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COTTAGE ON A CORNISH CLIFF

 

Kate Ryder

About Cottage on a Cornish Cliff

Returning to the heart of her beloved Cornwall, Kate Ryder weaves another deliciously irresistible tale of desire, jealousy and the search for understanding, set against the stunning backdrop of the glorious Lizard Peninsula.

Globally renowned actor Oliver Foxley has made the most difficult decision of all and set the love of his life free, in order to try and bring his family back together. But there's a magnetic pull back to both Cara and Cornwall that Oliver can neither deny nor resist…

Heartbroken for a second time in her short life, single mother Cara knows she has no choice but to pick up the pieces yet again and carry on. Perhaps a complete change of scenery would help her, and her young family? Yet her mind, spirit and heart yearn for the windswept shores of her Cornish Cove…

Cara and Oliver face the agonising choice between following expectations, or following their hearts. How will their story end…?

Contents

Welcome Page

About Cottage on a Cornish Cliff

Dedication

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-one

Chapter Twenty-two

Chapter Twenty-three

Chapter Twenty-four

Chapter Twenty-five

Chapter Twenty-six

Chapter Twenty-seven

Chapter Twenty-eight

Chapter Twenty-nine

Chapter Thirty

Chapter Thirty-one

Chapter Thirty-two

Chapter Thirty-three

Chapter Thirty-four

Chapter Thirty-five

Chapter Thirty-six

Chapter Thirty-seven

Chapter Thirty-eight

Chapter Thirty-nine

Chapter Forty

Chapter Forty-one

Chapter Forty-two

Chapter Forty-three

Chapter Forty-four

Chapter Forty-five

Chapter Forty-six

Chapter Forty-seven

Chapter Forty-eight

Chapter Forty-nine

Chapter Fifty

Chapter Fifty-one

Chapter Fifty-two

Chapter Fifty-three

Chapter Fifty-four

Chapter Fifty-five

Epilogue

Acknowledgements

About Kate Ryder

Also by Kate Ryder

Become an Aria Addict

Copyright

For

Pamela Marjorie Malone

Always in our hearts

There are darknesses in life and there are lights,

and you are one of the lights,

the light of all lights.

Bram Stoker

One

Narrowing her eyes against a blast of bitter wind coming in off the sea, Cara pushes the buggy along Harbour Road. In its prominent position at the edge of the ocean, the Bickford Smith Institute is battered by a sudden explosion of surf, and huddled on the surrounding cliffs an assortment of houses jostle with their neighbours – restaurants, pubs, shops, art galleries – as if attempting to gain a modicum of warmth from the other. No defined horizon separates the ocean from the sky; all is grey, except for a herd of white horses cresting the waves. Yet, even portrayed in this drab palette, the little harbour town of Porthleven retains a beauty and charm of its own.

If this were a Farrow & Ball colour chart, thinks Cara, it would be Purbeck Stone through Mole’s Breath!

The wind, punishing anyone brave or foolish enough to be out in its force, catches at Cara’s hair, snatching it from her beanie and whipping it across her face before she has a chance to turn into the relative stillness of the courtyard. The gallery lights are on and she sees her mother clearing the last remaining items from the shelves. Turning the buggy in a circle, Cara backs into the doorway and pushes the door open with her bottom.

‘Here, let me…’ Carol says, rushing to hold open the door for her daughter.

‘That wind,’ exclaims Cara, ‘it’s biting!’ She manoeuvres the pushchair into the warmth of the gallery.

‘Roll on spring,’ Carol says, firmly closing the door on the February chill.

Cara takes off her beanie, freeing her long blonde hair, and removes her jacket. She glances around the empty space. ‘Doesn’t it look spacious?’

Carol nods. ‘It’s surprisingly large without all the display stands.’ She bends down to release her newest grandson from the constraints of his pushchair. As she lifts him out the toddler’s face breaks into a smile. ‘Good morning, beautiful boy,’ she says, kissing his podgy cheek.

Cara unhooks a hessian bag hanging from the buggy’s handles and, walking to the sales counter, empties out its contents. She extracts a soft toy and holds it out to her son.

‘Well, young Toby, what’s Mummy got there?’ Carol says. Placing the little boy’s feet on the ground, she holds firmly onto his hands and walks him towards his mother and the smiling yellow teddy bear with the smart tartan bow tie.

He covers the ground surprisingly quickly for someone so chubby, thinks Cara.

She smiles affectionately at her son. As she hands over the bear, the little boy bounces with excitement.

Suddenly the entrance door flies open and in rushes Sheila, along with a blast of cold air. Her face is vivid red and the large padded coat only accentuates her small, squat frame.

‘Oh my, it’s a bit fresh out today!’ She unbuttons her coat. ‘Hello, my ’ansum,’ she says to Toby. The little boy smiles and holds out his yellow teddy to her. ‘That’s a beaut, but you hold onto it, my lovely.’

‘Why are you dressed like that?’ Carol asks, scrutinising her friend’s leopard-skin print, Spandex top and tights.

‘New Zumba class in the village hall,’ Sheila says, shaking her booty and striking a pose. Cara stifles a laugh. ‘It’s brill. You ought to come with me.’

‘I’ll give that particular experience a miss if you don’t mind. Unlike you, I can’t get away with wearing Spandex these days!’ Carol teases.

‘Oh, there are all shapes and sizes. You’d fit right in,’ Sheila says, winking at Cara.

‘Well, thank you very much, dear friend,’ says Carol.

Sheila laughs. ‘You know what I mean!’

‘Luckily, I do,’ Carol says with a laugh. ‘However, I think I’ll stick to my yoga classes.’

