Authors: Christine Stovell
Tags: #Contemporary Women, #Contemporary, #Fiction, #Romance, #contemporary romantic fiction, #Wales, #New York
Copyright © 2012 Christine Stovell
Published 2012 by Choc Lit Limited
Penrose House, Crawley Drive, Camberley, Surrey GU15 2AB, UK
The right of Christine Stovell to be identified as the Author of this Work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988
All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior permission of the publisher or a licence permitting restricted copying. In the UK such licences are issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency, 90 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1P 9HE
A CIP catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library
For my indomitable mum, Doris, with love.
I’m truly grateful to the following people for their generous support: My daughters, Jen and Caroline, my sister, Tracy, and my stepson, Tom.
The Choc Lit team and my fellow ChocLiteers.
Frances Oakley, thank you for a memorable day in New York.
My dear friend, Jill, and the Amazing Thursday Girls: Ann, Hazel, Julia and Rose.
The many bloggers who have been so kind, but especially to those who were there at the start of the journey and gave me a nudge along the way: Maggie Christie, Gillian Hunt, Jane Price, Jill Shearer and Fennie Somerville.
And, as ever, to Tom, always.
Doris Day was singing in the background, telling Coralie Casey that whatever would be would be. Coralie disagreed. Doris was a goddess – but she was wrong about fate. The future
yours to see. Furthermore, you could look at it, decide you didn’t like it very much and do something about it.
She dragged her thoughts back to the present before they had a chance to head off like a wayward dog and poke around for something nasty festering in the corners of her mind. Instead of waiting to be dealt another bad hand she’d reshuffled the cards and laid out her own destiny. She’d swapped suburban streets for country lanes and the nine-to-five for the steady rise of Sweet Cleans, her range of natural cleaning products for body and home. It wasn’t completely true to say she’d moved on, but she had, at least, moved over.
Beyond the window of her workshop the late January snow spiralled in the air like down, cushioning the gentle green slopes in soft white. In seven swiftly passing months Coralie had seen the west Wales landscape in many moods and was learning to love them all. Even the rain, which seemed to fall in epic quantities in Penmorfa, was eventually followed by pale candyfloss clouds and bright blue skies.
She stopped for a moment to gaze at the delicate beauty of her garden under its white veil. A winter wonderland. Doris Day started telling her it was magic, but Coralie knew it was all down to hard work. By taking a huge gamble and some tough decisions she’d made her own dream come true. Or was making progress towards it. Who needed a crystal ball to see that things were looking good?
And her former colleagues thought
was the crazy one when
were still holed up in their offices! As for job satisfaction? She gave a small smile of contentment. Naturally, in the early days at the management consultancy, she had really believed in what she was doing. Every night, she would turn out the light feeling good because she’d nursed another dying business back to health. Rooting out clogged-up departments, weak processes and bloated boards saved an awful lot of money. But, that was before … Rock! Oh poor Rock! He must be desperate for food!
When she’d woken up early, unable to wait any longer to try out the idea for a new soap recipe which had popped into her head just as she was drifting off to sleep, she’d only intended to allow herself an hour before seeing to him. How could it be almost nine o’clock already? How selfish of her to lose track of time so completely when he relied on her for regular meals! Throwing on her coat, she flew quickly up the garden path as fast as its dusting of powdery snow would allow and grabbed the box off the kitchen worktop.
‘Ro-ock! Rock, Rock, Rock, Ro-ock!’ Back out in the garden Coralie gave the plastic box of dried cat food a hearty shake, but there was no sign of the fluffy black stray who’d adopted her shortly after she’d moved in. Although she would never have admitted it to anyone else, it had taken some time to get used to her new home. Thanks to a weight of unfinished jobs, the tiny cottage had initially felt a bit unloved. Its selling point had been the workshop – and the low price, of course. The holiday let next door might have put some buyers off too, but, touch wood, all the visitors she’d encountered had been very well-behaved.
The relative isolation of the pair of cottages, which she’d found so attractive when she’d viewed them, could also exclude them from the village’s warm embrace. They were accessed by a long, narrow road trailing off from what passed in Penmorfa for a main thoroughfare. By day, it was merely The Lane That Time Forgot; perfect for a bygone age when a pony and trap might have trotted merrily down to the village and back, but less suited to modern requirements and any car without a ‘thin’ button.
