said in the deep country girl voice of hers, “I’m not married. I’m Ella by the way.” She held out a hand. He took it.

He sipped some of the beer, “This is a very nice village,” he said.

“Yeah for some people,” she replied, “being the single thirty something that lives on her own I tend to be a bit of a black sheep.”

So she was thirty something like him and there wasn’t a big husband called Henry that had been to agricultural college at least.

“I’m sorry,” he said and thought back to what the landlady of this very pub had said about the girl down in the village in Traitor’s Lane.

“Small village,” she said, “you get used to these things after a while. I’m guessing that cow of a landlady of yours warned you about me?”

He couldn’t hold back his grin, “How did you guess?”

She grinned, “It’s a reeeeeeaally long story.” She sipped some more of her beer and put down the glass. In doing so he saw her pretty face in profile. Yep, those lips could do with just the tiniest amount of pout, other than that…

“I guess you were born and raised here with an accent like yours Ella?”

“Yes, lived here my whole life,” she looked around the bar, “know everyone and they know me, at least they all seem to think they do.”

“It could be worse trust me,” he said and waxed lyrically and with some self-deprecating humour about his former workplace and home and the number of times his car had been damaged or broken into, the threats on his life by his pupils and on occasions their parents.

“Well,” she said with some surprise, “at least we don’t have that problem.”

They sat and talked for half an hour having another beer and getting to know one another, throwing another log on the fire as they did do. The school teacher and his amateur psychology noticed that she had turned to face him, and had crossed her legs towards him, guarded but not overly so, her eyes were wide open and her smiles were big and genuine and she was completely focussed on him. A good sign.

She ran her shop and did quite well, took it over from her grandmother that had cared for her after her parents had passed away when she was young; mother from Cancer, father shortly afterwards but with no suggestion of a cause.

He was an urban schoolteacher and this was his first go and small village living. His parents still lived in his home town and were looking forward to coming to stay in his spare loft room should the builder ever get the bloody place finished.

They were clicking, no two ways about it. The bad sign was her looking at her watch every five minutes then staring over her shoulder as if she was waiting for someone. But no one came and she did seem to relax some more.

She grinned what must have been the hundredth real but guarded smile at him and played with her dark hair and he was about to suggest a date, when the door burst open and three big lads in shorts and rugby shirts under the green Barbour coats walked in, their studded boots clattering on the flagstones that must have been hundreds of years old. The woman’s shoulders slumped in disappointment. Perhaps one of them was the person she was waiting for, but if she WAS waiting for him, she didn’t seem that pleased about his arrival.

“Mornin’ Dan!” said the first resting his meaty forearms on the counter, “Three pints of Poachers please!”

“You boys ain’t drinkin’ ‘fore the match are you?” said Dan with a chirpy but still marginally admonishing tone.

“Oh come on Dan,” said the second, “just a couple to get us in the right mood!” He slipped off his coat dropping it over an adjacent bar stool.

“Before a match?” said Dan still in shocked confusion.

“Only playing some half-arsed bunch of pretty boys from the University,” said the first, “could kick their arses all over the field pissed as farts that’s for fucking sure!” He took a long pull from his pint almost sinking the whole thing in one go.

His two team mates laughed and did likewise. “My round,” said the second while the third belched loud, long and rich.

“Now then fellas,” said Dan, “let’s behave like grown-ups shall we?”

“Why?” said the first clumping his glass before the Poachers pump and looking challengingly down the bar.

“Because you ain’t my only bloody guests, that’s why!” He nodded towards the fireplace where the teacher was sat with his stunning companion, and another two couples around the corner.

“S’only Ella,” said the second dropping a twenty pound note on the bar contemptuously.

“Ella and ‘er latest screw!” giggled the first. He turned, leant back against the bar resting his elbows on it.

“Drink your beer and bugger off,” said Barman Dan sternly, “that ain’t funny!”

“Awww you love it Dan,” said the first again, then added, “So does Ella!”

The three friends all burst into gales of loud but clearly forced laughter.

“Beer! OUT!” snapped Dan.

The three giants picked up their pints, raised them to each other then started to drain them as they had with their first.

The clumped the empty glasses down, the third giving a second, loud rip-snorting belch in contempt of the landlord and the other customers. The first looked down the bar to the seating area and the half dozen uncomfortable patrons sat there. He saw Ella and her male companion, stopped as if a sudden resolution had come to him, pushed himself up from the bar and walked towards them. He looked at Ella, and gave her an up and down appraisal that even the teacher could read as undressing the beauty with his lecherous piggy eyes.

