I’ve thought long and hard about whether I should let anyone know that I’m coming to the island. But who would I tell? And what would I say? No one will even know who I am, and I think it’s better that way. This is the only way I can get the answers I need…
When Abby steps off the ferry and onto the isle of Kinlossay, she squeezes her daughter’s hand and prays this trip was not a mistake. For the last year she has been receiving letters from a mysterious stranger detailing every moment of his life on this rugged little island. Swept away by descriptions of buttercups dancing on rolling fields, his words were a lifeline to Abby, filling her grey life with colour and hope. But then, one day, the messages stopped.
Watching her daughter run laughing along the windswept beaches he described so perfectly, Abby wonders if this trip could also be a new beginning. But then she sees a face across the street that she recognises instantly, and her heart shatters. What devastating secrets has this little island been keeping? Were the letters and the feelings they shared nothing but a lie? And when the truth is revealed, will Abby run home to safety, or stay and fight for the life her daughter deserves?
Lose yourself on the wild shores of a remote island in this absolutely gripping and heart-wrenching story about holding on to hope and the incredible things we do for love. Filled with secrets and surprises, fans of Debbie Macomber, Rosanna Ley and Sheila O’Flanagan will adore this stunning and totally uplifting page-turner.
Everyone is talking about Emma Davies:
‘Wow, this was such an amazing, gripping, emotional and heartbreaking read… I absolutely loved this story.’ Page Turners – Book Reviews by Caroline, 5 stars
‘Absolutely fantastic… a beautiful, addictive and heart-warming book that will stay with you for a long time.’ Book Worm 86, 5 stars
‘So emotionally intense that at times you are gripping the sides of your comfy chair… will also pull at your heartstrings… one powerful book that needs to be put on your must-read list… filled with emotional rollercoasters… My heart was pounding fast!’ Heidi Lynn’s Book Reviews, 5 stars
‘Will stay in your mind long after you’ve read the last page.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘Puts tears in your eyes and hope in your heart… I absolutely loved the story.’ Goodreads reviewer, 5 stars
‘A brilliantly addictive read… a very worthy five+ stars from me…
Release date: July 21, 2021
Print pages: 350
* BingeBooks earns revenue from qualifying purchases as an Amazon Associate as well as from other retail partners.
The Little Island Secret
Isn’t modern technology wonderful?
I’m sitting here, desperate with a sudden longing to reread one of my favourite books, and what do I discover? That the despicable child in Year Ten I lent it to has not only failed to return it, but worse, took it with him on his summer-long jaunt around Europe last year and lost it.
Whilst I approve of the mind-expanding travel, obviously, I cannot condone such flagrant abuse of my generosity, but, whichever, the end result is the same. I am without my copy of ‘Stoner’ by John Williams and so I have taken to the internet to try to remedy this situation. And you and your lovely shop popped up!
So, I’m very much hoping that you haven’t, as yet, sold your copy of ‘Stoner’ and in fact can dispatch it to me at your earliest convenience and by the quickest available means.
It’s entirely possible that you may save my soul.
And can I just say that your website is lovely. Very friendly, in a quirky, slightly weird sort of way, which I wholeheartedly approve of. I’d love to know if you’re the same, although I guess you must be, seeing as it’s your shop and your website. But, one last question, is that a cat I can see sitting in your shop window?
Yours, in a fever of anticipation,
(Only please call me Cam, everyone does)
Dear Mr Innes, Cam…
It is indeed a cat. His name is Bruce. I know, but it seemed like a good idea at the time, and that is his very favourite spot to sit. Heaven help anyone who wants to display a book in the window… ridiculous idea.
I am very happy to report that Mr William’s ‘Stoner’ is indeed still in stock. Although, before I send it to you, perhaps you could confirm your position with regards to whether William should have left his wife for Katherine.
I wouldn’t normally countenance adultery, of course, but in truth I couldn’t possibly send this book to anyone who doesn’t agree. It’s one of the greatest love stories that most of the world has never heard of.
