First published in Great Britain in 2015 by Orion Books,
an imprint of The Orion Publishing Group Ltd
Carmelite House, 50 Victoria Embankment
London ec4y 0dz
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Copyright © Veronica Henry 2015
The moral right of Veronica Henry to be identified as the author
of this work has been asserted in accordance with
the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
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 both the copyright owner and the
above publisher of this book.
All the characters in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to
actual persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
A CIP catalogue record for this book is
available from the British Library.
isbn (Mass Market Paperback) 978 1 4091 4685 8
isbn (Hardback) 978 1 4091 4686 5
isbn (Ebook) 978 1 4091 4684 1
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utumn has come to Pennfleet.
A small town on the mouth of the river from which
it takes its name, its harbour is full at high tide, so full it
looks as if it might burst. The tide is pushing the water
out to the sea, valiantly. Sometimes it seems pointless, as
the sea never seems grateful, but the tide carries on, day
in, day out, providing the rhythm the town has always
The river’s banks are covered in tangled woods hiding
voles and otters, water-rats, kingfishers and herons.
Further up, narrow creeks meander away from the main
tributary, leading to tiny villages, some with only a cluster
of houses, an ancient church and a post box.
The tide might be high, but the autumn sun is low,
hovering in the sky over the harbour. It wraps the scene
in a rich burnished glow, a syrupy marmalade lustre that
heralds the falling of leaves and the shortening of days
and the onset of winter. It is more subtle than the harsher
summer sun. It is mellow, seductive, comforting. Everything looks more beautiful in its glaze.
And yet – yet – catch it at the wrong time and there
For the autumn sun is deceptive. You turn a corner
and the full force of its strength hits you. You are dazzled.
You lose all sense of where you are. You blink, shield your
eyes with your hand, but the light is relentless, burning
And then you turn another corner and the glare
recedes. You can see again and the way forward is clear.
It was just a moment of blindness. It is, nevertheless,
dangerous, that moment when all is lost.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness, yes.
But beware the autumn sun.
unerals in Pennfleet were rather like busses. There
wasn’t one for ages, then two came along at once.
As the sun began to glide down into the harbour
that Thursday evening, the verger opened the door of
St Mary’s to check everything was in order. The little
grey church nestled at the top of the high street, plonked
in the middle of a small but immaculate graveyard, its
steeple poking out over the top of the higgledy-piggledy
slate roofs like an eager pupil with his arm up.
Inside, it was cool and quiet, the still air thick with
ecclesiastical mustiness combined with the scent of
roses and lilies. The ladies on the flower rota had done
themselves proud. The last of the evening light slanted
through the stained glass, sending the dust motes and
the pollen spinning. The stage was set for the next day’s
Joy Jackson and Spencer Knight. Both well-known
figures in the town. Both influential in their own way.
But poles apart. About as different as you could get.
Unassuming, down-to-earth, get-on-with it Joy. Kind,
caring, a pillar of the community. District nurse, stalwart
of the parish council, the church hall committee, the
choir, the WI . . .
And flashy, look-at-me, show-off Spencer. Who made
his presence known whenever he was in town, with his
prestige cars and wads of cash. Of course, the town had
benefitted from his munificence. He spent a lot, he tipped
well, and he had made generous donations to various
causes – not least the local lifeboat and the yacht club,
where a huge glittering trophy bore his name. Yet it was
almost as if he used the town for his own pleasure as and
when he wanted, showering gifts upon it as a man with a
mistress might in order to keep her happy. And Pennfleet
wasn’t fooled. Somehow, he didn’t quite belong in the
town, even though he owned the biggest house. Not in
the way that Joy had.
The verger knew the morning’s funeral would be
packed with locals, all coming to pay their respects to
someone who had touched most of their lives at one time
The afternoon’s would be packed with out-of-towners
dressed up to the nines, jostling for pole position in the
He slotted the hymn numbers for the first funeral into
the wooden holder. Fight the Good Fight. All Things Bright
and Beautiful. Jolly and uplifting. Just like Joy. She would
be sorely missed.