“Ella,” he said, changing his posture to look down his nose at the teacher.

“Henry,” said Ella, a forced smile on her lips.

“Who’s this?”

“And what precisely does that have to do with you?” said Ella challengingly.

“Just want to make sure that the interloper ‘ere knows what he can and can’t do in the village, and who he can do o’course…” Henry the giant looked the teacher up and down with an air of contempt.

“Interloper Henry?” said Ella, “That’s a very long word isn’t it — did someone you help learn that? Guess they didn’t teach you that at agricultural college.”

The teacher narrowed his eyes at his previous fortune telling — fucking what?

“You got a problem new boy?”

“No,” said the teacher standing and extending a hand that the farmer ignored, “I’m Steve…” Now being stood up, Henry didn’t look half as tall or imposing as he had at the bar. Not breaking eye contact he could hear Henry’s mates’ boot studs scratching the flagstones closer to him.

“We all know who you are,” snarled Henry, “you’re the ‘otshot pretty boy the county sent down ‘ere to close our school ain’t yer, we all went to that school…” he indicated his mates behind him.

“Try Deputy Head, I’ll wave my hand for that one.”

The teacher had cut his teeth teaching the worst pupils in the worst inner city schools where many of the parents were more argumentative and way more confrontational than their pre-pubescent offspring and, even though he said so himself, he could stare down a fucking rattlesnake.

Should it come to it he had more than half a dozen notches on his belt where it had come to fisticuffs and he’d needed to defend himself from idiot parents only marginally more literate than their idiot spawn who thought they’d ‘have a go with that nice Mr Clements’ — mostly for not saying what they wanted to hear, even daring to suggest that they had a part to play in their childrens’ lack of education as well as him.

There were always witnesses that saw him ‘being attacked’ of course and he’d never got in the shit for the four black eyes and one broken nose he’d inflicted on his attackers both male and female, and he’d gained quite a reputation which, on reflection, was probably why the county had sent him out here to the back of beyond — but he wasn’t complaining. The teacher sucked his teeth and for added impetus looked at his watch. Henry obviously wasn’t used to this kind of confrontation and didn’t like it one bit. Ella actually looked impressed for the first time.

“Well…” he swallowed and caught his breath, “we… we all fucking know about you, and our Ella’s trying to get her slutty ‘ands on yer… eat yer for fucking breakfast so she will.”

“Now then Henry,” said Dan the barman. Henry turned and there was Dan flanked by two Policemen.

None of the quaint, St Mary Mead village Bobby on a bicycle shit so redolent of Miss Marple episodes, these were giants with black ‘police’ wicking nylon clinging to their bulging arm muscles, their body armour dripping with the paramilitary affectations that even the most basic patrol officers needed to wear these days, both with bright yellow Tazers across their chests.

Steve the teacher took one look and with his time in the big city knew that these were firearms officers and chances are they happened to be the closest team to the pub with the fastest car when the barman called in on the walkie talkie radio now peeking out of his pocket.

Henry made a ‘t-ttth’ sound and with a sneering upper lip turned and pushed between policemen and barman, grabbing his jacket from the bar stool.

“Off to the match lads,” he said taking a sip from an empty glass to prove that it was because he could rather than needing to, “lots of pretty college boys there we can play with; p’raps Ella might want to come over with her bandages and herbal shit and patch up after. She obviously likes pretty college boys.”

“Bye Henry,” said Teacher Steve, with just the faintest hint of a challenge.

The two other farm boys did likewise, grinning idiotically at the teacher and the beauty, flanked by Policemen as they now were. The door clunked behind them.

“Sorry about that ladies and gents,” said Dan to the other guests, “sniff of the barmaids apron and these bloody kids get all up themselves.” The barman grinned, put a hand to each of the policemen’s shoulders, “tea or coffee for you boys?”

Both men said ‘coffee’ specifying milk and/or sugar as they felt appropriate. “Are you OK Miss?” said the first policeman chatting to Ella. She nodded.

“Yeah,” she said, “Henry’s a bit of a local knob, especially when he’s had a pint or two.”

“We’ll just take some details then Miss,” the first policeman couldn’t seem to take his eyes off of her.

Both Policemen sat down and Steve realised that he was of no further interest to this discussion and stepped out of the way so the second policeman could sit and stretch his legs out on the seat that he had previously occupied. Taking his details seemed to slip their minds as that sat and chatted with Ella, notebooks totally absent.