'I'm a big fan of Jenny Kane' Katie Fforde Perfect for fans of Cathy Bramley, Heidi Swain and Milly Johnson, A Cornish Wedding is the best kind of summer escape. Abi has what she's always dreamed of: her perfect Cornish cottage, great friends and a gorgeous boyfriend. But her idyll is shattered when a new neighbour moves in next door. Rude and obnoxious, Cassandra doesn't make a good first impression on Abi. But with the unexpected wedding of one of Abi's friends to prepare for, Abi has bigger things to worry about. However, avoiding her new neighbour proves harder than expected and Abi and Cassandra soon realise they might have more in common than they first thought. . . But with the wedding only weeks away, can they set aside their differences before the big day? Previously published as Abi's Neighbour
Release date: July 2, 2020
Publisher: Accent Press
Print pages: 286
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A Cornish Wedding
She frowned. The estate agents must have made a mistake. Justin had talked about renting the cottage, this poky little two-bed terrace in some Cornish backwater, but he’d never once suggested buying it.
Sitting on the low stone wall that ran in front of the row of cottages, with her back to the sold sign, she let out a string of vehemently whispered expletives. Resisting the temptation to throw a pebble at the seagulls which were squawking their hearts out on the roof behind her, she steadied her breathing, like she did when faced with a particularly demanding client.
Shrugging off her suit jacket in deference to the early summer sunshine that poured from a cloud-free sky, Cassandra tried to focus, but doubts continued to assail her. She hadn’t misunderstood Justin, had she?
They’d been laughing over the breakfast table at one of the most exclusive hotels in London when the subject of Cornwall had first come up. Making plans for their future life together, they’d celebrated in grand style the fact that Justin had, after six years of secret trysts and stolen nights together, decided to leave his wife, the dreadful Jacinta.
Excitedly they’d plotted and planned over plates of eggs Benedict and smoked salmon, raising their glasses of Buck’s Fizz to Justin’s promotion to senior partner at the law firm. A promotion which meant that, providing they merged their finances, Justin could afford to get a divorce without being catapulted into penury.
There was only one snag.
The legal company Justin now worked for, Family Values, prided itself on its moral integrity. There was no way he could risk a scandal after securing the promotion he’d coveted for so long. It would be bad enough when he explained to his colleagues that he was getting a divorce – suddenly producing a long-term mistress would be too much for them to accept in one go.
So Justin had asked Cassandra to move away for a while. He’d suggested they use this short diplomatic period of separation to their advantage, and rent a property to later sublet – at a vast profit – to exhausted executives seeking a spot of relaxation. Cassandra, who could run her own business from anywhere via the Internet, would go and make sure the property was up to date, arrange any decorating that was required, and then rejoin Justin in London once things had died down.
Thinking back, Cassandra realised she should have asked a lot more questions about exactly how much research Justin had already done into this move. But under the influence of the early-morning alcohol, not to mention the triumph she felt at having finally succeeded in persuading Justin to leave his wife, she had suppressed all her instincts and agreed to everything he’d said.
The untidy, clipboard-wielding woman started talking as soon as she climbed out of her Mini. ‘Hello, my name’s Maggie, and I’m from –’
Cassandra cut impatiently across the formalities. ‘Sennen Agents, obviously. It’s written across your car.’
‘Oh, yes. So it is.’ Maggie paused. ‘Anyway, I’m sorry I’m late, I got stuck behind a tractor down the lane.’ She jingled a keyring in front of her. ‘I have your keys, Miss Pinkerton.’
‘No, you don’t.’
‘I don’t?’ The estate agent frowned, looking away from the woman that stood before her in expensive couture with crossed arms and a far from happy expression. Flicking through the papers on her clipboard, Maggie said, ‘I was instructed by a Mr Justin Smythe that you would be accepting the keys on his behalf?’
‘I meant, no, my name is not Miss Pinkerton. It is Ms Henley-Pinkerton.’
‘Oh. I see.’ Maggie refrained from further comment as she clutched the keys a little tighter.
Determined to make sure the situation was clearly understood, Cassandra pulled her jacket on, turning herself back into the sharp-suited businesswoman she was. ‘In addition to your error regarding my name, there appears to have been a further mistake.’
‘Mr Smythe has not purchased this property. He has merely rented it, with an additional agreement to sublet it as a holiday home. I am here for two months to make the place suitable.’ Cassandra ran a disdainful eye over the beautiful exterior stonework. ‘It would seem that my work is going to be well and truly cut out.’