Sheila gazes around the empty room. ‘So, where do you want us to start, Cara?’

‘There are dust sheets out the back and brushes and rollers, and I’ve bought white emulsion by the truckload! There’s also a stepladder. I’ll just sort out Toby and then get stuck in myself.’

As Cara peels Toby out of his snowsuit, Carol and Sheila scuttle into the back room.

‘Just look at all these lovely toys,’ Cara says, carrying her son to a playpen in the far corner of the gallery. The little boy wriggles. As she places him amongst his toys he beams up at her.

‘You are one happy little chap, aren’t you? How can we be sad with you around?’ Unable to catch herself in time, Cara thinks back to that long, hot summer when her deeply ingrained, all-encompassing sadness evaporated due to one particular man. Unbidden, Oliver’s handsome face and distinctive voice come to her and, briefly, she allows herself the indulgence of feeling again. But as soon as the moment presents itself she pulls herself up short. She cannot go there. She has to be in the here and now, otherwise she will be lost. Cara blows her son a kiss and turns at the sound of her mother’s and Sheila’s voices. Having peeled herself out of the Spandex, Sheila now wears pristine white painting overalls.

‘Very practical, Sheila!’ Cara suppresses another smile as she gathers her hair into a high ponytail and secures it with a scrunchie.

‘You know me, dear. I always dress for the occasion!’

The three women happily set about painting the gallery and time passes quickly in the busy, companionable atmosphere. Some hours later, they stand back to assess their work.

‘Well, girls, what do you think?’ Sheila asks.

‘A lot fresher,’ says Carol.

‘Painting white on white is always tricky, but what a difference,’ Cara says, placing her roller in a paint tray. ‘It always astounds me how grubby the walls get through the season. I mean, it’s not as if it’s dirty work we do here!’

‘Must be all those emmets rubbing their greasy palms over the walls after they’ve had fish and chips for lunch,’ comments Sheila.

‘Don’t you be saying that,’ says Carol with a laugh. ‘No greasing of palms goes on here.’ Sheila chortles. ‘I’ll prepare lunch,’ continues Carol. ‘What do you want to drink? Coffee or wine?’

‘We definitely deserve wine!’ says Sheila. ‘I’ll get the glasses.’

‘There’s a bottle of white in the fridge,’ Cara calls out after Sheila’s rapidly disappearing figure, ‘but I’d best stick to juice until Toby’s fully weaned.’ She takes off her painting shirt, hangs it over a stool and walks towards the playpen, where her son contentedly plays with his toys.

‘Mama.’ The little boy holds out his arms to her.

Cara stops in her tracks. This is a milestone!

Emerging from the kitchen with glasses, wine and juice, Sheila exclaims, ‘Oh my God, Carol! Did you hear that?’

‘Yes,’ says Carol. ‘The little man is growing up fast.’ She smiles affectionately at her daughter.

‘Time for you to have some lunch too, young Tobias,’ says Cara, lifting him out of the playpen and carrying him to a chair at the back of the gallery. She sits down and raises her sweatshirt. As soon as she offers him a breast Toby latches on.

‘You’re lucky to have such an easy babe,’ comments Sheila, pouring wine into a glass. ‘Not a bit teasy.’

‘Yes,’ Cara agrees. ‘Beth and Sky were also good.’

Cara is very lucky to have children with such easy-going natures, because she’s certainly had a tough ride, thinks Carol, as she slices a tomato. Life can be so unfair. Her daughter has faced more heartbreak than most people experience in a lifetime. She stops slicing and glances at her now. How can one person absorb such hurt and yet remain so free-spirited? In awe of her daughter’s capacity to rise above her circumstances, Carol observes Cara and Toby in their quiet moment together before returning to the task in hand.

‘Here you go, Carol,’ Sheila says, placing a glass of wine on the countertop. ‘Bottoms up!’

Having fed Toby, Cara puts him back in the playpen and the little boy settles down to an afternoon nap.

‘Help yourselves,’ says Carol, indicating the plates of food she’s prepared. ‘There are baguettes, Brie, ham, salad, and homegrown tomato and bean pickle that Ken made.’

Cara gently covers Toby with his blanket. He looks so vulnerable lying there amongst his toys. With his dark hair and blue eyes, he has different colouring from her other children. Both Bethany and Sky are brown-eyed and blonde, like her and Christo – her childhood sweetheart who became her husband. She smiles sadly. They’d known each other since they were toddlers and were rarely apart over the next twenty-seven years. His tragic passing is still an enormous shock. Christo had so much life ahead of him and so much to give. Thirty is no age at all. Sighing, Cara turns to join the two older women.

‘Here, get this down your throat,’ Sheila says, handing her a glass of apple juice. ‘You can pretend it’s wine!’

‘Thanks.’ Cara takes a sip and inspects the lunch her mother has organised. ‘This looks good.’

‘It’ll keep us going,’ says Carol.

A sudden squall sends the rain hammering against the gallery windows.

‘Cornwall in February! What the hell are we doing here, girls? We should be in the Caribbean!’ Sheila cries.

‘Now you’re talking,’ responds Carol.

‘Antigua would be nice. Why don’t we persuade the menfolk to take a couple of weeks off from whatever it is they do all day long and treat their better halves to a holiday over there?’ Sheila suggests.

‘What a good idea,’ Carol indulges her friend. ‘I’ve heard the island has a beach for every day of the year.’

‘Wouldn’t mind trying them all out. Perhaps Bar could be cajoled into staying a little longer!’

