When Faye Wakefield runs a competition offering nine lucky winners a two-week holiday at her beautiful farmhouse retreat in Cornwall, she promises an experience they will never forget. However, even Faye could not have imagined how bringing these people together would change their lives forever.
Just as she hoped, the competition yields a diverse mixture of characters: a shy young woman with troubled eyes, a womanizing business tycoon, an interior designer ruled by her need for independence, and an Irishman with an affiliation for the whisky bottle. As the guests embark on a journey of heartache and self-discovery, only Faye knows of her ulterior motive for inviting them all under her roof.
The following morning, Leah awoke refreshed just as dawn was breaking. Drawing the curtains, she looked out at the view transformed by the alchemy of a pink and gold sky. For a while she gazed at the scene, enchanted. Then, seized by the desire to be part of this new day, to be more than just an observer, she pulled on trainers and a sweatshirt against the chill and crept downstairs.
A few minutes later, armed with a mug of tea, Leah opened the back door. The bolts were already undone but she thought little of it. Doubtless security was viewed differently in the countryside. However, she had barely stepped out and breathed in a sharp lungful of air, when she spied a figure. Will was lounging on the terrace steps, his head bent over something she couldn’t make out. At the sight of him, all her usual generosity deserted her. How dare this man have got here before her. How dare he spoil her moment of solitude!
With considerable bad grace, Leah resigned herself to taking her tea up to her room. She was about to slip away when, perhaps sensing himself under scrutiny, Will looked round and saw her.
“Hello there,” he said in evident surprise. “I didn’t expect anyone else to be up yet.”
“Neither did I,” Leah retorted. “I wouldn’t have come out here if I’d known. I’ll go now and leave you in peace.”
“Please, don’t go on my account. I could use some company.”
“But you’re busy, I can see. I wouldn’t want to disturb you.”
Will studied her in silence, twiddling a pencil between his fingers. Then he shrugged and turned away. “It’s up to you, but I promise you won’t be bothering me.”
Leah hesitated. Instinct warned her to return indoors, but a spurt of rebellion held her there. After all, why should she allow a virtual stranger to interfere with her plans? She’d come out here to enjoy the sunrise and the peace, and that’s what she was going to do. Thus resolved, she crossed to join him on the steps, though taking care to avoid looking at him and to keep several feet of space between them.
Resting her back against the stone, Leah sipped her tea and allowed her surroundings to weave their delicate magic around her. The sun warmed her face and made the dew-drenched lawn sparkle as though strewn with gemstones. The air, as crisp as fresh linen, was laced with the sweetness of flowers and damp earth. From trees all around, came the melody of the dawn chorus.
But for an irritating scratching sound, she could have been alone. For some time, Leah ignored it. Eventually, however, her exasperation got the better of her and she rounded on the perpetrator.
She now saw that what Will had been so intent on was a sketch pad, lying open on his knees. As he sat there, long legs stretched out before him, he seemed both relaxed and deep in concentration. Though a frown creased his forehead, his hazel eyes were soft and dreamy. Yet, for some reason Leah could not explain, his absorption infuriated her further.
“What are you doing?” she demanded.
Will glanced up, plainly startled. “You can have a look if you like. It’s only a rough draft, but I’d value your opinion all the same.”
As though tempting a particularly timid mouse from its hole with a piece of cheese, Will held out his sketchpad in invitation. Leah paused. To inspect it she would have to move closer to him, but caution implored her to keep her distance. Eventually, curiosity overcame her misgivings and she edged nearer to take the pad from him.
As she examined his handiwork, her irritation evaporated. She’d expected an amateurish reproduction of their surroundings, but a mere glance told her Will was no amateur. Nor were the pencilled images reminiscent of anything she’d seen at Trewhella, or even in this world. In the centre stood a magical tree, with a trunk that spiralled like a helter-skelter and branches bearing hundreds of tiny bells. Flowers nestled at its base, their velvety petals partially concealing wicked-looking teeth. Amongst these pranced a whole variety of animals, some a mixture of two or more earthly creatures and others that resembled nothing Leah had ever laid eyes on.
“What are they?” she asked in wonder. “Did you make them up?”
“God, no,” Will said. “I illustrate kids books. This is all part of my latest assignment.”
Leah continued to gaze at the sketches in silence, marvelling at their lifelike quality. The bells on the tree seemed to sway in an invisible breeze and the winged frog appeared about to launch itself into the air. Finally, she looked up with a genuine smile.
“I don’t pretend to know about art,” she said, blushing, “but even I can see these are exceptional.”
“Praise indeed.” Will grinned, clearly pleased. “But really they’re not that good.”
“Now you’re just fishing for compliments.” Leah handed the sketchpad back to him. “So what book are you working on at the moment?”
“It’s a fantasy set in a hidden county in England, which only its inhabitants know is there. The illustrations are giving me a headache, I can tell you. As you saw for yourself, the trees and animals are unlike anything in this world and so I’ve only got the author’s descriptions to go by. Not that I’m complaining. The challenge is what I love most about my job.”
As Will talked of his work, his tone grew animated and his eyes shone. Leah realised she was now sitting quite relaxed beside him, her earlier mistrust temporarily in abeyance. It occurred to her that, for such an outgoing person as Will, his occupation must be a lonely one and she said as much.
“I suppose it is,” he agreed. ”But I don’t mind it because I love what I do so much. I can’t imagine anything more satisfying than the occasion when everyone involved in the publishing process comes together and the book begins to take shape. But that’s enough about me.” Laying his sketchpad aside, Will turned to her with a friendly smile. “Once you get me on the subject of my work, you can’t shut me up. What is it you do?”
“I’m a receptionist at my local doctor’s surgery.”
“Really? I had you down as a university student. And is there anyone special in your life at the moment?”
Leah recoiled. Snatching up her empty mug, she leapt to her feet. “Think I can hear Faye in the kitchen. I’d better go and see if she needs a hand with anything.” She stalked towards the house but, as she reached the back door, she threw a glance over her shoulder. “Oh, thank you for letting me see your drawing.”
“Any time, but where…” Will began. Leah, however, had already fled.
What People Are Saying
“If you put ten disparate people—strangers to each other—in a semi-isolated small inn for two weeks, you might end up with a fascinating tale. Indeed, that’s exactly what you’ll find in this remarkable debut novel by Jessica Chambers.” Sacramento Book Review
“Jessica has an amazing talent for creating true-to-life characters, throwing them together in a gorgeous setting and letting the sparks fly. This is a captivating first novel, and I can’t wait to see more from her.” Molly Ringle author of What Scotland Taught Me () Paperback published by Little Prince Publishing and the Ebook by Red Rose