As to whether I am friendly, quirky, or slightly weird in any way… I called my cat Bruce, I shall leave you to draw your own conclusions.
Provided you can confirm your position with regard to William’s marital conundrum, please forward your address and credit card details. I can confirm that I shall hasten to the post office this very afternoon.
Yours in gratitude,
(Abby, only my mother calls me Abigail)
Dear Miss Prendergast… Abby,
My heart leapt with joy to hear that you not only have ‘Stoner’, but that you have actually read it too. Are we the only two people in the world?
And, he should absolutely have left his wife.
Credit card details and address are below. You have indeed saved my soul.
Yours in gratitude,
‘So, this is me,’ I say, turning to push open the door to my shop. The bell gives its customary clang, an old-fashioned sound that tells you exactly what you’ll find when you enter; a room full of charm. Of nooks and crannies. Of wood and brass, and floors that are uneven, and a bay window where my cat sits, occasionally turning a sleepy eye to the passers-by outside.
The shop even smells old, as all good second-hand bookshops do. The comfortable, slightly musty warm smell of old book-leather and paper too, warmed by the sun that streams in through the huge window to the front.
My heart is going like the clappers as I lead Cam inside. What will he think of my little kingdom? Will what I think of as character and quirkiness be viewed the same way? Or will he just think the place untidy and long overdue for modernisation?
‘It’s exactly how I pictured it would be,’ he says, putting down his rucksack and gazing in wonder around him.
I follow the path of his eyes, watching his expression as he takes in the details of the room I’ve tried my best to describe over the last few months.
‘That’s the chair where Mr Ridley sits…’ He points, laughing. ‘And the picture that you have to straighten every morning as if someone has been dusting carelessly in the night. Even Brown Bear is exactly where you said he would be.’
He picks up the slightly dishevelled bear that is propped beside the till, waiting for his long-lost owner to reclaim him. He’s been waiting a long time, but I haven’t the heart to throw him away.
He pats the bear on the head. ‘In fact, it’s even better than I thought,’ he adds, spinning to face me, his eyes firmly fixed on mine. And then I see his gaze widen to take in all my features: from my deep-brown eyes fringed with long lashes (my one redeeming feature) to my slightly snub nose and my cheeks, which I know are rosy despite my best efforts to calm them down. His mouth pulls into a wide smile and I feel my own mirroring it.
That’s one thing you can’t get from a photo; someone’s smile. You can’t really see how it changes their face or lights up their eyes.
I frown. ‘Sorry, did you say something? I was miles away.’ Miles away, but right here, lost in the enormity of seeing Cam, in real life, looking like he does, instead of as words on a screen. Words that are no longer mere text, but instead rich and textured by the soft lilt of his Scottish accent.
His eyes are dancing with amusement. ‘Only that it’s so good to see you.’
‘Oh yes, me too, good to see you that is, not me, obviously.’ My cheeks grow even rosier, I’m sure of it. His photo hadn’t done him justice at all.
‘It seems forever since we agreed to meet, but now that I’m finally here…’ He wrinkles his brow. ‘A weekend isn’t long, is it? It’s going to whizz by.’
I nod. ‘I know.’ I meet his eyes, suddenly saddened by the thought that Cam will be leaving again. His being here seems… I push the thought away. It’s far too early to be thinking that kind of thing.
Cam looks around him once more. The shop is closed, it’s half past six and I’ve finished for the day, and I can’t help but wonder what he’s thinking. I love the place at this time of the evening. The light in here is golden and I sometimes wonder if I can hear the books sighing and settling themselves for the hours ahead. The slightly expectant air the shop wears during the day replaced by something more cosy and comforting.
‘Do you ever come down here when you’re not open? At night?’ he asks. ‘I know I would. To sit among the books and read, or read to them, perhaps? I’m sure they like to hear stories other than their own just as much as the next book.’
