I don't own any characters, plot lines, placenames or locations used in the Wardstone Chronicles. They are the property of Joseph Delaney, and he does a bloody good job with them.

Author's note: This is set during Tom's time living with Alice and the Spook in the Chipenden house.

I drew in a deep breath and exhaled slowly, taking in the last of the warm air as the sun sunk beneath the mountains. I was siting on the bench where my master would often lecture me in lessons, although this was a rare situation in which I didn't need to be taking notes or concentrating on a mountain of sketches. This was me using one of my infrequent "free time" slots allocated by the Spook, and despite his usual disapproval of Alice joining me, she had the evening free as she had copied an impressive amount of the Spook's book load for the day. Alice sat down beside me, hardly making a sound as she nestled gently against my side. I immediately felt at total ease. When Alice was with me, everything seemed perfect; I decided to tell her at once how happy she made me.

"It's a beautiful sunset" She said, her raven hair tickling my neck.

"It is... Do you like it here?" I found myself asking the question before I'd even thought about it, and Alice paused before she answered.

"Like it here, I do. Old Gregory takes some getting used to, but I like being able to see you, Tom". I couldn't stop myself breaking into a grin - Alice truly was the best friend I'd ever had.

"The Spook won't like me talking to you like this, Alice... but I need to say this". Alice sat up, her hand quickly finding mine. She looked at me expectantly, with eying me calmly but listening intently.

"What is it, Tom?"

"I just... I wanted to tell you that you're the best friend anyone could have... I love your company, Alice" The words awkwardly fell out of my mouth, and as she gave me a warm smile I pretended to be incredibly interested in my feet so she wouldn't see my embarassment. I was just about to get up and go back to the house, but Alice's left hand reached across and gently held my cheek. I couldn't bring myself to move; I looked up at her and saw an eager look in her eyes. She leant in towards me and kissed me gently on the mouth, her red lips embracing my own softly. I returned the kiss, exploring her tongue with my own hesitantly - I'd never kissed anyone before. I felt awkward but at the same moment totally calm and blissful. Acting on impulse, I ran my free hand into her hair and stroked gently. Alice's reaction was kiss me more deeper and with more passion, and I was really beginning to enjoy this special moment until a gruff voice cleared its throat.

"I hope I'm not interrupting anything..." The Spook said grimly, causing Alice and I to sharply pull away from each other and clumsily get to our feet. "I think it's time you two came inside. You and I need to talk some Spook's business, lad. That means an early bed time for you tonight, girl". Alice didn't think to argue back, she knew it was useless to question the Spook's authority, especially when he seemed to be in one of his moods like tonight.

When my master and I sat down in the study, he look grim-faced and almost angry. I thought it would be polite to ask if anything was wrong, so I pulled my chair in and began to speak.

"Is there something -"

"Be quiet, lad! Can't you see that I'm not in the mood for your insolent questioning?" The Spook raised a hand to silence me as he spoke, his eyes narrowed in annoyance. He was certainly in one of his moods, but I hadn't the faintest idea why. I could only guess it was Spook's business, as he said, but I had a gut feeling that it was about Alice.

"Is this about Alice and me?" I said nervously, daring to ask question my master. His face screwed up in irritation for my disobedience, but then my heart sank when he nodded gravely.

"I've told you about girls with pointy shoes, have I not? I've told you about how we can't let a woman be a distraction to our work, have I not?" He asked, frighteningly calm. I could tell one wrong move here and he would give me a real torrent of verbal abuse, so I chose my words carefully.

"I didn't mean to, Mr Gregory... it-it won't happen again" I stuttered, hanging my head in shame. The Spook got to his feet and moved past me, a satisfied smile on his face. He rested his hand on my shoulder, and added ominously before he left:

"If it happens again, the girl will have to go. I can't let a witch, however young, walk freely in the County. Put her in her place or I shall put her in a pit. Goodnight, lad..."

That night I slept restlessly - just as things were getting better, it seemed my happiness was to be short-lived. Of course I wanted to do my master proud, but I couldn't just cast Alice aside - she's my friend. I managed to fall asleep, but not without worrying for what the future at my master's Chipenden house would hold.

First chapter, what did you think? I'm happy to keep writing if I get some reviews. Thanks for your time.