‘This is a much sought-after street, Ms Henley-Pinkerton. And this particular property is in excellent period condition.’ Feeling defensive on behalf of the old miner’s cottage, Maggie bit her tongue and flicked through her paperwork faster. Extracting a copy of the bill of sale, she passed it to the slim, angular blonde. ‘I think the misunderstanding must be yours. Mr Smythe has purchased number two Miners Row outright. It was a cash sale.’
Snatching the papers from Maggie’s fingers, Cassandra’s shoulders tensed into painful knots. Why hadn’t Justin told her he’d done this? She was convinced she was right. And anyway, he’d never deliberately make her appear foolish in front of a country bumpkin estate agent. . .
Yet as Cassandra scanned the document before her, she could see there’d been no mistake. Closing her eyes, she counted to ten, before opening them again to regard the badly dressed woman before her, who was once again holding out the offending set of keys.
Failing to take them, Cassandra gestured towards the little house. ‘Perhaps you would show me around, after I’ve made a call to Mr Smythe?’
Maggie, already feeling sorry for this unpleasant woman’s future neighbours, took unprofessional pleasure in saying, ‘Good luck with that call. The phone signal here is unpredictable to say the least.’
It had taken a ten-minute walk towards Sennen village to get a decent reception on her mobile phone, and then, when she’d been able to connect the call, Justin’s line was engaged. When she’d finally got through, she was more than ready to explode.
‘Justin! How could you have done this to me without a word? You’ve made me look a total idiot.’
Clearly thrilled that he’d managed to buy the terrace for a knock-down price – which, he’d claimed, was a far more economic use of their funds, an investment that would make them a fortune to enjoy in their retirement – he’d sounded so excited about what it meant for their future together that Cassandra had found it hard to remain cross.
Assuring her that the situation remained the same, and that she was still only expected to stay in Cornwall while he secured his new position and got the wheels of the divorce in motion, Justin told Cassandra he loved her and would be with her very soon.
Returning to the terrace reassured, if lacking some of her earlier dignity, Cassandra swallowed back all the words she’d have liked to say as she opened the door and the gloom of the dark and narrow hallway enveloped her. She was sure that awful Maggie woman had been laughing at her. The agent had taken clear pleasure in telling her that if she hadn’t stormed off so quickly she’d have found out that the phone reception was excellent if you sat on the bench in the back garden.
Vowing to never drink champagne in any form ever again, as it clearly caused her to agree to things far too readily, Cassandra saw the next two months stretching out before her like a lifetime.
Letting out some of the tension which had been simmering inside her since she’d first seen the for sale sign, she picked up a stone and threw it at the back fence, hard.
Maggie had gone, leaving her reluctant client sitting on an old weathered bench in the narrow rectangular plot at the back of the house. Playing her phone through her fingers, Cassandra saw that there was enough reception to make calls if she sat in this spot – but only in this spot. One step in either direction killed the signal dead, which was probably why the previous owners had placed a bench here. And probably why they left this Godforsaken place!
The Internet simply didn’t exist here. When she’d swallowed her pride and asked Maggie about the strength of the local broadband coverage, the agent had actually had the audacity to laugh, before informing Cassandra with obvious satisfaction that people came to Sennen for their holidays to leave the world of emails and work behind them.
In short, there was Wi-Fi in the village – but only sometimes. It was becoming clearer to Cassandra by the minute why Justin had secured this place for such a bargain price.
Breathing slowly, she pulled her shoulders back, pushed her long, perfectly straight blonde hair behind her ears, and took a pen and paper out of her bag. It looked as if she was going to have to tackle this, old school. First she would make a list of what she considered necessary to make the house habitable for holidaymakers, then she would locate the nearest library or Internet café so she could source decorators and builders to get the work underway. The sooner she got everything done, and herself back to the hustle and bustle of London, the better.
Deciding there was no way she could sleep in this house, which Maggie had proudly described as ‘comfortable’, ‘sought-after’, and ‘ready to be made absolutely perfect’, Cassandra hooked her handbag onto her shoulder and headed back into the whitewashed stone house. Shivering in the chill of the hallway, despite the heat of the June day, she jumped in the silence when the doorbell rang just as she bent to pick up her overnight bag.
For a second she froze. It had been years since she’d heard a doorbell ring. In her block of flats back home she buzzed people in via an intercom, and anyway, people never just dropped by. She hoped it wasn’t that dreadful Maggie back with some other piece of unwanted advice.
It wasn’t Maggie. It was a petite woman in paint-spattered clothes, with a large shaggy dog at her side. Cassandra’s unwanted visitor wore a wide smile and held a bunch of flowers in one hand and some bedding in the other.