He didn’t wait for my reply. But then maybe he didn’t need to. Perhaps my astonished look and gaping mouth has informed him that’s exactly what I do. There’s a corner where I sit, on an old armchair placed beside a small table with a lamp on it. It’s there to illuminate what would otherwise be a dim and unwelcoming corner, the overhead lights in the shop too weak to reach across the top of the bookcases and drop down into that little space. I’d never sell a book from there if I didn’t have the lamp lit, but there’s also the added benefit that it transforms that little nook into a haven, a safe harbour against the world and all its problems. It’s no coincidence that the armchair is occupied almost from the minute I open.
‘I bring a blanket, and hot chocolate,’ I reply. ‘Although only in winter, of course. In the summer, I like the feel of the warm wooden boards against my bare toes.’
He nods as if it’s the most normal thing in the world. It’s one of the things I love— One of the things I really like about Cam; he’s one of the few people I know who thinks that what everyone else labels as my eccentricities are, in fact, perfectly acceptable, even desirable. My mother thinks I’m odd and has taken to talking about my quirks quite openly in the company of others, often when I’m present, and most of my other friends, now married, quietly worry about my spinsterly state and don’t quite understand why I’m not more like them. I love them all to bits, but the thought makes me shudder.
‘Right,’ I say brightly. ‘Shall we?’ I indicate the door to the rear of the shop, which leads to my flat. ‘And then we can…’ I trail off. I’ve seemingly waited so long for this moment that I’m not sure what to do now that Cam actually is here.
‘Perhaps have a cup of tea?’ says Cam, a wicked smile playing around his lips. ‘Seeing as I’ve been on a plane, a train and an automobile to get here.’
I blush beetroot. ‘Oh God, yes, yes! I’m sorry.’ I bash a hand against my forehead. ‘I wasn’t thinking, I—’
I stop gabbling to look at him. At the slow smile which is still turning up the corners of his mouth. At the angle of his face, coloured golden by the afternoon sun, catching his eyes… unusually green.
‘I’m just teasing.’
‘Of course. You don’t even like tea, do you?’
I knew that. I’d already got in four different varieties of coffee, especially for the occasion.
I walk purposefully behind the till, holding open the door which leads to a staircase via a short hallway. At the top of the stairs another small landing offers a row of coat hooks and I pause for a moment while Cam puts down his bag, so that he can remove his jacket. It’s late August, but last week, squally showers seemed to mark the tail end of summer and the air is much cooler now of an evening. Today, though, has been perfect; sunny and warm. I had a feeling it would be.
I take a deep breath and lead us through to my kitchen. Beyond that is my living room, bathroom and two bedrooms. Plus, a tiny box room that I use as my study and general-purpose junk room. But more than these collections of rooms, it is my home, the one I share with my daughter, where we make our life, one not often punctuated by male company. This is a big thing for both of us.
The kitchen is my favourite room in the flat. It runs the full width of the building and sits over the shop so that the windows to the front look down into the street below. But it is also light and welcoming and full of character. Beneath the side window is a small round table where Beth and I sit to eat our meals, and to watch the world go by outside or chatter about our day. It’s where I gravitate now, thinking that Cam might like to sit while I prepare some drinks.
Instead he puts down his rucksack beside the chair and looks expectantly around him. ‘May I?’ he says and, without waiting for my response, takes off across the room and through the door opposite to the one we came in.
I wonder if I should follow him, but what would I say? This is the living room. Obvious. This is my bedroom. Again, very obvious. And this is where I work. Which he will know like the back of his hand because it’s where our correspondence first started all those months ago, a room I have described to him nearly every day. He’s more than capable of working it all out for himself. So, I fill the kettle and set it to boil while I wait for him to return.
