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A cottage by the sea, p.1
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       A Cottage by the Sea, p.1

           Carole Matthews
A Cottage by the Sea


  Published by Hachette Digital


  All characters and events in this publication, other than those clearly in the public domain, are fictitious and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  Copyright © Carole Matthews 2013

  The moral right of the author has been asserted.

  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, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.

  The publisher is not responsible for websites (or their content) that are not owned by the publisher.


  Little, Brown Book Group

  100 Victoria Embankment

  London, EC4Y 0DY

  Cottage by the Sea

  Table of Contents

  Also by Carole Matthews



  A Note from Carole

  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

  Chapter Fifty-Six

  Chapter Fifty-Seven

  Chapter Fifty-Eight

  Chapter Fifty-Nine

  Chapter Sixty

  Chapter Sixty-One

  Chapter Sixty-Two

  Chapter Sixty-Three

  Chapter Sixty-Four

  Chapter Sixty-Five

  Chapter Sixty-Six

  Chapter Sixty-Seven

  Chapter Sixty-Eight

  Chapter Sixty-Nine

  Chapter Seventy

  Chapter Seventy-One

  Chapter Seventy-Two

  Chapter Seventy-Three

  Chapter Seventy-Four

  Chapter Seventy-Five

  Chapter Seventy-Six

  Chapter Seventy-Seven

  Chapter Seventy-Eight

  Chapter Seventy-Nine


  Also by Carole Matthews

  Let’s Meet on Platform 8

  A Whiff of Scandal

  More to Life than This

  For Better, For Worse

  A Minor Indiscretion

  A Compromising Position

  The Sweetest Taboo

  With or Without You

  You Drive Me Crazy

  Welcome to the Real World

  The Chocolate Lovers’ Club

  The Chocolate Lovers’ Diet

  It’s a Kind of Magic

  All You Need is Love

  The Difference a Day Makes

  That Loving Feeling

  It’s Now or Never

  The Only Way is Up

  Wrapped up in You

  Summer Daydreams

  With Love at Christmas

  To Mike and Maureen Rignall, who are dedicated to spending their kids’ inheritance on my books.

  Thank you so much.


  A quick thank you from me for picking up A Cottage by the Sea. I do appreciate it and am very lucky to have a band of dedicated readers. Whether you’re a reader who’s been with me since day one or if this is the first book of mine that you’ve tried, I hope this will get you in the mood for your summer holidays.

  Haven’t we all, at some time, wished we could escape to a lovely seaside retreat? I know it’s at the top of my Lottery Win list. I could spend hours on property websites lusting after my very own cottage by the sea.

  I’ve spent years doing long-haul holidays that leave me more exhausted when I return than when I left and have only recently rediscovered the joys of holidaying at home in the UK – although you do have to become an expert at weather-dodging! And, of course, packing for all seasons. No travelling light when you’re going for a week in Wales, though I do highly recommend the beautiful rugged coastal areas of Pembrokeshire as a place to visit.

  I had such a lovely time there doing the research for this book – I’ll definitely be going back.

  I hope that you’ll manage to find some time this year just to kick back and relax with a book or two. I wish you a happy and restful time whether you spend your holiday in Mexico or Margate, Puerto Rico or Pembrokeshire. May the sun shine on you!

  Happy holidays!

  Love Carole xx

  Chapter One

  ‘Destination,’ the dulcet tones of the sat nav announces. ‘Destination.’

  Harry stamps on the brakes and stops dead in the middle of the road. There is nothing as far as the eye can see. ‘Where, you bloody stupid woman?’ he asks it, holding his hands aloft in supplication. ‘Where?’

  ‘Destination.’ She is insistent. ‘Destination.’

  The sat nav has the disdainful, upper-class tone of my old English teacher. She always hated me too. Normally, we call the sat nav Auntie Flossie. Today, neither of us is really speaking to her.

  ‘Can you see anything, Grace?’ he asks.

  I gaze out of the car window. It’s beautiful here. The road stretches ahead of us, unbroken, and there’s not another car in any direction. The verdant green fields lie unspoiled beneath the unbroken acres of sky. There isn’t a single man-made building in sight to mar the view. It’s untamed, remote. And I guess that’s the crux of our problem.

  ‘Not really,’ I admit. But it’s fantastic and I hear myself sigh happily.