Whether Spencer would was anyone’s guess.
The executive saloon Kate had hired at Heathrow could
barely squeeze down the winding hill. She found herself
breathing in as she navigated her way past an ancient
Mini on one side and a plumber’s van on the other. She
was never going to be able to park – parallel parking was
her worst nightmare at the best of times, and the chances
of a space long enough on Captain’s Hill were slim. She
never drove in New York. She took town cars. And if she
ever rented a car, to head up to the coast at weekends with
friends, it would always be automatic and the parking
spaces would be generous.
Here, in Pennfleet, she was going to have to drive up to
the car park at the other end of the high street and hope
there was a space big enough. First, though, she pulled
up outside a terraced cottage. It was painted deep blue
and fronted straight onto the road. A small wooden sign
read Belle Vue. And a fine view it had indeed, as Captain’s
Hill led straight down to the harbour at the mouth of the
Two weeks ago, Kate’s mother had slipped at the top of
the integral stone staircase that led up to the front door of
the cottage. Her arms were full of recycling so she hadn’t
been able to break her fall. Kate imagined the familiar
body tumbling, limbs flailing, bottles flying, the fragile
skull cracking against the bottom step . . .
There had been no point in Kate rushing back from
New York. The local hospital had notified her, breaking
the news with a gentle sensitivity, reassuring her that
everything was under control. She’d communicated with
Toogood’s the undertaker by email: they’d sent her brochures for coffins, advised on the order of service, all with
a polite efficiency and lack of pushiness that reminded her
what it was to be English. She appreciated their discretion. She didn’t need any more stress. It was awful, being
so far away, yet at the same time there had been no point
in dropping everything to get on a plane, for it wouldn’t
have brought her mother back.
She was only going to be able to take a few days away
from work, so it had made most sense to get back in time
for the funeral and then stay on afterwards to sort out the
house and put it on the market. It wasn’t like when her
father had died, when her mum had needed her straight
away. Then, Kate had jumped on the first flight out of
JFK, driven by the need to hold Joy tightly in her arms.
They had both known that in some ways her father’s
death was a release from the dementia that had plagued
him, but that didn’t make their grief any less, for they
were grieving the kind, gentle man he had been, not the
empty shell he had become.
This time, though, there was no one to come back to.
She pulled the handbrake on hard. She was going to
block the road for a few minutes while she unloaded her
luggage, but it didn’t matter – people round here were
used to it. It was only out-of-towners who got impatient
from time to time if the traffic backed up the hill, but
they found themselves ignored. Kate ran round to the
boot and took out her case, lugged it to the top of the
steps and left it in the alcove by the front door. No one
would steal it in the ten minutes it was going to take her
to park and walk back. This was Pennfleet. Not Harlem.
Before she got back into the car, she breathed in, taking
a gulp of the salty, brackish air. You could bring her here
blindfolded and she would know where she was. She’d
grown up on this sea breeze. She could feel it seep into
her veins, bringing her strength. She looked down to the
harbour, glimpsed between two buildings at the bottom
of the hill, a seemingly endless blue where the water met
the sky, sprinkled with boats swaying with the tide. Most
of the boats would be coming out of the water for the
winter before long.
Five minutes later, she had found a space in the car
park down by the yacht club and set off back down the
high street. Now she was on foot, she had a chance to
take in everything that was new along this familiar route.
The buildings were just the same: some local grey stone,
some whitewashed, some daubed in bright seaside blues
and pinks; some with large sash windows, others with tiny
latticed ones, depending on when they had been built.
The Neptune was still there holding court at the end, its
sign swinging, the unmistakable smell of sweat and booze
and chip oil drifting out onto the street. She remembered
endless nights pumping money into the juke-box; the
motorbikes of the local bad boys parked up outside; the
promise of danger. The pub was the last vestige of the old
Pennfleet, a harking back to the time before the town had
become a holiday hotspot for the upper middle classes,
when it was still very much a working port. Only locals
ventured into the Neptune. There was nothing to draw in
the tourists, unless they wanted cheap beer and a menu
offering a variety of deep-fried frozen foods.