‘I missed your email today,’ he says, coming back into the room. ‘Today, the office is…’ He grins and I return it. It’s how I start every email to him. Today, the office is… sitting to attention, with a big brave smile on its face. That one sent on the day when I was preparing to do the month-end accounts. Or, today, the office is… a will-o-the-wisp, gossamer thin, adrift on the shimmering morning air. That, from a day in the spring when the air in the park around the corner was soft, floating with cherry-tree blossom.
‘I should have sent one this morning anyway,’ I reply. ‘Today, the office has ants in its pants…’ I grin. ‘I’ve been on tenterhooks all day, hoping that your journey went according to plan.’
‘And now here I am,’ he says.
‘Yes, here you are.’ I hold his look for a moment, before busying myself with the cafetière and mugs. ‘So, what do you think to my little kingdom?’
There’s a pause while Cam considers the question. ‘I think you suit one another perfectly,’ he says. ‘And I can see what good friends you are.’
I laugh. It’s true. And I’m happy that Cam has noticed.
A few minutes later, I place two mugs of coffee on the table and take a seat opposite Cam. ‘Are you very hungry?’ I ask. ‘Only I thought we might eat out this evening, if that’s okay. I can show you a little of the town when it’s quieter. You’ll get to see her gentler side.’
‘That sounds perfect,’ he replies. ‘And I confess to having had a pasty for lunch from a station-side seller.’ He blows out his cheeks. ‘I’ve never eaten so much pastry in one sitting. So hungry, yes, but not ravenous.’ He pats his flat stomach above the waistband of his jeans.
I nod. ‘Great, well, Beth should be back soon. She’s been at a friend’s house this afternoon, which I suspect has involved a good deal of plastering each other in make-up and listening to horrendous music.’ I cover my mouth with my hand. ‘God, does that make me sound really old?’
Cam smiles. ‘I can’t wait to meet her.’ He sips his coffee, looking at me over the rim of his mug.
It’s another thing that’s making me more nervous than I can say. Beth is like me in many ways, which makes her unlike most of her school friends. And when there’s just the two of us, that’s perfectly fine. But the thought of someone new to meet, and a man at that, is something that’s caused both of us a great deal of anxiety. Still, she’d said to me only last night, ‘If you hate one another when you meet, at least Cam lives so far away you’re almost guaranteed never to bump into him again.’ Remote Scottish islands do indeed have their advantages.
I lace my fingers around my cup. ‘Well, this is… I was going to say odd, but maybe that’s not quite the right word.’
Cam tips his head to look at me. ‘Odd?’ he queries. ‘Why odd? Or not odd?’
His smile is so easy. Perhaps it’s this that is adding to my nerves.
‘No, I don’t think I do mean odd, but…’ I trail off again, fishing for a way to describe how I’m feeling that doesn’t sound rude, or unwelcoming. ‘Just that I don’t really ever go on dates. Actually, I don’t ever go on dates. And this isn’t that, I know, but still… It feels strange. I feel strange.’
Cam looks round the room, taking his time, smiling slightly every now and again as he takes in some new detail. ‘I don’t feel strange,’ he says. ‘I know it’s a little unusual that we know so much about one another yet have never met before. But, if you think about it, that makes it much easier than it would otherwise be.’
‘Well, I don’t really go on dates either, but the ones I have gone on…’ He pauses as if thinking about horrific or embarrassing encounters that might have occurred in the past. ‘…have been excruciating, because even though I probably knew within the first ten minutes of meeting the person that they weren’t right for me, I still had to go through the process of finding out all those things we’re supposed to, if only to confirm my suspicions. But you and I have already got all that horribly embarrassing stuff out of the way already. So now, we can get on with…’ He colours slightly. ‘Enjoying it.’
I squint at him. ‘I think I know what you mean.’
He wriggles upright in his chair. ‘Okay, so ask me a question about yourself. A question that you think I should know.’
‘What, like favourite colour?’
‘Exactly like that.’
I grin. ‘Okay then, what’s my favourite colour?’
‘My favourite food?’