‘Hello. My name’s Abi, I live next door. Welcome to Miners Row. I hope you’ll be very happy here.’
Gesturing to the contents of her hands, the woman continued, ‘I picked you up a little something to brighten the house up before you get your own things in place, and I thought some fresh bedclothes could be handy if you haven’t got any unpacked yet. I know how damp these places can get if they’re left empty for long!’
‘What happened next?’
Abi took a mug of tea from Beth’s outstretched hand. ‘She looked me straight in the eye, pushed away the flowers, and told me, in no uncertain terms, that the idea that a mere bunch of flowers could brighten that hideous place up enough to make someone happy was unthinkable. Especially in a ropey little backwater like this.’
‘You have got to be joking.’
Abi sighed. ‘I wish I was. Then she ripped into Maggie for having told other people her business.’
‘But surely Maggie was being kind? She probably thought a friendly face might cheer up her client, as she obviously didn’t want to be there.’
Abi shrugged in her best friend’s direction. ‘I don’t think the woman I encountered is the type of person who would ever admit to needing help. Unless she was paying for it, maybe. And even that would only be help from the very best professionals, of course.’
After a few seconds spent statue-still on the doorstep of number two Miners Row, staring in disbelief at her new neighbour’s rapidly disappearing back, Abi had left to put the flowers in a vase in her own kitchen. She couldn’t believe how unnerved she’d felt when she’d been left holding her welcome gift in one hand, and the evidence of her thoughtfulness in the other. Her head had suddenly been full of images of her late husband, Luke, who’d treated her in a similarly dismissive way for the majority of their married life.
Glad that it was nearly half past three, which meant that Beth would be home from the village school where she worked as the nursery teacher, Abi set off for her friend’s flat. She badly needed Beth to put her fears into perspective. Could the depressing London life she’d escaped just under a year ago have followed her all the way to Cornwall?
Beth’s flat was the top floor of her grandfather’s old shop, and sat above her gallery, where Abi also worked, as resident artist and general helper-out. Now, lounging back against the sofa, Abi took a sustaining gulp of tea.
‘Women like my new neighbour made my life in London miserable. I thought I’d left them all behind after Luke died, and now one’s moved in next door – or at least sort of has. I think it was the linen that offended her the most. She went on about “how dare I think she’d come so unprepared”, then with a tiny overnight holdall in her hand, which can’t possibly have contained any bedding, she slammed the door and marched towards the village to find a hotel room.’
Incensed on Abi’s behalf, Beth said, ‘Well, I hope she can’t find one, and ends up back at the cottage sleeping on damp sheets!’
‘The cottage has been empty and unaired for so long that the sheets could well be damp and mildewed too. Especially after such a cold winter.’ Abi took a biscuit from the tin that Beth was holding out to her. ‘Half of me hopes she can’t find one as well, but the other half hopes she does. The less time she spends next door, the better, as far as I’m concerned.’
Beth sank down onto the sofa next to her friend. Putting the open biscuit tin between them, she proceeded to munch her way through a cookie as she said, ‘If she’s as high-powered as you suspect, then she’ll probably get a taxi to take her to one of the big hotels in Penzance.’
‘Possibly. When I spoke to Maggie, she said she couldn’t say much because her boss was listening, but from what I gathered it’s not so weird that she doesn’t seem keen to live there. She’s been sent by someone else to get the place ready as a holiday let. So at least I’ll be spared her actually moving in permanently.’
Abi sighed again. ‘I honestly can’t decide if that’s better or worse. The last thing I want is a constant stream of City types moving in and out, all thinking they want to escape the pressures of London while simultaneously complaining that the Internet doesn’t work.’ She grabbed another biscuit. ‘Although I suppose that’s better than having a woman who reminds me of that dreadful local wives’ group Luke forced me to join. They were all perfect and sterile and made me feel inadequate with just one pursing of their expensively glossed lips.’
Crunching her ginger nut, Beth was thoughtful. ‘It does sound a bit strange though. You said Maggie told you the woman was under the impression that the house had been rented, not bought.’
‘She didn’t come across as the sort of woman who makes mistakes.’ Abi put her mug on the table in front of them. ‘Come to think of it, she didn’t come across like the sort of person you’d send to do up a house either. I can’t imagine her rolling up her sleeves and grabbing the soda crystals and a pair of rubber gloves.’
‘She could be the sort of person to write a list, though, and then get other people in to scrub the walls and repaint the ceilings.’
‘You may well be right.’