Further along, the new incarnation of Pennfleet began.
Art galleries jostled next to silversmiths and ceramicists
displaying their wares, usually around a nautical theme:
lighthouses, mermaids and lobsters abounded. The standard was high. The rates in Pennfleet now meant only the
best could afford to set up shop here, and their prices
were considerable accordingly.
A fishmonger and a wine merchant had also appeared,
and a boutique hotel called the Townhouse by the Sea.
Kate remembered the hotel as sombre and smelling of
polish: now it was chic and plush with a parasol-studded
deck overlooking the water. A sign outside advertised an
extensive cocktail list, sharing plates and Bloody Mary
There were several new clothes shops selling the kind of
clothes people who went to boutique hotels wore: casual
but expensive, making you look as if you spent your
down-time sailing or surfing, even if you didn’t.
Scattered amongst this new crop of aspirational shops
and eateries were the familiar mongers of her childhood
that still had enough trade to give them staying power.
The chandlery, its windows stuffed with rope and life
jackets and torches. The electrical shop, displaying portable fans and digital radios and toasters. The old tea-room
where she’d once had a Saturday job, serving cream teas
and cucumber sandwiches and Victoria sponge on flowery
She passed the general store, where she’d been sent
from the age of five for a block of ice-cream to go with
Sunday lunch. She had stopped off in there on her way
home from school to buy sweets – Opal Fruits and Curly
Wurlys and Galaxys, then when she was older sneaky
cigarettes (long given up) and bottles of orange-gold
cider. It smelled just the same, of newsprint and stale
chocolate, and the smell turned her stomach upside down
At the top of the high street, before she turned up
the hill that led to her family home, was a cluster of
antique and second-hand book shops that didn’t seem to
have changed since she was here last: the window displays
of Coronation china and Clarice Cliff and cellophanewrapped first editions were identical to the ones she
remembered. People’s unwanted relics, which became the
next generation of clutter as tourists convinced themselves
that was just what they needed to take home with them.
Then she passed the church where her mother’s funeral
was to take place at eleven o’clock the next morning. She
stopped for a moment to take in its comforting solidity. They hadn’t been an overly religious family, but the
church was such a vital part of the community it couldn’t
be avoided. Kate had attended countless weddings and
christenings and carol services there over the years. She
would know most of the people turning up tomorrow,
yet she felt strangely disconnected, as if she’d had a bang
on the head and woken up with partial amnesia, looking
at things that seemed familiar yet couldn’t be put into
Her mother had more friends than anyone she’d ever
known. It was why Kate had felt confident that the
funeral wouldn’t really need her input. The community
would pull together to make sure Joy Jackson got the
send-off she deserved.
It was reassuring, but at the same time daunting,
because Kate wasn’t sure if she fitted in any more. Probably not. With her glossy New York patina, she was almost
an outsider. Pennfleet had learned to tolerate outsiders.
It had to: tourism accounted for more than half the jobs
in the town these days. And knowing that she might be
tolerated more than welcomed made Kate feel awkward.
And underlying that awkwardness, of course, was guilt.
It’s your life, her mum and dad had told her repeatedly
when she’d first been offered the job in Manhattan. They
had insisted she should go without giving them a second
thought. But it made it so very much worse, and harder
to bear, that they had been so supportive and understanding and undemanding.
And now she felt profound guilt. Guilt that she should
have been there, throughout the bleak years around her
father’s demise, even though Joy had insisted she could
cope. Guilt that she should have been there for her
mother, although she knew she could not have stopped
She sighed. The world would be a very different place
if no one ever left home to forge their own way in the
world. Her parents had never been in any doubt that she
had loved them very much. She was sure of that. She
had to be.
She walked on. Just after the church, before the turning
that led back up the hill, she spotted what had once been
the greasy spoon café where the fishermen used to have
their bacon sandwiches and cups of dark-brown tea before
they set off for the day.