‘Cheese on toast or honeyed cashew nuts if you’re in the mood for something sweet.’
‘My favourite book then?’
‘I can’t possibly answer that. You don’t have a favourite book because you say it wouldn’t be fair and you’d hate all the other books to feel they weren’t up to scratch.’
I laugh. ‘Okay, I get the point.’
Cam raises his eyebrows. ‘See? We know so much about each other already. You even put one sugar in my coffee just now without even asking me.’
I stare down at his mug. ‘Yes, I did, didn’t I?’ I think about his words for a moment. And then swallow. ‘Which is fine. It’s lovely, actually. But I still don’t really know how I should be, what I should do.’
Cam chews the corner of his cheek as he stares at my face. ‘Well then,’ he says eventually. ‘How about this?’ And he leans across the small distance between us and presses his lips against mine. Softly and absolutely perfectly. ‘Hello, Abby Prendergast. It’s absolutely delightful to meet you.’
He has no idea I’m watching him, but that’s what makes it so wonderful. There’s no pretence, no making sure I only see his good side. And I’ve thought about this moment for so long, in a way it’s weird, but in others so much more than I ever dreamed it would be. I already know that his eyes are sort of green, sort of grey or, as Cam has described them, a mucky sort of khaki colour. Just as I know that his hair is thick and unruly, with a tendency to stick up at the front where he runs his hands through it. There’s a curl which persists in hanging down over his forehead when the rest of it obediently sits swept back, and it’s dark, almost chestnut, just like mine. Plus, he has dimples in his cheeks when he smiles and one in his chin, very Kirk Douglas.
What I didn’t know, but have imagined over and over again, is just how all these parts of Cam fit together. How the curl sits on a forehead that is smooth and wide, how his eyelashes are almost ridiculously long, even longer than mine, so that when his eyes are open as they are now, the tops of his lashes almost touch the skin beneath his brows. How the curve of his cheek, normally so sleek, clinging to his cheekbones, puckers the moment he even thinks about smiling. But it’s his mouth that I can’t stop looking at. How the skin there is so soft, but fleshy too, generous… and the way in which he can smile with only one side of his mouth, the other side twitching up and down, almost as if it’s amused at itself, giggling. But by far the best thing about his mouth is the way it feels on mine. And that is something I have long thought of.
Beth says something and Cam’s head suddenly turns from her to include me in the conversation. I have no idea what they’ve been talking about. I’d been far too intent on my investigation of Cam’s face and feel a flush of warmth hit my cheeks. His eyes meet mine, amused by my embarrassment as he catches me out, teasing as they sparkle under the light from the window.
The table between us is still littered with the remains of our breakfast, which we’ve eaten in Rumer’s tearoom, just off the market square. It’s where I quite often buy sticky treats if my colleague Gwen and I are having a particularly slow or frustrating day, but I’ve never been here for breakfast, and certainly never with a man. Rumer is going to want all the details come Monday morning, and if she doesn’t get them will hound me until I spill them. She’s already given me several meaningful glances since we’ve been here. But, having eaten, we now have the whole day ahead of us and it’s bright and sunny. In fact, it’s perfect.
I shake my head. ‘I was miles away, sorry,’ I say. ‘What did I miss?’
Beth rolls her eyes and dabs a finger on her plate to pick up the stray flakes of pastry from her croissant. ‘Honestly, Mum, what are you like? We were talking about going punting. Cam’s never been and…’ She drops her head, a little shy. ‘It might be quite nice, don’t you think?’
‘I think it sounds lovely,’ I reply, smiling. ‘If you discount the fact that I’ve haven’t been on the river in years, let alone manned a punt, or whatever it is you do while on one. It could be a huge disaster.’
‘Or the greatest day ever,’ replies Cam, emphasising the last word as he smirks back at Beth in a parody of a sulky teenager.
She laughs. A golden sound on a golden day. It’s enough to make me want to go punting even if it were blowing a gale or the temperature, three below.