Sitting on the chair again, Cara bites into her baguette and listens to her mother’s and Sheila’s banter. It’s good to have their company. She was dreading painting the gallery on her own. It’s not that she’s shy of the work, it just accentuates her aloneness. Sometimes, in the dead of night she wakes in a sweat, panicking at the enormity of the responsibility she has on her shoulders. Single mother to three children is not something to undertake lightly. Even though her growing success since winning the Threadneedle Prize has eased her concerns over cash flow, it’s still a precarious existence relying on selling her paintings through the gallery and online. She could have accepted Oliver’s offer of financial assistance for Toby, but she chose not to and refused it outright. Maybe she shouldn’t have been so principled. Their intense affair that summer offered her a glimpse of life after Christo and it lifted her out of the abyss she found herself staring into. But now, thinking of the life she and Oliver might have had together only makes her weak, and she can’t allow that. She has to be strong for her children. The only way she can operate effectively is to fool herself into believing that Oliver Foxley never entered her life, even though Toby is a wonderful, daily reminder…

‘What do you think, Cara?’

‘Sorry, what?’

‘I was saying the free-standing shelves would look nice painted white,’ says Carol.

‘What a great idea. The gallery would definitely be a blank canvas then.’

‘I’m free tomorrow if you want me to come over and give you a hand,’ offers Sheila.

‘Are you sure? It’s very generous of you to give up your time.’

‘Of course, Cara. I love being involved in your artistic endeavours. It’s exciting knowing a famous artist!’

Cara snorts. ‘Hardly famous, Sheila.’

‘You will be one day,’ Carol says softly.

‘How can you not be, with your talent?’ says Sheila.

‘Well, perhaps I’d better apply what talent I have to these remaining walls!’ Cara rises from the chair and puts on her painting shirt again.

‘Yes, time’s getting on,’ says Carol, stacking empty plates. She abandons the chore when the phone rings. ‘Good afternoon, The Art Shack.’ No response. ‘Hello, can you hear me?’ Still no response. ‘Hello, is there anybody there?’

‘Yes, yes, I can hear you,’ says a man’s irritated voice. ‘Is Cara there?’

Carol turns pale. ‘Who’s calling?’ she asks, though his accent gives him away.

‘Greg Latimer-Jones,’ the man imperiously replies.

Carol hesitates, reluctant to pass the phone to her daughter.

‘Who is it, Mum?’ Cara asks, giving Carol a questioning look.

Covering the mouthpiece with her hand, Carol keeps her voice light. ‘That American mentor of yours.’

‘I wonder what he wants?’ Cara says quietly.

Carol grits her teeth. In her mind, there’s no question.

Balancing her paintbrush on top of the paint tin, Cara walks across the gallery. As she takes the phone from her mother, she tucks a wayward strand of hair behind her ear.

‘Hello, Greg, nice to hear from you. How’s everything?’

‘Cara.’ Greg’s strangled voice is full of pain. ‘She’s gone.’

‘Oh!’ Cara sits on a stool. ‘When?’

‘Last night. I suppose I should be grateful she just slipped away.’ As Greg’s voice cracks, Cara allows him to gather his composure. ‘She didn’t know me at the end.’

‘I’m so very sorry, Greg, but even if she didn’t know you as her husband I’m sure she would have been aware of your love for her.’ Cara squeezes her eyes tightly shut. So much death.

‘I’d appreciate it if you kept this to yourself for the time being,’ Greg continues. ‘You are the only person to know of her passing outside her family and the authorities. I have yet to complete all the formalities and alert the press.’

‘If there’s anything I can do to help,’ says Cara, although she wonders what possible use she could be on the other side of the Atlantic.

‘That’s very sweet of you, Cara,’ says Greg. She can hear the sad smile in his voice. ‘Just be here for me.’

A small frown furrows Cara’s brow. Feeling churlish, she wipes it away. ‘Of course, Greg. You know I’m always here if you ever need someone to talk to.’

‘Thank you.’ Greg pauses. ‘I’m coming over in a few weeks for business meetings with people opening a new London gallery. Cara, I’d like you to attend those meetings.’

‘Me? Why?’

‘They want to attract a crowd. They’ve approached me about you being the opening exhibitor.’

‘Me!’ Cara says again.

‘Yes, you, Cara, tucked away in that little county of yours,’ Greg says, his amused tone making Cara wince. ‘You have yet to realise the impact your art is having on the world beyond Cornwall. Once the funeral arrangements are out of the way I will book a hotel. I’ll let you have the dates as soon as they are confirmed.’

‘Oh, I’ll have to check…’ Cara swallows her words. She can’t be flaky around Greg. He hates it.

‘Please make yourself available, Cara. That’s not a request.’

Cara frowns again, but excuses his tone because of his circumstances. ‘I will. And once again, Greg, I’m so sorry for your loss.’

‘We all knew it was only a matter of time,’ Greg says, the pain evident in his voice. ‘Goodbye, Cara. Not long before we see each other again.’

‘Goodbye.’ Cara replaces the handset and sits for a while, unaware of the deep frown furrowing her brow.

Carol exchanges a swift look with Sheila. ‘Is everything OK, darling?’ she asks lightly.

Cara shakes her head. ‘No, Mum. It’s Marietta. She’s gone…’

Two

‘Would you like a newspaper, Mr Foxley?’ The air hostess’s make-up is flawless; her manner professional and cool.

‘Thank you. The Times.

‘Oliver, may I speak with you about my character’s motivation?’ asks an eager young man, peering over the barrier separating their seats.

‘Of course, Tim. Always happy to share my experience and encourage younger actors’ aspirations. Besides, we’ve got a long flight ahead.’

The young man smiles. ‘Thanks. It means a lot. Perhaps after you’ve read your newspaper?’