  ‘Well, she says we’re here.’ It’s clear that Harry is rapidly losing the will to live. ‘Can you just look at the map, please?’

  I scrabble at the road atlas on my knee. It’s a tattered wreck and what remains of the front cover tells me that we bought it from a supermarket in 1992. Helpfully, inside it has a little red circle where all of their branches are – but none of the major roads built since that year, of course. Somewhat worryingly, there are no helpful red ‘supermarket’ circles anywhere in the area. According to this map, we are in total supermarket wilderness.

  In fact, there’s not very much near here at all. Currently, the only thing I can see are the miles and miles of rolling fiel
ds, hedgerows thick with flowers and sheep. Plenty of sheep.

  ‘Fucking place,’ Harry complains.

  He is not a happy man. His hands are gripping the wheel again and his knuckles are white. His handsome face, however, is scarlet, becoming borderline puce. My husband, I know, would rather be in Tuscany or Thailand or even Timbuktu. Anywhere, in fact, rather than on our way to a cottage in Wales for a week.

  ‘We can’t be far away,’ I offer, keeping my tone placating.

  The polar opposite to Harry, I’m just thrilled to be here. My dearest friend, Ella Hawley, has invited us to stay with her and her long-term partner, Art. Ella’s spending the rest of the summer in Wales and I just can’t wait to see her. She’s only recently inherited this cottage, but I’ve heard so much about it over the years that wild horses, never mind a grumpy husband, wouldn’t have kept me away. Ella’s also invited our friend Flick, but whether or not Flick will turn up is an entirely different matter. You can never quite pin Flick down. I hope she makes it as I haven’t seen her in ages and it will be so lovely to catch up.

  Outside the chilled atmosphere in the Bentley – only some of it due to the effect of the über-efficient air-conditioning – the sky is a blue more usually seen in the Mediterranean and beneath it, on the very edge of the horizon, a silver ribbon of sea shimmers invitingly. We can’t be far away because Ella’s cottage is by the sea and, if we drive too much further, we’ll be actually in it.

  ‘Destination,’ the sat nav repeats.

  She now sounds slightly weary with life. As am I.

  ‘Get a grip, woman. We’re not at the destination,’ I tell her firmly. ‘Even I’ve worked that out.’

  ‘Grace,’ Harry says, teeth gritted, ‘do you mind? We can’t stay here in the middle of the road all day.’

  To be honest, Harry and I haven’t really been speaking since we stopped at Magor Services just before the Severn Crossing. The service station was like a glimpse of hell with queues a mile long for everything and the place stuffed with families screaming at each other. Harry couldn’t get anything to eat but a plastic ham sandwich on white bread and he’s very much a smoked salmon on wholemeal man. His temper, already frayed by the amount of holiday traffic on the road, shredded to breaking point.

  It hasn’t helped that we’ve been on the road since silly o’clock and that there was a ferocious tailback to get over the bridge and into South Wales. On top of that, it cost us nearly a fortune to cross. Cue much muttering under Harry’s breath that people should be paying to get out of Wales, not into it.

  ‘We could have been halfway to the sodding Seychelles by now,’ he mutters darkly.

  In theory, I suppose we could be, but there’s so much else to consider when flying somewhere. It starts with all the vaccinations – nearly the cost of the holiday in itself. Invariably we require malaria tablets too, which make me feel dreadful. The whole experience is just so stressful. All the glamour of flying has long gone. I always feel as if I need another holiday when I’ve flown for thirteen or more hours just to get back from somewhere. Your memories of the island paradise fade very quickly when faced with a four-hour-long queue for passport control at Gatwick or Heathrow followed by a week of hideous jet lag.

  ‘I hate long-haul flights nowadays, Harry. You know that. For once, isn’t it nice to throw the cases in the back of the car and just drive?’

  I get a grunt in response.

  Despite my husband’s reticence, I’m so looking forward to this holiday and am so desperate for it. Work has been nothing but stress this year – the financial climate forcing everyone to tighten their belts, and where I work is no exception. I’m an accountant, the staff partner in a small but successful firm based in north London. We have only ten staff but, believe me, they’re a full-time job to manage. I’ve just had a small mutiny on my hands after we told them that there will be no company Christmas trip this year. Normally, we take the staff and their other halves on a long weekend jaunt during the approach to the festive season. In the past we’ve been to Paris, Rome, Bruges. All very lovely. All on expenses. But this year we’re going to have to do without. Every single one of our clients is watching the pennies and I think it looks right that we should do so too.