‘Reassure me that you can at least swim,’ I say.
‘Abby, I live on a tiny island.’
‘So, that doesn’t necessarily mean you can swim.’
‘True, but I was born on Kinlossay, don’t forget. And, as island custom dictates, we get thrown in the sea when we’re only six weeks old, to check that the legend still stands. We islanders are born knowing how to swim, or so they say…’
I look at him sideways. ‘That’s never true.’
‘Which bit? That we get thrown in the sea or that we’re born knowing how to swim?’ He puts his hand over his heart. ‘I’m heartbroken that you don’t believe me.’
‘I thought all babies could swim?’ says Beth. ‘I’ve seen videos of them in a documentary before, all swimming underwater. They’re not afraid at all.’
Cam stares first at me and then at Beth. ‘What? You mean we’re not special? And the stories we’ve been told aren’t true?’ He fakes an anguished cry. ‘They lied to us…’ He lifts the back of his hand to his forehead as if he’s about to swoon, but then he drops it, straightens up and grins. ‘I learned to swim like pretty much everyone else did on the island – at primary school, where we had a half-hour lesson, two times a week in the outdoor pool. Brrrr.’ He shivers. ‘With Miss Pettigrew holding a long stick and poking us if we put our feet down.’
I shake my head in amusement. ‘That’s an even worse story than being thrown in the sea.’
But Cam shrugs easily. ‘And somewhere between the two lies the truth. But yes, I can swim, so you needn’t fear on that score, Abby.’ His eyes are soft as he speaks. ‘And I will take the greatest care of both you and Beth. There will be fun, an amount of laughter, a modicum of shenanigans, but no death by drowning, I promise.’ He turns to Beth and gives a courtly bow. ‘Well then, shall we?’ he says.
She gets to her feet, dusting more pastry flakes from her top and moves out from behind the table. I don’t think I’ve seen her quite so animated in a long while.
‘Can I just say, Beth, that those are damned fine dungarees. In fact, the damnedest, finest pair of dungarees I’ve ever seen.’ Cam holds his hand over his mouth in an aside to me. ‘Is damned a swear word?’ he whispers, wiping imaginary sweat from his brow as I shake my head, laughing. I don’t think I’d care in any case, I could listen to him talking for hours; the way he rolls the words around on his tongue, the sounds so different from those I’m used to. It’s like poetry or music, notes dancing in the air.
He gestures that Beth should lead the way from the tearoom and I watch as my daughter walks ahead of us at least a foot taller than when she came in.
The river is only five minutes’ walk away and we wander alongside it for a while, ducking heads under the whips of the willow trees which sway gently in the breeze. The river is quiet this early in the morning, but as on any Saturday when the summer-holiday season is in full swing, it will soon team with life and shouts of laughter.
There are several places where you can hire boats, not just punts but rowing boats too, and I head for the farthest away, where the prices are a little cheaper and the river likely to be a little less crowded as time moves on. It’s nice, simply wandering, the conversation flowing as easily as the water. I walk a lot, most mornings before the shop opens in fact, but rarely by the riverside. It’s a place for people, you see. For friends, for families, for lovers, and if you’re none of those things then it’s easy to feel out of place and even easier to feel alone. Today though, I feel neither of those things.
I realise my error, however, as soon as we arrive at the pontoon where the boats are tied together, waiting for hire. It’s the widest part of the river, and they’re arranged in rows, cheek by jowl, extending from the bank out almost into the middle of the river. And this early, when few punts have already been hired, those by the bank are immoveable to all intents and purposes. The only way to access an available boat is to walk across the floating ‘deck’ formed from the flat sterns of those in the line. This fact is nimbly demonstrated by the boat owner, in a fluid, confident movement that makes no acknowledgement of the fact that the surface on which he walks bounces alarmingly with his every step. And it’s clear that if we want to hire a punt, thi. . .
We hope you are enjoying the book so far. To continue reading...