Oliver nods, remembering the uncertain and insecure actor he was when first starting out in his acting career. However, very quickly the critics noticed him and his name was soon on the lips of those in the know. Deanna, too, was there for him. His ‘rock’… or so he’d believed. Pinching the top of his nose between forefinger and thumb, Oliver attempts to stem the approaching headache. What a journey he and his wife have had twenty-four years, and four children, later.

Oliver opens the newspaper. As he skims the newsprint, a piece in the obituaries catches his attention.

On February 27th, following a long illness, the respected and renowned artist Marietta Latimer-Jones sadly succumbed to lung cancer, aged 55.

Socialite daughter of the late Polish aristocrat, Baron Tomasz Von Baranski, the beautiful and age-defying Marietta was known all over the world for her trademark strong, flamboyant brushstrokes, full of joie de vivre. She first met her future husband, the illustrious art critic, Greg Latimer-Jones, in her native Poland as a talented but undiscovered artist. As Latimer-Jones’ protégée, she moved to America to further her career and the couple quickly became the darlings of New York society, fêted wherever they went. As soon as Latimer-Jones’ divorce came through, the couple married.

Interestingly, although both husband and wife achieved great personal success, they never had children. Whenever quizzed about her childless state, Marietta would respond: ‘Art is my life’s work. My paintings are my children.’

The artist is survived by her husband.

Oliver stares out of the window, instantly transported back to two summers ago when his perception of life was irrevocably altered. He never met Marietta Latimer-Jones while she was recuperating in the cove, but he did her husband. The man intrigued him. There was something unusually taut about Greg, something he couldn’t quite put his finger on, and he’d never trusted him – especially where Cara was concerned.

Cara…

Oliver allows himself a moment’s tender reflection. A sudden violent jolt, followed by a series of lesser ones, brings the seat-belt sign springing into life as the plane is buffeted on a pocket of air turbulence. The air hostess is back, suggesting he buckles up and can she get him a drink to ease the discomfort of the flight? He orders a gin and tonic and she flashes a megawatt smile before making her way unsteadily back to the galley.

Oliver glances to his right. The young actor looks pale. ‘It’s OK, Tim,’ he says reassuringly. ‘We’ll be through it soon enough.’

The young man can’t be much older than his daughter and his thoughts turn to Samantha, now happily studying fashion in London at Central Saint Martins. How lucky she is to have her life ahead of her.

‘Here you are, Mr Foxley,’ the air hostess says, placing a miniature bottle of gin on the tray in front of him. Then, laying down a small paper doily, she puts a glass filled with ice on top of it. ‘I hope you are finding everything to your satisfaction?’

On face value the question is innocent, but Oliver is a past master at recognising underlying suggestion.

‘Very satisfactory, thank you.’

She smiles. Instead of putting the bottle of tonic water on the tray she hands it to him, her fingers lingering on his as they accidentally touch. ‘If there is anything I can do to make your flight more comfortable, please don’t hesitate to ask. I’m Annette.’ The blue eyes that gaze at him are suggestive and flirty but her face is perfectly poised, giving nothing away.

‘Thank you, Annette. I will,’ Oliver responds politely. He watches as she moves away to assist another passenger in the Upper Class cabin, the neat airline uniform beautifully outlining the contours of her slim, willowy figure.

Oliver unscrews the bottle of gin and pours it into the glass. Topping it up with tonic water, he takes a sip. He’s about to put the glass down when he notices something scrawled in black ink on the paper doily. Her name and telephone number. If he had a different mindset he might take her up on the offer but, as one media-wit once commented: ‘Oliver Foxley may look like a player but his heart is firmly with family.’ His family… Again his mind wanders to that long, hot Cornish summer during which his heart was set on fire and his world spun out of control and onto a different trajectory. It tilted his perception of who he was. Cara! She is still as vibrant in his mind’s eye, and he knows he will never be able to simply consign to memory the feelings she stirs. Oliver frowns. He still can’t come to terms with the fact she won’t allow him to meet their son, or accept any financial contribution towards him. But life goes on… although it’s a far paler version of the one that was so briefly – and tantalisingly – promised.

Leaning back in his seat, Oliver settles in for the rest of the incident-free flight. When the air hostess returns to collect his empty glass, he hands back the paper doily.

Arching one elegantly plucked eyebrow, she closes her cool fingers over his. ‘Keep it. You never know.’

Several hours later they clear customs and Oliver immediately spots his driver sitting in a dark blue Mercedes outside the Upper Class entrance. Turning to his director and fellow cast members, he bids them farewell.

‘Thanks for your advice, Oliver,’ Tim, the young actor, says. ‘You’ve given me a very different angle to consider.’

‘My pleasure. It’s always good to discuss motivation and get the next generation’s take on things. See you Monday.’ Oliver heads towards the exit. As the plate-glass doors slide open, a squall of cold air hits him squarely in the face.

‘Mr Foxley, how was your flight?’ asks the driver, hurrying to take his suitcase from him.

‘Good, thanks, Terry. Hong Kong has its place but I’m happy to be back on British soil. How’s everything at home?’ he asks, as they walk towards the parked Mercedes.

‘Much the same. I drove your lad to college last week, not that he’s much of a lad any more.’

Oliver smiles. His eldest son, Charlie, was visibly maturing by the week before he departed for the Far East. He wonders what differences the intervening three months will have brought.