However, once the light – and her initial excitement – had faded, there had been times when the trees seemed to scratch at the sky, the dark sockets of potholes appeared to be lying in wait for the unwary traveller and the night air felt still and expectant. Having Rock squeezing through the hedgerow and bounding towards her whenever she appeared made her feel welcome. She paused to listen out for his little chirrup of greeting. Where was he? Perhaps he was in hiding from one of the farm cats who regularly tried to bully him? Poor Rock, you only had to look into his worried gold eyes to see how pathetic he was.
‘Ro-ock!’ She tried again, jumping to add a bit of extra impetus to her cat-food maraca.
‘Hey! Little Red Riding Hood! I take it this is yours.’
The box of dried food went flying from her grasp as Coralie came close to finding out how it would feel to jump out of her skin. The Big Bad Wolf was tall, dark and stubbled, with a voice that could lead a nun astray. His eyes glinted like blue diamonds that cut right through her as he held Rock up from the other side of the fence. He was also, Coralie couldn’t help but notice, wearing a black waffle bathrobe, which gaped open to reveal just the right amount of dark hair over smooth skin. Alys had recently given the cottage a makeover, hoping, she said, to appeal to the boutique hotel set, so if this holidaymaker was typical of the new breed, life was about to get interesting.
‘Where did you find him?’ she asked, wondering why she was feeling so self-conscious when
was the one standing there half-naked.
‘On my head,’ he said, tucking Rock into the crook of his arm. ‘He took advantage of me whilst I was sleeping.’
That would account for why Rock was looking so pleased with himself. ‘He’s very insecure,’ she explained. ‘Sometimes he just needs the comfort of being close to someone. The first time he did it to me I dreamt I was in a sauna wearing a Davy Crockett hat. I woke up with Rock’s tail in my mouth and his little legs dangling down either side of my head.’
The Big Bad Wolf’s mouth was set in a straight line above a granite jaw and the blue eyes regarded her with weary irritation. ‘Would you like to take your cat or not?’ he asked impatiently, ‘because I’m freezing my balls off here.’
‘Try not to drop anything until I get close to the fence, then,’ Coralie advised, wondering if she should feel offended by a total stranger discussing his testicles with her. Good Sense Of Humour distinctly lacking, even if he was very good-looking. Pity. Safely back in her own home, he probably wouldn’t seem that good-looking, either. One downside of Penmorfa was that a surplus of crusty old farmers made it easy to get overheated about any man lacking an abundance of nostril or ear hairs. On the other hand, standing in a frozen garden in just a dressing gown was likely to make it harder to see the funny side of things. Either way he was a fleeting visitor, not her concern, unlike Rock, who was beginning to get restless.
‘Don’t worry, Rock, darling, I’m coming to get you,’ she said soothingly, just in case the nervous little cat thought the impatience was directed at him.
Except getting close to the fence was slightly harder than she’d anticipated. Gardening hadn’t been her highest priority since moving in; the first job was to set the workshop up and get the business running smoothly and the winter had proved far too wet and cold to entice her out to tidy up the borders. The hawthorn bushes the previous owners had planted had been beautiful with their lacy white blossom when she’d moved in, but now they were armed and dangerous with prickles. In one sense that made her feel safe, on the other she didn’t especially want to snag her lovely red vintage coat. Picking her way delicately through to a gap in the clearing, Coralie reached the fence, leaned across and lifted her arms to take Rock from the man the other side before his voice went up several octaves.
‘There, there!’ she cooed, as much to reassure herself as the nervous stray. For all his claims to the contrary, the brief touch of the man’s hands against hers as he started to transfer his unwelcome hostage over to her suggested there was plenty of hot blood in him.
‘Yep!’ she said, as she lost her footing on a patch of ice.
The silence of the normally peaceful and tranquil garden was rudely broken by a cocktail of sound comprising some fine old-fashioned expletives, yowling and hissing and a few whimpers of fear. Once it had subsided and Coralie could bear to look, Rock was nowhere in sight, but at least there were no track marks down her neighbour’s chest to show where he’d been.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry! Are you all right?’
‘I should have looked around for something more substantial to put on my feet than open-toe hotel slippers, that’s all.’ He winced.
Spa slippers, too. Coralie was impressed; she wouldn’t have guessed that there was any market at all for corporate businessmen looking to chill on the remote Welsh coast, but Alys had obviously done her research. Perhaps she should have done something about blocking the cat-flap, though? Still, the stylish makeover had evidently attracted at least one weary executive to her holiday cottage. Except the man on the other side of the fence was looking more chilly than chilled.
He’d gone quite pale, but she couldn’t tell if his adrenalin was priming him for fight or flight. Either way it wasn’t going to do wonders for his sense of humour. If he did keel over there was no way she would be able to catch him, assuming she could even pole-vault over the fence in time.