‘Talking of decorating, how’s Max? I haven’t seen him this week.’
Abi’s frown instantly gave way to a smile as she thought about her boyfriend. ‘He’s great, thanks. Working on a bathroom over in St Ives. The guy employing him is on a deadline to get his place done up before the summer season, so Max is working long hours, and then crashing out in one of the guest rooms there until he’s finished. It’s saving him a fortune in petrol, but the phone signal is crap. It’s weird not talking to him all the time, but he’ll be back in Sennen soon. How’s Jacob? Any luck finding a new studio?’
Beth’s partner, Jacob, had been searching for a suitable new pottery studio ever since he’d officially moved in with her four months earlier, although he had more or less lived in Beth’s flat since the day they’d got together the previous August.
Pulling a face, Beth fished for a second biscuit. ‘Not so far. We’ve seen a few, but they’re all too far away. He might as well keep using the one in Hayle until the lease is up in October. Ideally we want to find a place around here before then.’
‘I’ll keep asking the artists that are booked into the gallery, not to mention those who phone up for future bookings. You never know, someone might know of somewhere suitable.’
‘Thanks, Abi.’ Beth stood up and brushed her crumb-covered fingers down her jeans. ‘Fancy a pizza? I’m starving.’
‘It’s only 4.30!’
‘I know. It’s end-of-term syndrome. The kids are either hyper at the thought of moving on to big school after the holidays, or they’re totally knackered after a term of preparing for the same thing. Jollying them along, calming them down, and reassuring them all at once can take it out of me sometimes – and makes me hungry!’
‘I bet!’ Abi pushed herself off the comfort of the sofa. ‘I can’t stay, though. I’m having dinner with Stan tonight. It’s time for our fortnightly dinner date.’
‘Crikey, have two weeks passed already? How’s he doing in the old folks’ home?’
Abi laughed. ‘Well, apart from hating that people call it a home when it’s a set of independent apartments, Stan told me on our last catch-up that, and I quote, he’s as “happy as a sandboy”.’
‘That’s good.’ ‘I think the only thing he misses is having Sadie around.’
‘I’m not surprised. The dog was the only company he had for years. Are you taking her with you tonight?’
‘Stan would kill me if I didn’t!’
Abi and Sadie waited patiently for Stan to open the door to his flat for their dinner date. They had first met when Abi had given into her curiosity and knocked on the door of Stan’s home, Abbey’s House, which had been the house of her dreams for over twenty years – ever since she’d seen its prophetic name on a family holiday when she was eight. Abi and Stan had formed a firm friendship, and she’d ended up buying Stan’s home from him the previous September.
As the front door opened, Sadie pushed her nose against her former owner’s legs, and Stan beamed his ever-ready smile at his visitors as he affectionately ruffled the golden retriever’s fur.
‘How are two of my favourite girls then?’
‘Well, Sadie here is just fine.’ Abi unfastened Sadie’s lead and followed Stan through the hallway into his small open-plan living and dining room. ‘But I’m. . .’
About to tell Stan about her new neighbour, Abi abruptly stopped talking as she realised they weren’t alone.
Stan’s grin became even broader, as he turned from Abi to the lady on the sofa, and back again. ‘Dora, may I introduce you to my very dear friend, Abi Carter. Abi, this is Dora Henry. And this beautiful creature is Sadie.’
Temporarily silent, Abi quickly came to her senses. ‘Hello, Dora, I’m very pleased to meet you. You’re Stan’s bridge partner, isn’t that right?’
‘I’m a bit more than that, I hope.’ Dora winked at Stan, and Abi felt discomfort ripple up her spine as she noticed that the table was laid for three and not two as usual.
Abi was spared from saying anything for a moment, as Dora said, ‘I’ve heard so much about you. I’ve been dying to meet you. I hope you’re OK with me gatecrashing your dinner?’
‘Of course!’ Abi wasn’t sure if she minded or not, but her inbuilt politeness had automatically engaged, and anyway, she wouldn’t want to upset Stan for the world. Right now he was looking more proud than she’d ever seen him. ‘I’ve heard plenty about you, too. I believe you’re the terror of the bridge club!’
‘Dora is something of a card shark,’ Stan said with a twinkle in his eye.
Dora laughed. ‘I shall overlook that dubious accusation, seeing as you’re being so generous as to feed me, Stanley Abbey.’ Then, speaking more seriously, she said, ‘I’m very pleased to meet you, Abi, but if you object to me stealing some of your alone time with Stan, then I’m more than happy to disappear.’