The driver is about to open the door for Oliver when a flurry of noise and activity distracts them. Both men turn as several of the airline’s cabin crew exit the building looking remarkably fresh, despite the twelve-hour flight. Dressed in dramatic double-breasted red drape coats with oversized collars, the female crew are a sight to behold. Some wear their coats open, showing a glimpse of white asymmetric frill-front blouses and smart red jackets with nipped-in waists and high collars. Neat, figure-hugging, red pencil skirts with a double pleat at the back and red shoes complete the look. Wheeling her suitcase behind her, the cool blonde air hostess turns in Oliver’s direction and raises her hand to her ear, holding an imaginary phone. As she strides down the pavement with the rest of her crew she bestows him a dazzling smile; all red lipstick and white teeth.

Momentarily forgetting the hierarchy of their relationship, Terry glances at Oliver and raises his eyebrows. Just a couple of blokes acknowledging a mutual understanding. However, as soon as the moment passes he lowers his eyes and, gruffly clearing his throat, opens the car door for his client. But as he places the actor’s suitcase in the boot of the car he allows himself a twitch of a smile.

It’s late afternoon and the British weather is grey and dull. Oliver welcomes the change. During the past three months, Hong Kong has been intense with unseasonably high temperatures and humidity, but filming went well and to schedule, even though they were forced to dodge frequent heavy rains. Now they can concentrate on studio-based scenes, and this means being at home with the family for the foreseeable future. As the Mercedes eases onto the M25 and joins the anti-clockwise traffic, Oliver stretches out his legs and relaxes.

‘I like the new motor, Terry.’

In the rear-view mirror the driver’s eyes meet Oliver’s. ‘Thanks. I’m pleased with it.’

Just over an hour later, the car sweeps in through a pair of opening electric gates onto a gravelled driveway and comes to a halt in front of a handsome lodge house.

‘It’s an early start on Monday, Terry. Apologies,’ Oliver says, as the man opens the door for him.

‘No problem, Mr Foxley. I’ll be here just before five.’

‘At least you’ll be in and out of London before the worst of the traffic,’ Oliver says, by way of compensation.

Opening the car boot, Terry lifts out Oliver’s suitcase and sets it down on the gravel. Nodding at the actor, he climbs back in the Mercedes.

Oliver watches as the car disappears through the stone entrance pillars and turns left onto the track leading to the parish lane. As the electric gates glide to a close, he turns and looks up at the house situated at the base of the North Downs. Hunter’s Moon appears closed. Not even the porch light is on to welcome him home. He tries the door and finds it locked. Extracting a key from his pocket, he inserts it into the lock and opens the front door. He switches on the hall light and quickly punches in the code for the security alarm, then places his suitcase at the foot of the stairs. There’s no sound of family life anywhere in the house. That’s odd. Deanna is usually home at this time with Sebastian and Jamie. He calls out and is met by a stony silence. Walking to the kitchen, Oliver makes a coffee and takes it through to the study, his inner sanctum. As he switches on the computer he glances up at the two paintings displayed above the fireplace. Cara’s brushstrokes still speak to him in a way he can’t put into words, and her gift – the painting of the south coast of Cornwall – never fails to bring an ache to his heart.

Waiting for the computer to power up, Oliver walks over to the French doors and looks out across the extensive manicured lawns leading down to the lake at the edge of the trees. In the late afternoon gloom, all is still. With no suggestion of a breeze, the forest is motionless. Raising his gaze to beyond the tree line, Oliver can still make out the dark bulk of the North Downs. Despite the high welded mesh fence that now defines the property’s boundary – a necessary precaution because of the attentions of the sadly deranged stalker two summers before – it still feels a great house; secluded and away from other properties. Over the years Hunter’s Moon has provided the space to comfortably raise a family away from prying eyes. But children grow up fast and the dynamics are changing. Samantha rarely comes home, such is the draw of the city, and Charlie is already beginning to test his flight feathers. It’s just the two youngest boys, Sebastian and Jamie, at thirteen and eleven, who routinely fill the house with noise and laughter.

Oliver sighs heavily. He hates viewing life like this. It feels so mapped out. His day-to-day existence is never enough and he needs drama, or so he always believed. It wasn’t until he met Cara that he discovered life could be different. Her spiritual, all-seeing essence spoke to him on so many levels that it effectively laid to rest his fears and troubles. But eighteen months is a long time to hold onto the memory of a feeling… Without Cara in his life, he has slipped back into full medication for the depression that has plagued him since late childhood, and recently – worryingly – he’s noticed a tendency to increase that medication.

Oliver closes the curtains and turns away from the French doors. Where are Deanna and the boys? He checks his mobile. No messages from his wife, only one from his agent welcoming him back to the UK and asking him to phone as soon as possible. Logging on, he checks his emails. Several demand his immediate attention. It’s a further forty minutes before he hears the front door open and voices fill the hall. Oliver rises from his chair and walks to the study door. His wife and their two youngest sons stand in the entrance hall.

‘Dad!’ Jamie cries, his eyes lighting up as soon as he sees him. Setting off at a run down the hallway, Jamie bowls straight into Oliver and throws his arms around his dad’s waist.

‘Hello, Jamie,’ Oliver says, hugging his son. The boy’s jacket feels chilly from the early evening air.

‘Hi, Dad,’ says Sebastian, dumping his jacket on the floor. ‘When did you get back?’

‘A couple of hours ago. Where have you been?’ Oliver asks, as Deanna admonishes Sebastian for not hanging up his jacket.

‘Watching rehearsals for Mum’s play,’ Sebastian says, grabbing his jacket and throwing it in the general direction of the coat rack.

‘How’s it going?’ Oliver asks Deanna.

‘Getting there,’ she says, bending to pick up her son’s jacket from the floor and hanging it on a hook.