It had been given a complete makeover. The woodwork
was now painted in burnt orange and cream. Across the
big picture-windows was etched, in a lower-case font,
sam’s picnic emporium. Inside she could see racks of stainless steel shelves holding baskets of mini tartlets, muffins,
brownies and savoury croissants. Kate’s mouth watered.
She hadn’t eaten anything since breakfast on the plane.
She checked the church clock against the opening times:
ten minutes until it closed, at six.
She opened the door. She was hit by the scent of
freshly roasted coffee and the sound of Sly and the Family
Stone, and it lifted her mood immediately. There was
just one person serving. A grey linen apron with his
name embroidered on the front told Kate this was Sam;
presumably the eponymous Sam.
‘Am I too late to be served?’ asked Kate.
‘Course not,’ he said with a welcoming smile. ‘As long
as I’m here you can have whatever you like.’
He was, she guessed, a good few years older than she
was, probably over forty, with the fashionably close-shaven
head of the follicularly challenged. His face was open and
smiling; his eyes a little too small and his nose a little too
big for classic handsomeness, but his teeth were white
and even and he wasn’t carrying too much weight on his
She would never have recognised the interior. Gone
were the peeling lino and Artex. Now the walls were
exposed brick; the floor was wide planks of distressed
oak; the chairs and tables were bright orange metal. The
overall look was industrial chic: rough but cosy.
She surveyed the blackboard.
‘I’d love a smoked salmon and cream cheese bagel,’ she
said quickly, before she could think about the calories.
‘And a flat white. And some freshly squeezed OJ.’
‘Do you want that to go?’
She realised he was probably hoping she would say yes,
so she nodded. ‘Thank you.’
He set about preparing her food, half-dancing to the
music as he moved about behind the counter.
She pulled out her phone, knowing the signal was
sketchy in Pennfleet. New York would have woken up
while she drove down the motorway. The working day
would be well underway. She’d managed to resist checking
her emails when she stopped at the service station, as she
was eager to press on. But now, she couldn’t resist.
‘Do you have Wi-Fi? Is there a code?’
He pointed to a sign on the wall. Hemingway.
‘Is that your last name?’
He laughed. ‘No. I change it to a different author each
week. My last name’s Perry. Sam Hemingway, though –
that would be cool.’
Kate laughed, then typed in the code and watched her
emails swarm in while he grabbed a sesame bagel and
sliced it neatly in half with a sharp knife.
She bit her lip as she searched through them anxiously,
reading each one with a forensic scrutiny. She’d promised
herself she wouldn’t deal with anything until after the
funeral, but it was impossible not to when you were a
perfectionist. She trusted her team, of course she did, but
she found it impossible to let go completely. She assessed
each one, forwarding some, asking to be kept in the loop
on others, until she was satisfied that nothing needed her
She put her phone back in her bag and smiled at Sam,
who was juggling oranges to ‘Papa Was a Rolling Stone’
before lobbing them into the juicer and flicking the
switch that would pulp them into oblivion.
‘So – are you here on holiday?’ He layered some plump
coral salmon on top of the cream cheese.
Kate shook her head. ‘No. I’m actually from Pennfleet.’
He looked at her with a slight frown.
‘Oh. I haven’t seen you around.’
‘I don’t live here now. I’m . . .’
She swallowed, suddenly unable to tell him the reason
she was here. She realised this was the first proper conversation she’d had since leaving JFK, apart from murmured
niceties to cabin crew or passport control.
To her horror, she made an unladylike choking sound
as she tried to get the words out.
‘God, are you all right?’ Sam put down the cardboard
cup he was about to fill with coffee and came round to
her side of the counter.
Kate put her hands to her face, mortified.
‘Sorry . . . It’s just . . . I’ve come back for my mother’s
funeral. It’s tomorrow. In St Mary’s.’
She pointed vaguely back down the road to the church.
She’d had no idea she was going to react like this. Why
now? She hadn’t cried yet at all. And she wasn’t going to
Sam could see she was upset, but he didn’t seem unduly
perturbed. He put an arm round her and led her to a
‘Come on. Sit down and I’ll bring you your coffee.’
