High Tide Extract

Veronica Henry returns to the little Cornish seaside town of Penfleet, home of The Long Weekend, to reveal the secret hopes and dreams of those that live there. Pennfleet might be a small town, but there's never a dull moment in its narrow winding streets ... Kate has only planned a flying visit to clear out the family home after the death of her mother. When she finds an anonymous letter, she is drawn back into her own past. Single dad Sam is juggling his deli and two lively teenagers, so romance is the last thing on his mind. Then Cupid fires an unexpected arrow - but what will his children think? Nathan Fisher is happy with his lot, running picnic cruises up and down the river, but kissing the widow of the richest man in Pennfleet has disastrous consequences. Vanessa knows what she has done is unseemly for a widow, but it's the most fun she's had for years. Must she always be on her best behaviour? As autumn draws in and the nights grow longer, there are sure to be fireworks in this gloriously engaging novel from the author of A Night on the Orient Express.
View more...


Preview only show first 6 pages with water mark for full document please download


Veronica Henry High-Tide-(Royal)-prelims-ac.indd 3 17/07/2015 10:10:43 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 An Hachette UK Company 1 3 5 7 9 10 8 6 4 2 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 Typeset at The Spartan Press Ltd, Lymington, Hants Printed and bound in Great Britain by Clays Ltd, St Ives plc The Orion Publishing Group’s policy is to use papers that are natural, renewable and recyclable products and made from wood grown in sustainable forests. The logging and manufacturing processes are expected to conform to the environmental regulations of the country of origin. www.orionbooks.co.uk High-Tide-(Royal)-prelims-ac.indd 4 17/07/2015 10:10:43 1 A 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 lived by. 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 is danger. For the autumn sun is deceptive. You turn a corner 1 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 1 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 your retina. 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. 2 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 2 17/07/2015 09:57:15 2 F 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 performances. 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 . . . 3 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 3 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 or another. The afternoon’s would be packed with out-of-towners dressed up to the nines, jostling for pole position in the front seats. 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 4 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 4 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 River Pennfleet. 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 5 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 5 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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. 6 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 6 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 7 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 7 17/07/2015 09:57:15 extensive cocktail list, sharing plates and Bloody Mary brunches. 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 china plates. 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 with nostalgia. 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 8 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 8 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 context. 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 9 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 9 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 her fall. 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 10 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 10 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 frame. 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. 11 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 11 17/07/2015 09:57:15 ‘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 immediate attention. 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. 12 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 12 17/07/2015 09:57:15 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 now. Sam could see she was upset, but he didn’t seem unduly perturbed. He put an arm round her and led her to a table. ‘Come on. Sit down and I’ll bring you your coffee.’ She sat down, half laughing at herself. ‘I feel such an idiot.’ ‘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. 13 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 13 17/07/2015 09:57:15 ‘On the house,’ he said. She stared at it as if he’d handed her a pipe of crystal meth. ‘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 games console. ‘Ah. The twenty-first-century epidemic has reached even Pennfleet.’ ‘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. 14 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 14 17/07/2015 09:57:15 ‘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.’ ‘Deal.’ 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 anything.’ She took the box. ‘That’s so kind. Thank you. Are you sure?’ He grinned. ‘My kids are sick of them. It’s you or the bin.’ ‘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. 15 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 15 17/07/2015 09:57:15 The one that had been sitting there since she’d had the call. 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? 16 High-Tide-text-ac.indd 16 17/07/2015 09:57:15