‘We met a really funny man today,’ says Jamie, looking up at Oliver with wide eyes.

‘Yeah, looks like a girl,’ adds Sebastian.

‘He does not,’ says Deanna.

‘He does,’ Sebastian says. ‘He’s got long floppy hair and wears fancy shirts and coloured trousers.’

‘And make-up!’ Jamie adds breathlessly.

Oliver ruffles his young son’s hair. ‘That’s not surprising if he’s an actor. This profession appeals to all sorts.’

‘He’s not an actor. He’s a costume designer called Pins,’ Sebastian says authoritatively.

Jamie giggles. ‘It’s not his proper name. He’s really called Danny Silverman but he says all his friends call him Pins.’

Deanna watches silently as her sons chat with their father, thankful they’re present. During the three months her husband has been away filming in the Far East she’s become fully involved with the local amateur dramatics company and has loved every minute of it. Now, uncharacteristically, she doesn’t know what to say or how to act around her husband.

‘Hey, Dad, come and see this brilliant new game I’ve got,’ Jamie says, tugging at Oliver’s hand.

‘In a minute, Jamie, I just want to have a word with your mother.’

‘I’ll give you a game, Jamie,’ says Sebastian, ‘and thrash you while I’m at it!’

‘You will not,’ counters Jamie.

‘Wanna bet?’

Pulling a face at his older brother, Jamie lets Oliver go and runs towards the TV room.

Oliver gazes down that hallway to Deanna, still standing in the entrance hall. She appears strained.

No warm homecoming, then?

‘Did you forget I was arriving today?’ he asks.

‘I’ve had so much on recently,’ Deanna says, unable to meet his gaze, ‘I forgot if it was today or tomorrow.’ She walks down the hallway towards him and gives him a peck on the cheek. ‘Coffee?’

As she continues on to the kitchen, Oliver turns and follows.

Deanna approaches the sink, fills the kettle and switches it on. She makes no effort to talk and Oliver frowns. Is this how it’s going to be from now on? He knows their relationship was strained before he departed for the Far East, but he hoped time apart would thaw the atmosphere between them. A vision of life at home stretches before him and leaves a hollow feeling in the pit of his stomach.

Oliver steps towards his wife. Turning her to face him, he says, ‘Deanna, we have to make an effort, if only for the kids.’

‘For the kids?’

‘Yes.’

‘What about us?’ she asks.

‘Yes, of course for us,’ Oliver says. ‘That goes without saying.’

The eyes that assess him are full of resentment, and something else he can’t quite place.

He draws her into a hug but her body is stiff and tense and he soon releases his hold. Oliver takes a step back and considers his wife.

‘Deanna, I know things have been tough between us but you can’t hold onto such hatred towards me,’ he says softly. ‘It will make you ill.’

‘Hatred?’ Deanna says evenly. ‘I don’t hate you, Oliver. You’re living your life, and now I’m living mine too. That’s all there is to it.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘Just that.’

‘But you’ve always lived your life,’ Oliver says, perplexed.

‘Really? Who is it that’s always here looking after the children while you’re away enjoying yourself?’

Not that old chestnut again!

‘You know my career takes me away,’ Oliver says quietly. They’ve had this conversation so many times. He watches as Deanna gathers her strength and braces himself to receive the full force of his independent wife’s stubbornness.

‘Pins says I should pursue my dreams and not put my life on hold any longer. He says in supporting you I’ve been hiding my light under a stone.’ She pauses, having the grace to look sheepish before continuing, ‘Pins says it’s shining so brightly it can’t do anything more to remind me of my own needs and interests, and now it’s up to me.’

Incredulously, Oliver stares at his wife. ‘This Pins, then, is a bit of a philosopher, is he?’ he says, quietly sarcastic.

Deanna’s face flushes with colour. Glancing over Oliver’s shoulder, she checks the doorway. ‘No. He’s simply a friend who wants me to feel good about myself.’

Despite the irritation her words create, Oliver places a hand on his wife’s arm and gives a gentle squeeze. ‘I want you to feel good about yourself, Deanna. None of what’s happened to us is a personal slight on you. It’s all to do with my shortcomings.’ Ignoring Deanna’s derisive snort, he continues, ‘Everything I’ve done in my life has been about you and our family.’

‘Not everything, Oliver. A bit of selective memory there, I think.’

Oliver blanches. She’s referring to Cara, of course. His one major lapse. Even now, these many months on, he is powerless against overwhelming feelings for her. He knows that if Deanna hadn’t used their youngest son as a pawn that summer – fully aware that Jamie’s quiet behaviour and proclivity towards introspection is Oliver’s Achilles heel – he would now be living with Cara in Cornwall.

Deanna turns away as the kettle reaches boiling point.

‘Leave it, Dee,’ he says, catching hold of his wife’s wrist. ‘We need to talk.’ He guides her towards the kitchen table. ‘I’ve been thinking about our situation while I’ve been away.’

‘So have I,’ says Deanna, pulling out a chair and sitting down.

Oliver pulls out a chair next to her. Taking her hands in his, he examines her long, slim fingers. Perfectly elegant, just as she is. Eventually he looks up and meets her gaze. ‘You have been with me from the tiniest flicker of fame. I know it hasn’t always been easy, but over two decades together is something we cannot ignore. I also know I’ve hurt you deeply and you have to believe me when I say I’m not proud of that.’ He feels Deanna is about to pull away and increases his hold. ‘Hear me out, Dee,’ he says, searching his attractive wife’s guarded face.

Deanna shifts awkwardly.