She sat down, half laughing at herself. ‘I feel such an
‘You’re not an idiot.’ He patted her shoulder. ‘Go on,
have a good howl. I don’t mind.’
He was so solid, so kindly, so English. One of those
people you immediately felt comfortable with, as if you
had known them for ever.
‘I’m fine. Honestly. It just suddenly hit me,’ she told
Sam. ‘Jet lag, I suppose. And lack of food.’
‘You don’t need an excuse,’ he said.
Moments later he put the bagel, bulging with salmon,
in front of her, together with her drinks, and pulled up
a chair opposite. He sat there with her while she ate and
drank. As she licked the last of the cream cheese from
her fingers, he stood up, lifted a chocolate brownie from
underneath a glass dome, and put it on a plate.
‘On the house,’ he said.
She stared at it as if he’d handed her a pipe of crystal
‘It’s a brownie,’ he said helpfully. ‘Not a gateway drug.’
‘I never eat stuff like this usually.’
‘Well, you should. There’s nothing much that can’t be
sorted by a triple-chocolate brownie.’
Kate had a strict healthy eating/fitness regime. After
all, you didn’t fit into size four jeans by eating brownies.
But it looked darkly delicious and comforting. And she
felt that to reject it would be the worst kind of uptight
and, above all, rude.
So she picked it up and bit into it. Sweet but salty,
crumbly but moist, she could feel it giving her strength.
She crammed the last bite in and washed it down with
the remaining drops of coffee. While she ate, Sam moved
around the café, wiping down tables and putting the
chairs up on them.
‘I’m not hassling you,’ he told her. ‘But I need to get
home in time for supper . . .’ He flicked the coffee machine
off. ‘It’s the only chance I get to see my kids before they
plug themselves in.’ He mimed thumbs moving over a
‘Ah. The twenty-first-century epidemic has reached
‘There is no escape.’
Kate dug in her handbag for her purse, pulling out
a twenty-pound note. She laid it on top of the counter.
‘My name’s Kate, by the way,’ she told him. ‘You’ll
probably be seeing a lot of me over the next few days.
Cooking’s not my strong point.’
‘I’m Sam,’ he confirmed as he handed over her change.
‘And I do the best breakfast in Pennfleet. Home-cured
bacon, free-range eggs, forest mushrooms and vineripened, slow-roasted tomatoes.’
Kate groaned with anticipatory pleasure. ‘Sounds amazing.’
‘Or we can rustle you up a super-food salad for lunch.
Quinoa . . . whatever.’ He made a face.
‘To be honest,’ said Kate, laughing, ‘I wouldn’t care if
I never ate quinoa again.’
‘Come and have one of my toasties, then. Equal measure of fat and carbohydrate.’
He smiled at her. ‘Good luck with everything.’
She gave a sigh, and nodded. ‘Thanks. I guess it’s going
to be tough, but I’ll get through it.’
She turned to go.
‘Wait a minute.’ He grabbed an empty cake tin and
went over to the window display, filling it with a selection
of things Kate would never usually eat.
He handed her the tin.
‘Have these. I won’t be able to sell them here as they’re
past their best now, but they might sustain you over the
next few days, or if anyone calls in. They’re not off or
She took the box. ‘That’s so kind. Thank you. Are you
He grinned. ‘My kids are sick of them. It’s you or the
‘Thank you,’ Kate repeated, slightly stunned by his
generosity. It gave her a warm glow, which went a little
towards offsetting the cold lump of dread in her gullet.
The one that had been sitting there since she’d had the
She left the café and began to make her way up the
hill. No matter how fit you were, no matter how many
times you climbed it, the steep gradient made your calves
scream. Eventually she came to a halt outside the cottage
and stopped to catch her breath – her chest was tight,
despite the fact that she worked out four times a week.
She looked back down the hill. Below her she could
see the harbour, shining silver in the last droplets of sun,
the boats rocking as gently as a cradle at bedtime. As the
soft evening breeze wrapped itself around her, it seemed
to whisper: why did you ever leave?