‘Not at all.’ Abi found her natural curiosity kicking in about this small, elegant woman in Stan’s living room. ‘Shall I put the kettle on, Stan?’
‘It’s already on, Abi my girl. I tell you what, I’ll leave you two chatting, and I’ll make the tea and get Sadie some water.’
Watching Stan disappear into the kitchen, Abi sat next to Dora. ‘I’m pleased to have the chance to meet some of Stan’s friends.’
‘As am I.’ Dora focused her pale green eyes on Abi kindly. ‘Stan always keeps you all to himself. He’s very protective of you, Abi.’
Abi’s initial disquiet at Dora’s presence eased as Dora received the Sadie seal of approval. The dog, as if sensing Abi needed reassurance, padded across the room, and placed her chin on a delighted Dora’s knees.
‘You, my lovely,’ Dora stroked the retriever’s golden back, ‘are also at the top of Stan’s list to talk about. And who can blame him? Not many blokes his age have two beautiful females as regular visitors.’
Abi wasn’t sure what to say as she looked at Dora, who, although almost as old as Stan himself, retained the air of a classic beauty. The tone of her words was gentle, and Abi detected no sarcasm or jealousy, but there was something. . . something Abi couldn’t put her finger on, that was hanging unsaid in the air.
Deciding she was being ridiculous, Abi asked, ‘How long have you been living at Chalk Towers, Dora?’
‘Five years this coming Christmas.’ Dora’s warm smile lit up her eyes as Stan walked about in with a tray of tea, and the unease Abi had felt instantly returned.
They aren’t. . . are they?
Hoping she was letting her imagination run away with her, Abi stuck firmly to small talk. ‘Do you like it here?’
‘I love it. I wasn’t sure at first. It was a bit of a gamble for me. Like you, I’m not a local girl, but I had so many happy memories associated with Cornwall that I decided to retire here.’
With one eye on Stan as he sat down and served the tea, knowing he would never have invited Dora to join them if he wasn’t very fond of her, Abi said, ‘I take it Stan has told you how I ended up living in his house?’
‘It’s your house now, Abi.’ Stan passed her a mug.
‘True – but it took ages before I stopped feeling like I’d evicted you.’
Stan regarded his young friend. ‘I’ve said it before, and no doubt I’ll have to say it again, but this is the best thing I’ve done in years. I was so lost after my Mary passed away. You did me a favour, Abi, coming along when you did.’
Abi squeezed his hand, and passed a cup and saucer to Dora. ‘Do you take sugar?’
‘She’s sweet enough without!’ Stan said.
Abi was about to laugh at the old cliché, but the expression on Dora’s face stopped her. There was no doubt about it – her suspicions had been correct. Wishing that Max was with her, Abi didn’t know what to say, but she did know that this wasn’t going to be the evening when she shared her fears about the cottage next door.
Dora peered shrewdly at Abi from over the top of her cup as she took a sip of tea. Then, patting the space on the sofa next to her, she beckoned Abi to sit back down. ‘We were going to tell you after dinner, but judging by how pale you’ve gone, I’d say you’ve already guessed. Stan said you were clever.’
Stan patted his faithful dog’s fur for luck and said, ‘Abi, I have something very exciting to tell you.’
‘Yes.’ Reaching out, Stan took hold of his bridge partner’s hand. ‘Dora and I have decided to get married.’
Beth slipped the last of the completed school reports into her bag, and smiled across the kitchen table to where Jacob sat with his laptop, ordering a new range of glazes for his ceramics business.
‘Have you decided which of your pots you’re going to exhibit in the gallery in August?’
‘I think so.’ Jacob glanced up from the screen. ‘That’s why I want these new glazes. I thought I’d try a few new colour schemes, with a slightly different style, and see if the tourists go for them. Although,’ he lifted up the collection of estate agents’ particulars he had on the table next to him, ‘if I can’t find a new studio soon, then they’ll be the last new pieces for a while. I’m going to have to work like stink in order to build up enough stock to tide us over if I can’t find anywhere new by October.’
Beth couldn’t help feeling guilty. If it hadn’t been for her, then Jacob wouldn’t have been hunting for a new studio in the first place.
Almost a year ago Beth, with Abi’s help, had turned the cobbler’s shop she’d inherited from her grandfather into the Art and Sole gallery. Jacob had taken up her invitation to be the first visiting artist for her new enterprise, and it had been lust at first sight. A feeling that had resulted in Jacob never managing to go home for more than a change of clothes. Their lust had quickly grown into a love that had shocked them both with its arrival. He’d been happy potting away at his current place in Hayle for years, build. . .
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