‘If we are to have a future together we have to work through this and find a way back to each other, not just for the children’s sake but for ours,’ says Oliver. ‘If you truly don’t feel happy with your circumstances I think it’s time we did something about it.’

Deanna’s mouth drops open. This is Oliver at his best: sympathetic and tender. It makes her powerless to resist… if only he knew.

‘I am prepared to put my career on hold while you examine your options and find out what it is that fulfils you.’

Deanna’s jaw drops further. Quickly, she composes herself. ‘Ollie, you have no idea what that means to me.’ Placing her arms around his neck, she draws him into a kiss.

Oliver’s eyelids briefly close, but almost immediately they snap open at the sudden vision of a beautiful golden woman standing on a deserted beach, shining her God-given light.

Swiftly, Oliver gets to his feet. ‘Come on, Dee, let’s join the boys.’ He pulls his wife out of her chair. ‘I have gifts to distribute.’

Three

Cara slides the last canvas into the car and closes the boot. She looks out across the Atlantic in the direction of Puerto Rico and wonders what all those people four thousand miles away are doing. Although there’s a chill in the air, it’s still and calm today. A seagull catches her attention and she watches it glide on the thermals, eyeing the beach below for any tasty morsel. Cara wraps her cardigan more closely around her body. She loves the cove. In the past it has offered her the solace she needs, but life is changing. Today, she feels as if everything is slipping through her fingers. It’s a feeling she’s lived with ever since that fateful day when Oliver was so abruptly and brutally snatched away from her. Of course, despite the dreams they’d shared, she knew in her heart there was no other possible outcome for their romance. From the start she’d known he was married and had a family of his own. He hadn’t hidden that from her; he was totally honest and upfront. When she first met him, she was still reeling from her husband’s untimely death and hadn’t expected to fall for anyone ever again. The love she and Oliver so unexpectedly shared was not only intoxicating but also such a gift, drawing her out from the abyss she was fast drowning in. However, in that moment at the Minack – forever etched upon her soul – his wife made it patently clear that Oliver was not for the having. Nevertheless, it doesn’t make the yearning any less raw. Cara takes a slow, deep breath. She has to forget him. She has to…

Stirring herself into action, she walks around the side of the car and opens the driver’s door. Climbing in, she turns to Toby, strapped in the baby seat in the back. ‘OK, young man, ready to visit Aunty Janine?’

The little boy smiles delightedly and holds out his chubby hands to Cara. Scrunching her nose at him, she is instantly rewarded with a giggle.

Cara expertly navigates the tight turning circle in front of The Lookout and heads off down the track skirting the cove. She doesn’t have to travel far. The café at the head of the track is closed until Easter – still several weeks away – and the car park is empty, apart from Janine’s vehicle. Parking as close to the building as possible, Cara unstraps Toby from his car seat and gathers him up into her arms.

‘You’re getting to be a heavy little fella, Toby Penhaligon,’ she lovingly says as she carries him towards the entrance door.

Janine is pinning bunting under the newly painted counter when Cara enters the café. Abandoning her titivating, she strides across the wooden floor and embraces both Cara and Toby in a massive bear hug. ‘Darling people!’

Cara has never grown used to her neighbour’s larger than life presence; though she knows the tall woman with an even bigger voice possesses a heart of pure twenty-four-carat gold.

‘Janine, you’ve done wonders,’ Cara says, positioning Toby on her hip and gazing around.

‘Not bad, honey, if I say so myself!’ Janine looks around the café with pride. ‘Come and see the new signs. The sign man’s coming over later this morning to fix them. There’s one to go over the entrance door, and a longer one for the windows overlooking the boardwalk. I’m really pleased with them.’

Cara approaches the table. Two signs are laid out; one square, the other oblong. ‘Oh they’re lovely!’ she exclaims.

Painted onto a background of pale chalk blue is an illustration of a steaming coffee cup on a beach with the sea behind. In stylish writing, the words:

Janine’s Coffee Shop & Café

sit within swirly lines adorned with breaking waves and a seagull. Beneath this it states:

Proudly serving whatever we make!

‘I wanted to feminise the café. Rick’s style worked for him, but I want this enterprise to start as it means to go on.’

‘Rick’s Beach Hut is no more,’ says Cara, gazing at the painted walls that were previously natural wood. Janine has chosen a muted pastel palette and the space is light and welcoming. ‘This is really pretty. If I were on holiday I’d want to visit every day.’

Janine beams. ‘If Rick and Tania ever return to the cove I hope they approve of the changes.’

‘Have you heard from them?’

Janine shakes her head. ‘No. Typical, isn’t it? Sweeping in here, like he did, taking over the rundown fisherman’s hut and turning it into a really successful and cool place to hang out. But it obviously wasn’t enough for Rick. Almost as soon as Tania turns up, off they go on another adventure!’

Cara laughs. ‘Yes, he certainly made some waves here.’

‘I don’t begrudge them sailing off around the world – I’d do it if I could – but I do wonder if we’ll ever see them again.’ Janine looks around the café. ‘I was so lucky to get this place. It was kind of him to offer me first refusal.’

‘He could see you had the energy to make a go of it,’ says Cara, now swinging Toby between her legs. ‘I know he wanted someone he respected to take it on.’

‘Well, there was a bit of negotiating,’ says Janine, pulling a face, ‘but in the end we agreed on a figure that suited us both. It gave him the cash to splash out on that yacht.’

‘Wonder how Tania’s coping holed up with him on a boat,’ says Cara.

‘Yes, she was always one for a party! Can’t see her settling for the attentions of just one man. Perhaps I should call ahead and alert all the men in their next port of call!’