  I feel the same about our own holidays abroad. More often than not, Harry and I go away at least twice every year. How can that be acceptable when so many people are struggling simply to pay their mortgages? I’m more than happy to have a summer staying at home, although I don’t think Harry much likes the sound of it. So, when Ella asked us to come down and spend some time with her at the cottage, it seemed like the perfect solution. To me, anyway.

  Harry wasn’t keen, of course. Even as we set off he was bemoaning the fact that it would be more ‘basic’ than he prefers. My other half likes to lie on a sunlounger for two weeks and be waited on hand and foot. He doesn’t care if there’s culture or scenery. He just wants heat, a swimming pool and alcohol on tap. He likes a turndown service, a chocolate and perhaps an exotic bloom on his pillow every night. Those things don’t really interest me. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve enjoyed my fair share of luxury holidays too. But sometimes it can be just a tiny bit boring. Does that sound ungrateful? If you’re typically British and fair-skinned, there’s only so much sunbathing you can do if you don’t want the boiled-lobster look. So this year I’m really looking forward to having a holiday in my own country for the first time in many years. I’ll get to catch up with my dearest friends. Harry and I will get to spend some quality time together without having to go halfway round the world. It’ll be fun. I’m sure. Just the tonic we need.

  ‘Shall we aim to get there before nightfall, Grace?’ Harry says tightly.

  So I pull my attention back to the map and try to work out exactly where we are.

  Chapter Two

  The fact that I get to hook up with my lovely friends is the icing on the cake for me. Again, I’m not sure that Harry feels the same way. My husband isn’t overly fond of my friends. He says that I change when I’m with them. I think, half of the time, he doesn’t like it when he’s not the centre of attention and you know what it’s like when old friends get together.

  Ella, Flick and I all went to university together in Liverpool over ten years ago and, as such, go way back. We’re more like sisters than friends and are inseparable. I feel as if we grew up together. Those formative years shaped us into the women we are today. Ella Hawley, Felicity Edwards and Grace Taylor. I smile to myself. We were quite the girls back then. A force to be reckoned with. Mainly due to Flick, I have to say. She was the one who dragged us kicking and screaming into the thick of student life. I’m sure Ella and I would have stayed at home in our skanky rooms every night, studying, if it hadn’t been for Flick. Ella’s the arty, thoughtful one. Flick is the fabulously pretty, fickle one. I, for my sins, am the steady and sensible one. Though we’re ten years older now and, supposedly, wiser, our roles haven’t changed that much.

  We all took different courses at university, but found ourselves in the same halls. We hooked up at one of the events in Freshers’ Week – I can’t even remember what now – and have been together through thick and thin ever since.

  After that first rollercoaster year when we struggled to get our studying to keep pace with our partying, we escaped halls and moved as a team into a totally hideous flat at the top of a draughty Victorian house in one of Liverpool’s less salubrious areas. I only have to think for a minute how awful it was and it makes me shudder. The carpet had that terrible stickiness of a back-street pub and, as we were on the top floor, the windows had never been cleaned. They still hadn’t when we left two years later. Learning how to exterminate cockroaches, mice and silverfish together is always going to be a lifelong bonding experience. Though it always seemed to be me, with rubber gloves and dustpan, who had the job of clearing up the resulting corpses.

  Not only did we share the same hideous flat, but we also worked in the same hideous bar. Honkers. I don’t have to say a
ny more, do I? There’s a fantastic, sophisticated nightclub scene in Liverpool. Honkers wasn’t part of it. We used to run a sweepstake between the three of us – five pounds at the end of the night to the person who got the most gropes. One point for a bottom grope, two points for a boob grope. Flick had the dubious honour of winning most nights.

  We put up with the groping, largely without complaint, simply to earn some extra cash to supplement our drinking – sorry, our studies. If someone got a feel of your tits they tended to give bigger tips. Oh, happy days. Our shared horror only helped to make our little team stronger than ever. Even though we had no money and lived in a fleapit, they were good times. We had fun together. Mostly. But there were heartaches too and we vowed then that nothing would ever come between us. Not men, not fame, not fortune. It’s fair to say that it’s just the men that have troubled us thus far.

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