‘Just stay right where you are and I’ll be fine,’ he said, reading her mind and scowling at her. ‘Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going in before I catch pneumonia.’
‘Don’t exaggerate,’ she said, hoping a bit of levity might help. ‘I’m sure a fine big man like you can handle a bit of cold.’
As his dark eyebrows rose, she noticed, at the same time, that in all the excitement his bathrobe had come completely undone making her wonder exactly what was on the other side of the fence from her. She felt the deep blush, despite the freezing air, and was mortified when a flicker of amusement danced across his eyes and the corners of his mouth lifted briefly. It was some small comfort that at least he didn’t have lockjaw.
‘Have pity,’ he said, cracking a smile at last. ‘It’s still four in the morning according to my body clock. And if that’s not cruel enough, various parts of me are in danger of getting frostbite out here,’ he added, as if she hadn’t noticed. ‘So you won’t mind if I go in to warm up.’
Coralie stared doubtfully at him, ‘Are you quite sure you’re okay? You know where I am. Don’t hesitate to ask if you need help.’
He drew his bathrobe round him and gave a short bark of laughter. ‘Thank you, but don’t worry, I’ve got a cell phone.’
Now was probably not the time to tell him that anything higher tech than a yoghurt pot on a string was wasted in Penmorfa. Instead, she made an attempt at a bright and cheerful smile so their encounter would end on a pleasant note and before he wrote anything like ‘peaceful cottage, shame about next door’s cat’ on TripAdvisor. ‘Right, well I’ll let you get on,’ she said. ‘Bye then! Oh and enjoy your holiday! You couldn’t have picked a lovelier part of the world to visit.’
He turned hastily and made the sound of someone stubbing a toe. Coralie decided not to look over the fence to see if she was correct. She hung around just in case her limited first-aid skills were required until she heard his back door slam, when she deemed it safe enough to go back inside her own home. Rock was stretched out in front of the wood burner looking at one with the world, but Coralie knew she wouldn’t be able to relax. Everyone had accused her of running away to live in a fairy tale; now it was complete with its very own Beast.
Gethin limped inside, trying to decide which of his feet to attend to first.
was the name of the holiday cottage, Alys Bowen had told him when she’d handed him the key.
. Well, it wasn’t especially peaceful so far. One split toe was now bleeding over the kitchen’s tiled floor whilst over on the other foot his little toe had turned purple and was looking sulky.
When he’d woken up in a strange bed and discovered his even stranger new headgear, his original intention had simply been to get to the back door and forcibly eject his furry intruder. The guest robe and towelling slippers had been conveniently to hand so saved him the bother of getting dressed just to see off his unexpected guest. But then the commotion had started up in next-door’s yard and he’d caught sight of the back of his neighbour’s head. Her copper hair was coiled in a quaint up-do that bounced as she bobbed up and down the other side of the fence, her breath cloudy in the cold air.
The cat, in his arms, started wriggling in response to her bellowing, so putting two and two together, it didn’t seem exactly gallant to give it a gentle boot or the opportunity to nip back inside behind his back, when he could easily hand it straight over. Besides, he was curious to get a better look at the
of his neighbour’s head.
Well, the cat, presumably, had escaped unharmed but
certainly suffered for his curiosity. The new guest slippers had been trashed, but it was only good manners to avoid staining the new white grouting pink as well. A rummage in the kitchen cupboards unearthed a first-aid kit containing a giant roll of crepe bandage and a box of Gruffalo plasters. Fortunately, his essential supplies did run to aspirin and a bottle of Jack Daniels. Since he was sure he’d read something about aspirin thinning the blood, he poured himself a medicinal measure of JD instead. What the heck, his body clock was screwed anyway.
Lovely part of the world to visit, indeed! Alys had asked him if
had brought him back. The Welsh word described a deep longing for home; a silent call which could only be answered by the waves and the rocks and the mountains. No, not
so much as a last-ditch attempt from beyond the grave to control his behaviour. So if anything had called to him when he’d crested the hill in his hired car and caught his first glimpse of the cluster of limewashed cottages below him, bound by the pewter ribbon of the sea, he’d quickly turned a deaf ear.
Resting his foot on a kitchen chair, he sipped his drink and stared at the Gruffalo and the mouse looking at each other on his toe. Like the girl peering cautiously over the fence at him, her tawny eyes widening in shock, and her Cupid’s bow lips rounding in alarm. And suddenly all the anger and frustration of being dragged back to the place he thought he’d left for good diverted itself into something far more surprising; his shoulders started to shake and he threw his head back in a great shout of laughter.