Cara laughs. Tania was a good sport. Networking was her life and they all got on well. But then she remembers how Tania grew uncharacteristically quiet as her pregnancy progressed. She said all the right things when Toby was born, but it wasn’t the Tania she’d come to know. Interesting…

‘Do me a favour, Janine, and keep an eye on Toby while I bring in the paintings.’

‘Ooh yes! Any excuse for a cuddle! Come to Aunty Janine, young man.’ The big woman holds out her hands to the little boy.

Cara guides her son on unsteady legs towards the new owner of the beach café before collecting her canvases from the boot of the car. For the next hour, she and Janine hang a number of seascapes and landscapes around the café before finally adding sales stickers alongside each painting.

‘They’re beautiful, Cara,’ says Janine. ‘I hope loads of customers buy them as a reminder of their holiday in Cornwall.’

‘Well, if they do let me know straight away and I’ll restock,’ Cara says. She looks around and smiles, pleased with the display. The pretty and welcoming café is the perfect showcase for her paintings. ‘It looks like you’ve been here forever, Janine.’

‘It does feel like home,’ Janine says with satisfaction.

‘What’s that bunting you’ve got over there?’ Cara asks.

‘Oh, I’d forgotten all about that!’ Marching over to the counter, Janine picks up the abandoned fabric. ‘I knocked it up last night. What do you think?’ She holds the string of flags out at arm’s length.

The vintage cotton triangles are in various shades of sea blues and greens and adorned with ditsy prints, rose designs, retro florals, polka dots and gingham. In contrasting fabric on several flags, appliqued lettering spells out Coffee and Cakes.

‘Perfect!’ Cara smiles at her neighbour. ‘And I can’t wait to sample those cakes. Hurry up, Easter.’

‘What about sampling some now, if you’ve got time?’ suggests Janine. ‘I baked a cake for the sign man when he arrives, so there’s plenty for us.’

Still feeling unsettled and out of sorts, Cara checks her watch. Perhaps it would be good to spend more time in the company of her jovial neighbour. The commission she’s working on can wait.

‘That would be great. Thanks, Janine. Do you mind if I breastfeed Toby?’

‘Goodness, Cara, of course not!’ exclaims Janine. ‘This is an all-woman zone. Embrace your womanhood, I say!’

Cara smiles. Lifting Toby into her arms, she walks to a table. These, too, have been re-invented in a pastel chalk paint finish. Laying Toby across her lap, she raises her sweatshirt and offers her breast to the little boy, who enthusiastically latches on.

As Janine busies herself with the cakes and lattes, Cara gazes out at the ocean. It’s a dull day. Heavy clouds hang over the cove and quiet waves lap the sand. She watches a couple of herring gulls picking at a mollusc at the water’s edge and reminds herself to add these birds to the commission she’s working on. Their light grey backs, white underparts and black wing tips will make a stark contrast to the acres of blue.

‘Here you go,’ says Janine, placing two mugs of coffee and plates filled with generous portions of chocolate cake on the table. ‘Enjoy!’

Cara picks up a fork. Slicing off a mouthful of cake, she pops it into her mouth. ‘Mmmm… that’s delicious.’

‘My mother’s recipe,’ says Janine. ‘She was a tremendous cook. That’s why all her children have grown to the size we have!’

‘Sorry to interrupt.’ A man’s strong Cornish accent makes them both jump. ‘I’ve come to fix the sign.’ Janine pushes back her chair and rushes over to him.

Toby, who had been falling asleep with his mouth slack around Cara’s right nipple, wakes suddenly and energetically sucks. Cara winces. She looks across at the man who, although talking to Janine, watches her.

‘Well, isn’t that a lovely sight?’ he says, scratching his head. ‘Fair made my day, that has!’

Cara smiles.

Janine glances over her shoulder at Cara. ‘Probably won’t make your day if you hang around for the nappy-changing part, Jim.’ She bustles the man out of the café.

Toby closes his eyes. Cara carefully removes him from her breast and pulls her sweatshirt down. Her son has incredibly thick black eyelashes and she wonders if Oliver had at that age too. NO! She has to stop doing this. Oliver Foxley does not exist. He is a world and a lifetime away…

‘Sorry about that,’ Janine says, returning to the table.

‘No worries, Janine. Breastfeeding’s only natural.’

‘Yes, but you don’t want any old Tom, Dick or Harry watching you while you do it,’ Janine says.

‘Or Jim…’

Janine laughs. ‘He’s a good guy. I’ve known him for years. He’s got eight grandchildren, so I guess he’s used to it. How’s the latte?’

‘Scrumptious. If I get into the habit of this indulgence I’ll have to start running again.’

‘I should take up running as well,’ comments Janine. ‘I don’t suppose customers want to be served by a large, sweaty lump of a woman.’

‘Oh, Janine! Your weight’s perfectly fine for your height.’

‘Yeah, guess so. Anyway, hubby never complains when he’s home from the rigs. Puts slighter men off though,’ Janine says with a laugh, ‘like that American friend of yours. When I first met him he actually cowered!’

Cara raises her eyebrows. She thinks back to the day when Greg visited her at The Lookout and Janine brought Beth and Sky home after school. It’s true! He backed off in Janine’s presence. However, Cara suspects it was not so much to do with her friend’s size and powerful charisma but more to do with keeping himself at a distance from the locals.

‘Poor Greg.’

‘Why poor?’ Janine asks, loading her fork with cake. ‘When I look at him the word “poor” doesn’t spring to mind!’

‘His wife’s just died. She had cancer. That’s why they visited the cove in the first place, for her recuperation… or so they’d hoped.’

‘Oh, that’s tough.’ Janine pops the cake into her mouth.